Sydney’s Founding, Fireworks and Fuzzy Creatures

Australian school children are taught that in 1770 James Cook sailed his mighty ship, the HMS Endeavour, half way 'round the world, discovered Australia and planted the Union Jack, claiming the land for Great Britain. Never mind that Cook wasn’t actually captain of the Endeavor, or that the ship’s primary mission was to measure, from Tahiti, Venus’s transit across the sun and assist European astronomers in calculating Earth’s distance from it. Or that the Portuguese  had visited two hundred years earlier, even leaving behind a couple of cannons. Or that in 1642 Dutch captain Abel Tasman popped into Tasmania in the south, just before heading on to ... [Read More]

The Rock

  No, not that one. This rock is ever so much older than the famed prison in San Francisco Bay, and even cooler than Sean Connery. I’m speaking, of course, about Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as it is still known throughout much of the world. In July of 1873, Australian Explorer William Gosse, lost and desperately in need of water for himself and his team of camels, stumbled upon a massive red rock rising abruptly from the middle of the Outback. Stunned by the magnificence of the formation he described as" the most wonderful natural feature I have ever seen," Gosse nevertheless had the sycophantic presence of mind to ... [Read More]

The Reef

 One of the seven wonders of the natural world, The Great Barrier Reef is either 1,600 miles long, or 1,800, covers 100,000 square miles or 137,000 square miles and is about the size of Italy. Or Kansas, depending on which sources you consult. While few can agree on exactly where The Reef begins, all seem to agree that it’s Great. Very rarely do you find it referred to as the Mostly Swell Barrier Reef. Made up of around 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest single living organism. It’s home to thousands of sea creatures, including 1,500 species of colorful ... [Read More]

Condos vs. Koalas

  In 1933 the little town of Elston was a nothingball seaside hamlet straddling a gorgeous stretch of beach along Australia’s Gold Coast. Jim Cavill, a well-to-do hotelier from Brisbane, an hour’s drive north, opened a small hotel in Elston that year. He quickly realized that tourists were unlikely to flock to “Elston” and started pushing the city council to change the town’s name. Cavill suggested, rather firmly, “Surfer’s Paradise,” which just happened to be the name of his little hotel, and the city council agreed (surely not because of pressure from a wealthy businessman.) The rest, as they say, is history. This once quaint, sleepy little town is ... [Read More]

Stupid Tourist Questions While Bare-assed on The Bridge

  Today Soo and I dropped our pants and walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was wonderfully exciting, but not because we were going commando. In fact, we were surrounded by people who had similarly dropped trou before the crossing. Several of those did seem a bit befuddled by the whole thing, terribly unsettled by all these “trouser-less shenanigans.” Thank you for joining us, Stupid Tourists. It embarrasses me to admit that so often in my travels, when I encounter a group addlebrained, self-absorbed dolts, they’re American. (I even once invented a country and claimed to be from it, so embarrassed was I by my countrymen. Unsurprisingly, a ... [Read More]

Being Kiwi

  Brendan Gill once wrote “Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.” The Kiwis were apparently paying attention. New Zealanders are an irreverent bunch, playful, adventurous, and happy, quite possibly the happiest people I’ve ever known. Kiwis don’t just live life, they attack it, with a wink and a grin. The approach to the world’s highest cliff jump has a couple of somber warnings for wary visitors, carefully placed along the gravely walkway. This is not surprising, since one side of the walkway is a sheer cliff, off which you’d enjoy a 300-foot plummet before face-planting into the canyon below at 100 ... [Read More]

Jumping off Cliffs in Queenstown

  It’s said that if you throw a Kiwi at anything Mother Nature created he’ll immediately turn it into an adventure sport. New Zealand, a country of a mere 4.2 million people, invented bungee jumping. They absolutely own rugby, one of the most physically challenging sports in the world, winning the Rugby World Cup last year, and their national team, the All-Blacks, has the best winning record of any national team in the world. Though they have a population less than that of San Francisco, the Kiwis somehow manage to best the rest of the world on a regular basis in the America’s Cup yacht race, and they habitually ... [Read More]

Swimming with sharks and rays!

  Bora Bora is one of those places impossible not to love. The days tend to run together in your memory into a sort of collage of stunning beauty, where individual moments tend to be less remembered than the overall awe-struck image of the place. The one adventure seared indelibly into my memory, however, was that which took us out to swim with black-tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks and stingrays. The listing on the Le Meridian activities menu called this particular excursion a “Ray and Shark Feeding.” The detailed explanation said we’d enjoy an “Island tour in a Polynesian pirogue, 3 stops, beverages & fresh fruits.” It failed ... [Read More]

Unpopular in Bora Bora

I believe I’ve had more people tell me they hate me in the last few weeks than in the last few years combined. The conversations would usually go a little something like this: “Got any trips coming up?” “Yeah, one.” “Oh? Anyplace interesting?” “Bora Bora.” “I hate you.” This flat statement, often hissed between clenched teeth, was usually accompanied by a disgusted stare, occasional pursed lips and even a few flared nostrils. One colleague eventually graduated from telling me she hated me to telling me on my Facebook page to go “eff” myself. This is a tad unfair. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to hate me; I like to fart in crowded ... [Read More]

From Auckland to Shanghai

You’ve heard the old adage “going around your ass to reach your elbow?” Apparently I view this as the most direct route. When my colleague Sia heard I was going to be in New Zealand he asked if I’d pop over to Shanghai for a couple of days of meetings. “Sure,” I said, “that sounds perfectly reasonable!” I don’t recall being drunk during this conversation, or having suffered a concussion recently, so I’m left struggling to explain this decision. I like to think I’m fairly well-versed in world geography, and moderately informed when it comes to travel times between countries. For some reason I still can’t quite fathom I ... [Read More]