Sonamoo at Gimpo 2017-01-22

Recently reinvigorated from my long hibernation from the K-Pop scene by a total immersion in fresh Lime water had me completely refreshed and ready for the next adventure – a visit to SECRET’s baby sisters, Sonamoo. As I’ve mentioned many a time, SECRET and Hello Venus have been neck and neck for my top girl group slot for the longest time, with SECRET only recently pulling into a pretty secure first place. Sonamoo, on the other hand, since their debut, have been pulling forward drastically and with breakneck speed. They have pulled up right alongside Hello Venus and are now competing for second place, though it’s a hard fought battle at that point. There’s just so much that they do that reminds me of SECRET (They are both TS Entertainment groups after all) and they are a whole lot of fun as individuals. They also don’t have that whole re-imaging process that Hello Venus went through possibly acting as either a boost or a barrier to my reaction, depending on the circumstances. Furthermore, Euijin has a very similar effect on me to Lime, and her memory is incredible. That alone is worth major bonus points. I was going to put this to the test again after the break between songs, since they were going to have another signing event at the Gimpo Lotte Mall – a signing venue we’ve frequented many times before.

We had picked up the album that Friday at the Youngpoong bookstore on the ground floor, noting a Dreamcatcher signing also being promoted at the same counter. They were to appear on Saturday while we were attending the Hello Venus signing and Sonamoo was scheduled for Sunday. The day rolled around and we returned to the bookstore to cash in our tickets, this time managing to land the very first seat. I couldn’t believe the draws we’d gotten. Last time Jessy got dead last, this time I was absolute first. The lady at the counter congratulated me but I had my doubts. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see things through at the point position or if I should try to trade farther back. I decided to roll with it because, for pictures anyway, I would be completely unobstructed. I would be off to one side because I’d be first in a row so it meant a less direct line of sight but it also meant close-ups and no one in my way except the fans at the table. Gimpo has pretty crappy lighting conditions for fan sign pictures so I decided to take whatever photographic advantage I could manage. Jessy, on the other hand, was buried somewhere back in seat 36. We were separated, but again, this meant possibilities for pictures. She could take for me and I could take her picture while she talked with the girls. We decided to go with the hand dealt to us.

     

The girls marched in from the elevator and greeted everyone – Hi.D appeared more awake than I’ve seen her in a long time. Usually she seems the most drained of all of them. This time D.Ana seemed a little out of it, but not to any remarkable or worrisome degree. She just seemed a little less outgoing than usual in her reactions to the crowd. I had to lead the pack so I had literally zero time to prepare for anything. I stood up and walked forward right away to Sumin, who waited eagerly with that winning smile of hers. She kind of does exactly the same thing for each fan, but it works. She greets everyone really warmly and excitedly and never misses a beat. She always heads the line and there’s probably good reason for this, she’s really good at making the fans feel welcome as they approach.

The conversation with Sumin was a little clinical. It was really obvious that she didn’t recognize me right away. I tried to jog her memory by mentioning that I gave her the drawing last time but she just sort of smiled blankly and said thank you. I didn’t much expect otherwise, but it would have been nice. Minjae was unfortunately similar in that respect. She has this bizarre insistence on speaking English with me and it actually makes things slightly more awkward. It’s almost like I know she’s trying really hard and it automatically limits the number of things we can say. She even wrote “Nice to meet you” in the album. It all sounds really practiced and I wish that we could get past that line since hearing the same thing at every signing is kind of lackluster. She’s really funny and playful in general but I don’t go often enough to stand out in her memory consistently. Maybe this is a sign about what I need to start doing…

Nahyun was third in line and she took a second to think things over before she recognized who I was. She asked if I gave her a picture the last time I came to see them and I smiled and told her that yes, that was me. She said she “looked at it well,” which translated really awkwardly into English but I got what she meant. She giggled and wrote something in my album that I couldn’t really make out that well. That’s one of the biggest challenges about fan signing events – sometimes things written in fast handwriting with thick sharpie are really illegible, especially when they’re often written in a slangy interpretation of a foreign tongue. Good Luck figuring this one out, Jeff…

D.Ana was next up and she also clearly had no memory of me from any other time. She asked where I was from, how long I was in Korea, if I lived here, and I answered all of those things. She seemed to gasp a bit when I said I had been four years in the country. She signed the album straight away, writing my name in Korean (I think she was the only one this time) and chasing it with 오빠 which always makes me cringe a little, though it’s meant to be more endearing than anything. She said I needed to come see them again and then I moved on. It may have been my most uneventful D.Ana conversation yet.

That was all forgotten an instant later when Euijin’s face lit up and before I even managed to settle down in front of her, she said “Hey, I have your picture!” and gave me a high five. The one that matters remembers me accurately! I told her she got it right and we both did the whole “It’s been a while, how’ve you been?” thing. I was really more comfortable talking to her so my Korean was way better than with the other members. It’s like my brain makes a choice before I talk to someone about my comfort level and that directly correlates with how well I can speak the language. It meant for a really fluid conversation with Euijin, though. I told her it was too early for me to finish the picture I promised her last time, so I would finish it and give it to her later. She said that was ok and she wanted to see it, so now I have to make good on my promise to draw her with the new concept and image. This was an issue that was literally eating away at me until signing day so I’m glad she was really chill about it. Then again what was she really going to say? She almost misspelled my name as Jeef, which I thought was hilarious, but fixed it really quickly in the album and even signed my photocard. This made my day since I’d been waiting to get a Euijin card since debut days. Then it was time to move on.

My conversation with Hi.D could be just as easily linked back to any other signing I attended for them because it was literally the exact same conversation. “Is this your first time seeing us? Oh, you’ve come since debut? Really? Wow… Are you hungry? I’m hungry…” She has a one-track mind sometimes. Still, I was being moved along very quickly so there wasn’t any sort of an awkward silence with her.

NewSun on the other hand was a lot more talkative this time than previously. She was quietly signing the album when I piped up and complimented her change in hair. It was the first time she performed with long hair instead of her normal short bob or boy cut. She looks very different – not at all in a bad way, just very different. I told her it looked pretty this way and asked which she preferred. She said she liked the long look more, which surprised me a little. Then she spun the question on me and I told her they are both good, but one is pretty while the other is cute. She seemed to like that and thanked me, we did a quick hand clasp thingy, and then I walked off.

  

Jessy caught me when she was going up in the line. It was really shortly after I was finished – so quickly it surprised me. They were really rushing things. I wondered if it was a Gimpo signing thing, since this seemed to happen a lot in mall signings. Maybe it’s more expensive to reserve more time in their event centers or they have to beat mall closing times or something. Whatever the case, the signing was moving like lightning. I noticed I had very little time with them today and it wasn’t just because I was foreign and potentially awkward and first in line, therefore easy to sort of move along quickly. Everyone seemed to be moving along at a rapid pace. Anyway, Jessy walked up to Sumin and started her time with the girls while I watched from the floor.

She, like everybody else, was getting a very short amount of time with each member, and since she had prepared a post-it note question, that ended up taking up most of her time with each of them. In a way though, it made a nice change from the normal “Hi! Where are you from? When did you come to Korea? etc” Sumin still managed to rattle most of that stuff off as well though, and Jessy in turn told her that she was teaching English here, which earned her a 멋있어요! (Sort of translates to ‘That’s so cool!’) She addressed Jessy’s post-it as it was time to move on, mentioning that her favorite of their title tracks was 넘나좋은것 (I Like U Too Much.)

Minjae was up next and of course started on her normal English attempts. She really is pretty decent, at least with this normal fan introduction stuff. Jessy let her have her fun, while answering her very simply in English as well. Minjae ended up also choosing “I Like U Too Much” as her favorite title track. When Jessy told her it was the same as Sumin, she said that she thinks that’s what everybody will say. It’s kind of funny though, that really isn’t one of our favorite songs of theirs…

  

Nahyun was pretty much more of the same, though a bit more awkward. She attempted briefly to use English, but was clearly struggling intensely. Jessy switched over to Korean to save her, and she breathed a giant sigh of relief. When she answered Jessy’s post-it though, she didn’t process everything or something. She told Jessy her favorite song was “Orange Cappuccino.” This is one of the random extra songs on their current album, and not a title track at all, which is what Jessy asked for. Oh well. She clearly really likes that song though, as she went nuts every time it played during the signing.

D.Ana was up next and she started into the normal questions as well, but then things connected in her head and she suddenly pointed at Jeff and asked if we were friends. She then started freaking out a bit as she asked if we were dating and then rattled off a pile of questions that Jessy didn’t especially want to answer and exclaiming over how nice it must be to have a boyfriend. It was pretty amusing how excited she got. Eventually though Jessy was moved along, and D.Ana only just barely wrote down that she also likes “I Like U Too Much” best as well.

Next came Euijin. When she got to Jessy’s post-it and also wrote that she liked “I Like U Too Much,” Jessy, surprised, told her that everybody else was writing that too. She flipped through the other pages to check, laughing. When she noticed that Nahyun had written something different she paused, and Jessy just said “But that’s not a title track….” Euijin laughed, agreed, and called Nahyun a 바보 (fool). It then got especially awkward as the conversation was finished, but Jessy couldn’t move on yet because of another fan. Euijin ended up telling Jessy she was pretty, so Jessy thanked her but told her that she was also pretty. But Euijin countered with “No, you are MORE pretty.” This was beyond weird and rather lame at this point but she couldn’t think of anything to say but to counter with the same thing. At least from Euijin’s face she seemed to think similarly to Jessy and they both ended up laughing as Jessy was finally able to move on.

Jessy moved down the line to Hi.D, who greeted her excitedly, saying it had been a long time. She then double checked that she wasn’t crazy, but confirming that Jessy had in fact been at other signings, to which Jessy agreed. We’re not sure why Hi.D always remembers Jessy, but hooray! Sadly though, Jessy got an especially small amount of time with Hi.D, so there was barely any time between that and Hi.D saying that she also like the same song as everybody else. She told Jessy to come more often before sending her off to the final member.

 

Time for NewSun. She greeted Jessy in such a way that made her genuinely unsure whether she remembered her or not. She didn’t ask any of the generic questions, but she also didn’t say anything that made it obvious that she remembered her. NewSun was however very amused to discover that everybody (except Nahyun) wrote down the same song as their favorite. Jessy agreed, saying that it was indeed a good song. (It’s not actually one of our favorites, but it is still good.) Very quickly, it was time for Jessy to head back to her seat, with a final goodbye to NewSun.

After Jessy was done there was a whole signing of photo opportunity to try to catch. I was seated right in front of Minjae so it was basically me, the girl next to me, and Minjae goofing off and getting all the pictures and poses we could manage. I tend to luck out with Minjae, to be honest. Nahyun was also a big cute doofus, as is her custom. D.Ana was really unfortunately positioned so I didn’t get much of her, and Sumin was always busy with the first fan in line, so she was often blocked by someone’s back. I enjoyed playtime with Minjae and Nahyun until the signing wrapped up, at which time I noticed Euijin milking the crowd for compliments and Minjae started to sing a sample of their song for everyone. Nahyun would not stop doing their dance, to the point where their fan manager had to calm her down. They had a quick sendoff and a goodbye for everyone. I managed to get goodbye waves from Euijin and Sumin before they left. After that it was time to gather our things and start the long trip across Seoul to our apartment. It was a regrettably fast signing, but I’ll gladly accept any chances to see my favorite groups and it’s about time I got some lady k-pop exposure after all of Jessy’s boy group events!

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The Lime Show – Hello Venus at Dongja Art Hall 2017-01-21

Aight, peeps. It’s LIME TIME! Happy Birthday to meeeeee!

The second half of 2016 has been a light one for us as far as KPop activities were concerned. There was the occasional fan signing, an event or two seemingly at random, and the odd musical here and there, but as far as attendance at music shows or regular patronage of any particular group we have been safely out of the loop for quite some time. Part of me blames 2016 – the year without a soul – for the lapse in enjoyable music. I started to find myself drifting away from Kpop as a mainstream source of entertainment for myself because of shifting trends in the market and a lack of good material. So many artists I loved have disbanded or changed dramatically this year, not to mention lackluster releases from other groups I came to like later on in the game. Boys Republic, our main source of integration into the Kpop circuit, have been promoting in Japan and haven’t had any mainland events for some time, so we haven’t attended a live show in a while. I started considering latching onto one of my girl groups so we could continue going to shows and stuff, and no sooner had I started to mill this idea around in my head than 2017 arrived and saved me from the Kpop doldrums.

It took them an inordinately long time to figure out how to assemble this heart.

Suddenly airwaves are awash with all my favorites. If I had to list my top girl groups, SECRET and Hello Venus had long been wrestling for number one with Sonamoo quickly chasing up to a close second behind them. Hello Venus falls to SECRET only because of Hello Venus’ re-image after the break from Pledis. I haven’t found it as appealing while SECRET remained consistent, even in the wake of their loss of Sunhwa. Still, while SECRET has been pushing solo work and we haven’t seen nearly as much of them in recent weeks I find myself arguing over whether to attend Sonamoo or Hello Venus events.

With fan signings for each staring me in the face, I say “Is it too much to ask for both?”

This heart took noticeably less time to build.

I ended up buying albums for each, hoping that the lottery style draws wouldn’t bump myself or Jessy from being able to see them. I hadn’t actually gone to a Hello Venus signing yet and I have a perfect record to maintain with Sonamoo, so I had a lot riding on this one. Luckily we got into both events, and Saturday would lead us off with Hello Venus just outside of Seoul Station.

It was a snowy day – and I mean SNOWY. Seoul is known for snow that barely counts. We’ll get a light dusting which is melted by evening and people are suddenly running around hiding under their umbrellas in giant down bubble jackets. It’s kind of funny to watch. This snow was different. This was a homey type of snow. We’re from Pennsylvania and we know BLIZZARDS. If we get two feet of snow we just call that a Thursday, get out the shovel, dig out the car, and go to work! It was that kind of snow and it came down in thick, quarter-sized flake clumps that stuck to our hair and jackets as we made our way to the subway. It was about an hour’s ride to Seoul Station and we started to recognize our route from an earlier signing. We had gotten horribly lost and followed a Sonamoo fan down to one of their signings at the same venue. It was in a basement level theater room called the Dongja Art Hall. We saw some fans through a window from the street and found our way down to the entrance. They checked our tickets, we drew numbers, and we had a quick laugh at our picks with the door warden. Jessy picked dead last – #100 of a possible 100 – and I picked 98, just two seats away. We managed to swap with the poor Korean boy in seat 99, sandwiched between us, and we ended up together. We were dead last, but together nevertheless.

Yooyoung FLIPPED OUT for this Snorlax. She was bouncing it all around the table for quite a long time.

We were seated a good 20 minutes before the event was to begin so we had plenty of time to sort out post-its and whatnot. As I said, I had never done a Hello Venus signing before, so we were watching the crowd and following suit as far as our post-its were concerned. I had heard they were highly regimented with Hello Venus and kind of strict about certain things at signings, so I had my hackles up a little about little things that might go awry. We didn’t see a whole lot out of the ordinary though, so we wondered if that was a temporary phase in response to the mouthbreathers that may have come out of the woodwork immediately following their switch to sexy from their original cutesy, girl-next-door feel.

Alice always… ALWAYS looks like she’s up to no good.

It wasn’t long before the girls themselves arrived. They all came out and it was the Lime Show right from moment one. Alice had a few cursory words to say but it was mostly Lime that greeted everyone. She was all over the microphone and had moods and spirits high right away. She also noticed us super quickly. She waved emphatically and pointed us out to Yooyoung, who sat next to her. They were in reverse age order, so Yeoreum was seated first and it ended with Alice at the end. I noticed right away they were super, SUPER eager to interact with fans and posed like crazy for pictures. Lime actually requested that we take a bunch of pictures and post them online (but only the pretty ones!) and gratuitously posed for a ton while the first few fans made their way down the line to her. We got a whole mess of attention. Lime seems to have a slant toward the foreign fans and gives them a ton of attention in general. We’ve seen this in action at shows for them all the time and I personally have benefited from it at their showcases at Lotte World. The standard held especially true for her, though other members were just as actively engaged with fans.

Give us a smooch!

Fans kept pushing the benches as they shifted sideways so Seoyoung took it upon herself to check that everyone minded the gap.

We had a lot of time to watch them as well as the fandom while we awaited our turn. We were bringing up the caboose this time, after all. We noticed the fandom was predominantly male and they seemed kind of disaffected. They clearly liked the girls but I know there are a ton of guys who bounce around from girl group to girl group depending on who is performing. There were actually a handful of guys who, after finishing their round up with the girls, seated themselves in the back of the room to chat. We caught them talking about Lovelyz, Twice, and I.O.I. events they had participated in and were comparing the groups and Hello Venus as well. I had to grit my teeth a little bit. We are so used to fierce fan loyalty issues so this kind of flippancy with the groups seemed like a taboo being broken in-house. I thought it was in poor taste to be focusing on other groups while actively participating in a signing event for this one. I don’t care if you are multi-fandom, that’s the case with me, too. I’d be a hypocrite to say otherwise. At lease have the good form to keep things to one group while you are at their event, though!

The benefits of being a foreign fanboy – every performance feels like it’s just for you.

The fans were also really muted in general. The girls tried to get them to sing along and only MC Lime had any success with this. Poor Yeoreum and Seoyoung tried a handful of times and failed miserably to elicit any reaction from them. I felt kind of bad. Seoyoung was especially silly and fun for fans watching or taking pictures between her signing participants. She kept pointing to the benches that were placed for fans to sit in while they talked with the girls. That was a nice touch – some groups make the fans comfortable as well during signings. The benches kept sliding more and more to the side as fans were moving and some people almost fell through a gap made between two of them. She kept pointing out the benches and saying “Be careful!” but in a really overly exaggerated way. It was adorable. She also showed a bunch of mock anger whenever anyone called for her attention for a picture and made surly pouty faces with hearts, kind of ironically posing for the camera while joke-irritated by the call-outs. She was definitely having fun with it.

            

Lime was fully aware that I had my camera trained on her from moment one to the second she left because I got a ton of hearts, waves, designated poses, eye-contact, the works. It was awesome. Jessy got a fair spell of attention, too. I was basking in it. There’s nothing like having a bias that is all-in for the foreign fans and has a sweet spot for English.

TARGET LOCKED

Yooyoung was like a robot in some respects. She was really cute most of the time, but she fixed her hair in EXACTLY the same manner using EXACTLY the same motions at EXACTLY the same time following every fan that moved away from her. It was like clockwork. She seemed to get the most random plushie gifts though, and she was especially fond of the little snorlax doll she got from a fan about halfway through. She made him bounce and beeble bobble all over the table and seemed just giddy about having him.

There was something I noticed about Nara and it struck me as extremely familiar. I remember when I first saw SECRET live at a signing event and got to meet Sunhwa in person. I was blown away by how unbelievably pretty she is and how much that effect is magnified in person. I never took much notice of her but she has this elegant and hyper-feminine style that comes through in spades when face-to-face with her. It was an effect that was fairly unique to Sunhwa until I saw Nara up close. She did exactly the same thing. I knew she was pretty and even said she was prettier in person before, but it doesn’t compare to the face-to-face drinking-in of her overall image. She was an absolute knockout up close. She was elegance personified and completely demure and refined in all things, down to her smallest motions. She looked like she was always on a runway from beginning to end, and it was really quite stunning. She’s not my favorite member, but she very well may have had the biggest impact visually. Honestly I think I can say all of them were way prettier in person than in any picture I’ve seen of them. It was a little staggering in hindsight.

Hello Venus’ resident supermodel

We waited a good while and took a ton of pictures until the fan sign nearly came to a close with us at the very end. We joked a bit in line about whether the girls would be excited or dreading seeing two foreigners at the tail end of the line. They didn’t know we had any Korean skill so they were going totally on preconceived notions. We knew what Lime would think, but weren’t certain about the rest.

We went up and stood in line. I was to go first and Jessy was immediately after. There was a bit of a mix-up that ended up turning things out in our favor as we got up to the line. There were tone of staff present at this signing. One seemed to be literally timing each fan’s face-time with her phone to move things along so that each fan got exactly one minute with each girl. There were three separate staff members handling people in the queue line alone and they each had very distinct jobs. There was one to take tickets, one to check post-its, one who literally pushed people back against the wall so we were all flush with the side of the room at all times while also leafing through individual pages to make sure there was nothing except post-its in the albums. They took longer with some than with others, so I think they may have even been vetting the questions on the post-its to make sure they were all kosher. From a staff perspective it was the most regimented signing I’d ever attended. Most signings don’t care if you are going in exact numerical order either once you are up in the line, as long as you’re more or less in the right spot. For instance, if I was 98 but I made it to the line before 96 staff usually wouldn’t much care. 96 and 97 had gone missing somehow though, and they stopped everything to call out those numbers and get them up there before me. They took so long prepping their albums and leafing through them that they eventually let Jessy and I through early, however reluctantly. It was to our benefit though, because we wouldn’t be absolute last and therefore miss out on that I-have-no-fans-in-front-of-me-photo-opportunity that always happens as they wrap up fan signings.

      

Beware of Maknaes – they stare like none other

I approached Yeoreum a little hesitantly, as I had the least to say to her. She’s their new maknae after the member additions and while she seems fun she doesn’t have the same attachment value with me that the original members have. Seoyoung also has such a strong personality that it’s easier to converse with her. Yeoreum, as a result, was going to be the first and likely the most awkward. This was true for a number of reasons. She tried to greet me in English, which was clearly difficult for her so I jumped right into Korean. We got through the usual basics – “where are you from,” “oh wow, you speak Korean!” and other such typical first-signing things. I told her that I had met the other members a long time ago – back when they were promoting “차 마실래” but today was the first time I could meet her in person. I was hoping this would be a conversation starting point and unfortunately she just sort of smiled and said “ok…” so I didn’t know exactly where to move the conversation. Then she did something Suwoong is famous for doing at his signings with the girls. Needless to say I normally have a slightly different experience with him but it was time for what goes around to come around, since Yeoreum apparently does the same thing. She really slowly took my one hand in hers, then the other, and then she made really intense eye-contact for what felt like a really awkwardly long time. She didn’t say anything, she just stared for a length of seconds. I had literally nothing to say and it was really awkward, but I’m the sort who takes a direct stare almost like a challenge, so it was like I entered into an impromptu staring contest. I locked stares right back and wouldn’t back down – I’m like a caged primate in that way. I know idols are taught to do things like this to make fans feel special, wanted, and to kind of connect with them so that they come back but all those normal little tricks are kind of transparent with me and tend to make me feel awkward rather than comforted or special. She eventually asked how old I was (there was a really long pause before she did this). This was the first time I had to deal with this question using Korean since my birthday and it was the big 3-0 this past year, so I couldn’t for the life of me think of what the new word was. I fell back on 29 because I actually remembered “twenty” and then chased it with “Grandpa Jeff,” and she got all consoling and went “no, no, no, Oppa” and I kind of nodded but we ended up back in the stare-lock again. Then she asked if I had anything I was curious about and I said I didn’t really know and it was hard to think of things to say in Korean. She nodded and eventually time was up and I had to move on to Seoyoung. As I was moving on she tried to make some sort of comment about my eye, and I didn’t catch all of it but I think she was saying something about having really long eyelashes. Considering the amount of staring involved I wasn’t too surprised that was the take-away from the conversation. I like Yeoreum and all, but that was such an awkward signing for so many reasons…

The new maknae – Yeoreum

Jessy had a much less awkward time with Yeoreum for many reasons, though she still mostly just went through the basic first greeting ritual: Hi, Where are you from? How old are you? Oh, you can speak Korean! etc. Then, once it got to that awkward point where neither of them had anything to say, Jessy sprung a question on Yeoreum that she’s used on many a new idols post-its. She asked her to draw the member next to her, Seoyoung. Yeoreum seemed dumb struck for a moment, then looked over at Seouyoung, laughed like crazy and told Jessy that she can’t draw well. She started drawing anyway, and it actually turned out really well. A lot better than most idols that have drawn for Jessy before in fact. Jessy told her it was really good, but she wouldn’t accept the compliment. Eventually Jessy was moved along to the waiting Seoyoung, who just so happened to ask about the picture before turning to her page. Jessy told her that it was her as drawn by Yeoreum. She immediately turned to Yeoreum and started yelling at her about it, despite it being well done.

Power Ranger Pose Down!

Backtracking a moment though: When I shifted on down to Seoyoung, she was immediately a giant ball of adorable. She was all squeaky when she said Hi so I did the same thing. She got a fit of giggles over this and then went on in really deliberate English over the usual “Hi, nice-a-mee-choo!” stuff, so I cut her off pretty quickly. I told her, in Korean, that Korean is all right and she didn’t need to use English. She like flipped her lid over this and started asking how I learned Korean. I told her I taught myself and just study on my own, which she seemed impressed with. She asked if I lived in Korea and I told her yes, but I used to live far so I didn’t often have a chance to see Hello Venus. She asked when I started being a fan, probably thinking it was fairly recently but I told her I liked them since debut and she flipped out again over this. She was all bouncy and bobbly all over the place during our conversation – generally very animated and squeaky. She wrote a message that read “Happy –unintelligible scribble-“ before handing back my album. Before I moved on she made sure to give me a huge high-five and a thumbs up, calling out “Yeah!” before sending me on my way.

Seoyoung sweepy…

After Seoyoung finished yelling at Yeoreum for her drawing, she moved into her actual conversation with Jessy. She attempted a bit of English for a while, despite Jessy already having spoken in Korean regarding the picture. She went through a few basic questions like “Where are you from?” and “How old are you?” in English with Jessy simply responding in English just because Seoyoung seemed to be enjoying herself by using it. Once she seemed to run out of English things to say, Jessy asked her, in Korean, to draw Yooyoung, the member next to her. She got a really big kick out of this idea, and started drawing. Sadly, staff decided at almost that exact moment that Jessy’s time with Seoyoung was finished, and thus started trying to move her along. Seoyoung was frantic about not getting to finish her picture but eventually let Jessy move on with a bald Youyoung on her album page.

Once upon a time Yooyoung was the maknae. Now she has lots of cute-competition

Yooyoung is a different sort of cute. She is more of a quiet and ambient cute than Seoyoung’s over-the-top in-your-face cuteness. Yooyoung is also one of those way-prettier-in-person sorts. I don’t take much notice of her on TV but she was way way beautiful up close. She seemed really nervous at first and was desperately struggling through an English greeting but I told her Korean was Ok, too. She actually apologized. I didn’t want her to think she had offended somehow so I told her it was all right and she was all curious about how long I had been living in Korea and what I did here. I told her about the teaching gig and recapped what I had told Yeoreum about being able to meet them during their earlier promotions. She remembered the barista day, but not details. I have zero expectations that any of them would remember me from all that time ago so this wasn’t surprising. Still, she went on about how I need to come see them more because she will miss me and she’s happy I could come again now. She wrote as much in a little message in my album and shook my hand as I left, reminding me how unnatural a Korean handshake is (it’s very dead-fish-ey. I’m all firm and vigorous hand-shake-ey and they are probably like “Whoah, what’s going on with this guy?” if I did that so I always have to dial it back tremendously).

When Jessy moved over to Yooyoung, she of course noticed the ridiculous picture first thing. Seoyoung owned up to the drawing before Jessy could step in and tell Yooyoung about it, but either way it resulted in Yooyoung yelling even more at Seoyoung than Seoyoung had earlier at Yeoreum. Jessy was dying of laughter, as was the staff standing behind them at the time. Eventually she laid off, since a new fan had appeared at Seoyoung, and instead started asking Jessy the normal first-signing questions. Jessy jumped in after telling Yooyoung she lived in Korea and asked her to draw Lime. Yooyoung kept staring Lime down as she drew, seriously creeping Lime out as she finished up with Jeff. Yooyoung’s drawing was also quite good, and very cutesy.

A long awaited rendezvous with Lime!

I can only imagine what my face must have looked like when I approached Lime. She’s among my favorite K-pop people period, not just limited to Hello Venus members. We had a running gag that she was my K-pop girlfriend for the longest time back when we first came to Korea. I also know that she has a wonderfully fluent grasp of English and seems to really enjoy using it so I was curious to see how this would go. She was really comfortable with it right away and asked a lot of the usual stuff, including name (She said Jeff, not Jeh-Peu), where I was from (She wanted to know specifically, too, not just USA) and all the normal introductory stuff. While content may have been the same as, say, with Yooyoung the entire flow of the conversation was a million times more comfortable and fluent. She wanted to know specifically where in Pennsylvania I was from and I told her where. She said she wanted to visit there one day and I laughed, asking her “Why, we don’t have anything fun there.” We both laughed and then I switched over and said the same thing in Korean. She started totally spazzing out and immediately started gushing over the fact that suddenly I was speaking full-on Korean with her. She asked if I lived in Korea and again wanted to know where. I told her and she knew the area. She made a comment about how it was a little far, which was true, and then she took a second to do her signing. Then she turned to me and hilariously told me how awesome my English is. She got all flustered and tried to take it back but I poked fun at her a little. I told her her Korean was great, too and she laughed again. Then she fixed her comment, saying my Korean was good and she wants to learn more English. She then turned to Nara, who I was going to see next and started to point to me while Nara kind of sat with this petrified face. Lime told her she didn’t have to worry at all because I can speak Korean really well so she could say anything. I kept shaking my head and laughing as I high-fived Lime before moving over to Nara. From this point the girls kind of blurred together because they didn’t really regard Jessy and I as separate entities anymore.

Don’ worry, Nara. We’ve got you covered. No English required today.

Poor Nara was like a deer in the headlights right from the start and she put a hand on her chest saying “I can’t speak any English.” In Korean, I said, “But you just did…” and she paused for a second, seemed to consider it, and then said that’s all she knows. She learned that so she doesn’t have to say anything else. I laughed and we started going through the normal greeting stuff. Meanwhile, Jessy had moved over to Lime, and was going through a similar pile of questions, but in English. When Lime asked where Jessy was from though, she realized that it was the same place and started asking if we’d known each other before and came together today. This is when Nara turned to Lime and Jessy, pointed excitedly and asked if she was my girlfriend. I nodded, saying we were both fans and came here together. She checked that we came to Korea together, too, and I confirmed that as well. She got all schoolgirly and giggly about the whole thing and then wrote a little note, loosely translating to “Girlfriend for a long, long time.” Jessy and I have a kind of understanding about stuff like this. I’m totally going to read that as if she meant herself and Jessy can totally run with the whole running gag about Suwoong being her secret boyfriend. Neither of us ever get jealous so it works out. We consider it even. A handshake sealed the end to Nara time and she was decidedly less dead-fish than Yooyoung, which was a little surprising considering how demurely she carries herself in general. Jessy had a similar response from Lime, though slightly less giggly, before moving over to Nara and starting Nara’s schoolgirling over anew. Pretty much Jessy’s whole conversation with Nara ended up being about the two of us as a unit and how jealous Nara was that she didn’t have a boyfriend too. On one hand, it was a nice switch from the generic questions that made up most of this signing, but it’s also not a topic we generally talk about so it was also really awkward.

Chatting with the older members was like a giant party. It was so natural and fun.

Moving on to Alice, she had another quick moment of English greeting before we did the switchback to Korean, which seemed to greatly relieve Alice. She did a check about Jessy as well and oddly enough it was actually Nara that turned and answered her question (like I said, these last three kind of melted together). Alice then turned to me and kept talking about Jessy. She seemed fascinated with the idea of a couple coming to the signing. She said she wanted a boyfriend and was jealous of us. She made a comment about Jessy being pretty as well and then said “Look good” in English, which got a giggle out of me. I had apparently spent too much time with Nara and/or Lime so it seemed like Alice got cut a little short but she did that hand claspey thing that idols sometimes do as I got up and waved goodbye. I had made some sort of contact with each member, so score on that note!

Myeeeeessssss… Everything according to plan…

Jessy eventually switched over to Alice as well, and pretty much got more of the same. Alice also just wanted to know everything and anything Jessy would say about me, or us. Eventually Jessy told her how long we’d been together, approximately though since we don’t even really keep track of that, and Alice and Nara completely flipped their lids insisting that we had to get married. Thankfully for Jessy, staff decided that it was time for her to move on before she had to explain that we want nothing to do with that. All she had time to say was that it was too expensive, which neither of them could much argue with. Jessy headed out with a handshake and a “Come see us more often.”

We were not dead last anymore, so we got back to our seats and had some time while the last fans completed their rounds to get photos of the members as their spot opened up. Poor Yeoreum and Seoyoung got the mic first since they were at the front end. They tried to rile up the crowd and get them to sing along to their debut song but the guys didn’t seem to want any part of it. Jessy and I jumped in and sang along. I did the main part in a really high falsetto which Yeoreum actually took note of and commented on. I didn’t own up to being the source at the time but got a kick out of the reaction. They were trying so hard to get a reaction from the crowd I felt a little bad for them. It was especially notable whenever Lime finished up and snagged a mic, literally going “Quiet, I have a mic now” and completely owning the floor from that point on. It was literally The Lime Show for the next hour or so. She was a natural MC for the event and had everyone laughing right away. She started out by getting everyone to sing her happy birthday. We did, but everyone used her actual Korean name in the song. She got this huge pouty face and started to whine. “No, no, no, I’m Lime! Lime! We have to do it again!” We all sang it a second time just to sing to her as Lime and she did a little flourishey dance to the whole thing. She talked a little about her birthday and how she is 25 now (Korean reckoning).

There was a lot of Lime-attention for the next ten minutes and a little bit of ribbing from the older members, but Lime gave as good as she got so it was all in good fun. Eventually she stood up and started doing some of the dance to Mysterious. She got Yooyoung to demonstrate a part of it as well. They got Alice to do the rap parts, which she did in the most derpy-sweet manner you could imagine. They had to teach her the individual lines though, since Yooyoung and Lime always do those, but she did them right away albeit very awkwardly. She still got a ton of applause for her efforts though.

   

Lime was the first to take center stage in the front and she said it was time for them to do photo time for their fans. They wanted suggestions for different kinds of poses or situations to enact. They did a generic group pose first, one with hearts, a Power Rangers action pose as suggested by one of the guys in the back, and a few others. I felt a little bad for them at this point because a ton of the fans were asking the girls to either sing part of Twice’s latest song, “TT” or have them do some kind of pose from that song. I thought it was in really poor form to ask a group at their signing to impersonate a competing girl group, especially when they are in the awkward position of being seniors to that group yet not nearly as popular. I kind of gritted my teeth at all of those requests. The Power Ranger request resulted in Lime going off on this weird tangent wherein she tried to get Yeoreum to fight with her in this miniature choreography fight scene. It was this bizarre mix of awkward and entertaining. Those two members were having a blast in the front while the rest of the members stared at them wondering what they thought they were trying to do.

Alice makes some truly bizarre faces sometimes

After a little while of playing around on stage, Lime takes the mic in hand yet again and decides it is time to hula dance. She said something about Nara and Hawaii and this led into the hula somehow. She said they would all dance and then everyone could get a photo time shot of the group doing the hula, so she counted down from three and started into the dance right away. Meanwhile the rest of the group stood behind her watching her make a fool of herself. They said they’d really do it the second time and once again they pulled a fast one, making Lime dance all by herself. They managed to pull this same trick like five times straight before Lime got even one other member to do it with her. It was funny how clueless Lime was while at the same time having absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Nara looking phenomenal

Next she decided to go out to the foreign fans in the audience to have us pick their next pose. I immediately knew where she was heading. She ran off the stage with a pile of papers and headed up the aisle. It felt like she was literally hunting us down, which may have been exactly the case because I later found out that Jessy was sitting behind me pointing at my head while Lime was on the prowl. Besides, when she said “foreign” fans I knew she likely meant obviously foreign. There were a good number of Japanese fans in attendance and a few other Southeast Asian fans as well, but we were the only ones I noticed of Western/European descent. We stood out a bit, as we’ve become accustomed to. Still, that left me sitting in the chair thinking “Oh good, here comes Lime!” and of course she showed up right in front of me seconds later. She handed me a pile of papers and had me take the top one, and now in English again she told me to take the paper and open it, then read what was on the page. It said Aegyo, which I laughed at before handing her the paper back. She ran back up to the stage and then it was a series of little harassments from one member to another to get them to do dreaded aegyo performances. Yeoreum was on deck first and they made her do that little ghost girl speech, but then they said that the “Maknae face” had to do it, since Seoyoung is pretty much overflowing with Aegyo. Yeoreum was no slouch but Seoyoung was a natural. Then they practically forced Nara to do it and she looked more like a runway model who stopped in the middle of the stage to make a declaration of some sort. When she was finished she literally ran and hid in the curtain off to the side of the stage. It was really funny.

    

They announced their finishing touches to the night which would wrap up in a performance of their latest single, “Mysterious.” I had my camera trained on Lime for 90 percent of the song and even though we were fairly far back we got a ton of attention during the song and a lot of eye contact in pictures and throughout the performance. It pays to be obvious sometimes. They said their goodbyes, we waved to a ton of the members (Alice seemed particularly excited to wave goodbye to us on the way out) and then headed out the doors to begin our trek home. It was my first Hello Venus fan signing and it was jam-packed with memorable moments. It was a great signing all told and I almost want to go for more of them. Who knows, maybe during this vacation I will see more of them than anticipated.

WHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

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Se7en – A CoEx fansign 2016-10-29

dscn0087Our exploits in South Korea have brought us face to face with a number of personalities in the Korean music scene and our fairly diverse fandom interests have made it a very interesting ride. We’ve been up close to and directly interacted with favorites of ours and rookie newcomers alike in various settings and capacities. Through and through, despite our best efforts, there are occasional artists that, for one reason or another, remain evasive to us and manage to escape even our most diligent efforts to see them. Recently we managed to catch up with one of these rare beasties and had the chance to speak with him at one of his fan signing events.

img_3303Before coming to Korea we attended a festival for Chuseok in the north Jersey area, just across the river from New York. There was a massive and widely acclaimed K-Pop concert that drew people from all over the nation and beyond. There was no ticket price and the playlist was extraordinarily competitive for the time. We were still barely getting into the fandom at the time so we had to research a few artists. Jessy found one that was on the guest card that she ended up particularly liking: solo singer and musical actor, Se7en. Unfortunately he had to cancel, so while the show was phenomenal in its own right we never did have the chance to see Se7en perform. When we came to Korea he had recently gone to the military, so he was off the grid for most of our stay here. After his tour of duty ended he took a lengthy personal break due to a ‘scandal’ during his military time that left the public with a much less favorable attitude towards him than when he first started said military duty. After a few months though he landed an acting role for Elizabeth, the musical. We finally had the opportunity to see him perform – not once, but twice – and loved the experience. Jessy was especially pleased, having felt robbed for years of the chance to see a fast-favorite artist of hers due to various circumstances. Months went by afterward and we were surprised to hear that Se7en would finally be making a comeback to regular performances. We knew we had to get in on that action, pronto.

img_3592There was a fan signing event at CoEx Mall – a location that, due to the spaciousness and tiered nature of their live event area has become one of our new favorite fan signing venues. It’s so easy to get great pictures, it’s well-lit, and you aren’t crowded at all. It’s a very comfortable and well designed area for a fan sign, and it just so happens to be very conveniently located to our current home, so we went to the YPBooks in the mall and picked up our albums way ahead of time, awaiting the weekend to see if we’d gotten into the lottery-style admission list.

Luckily for us, though not so much for Se7en, the event was just shy of selling out, so everyone managed to get a seat. Due to that scandal during his military days and the negative attention from it, he lost a lot of fans. This meant more room for us, but we don’t hold the issue much against him and still want him to net back the fans he lost and continue to be successful. Still, this meant we were in for the event and we arrived back at the bookstore that evening to trade in our receipt slips for our seating assignments. One of the big drawbacks of lottery-style signings is the seating is almost always randomly designated, so you’ll never sit by friends or people you are attending with. (Unless of course, some other random fans agree to trade seats with you, which we generally feel weird about asking people at random like that.) Jessy and I somehow managed to pick seats near each other despite this fact, and we were way up in front, to boot. She was #10 and I was #14. Sadly, when we actually found our spots at the signing, we discovered that Jessy was front row, but I was second and way off on the other side. So much for being conveniently near each other and talking during the signing. Either way, neither of us felt quite ready to go up there that early but we figured ourselves out, prepped our albums, and waited for Se7en to arrive. I did my usual scan of the participants of the signing event – I was the only guy except for one and a little boy, the significance of whom I would learn about soon.

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When he arrived he was all done up in a dapper leisure suit jacket and turtleneck and he addressed everyone with this bizarre mixture of smoothness and total awkwardness. He came off as generally humble and sort of uncertain of himself. Then again, since this was one of his first direct interactions with fans for his first comeback after his scandal, that’s not terribly surprising. He asked if anyone had any questions or general things to say before the event but no one was feeling terribly forthcoming with their words, feeling it better to save them for their one-on-one time with Se7en instead of announcing everything to the whole crowd. Things got under way fairly quickly after that.

dscn0189Jessy was first of the two of us, and early in the line considering her draw of seat #10. Se7en greeted her warmly, immediately and flawlessly switching into English. He asked her the normal first meeting a foreign fan at an event sorts of questions. Jessy told him that she was from America but had been living here in Korea for a couple years now, to which he was surprised. He took a ton of her signing time to address her little post-it request that she had stuck in her album: draw a picture please. He asked her what he should draw, and Jessy told him to draw himself as Death from Elizabeth, but she thinks he made up his mind before she got the part about Death out. He started drawing intently, while Jessy sat there trying to figure out what in the world it was he was drawing. He didn’t go about it in an obvious sort of way, and it was only when he was finished that she could see anything. Eventually she told him it looked like a bunny, which he agreed to happily, before thanking her for coming and sending her on her way. It was only after the signing, when Jessy looked at his picture again, right-side up, that she realized that it wasn’t simply a bunny. She even felt a bit bad not making the connection earlier. It was Se7en’s little bunny mascot sort of thingy that he uses on merchandise and the like. It has one ear flopped over to make a seven and everything.

dscn0078Only a handful of other fans later and it was my turn to step up to bat. I got this weird murmur from the crowd when I walked up and Se7en himself raised an eyebrow, shaking my hand and welcoming me right away. I ate up the attention, one of the perks of being a little narcissistic and standing out so much as the only white foreign guy at an event like this. We broke right into a very comfortable conversation. His English is completely fluent so it was unlike a lot of fan signs that have this weird slogging through multiple languages to contend with. He started out in English, asking the usual “Where are you from,” “What are you doing in Korea,” and “How long have you been here” stuff. He decided to test my Korean after I told him I have been teaching here for my fourth year now and from that point on we kind of melted back and forth between languages. I told him about how we’d seen the musical he was in twice with different lead actresses but always with him playing Death. I also told him we’d really enjoyed it. He then asked how I had even found out about this signing anyway in a kind of “So what brings a guy out to a fan signing for a pretty Korean dancing dude?” sort of way. I told him that I’d seen the musicals with a girlfriend and she knew all about the signing, so we came together. He asked me to point her out at that point and I did, so he peeked out from behind me and waved out to her. I turned around to resume the conversation but he kind of bumped my shoulder and went “No, turn around!” as he posed. He was staging a picture of us together that Jessy was taking. I was oblivious but went along with it. He ended up looking great – I looked about as unprepared for a photo as I actually felt at the time. Still, it was cool of him to set that up. He signed the album, thanked me for coming out, I pandered a bit more about how I liked his rock star style of Death more than others I’d heard, and then I moved on for the next fan.

img_3549Unlike many other solo signings, Se7en really spent a lot of time with each fan. Usually solo artists blaze through the signing because there is only one of them and they need to address everyone. In the interest of time they often keep it short and succinct but I found that we had plenty of time to chat comfortably. We didn’t feel at all rushed. A ton of people got multiple things signed. If I’d known I would have brought our Elizabeth CDs and program books. A ton of them also got selcas with him – a practice often frowned upon at signings. I don’t know if it’s just how things normally are with him and his agency or if he’s just trying to be especially fan servicey to win back his public. He even stopped the signing to hold up certain fan gifts that particularly touched him and publicly thank the people who gave the gifts, making sure that everyone present appreciated the gesture as well as he did.

dscn0108This openness with the fans didn’t come without drawbacks, though. There were a few fans who took extra liberties due to the comfort level. One mom had her child wheeling around on heelies with a camera behind her, filming the entire event and furiously snapping pictures of her mom and Se7en together. I feel like they got away with that because of the kid’s cute factor, but it was still something of an exploit. Se7en just rolled with it, though, and even invited the kid forward for some one on one time. It was like they got two signings for the price of one, though, so while I’m glad Se7en was gracious about it, I’m not sure how I feel about the fan taking that sort of liberty with the situation.

img_3218There was also another fan that was just too much, and you could see it written all over Se7en’s face. She sat down and instantly had her camera three inches from his face. She video recorded their entire interaction this way. She spent forever talking to him, and I could hear Se7en starting to make gestures like it was time for her to move on and let the next person come in. He was being very polite but she either didn’t or refused to get the hint. She ended up grabbing his hand and started to pet it with her free hand, like someone might do over the table on a date or something. He was visibly awkward at this point and continued to try to gracefully maneuver out of the situation. She just kept grabbing at his arm and stuff and took forever to go away. Fans who noticed were definitely not cool with the way she was imposing herself on him like that. Leave the poor guy alone, thirsty girl!

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Not all of the fans who got extra attention were annoying, though. One of them was kind of a rare treat for all assembled. Remember that little boy I mentioned earlier? It turned out he was one of the boys who played alongside Se7en in Elizabeth. He played the young Rudolf, before he grew into the other actor who played adult Rudolf. Se7en introduced him to the audience and even started to sing the song they share in the musical. Hesitantly, the boy responded, but we could tell he wasn’t prepared to sing in front of a totally unexpected audience and was really embarrassed. Se7en let him off the hook but was clearly pleased to see him. He signed his album and had a few more words before sending him back off to his mom. It was really cute and threw us back to the day we saw them perform, as we checked later and this was in fact the kid we saw the first time we went to see Elizabeth.

dscn0127Se7en kept breaking out into dance between fans and there was one point when they goaded him into singing a chunk of his current promotional track. He was also still stopping every so often to mention some particularly interesting gift from a fan, so even though our turn was over very early the rest of the fan signing was still super fun. Also, since I had pointed out Jessy later on and I was very obvious out in the crowd, there were many occasions when Se7en would pose for us between fans. That’s a rare thing at a solo signing since they spend most of their time directly occupied. The last little special highlight of the night was when a fan showed up with a four-tiered layer cake, lit up a giant wax 7 on the top, and had everyone since “Happy Birthday” to Se7en right then and there. The fans were all in on it, and he was clearly touched, though he did question the timing since his birthday was over a week away from the signing date. The fan staff took the cake away and the fan had her own one-on-one time with Se7en, but you could see how appreciative he was of the gift and little surprise from the assembled fandom.

img_3432When the only other male fan in attendance got his turn, we got yet another surprise. Jessy, being front row and all, could hear their entire exchange. Se7en treated him similarly to Jeff in that he asked him why in the world he was there to meet Se7en, since he pretty heavily targets a female audience. He worded it differently though after Jeff’s interaction, asking the fan if he too was there with a girlfriend, while gesturing and looking out into the crowd straight at Jessy. She made a face and gesture as if to ask him ‘what?! how many boyfriends do you think I have?!’ He must have gotten at least part of that message, as he clearly stifled at laugh before turning back to the other fan to hear his real answer, which was in fact that he simply liked Se7en on his own.

Eventually the signing wrapped up and the ending was fairly uneventful. They had to close up shop a little quickly since we’d gone over time, so the goodbye was brief. We were asked to remain seated and chill until Se7en took off but a lot of the ladies didn’t listen and they followed him off to the elevator. Jessy and I were good little fans and hung back. No need to fuel any bad reputation images that K-Pop fans may have nowadays. Now armed with another very unique signed album apiece we turned about and headed back to the subway. Satisfied and greatly amused, we made our way home.

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Back in the Fray~ Fansign Crashing and a Floating Stage

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100% finally made their comeback!

It’s been a crazy time since our escapades in Australia. Work has been rather demanding, and the Kpop scene really hasn’t had much going on to get us up and moving in our small bits of downtime. Until something happened that I was pretty well convinced was not going to happen ever again, 100% had a comeback! I absolutely love this group! We’d done a handful of things in their name way back when, but then they just sort of dropped off the face of the Earth for almost two years, so we assumed they had probably quietly disbanded. Thankfully, we had assumed wrong.

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I of course had to go to something. Music shows would be a bit tricky partially just from figuring out their rules, and partially because they have an official fanclub of which I am a part, but Jeff is not. This would put us in different priority levels, thus in completely different parts of the line, and alone in a sea of fans we know nothing about. Instead I decided to jump on fansigns. Unfortunately, they continued their trend have having very inconveniently located and timed fansigns in relation to my schedule. It turned out that we could make our way to their first fansign, but we couldn’t actually buy albums for it. It was time to crash!

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Hyukjin has noooo idea

The signing was at the Coex Mall, which we’ve been to for multiple other signings. It’s a really nice place for them, both if your attending or just crashing. We headed out from work Friday afternoon, arriving with plenty of time to grab some food before the festivities, and still be among the earliest to arrive. We sat ourselves in the benches just above what they had roped off for the actual fans with albums to be signed. While we waited, a somewhat surprising amount of other fans filled in around us, including a Japanese fan we know from when she used to attend Boys Republic events with us. We also watched as the staff (mall and 100% fan staff) collected nearby benches for the fans to sit on while having their albums signed. These benches normally sit in the middle of the mall simple for people to take a rest. It was especially amusing because the benches had tables sitting at each end of them, which they left in place out in the middle of the mall, while taking just the bench. The tables looked lonely. It was nice to see that 100% was still treating their fans awesome at fansigns though, since I’d seen them give chairs to the fans at previous fansigns, whereas most groups just make you stand or kneel in front of the table. It’s a small thing, but leaves a nice happy feeling behind.

Eventually, the guys showed up, just sort of strolling in from the side. Instead of settling into their chairs as per normal though, they were going to treat us to some live vocals. They had set mic stands up in front of the table before the guys arrived, so they took their positions there instead. After a small introduction and thanks for waiting for them for so long, it was time to sing. Not gonna lie, this was the biggest reason I had to crash this particular fansign. 100%’s live vocals are just amazing. Always. We weren’t quite sure what song to expect since their title track right now is a dance song, but these were clearly mic stands and a space that didn’t allow for dancing. I wondered if they wouldn’t do a ballad song off their album instead, but was excited when it was in fact their title track, 지독하게 (Better Day).

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Their performance was great of course, with Rockhyun and Hyukjin going especially nuts. I’m not sure if their mics were set louder or if they just couldn’t hold themselves back, but they were a good bit louder than the other three members. Sounded great either way, and drew a decent sized crowd from out of the mall. They addressed this after finishing, telling all the people that had gathered who they were again and to give them a lot of love. They also mentioned how nervous they were since it’s been so long. They were worried that nobody would come out to see them, just as if it was their very first fansign after debut all over again. Poor guys.

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RBF – the struggle is real

After a bit more random talking, most of the guys went and sat in their chairs. Rockhyun though was going to treat us to one more song, a cover Park HyoShin’s It’s Strange (박효신의 이상하다). He did really well with that too of course. The members made it difficult to keep my camera steady though, since they were goofing off and swaying along to the song behind him. It was cute. When he finished, the signing got started in earnest. We spent the time trying to catch the members in between fans, both to take pictures and to play around with them. We ended up succeeding at getting all of their attentions at one point or another. Even Chanyong, who was clearly sick and thus the least interactive for the day. Minwoo was definitely the most aware of us, which was somehow appropriate since he’s the member I’ve seen the last, thanks to his military service. He kept poking his head back up our way and waggling around like a goof or making silly poses to copy me, and then laughing. Rockhyun and Hyukjin noticed a few times each as well. Jonghwan though took the longest to catch though, but this wasn’t surprising since he was first in line for the signing, so he was the most consistently busy. At the end of the signing though, he had the most extra time, which he used to play with all the fans. I kept trying to grab his attention with normal actions like waving, but that just wasn’t enough to draw his attention so far above the fans clearly there to see them. It took me flailing my arms around like an idiot. When he noticed though he gave me one of his trademark judgy looks (he has resting b*tch face pretty bad) before copying the stupid flail and laughing.

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Once all the members were done with signing, they only had time for a brief ending speech of thanks, before it was time to head out. They had taken a really long time with their signing actually, and I’m pretty sure the mall folks were trying to get them to leave so they could clean up and close. They waved their way out, and we headed back home in short order.

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Count OneJunn welcomes you to the stage

The next morning we woke up at a very reasonable time. We had wanted to do some shopping before our event planned for the evening. We spent the day in Myeongdong, before heading over to the Han River park for a concert of unknown sorts. Boys Republic had this event on their schedule, with a time and place, but we literally couldn’t find ANY other information about it. All we knew was that there would be some sort of floating stage that Boys Republic would be performing on sometime after 6pm. We arrived maybe an hour before then in case good seats could be obtained.

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Han River Cruise

We found the little floating stage sitting in the water in front of a very large tiered seating area, with very few people hanging around on it. Across the walkway from that though, and closer to the stage was a small cluster of chairs, all roped off. There was also a small cluster of various artists fans surrounding the chairs, and they had clearly been waiting there for a while to claim the seats. We recognized a handful of Royal Family among them, waving and chatting with some of them, before plopping down on the tiered seating farther back.

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The event’s MCs, of Melody Day and Halo

We sat there waiting until past 6 o’clock, when finally something started happening. Next to the chairs, there was a red carpet area of sorts that some people had started lining up along as well. We meandered over to stand with them, simply because we were bored, and no more people seemed to be arriving to steal away our spots. Eventually the MCs for the night came meandering down the red carpet and went up to their podium to practice their lines. Jeff was excited since one of them was from Melody Day, so he meandered off to find a better view.

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Melody Day maknae Yoomin looking elegant as an MC

After a while, the MCs wandered back past us, and soon after others started appearing as well. Halo was the first, most likely since one of them was the second MC, but they failed at red carpet. Instead of walking down the obvious red carpet, with it’s line of fans and backdrop for pictures and all the cameras waiting, they walked down the normal Han River walkway behind all the fans and cameras. They were pretty much fully past the red carpet before people started to notice, and even then the reaction was pretty small. Apparently they wanted to stretch their legs and simply walk through the crowds, since they just kept wandering down the walkway, past the stage. Maybe 15 minutes or so later, they meandered back the way they’d come, having picked up a handful of fans trailing after them by this point, going back to the vans for a bit before they did their stage. The majority of our fans, us included, weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to it.

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A very mist-enshrouded Berry Good

Shortly after this, Berry Good made an entrance on the red carpet, and headed back behind it to some manner of waiting room. They kept popping their heads out between curtains to play with the fans though. I don’t especially consider myself a fan of them, but I do think they deserve more attention than they get. The have talent, some decent songs, are pretty, and fan interactive. I don’t get the luke-warm response, but that goes for a lot of groups anymore.

Finally, at least an hour after Boys Republic’s schedule had this set to start, it started. The MCs came back out, did their little opening bit that we’d seen them rehearse earlier, and Berry Good went out to the stage to do their thing. During this, we spied off in the distance, beyond the red carpet, a van pulling into the designated idol van parking area that gave us a strangely familiar and suspicious sort of feeling. We also noticed a crowd gathering around it that seemed familiar, and couldn’t help but notice that Royal Family had disappeared from around the red carpet area. We wandered over that way, to be greeted excitedly by our fellow Royal Family. The boys were hiding out in their van, but one of them kept poking his hand or fingers out the window at us. While this was going on, One Junn, fully rolled down his window, but was just making a funny face at us all, and immediately rolled it back up again without changing expression. Everybody whined at him a bit, so he rerolled it down, laughing, to wave briefly and say hi for real, before hiding once more. Eventually the window with the random fingers poking out rolled down to say hello for real too. It turned out to be Minsu, and he seemed to be fully trying to fill Suwoong’s role in his absence, as he’s more commonly the one to poke himself out of the van windows. (Suwoong couldn’t attend this event because of his drama filming.) Minsu was going around the crowd saying hello to everybody, but when he got to me he sort of flipped his shit. He waved like such a maniac that literally all the other fans had to turn around to see what was so exciting. They were much less excited than Minsu, unsurprisingly, and simply turned back to him after discovering nothing exciting.

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Melody Day being so awesome Jeff broke his phone while running to see them

Moments later, he rolled the window back up, leaving us to stand around and chat amongst ourselves. We essentially stayed there for the rest of the show, instead of meandering back to watch groups we didn’t much care about. The area had really filled up with people at this point too, so the chances of seeing well were very low too. So we decided to simply hang out with Royal Family and Boys Republic’s van. Eventually another van pulled in alongside ours, squashing us up against it. I waved at the group as they exited, and got jokingly reprimanded by another Royal Family member for waving at others with Boys Republic right there. I contradicted that I was clearly not excited, but simply being nice, and she just laughed. At another point during our waiting, Melody Day took to the stage, and we briefly lost Jeff. He ran off to watch and take pictures, since he quite enjoys them. (They were perhaps the only other group in attendance that we liked much.)

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On his return trip, he had a very unhappy accident. His phone managed to fall out of his new jacket’s pocket, shattering the screen to pieces. He arrived back at the vans fuming, and thoroughly unable to enjoy himself the for the rest of the event.

After a little while longer, Boys Republic finally emerged from their van in full to head down to the stage themselves. We walked with them to the red carpet, and then veered off to find spots to take pictures of them from. One Junn was the only one to pose for us there, and the horrible lighting made him look 100% like a vampire. They then made their way out to the stage to wait their turn. We headed off to find a place to see the actual performance but were having trouble, made even worse by Jeff no longer caring. He was all bent out of shape over his phone, though a little bit appeased by the fact that on the way out he had walked within centimeters of Melody Day. He had very nearly brushed shoulders with their main vocalist, Yeo-Eun, as she walked back to her van. We stood on some one of the tiers from before for a bit, but could barely see any of the stage. We instead headed down to the crowd surrounding the cluster of chairs, assuming that at least some of those people would leave when Halo finished up their stage.

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Don’t forget baby Suwoong!

Our assumption was right, and we managed to wiggle our way into a front row, side space pretty quickly. I joined in with the rest of Royal Family, cheering like mad, and possibly confusing poor Minsu. He took over most of Suwoong’s main parts, and I cheered as if it was Suwoong doing them. They performed three songs, Get Down, Hello, and Real Talk, and also had a small talking section. They mentioned that Suwoong was missing, and One Junn held up his hand to show where he should be, but made him super short, and we all whined at him from the audience. After they wrapped things up, it was time to head out, as they were once again the closing act. (I know we only get that sort of recognition during these small shows, but to at least rate the closing act for a large portion of the small shows we do still feels nice.) It was pretty late at this point, we were both hungry, and Jeff was understandably surly, but we simply jumped on the subway for the long ride home, deciding to deal with other issues once we got back home.

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Auckland: Rain changing ALL the plans…

Vacation Down Under 2016 Quicklinks


  1. Travelling Down Under – Getting To Australia in 2016
  2. Cairns 2016 Adventure One: Cairns Business District Walkabout
  3. Cairns 2016 Adventure Two: Nobody Expects the Spanish Rainforest Castle Ruins!
  4. Cairns 2016 Adventure Three: He rode a Blazing Saddle, He wore a shining star…
  5. Cairns 2016 Adventure Four: Onward By Rail, Homebound By Air
  6. Cairns 2016 Adventure Five: Adventure Island – Fitzroy Edition
  7. Cairns 2016 Adventure Six: Above and Below the Reef Sea
  8. Brisbane: Woo~ I’m on top of the world!
  9. Auckland: We’re Going On An Adventure!
  10. Auckland: Rain changing ALL the plans…

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Us at the harbor~

We awoke on our second day in Auckland to a very rainy day. Our plan had been to take a ferry to a nearby volcanic island and go hiking all day, which would have been pretty awful given the weather so we immediately scrapped it. That left us with absolutely no idea what to do with a whole day. We spent a good chunk of morning looking things up and trying to find something we could do on our own and out of the rain. There were obviously tours to places that would have worked, but most of those left so early in the morning that it wasn’t actually an option to join now. We ended up finding a couple of options worth visiting around town mixed in with all the shopping areas. We eventually decided to start off with a trip to the aquarium. We had actually considered this aquarium when looking at things back home because you can do dives into their shark tank. When we arrived in the country, though, we decided to scrap the idea in favor of more New Zealand specific sorts of activities. With the weather giving us issues though, why not give it a shot? We did, however, decide to forego the shark encounter. We couldn’t do the scuba diving option because we would be flying too soon afterwards to be safe. The other option is snorkeling in a shark cage which just didn’t seem worth the cost. Too much like viewing them in any other normal enclosure, you’re just wet while doing it. The cage took something away from the whole thrill of genuinely swimming with the sharks, so we figured if we were going to watch them from behind barriers we may as well save money and stay dry while doing it.

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The free shark shuttle bus to Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium.

The aquarium had a shuttle bus that picked up right down the road from our hotel so we headed off that way to find it. We got a little lost, but remedied the problem easily enough by asking a super sweet shop-owner in a nearby athletic and souvenir store, grabbed a quick breakfast at a streetside cart she recommended, and waited. Eventually a big van shaped like a shark pulled up and we jumped inside. A quick ten minutes later and we were climbing back out and heading into the Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium. It was built right on the edge of the sea, and was partially underground. We entered into an area called Scott’s Hut. It was apparently a replica of a hut built in Antarctica for Captain Scott’s famous research expedition. There were a bunch of signs telling you details of the expedition and what it was like to live in the frigid Antarctic weather. They also had a penguin skeleton in the hut, which seems really random but we were interested since we’ve never seen a penguin skeleton. It’s neck was really long and S-shaped, which we didn’t expect. We had no idea at the time who Scott was, but it was still a neat little extra to have as a lead-in to the next area and we’d left having learned something new.

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Penguin skeletons look weird.

As we rounded the corner, we were stopped for photos. Apparently they make those little photoshopped books of your adventure here too. It seems a bit unnecessary in this case considering you can just take your own pictures of yourself in the aquarium, but here they make you do a second pose. In this pose, you’re supposed to act like a shark is coming towards you, and that’s exactly what they shop that pose into later (among other things). Again, it was cute, and we looked at the result before leaving, but passed on buying it. We moved on into the next area, which housed the penguin exhibits. We started off where we could see them swimming around in the water, and then moved up to the land portion next. They had a few different kinds of penguins in there, and quite a few babies too. The babies were at that point where they were the same size as the adults but still had their baby feathers. One of them was insistently trying to get food from an adult’s mouth as we went by. Further on, there was another section that was for breeding. A ton of little penguins had been collecting pebbles and setting up nests, and even possibly laying on eggs. We couldn’t quite tell for sure.

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Flormph penguin!

There was a small bit at the end of the penguin exhibit that was built to look like Scott’s research base again. Perhaps we were supposed to be pretending we were Scott going out onto the Antarctic ice to see those penguins. In this area was an interactive challenge. There was a box with little holes for your hand, and a sign that said “Can you last 30 seconds in the frozen Antarctic seas?” Of course Jeff had to give it a shot, dunking his hand down into the icy water and whining while watching the handy dandy clock count down his 30 seconds. He can’t say no to a dare and doesn’t exactly have the healthiest regard for his own well-being, so of course he kept his hand in there the whole time despite his constantly clenched teeth and screwed up face due to the unbelievable cold. His hand came out quite white at the end of it all.

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Creepy crustaceans in creepy red light. Nice touch guys.

Next up came a preserved giant squid. It was enormous, and not even fully grown. We continued on past some tanks of jellyfish and crustaceans and anemones and such with really interesting lighting. Then we popped out into a more wide-open area entitled Jurassic Seas. This area had an interactive swim with the dinosaurs game, but it was covered in children on a school trip so we didn’t quite get to see what that was all about. Jeff was sad. Instead we poked around looking at the frogs and tuataras, crabs, and random ancient looking fish. There was one small tank that had a giant spiky anemone stuck to the top of it and pointing its spikes down towards where your head was. It was a bit intimidating. I couldn’t help but notice throughout this whole aquarium that the signage was a bit lacking. There were signs near most tanks, but not all, and most of the signs would only have one or two of the various animals inside listed on them. I often couldn’t find signs for the animals I was interested in and it was rather disappointing.

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Cute frogs!

This area opened out into the cafe area. Even this was cute and interactive though they didn’t have much in the way of refreshments. It had a big glass window along the one side, and lapping up against that window was the sea. This was part of the building that was submerged and it was butted right up with the adjacent ocean, so it felt like you were dining partially submerged in the waters. It was pretty neat. In one corner they also had some touch pools where you could poke at some starfish. On the other side was a pool of puffer fish and elephant sharks, both of which are rather awkward looking. We continued on down the path to find some giant stingrays. These things were seriously massive and sitting right up against the glass. I ended up terrified though, as one of them decided to slide straight up the wall I was standing up against the tank. He was just trying to turn around and go elsewhere. It lifted up right up against my face and his total body length and breadth were taller than me. I’ve seen the underside of stingrays at other zoos and they often have cute little “happy faces,” but these bigger cousins of theirs had much angrier looking faces, the ends of their stingray mouths tip the opposite direction. It makes me shiver a bit even now remembering it and writing this.

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A terrifying anemone and his fishy friends.

Next up came a big tank with a moving walkway that went in a circle underneath it. We went around it, watching all the sharks, fish, eels, etc swimming around above us. On the far side, we found a keeper. Apparently something had happened to one of the fish in the tank and it was laying up against the glass having clear difficulties. At least somebody was already on top of that, and we passed two other keepers coming as we left. The last bit of aquarium had just some random fish tanks and a ton of seahorses. The seahorses were cute, as always. One of the tanks was home to a very active octopus, that at one point had been given a camera and taught to take pictures of people. There was a video playing near his tank about it. It would be pretty cool to have an octopus take your picture, not gonna lie. With that, we had arrived in the gift shop an the end of the road. It was actually quite a small aquarium, but it was still quite cute. We didn’t end up buying anything in the gift shop so we headed pretty quickly back to the entrance area to await pickup from the shark shuttle. We had a good 20 minutes or so to wait there, but soon enough we ended up back in town.

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Auckland from the water.

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There was tons of harbor space and boats but it was so randomly spaced about and nonsensical that it didn’t quite make for good pics as a whole. The intense street lamps on the other hand….

Since we were so close to our hotel, we decided to head back there to decide what to do with the next part of our day, what with it still raining pretty heavily and all. We screencapped some maps for potential visiting spots and then headed back out. We grabbed lunch at a nearby Mexican place and headed off down the main street, Queen Street. Right near our hotel was a supposedly good place for shopping, the Queen Street Arcade. We headed over to it only to be somewhat disappointed. It was mostly full of stores that we weren’t even slightly interested in, though the building that housed it was admittedly pretty. We went in a big CD/DVD store that was somewhat amusing, but the only really interesting thing there was a comic and game store. We spent far too much time in here just perusing the wares, even though there wasn’t much chance of us buying anything. The prices were just too high even though we really wanted some of the games and comics both. Even counting exchange rates, for some reason gaming and role playing materials are outlandishly expensive in New Zealand.

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There were so many clock towers in Auckland.

We headed back out of the complex and farther up Queen Street. The nice thing about this street is that a large part of the sidewalks are actually under a roof or awning of some sort or another. This was especially good since not long into our trek, our cheap umbrella decided to break completely. Not in any sort of normal way either. The metal rod going up the center completely separated itself from everything else, and we couldn’t get it to close. We ended up with an open, totally fanned out umbrella with a dangerous metal spike sticking way out the center of it through the top. Jeff ended up smashing it in on itself, half terrified he’d drive a giant stick of metal through his hand in the process, so that we could jam it into a trash can. Luckily he managed not to stab himself horribly. We decided not to replace the umbrella since the rain had slowed notably. As we walked up the street, we really only went in a few stores, partially because we’d already done most of the touristy stores on this street earlier and partially because a lot of the stores looked very expensive.

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Auckland’s Sky Tower was right smack in the center of the city so it was almost impossible for it to not be in shots of the city.

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A big impressive theater we found.

At one point we found an EB Games, and felt like we couldn’t just walk past that even though we knew we wouldn’t buy anything. It was actually really weird because so much of the store was devoted to systems that we don’t own nowadays. Living in Korea has made it difficult to keep up with consoles since what’s popular locally doesn’t match what we play and importing is extravagantly pricey. Still, it was neat to walk around window shopping for all the new games again. We also found a larger electronics store with literally every sort of electronic gizmo you could think of. We spent a ton of time in this one deciding to take notes of movies we were finding that looked interesting. We also popped into a couple of clothing stores, but only one was actually worthwhile. I walked out with a new backpack and a drapey sweater-type overshirt thing.

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Auckland had so many different kinds of buildings all smashed together it actually looked really cool.

Eventually our overhangs protecting us from the downpour disappeared and the rain picked up tremendously. We ducked into some manner of shops-and-fun building. It had a food court and a few shops, but most things were actually entertainment related. There was minigolf, an arcade, a sensory walkthrough (seemed like a sort of fun house), and a movie theater. We walked around looking at everything, but didn’t actually partake in any of the attractions. Instead we headed back outside and back towards our hotel, along the opposite side of the road in case we could find anything new on that side. There really wasn’t much though, and so we ended up back at our hotel pretty early. We decided to do a bit of self-pampering with our extra time. We had bought mud masks with fancy mud from the nearby Rotorua area, and so we piled that onto our faces and sat around just sort of relaxing for a while. Eventually we got hungry and headed back around the corner to a pizza shop we had seen earlier in the day. Their pizza claimed to be authentic New York pizza, and although it was really good pizza, it definitely wasn’t quite New York pizza either. It came with these delicious garlic knots too. They were the best part I thought, and I kind of wished we’d gotten more. We headed to bed pretty early this day, as our next morning was set to be early.

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WOO!!!!! Still feeling on top of the world~

We awoke in the morning, hoping that the day’s plan was good to go. We had booked a whale and dolphin watching cruise, but it came with a warning that they might have to cancel if the seas are too rough. Given that the previous day’s trip had been cancelled because of how rainy and windy it had been, we had pretty much expected the same of ours. It was of course still a disappointment when I got the email though. Our attempts to go whale watching on this trip were thwarted at every attempt, and all we could say was, “Well, I suppose we have to come back now!” Looking outside and realizing that it wasn’t actually raining, and wasn’t quite expected to, we pretty easily decided what to do with the day: our plan that we had been forced to cancel the previous day, hiking on Rangitoto Island!

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Hello Rangitoto!

We got ready and headed out to the marina right down the street, stopping in for some water and snacks to take along. The island we were headed to was a nature reserve and had no stores or permanent residents or anything really. We got to the ferry terminal and our tickets easily enough and waited just a few minutes before boarding started. We headed up to the top level of the boat which was open to the wind but provided the best view to all sides. As the boat left the harbor, some crewman or another started giving commentary. Apparently this ferry was partially a harbor tour as well as just a shuttle to Rangitoto. He told us about various different buildings and such as we headed out into the sea. We could understand almost immediately why our whale watching tour had been cancelled though, as the boat was extremely rocky right from the beginning. We went past the aquarium we’d seen the day before, and some areas where they were reclaiming docking space for ships. As we headed farther away from shore, we went by an old, tiny lighthouse. It was apparently perched on a chunk of lava rock from the volcano we were visiting that was sitting just a couple feet below the waves. He then mentioned that this whole area was actually extremely shallow water, and if you looked closely on a good day you could see some of the rocks just below the surface.

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This area is apparently the most exclusive and expensive area in which to live in Auckland.

It was about this time that our destination came completely into view as well. You could tell instantly that it was a volcano. It just had that shape. This island, Rangitoto, is a volcano that erupted about 600 years ago, only once, and then become essentially a mountainous island. It is now used, along with a handful of other small islands in the area, as a wildlife refuge of sorts, mostly for birds. They are very strict with keeping pest animals or predators off the islands. We even got a flyer about it when we bought our tickets. At one point, people started building small vacation homes of sorts, called baches, on the shores. It wasn’t long before they banned this building though, and since then all have been vacated. Many of them are still on the island though as a sort of museum, with little plaques in front of them and everything.

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An old lighthouse we sailed past that is apparently sitting on volcanic rock from Rangitoto’s eruption that is only a couple feet below the surface. You could even see it as we went by.

We arrived at a small pier and piled off the boat, being warned to check the ferry departure times for later in the day. There were probably only about 30 of us that got off, and the island was all ours. We walked on down the pier, getting a bit distracted by the various birds we found immediately and the scenery in general. Having a weird fascination with volcanoes, I was especially excited and couldn’t stop marveling at the lava rock which made up literally the entire island. At the entrance to the island was a themed archway welcoming us, and signs welcoming us and pointing us to various trails. We followed the way to the summit course, passing by a ton of informational signs about the island and various trails available. There was a bit of a boardwalk area on the way and we wandered along there first. We found a big stone archway near the waters edge with a fence around it. Upon closer inspection, we found a sign next to it that said it was the entrance to an old men’s restroom. Wonderful thing to save I suppose.

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There were so many birds on the island. Both in the trees…

Finally, it was time to venture off down the path. It started off as a very wide, easy path to walk along, but the farther along we went the small and more intense it got. It was actually quite cool. The sides of the path were a mix of snargly, intense forests and fields of broken up lava rock. Everything, living and nonliving, was also covered in mosses and lichens and the like. It looked really awesome, and we couldn’t stop taking pictures of weird stuff. I was especially amused by this one moss or fungus or something that looked like soap bubbles. I took far too many pictures of it, and had to at least point it out every time we saw it. Every so often along the path we would also come across traps. I mentioned that they were really hard on pests on the islands, and this was just a small reminder of it. This path took us up to the summit…..eventually. We meandered quite slowly and it was a long path. At one point, there was a sort of lookout branch that went off into one of the lava rock fields, so we detoured out to it quickly. It didn’t really produce any cool views, but basically just had little information signs on it. Very quickly we also started to see views way back across the sea to Auckland proper. Every so often there were also stairs, which were built to blend in entirely with the surroundings, and quite a few birds. The paths, in fact, were actually quite well done. They were clearly well tended and intentionally made paths, but at the same time they blended in so well with the island. It was neat.

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…and in the water.

Much further down the path, we found a branch. A sign told us that we were only about 20 minutes (of the estimated hour that this path was said to take) from the summit if we continued down the same path. There was another option though, to take a longer path, said to take 40 minutes to the summit. Looking at the fork in the road, the original path looked much less interesting. The new path was much smaller and wound its way off through one of the lava fields. We weren’t at all strapped for time so we decided to take the more interesting road, and I’m really glad we did. Especially since looking at our brochure that had a map of all the trails, we could come back from the summit via the original path and thus see both options in the end anyway. Quite aways down this path we were surprised by the sudden appearance of a very large bird in a tree above us. We were posing with a random pile of stones taller than us that was on either side of the path for no apparent reason, when a pigeon the size of a house cat landed in a tree above our heads. It was quite startling.

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An adorable bird taking a bath in the middle of our path. Even he pampers himself in the volcanic mud!

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Such snargly trees but such a perfect framing for the path.

Eventually this path ended in a larger dirt road of sorts. This was part of the path that the so called Volcanic Explorer tour would take if it was running. It’s an optional way to explore this island, though it seemed like it ran on an as-needed basis. We followed the road just a few minutes before running into the summit boardwalk. We headed up the wooden walkway as it ascended the last bit of volcano. It was made almost entirely of stairs but had a few benches strategically placed throughout to give people a break. We didn’t quite feel the need for those since we took a few breaks of our own as different far off views began to appear. Before we found the summit itself. we found the volcanic crater, or place where the volcano erupted. It was entirely covered in trees now but was still a really big crater in the ground, and was quite intimidating somehow. Knowing what I was looking at made it have a completely different feeling from simply looking off the top off a mountain. I can’t quite explain it, and it’s possible it’s just me. (I mean I do have a goal in life to witness a volcano erupting. Not a violent one, but more like some of the ones in Hawaii that are just constantly oozing lava pretty slowly.)

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The path wound past and through so many vast fields of broken up volcanic rock. It was awesome!

After a number of pictures, we headed up the final stretch to the summit, marveling at the intense views. You really had a 360 degree view from up here, looking back across the water to Auckland, across the small channel to another island, and even straight out into endless sea. It was awesome! We lingered here a little while before heading down via a different path, the crater rim walk. This path immediately took us past an old military lookout shelter. We continued to follow the path around the crater, where the dirt was for some reason switching between red and black at random. We also found a pair of really pretty green birds that we had to stop and take a million pictures of. Soon enough we had returned to the crater lookout point from earlier, and again started on a new path, going back down the mountain.

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The crater of the volcano!

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A bit of the view from the top. From here you can see the land bridge to the adjoining island, Motutapu.

We had one more stop before we returned to the bottom of the mountain and the sea. The branch-off point for this path was only a few minutes down the path. The ground in this area had become much more rocky and chopped up, and it only got worse as we followed our new path towards some lava caves. Eventually our path sort of devolved into the least path-like path yet. It was more of just a rock field with little posts set around it to lead you to the different caves and back to the real path. The lava caves were really neat, but essentially just small holes in the ground. There was one that seemed like you could actually walk through it if you chose, but it was a tight squeeze and with the weather lately it looked quite damp and gross inside so we chose not to try. Still it was a cool extra thing to see.

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Chilling on Rangitoto.

We retraced our steps a bit to rejoin the main path and continued our way back down the mountain. We had now seen everything we had set out to see on the island, and were somewhat concerned about making it back to the pier in time for the ferry. We ended up arriving back at the entrance point almost exactly in between the last two ferry runs, which meant we had about half an hour of time to kill near the sea. The tide had come in at this point, so the boardwalk was a completely different place, so we walked along that again. At one point we both had these tiny little birds that came up and bounced around within a foot of us. I’m not entirely sure what their deal was. We also noticed that there was a sort of man-made rock hole in the ground near the sea that became a sort of swimming pool at high tide. (It was built during the time of those baches I mentioned before for communal use.) We then meandered off to the opposite side of the pier where a ton of the baches were. It also said there was a grove of some sort of tree nearby and we decided to try and find it before the ferry arrived.

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Our trusty boat.

We wandered down the coast, taking tons and tons of pictures, before we found the path to the grove heading back into the forests. It looked fairly similar to all the other paths we’d taken, though it was lined with small rocks on either side that were completely covered in moss. It was quite cute. With a bit of rushing, we made it to the edge of the grove, took a quick picture of the trees, and headed back out to the pier. We arrived just a few minutes before the ferry, watching it sail up as we walked back up the coast, and hopped on. The upper deck was closed this time, as the winds and waves had gotten even more intense throughout the day, so we instead sat on the middle deck on the inside. Even there, while were sailing back to Auckland, you could see the spray splashing up along the windows next to us. We made a quick pit stop at another bit of city before returning to our original location. Leaving the boat, we headed off towards our hotel, stopping at a coffee shop/restaurant for dinner. We both got cheesesteak sandwiches, but they were nothing like what we expected, though still quite good. They were definitely a localized type of sandwich despite their borrowing the Philly namesake.

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Fire meets water! …or at least it did many years ago…

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Goodbye Rangitoto… Goodbye Auckland… Goodbye awesome vacation….

When we arrived back at the hotel we basically just packed everything up for the morning and headed to bed early. Our flight out was before 9am so we would be getting up super early to get to the airport on time. We woke around 4am, and headed out around the corner to the bus stop for the Sky Bus, or bus to the airport. We had already bought tickets on the way out of the airport so it was quite easy. Apparently we gave ourselves a ton of unnecessary wiggle room though. There was no schedule for these buses. They were simply meant to arrive about every 15 minutes. When we arrived though there was one simply sitting at the stop, so there was literally zero waiting time. About an hour later we arrived at the airport. It turned out that we had actually gotten there before check-in opened, so we had a good 30 minutes of standing around waiting for our counter to open. Then when we actually checked in, the poor girl at the counter was super confused by our Korean ARC card and had to ask for help from the Korean guy next to her.

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All smiles even as we finish our last adventure of this awesome trip.

Soon enough though we were ready to go, grabbed some last minute bits from airport stores and a quick breakfast before sitting down to await our flight. We were flying with Korean Air, on an 11 and a half hour straight flight back to Seoul. We pretty much knew what to expect since I had flown Korean Air before, and it really isn’t very different from Asiana which both of us have flown several times. We got quite a few snacks and meals and drinks, and were given pillows, blankets, slippers, and tiny teeth brushing kits. Despite it being a middle of the day flight, they still shut off all the lights and expected us to sleep for a good part of it. We instead watched a ton of movies and read a good bit of our books. I considered sleeping a few times, but we had quite a bit of turbulence (also rather expected since we were flying almost entirely over water and that always seems to be more turbulent.) Eventually though we arrived safely back in Seoul, though we still had quite a bit of travel before arriving back at home. This was travel we knew well and barely had to even think about. We had an intensely amazing trip behind us, but were entirely excited to be home at the same time. Every time we can’t help but be amazed at how happy we are arriving back into Korea from abroad, how much like home it really feels, and how excited we are to hear and use Korean again.

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Auckland: We’re Going On An Adventure!

Vacation Down Under 2016 Quicklinks


  1. Travelling Down Under – Getting To Australia in 2016
  2. Cairns 2016 Adventure One: Cairns Business District Walkabout
  3. Cairns 2016 Adventure Two: Nobody Expects the Spanish Rainforest Castle Ruins!
  4. Cairns 2016 Adventure Three: He rode a Blazing Saddle, He wore a shining star…
  5. Cairns 2016 Adventure Four: Onward By Rail, Homebound By Air
  6. Cairns 2016 Adventure Five: Adventure Island – Fitzroy Edition
  7. Cairns 2016 Adventure Six: Above and Below the Reef Sea
  8. Brisbane: Woo~ I’m on top of the world!
  9. Auckland: We’re Going On An Adventure!
  10. Auckland: Rain changing ALL the plans…

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The Auckland airport had the perfect greeter! Thanks Middle Earth!

It was time for the last leg of our adventure: Auckland, New Zealand. We had to wake up quite early in the morning in Brisbane to head to the airport, but the trip was painless enough. We had already bought our train tickets back to the airport, so literally we just had to walk the few minutes back to the train station and jump on it when it arrived. The departures side of the airport was much like the arrivals side – notably more urban and modern looking than the tropical party adventure cousin it had in Cairns. It was an easy process to get through to the other side, work through customs and security, and then make it to our gate. We waited inside next to a guy who seemed like some sort of quality control inspector. He was taking notes about how things were running and he seemed to be going through all the motions of check-in as if he were departing. He was talking to the suited folks at the check-in desk so it seemed like he was with the airline. We would be flying Qantas into New Zealand and the trip was much like the first – very brief, very comfortable, and very full of little snacks and treats along the way. Jeff read and finished his book along the way. Our arrival was pretty seamless, though we noted that customs regulations were steep in New Zealand. You had to report almost everything you had and everything you did in the preceding country and they were very thorough with their inspection. Polite, but thorough. We had to show the undersides of our shoes to check for traces of soil from our rainforest and riding expeditions. We also had to report the teas, fudge, and handful of other little candies and treats we had from Australia. Everything was OK, they just wanted to know it all. It was the most thorough customs check I’d ever gone through. We exchanged our money at the airport, causing Jeff to grit his teeth at the awful exchange rates. We resolved to try to get as much money changed while still in Korea from now on, since their rates were awesome and they take little to no commission off the top, especially during peak travel seasons. It’s some sort of incentive for the Korean people that we can benefit from as well.

This is what a simple country farm looks like in New Zealand. Look in any direction and you're met with absolutely gorgeous landscape

This is what a simple country farm looks like in New Zealand. Look in any direction and you’re met with absolutely gorgeous landscape.

We took the skybus from the airport, which is a dedicated airport shuttle sort of bus that stops in all the major areas of the city for hotels. Our hotel was at the farthest point out that the bus went, and in fact we actually had to switch buses. The main bus went in a small circuit, and then at the end you could get out and pickup a smaller shuttle bus that went farther into the city. We took this shuttle bus out to it’s farthest point, and then had a small walk around the corner to our actual hotel. The bus driver was super nice too. He stopped us as we got off to check that we knew how to get to our hotel from there, and even drew the path to take on our map. Check in was a breeze and I remember going through the process and heading up to our room in a sort of daze. This hotel was essentially a small apartment, and we’re pretty sure at least parts of the building were actually used as apartments. It had a full kitchen and a washer/dryer in the room. The feel of the hotel was somewhere in between our previous hotels: not as good as Cairns, but nicer than Brisbane. Less polished, perhaps, but more roomy and with more in it for our convenience.

We lucked out a bit and arrived at the sheep farms in lambing season.

We lucked out a bit and arrived at the sheep farms in lambing season.

We rested for just a little while before heading out to explore Auckland a bit. It was still pretty early in the day, and the city actually seemed interesting. It’s difficult to describe, but it actually reminded me and Jeff of Pittsburgh. We both agreed that the home-ey feeling to it in spite of its size and the overwhelming diversity of architecture, unbounded by district or surroundings, made it feel a lot like the Pennsylvania city. It was one of the things I remembered and Jeff noted when visiting there, and Auckland shared strongly in this quality. We spent most of our time wandering in the Queen St. area by the docks. It was actually really nice and we ended up going into one of the pierside souvenir stores, picking up some local snacks and some bags of dirt. The dirt was actually Rotorua mud, a mineral-rich volcanic clay that they packaged with Manuka honey as face masks. We thought we’d pamper ourselves a bit with these later on. What followed was a ton of additional window-shopping and wandering by the harborside as we ate up the evening and got out bearings in North Auckland. We spent some time admiring the ocean views and checking out the islands off the coast from the shore. We probably walked without aim for a few miles before heading back toward our hotel, grabbing some quick food, and returning to our room.

Did I mention that the land looks gorgeous and green no matter where you look?

Did I mention that the land looks gorgeous and green no matter where you look?

We headed to bed early as we had yet another early day ahead of us, and it was essentially our reason for coming to New Zealand so the excitement was high as well. We woke before the sun to prepare and head just up the street to the main bus terminal. They run a ton of tours from there, and we were actually a bit disappointed that we didn’t look into them a bit more earlier. Apparently you can use these tours to move around New Zealand. They have luggage space on the bus, and you can switch buses at different locations so that you can finish somewhere different from where you started. We also discovered that they ran a tour for something I had really wanted to do but couldn’t find a way to get to and from it. It was a caving adventure where you went abseiling and climbing and rafting in the dark and all sorts of crazy nonsense. We would be seeing part of one of said caves later in the day, but on a very normal sort of tour instead of an exciting adventure sort of tour. Maybe next time. Anyway, we ended up being a little too excited for the day’s adventure to come, and got to the bus station a good 30-45 minutes earlier than necessary. We used that time to grab a quick breakfast and then chilled out just waiting.

The side of the preperty that wasn't dedicated to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Those mountains in the distance are the same ones used as the Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Recognize them?

The side of the property that wasn’t dedicated to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Those mountains in the distance are the same ones used as the Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Recognize them?

We quickly found a bus labelled similarly to our plans for the day. We asked the driver, and he told us we needed the next bus, and also to check in with a lady nearby. So to that lady we went, but she just told us to wait. As I said, we were about 30 minutes early, so she was busy checking in all the people for the bus that left about 30 minutes before ours. Eventually she came back to us and checked us in. We got little stickers to wear, and in proper hobbit fashion: second breakfasts! They were small bowls of fruit and water bottles. Within just a few minutes our real bus pulled up and we jumped on board, grabbing seats right in the front. We wanted to be able to see everything all day.

 

Welcome to New Zealand! Meet one of the many, many, many, many local natives!

The sheep always came first on this farm! Even when they got in the way of tour buses.

Our bus was one of those really big tour bus style buses, but it turned out to be less than half full, which we were happy about. As soon as our bus headed out of the bus station, our driver started up commentary. He literally didn’t stop until Hobbiton, about 90 minutes later. Some might find that annoying I’m sure, but he actually had some really interesting things to say. He of course talked a bit about Hobbiton, including the story of how it came to be. Apparently Peter Jackson and his crew had been having a really hard time finding the perfect filming spot for Hobbiton. They had looked everywhere, but could only find places that fit one or two of the things he had in mind. He needed tons of rolling green hills with no signs of man-made structures, especially electrical wires. He also needed a small pond or lake in a valley with a very large tree nearby. They were about to start filming for the movies at these pieced together locations when somebody on set suggested checking out the Matamata area of New Zealand, known to have tons of rolling green hills on sheep farms. Some crewmen were sent over to check it out by helicopter and couldn’t believe their eyes. Nestled at the back of a random sheep farm, they had found the perfect valley for Hobbiton. It had literally everything that Peter Jackson had been looking for in a filming location, even the “Misty Mountains” in the background. The crew knocked on the sheep farmers door to request permission to go check it out on foot. They were simply told to be careful of locking the gates and not letting the sheep get mixed up. After taking ALL the pictures, they went back to Jackson. When he came back to look at it himself, they were given the same simple instructions, and Jackson pretty much immediately threw out all the other potential Hobbiton spots. He no longer needed any of them because this one had everything.

 

Our target destination for the day. Next stop: Middle Earth!

Our target destination for the day. Next stop: Middle Earth!

They of course drew up a contract with the farmer, which included a clause stating that they would be sure to put his valley back to it’s original state when they were finished. They built all of Hobbiton, as seen in the original Lord of the Rings movies, but they built it to only last a few months. They used materials that were cheap and would come down easily. After filming, they started to immediately tear everything down. When they were almost finished though, there was a nasty storm that caused them to take a break. The crew then had to rush off to a new job, but promised they would come back eventually to finish destroying Hobbiton and putting the farm back to normal. The sheep farmer was in no rush, and so neither was the crew. Other projects took up the team’s time before they could return for the clean-up project and it took a few months for them to show up again. They waited so long though that the movies ended up being released. A bunch of people in the nearby Matamata area that saw the movie immediately recognized the scenery as being their own, even though the filming locations were kept completely secret. They started calling up all the farmers in the area, and eventually found the right one, asking if there was anything left to see. The farmer warned them that there was very little left: just a couple of hobbit holes that were falling apart, but they all wanted to go check it out anyway. Despite being a bit disappointed with what was left, the locals still kept coming to see it and telling all their friends to do the same.

 

 

You have no idea how much fun it was going through our photos while re-watching the movies once we got home and comparing our shots to the actual footage used in the films. WE STOOD RIGHT THERE!!!!

You have no idea how much fun it was going through our photos while re-watching the movies once we got home and comparing our shots to the actual footage used in the films. WE STOOD RIGHT THERE!!!!

So when the crew called to finish tearing things down, the farmer told them not to worry about it. He would just keep what was left, since everybody wanted to see it. Things stayed that way for a little while, until Peter Jackson decided to film The Hobbit as well. He called the sheep farmer back up asking if he could film there once again. This time, in the contract, the farmer requested that Hobbiton be made with lasting materials and be left in place after filming. Jackson agreed, and they built the Hobbiton that still stands today. It is infinitely more detailed and intricate and well thought-out. This of course took a lot longer to build, but I don’t think anybody was complaining. It also introduced the only manmade natural feature to Hobbiton. Originally, they had transplanted a tree onto the top of Bag End to fit better with Jackson’s vision and the original book. This time though, instead of searching for and placing that perfect tree there that might grow to big and not quite fit the image anymore or even start hurting Bag End with it’s root system, they made a fake one. So now there is a fake tree atop Bag End, but it is a super intricate and detailed fake tree with tons and tons of individual leaves wired onto it. (Sidenote: apparently after getting the OK on the leaves and thus wiring them all in place, Jackson arrived later and decided that they were the wrong color, so they had to be removed and redone.)

Holy crap it's Bag End! The tree above Bilbo's house is a false one, made to look a few decades younger than the original used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

Holy crap it’s Bag End! The tree above Bilbo’s house is a false one, made to look a few decades younger than the original used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy

 

After finishing his story, and pimping Hobbiton up a bit more, he continued on with a very different sort of story: essentially, the story of New Zealand. This guy was so clearly proud of and loved his country, and wanted nothing more than to share that with you. He even mentioned at one point that the goal of his commentary was to inform you about what it was like to live in New Zealand and to help you understand being a New Zealander (or Kiwi). He doesn’t want to just spout off a bunch of facts regarding the locations and things you are passing by, but instead wants you to take away a feeling for what makes New Zealand different and special. We definitely really appreciated and enjoyed his approach more than other guides we’d had on this trip.

Behold the immensely huge and glorious Party Tree!

Behold the immensely huge and glorious Party Tree!

He told us all about the history of the Maori people in New Zealand, and their relationship with the newer New Zealanders of European descent. The Maori came first, from what they originally thought was Hawaii, but later decided was more likely Polynesia. They rode over in giant canoes, and lived there in tribes for a good while before anybody else showed up. They were always very warlike though, constantly fighting amongst themselves, mostly over land. Eventually Europeans started to appear. We had heard about the first ‘finding’ of New Zealand from another tour guide in Australia. He had talked about Captain James Cook originally discovering Australia, and how he had briefly also found New Zealand. We heard a very truncated version of Cook’s story here as well, but from a very different angle. We had previously heard that Cook’s expedition having been to study the stars was a fake reason, but this guy seemed to think that was his main goal after all. Whatever the case the most amusing part was the expanded bit about New Zealand. After finding Australia, Cook couldn’t believe that that was the only landmass in the area, so he went searching for more. He came across New Zealand easily enough, but ran into problems immediately. The Maori, being warlike and all, started a battle immediately with them on the water. Cook never even set foot on New Zealand before turning tail and returning back to Britain. From just that one little interaction though, New Zealand finally was on world maps. It was just a squiggle with a name though, since nobody had ANY idea what was actually there. They just knew that there was some manner of land there with people that didn’t want you to come land on it.

OK I'm here! Where's the party at?

OK I’m here! Where’s the party at?

There was then just a small trickle of people going to New Zealand, until some people in Britain decided to try and get rich off of the idea of New Zealand. They put up tons of flyers selling land in New Zealand. They painted a pretty picture of the country as being a wonderful tropical paradise with super welcoming natives and an easy start to a wonderful new life. Super rich elites bought their lies and spent all their money on a voyage to claim the land they bought (from people that had no right to sell it in the first place.) Their boats came at the islands from what seemed like the best option at the time, the west coast. This coast has tons of cliffs and rocky shores and turbulent waters. (Had they taken the slightly less logical route and gone to the east coast, they would have found calm waters and lovely beaches.) They ended up having to anchor the boat pretty far offshore, and then make small trips in small boats onto the land. This always ended with everybody getting completely soaked, and most of their possessions being dumped into the sea. The boat’s crew had done their jobs though, and left the ‘settlers’ to their fate on New Zealand with their fancy little pieces of paper saying that they owned land there and not much else. Having been a super expensive trip and all, these were really only the super rich, so most of them never did hard labor or much of anything by themselves. Suddenly though they would have to do everything, especially since the “friendly and helpful natives” were actually warlike natives that didn’t want them to be there. They also found mostly jungle to work with, as opposed to the lovely pastures and beaches described to them. Thus, most of these ‘settlers’ failed miserably.

The Party Fields and a few hobbit holes as seen from across the "Brandywine River," not a river at all but more of a small, cleverly positiioned lake.

The Party Fields and a few hobbit holes as seen from across the “Brandywine River,” not a river at all but more of a small, cleverly positiioned lake.

Eventually, obviously, people started to succeed and create a European population there. They even started trading with the Maori and thus getting the land from people that had more of a right to give it. (This is one of those points in time where the tour guide sort of glossed over in his explanations because it was less necessary to what he was trying to do.) Jump ahead in time a bit more to the point where the Maori decided that they had given away enough of their land. This of course led to arguments, which led to wars, which led to the attempted extermination of the Maori as a whole. The British sent in some of their best troops to deal with the issue, and they almost succeeded. The Maori that survived, retreated to very heavily forested areas to keep fighting using somewhat sneaky tactics. The precise ending of things, I can’t at all remember, but I know it lasted a long time, and things didn’t exactly go well for either side.

The Shire must be a truly wondrous realm where gardeners are held in high honor.

The Shire must be a truly wondrous realm where gardeners are held in high honor.

Skip ahead in time again, and we have both peoples still living and sort of doing their own thing, but neither quite happy with the other. So the government of New Zealand decides to have a tribunal to figure out how to solve everybody’s grievances. The Maori had been getting especially mad over a land ownership law passed by the government. It stated that to own land, you had to have a building on it and some manner of fence around it, and it was yours. The Maori built all of their cities this way for as long as they’d been building things, and thus claimed that tons of land had been wrongfully taken from them throughout history and they wanted it back. This was the biggest sticking point throughout the tribunal, and was really the hardest thing to figure out. Yes, perhaps it had been wrongfully taken, but there was really no way they could give it all back now, what with how long it had been in the hands of others at this point, and the government just paying the Maori for all of that land would simply bankrupt the country. So they decided on a sort of middle ground of that. The government went around and found all the land that was still owned by the government and gave it back to the Maori. Then, for everything they couldn’t give back they gave them money. The way they gave the money though was a bit awkward, but also both brilliant and slightly sneaky. They put money in an overseas account that had great rates, and said that the tribes that were awarded it were never allowed to touch it. Instead, the tribe got all of the interest that it accumulated. So basically they paid back all of the tribes whose land they’d taken without actually spending a cent of their own money.

The Party Tree is STUPIDLY huge

The Party Tree is STUPIDLY huge

Following the start of this (which negotiations with some tribes is still ongoing) relations got a lot better between Maori and European New Zealanders. The government has also put forward a lot of new laws and such to help bring the two people of New Zealand together. Maori and English are now both official languages in the country, and all kids learn both cultures and languages in school. The guide also talked a lot about recent politics in New Zealand, which was a bit harder to follow. The takeaway message though was just that New Zealand is much further along with the idea of equality. They’ve had tons of women in positions of power, and have thus passed a lot of laws that he doesn’t think would exist with only men in power. One example was about midwives. In the past, pregnant women would have a doctor that they chose to help with the whole ordeal, but they wouldn’t really do much on the all important birthing day. So they changed it to cut out that doctor, and instead the mothers-to-be choose a midwife, who is with them from beginning to end and is the one to deliver the baby and even continues to help them after birth until they decide they are ok on their own. Another example was that prostitution was made legal. One of their leaders decided that it wasn’t fair that those women were looked down upon so much and not actually protected under the law. So she made it legal and made laws so that they got regular health checks and didn’t have to sneak around to do their business. It made things much safer for them, and even if you don’t approve of the profession, that doesn’t mean it should have to be unsafe for those that choose it, whatever their reasons.

The Old Ted Sandyman Mill

The Old Ted Sandyman Mill

Our guide had one more bit of story before we arrived in Hobbiton, but it was sort of a random aside triggered by something we drove past. A trio of very large rocks uncovered when they were building the road we were on. These rocks apparently had carvings and lines on them that were pretty obviously not natural. A few other groups of these rocks have popped up over the years, always in threes, standing up like a sort of pyramid with lines on them somewhere. They also tended to be on the tops of the tallest mountains in different areas. Maori apparently had always told stories from their ancestors saying that there had been a people in New Zealand before them, but nobody believed it because there was no evidence. These rocks are now essentially the only evidence. The stories though say that these people were extremely tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, and they were extremely peaceful. For this reason, they really didn’t last very long after the Maori arrived, what with them being especially warlike and all. Their stories say that when they attacked these people, they wouldn’t even defend themselves. They also said that they had some weird habit of going up to the tops of mountains and screaming. Once one location screamed, they started a sort of chain reaction of nearby areas, so that all of them would start screaming.

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She fits right in here

She fits right in here

Anyway, after all these stories, we eventually approached Hobbiton. The town closest to Hobbiton has super adopted all of the tourism coming in for Hobbiton. A lot of the buildings in the town have added Lord of the Rings characters or made their buildings fit the Hobbiton style of building. As we drove up to Hobbiton itself, excitement was running really high. We stopped first near the front of the farm, at the Shire’s Rest. Here we were given about 45 minutes to hit the bathroom, grab some coffee from the cafe if we wanted, and peruse the gift shop. This is also were the tickets to Hobbiton can be found, and all tours to the village itself start. Nobody goes into Hobbiton itself without first stopping here and collecting a tour guide. Me and Jeff spent most of our time in the gift shop, looking at all of the fun things they had for sale. There was the normal stuff of course like books and t-shirts (most of which you could find elsewhere), but also some fancier replica-style items too (including the Elven cloaks the fellowship wore and Gandalf’s hat.) There were also postcards, which if you filled them out and bought a special stamp there, they would put in their special Hobbiton mailbox to be stamped as having come from Hobbiton before being sent as normal mail. It was pretty cute, but without having known about it beforehand, we wouldn’t have had time to send any without wasting the rest of our time there. We picked up a giant Hobbiton mug, a Dwarven bracelet, and Kili’s runestone, before heading upstairs for a quick hot chocolate for the road.

Hobbiton's two newest residents!

Hobbiton’s two newest residents!

We all piled back on the bus, followed by a new Hobbiton tour guide. She gave us a similar but shortened version of the story our guide had told us on the way here, but out focus was mostly out the windows. We were now driving through the sheep farm that Hobbiton sits in the middle of. There were rolling green hills as far as we could see in every direction, and they were all dotted with sheep. It was also the time of year when they all had babies, so there were tons of those too. As we got a little closer, we passed a spot where you could see down into Hobbiton just a bit, and our guide asked us a trivia question. “When Gandalf first arrives at Hobbiton, and Frodo is standing on a hill and tells him that he’s late….Does anybody remember what Gandalf said in response?” Of course me and Jeff both gave her the entire Gandalf quote, “A wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” Both of our guides were quite amused, and we were told that we had just passed the spot where they filmed that scene. We also passed by their film camp before shortly arriving into Hobbiton proper.

One of the first hobbit holes witnessed as you enter the village.

One of the first hobbit holes witnessed as you enter the village.

We all got off the bus, leaving the driver to his own devices, and following our Hobbiton guide around the bend into the village. The entrance to the village is actually the very same entrance that Gandalf drove through as he arrived, with the rock walls on either side. As you leave the walls, the entirety of Hobbiton opens up in front of you. It’s really hard to properly describe the feeling you get walking into Hobbiton; it really is just like walking into a fantasy world. One second you are walking through an (admittedly beautiful but still quite) ordinary sheep farm and suddenly you are in Middle-Earth, surrounded by familiar sights that you never thought you’d actually be able to see or touch. For everyone who ever wanted to set foot in their favorite storybook, this place actually gives you that opportunity. It was like a dream for us. How many people can say they took a stroll through the very same paths walked by their favorite wizards and heroes of fantasy? Our guide led us over to the first hobbit hole and told us a bit about the village and how and why the holes were all different sizes. (They would have different actors stand in front of different sized holes to give the illusion of the hobbits being smaller and Gandalf being taller.) She also told us that behind the doors of each hobbit hole was a wall of dirt. Most of the holes weren’t really meant to open, but we were able to go inside one of them later in the village, so wait for it! We were then given a couple of minutes to wander around and take pictures of the nearby hobbit holes, before congregating again farther down the path.

Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton's home. Jeff actually pointed this out before the guide could mention whose it was.

Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton’s home. Jeff actually pointed this out before the guide could mention whose it was.

Each hobbit hole was unique and different and each one was so intricately designed. Each one had it’s own set of trinkets strewn about the front lawn or sitting inside in the windows, different landscaping, front gates, mailboxes, and designs of brick, wood, and stone. You could walk around in here and study all the little details for days. As we moved down the path, there was a small garden on one side. It looked completely fake, but was apparently 100% real vegetables growing there. We also walked by a sign pointing the way to Tuck Borough and the East and West Farthings. We continued to wind our way through the village with periods of talking from our guide and time to just walk around and take pictures in different areas. We walked past another few hobbit holes before coming across what was known as the frog pond. It was just a small inconspicuous looking pond in front of some other hobbit holes. It was dubbed the frog pond because in summer it is always full of frogs, and they are always making a ton of noise. They actually had to stop filming a couple times, all the way off across Hobbiton at Bag End, because the actors couldn’t hear each other. Somebody ended up with the extra job of going in to catch all the frogs and take them to a different pond, and then bring them back after filming. Nearby, there was also a small orchard of ‘plum’ trees. These were actually small apple trees because plum trees were too big for hobbit children to climb. For filming though, they put a ton of plums into the trees to make them look like plum trees.

"No, thank you! We don't want any more visitors, well-wishers, or distant relations!"

“No, thank you! We don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers, or distant relations!”

As we wandered our way up the hill, we came across a few more small gardens, a wood shed, plenty of bird houses in the trees, a table full of honey jars, wells, benches, clotheslines complete with tiny hobbit clothes on them, and plenty more random things strewn about. They spared no detail and it really looked like hobbits were living there. During filming, they apparently even had people assigned to walk between the hobbit holes and clotheslines over and over again so that it looked like there was a well-worn path there. They even had smoke rising from some of the chimneys, even now.

Jessy is never late. Nor is she early. She always arrived precisely when she means to.

Jessy is never late. Nor is she early. She arrives precisely when she means to!

Finally we found ourselves going up the hill in the back of Hobbiton, to find tons of amazing views of the surrounding farm. The Misty Mountains even came out to play for a little while. Eventually we found ourselves at the hobbit hole that we could go inside of! Everybody was SO excited to see that blank dirt wall. We all lined up to get our pictures standing inside of a hobbit hole, before moving on to Bag End. There really wasn’t much exciting to say about Bag End actually. It was just a bigger hobbit hole really, but knowing whose hobbit hole it was in the movie made it exciting anyway. We wound our way back down the hill past a few more holes to arrive at the party tree. It was a really big tree. There were also all the party toys strewn about the place though, and we were given some time to play with these before moving on. Me and Jeff immediately went over and frolicked at the maypole to laughs from a few of the other folks gathered there. It was like a cue for everybody else to break off and start playing with things though. There were benches and seesaws and swings and stilts. Me and Jeff went for the stilts. I tried first, failing pretty miserably. I just couldn’t get my balance while getting into them. Jeff took over and basically had no trouble, and just started walking off down the party grounds. Show off.

Creepin' on Hobbitses

Creepin’ on Hobbitses.

After fun at the party grounds we ended up at the 100% to scale hobbit holes, and I was told that I am the cutoff point of height for hobbit actors. If you weren’t 5’2″ or less, then you couldn’t be a hobbit. It also turned out that one of these hobbit holes was Sam’s home! We grabbed some last pictures before heading off down the road to the Green Dragon. This path took us through some woods, over some small bridges and around the lake to the Green Dragon on the other side. We reached the mill first, which was just as intricate as the hobbit holes, and even had a notice board in front of it with the cutest little notices. We also noticed a family of swans and a ton of geese playing in the waters as we finally crossed the last big stone bridge to the Green Dragon. It was especially cute inside, and I would have loved to wander around it a little longer to see all the details here too. Instead though, we had to pretty quickly grab our free drinks, nonalcoholic ginger beer for us, and head around the back for our special hobbit lunch buffet! (Apparently they have a handful of drinks, including the ginger beer, that are only served here at the Green Dragon.)

Inside the dining tent, ready for a meal fit for Hobbits!

Inside the dining tent, ready for a meal fit for Hobbits!

We headed inside the tent to find a really fancily decorated dining area. We all sat down at the tables and were set free to enjoy the buffet. Our tables had big bottles of the Southfarthings best water sitting on them, but we didn’t need any what with our giant glasses of ginger beer. The buffet had a ton of different options and they literally all looked delicious. We both grabbed giant plates full of breads, meats, potatoes, veggies, noodles, and eventually cakes. Everything was in fact delicious, and we stuffed ourselves to capacity. As it was time to head out, we headed over to hit the bathrooms before the bus ride to our next destination. I wouldn’t mention this, but even the bathrooms were adorable and themed. They were all wooden and old timey looking and even had those little pull cords to flush. When I was waiting for Jeff to finish up, our guide appeared. He checked to make sure I was one of those that knew the Gandalf quote way back at the beginning of our tour, and when I said that I was, he told me he had a special prize for me and Jeff. He had talked to the staff at the Green Dragon so that we could get a picture behind the counter. With this one last surprise finished, we walked off behind the Green Dragon to reboard our bus and head back up the road, leaving Hobbiton behind us.

...but the only brew for the brave and true comes form the Green Dragon!

…but the only brew for the brave and true….comes from the Green Dragon!

The one hobbit hole that actually had a fully realized interior

The one hobbit hole that actually had a fully realized interior.

As we went back past the Shire’s Rest, we noticed a small helicopter sitting across the road in a field. Our guide said that it probably belonged to somebody famous, as they often helicopter in for a tour instead of taking forever to drive up there. He said that recently somebody from the Jonas Brothers had done just that, but he had no idea who it might be that day. Too bad. Our ride continued on from there, heading off towards the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The guide decided to give us most of the ride to relax without commentary, since people often seem to sleep on this leg of the trip. He would wake us up when we got close to our destination, in maybe 30-45 minutes, to tell us a bit about it. I was feeling more energized than sleepy, so I just sat there quietly taking pictures of everything out the window.

My turn!

My turn!

Eventually, we drove through a small town that our guide decided to tell us a bit about. Apparently this town created a town project (which is apparently a super common thing in the area) to help out one of the species of kiwi in the area. They’ve apparently really helped said species’ numbers climb back up, and have thus erected statues to celebrate their achievements. They also have a Kiwi House, which is like a sanctuary or zoo especially for kiwis, that attracts tons of visitors. While we would have liked to stop there and have a look, we were on a schedule and needed to quickly get a few more minutes up the road to the caves so that our tour didn’t leave without us. We got a little bit of information about the caves on this last leg of the trip as well. Apparently, these caves once belonged to the New Zealand government, and for a while were quite popular with tourists. Eventually though, the facilities started to get too old and outdated and thus not as many people came. The government got the wrong idea, and thought people just didn’t care about the caves anymore, and spent even less money on them. Not too long later though, that tribunal that I mentioned between Maori and European New Zealanders began. These caves were government owned, and like a lot of similar land, they were given back to the local tribe to own and maintain. The tribe immediately started to revamp the facilities and make it a really worthwhile stop for tourists again. They even included a giant canopy over all the buildings and entrance to the caves to protect folks from the ever common rains, and it won some manner of architectural design award. They also started a secondary sort of tour of the caves, called the Black Water Rafting Company. This is actually how I had wanted to see the caves, but it didn’t work out logistically this time around. These tours are more like adventures. They have you abseiling, climbing, ziplining, jumping, tubing and all manner of other crazy things inside the caves as opposed to our tour where we would simply be walking along a simple path.

A Maori totem outside the caves

A Maori totem outside the caves.

With that, we had arrived. It was raining lightly now, but we had that canopy above us and would soon be underground anyway so it was no big deal. We all piled out of the bus and headed around back to meet our guide for the caves. Probably in large part thanks to our morning adventure, the entrance to the caves looked like we were heading into some sort of Dwarven hall. It was sort of a big metal sunburst set into a rock wall. As we gathered outside of it, we were told that we wouldn’t be allowed to take any pictures inside, and some other general rules about not touching the cave formations, being careful not to slip, and being quiet.

Our guide opened the door and led us inside through the very low-ceilinged entrance, thanks to tons of stalactites. We wandered down the path, with simple commentary from our guide. It was almost entirely just generic info about how caves form so I honestly didn’t pay attention to much as I quite like caves and knew the info already. I instead spent most of my time gawking at the surrounding formations. The cave was admittedly quite small, and really nothing compared to other caves I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still gorgeous and neat. There were tons of stalactites and stalagmites, some right smack in the middle of the walking path. There was also a ton of water dripping all over and some walls had it essentially cascading down them constantly. The guide mentioned that those drips that land on us are like our souvenirs. We meandered past a few branches in the cave that they don’t walk down, and even a big hole dropping straight down to who-knows-where way below us. As we continued down the path, our guide pointed out a few of the stars of this show, the glowworms. He said that they live all over the area really, and you can often find them along river banks, but here in the cave they were especially numerous. They like the damp and the dark and this cave was full of that. We passed a few that he pointed out, hanging in especially dark crevices. He did say though that those living in these random locations throughout the caves probably had it a bit rough, since food would be more scarce there than their normal haunt which we would see soon.

The boat and our guide as he slowly receded back into the gloom (You can't get pictures inside or you scare the glow worms into darkening their glow, so this is all we could get)

The boat and our guide as he slowly receded back into the gloom (You can’t get pictures inside or you scare the glow worms into darkening their glow, so this is all we could get).

The ornately decorated entry gate to the Waitomo Caves

The ornately decorated entry gate to the Waitomo Caves.

Eventually we got to a very open area of cave that has amazing acoustics. We heard a group in front of us singing in it, and our guide asked if any of us would be willing to try it out for our benefit too, but there were no takers. Back on the bus, our driver-guide had mentioned this saying that the guides usually will sing when nobody volunteers, but apparently our guide was not of that sort. He did mention though that a ton of famous people have come to test out their acoustics and have all loved it. They also apparently have events in there sometimes, a Christmas caroling concert, weddings of local tribe members and the like. At this point, we had essentially reached the end of the cave, or at least the part that this tour walks through. It ended in a big sprawling platform above the underground river. There were quite a few glowworms on our current walls and ceiling. If we squatted down we could see even more though, since we were standing at about the same height as the river’s ceiling. Our guide told us to look closely at those glowworms above the river, because from here you could actually see how they catch their food. They drop a sticky line, sort of like a spider, down below them. Things are attracted to their lights and fly towards them only to be caught in the strings and gobbled up by the glowworms. We all squatted down again after this news and could in fact see tons of strings dangling from the ceiling awaiting their prey.

Acozy hearth to warm your furry little feetses inside the Green Dragon Inn

A cozy hearth to warm your furry little feetses inside the Green Dragon Inn.

Hobbit stilts are hard to play with!

Hobbit stilts are hard to play with!

After we had all gotten a good look at some glowworms, we backtracked a bit to head to the real reason we were all here, Glowworm Grotto. We descended some stairs to reach the river, and all quietly climbed into our boats. Our group ended up being split into a couple of different boats as they were so small, fitting only maybe 20 people in each, but there were other guides waiting here just in case that happened. We ended up being the first people into a new boat, which was kind of like a wider canoe: wooden, sitting pretty low in the water, with just little benches to sit on and literally nothing else. As we got into the boat, which rocked quite intensely, we could finally see what had been going on with boat #1 before us. Above this river, somebody had installed a series of wires or ropes, and the guides used those, and only those, to pull the boats around in the river. The first boat loaded up, and was pushed back behind us and completely disappeared almost immediately. I’m fairly certain they ended up going back past us since that’s the way our boat went once it was full, but we literally never saw that boat again so that’s just speculation.

Little touches like this (actually inhabited) bird feeder made the village really come to life.

Little touches like this (actually inhabited) bird feeder made the village really come to life.

When our boat was full, we headed off with our same guide pulling us along silently. (We had been warned multiple times to stay completely silent and not use anything that made light while we were on the boat. If we didn’t follow those two rules, the glowworms might get scared and turn off their lights and then everybody would be ticked.) So off we floated into the complete blackness and complete silence. Above us were millions of glowworms, with their tiny blue lights shining brightly. It looked sort of like a galaxy of stars right above your head. We drifted around the area very slowly, giving everybody enough time to gaze up into the lights. Some parts of the ceiling were especially low too, so the height of this galaxy of glowworms changed as we floated. Despite the cave being rather basic and simple, this part of the tour makes everything entirely worthwhile. It was seriously mesmerizing. After at least a good 10 minutes of floating around under these worms we headed towards a small hole in the wall. Our boat just barely squeezed through this little tunnel. It popped us into a much more open bit of river that led us to the exit of the cave. We all climbed out of the boat, thanking our guide profusely, and walked back up the forested path to the gift shop and ticket area. Our guide meanwhile disappeared with our boat back into the darkness.

Hobbit stilts are fun to play with!

Hobbit stilts are fun to play with!

We wandered around the gift shop for a while, debating if we should grab anything. They had taken our pictures on the way in, and we could buy a little booklet of pictures where they had photoshopped us into different parts of the cave. It was cute but also tacky and lame at the same time so we opted out of that. Soon enough it was time to hop back onto the bus for our drive back to Auckland. Most of this drive was quiet and sleepy, but with a few things of note. One was a giant river that we drove over where you could see tons of springs bubbling up into it. Our driver also chose to take a smaller backroad for part of the journey so that we could try to spot some New Zealand pheasants. We managed to find quite a few, with me and Jeff being especially good at spying them, and also a few other species of birds as well.

Some New Zealand wildlife on the rainy road home.

Some New Zealand wildlife on the rainy road home.

After that bit of fun, it was pretty much a straight and quiet shot back to Auckland.Until, we got close. We hit a ton of traffic, which caused out journey back to take probably an hour longer than anticipated. It was pretty intense. Eventually though we did arrive safely back at the bus station, and headed off to find some dinner. It was raining super heavily by this point though, so we grabbed an umbrella from the bus terminals convenience store. It was overpriced and especially flimsy, but succeed in getting us home in one piece, and at least somewhat dry. Not having come across anything on our walk home, and not wanting to go back out to find something, we grabbed cheap microwave meals from the shop attached to our hotel. It was extremely unsatisfying but we were tired, damp, and cold and just wanted to be inside and able to go to bed so it was ok. We worried a bit about what would happen the next day if the rain held, but decided to figure that out when we woke up, and instead just crashed pretty much right after dinner.

Good bye Hobbiton! You were incredible!

Good bye Hobbiton! You were incredible!

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Brisbane: Woo~ I’m on top of the world!

Vacation Down Under 2016 Quicklinks


  1. Travelling Down Under – Getting To Australia in 2016
  2. Cairns 2016 Adventure One: Cairns Business District Walkabout
  3. Cairns 2016 Adventure Two: Nobody Expects the Spanish Rainforest Castle Ruins!
  4. Cairns 2016 Adventure Three: He rode a Blazing Saddle, He wore a shining star…
  5. Cairns 2016 Adventure Four: Onward By Rail, Homebound By Air
  6. Cairns 2016 Adventure Five: Adventure Island – Fitzroy Edition
  7. Cairns 2016 Adventure Six: Above and Below the Reef Sea
  8. Brisbane: Woo~ I’m on top of the world!
  9. Auckland: We’re Going On An Adventure!
  10. Auckland: Rain changing ALL the plans…

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Arriving at Brisbane International Airport. Out of the real jungle and into the urban jungle.

It was finally time to leave Cairns. We can’t say we were happy about that, since it had been so thoroughly awesome from beginning to end, but you never know. Maybe we’ll find our way back another time. In the meantime though it was time for part two of this epic adventure of a vacation; We were on our way to Brisbane. Honestly, going in we knew nothing about Brisbane. Our entire reason for making the city a stop on our vacation is also the original reason all those years ago that I initially decided I wanted to visit Australia. That reason’s name is Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. I grew up watching his show and all of Steve’s crazy antics, the entire time thinking that he had the most awesome job in the world. I wished someday I could have a similar one. He is seriously a really large part of why I decided to go to school for zoology, and while that hasn’t quite worked out so far, it’s still basically my dream. Knowing that the Australia Zoo was his home I just had to take the opportunity to go see it for myself now that visiting Australia was actually a possibility. We added a stop in Brisbane with only this goal in mind. We were literally only staying overnight there for two days.

Childhood coming full circle - the whole reason we came to Brisbane.

Childhood coming full circle – the whole reason we came to Brisbane.

We woke up in Cairns bright and early, calling a taxi to take us out to the airport. Out hotel did offer a shuttle, but it wasn’t free. For two people it was actually cheaper to go with a cab. Our driver was from India and we had this random conversation about how different areas of a big country can feel like a whole different country altogether. He was also telling us how there are tons of different languages in India, so it’s even more different and difficult than just keeping accents straight. Our arrival and check-in at Cairns airport was super efficient. Everyone was insanely relaxed. Even the security people were chatting it up with each other and being super chill, talking about what their friends had done over the past weekend or some similar topic. They snapped right back to professional mode once they saw people approaching to be scanned, so as they say in Australia, “No worries.” It’s not like they were slacking off or letting things slide under their radar, they were just trying to pass time since they have an admittedly really repetitive and boring job.

This little fella was in the zoo, but these guys were so abundant they were considered pests in the wild in Australia.

This little fella was in the zoo, but these guys were so abundant they were considered pests in the wild in Australia.

We had to take a small bus over to a Qantas specific terminal and spent some time in a central lounge area where we wrote a bit, ate a bit, and rested a bit before the flight. We boarded the plane and were seated in a window behind the wing, just like we almost always are. It was far better than that tiny porthole I got stuck with back in the China Southern flight. Qantas was a solid airline but nothing spectacular – they had good food, free chocolate, and the servers were kind without hovering overmuch. The flight wasn’t terribly long either, so it was a pretty quick and comfortable shot to Brisbane with little to note along the way. We did notice the terrain below us shifting gradually from lush, green, and mountainous to brown, barren, and completely bereft of human habitation for a while. The landing was a little bumpy but nothing to lose sleep over. We disembarked and found ourselves in a fairly small terminal which seemed much more metro-modern than Cairns, which was all about the adventure. Jeff was immediately amused to no end that suddenly he was surrounded by people who sounded exactly like Steve Irwin. He was like a little kid again.

These Eastern Water Dragons were wild and roaming everywhere both in and out of exhibits all day.

These Eastern Water Dragons were wild and roaming everywhere both in and out of exhibits all day.

We took a train out of the airport, which was rather absurdly priced but we didn’t seem to have many options. It was set up very different from the Korean subways. Most obviously, the seats were not along the sides of the car, but rather in pairs, some facing the front of the train and others facing the back. You also had to press a button or turn a handle in order to open the doors, they didn’t just automatically open at every stop. Also, and this became more obvious on our later uses of the trains, the stations were rather confusing. They didn’t really have designated tracks for different trains, and instead the trains just arrived at whatever track was free at the time. There was a schedule board (at some stations) that listed what trains were coming in soon and on what track. The trains themselves also didn’t have anything showing what train they were, except on the very front where they showed their final station name. It didn’t show the line anywhere and if you missed the very front of the train there was absolutely no way to know what train you were looking at. Even if you looked inside. You might see a full subway map, but not one specific to that line or anything. The ticket system itself was pretty odd too. You didn’t get a ticket to a specific station. The subway map was divided up into zones, and you paid based on how many zones you would be traveling through. We had no idea what the zones were and thus got around this by simply buying our tickets off of a person every time. Our car did have free wifi though, which was nice. They would announce the coming stops regularly and all that. It was really just that bit of awkward uncertainty regarding getting on the right train.

We miss you, Steve!

We miss you, Steve!

Either way, our train eventually got to our station, Fortitude Valley. We got off, headed out of the station, and immediately started feeling a bit uncomfortable. Brisbane is much more of an actual city than Cairns, and neither I nor Jeff are city people. Some cities aren’t bad, but others just make us feel uncomfortable. Brisbane was one of the latter. It’s possible that it was in part due to the area of the city we were in, as it seemed a bit red lighty. As we exited the station, we were faced with a road crossing our path. Across the street were no fewer than five consecutive strip clubs, an asian “massage” parlor, and oddly enough a random surgical office. I’m not sure I’d trust that surgeon considering the real estate. There was no indication as to what road this was, and we had no clue which direction our hotel was from there without knowing that. We chose a direction based off a random sign mentioning a mall being that way (it had the same name as a street relevant to our interests). After passing two cross-streets, and tons of bars and strip clubs and adult shops and the like, we realized we were going the wrong way. The street we were following was correct, but we needed to go the opposite way on it. So we turned ourselves around and continued dragging our luggage around. We passed a gigantic adult emporium on the left and continued up the hill past the kink shops (there were families with kids wandering all over, so is this just the norm in Brisbane?) and continued on toward our accomodations. It was actually pretty simple to find the hotel now that we were going the right direction, and we checked in with ease. This hotel was a lot more basic than our Cairns hotel, but we were only staying for the two nights so we purposely got something cheaper. It was still a cute and nice little hotel. The room was fairly small, but had everything we needed. It also operated using these little key cards, instead of normal keys. You even had to swipe them before choosing your floor in the elevator. No swipe meant the elevator just stayed put where it was. It made me feel strangely important, while also reminding me of video games (since that’s the only time I’ve seen key cards needed to operate elevators.) There was a ton of tea in the room and the provided toiletries were actually branded, not the cheap-o hotel fare you usually find that dries you up after one use. It was a nice surprise and all inclusive in the price.

Bluey the croc jumping at one of his keepers. The croc demonstrations are, among many other things, a huge draw to Australia Zoo.

Bluey the croc jumping at one of his keepers. The croc demonstrations are, among many other things, a huge draw to Australia Zoo.

We had actually arrived here a lot later than we’d expected, and although our flight was short, we still felt exhausted from the day of travel. We recovered for a few minutes before heading back out to find some dinner. We had already decided that we really weren’t interested in exploring Brisbane itself, especially not the area we were in. We did still need food. We headed back up the road with the train station, as there had been a bunch of restaurants just past all the strip bars. Eventually we came across a couple in a row that seemed reasonably priced and probably yummy, but neither of us could decide which to go for. Our problems were solved when one of the workers at one of the shops flagged us inside. Usually we don’t respond well to that sort of thing, but we just followed the guy inside this time since it made the decision easy. It was a Greek shop that specialized in Gyros. The lady at the counter was super friendly and helpful, describing all the options and suggesting things for us to choose. We ended up going with a variety platter of sorts. It had lamb and chicken, some salad, pita bread, fried cheese, sauces, all sorts of stuff, and it was really yummy. We pretty much inhaled it, and then headed back to the hotel. We figured out a plan of attack for the morning, and then headed to sleep early. I for one was way more than ready for it to be the next day so I could finally realize a life goal of visiting Australia Zoo.

Free-roaming lemurs enjoying a late snack. The zoo is big on interactivity and getting you close to the animals.

Free-roaming lemurs enjoying a late snack. The zoo is big on interactivity and getting you close to the animals.

We awoke at a stupidly early time in the morning (around 5am), but we must have been pretty excited since we headed out a good bit before our expected time. We grabbed a quick breakfast to go at a convenience store on the way, bought our tickets with no hassle (though we grumbled about them being over $30 per person the whole time), and then stood around waiting for our train to arrive for a good 20-30 minutes (they are really inconsistent and infrequent). Finally it came, and off we went! There was one small hitch -this train didn’t have wifi and we’d be riding it for at least an hour. So, half asleep but too excited to sleep, we sat there playing offline games and reading on our phones until we arrived at a transfer station. The girl that we bought our ticket from claimed there was no transfer, but I had looked it up online the night before. This meant I had some warning, I just couldn’t remember the station name. No matter though, because apparently the train we were on finished here and turned around, so everybody had to get off. There was no indication as to where our new train would be located though. No screens. No signs. Nothing. Except a very obvious flow of people traffic towards one of the other tracks, which we followed. Once there, I asked a worker to confirm what train would be arriving there, and it was indeed the right one. We only had a few minutes to wait before it pulled up, though we were still uncertain as we boarded. The train pulled in as if to continue on in the direction we had just come from. This was explained moments later as our train departed, going backwards the way it had come. Apparently these trains just go backwards and forwards along their tracks, without physically turning around.

I always yell at Jeff for taking pictures of me taking pictures of things. Take that!

I always yell at Jeff for taking pictures of me taking pictures of things. Take that!

After just a few more stations, we arrived at our final destination, sort of. It was the end of our train adventure at least, a tiny station called Beerwah in pretty much the middle of nowhere. As we stepped off the train though, we found our very first Irwin family picture! Steve himself was on a sign pointing the way for the Australia Zoo shuttle bus. We followed Steve’s directions and crossed to the other side of the station, but once there we found no sign of where the bus would actually pick up, or when. We asked the ticket guy, but he really didn’t know either. He did try to look it up for us though, but not in quite the right way. There is meant to be a free shuttle bus from there, but he looked up the public bus for us. The shuttle bus is supposed to be free from there, and you can call the zoo to have them send it out if it isn’t there, but we didn’t have the phone number and felt bad bothering the poor confused ticket guy again. So we awaited the public bus, assuming it couldn’t cost much anyway since it was supposed to be only about a 5 minute drive away.

A beautiful giraffe family.

A beautiful giraffe family.

When it arrived, we asked the driver, and he in turn asked for our train tickets. Apparently when we bought the ticket, we were supposed to mention that we were going all the way out to the zoo, not just the last train station we wanted. The buses and trains apparently run on the same zone system and you just use the same ticket for both. Odd. Our ticket technically didn’t get us all the way out to the zoo, as we were apparently sitting on a zone border, but the guy told us to just hop on anyway and he’d take us. With a quick wink and a gesture over his shoulder, we were smuggled onto the bus as wayward tourists. We thanked him profusely as we rode those couple minutes, and only one stop, down the road to the zoo. The driver wished us a good day, saying the zoo was awesome, before warning us that our tickets back would be a bit more than our tickets there, since we had to add an extra zone. We would worry about that later though.

We finally made it!

Crikey! We finally made it!

As we’d driven up, we got our first glimpse of the zoo. They had a giant cutout of Steve poking out of the top of their sign, all excited like. In fact the whole front of the zoo and ticket area was decorated with not only awesome pictures of their animals, but also lots of pictures of Steve, and the whole Irwin family. This was going to be epic! Already taking pictures of everything, we bought our tickets, though decided to pass on any animal encounters .They were wildly expensive and featured a number of animals we’d already “encountered” elsewhere in life, plus some were already booked solid so the ones we really wanted to see were unavailable. No Red Panda for me, I guess… They have a ton of these encounters. These are guided events where you get to feed or pet or take pictures or something. They have them with different animals throughout the day, but they cost quite a bit. Some of them sounded super awesome, and others just kinda cool, but there was no way we could decide and agree on just one to do so we just passed altogether.We headed inside.

The whole Irwin family (including Sui) was here to greet you as soon as you entered the zoo.

The whole Irwin family (including Sui) was here to greet you as soon as you entered the zoo.

The entryway had a gift shop off to our left, which we decided to check out later, complete with a couple of kiddy rides. I really wanted to hop into the one jeep so that I could bobble along with Steve, his beloved dog Sui, and a croc riding along in the back, but there were some kids climbing all over it. Maybe later. As we headed off onto the paths of the zoo itself, we were met with a big statue of the whole Irwin family, Steve, Terri, Bindi, Robert, and even Sui, holding a croc. We headed off to the right to find a few large lizards followed by some otters. They were frolicking all over their enclosure, play fighting like mad. It was really cute. Right next to their home we ran into a handful of wild brush turkeys, which, while still turkeys, are different enough from the USA variety to not freak me out.

Australia Zoo has an incredible staff of interactive, friendly, and knowledgeable keepers that wander around all day to make sure YOU get to interact with their animals.

Australia Zoo has an incredible staff of interactive, friendly, and knowledgeable keepers that wander around all day to make sure YOU get to interact with their animals.

We finished off this little hidey hole of exhibits with a cockatoo and some snakes before reappearing at the Irwin family statue. Hanging around here now though were a few of the staff members with some critters. This is one of those random things that this zoo does that really makes me like it. They are all about you getting up close and interacting with the animals in order to make the connections necessary to really persuade people to help with wildlife conservation. Throughout the day some of the staff just walk around with random animals letting people pet them or take pictures next to them. There are also photographer staff members that walk around with these animals to take pictures of anybody that wants it. They let you take with your own camera too (which is awesome!) but they also take some too, which are available for purchase and some probably go towards their promotions (they mention in the map you get upon entry that they often do filming and such and by entering the park you agree to being used for media purposes).   So we found keepers with a couple of big colorful birds, a snake, and a koala. We patted everything that allowed it and took a couple pictures before moving on.

We had rather a lot of fun with the statues in the park.

We had rather a lot of fun with the statues in the park.

We wandered past some more random reptiles, including a ton of freshwater crocodiles. Here though we got thoroughly distracted by a big statue of Deinosuchus (an ancient giant croc) attacking a Parasaurolophus (dinosaur). Apparently it was a gift for Robert’s 10th birthday from his mom Terri, since dinosaurs are a favorite of his. We spent all sorts of time climbing on this thing and posing in weird ways. A random staff member even went by at one point, laughing at us. When we had played to our hearts content, we continued down the path to the Tasmanian devils. These guys are super rare in zoos. I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen them before this trip, so we were pretty excited. Upon seeing them though, I can’t help but think they’re really ugly. Not even ugly-cute, just ugly. Maybe it’s just me. This one was acting just like Taz and Dizzy Devil though, running around in random circles all over his enclosure. That was amusing.

Tasmanian Devils are terrifying.

Tasmanian Devils are terrifying.

While hanging out here though we realized it was time for the first show of the day to start, so we headed back where we’d come from to catch it. Jeff had thought it was the otters, so we wandered back that way, but nobody was there. We double checked the schedule, and headed off to the real location, the Aldabran Tortoises. When we arrived, there was already quite the crowd. We squeezed in at the far end of their enclosure to watch. The keepers already had a pile of greens and random fruits and vegetables on the ground being eaten by one of their tortoises. The other was in the process of being lured over to join his friend by waving greens in front of his face and waiting as he slowly meandered over to find the large pile of yum. The other keeper then started talking. He warned the crowd that this was not going to be an exciting fast-paced show and if that’s what you want make sure to go see the croc shows later. He continued on to talk about the tortoises and how they are overshadowed by the Galapagos Tortoises even though these ones get bigger. He also talked about the differences between tortoises and turtles, having brought a random Australian turtle with him to demonstrate his points. The most amusing thing though, we thought, was actually the thieves. A few wild Eastern Water Dragons had crashed the party, and kept running about trying to snag bits of vegetable or fruit from the tortoises pile. (Later, after the crowds dispersed, brush turkeys started invading to get at the goodies too.) After the show ended, they had an impromptu encounter time with the tortoises. You could pay $10 to go inside their enclosure and pat and hug and take pictures with the giant tortoises to your hearts content. The keepers also hung around just talking to folks, answering any questions, and telling stories. I was sorely tempted to join the tortoise hugging fun, but we instead decided to move on with the rest of the zoo, since we’ve patted many a tortoise (of varying sizes) in the past.

This is Agro, son of Acco, of croc hunter fame. We watched Steve doing a show with this croc in class with our students once we got home.

This is Agro, son of Acco, of croc hunter fame. We watched Steve doing a show with this croc in class with our students once we got home.

We wandered off to the crocodile area, playing with another random statue, and freaking out a bit about recognizing Acco from Crocodile Hunter. After only a couple minutes though we realized it was actually time for the otter talk now, so we headed back off that direction. There was probably an even bigger crowd here for the otters, and we had a really hard time finding somewhere to watch from. Jeff never really found a spot and just stood back and listened mostly. I found my way up onto one of the platforms and was able to see a good chunk of the enclosure through some heads. These two otters were apparently both old and retired just sort of chilling out. The male, named Mayhem, was actually causing issues at his previous zoo, so Australia Zoo took him off their hands. Also, even though they are male and female, there is no real chance of breeding as they are both too old. Still, they were super playful and cute, and the keepers walked them through some of their training. A lot of animals, including these otters, get training as enrichment. A lot of people think having animals do tricks, especially when they’re zoo animals, is purely for the amusement of people. It’s really not at all the case though. Animals that are trained are generally the more intelligent ones and that training helps keep their brains active and engaged. It helps them stay happier. They showed off their station training, which is when an animal is taught that if they stay in a certain place or sometimes go to a certain place and do something, they will get a reward. The female otter, Rosie, was even trained to stand on her hind legs on a boogie board. It was adorable.The keepers use these otters station training for something else as well. Rosie is apparently a super picky eater, and Mayhem will eat everything he can find. So, in order to keep Mayhem’s diet in check, they use station training to feed them a lot because it restricts what they are given, but on an individual basis. As the shows wrapped up, they gave the otters little ice blocks treats with fish heads inside. They were so excited, and I had a perfect view of Rosie playing around and munching on hers. It was precious. We stuck around for another closer look at the otters after the crowd started to disperse before heading off again.

These Ibises would wander right up to you while you ate in the food court. Some walked on tables and wandered through the forest of chair legs as well.

These Ibises would wander right up to you while you ate in the food court. Some walked on tables and wandered through the forest of chair legs as well.

We decided to head for the food court next, since I was getting quite hungry at this point. On the way, we came across a koala enclosure with tons of babies, which distracted us for a good while. We tore ourselves away soon enough to go up to the food court. It was on the second story of a building that had a gift shop and Steve Irwin museum, and was also attached to the Crocoseum. The backside of the seating area thus overlooked a bunch of the crocodile enclosures. It was really cool. There were a ton of ibises wandering around in search of snacks too. (Though there were also quite a few signs telling people not to actually feed them since they can get sick because of it.) We munched up our pizza and lasagna before going downstairs to take a look at the museum and then head off to get good seats for the Crocoseum show to come. The museum had a whole big wall of pics of Steve doing what he did best. It also had a giant jumping Steve on a wall inviting people to jump with him. (Which of course we did!) There were also a handful of other large billboards of Steve and the other Irwin’s. (They were all very present throughout the zoo in fact on various signs and things.) There was another section that had random skeletons and preserved bits and things. It also included a boot of Steve’s from when one of the crocs got him, along with pics of the damage they’d done to one of the zoo managers during that incident. At the far end of the museum area, there was a tiny theater where they were playing some episode of Crocodile Hunter and you could chill and watch if you wanted.

The croc show was ironically 90% birds, but they were very impressive birds.

The croc show was ironically 90% birds, but they were very impressive birds.

After making our way through all that, we entered the Crocoseum and selected seats around the middle. Before the show they played a ton of clips from Crocodile hunter highlight reels on a giant Jumbo-Tron over the arena. They also played a number of random clips from various media that Robert and Bindi starred in, including their kids’ wildlife shows and even a quick snippet from when Bindi was on Dancing with the Stars. After only a little while of waiting, while seats filled in around us, the show got started. It started with a keeper (one we’d seen toting a koala around earlier, in fact) coming out with her friend, another keeper in a tiger fursuit. They sort of previewed what was to come, and laid out the zoo’s goals and such for us, referencing Steve and his dreams in particular. She tried to loosen everybody up a bit by having the two halves of the arena dance like random animals, and then highlighting the person that did the best. They got prizes of some sort later. Then, to get the show started and to honor Steve, we had a crikey-off. Each half of the arena had to stand up and yell “CRIKEY!!” as loud as they could. This really didn’t win you anything, unless you count the losing side (us….though we went first so it was expected) getting made fun of a bit by the keeper and tiger.

Jump, Munga! Jump!

Jump, Munga! Jump!

Time for the show to start for real! Though it is called the Crocoseum, the show here is actually only partially a croc show. It starts off with a ton of other things first. There were various birds flying all over the arena, people walking around with various snakes, and a raptor show. This included an Andean Condor, the largest flying bird in the world. It was seriously large and intimidating. Before the show they had to bring out a full rack of ribs for it in order to create a place marker for it to go to. It looked frighteningly like that scene at the end of The Flintstones where the fast food worker tips their car by putting a huge Bronto-Ribs serving on the side of it. They also threw things for another raptor to catch out of the air and had cormorants come out and show off their swimming and sunning. Throughout the whole show, but especially active during the raptor part, a random wild egret was bouncing around the arena stealing little bits of meat. The keepers tried to shoo it away a few times, but it was very stubborn. The flying birds were released into free flight several times throughout the show. There were various different kinds of birds. At one point they even let loose a good 40 or so birds at essentially the same time. They started zooming all over the arena. This included a flock of lorikeets that went zooming around like mad, showcasing the fastest birds that the zoo had, as well as cockatoos, macaws, and who knows what else. They also had what they claimed to be a guy auditioning to join their Crocoseum shows. We somewhat questioned whether it was staged or not. Either way, he came out with a crate of birds and selected an audience member from each side to help him. They had to stand up and assume a “power stance” so that his birds could go land on them. Then they had to practice their call to attract the birds to them, where they had to sort of flap themselves with their whole bodies and yell “kapow! kapow!!” It was pretty hilarious. After practicing, the guy released the birds as the helpers did as instructed, and the birds flew straight out of the arena, followed frantically by the ‘auditioning’ keeper. The other keepers came back out for another round of birds flying all over before it was time for the stars to appear, the crocodiles.

The crocodile we saw was named Munga. He’s one of the younger and smaller crocs they use in the Crocoseum, but he’s also the fastest, with tons of attitude and smarts. The show starts with simply leading him into the Crocoseum. The zoo actually uses several crocs in these shows, rotating which one performs on any given day. They talk a lot in the show about how crocodiles act in the wild and how to stay safe when you live near them. They are able to get the crocs to move around and do what they want mostly because they are invading that crocs territory. When they go splashing around in their water, they get angry and want them to get out. During the show, they show various different attacks that the crocodiles will do. There’s a few different strikes from the waters edge, and also what they call a tail walk, when the croc uses his tail to push himself up into the air to snap at something above him. Munga was clearly not playing by the rules today too. He didn’t want to do exactly what they wanted him to, because he already knows that doesn’t work. So he decided to play with the keepers and try to get them to do more dangerous, or at least different, things. As the show wrapped up, and they led Munga back to his normal enclosure they played an awesome video tribute to Steve. It is an autotuned song made up of various quotes he’s said, and it was simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching. I still have it stuck in my head. You could also clearly see the two kinds of people that were visiting the zoo now too: those that were fans of Steve stayed and watched that video until the very end, completely enraptured by it, but those that were more there because it was a zoo and they probably lived nearby headed out as the croc was leaving. There was a really strange atmosphere while the tribute played. The entire theater was simultaneously confused as to whether they should cheer on the famed and beloved wildlife wrangler, laugh maniacally at all of his over the top antics, or cry their hearts out in mourning of his loss. It was a real clash of emotions in that arena and all of us felt it.

One of the more sociable roos in Roo Heaven.

One of the more sociable roos in Roo Heaven.

After getting our hearts ripped out in the most amusing way, we headed off to Roo Heaven. This is a giant walk through kangaroo and wallaby enclosure. You just sort of wander around and pet or feed them to your hearts content. That is, unless they’re off in their rest area which is fenced off and signposted. It gives them a chance to be free of pesky public hands if they so desire, which is good to know because visitors at a zoo can certainly be overwhelming. Sociable roos can be sociable and the more shy and reluctant ones can hang out in the safe zones. It’s a good system. We wandered around for just a little while, petting but not feeding. (We hadn’t seen where to buy food. But no worries since we’d done that earlier in Cairns anyway. Sidenote: “no worries” is apparently a very popular phrase in Australia.) It was really amusing to watch the kangaroos move around, Their mobility when moving slowly and quickly looking very different. There was also an echidna enclosure here, but we couldn’t find them (Not surprising since they’re nocturnal, but still slightly disappointing since they aren’t common either). We then wandered off through the extensive wetlands bird area, which was full of birds meant to be there and also wild ones.

Nyam Nyam Eucalyptus!

Nyam Nyam Eucalyptus!

Next we decided to head backwards to check out the koala talk. It was located at essentially their koala nursery exhibit. They actually have several koala enclosures, but this is the one where they keep their females and babies. The koalas didn’t really feature in it very much, except to be pointed at. The keeper though told all sorts of random facts about koalas that I didn’t know about, as well as how people living there could help koalas. Jeff was surprised to find out that Koalas actually have two thumbs on each hand, making it all the easier to grip and climb in the treetops. There was also an interesting note about the two distinct colorations they have on their fur, one sie serving as an absorbing side for the sun’s rays if it’s cold and another as a reflecting side if they are hot. They are certainly very interesting products of evolution. At the very end, she took one of the koalas down off a tree and walked him around the crowd, letting everybody pat him. Pat Pat! It was time for us to go see some exhibits that we’d missed earlier, including the dingoes, cassowaries, and binturongs. Then it was time for a different, and smaller, croc show. It was at the enclosure of a croc called Bluey. They did pretty much they same sort of thing, but it had a slightly more comfortable atmosphere somehow. It was more of a loose discussion and less of a stage show. There were no timed points and things that they had to do so it kind of went depending on what the audience wanted to see or what questions they had for the keepers. Bluey was a little more active and cooperative than Munga was earlier, so they got him to jump and snap and do all sorts of angry-croc tricks.

This is THE happiest wombat. Just look at him!

This is THE happiest wombat. Just look at him!

It was now time to go see the rest of the zoo. There were still two shows left in the day, but one was a repeat of the otter show and the other was focused on birds. Birds of prey though, which tend to be more interesting, but we still had quite a bit of zoo left and if we were going to skip any of the shows it would be this one. So off we wandered to see the remaining bits of Australia Zoo. This started with wombats and snakes. Jeff had to be pretty much dragged away from the wombats, and then we both had some trouble in the snake house. It began with an enclosure of the most venomous snake in the world, and we had just watched a video with Steve playing with these snakes. Not this kind of snake, these exact snakes. We actually stood in the same spot he stood when he opened the snake enclosure and took those very snakes out, held them by the tail, and dodged being bitten and envenomated by fangs that could easily kill 100 Steves with one injection of their lethal venom. In the middle of the snake house there was a skeleton of a reticulated python, the longest snake in the world. It was massive, and it was posed to strike a skeleton of a wild pig, which was decidedly less massive but still impressive when you think that python can swallow that pig whole.

That's one intense owl.

That’s one intense owl.

As we left the snakes and wombats, we ran smack into the end of the bird show, so we stuck around and watched the last few minutes. They had a couple birds out on keepers hands that you could walk up and get pictures with. We declined and just got pics of the birds themselves before heading off. Next up was a walk-through rainforest aviary. It was small but really pretty and had tons of birds throughout it. There were a ton of waterfalls and flowers and it was really beautifully landscaped (the entire zoo was, to be honest. The zoo had as much appeal on the paths and walkways as it did inside the enclosures. It is a gorgeous park as well as a zoo). When it ended, the path led straight into a koala walkthrough. This makes it the third high density koala community in Australia Zoo, but this one was unique because you could walk right up to the trees and stare the koalas right in their faces if they were positioned correctly. One of the random, and very large, trees had a big sign at the bottom saying “There is a koala in this tree. Can you find it?” It was way up at the top, barely visible. As we came out of that, we found a cheetah on the side of the path, out for her afternoon walk. They were just sitting alongside the path and the Cheetah was on a little leash. They were already gathering a bit of a crowd as they fed her a chunk of ice with bits of meat inside and answered random people’s questions. We stayed for quite a while watching it lap up the melting ice droplets. It was now Jeff’s turn to  drag me away.

Bindi's very own wildlife treehouse on an island full of lemurs. Jealous? Yes.

Bindi’s very own wildlife treehouse on an island full of lemurs. Jealous? Yes.

This last bit of zoo is super spread out and sprawling with tons of gorgeous random scenery in between. It definitely seemed like a newer part of the zoo as well. Eventually we came upon the tiger area, with both adult and young tigers. Inside the young tigers’ enclosure, a keeper was just chilling out, we’re still not sure why. He had a mic sitting next to him but looked more like he was taking a nap than anything. Around the whole enclosure were little plaques featuring a tiger picture that Bindi drew when she was young giving you random tiger facts. It was cute. There was also a red panda enclosure, but we couldn’t find them. Again, nocturnal and shy animals in zoos are sometimes nearly impossible to find in their enclosures, it’s just the way of things. Next came Bindi’s Island. It’s a literal island that they built in the zoo with a giant three-storied treehouse. It’s also got ring-tailed lemurs freely wandering around it, along with another nearby island that you can see from the treehouse with more lemurs on it. There are also a few other small enclosures including an alligator snapping turtle that everybody walking by thought was fake. It was sitting reptile-still and doing that tongue-lure thing that they do, with its mouth wide open so everyone could see its powerful beak.

The sun setting over the Australia Zoo savannah enclosure. Gorgeous.

The sun setting over the Australia Zoo savannah enclosure. Gorgeous.

The last thing to see was the zoo’s large African Savannah exhibit. It really only had three animals I think, giraffes, zebras, and rhinos, but it was huge. We got here so late in the day that it was just about closing time and the keepers were starting their end of day feedings and such. There was a jeep in the African area that the giraffes all wanted to be near for pats. A few of them ran across the savannah to catch it at one point. It looked so weird watching them run. A running giraffe has to be one of the most hilarious sights in the natural world. They look like they are in slow motion and are so gangly and awkward you can’t help but smile.

Imagine turning a corner to see this little lady just chilling in the pathway.

Imagine turning a corner to see this little lady just chilling in the pathway.

We had to run, too now. Through the entire zoo, no less. A keeper told us there would be one last shuttle if we wanted to wait for it, but we chose to rush back through the zoo since everyone was headed toward the exit and we were on the far end entirely. That meant all those walk-through exhibits would be emptied of customers and we’d have one last flyby all to ourselves. It felt like we were last ones there, especially since keepers were clearly waiting to lock up those walkthrough areas behind us. It was kind of neat actually. Eventually we made it back to the entrance and wandered around the gift shop trying to decide what to buy. It was really, really hard to walk away without the complete boxed set of Crocodile Hunter episodes. We grabbed a couple other things instead and headed out. The cashier told us that the shuttle bus was already finished with runs for the day, but the next public bus came soon enough. It actually afforded us just enough time to wander over to the wildlife hospital and take a look. It was across the parking lot and looked pretty much just like an animal hospital would, but decorated with Irwins. They had a list of the animals inside at the time, showing some koalas and such that were injured and what was wrong with them. You could see their cages, but most of them were hidden from view inside. We also noticed a giant check on the wall denoting an extremely generous donation from the Justin Timberlake foundation inside. We headed back out to the bus stop and it showed up in short order. We hopped on, paying far too much to go just down the road. I have to say I’m not a fan of public transit in Brisbane.

Did I remember to mention Tasmanian Devils are terrifying?

Did I remember to mention Tasmanian Devils are terrifying?

When we got to the train station our massive state of confusion began. There was absolutely nobody there, staff or otherwise, and it was dark. A couple of other people eventually made an appearance, but they were travelers like us, no one was around who could be considered staff. We found a schedule that said the trains should still be running through there, but not for a good while. Like hours of a good while. We sat down to wait, feeling super uncertain, until a local randomly addressed us. He asked if we were going into the city, as he was, and if we’d pressed the help button to see when the next train was. The one on the opposite platform had apparently told him it wasn’t for a few hours still and he was concerned. We hadn’t in fact, but told him about the posted schedule telling us otherwise. We spent a while talking to this random guy about mostly random stuff. He kind of confirmed our uneasiness about Brisbane in comparison to the rest of Australia we’d seen. He had his wallet stolen earlier today and that’s why he was riding the subway. He also said food was ridiculously expensive regularly, as we’d come to experience, and didn’t have a lot of good things to say about the people in the area. We may have loved the croc hunter zoo, but Brisbane in general seemed to be a place we could bypass in the future if we ever swung this way again. Eventually a different train came through and our new friend asked the driver about the next train going the other way. The driver called to somebody or other and confirmed that it would be at that station soon, contrary to what the machine had told us. Finally, the train did appear and we stopped worrying about getting home. It was time to just sit on the train forever until we eventually made it back to our hotel. We essentially crashed immediately, since we had a super early flight out to catch in the morning. Our Brisbane adventure had come to a close.

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