When I saw the Sydney Opera House from afar, all I could think of was the operatic belt depicted in "Finding Nemo." But I'm getting ahead of things...
On January 4th, I got to Christchurch and pretty much broke all of the rules I had set for myself and so faithfully adhered to over the last month: I bought clothes. I picked up more books. I ate at an Americanized, super touristy pseudo-Mexican restaurant, and paid $26 for a sub-par burrito. I even bought a very overpriced margarita. But I was so happy to finally be rid of my plague funk and out and about again, I didn't even care.
Christchurch was a bit of a ghost town while I was there, due to both New Year's holiday closings and destruction from the earthquake in September. They've had over 1000 aftershocks since then, and there were two during my stay (neither of which I felt due to my extensively-documented obliviousness and heavy sleeping tendencies). Christchurch wasn't a complete bust, though. I stayed at Kiwi Basecamp, which had friendly service and FREE fresh-baked bread every morning, and I had a great dinner with Genevieve, an American from California, and spent a very pleasant day and evening with the darkly-witty Catherine from Auckland. The worst thing about traveling is meeting people for a short day whom you wish you could get to know over years. Two shining examples, here.
From Christchurch, I took a day trip to Kaikoura (pronounced "Ky-kota" by the Maori), intent on swimming with dolphins, as enthusiastically prescribed by Joy. Sadly, this was not in the cards; the water was insanely rocky, and my main sightseeing activity ended up being watching almost everyone on the boat vomit miserably into buckets. Silver lining: turns out, I don't get seasick! Actually, the REAL silver lining was that I did get to see wild dolphins, up close and personal, doing their jubilant wild dolphin thing. It was pretty cool. Observe:
After a brief stay back in Auckland (more good times with Cat), it was bye-bye, New Zealand. It was sad to wave farewell to my Kiwi paradise, and I'll admit that I'm already plotting ways to get back there, for longer. But this time, I was headed for Hong Kong, though it took me quite a long time to actually get there.
My layover in Sydney was more lively than expected. In the day and a half I had to check it out, I stayed in a ridiculously huge YHA that had a freaking pool and arcade, and I again met up with Leanne, who has bravely decided to quit her job in the UK and remain in Australia for a year, and her friend, Rhi, at the Sydney Festival in Hyde Park. It was extremely hot out, and while savoring ice cream from one of the stalls and watching a silent movie on the projection screen, we were accosted by these strange birds:
They've got the mentality of NYC pigeons or Ann Arbor squirrels, but seemed way more awesome because of their weird appearance and the fact that I only had to deal with one afternoon of shooing them away. Later, we ambled through the streets and around the harbor, stopping only for beer and macarons. Ah, macarons! Thank you, Abra, for introducing me to these colorful, luscious treats. My life hasn't been the same since. Sydney reminded me of New York (or at least Midtown) like no place ever has. Made me feel a bit cozy in an ultra-commercial, slightly-uncomfortable way. I spent the second day exploring the city on foot, and then it was back to the airport.
Since leaving Australia, I've been in a layover-filled haze, stumbling around Malaysian airports and peeling contacts from bloodshot eyes. I'm now in Hong Kong (my first taste of Asia), and have been in a constant, blissful food coma since my arrival. But more on that later...