Great Barrier Reef was Great!

We're just back from an over night trip on the Barrier reef where we did some awesome snorkelling and found Nemo's cousin (the real one they used for filming is in the Sydney aquarium, apparently). I got to see a turtle during my night dive, but they were elusive during the day. Early tomorrow morning we fly to the red hot centre of Oz to see a huge rock. In a few days time we're flying to Singapore (a new & surprising addition to our itinerary) and then on to Bangkok, for a week's lugging our backpacks around Thailand. Then we're off to Nepal and anything could happen!

It's still raining, but I expect that'll change tomorrow. We may not post many regular updates from now on, but keep the emails coming and letting us know how everythings going at home.

Sunshine? Coast

We're still driving up the coast between Brisbane and Cairns – we've made it to Townsville now & are taking a day or two off from driving (last two days have been solid driving) and heading out to Magnetic Island for a break. We're hoping to go horse riding on the beach, sea kayaking and koala spotting. We're looking forward to a nice air conditioned bed as well – it's awful sleeping in a van when the the temperatures don't drop below mid twentys at night and vary between heavy rain and 80% humidity…

When not driving we've been busy booking the rest of our trip. Some terrorist group said that British nationals wouldn't be safe walking the streets of Mumbai, so we're not going there any more. We're flying to Nepal via Bangkok and spending a little bit of time in Thailand (if anyone has any tips on what to do, let us know). We've been speaking to Ultimate Descents in Nepal and have sorted out an itinerary for there.

Sharon just rescued a little bird. It flew into the ferry terminal (where we're waiting for the Barge to take us to Magnetic Island) and tried flying through a glass door – it discovered it couldn't. It was a little dazed and Sharon heroicly showed it the (open) door. Had it have been a Cane Toad she wouldn't have bothered.

Rain rain go away

It's been raining here for ages… but we've done loads of cool stuff. Since we last blogged we've been to the Blue Mountains, the whitewater course in Penrith, then we headed up the coast to visit some of my rellies, Jean and Stan in Port Macquarie (their hospitality was great & we had proper home cooked food and a real bed!). We've continued up the coast, stopping in at a few places with cool beaches & beautiful views. We've been seeing more animals, Sharon got to cuddle a Koala & we've both held a baby crocodile – they're cuter than you'd imagine.

The last couple of days have been spent on the Gold Coast (near Brisbane) in theme/water parks – it's been great! The highlight for me was the flowrider – a static wave created by jets of water that you surf; the beaches around here have such big surf that they hold international professional competitions and scare me.

We're going to continue up the coast from Brisbane (we're in the city centre now) trying to avoid the monsoons.

Happy Australia Day

January 26th is Australia Day – it's a big day for Aussies: a sense of national pride and celebration for their country fills the public holiday. It's a bit like America's July 4th celebrations, but without the anti-British sentiments. On July 4th, we avoided the crowds, yesterday we didn't, we were in Sydney along with thousands of other people.

The reason we decided to hang around Sydney was the number of free events going on – in The Rocks (Sydney's oldest neighbourhood) there were 5 stages each filled with bands all day – there were dozens of busker stages, a stage in Hyde Park and one in Darling Harbour. We hadn't realised there would also be boat races (of the non alcoholic variety) with ferries and tall ships racing. As we arrived, there was a huge boat parade from the Opera house under the bridge with an almost unimaginable number of boats, from P&O's ocean going cruise liner to small boats with outboard motors & hundreds of sail powered yachts, all vying for space along side the official vessels and attempting to out do each other in displaying copious national flags and decorated in the national colours of green and gold for the 'best dressed boat' competition.

Along the road between the Opera House and Hyde Park were hundreds of classic and vintage cars, all polished and proudly displayed by their owners. There was even a display of pedal powered cars, caravans from the early C20 – complete with authentic paraphernalia and vintage bus routes carring passengers around town. We saw lots of music acts, from popular indie groups and folk singers, to brass bands and an awe-inspiring organ recital in one of the City's old churches

The questionable weather of the last week was hiding and the sun shone all day causing us all to packing into the little pockets of shade there were. As the sun went down, the evening culminated in a dazzling firework display over Darling Harbour.

A thoroughly good day was had by all that we saw and it was only later that we found out about the resentment that some people feel about the celebration of the 'invasion' of Australia – we spent all day wondering why the skywriters spelled out 'Sorry' in the skys above the harbour, finding out this morning that it was an unofficial apology to the aboriginals.

Today we're heading into the Blue Mountains and then we're off to the olympic whitewater course for a bit of a paddle, before returning to the coast and starting our road trip to Cairns.

Kangaroos, Koalas and Canberra

Guess what we did today?! We not only saw kangaroos and koalas, but also cuddled them! Smile Today we went to an animal park near Sydney and saw loads of indigenous animals, such as Tasmanian devils, soft-baked enchilladas (aka short-beaked enchidnas, but we like our name better) and wombats. We took loads of photos and shall try to post them soon. Yesterday we were in the capital – Canberra. Like the US capital it was designed when the states got together and wanted somewhere independant to hide the government. Also like Washington DC, it has lots of long wide streets joining monuments and huge ornamental buildings. The parliment building was stunningly decorated inside, with all the materials and colours symbolic of something Aussie & the war memorial was so poignant it almost brought tears to our eyes.

Tomorrow (Friday), we're back in Sydney to pick up our Indian visas (although we're not sure we want to go to Mumbai at the moment) and then get ready for the Australia day party on Saturday.

G'day mates

The white clouds touched the horizon in every direction as Qantas flight 46 began its descent into Sydney's Kingford Smith airport. The roar of the jets were momentarily muffled as we passed into the layer of cloud that had been below us since Christchurch. Less than 3 hours earlier we had bee saying farewell to the country we'd called home for the last 3 and a half months. Soon we'd be arriving in a city larger than any we'd been to since leaving North America in September.

The engine roar returned and the pilot began banking as we emerged from the clouds. Below us lay Sydney, in all her glory. Underneath our left wing, the unmistakeable sails of the Opera house appeared, followed by the iconic bridge and then the skyscrapers that could denote any large city's CBD. We were in Australia, except the forecast was for rain and we couldn't see any kangaroos through the oval window…

Happy 2008!

Happy New Year one and all. We saw in the New Year in Murchison with a splash at the riverside campsite along with almost every other paddler in New Zealand.
We've been paddling with German Phil and a friend of his, Andre, for the last few days, notching up more runs on the Buller sections, Matakitaki and Glenroy. Phil and I paddled Maruia falls – a 30ft waterfall created by an earthquake in 1929. Good fun.

The plan at the moment is to leave Murchison today and head to the west coast where we can hopefully organise a helicopter to take us in to the Karamea for a multi-day trip.

We've been able to take more river photos now we've got a waterproof camera again, and some video too.