I've always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand. So when the opportunity came up to travel with some of my best friends, I had to jump on it! I took a month off work, traveling for a week in Australia and 3 weeks in New Zealand.

I met up with Emily in Sydney. She had been traveling around Asia for the previous 2 months. In Australia, we visited Sydney and Melbourne. Both very modern, hip cities, which we took full advantage of, eating out and hitting the town. We saw an awesome ballet performance at the Sydney Opera House, which is a truly remarkable building. Resfest (a film and video festival) was in Melbourne so I was able to see some of the shows that I missed when it was in SF a few months before. I even got to meet up with a friend who I had met earlier this year on the Great Wall of China!

We got to see some of Australia's beautiful nature as well. We took a train the the Blue Mountains outside Sydney for some hiking, and did a day trip from Melbourne where we got to see kangaroos, wombats, koalas, and penguins! The koalas and penguins were really cute, but the kangaroos kind of looked like big rodents to me.

We met up with Pete in Christchurch, New Zealand. Although it's the biggest town in the south island, at only 330,000 people it has a really different feel than the Australian cities. I certainly found the stereotype of the friendly Aussie and Kiwi to be overwhelmingly true, and a really pleasant change from America.

Pete and I rented motorcycles in Christchurch and set off for a week-long tour of NZ's south island. Pete has written up our daily adventures in an "extended edition" of our bike trip webpage. An excerpt:

Day 4. We got a pretty late start after beginning the day by feeding the animals, tea with the motorcycle rental company and a tour around the farm on the tractor. ... Turning onto gravel roads again after Mossburn, we were the sole company of lonely cattle as we made our way up the enormous valley towards Lake Wakatipu. After a short descent into a lower valley, we had one of our most memorable fordings shortly before reaching the coastline of the lake, and being greeted by roads absolutely thronged with sheep and cattle. We made Walter Peak Station shortly before nightfall, loaded the bikes onto the antique, coal fired steam engine powered ferry, and watched the sun set as we made our way across towards Queenstown.

After the motorcycle trip, we met back up with Emily in Christchurch. The three of us traveled to Wellington, NZ's bustling capitol, for a few days of delicious eats and urban treats. After that Pete had to go home, so Emily and I rented a car and made our way north towards Auckland. It turns out that driving on the other side of the road is a lot trickier than riding. Everything in the car is reversed, so I had to get used to the turn signal being on the right, the mirrors being in different places, etc. But thankfully the driving was uneventful.

One of the highlights of the north island was a caving trip in Waitomo. Amazingly, we were the only people on the trip, although they take up to 8! After rapelling 100 meters down into a canyon, we hiked into the cave entrance. Wearing wet suits and headlamps, we splashed, swam, and squirmed through the pitch-black cave all day long.

We were also lucky enough to find some amazing accommodations on this leg of the trip. At Jack & Di's we stayed in the penthouse for a bargain. It was such a steal that when we first walked in, it was so stunning that we couldn't believe that we were in the right place! The next night, we stayed in a hobbit hole! It had round doors and windows and was built into the side of a hill, just like in the movies :-) I was afraid that it would be dark and dank inside, but it was actually spacious, clean, and beautifully decorated.

Just when we thought that it couldn't get any better, the following night we stayed at the super-cute Abseil Inn (we stayed in the "Bush Room") and had the whole place to ourselves! They had a great view, a cozy living room with a DVD player, awesome wine, and an amazing cooked breakfast. To top it all off, the owners are really sweet -- the hostess was making paper-mache dragons eggs to decorate the local children's library :-)

Despite all the amazing things I saw and did, the real highlight of this trip for me was spending quality time with good friends. Unfortunately photographs can't capture the beauty of our conversations, so you'll have to settle for a glimpse of the picturesque places.