For anyone that is a Lord of the Rings fan, Hobbiton is probably very high on your list of destinations to see in New Zealand. As you drive through green hills out to the farm where the set is located, it’s easy to see why it was chosen as the filming location. After the Fellowship of the Rings was released, the owners of the farm started giving tours of the set in a minivan. Now, the location is so popular that large buses leave almost every thirty minutes to accommodate all of the visitors. The thing that impressed me the most about my visit was how immersive everything was in Hobbiton. It didn’t feel like a movie studio. It felt like it was a real village. Paths and bridges nicely connect everything in Hobbiton, and there is an incredible attention to detail. Each house has specific clues to indicate the profession of the hobbit that lives there, and various tools and hobbit items can be found along the paths. Just don’t look behind the doors if you want to keep the magic alive. The tour ends at the Green Dragon tavern where you can grab a glass of a special Hobbit-themed brew. I was a little hungry after the tour so I had second breakfast when it was over.
Australia was unforgettable. My trip was a bit fast paced, but I do not regret any of the awesome things I did, and I never felt too rushed. There are too many memories to pick a favorite, but some of the things I enjoyed most were:
- Holding a koala
- Walking the Bondi to Coogee Cliff Walk
- Taking in the awesome views and wildlife in the Flinders Ranges
- Spending the night in an underground hotel in Coober Pedy
- Biking and drinking my way through the Barossa Valley
- Hiking and relaxing on Victoria’s coast
- Climbing to the top of Mt. Kosciusko
Although Australia is generally known for its beaches and the rugged Outback, there are a surprising number of beautiful mountains in New South Wales and Canberra that seem closer to Shenandoah than Sydney. I wish I had more time in this region because it had a totally different feel than the other places I visited in Australia.
Mount Kosciuszko is located in the Snowy Mountain sub-section of the Australian Alps, and at 2,228 m (7,310 ft), it is the tallest mountain in Australia. You can take a chairlift most of the way up the mountain, but it is another two-hour walk to the peak. The walk provides some great views, and the stony fields and groups of crows make you feel like you are in Westeros (this is a reference to A Game of Thrones for the less nerdy among us). Reaching the peak doesn’t give quite the same sense of accomplishment as conquering the highest peak in other places (see Mt. Everest), but it is still cool to reach the top of any continent. There is also a really nice bathroom close to the top, which I probably spent more time admiring than I should have.
Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, and the second largest city in Australia. Although Melbourne isn’t as big of a tourist attraction as Sydney, there is lots to do. Melbourne is very diverse, and you can get an artsy, business, or sporty vibe at any place in the city. The city is also a little funky (e.g., tentacles coming out of the window of a building), and sports crazy. The Melbourne Cricket Grounds and the Australian Open tennis tournament are two of the biggest attractions in the city.
Melbourne Central Business District
The central business district is very clean and modern, and it has a really interesting skyline. Viewing the skyline at night from certain vantage points makes the city seem really huge. The Yarra River runs through the center of the city, and you can find crew boats and other vessels making their way up or downstream.
Victoria has an incredible coastline with beautiful sweeping beaches and dramatic rock formations. The Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory National Park are three of the best places to take in the views.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is a 243 kilometer segment of road that was completed in 1932 along Victoria’s southern coast. The road was dedicated as a war memorial to soldiers killed during World War I. The name of the road conjures up images of rocky cliffs with blue waters and crashing waves. That is exactly what you will see with the Great Ocean Road; however, you will not see these images from your car since tall grass and forests obstruct your view for most of the drive. To see the key rock formations requires you to drive off the main road and to take short walks out to the viewing points. This may sound tedious, but the views are so spectacular that you won’t regret the effort. The ‘Twelve Apostles’ is the most popular and famous viewing point, but there are numerous other stops that are equally as spectacular.
Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, and it is a unique city that has multiple universities, interesting old architecture and a very laid-back feel. The region around Adelaide also has a lot to offer. Some of the key highlights are listed below. I didn’t get a chance to visit Kangaroo Island or to kayak the Murray River, but those would be things I would try on my next trip.
Adelaide Central Business District
Adelaide’s central business district is not as large as Sydney’s or Melbourne’s, and it does not have as much of a city feel, but there is good vibe and it is loaded with a ton of green space. In the center of the city is the cricket grounds. There was a match going on while I was there, and the place was packed. I was also in Adelaide for Australia Day. The celebratory fireworks were a great way to finish my time up in the city.
One man’s journey into the heart of a continent
The Vegemite’s gone bad. Damn. I threw the remainder of the tin on the side of the road. Not that I really cared for it all that much, but you take what you get out here. The blistering sun beat down on us. We waited. It had been almost two hours, and Deeber hadn’t returned from his reconnaissance mission. One can never be too careful on the roads in the Outback these days. The scarcity of petrol in this foreign land has led the locals to become a bit desperate. Marauding gangs roam the highways, looking for opportunities — opportunities to loot whatever they can get their hands on. With petrol being the most valuable commodity, of course. And here I was among this insanity. But why? Maybe it was for the sense of adventure, but truthfully, I had no idea why I was here. (more…)
The Australian Outback is empty. It is almost incomprehensible how empty it is. You can drive for over 100 kilometers without encountering anything except for your occasional passing car or grazing animals. Hidden in this vast space are a variety of interesting geological formations that serve as homes and sacred sites for many of the Aboriginal people of the area. If you want to tour the Outback by car, get ready to drive a lot. Petrol (gas) isn’t cheap either, with the most expensive coming in at over $2.00AUD per liter (close to $8 a gallon in the US).
Flinders Ranges National Park
The Flinders Ranges are the largest mountains in South Australia, and they provide a unique and beautiful contrast to the barren Outback landscape around them. The panoramas around the park are incredible, and there are ample opportunities to get up close with to kangaroos, emus, and wallabies (lots of kangaroo roadkill too unfortunately). Wilpena Pound in the south of the park is where the majority of visitors head, but the northern half of the park is equally as impressive. At the northwestern edge of the Flinders Ranges is the iconic Prairie Hotel, and in the southern Arkaroola section, aboriginal cave paintings can be found. Not all of the roads are paved in the park, so I had a bit of an adventure crossing some large rocks and riverbeds.
I told myself to always be prepared, to be overly cautious and to never fall below half a tank of gas, and I still almost ran out of gas in the Australian Outback. The distances between destinations are just so far with so little between stops. In fact, some of the towns that are along the Stuart Highway are on government-owned land and exist specifically so people have a place to fuel up. On my way back from the center of the Outback, I passed the Northern Territory – South Australia border and decided I would just get gas in the next town. I had about a third of a tank, and I assumed it would be no sweat to get to the next stop. I was very wrong. (more…)
This is the second part of my tour of Sydney. Click here if you’d like to read Part 1.
Sydney Beaches and the Cliff Walk
Sydney is known for its beaches, and it’s easy to see why since the water and sand were beautiful. The beaches are not long sprawling beaches like you find on the East Coast of the United States. Instead, they are shorter, crescent-shaped beaches sandwiched between rocky outcrops. I visited two of the more famous beaches.
Manly Beach in North Sydney had a really nice, beach-town vibe. Families gathered along the water, and people ran and skated around the walkway that paralleled the beach. Restaurants and shops lined the oceanfront, but it didn’t feel over-commercialized .
Bondi Beach in eastern Sydney is the most-famous Sydney beach, and it was definitely the more trendy of the two. There were lots of in-shape bodies (and a fair amount of out-of-shape) with an occasional topless woman thrown in for good measure. The water was extremely rough (and cold!) so I didn’t attempt to go in. The most impressive part of this area was the cliff walk that connects Bondi and Coogee Beaches. The walk takes you along 5 kilometers of ragged and rocky coastline. There are smaller beaches along the way, and you have a great ocean view for the entire walk.