Archive for April, 2009


Full Moon Parties in Australia

April 28, 2009
Full Moon Party on Magnetic Island

Full Moon Party on Magnetic Island

The first Full Moon Party took place on the beach of Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand back in 1987. Over the past 20 years it’s grown from a few dozen revelers to more than 10,000 celebrants each month. It’s a destination for many backpackers, and has spawned several other Full Moon events around the world.

If Thailand isn’t on your agenda, but you’re still headed south for the winter, check out the happenings on Magnetic Island, just off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Every month there’s a new Full Moon Party at base backpackers. Plan ahead for these dates:

  • Friday 8th May 2009
  • Friday 5th June 2009
  • Saturday 4th July 2009
  • Saturday 8th August 2009

Magnetic Island is a popular destination for diving, kayaking, touring the Reef, jetskiing, and just kicking back as well, so when you’re bored with Sydney (is that possible?), and looking for something further off the beaten backpacker track than Byron Bay or the Whitsundays, hop on a ferry and forget about civilization for a while.

And ladies, if you want to get away from it all, but not so far away that you can’t find a hair dryer, try base’s Sanctuary – girls-only accommodation that includes niceties you don’t usually find in other hostels. Co-ed dorms can be fun, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the snoring and smelly shoes and things that go ‘burp’ in the night.

As always, get your ISIC before you go to take advantage of the great discounts. The more you save, the longer you can play.


New Zealand News: Islands Have No Names

April 22, 2009
Abel Tasman: A place with an official name.

Abel Tasman: A place with an official name.

Saw this in the news today:

“Experts searching for alternative Maori names for New Zealand’s two main islands were startled to find that their commonly used English names — North Island and South Island — were never made legal, officials said Tuesday.”

How awesome is that? New Zealand is a completely modern country. They have indoor plumbing, McDonald’s, wi-fi and Oprah. And yet, they just now realized that no one ever quite got around to naming their islands in any official way.

This is the same country that, according to my tour guide at the Beehive (the capitol building in Wellington), used a sawed off pool cue for one of the government’s traditional ceremonies all through the 1920s, just because it was handy, and they hadn’t gotten around to getting an official rod made.


If you’re looking for a low-key, relaxing, no-pressure sort of place to travel over your student holidays, New Zealand is for you. Talk to the equally low-key travel experts at Travel CUTS to get hooked up.



Australia Travel Guide: Mardi Gras in Sydney

April 20, 2009

mardiflagWhen I started planning this trip, I was only expecting to visit New Zealand. I knew that even with almost three weeks there, it would be exhausting trying to see everything I wanted to.

Then my friend, Jorge, said the magic words to get me to spend a few days in Sydney: Mardi Gras.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras is one of the most famous gay events in the world, and in 2006 Conde Nast named it as one of the world’s top ten costume parades. The LGBT community held their first parade in 1978 with a couple thousand participants, and now the parade and other events bring around half a million people to Sydney.

The magic words worked on Elizabeth too, and so the two of us flew to Sydney from Christchurch to join the party. Once Elizabeth and I arrived, Jorge gave us our next choice: Watch the parade, or be in it? He said that trying to find a place to watch the parade could be difficult, as people show up hours ahead of time to stake out a piece of sidewalk. But marching in the parade, besides being tons of fun, gives you a front-row seat to the action.

mardigras1We agreed to march with his group, a counseling hotline, and so I put on my best dancing-in-the-street shoes.

The parade doesn’t start until after dark, so you get to enjoy all the lights and disco balls on the floats, like little traveling nightclubs. Walking around before the parade started, we got to take in some of the wild and colorful, metal and leathery costumes people had created. I’m pretty sure I also saw more naked butt cheeks in one night than I’ve seen in my entire life. Some were nice and fit, but others old and wrinkly or pale and flat and a little disappointing.

Sydney has some of the best drag queens I’ve ever seen (and I’m from San Francisco), and the music and energy of the pre-parade festivities seemed to spread through the entire city.

mardijorgeOnce the parade started, all we had to do was have a great time as we walked, jogged, danced and skipped down Oxford Street. Athough plenty of straight people participate and watch, all of Sydney is covered in rainbows and pink Australian flags for the event and Oxford Street in particular in bright colors.

Marching in the Mardi Gras parade was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you ever have a chance to do something like it, go for it. We all felt like rock stars with thousands of people waving and smiling and shouting and taking our pictures. It was much different from the local St. Patrick’s Day parade my high school band used to march in, surrounded by boy scouts and baton twirlers.

mardicrowdThe only downside? While most people kept partying the night away, we were so exhausted by the time the parade was over, we caught a cab home and crashed. But my time in Sydney wasn’t up yet.

Next: More of Sydney!



New Zealand Travel Guide: Christchurch

April 14, 2009

Days 9, 10 and a little 11

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

After a week on my own in New Zealand’s North Island, hopping buses, reading maps and sleeping in bunk beds, I was very ready to relax and let someone look after me for a bit.

From Wellington I flew to Christchurch (just US$35, one-way, on Pacific Blue) to meet up with Elizabeth, a friend of mine from college who moved to New Zealand after graduation. Her mom’s a Kiwi and Elizabeth already had citizenship there, making it simple to get a job and apply to do her master’s degree in Christchurch.

I don’t think there’s anything I like more than being met at the airport by someone I know. Seeing a friendly face, getting a hug and having someone ask me, “Can I grab your bag for you?” is heaven. Prying my bag off of my body, out of the permanent indent it had formed in my shoulder, is even more heavenly. Then getting into a real car, without having to sort through change and figure out the price of a ticket? Civilization has never been so satisfying.

Aside from the pampering, the other benefit to staying with a friend is that they can take over the planning, and can show you more of what real life is like where they are, with some sightseeing sprinkled in.

I’ve been to Christchurch once before, so I wasn’t too concerned about seeing all of the sights in the day and a half I was there, but here are the things you should be sure to catch:

  • Have lunch, do some shopping, and catch a lecture in Cathedral Square. It’s not huge, but there’s a lot going on in the middle of town. You have the famous landmarks (Christchurch Cathedral and Chalice, the torch sculpture thing), a local celebrity (the Wizard gives regular soapbox speeches on everything he thinks is wrong with the world), and lots of vendors selling clothing, pottery, bags, souvenirs and bone and jade carved jewelry. There’s also a visitor’s center here if you need any maps or brochures.
  • For a combination of history, shopping and a trendy pub stop, take a walk around the Arts Centre. It used to be Canterbury University, and now is home to artist studios, markets, cafes and the Dux de Lux, a very cool vegetarian cafe/bar. They have a very interesting take on a Mexican pizza.
The Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens

  • Christchurch is The Garden City, so you need to visit the Botanic Gardens, if only to take some pictures to show your mom. She’ll think you spent your whole trip seeing the most wholesome sights, and will never have to know about the English backpackers you picked up in cheap bars. It is a beautiful park though, and a good place to nurse a hangover or write some postcards.
  • For an art stop, you can take your pick from the Centre of Contemporary Art, the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Canterbury Museum. The first features modern works, the second has a lot of local and Maori pieces and the third includes geology, zoology, Maori, Asian and European collections.
  • Punt your way down the Avon. No, it has nothing to do with football. You hire a punter to steer you serenely down the river in their boat. It feels very English and is far cheaper than the gondolas in Italy.

If you still have some time on your hands, here are a few more options:

  • Find a TV and watch the worst morning show ever. TV is never essential to travel, but if you’re in a place for a while and want to get a better feel for how the locals live, it doesn’t hurt to listen to their radio stations and watch their TV shows. Elizabeth let me know that the morning show was beyond bad, and since I had a morning to prop my feet up and rest, I had a look, and it was dreadful to the point that I now consider Matt Lauer to be a hosting genius.Honestly, a woman named Astar spend 15 minutes trying to teach people how to glue buttons on canvas to make art when all she had to say was, “Glue some buttons on a canvas to create your own art.” Oi.
  • Right in Cathedral Square there’s the Southern Encounter Aquarium where you can see all sorts of fish, sharks, snakes and buggy things, plus kiwi. They have two in a dark habitat that you can sneek into and watch (as long as you stay silent so as not to scare them). This isn’t the biggest or best animal-watching place in New Zealand, but if you haven’t had a chance to see a kiwi anywhere else, it’s not bad. Try to go early though, as the kiwis get lazy after lunch and you might not see them at all.
The Cupcake Parlour: Perfect for an afternoon snack.

The Cupcake Parlour: Perfect for an afternoon snack.

  • Stop for a snack at the Cupcake Parlour. Cupcakes have been the new black in the States for a while now, but the trend has spread all over. At this place you can try some regional favorites, like Passionfruit Lovelies or Ginger Goddess.

While I didn’t feel like Christchurch was as energetic as Wellington, it still has far more charm than Auckland, and I’d recommend that you spend at least two days there.

I was sad to leave, but very excited that Elizabeth was joining me for my next destination:  Sydney, Australia!


Start Planning for ANZAC Day: April 25th

April 9, 2009

Australian flagYes, I got to spend three weeks playing around New Zealand and Australia, and I wish everyone else could go and have as awesome a time as I had.

Buy maybe a trip like that’s not in the cards for you right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some ANZAC day festivities in honor of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. In fact, why not host a party at your place? Invite some friends for a staycation and let your minds and spirits head Down Under while your bodies stay where they are.

First, hit up your local Cost Plus for some Tim Tams – Australia’s most popular biscuits (cookies). If you want to look like an Aussie expert, try a Tim Tam Slam: Bite off both ends then suck up your hot chocolate, coffee or tea, using the cookie like a straw.

Next, try your hand at baking some Lamingtons or a Pavlova, two traditional Aussie desserts. Top your Pavlova with Kiwi if you want to include New Zealand as well, and you should. It’s only fair.

If you want a main course as well, go for meat pies, or sausage rolls, or damper and billy tea. Top it off with some Bundaberg rum, or a case of VB if you can find it. If not, find anything flavored with passionfruit.

Opera HouseLoad up your iPod or other DJ-ing device with Kylie Minogue, Men at Work, Crowded House, iOTA, Karnivool, Killing Heidi, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, Silverchair, Flight of the Conchords, Howie Day and INXS, and you’ve got an international event on your hands. (Shags in swags optional.)

Travel is a state of mind as much as a hobby. Put your mind in multi-cultural mode and your feet will soon follow. If after the festivities you can’t stand to stay home for another single second and are ready to make a trip to Australia or New Zealand no matter what, then talk to your friendly Travel CUTS agent.

Travel CUTS has excellent student travel deals to both locations, they can get you signed up for and ISIC and a hotel membership, and they can walk you through all the hop-on, hop-off bus routes you might be interested in.

Now, pass me a Vegemite sandwich and a Chocolate Fish.


Get a Free Night (or Two) in London

April 6, 2009
The Generator Bar - Because everyone looks cool when they're blue and glowy.

The Generator Bar - Because everyone looks cool when they're blue and glowy.

I love London. It’s full of history and pubs and English boys with skillfully mussed hair who shout “Oi!” and use sexy slang. The last time I was there I stayed at the Generator Hostel in Russell Square, a couple of blocks from the British museum and close to the downtown theater and nightclub area.

The Generator is similar to a BASE Backpackers, with a bar right in the building that offers great drink specials. The lodgings aren’t plush, but if you’re looking for a good time in an excellent location, this is the place for you.

And now you can get a night or two at the Generator for free by booking one of these Topdeck tours with Travel CUTS (only if you’re booking a trip from Canada; sorry Americans, this deal isn’t open to you). With other tours you get a free stay at the Umi Hotel in the Notting Hill area of London, which is equally cool, but maybe not as wild.

With Topdeck you can choose between a EuroCamping tour (sleep under the European skies!), or a EuroClub trip, where you stay in hostels, cabins, castles & yachts. 

Summer is coming, people, and your student days are coming to a close. Start planning your travel adventures now while the deals are still good!


20% Off Busabout Europe! No Foolin’.

April 1, 2009
Get on the Busabout!

Get on the Busabout!

Traveling around New Zealand is really easy with a hop-on, hop-off service like the Magic Bus. You can spend days, weeks or months to get around one or both islands, you have a driver who helps you figure out what sights and activities you want to do, where to stay, and where to get the best deals on drinks. (Yes, that’s an important one.)

If you like that style of travel, you can do it around Europe too. There’s no Magic Bus, but there is Busabout. With Busabout you can choose one of 15 different passes depending on where you want to go. Their routes cover 30 of Europe’s most popular destinations across 10 countries, so you have plenty of options.

Busabout doesn’t operate all year, but any pass you buy is good from May to October, which gives you all summer and then some to travel. And right now, Travel CUTS is giving you 20% off Busabout Flexitrips, Flexiroute loops and Flexitrip one-way passes if you purchase between April 1st and 30th.

If you know you’re doing Europe this summer, take a look at this deal. If bus travel isn’t for you, give them a call anyway to see what they have for you in a Eurail pass, or maybe just a couple of cheap flights to get you from Paris to Lisbon, or Rome to Munich, or wherever your adventure takes you.

Show me the American deals!

Show me the Canadian deals!