Posts Tagged With: Australia

2015 Travel & Adventure Show in LA – Feb 21-22

Hey amigos! If you’re in the LA area on Feb 21-22 come on down to the Travel & Adventure Show, the premiere travel event in the U.S.! The Gringo With A Green Bag will be there to cover all the action, as I will be doing some travel documentary and video journalism work to highlight some of the best travel destinations and experiences the world has to offer! Come and see what’s hot in the wonderful world of travel and stay to see some of the event’s featured speakers, including Rick Steves, Samantha Brown, Pauline Frommer and many, many more! So dust off your favorite safari hat, bring your adventurous spirit and come say hi to the Gringo if you see me out there with the green bag and camera (or microphone) in hand. 🙂 See you there!

(Event sponsored by the Travel Channel)

GWAGB

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Foto Friday – 1.31.14

Happy Friday y’all…throw ya hands up! Well, January was sort of a blur. Fastest month on record, I’m guessing. Though an exciting thing did happen here since I posted last week…RAIN!! Yes, we felt raindrops on our foreheads here in Southern California for the first time in what seems like a decade. “Hollywood showers” may be resumed soon. 🙂  So, drought and earthquakes aside, 2014 is moving right along. Another place that is not unfamiliar with drought and perennial sunshine is Australia…and this week’s Foto Friday is from a little place called Port Fairy in the state of Victoria. When you live in a dry climate like California’s, you really appreciate the sight of a rainbow when you see it. The ocean is always mesmerizing to me, but combine it with a heavenly arc of primary colors pouring into the horizon and you’re gonna catch a giddy excitement on the faces of most who witness it. I’d love to see rainbows more often, but it’s like those Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies…if I had them throughout the year, I might not have the same fervor as I do when they magically appear on my doorstep every March (making space in my freezer as we speak). A heartfelt thank you to Mother Nature…and the Girl Scouts of America.

Port Fairy, AustraliaPort Fairy – Victoria, Australia

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A quick hop around Kangaroo Island, Australia

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For me, traveling to Australia was a BIG deal mates. BIG country, BIG planning, BIG airplane, BIG fella sitting next to me on the plane stealing all my elbow space, etc. I had a long list of things that I wanted to do and see on this trip. There was the obvious, of course:  see the Sydney Harbor, try a Vegemite sandwich, guzzle cold Aussie beer at some pubs, avoid severe sunburn, see some kangaroos. Of all those, the latter was the most important on my list. I mean c’mon, who hasn’t watched Jack Hanna or Steve Irwin play with the ‘roos on TV and not thought that would be the coolest thing ever?? I wanted to see some ‘roos. Plain and simple. You can’t go to Australia and not see the ‘roos. It’s like going to Chicago and not eating a Polish dog…or seeing a Polish person for that matter. And I’m not talking about seeing them in the Sydney zoo man. They’ve got ‘roos at the San Diego Zoo an hour and a half drive south of me. I don’t need to fly 7500 miles to view a wallaby in a playpen. I’m talking in the wild…untamed, free-roaming, curious…the way nature was meant to be enjoyed! So I booked a side trip to a remote place off the coast of South Australia called Kangaroo Island. Not that a place’s nomenclature necessarily guarantees the existence of its particular reference (the “Island of Women” near Cancun is a perfect example. But hey, whatever draws tourists), but it sounded intriguing. I did my research, like the savvy traveler I am. This was the place to see and be seen (if you’re a kangaroo looking for a good time, that is :P). Besides the surging population of ‘roos, I heard this island was one of the most wildly beautiful places on the entire continent. Sounded like a hot ticket…book it!

After a week traveling the amazing East Coast of Australia (where I hadn’t seen one stinkin’ ‘roo the entire time, wth??), it was time to punch my ticket to the island. The ferry ride over from Cape Jervis was a beautiful and relaxing 45-minute voyage to a remote piece of land in the Indian Ocean, far enough removed from the mainland to validate its “wild” reputation. My first impression upon seeing the rugged coastline and piercing blue waters:  “Yeah baby, it’s on! I’m gonna go buckwild photographing this place!”. I guess that doesn’t really say a whole lot, since I have the same reaction when I arrive to a family reunion or a local chili cook-off.  But lemme tell ya, this place is special…and you can sense it before you even get off the boat. The port town of Penneshaw is very accommodating. I was treated to an upgrade 4WD SUV vehicle when I arrived at the rental agency, as my reservation had been lost in cyberspace, which worked out to be perfect since it would serve as my hotel during this 2-day excursion. It was also an ideal vehicle to have while driving along the many dirt roads that make up the island’s transit terrain.

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At first sight, the island seemed like a bushman and fisherman’s dream. It’s craggy interior and over 340 miles of pristine coastline creates such a dramatic contrast that I was salivating to get my camera out and start going photo bonkers. I took the first unpaved road I saw and began to explore the unspoiled wonders of this vast adventure-seeker’s paradise. I saw landscapes here straight out of the imagination of a fine-art painter’s dream portfolio. Things just look different here. The ultra-golden hues produced by the sun created colors that were indescribable. The terrain is so diverse and raw. The trees are wicked-crazy looking. The colors of the dirt roads are a deep hue of reddish-orange. The sky and sun seem more intense. The beaches are awe-inspiring. You’ll see bizarre things like the Remarkable Rocks, huge naturally-carved boulders over-looking the sea that look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Animals roam freely about the land and the roads wind like a maze through the thick vegetation and hilly island turf. It is “wild” as advertised, and you won’t see many people once you leave the arrival port of Penneshaw. As a matter of fact, the further you get away from the coastal towns, the more you get that feeling that you are all alone on an isolated island full of insane beauty and teeming wildlife, just teasing you to be explored at every turn. It would be wise to stock up on gas, water and Peanut M&M’s at one of the towns near the eastern end of the island (Kingscote, Penneshaw or American River), as it’s just you, the native wallabies and the birds & the bees for the majority of your drive throughout the island. (Not the birds & the bees your mom told you about in the 3rd grade. Kangaroo Island is a bird refuge and is famous for its Ligurian bees, which produce some of the finest honey in the world. But feel free to get as kinky as you want over there.)

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The coastline is definitely one of Kangaroo Island’s highlights. The azure ocean crashes against the rugged, rocky shores at some points and gently glosses over stunning white sand beaches at others. As I hopped from beach to beach (pun intended), I was blown away by how different each was from one to the next. Some harbored wide stretches of soft sand and pellucid blue waters which seemed quite inviting for snorkelers and swimmers. Others were formed by intensely colored red rocks and jagged cliffs which greeted the crashing waves head on. The one common feature of all these stretches of coastline: no people. If you want a sequestered beach all to yourself, you’ve come to the right place. On the southern end of the island, you’ll find massive sand dunes that trickle down to the sea. This area, called Little Sahara, is popular for sand boarding, one of many outdoors activities that Kangaroo Island has to offer. Australian Sea Lions and New Zealand Fur Seals may be your only companions out there as you explore the untinged coast of this fascinating island paradise.

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Now, about those ‘Roos. The entire time I was driving on the island, I had an eye peeled back looking for those bad boys. Where the heck were they?? I knew they were out there. I mean, I didn’t expect they’d be hanging out at the gas station bumming Funyuns or anything, but I was frustrated that I hadn’t seen one in a whole week in Oz, and especially within my first hour on an island named after the damn things! I saw a few dead ones on the side of the road, but that didn’t really satisfy my visual appetite (or actual appetite) if you know what I mean. But with scenery like that, it’s easy to forgive the island for not producing what I was obsessing over right off the bat. I had already seen an abundance of wildlife:  sea lions, koalas, sheep, cows, rare birds, possums, fur seals, various reptiles, small wallabies…someone even mentioned seeing penguins somewhere. But I was after the ‘roos. My dedicated research should have reminded me that most kangaroo species are nocturnal, as well as being crepuscular (check out the vocab on this gringo ;)), meaning they are most active near dawn and dusk, often using these times for feeding. Ok…so I just had to wait until dusk I guess. No problem Jack.

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I had some time to kill, so I decided to go on a little bushwalk (hike). With one-third of the island protected in conservation parks and Wilderness Protection Areas, you don’t have to go far to find a good route to stretch the legs. I came across what looked like a decent trail, packed my bag with water and electrolytes and hit the bush. Now, I’m not even kidding when I tell you this part of the story. My wildest expectations wouldn’t have prepared me for what was about to occur in the first few minutes into my hike. So I’m walking along this path, surveying the landscape to compose a photo. I decided to stray from the trail a bit in order to gain a better visual vantage point. I had to meander through what I remember to be a ramshackled and rusted barbed wire fence to get where I wanted to be. It was thick scrub here so my visibility was limited to whatever natural obstacle I had to maneuver around next. I carefully pass through some scraggy vegetation, turn a corner…and BAM! Big ‘ol kangaroo sitting right there! Less than 12 feet away! Ka-BOOM! Scared the pasty vegemite right out of me (almost literally)! The furry freak of nature grunted, leaped up and bolted out of there like a…well…like a scared kangaroo that had just been abruptly rolled up on from behind by a beef jerky scented bushwalker! It happened so quick I couldn’t even snap a decent photo, just this semi-blurry one (as my parasympathetic nervous system wouldn’t allow me to compose myself properly). We were both startled, and my jumpy little marsupial friend was long gone before I could even say G’day. Ladies and gentlemen, I had found my first ‘roo! 🙂 An extreme close-up encounter in the wild! Though brief and heart-jolting, it was awesome! My days of envying Jack Hanna would soon be a distant memory.

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As sunset neared, I would get several more opportunities to see the local ‘roos that day, as they began to emerge from their mid-day shelters to explore the land and find food. They would even hang out on the side of the road near dusk, which makes for a very adventurous “video game-like” driving experience (remembering the roadkill I had seen earlier). I was able to get pretty close to a rather large one that evening. As the late Steve Irwin would say:  “She was a beauty, mate!”. They are quite timid animals in the wild. It kept an eye on me with an equal amount of curiosity as I did with it, but remained calm and even let me approach within a surprisingly intimate distance. When you see a kangaroo close up, you realize how well these animals are equipped to seriously whoop some butt if they need to! With those hind leg muscles, 2-inch claws and a powerful tail as thick as an anaconda, you don’t need instincts to tell you to keep your distance, just eyes. In saying this, they seemed quite peaceful and gentle in my experience with them. They are a special creature to witness and interact with. I snapped my photos, set my camera down and hung out for a while, enjoying this amazing scene of one of Nature’s most exotic animals in its native habitat, allowing me to be an uninvited and trusted guest into its placid domain. This was an experience my mind could only wishfully imagine for prior to coming here. This was Kangaroo Island. I had come a long, long way to see it, as have many others…and another satisfied visitor was about to return home to share its wonderful story.

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Here’s some more scenes from my 2 days on Kangaroo Island…

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The Great Aussie Beer Shed

(Echuca, Australia) One of the highlights of my trip to Australia, The Great Aussie Beer Shed is one of those out-of-the-way places you won’t hear a peep about from travel agents and tour guides.  It’s an independent traveler’s (and beer enthusiast’s) oasis at the end of a dusty road in the middle of somewhere/nowhere Victoria, Australia.  I had taken the 3-hour drive up this way from Melbourne to see the Murray River (Australia’s version of the Mississippi) in the town of Echuca.  Echuca is famous for its steamboats, which are still a common means of transportation in this old colonial outpost.  Three hours on the road to see a steamboat and a river…yeah, a bit overzealous, I’ll admit.  What was I thinking?  I’ve been to Tom Sawyer’s island a dozen times at Disneyland and all I wanted to do was get back to Space Mountain.  Don’t know what I was doing up here really.  It was a nice drive through the countryside though, and a little taste of history…something most Australians will admit they have little of. A bit disappointed with the Huckleberry Finn section of this road trip, I decided to start heading back to civilization when I came upon a sign that pointed me in the direction of “The Great Aussie Beer Shed”.  Now this sounded interesting.  I was pretty damn thristy too.  I decided to add this little de”tour” to the agenda.  I cruised down a dirt road and arrived at a vacant parking lot next to a huge aluminum shed.  No cars, no people, no dogs…nothin’.  I walked around the grounds a bit and realized that this place was closed on this Monday afternoon.  Crap!  My palate was all fixed on throwing down some brews and at least seeing something more interesting than a riverboat on this 8-hour day trip.  All of the sudden, as I’m walking back to my car, I hear a man shout out “How can I help ya mate?”  It was the owner, Neil, a jolly looking Aussie country dude who seemed surprised to see any visitor that day.  I told him I had come for the tour and he told me that he didn’t do any tours on Mondays. He asked where I was from, and I responded “I’m from California”.  His face lit up in surprise as he came back with…”Bloody hell, you’ve come a long way for a beer mate!  Come on in, I’ll give ya a look”.  This was awesome…my own personal one-on-one tour with the maestro himself!  We walked in, he had me spin a wheel to win a prize (won a hat and some beer holders), and we cracked a few Victoria Bitters to get things warmed up. Now this place is my idea of a great local travel experience!  This guy was beyond just a beer expert or enthusiast. Brew culture and beer was in his blood (though mostly in his belly).  He had the most impressive collection of beer cans, bottles, barrels, artifacts, antiques and knowledge of beer of anyone you could ever imagine!  Over 17,000 beer cans from all over the world in his collection…including some vintage cans that were once banned for depicting sexy women on the front and some of the first beer cans ever manufactured.  He explained how he started his collection over 37 years ago, as an “obsession”, and how he grew his beer shed to this 5000+ sq. foot aluminum “Smithsonian” of beer and brew memorabilia.  He even took me out back beyond the shed, showed me some antique farming equipment and told me about his plans for expansion in the coming years.  Neil was a great guy.  He talked a mile a minute, the human version of an audio Wikipidea page…full of plenty of sharp, witty one-liners coated with that classic Aussie sense of humor.  He walked and talked me through nearly every artifact and display that he had in his shed.  Most importantly of all to Neil, he makes sure you are never empty handed while in his presence.  The third round of VB’s pretty much guaranteed that I would be staying longer than I had originally planned.  The tour was very informative and fun, and seemed to get more enjoyable after every sip.  Of course, at the end of the tour I had to ask Neil the million dollar question: “So what’s your favorite beer?”  His response: “Me next one mate!” So if you’re ever in Australia and are looking for a unique and authentic side trip up through the historic region surrounding the mighty Murray River, be sure not to miss The Great Aussie Beer Shed.  Oh, and make sure you pick up a copy of Slim Dusty’s “Beer Drinking Songs of Australia”. 🙂

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