Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tasmania and a Friendly Face

Covering April 12th to 23rd

Before I went to bed sunday, I checked my ticket to find out what time I needed to be at the airport monday. My blood froze. The ticket was for saturday the 11th, not monday the thirteenth. I hadn't looked at it for three months, but remembered having planned to be in New Zealand for three months exactly. Turns out I'd calculated three months from the date of departure from Denmark, Not the arrival in NZ!
All I could do was buy a new ticket for monday. The cheapest one available was 400$, bitter money, but it could be worse. I was unsure whether my visa had run out, which scared the shit out of me. What would the consequences be? The airport staff didn't mention it, so I assume it hadn't expired.

Arriving in Melbourne I checked in to what turned out to be an expensive and crowded hostel. In New Zealand I'd been spoiled for choice of awesome, cheap, homely hostels and I'd expected the same from Australia. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case. Not in the cities anyway.

The next day I woke up to find that a solid fever had taken up residence in my body. It'd probably been stowing away there since the airplane the day before. I was already in a rotten mood because of the hostel and leaving beautiful NZ, but as I went to the library to blog I called up Renée from Tasmania. Turns out she had a few weeks off work, and I booked a plane ticket for tasmania leaving that same afternoon. It's funny how, with some people, it feels like you've known them forever the first time you meet. That's what it felt like with Renée. After my introduction in Dunedin some three months prior, Renée forever referred to me as Socks. I countered by naming her Thunder. I would tell you why, but she'd kill me with that big machete of hers.

You call that a knife?

I spent around 10 days in Tasmania, laughing all the way. Renée showed me Devonport, the Cradle Mountain, and Triwunna Wildlife park where we fed kangaroos.

I'm gonna try and jam my thumb into its butthole, that should really piss him off!

Returning to Launceston (where Renée lives) the fever was clearing. I felt drugged and infinitely happy about the state of things. The road home was beautiful, but I took no pictures as Kings of Leon were on the stereo and I couldn't stop air-drumming.

Saturday, after a little walk around Launceston, we started out on a two day roadtrip. First stop was Hobart where we got uncharmingly drunk and slept in the car.

Renée was driving, so I never really bothered getting out of bed.

Renée's endless fascination with seaweed
I never figured out what this was. I think it was alive. That sounds like a job for, dundunDUNNN. Biophysics!

The next day we went to Port Arthur.

Port arthur is a sobering experience. It's the restorated ruins of an old prison, way out on a peninsula. There's heaps of stories about how bad prison life was, but the worst was about two young boys in the boy's prison. Both aged 12, they were best of friends. One day, when out chopping wood, only one came back. He wouldn't tell where the other had gone. Three days later, a guard found the boy leaning against a tree. His head had been bashed in with a rock, and in his neck was a knife, four inches deep. Now, the blade of said knife was only three inches long, but it had been thrust with such force that one inch of handle had embedded itself too. His mouth was full of maggots, but the worst part is that he was still alive. He was taken back to the infirmary where he only had strength to name his killer before he died. His friend was tried as an adult (as was british custom at the time) and hung by the neck until death.

More than a thousand people, most of them prisoners, were buried on this tiny island.
I don't believe in ghosts so I took this picture in mock terror. Funny thing is, I have no idea what that white smear in the corner is...

That evening we parked the car in a graveyard and slept. It was a bit cold, but otherwise surprisingly comfortable to sleep in the car.
Since the Port Arthur ticket was valid for two days, we went back the next morning to see some of the things we'd missed. As if the whole having-been-a-horrible-prison thing wasn't enough, the old cafeteria had been hit by a killing spree just a decade back, with dousins of people shot dead. My lonely planet book adviced us not to ask the staff about the incident.

Around midday, we arrived at the Freycinet peninsula where we took a swim. The water must have been less than ten degrees, but it was the closest thing to a bath we'd had for days. We took a look at the Grampians, but didn't feel like hiking so we drove back to Launceston.

milliseconds later, this kid was soaked. Nyah nyah nyah hahah!
Armand, the only dog I've ever loved. Looks possessed doesn't he? Well, that's what you get for naming your dog after a vampire!

The next evening Renée had some friends over, which resulted in heavy drinking and sleeping most of the next day away.

Thursday I was bound for Melbourne. Before I left though, we took a walk up the Gorge in Launceston. What a quaint old place that was! It felt a century removed and even in the bleak weather it was very beautiful.
What do you say at goodbyes? I guess Armand got it right. There's nothing to do but stare into the water and maybe chase some geese.

Renée drove me to the airport, and well back in Melbourne I hooked up with some couchsurfers I'd made an appointment with. I'd decided to buy another motorbike, but that's a different story and will have to wait until next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Four dives, one parrot, and a life changing toilet.

Covering april 5th to april 12th

Northland offers a couple of awesome dive-sites. One of them is the Rainbow Warrior, the greenpeace flagship that was bombed by the french government. This is probably the best dive I've done so far in my life. Visibility was 20-25m, the wreck was at a depth of 25 meters, and the wreck itself is out of this world.

Poking my head through the bomb hole I was greeted with the most beautiful sight I've ever seen on a dive as the engine room was lit by a hole in the deck, and in the shadows, thousands and thousands of fish were swimming about.

We followed up with a reef dive. On descend, we were right on top of two big eagle rays, one of which were pregnant. If I'd hit the bottom I would have been standing on them. Beautiful! There were heaps of surge, which caused me to use more air than usual, but it made for a fun dive. Again, the place was teeming with life, and we were constantly being followed by big curious fish. They'd even let us pet them if we were quick enough. We caught a crayfish which they cooked for me afterwards.

I took the crayfish back home to the hostel where I shared it with Kelly who I'd met two nights previous. It tasted good, but I had a hard time getting over the whole snapping off of limbs and sucking out the meat thing. I guess I'm still a city slicker. Besides, it was staring at me.
I filled out my log-book with Kelly besides me and taught her all there is to know about diving in the process. Honest!

The next day I spent chilling in Paihia with Kelly. We had a good breakfast and I checked in at the Pickled Parrot where she was staying.

Meet Rocky!
Meet Kelly! Rocky goes for the throat.
Cautiously getting to know each other.
The first scare turned into an uneasy truce, and eventually, mutual respect. I quicly learned not to wear shirts, necklaces, or anything else he could bite.

I spent another two days chilling and booked my diving at the Poor Knight's Island for friday, spending thursday night in Tutukaka.

The Poor Knight's, according to Jaques Cousteau who has a thing or two to say on the matter, is one of the top ten dive sites in the world. My day here wasn't the best conditions, but we had two good dives none-the-less.

My first buddy only had 11 dives and it'd been 1½ years since his last so he went through his air twice as fast as I did. We'd agreed on a max depth of 25m, but he didn't look at his depth-gauge so I had to fish him up from 27m. There wasn't any danger, but I didn't care to spend my second dive looking after him (that's not what I pay for) and I'd like to spend all my air in the water so I hitched onto another pair.

The second dive was far more interesting, with a small cave-chamber, an arch, rays, and depths to make you dizzy. We didn't exceed 28m, but even at that depth I could see rays on the bottom 15-20 meters below me. That's when you need to keep a close eye on the depth gauge!
One of my buddies on this dive, a girl called Gayle, was just as inexperienced as my former buddy, but far more secure and skilled. All three of us emerged with 50bars on the tank. Perfect!

Inside the cave:

One of the other divers was driving back to Auckland and gave me a ride. All the way we were talking about diving and, in particular, irresponsible instructors. We had a very enlightening chat about the differences between PADI and CMAS certifications. She was very knowledgeable and had very healthy attitudes towards diving and teaching. If you ever feel like taking a PADI certificate in NZ, she'd be the one to look up!
She is: Bianca Stevens at

That night was the first time I called my parents since I left home. It was good to hear their voices again. I hadn't even realized three months had gone by!

The first night in Auckland I stayed in a backpackers, and saturday I had to kill some time until Bojana got off work. Normally, I like to have my breakfeast before turning hookers down, but this morning I had to brush them off as soon as I got out on the street. Did I really look that desperate?

Sunday I spent at Bojana's place. A funny thing happened when I was on the toilet. For years I've been wondering what I wanted to do with my life, but there, on the can in Auckland, everything became clear. Perhaps it was the high ceiling, that loo had room for ambition!

I've long been fascinated with science, but physics and biology have always stood out. There's something about studying life, and there's something about studying the structure of our cosmos. At the same time I've been afraid of starting to study either. Mostly, I couldn't decide if I'd rather play music for a living, if physics would be too hard (and abstract. Visualization is important for my enjoyment of physics, and enjoyment is the deciding factor in wether I'll be any good in my field), and if biology would be too boring (I couldn't see myself staying awake through lecture after lecture on memorizing bones and muscle names).

All morning I'd been surfing Wikipedia. It went something like this: The Sun => Planet => Natural satellite => Europa (moon) => Possibility of life on Europa => Life => Entropy => Entropy of life
All are very interesting articles and definitely worth a read, even if you don't catch it all (entropy, I thought, was a mind-boggling subject and I never got more than a fuzzy idea about it - even with the less technical articles available (look near the top)).
I'm intrigued of how nobody can really agree on how to define life. 'It has DNA' one person says. 'Then how about viruses' says another 'That's just a molecule, yet it adapts to its environment'. 'Life has negative entropy' says a third. 'Yes, but isn't that a bit too abstract?' came the answer.

The universe is a unity. Physics and biology are not two separate phenomena, just terms we concocted to split the universe into smaller, easier-to-understand chunks. Life is not a "mystical force", but an entirely natural consecuence of the physical laws. I want to study, in particular, that specific "event horizon" where "dead matter" turns to "life". I want to study... dundunDUN! Biophysics!

Now that I have something like this to look forward to, I'm no longer afraid of coming home. This adventure doesn't stop when I leave Australia. It's my life!

'But what about music?'
Good question my young padawan. I'll continue to make music, but I'll emphasize having fun with it. Just like with my studies. If that means that nobody but me cares for it, then so be it!

So, next time you feel a rumble in your tummy, be sure you seat yourself comfortably. It might change your life!

Editor's note: Many years later, when Jophiel had been awarded a combined nobel prize for physics and biology (they threw in chemistry and peace as well for good measure), Bojana started renting out the lavatorial facilities of her Auckland home. Before long, when rumors of the miracle powers of the "Auck-loo" were circled on the internet, Bojana became the world's most wealthy woman.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Diving and Driving

Covering april 3rd to 5th

Friday dawned bright and early and - for the first time in six months - I was going diving.
Destination: HMNZS Canterbury, a 113m long Leander class frigate scuttled after decomision to serve as a divesite and artificial reef.
Depth, bottom: 38m
Depth, tower: 12m

This dive was AWESOME! It didn't feel as deep as it was because of an excellent visibility of ca 20m, which means that heaps of light made it to the bottom. You could even see the tower from the boat before going in the water!
This dive was my first penetration dive and I was a bit nervous about it. We went in through the hangar and exited shortly after, swam up to the prow, back to the bridge and entered there as well before we started the ascent.

in the deep, all cats are greenish blue.

It's been ages since I've dived in a wetsuit, and I'd forgotten how comfortable and agile they are compared to drysuits. Three very experienced divers were diving in drysuits. 'How come you wear them on this dive? Don't you have wetsuits?' I asked. 'Yeah, but it gets quite chilly down there' came the reply. 'What temperatures are we looking at on the bottom?' I asked, fearing I might get cold in my wetsuit. 'Around 20 degrees celsius' he said in a serious voice. I couldn't stop laughing.

The second dive was even better than the first one. Conditions were just as good as on the first descend, but this time we penetrated just below decks and swam the length of the ship inside. I was very excited all the way through and couldn't stop cackling in my mouthpiece. If anyone had heard, they'd have thought I was narc'd.

In the creek by the dive center, eight huge eels hung out. They took an instant interest in my camera.

After the dive I got a ride to Paihia were the Canterbury's screw stood.

This house is so cool!

Not too far from Paihia there's a mangrove forest.

Saturday I went to the pub with a bloke from the hostel to watch a rugby match. I've never been much for sports (except for underwater rugby), but when I saw my first rugby match it was love at first sight. It's best described as american football for men. There's no protection, bloody tackles, and nary a timeout in a game. They don't even stop the game to treat the wounded, they just play around them as the medics examine them. For real!
Rugby is everything a real ballgame should be. It's fast-paced, fluent, brutal, and extremely entertaining.
After the game I quickly got tired of the pooltable. Instead, I went partying and almost got into a fight on two seperate occasions. Fortunately, I'm a good diplomat, even when extremely drunk, so none turned into anything. Don't go out in Paihia when the locals are drunk!

Sunday morning at 7:15 I boarded a bus-tour headed to Cape Reinga. I wasn't hung over. I was still drunk! This tour turned out to be the best tours I've ever done in a bus. The ninety mile beach is a beautiful stretch flat sand which is legally a highway with 100km/h speed limits.
Technically, it's only 55 miles long, but that doesn't seem to bother the kiwis. Australia has an 80 mile beach, and the kiwis are not about to be upstaged by the west-islanders, so the name stuck.

Turning off the beach we passed my favourite warning sign so far:


This was where the fun began.
Remember back when I was young, naive, and still thought that off-roading in a nissan bluebird was a death-defying act? Well, that's for pussies.
Now, off-roading in a fully packed tour bus is a different matter entirely! Full on!

Our guide, Spike, had recently escaped from the madhouse and kept us entertained with an endless rant about birds, bush and Maori culture, interspersed with music by kiwi bands. He made an already good trip heaps more entertaining.
Stopping on the ninety mile beach he showed us how to catch Pipi, a shellfish, and taught us how to open and eat them. The texture was like raw chicken, and the taste was very salty, but it was fun to try.

Next up was sandboarding, where you climb to the top of a dune, throw yourself on a board and try to control your mad plunge down the slope. Doing a running start was great for getting extra speed, but difficult due to the natural fear of having one's teeth knocked out. I did it, and ended up halfway through the stream at the foot of the dune. Hell yeah!

The cape was beautiful, spectacular, and all that jazz, but another highlight was bathing in the pacific on the way home. That's two seas in one day, the first being the Tasman sea at ninety mile beach. The waves in the pacific were sick as, and several times I was knocked straight off my feet. Mad fun though!

Cape Reinga. We were dodging rainclouds all day.

In the bus I met an irish girl whose name I forget, and Caroline from Frederiksberg, Denmark. We struck up a conversation and she asked me for advice on what to see in NZ as she'd only just started her trip. The three of us agreed to meet that evening to plan her trip. I remember specifically telling her to try the Green Glow caving, the Queenstown Fergburger, and remember to buy insect repellant. Sandflys is New Zealands best kept secret.
As my New Zealand trip was coming to a close, passing on my experiences was a great way to round the whole thing off. For the last couple of nights I'd had nightmares about coming back to Denmark, my big adventure being over, and they'd left me feeling really sad in the mornings. I hadn't realized I was so afraid of it. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family of course, but getting back into that old tedium... Horrible! That night, however, I felt a real sense of completion about my New Zealand trip.