A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Posts from — December 2008

NYE 2009 Sydney


In retrospect, our original plan was insane.

For some reason, we thought we would be able to claim one of the prime viewing spots for the NYE fireworks over Sydney Harbor.

So off we went to Macquarie Point with the idea we’d be able to just stroll in. When we arrived, we found people had been lining up for the limited access site since 6 AM.

Needless to say, we needed to come up with a Plan B.


For most of the day Plan B didn’t materialize. But late in the afternoon we talked to a local who tipped us off to a small beach with a good view of the Harbor Bridge.

This same local thought we were crazy to even try to get a spot near the Opera House earlier in the day.

She said: What were you thinking? Did you really want to be in the middle of 1.5 million drunken Australians?  …You know how we are.”

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December 31, 2008   5 Comments

Question Time


Canberra is a compromise.

Like all well-intentioned compromises, it excites no one.  A bit like kissing your sister.  You see, Australia’s capital city – like America’s – was sited and built to appease a regional rivalry.

In Australia’s case, residents of both Sydney and Melbourne thought their city should be the country’s capital.  The creation of Canberra was the solution.

The capital city, designed by one-time Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice Walter Burley Griffin, is long on symbolism, short on functionality.

The circle is one of the city’s key design elements. While it may look good on landscape design rendering, it makes getting from Point A to Point B a bit challenging.


I can imagine the meeting when Griffin presented his plans:  “And so Mr. Prime Minister, with this design you will have a city that communicates to your citizens the strength, continuity and unity of this great country.”

Too bad no one thought to say:  “All well and good, but how the hell is someone supposed to drive on this?  Get me someone who know how to lay out a proper grid!”

Like most people who visit this city, we had come to Canberra because we had business with the Federal Parliament. Wayne Swan, a friend of twenty years, had recently risen to the position of Federal Treasurer.

Swan’s office had kindly coordinated tickets for us to attend Question Time, a regular occurrence in parliamentary systems where Backbench Members of Parliament are allowed time to question the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet.

On the day we attended, Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd displayed the rhetorical skills that have helped earn him a 70% approval rating.

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December 29, 2008   2 Comments

Boxing Day


Most Americans have no idea what Boxing Day is or when it’s celebrated.

When I was told it was a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, I figured it must be the day family members settled longstanding grievances that inevitably surface during holiday get-togethers.

Not so, it turns out.

The holiday’s roots can be traced to Britain, where it is also known as St. Stephen’s Day.

Reduced to its simplest, Boxing Day began as the day the rich gave cash or other gifts to the lower classes.

Gifts among equals were exchanged on Christmas Day; gifts to the poor and those of a lower social class are given on the next day.

In practice, Boxing Day has become another public holiday that sets up a long weekend. In Australia, think of it as a sort of antipodean Fourth of July (without the fireworks).

It’s also the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race, one of the top offshore yacht races in the world.  More than 500,000 people found vantage points along the Sydney harbor foreshore to watch the start of the race.

Sydney Hobart Race

One hundred boats started the race and thousands more filled the harbor, providing the racers an escort just beyond the north and south heads.

The prohibitive favorite this year is the Australian yacht Wild Oats XI. But the most interesting entrant is Pachamama, the first Swiss boat to enter the race.

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December 26, 2008   5 Comments

Who’s Your Secret Santa?





And a few more Aussie Christmas images:

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December 25, 2008   3 Comments

Land of Oz


Early one evening when I was about seven I walked into the kitchen where my father was sitting at the table alone, eating his dinner before he had to leave for work.

He looked up from his plate and said:  “You should know — when you’re 14 we are moving to Australia.  Better start studying up on it.”

Now this was news to me.  Being the earnest young man I was, I went immediately to our bookcase and pulled out the “A” volume of our World Book Encyclopedia.  I bet I read the entry about Australia thirty times.

From that day on I read everything I could about Australia.  I scanned newspapers and magazines for stories.  I checked out books from the school library. I searched our stack of National Geographics for every scrap of information.

Other boys my age read all they could about the Orioles and the Colts.  I read about Kangaroos and Koalas.


I’m not sure how old I was when I figured out we weren’t going to be moving anywhere.  Memorial Stadium in Baltimore was about as far as my father was comfortable traveling from the Eastern Shore.

Still, my childhood fascination with the Land Down Under has served me well over the years.

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December 22, 2008   4 Comments

Our Time in New Zealand


On our New Zealand road trip, we drove several thousand kilometers from Auckland to Queenstown and back. The country lived up to its reputation: Clean, green and stunning.

Our country report, including our route and our recommendations, is here.

December 19, 2008   Comments Off on Our Time in New Zealand

A Theory of Civilization

Since leaving the United States in July, I have been working on a unified Theory of Civilization – and I have come to this:

A civilization can be measured by the access it offers to public toilets —  the quantity, quality and cost.

By that measure, New Zealand is the most enlightened civilization we have encountered yet.  Every town and attraction has clearly marked, clean, free public toilets.

Whenever nature called, we would begin looking for the ubiquitous blue signs directing us to public facilities.


In most places the toilets were rather ordinary.  However several towns we visited had exceptional offerings.

In Auckland and Queenstown, we found space-pod toilets with computerized doors.


In the town of Franz Josef, I snapped this picture of the EXCELoo.


But nothing compared to Lake Taupo’s SUPERLOO, with its showers, lockers and 24-hour loo attendant.


New Zealand set a very high, very civilized standard (far better than the U.S.!).  I can’t imagine Australia will put as much emphasis on public comfort.

In fact, there’s only one potential competitor I see on the horizon:  Japan.

December 17, 2008   8 Comments

Learning Curve


I have always been devoted to manuals.  I used one to prepare me for Caroline’s birth.  And after bringing her home, I consulted another about how to actually care for our new baby.

But here’s the thing: my in-car frantic final stage of labor was not in the book.  And none of those words in the baby-raising guide were really getting me any closer to feeling like the good mom I wanted to be.

The longer I kept my brow furrowed over things I read, the longer it took me to trust myself and my own experience.

I am embarrassed to say that in preparation for our trip I repeated this same mistake yet again and spent countless hours studying what to expect when you are traveling around the world with your family for a year.

How should we segment our time to include schoolwork?  What shoes should I take?  Should we schedule hostels well in advance, or do it on the fly?  I would read enough to have it all worked out and things would all run seamlessly.

Yet, no matter how much I’d read, until we actually got on the road, just like when we brought home that new baby, I couldn’t possibly have known what to expect.

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December 15, 2008   12 Comments

South Island’s Wild West Coast


From Queenstown, we crossed the Southern Alps to drive up the South Island’s wild west coast.

Around Haast, the road turns north, through enormous stands of temperate rain forest, wetlands and waterfalls.




A few hours further on, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers attract adventure-seekers from around the world. We hiked several miles to the terminal face of the glacier — and when we turned around we marveled at the size of the valley the glacier filled just a century ago.



As we continued north past Greymouth, we came to a stretch of road Lonely Planet has rated as one of the ten best drives on earth. It did not disappoint.

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December 12, 2008   Comments Off on South Island’s Wild West Coast

Just Do It Kiwi


For such a small, remote nation, New Zealand has had extraordinary impact far beyond its shores.

In 1893, NZ became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote; in 1898 it introduced old-age pensions.  After World War I, NZ was a founding member of the League of Nations.

In 1984 the country stood up to the United States by barring nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering NZ waters. Now NZ is a world leader on environmental and sustainability issues.

The country’s leadership on political and social issues is equaled by its impact in sports. Difficult sports.

The All-Blacks, NZ’s rugby team, dominated rugby union for most of the 20th century.  NZ Challenge has won two America’s Cups, and the country’s sailors are considered among the best in the world. And Kiwis have excelled in the triathalon, picking up gold and silver medals in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

For many, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mt. Everest, was the quintessential Kiwi — humble, practical, always prepared.

Today NZ is leading in a new arena: Extreme Sports.

Kiwi AJ Hackett made bungy jumping famous with a 1986 plunge from the Eiffel Tower.

Two decades later, bungy, along with jetboating, skydiving and paragliding are well-established activities in NZ.

Every day it seems some Kiwi dreams up a new extreme sport or activity.  Drive around the North and South Islands and you will have the opportunity to go zorbing, quad-biking, cave rafting, river sledging (white-water body boarding), and blokarting (windsurfing on wheels).

While many consider the Kiwis crazy, they don’t see it that way.  Life’s an adventure, and with the right preparation almost any activity can be enjoyed safely.

Even the very extreme Shotover Canyon Swing.

December 10, 2008   4 Comments

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