Christmas Road Trip: Part 1

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The Nugget Point Lighthouse

For my 10 day break from teaching in Christchurch, I took a 10 day road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. I headed south from Christchurch and spent a couple of days in the Catlins, then spent a rainy Christmas day in Bluff. This part of the country is less heavily touristed than most others and I was able to do quite a bit of sightseeing and hiking in relative tranquility. Highlights of the first few days were the Moeraki Boulders, Nugget Point, the trio of waterfalls (Purakaunui, Mclean, and Matai), and hiking in Bluff. There are amazing birds and flowers as well as spectacular ocean views from the Bluff lookout.

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Taylor’s Mistake at Godley Head

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The view from Godley Head

I spent a gorgeous, but hot, Sunday afternoon walking Taylor’s Mistake at Godley Head with a Meetup group. It’s an easy coastal walk with amazing views and plenty of history. There are World War II fortifications and remains of old holiday homes from the late 1800s. It’s a wonderful way to spend a day not too far out of Christchurch.

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Scuba Diving in Manly

Anemones at Shelly Beach in Manly

Anemones at Shelly Beach in Manly

I didn’t get a chance to go scuba diving in Tasmania, so I wanted to make sure I went in Sydney before leaving Australia to get one last day in. I was referred to Dive Centre Manly, who do regular shore dives from Shelly Beach. The dive site is well sheltered with good visibility, and rather shallow at a max depth of about 10 meters.

The site has several friendly blue gropers as well as cuttlefish, octopuses, wobbegong sharks, sweepers, cockatoo fish, and huge schools of barracuda and others. Unfortunately the rare weedy seadragon is no longer at the site, as the colony that had been there died off a few years ago and they never repopulated.

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The Coast Walk at Royal National Park

The iconic wedding cake rock on the coast walk in Royal National Park

The iconic wedding cake rock on the coast walk in Royal National Park

The very last stop on my ten month trip through Australia was, finally, Sydney and the surrounding area. I met up with an old travel friend and he insisted we go on the Coast Walk in Royal National Park, which is just south of Sydney. We didn’t have time (or energy, frankly) to do the entire 26k trek, but we did about a third of it. There are gorgeous cliffs, a huge variety of plant and animal life, and swimming holes along the way.

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The Tasman Peninsula

A view of Wineglass Bay from the lookout

A view of Wineglass Bay from the lookout on Tasman Peninsula

After finished up my teaching contract in Darwin I headed to Tasmania for a 17 day road trip. It was an absolutely stunning state and I met the kindest people, ate the most delicious local food (oysters, cheese, beer and wine, chocolate, salmon, beef…), and saw an abundance of animals. There are dozens of short hiking trails which I used as the foundation to plan my trip. I flew into Hobart and essentially made a big counter-clockwise circle, making my first major stop the Tasman Peninsula.

Most famous for Port Arthur (which I didn’t have time to see), the peninsula is also home to amazing cliffscapes and the postcard-worthy Wineglass Bay.

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Scuba Diving Ningaloo Reef: The Canyon

A turtle at The Canyon, Ningaloo Reef

A turtle at The Canyon, Ningaloo Reef

I did a one day dive trip with Ningaloo Reef Dive and got a bit closer to the spectacular west coast corals and sea creatures. The highlight was definitely the hard coral structures, but I also saw two turtles, a gorgeous trumpet fish and a nudibranch. Unfortunately the visibility was uncharacteristically low, at about 7 meters, so I didn’t get so many amazing shots. Here’s a sampling.

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Snorkeling in Coral Bay

A hard coral at Coral Bay

A hard coral at Coral Bay

For Christmas  break I headed to the west coast of Australia for a week. I was meant to go on a road trip stopping at all the major sites between Perth and Exmouth, but due to a hangover-induced oversight I lost my driver’s license at the Darwin airport. After a couple of hours of pure panic at the Perth airport, I realized I could get a bus up to Coral Bay and actually have a pretty good trip regardless of the lack of rental car.

So, after a 15 hour bus trip I arrived at the tiny town (pop. 190) in WA and settled into the friendly Ningaloo Club hostel. The next day the staff directed me to the best snorkeling spot, which happens to be just a few meters off the beach. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can literally walk into a coral reef. Absolutely stunning.

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