Friday, December 19, 2014

December: Strategic Management Society Conference in Sydney, Australia

Since my research partner, Makoto Kanda, is in Tokyo and has little time available to travel (he is currently working both as a professor and as assistant to his university's president), we chose the Strategic Management Society's conference in Sydney, Australia to present the results of our most recent work comparing the behaviors of old companies in Japan and the United States. An SMS conference is a great place to get feedback since their members include business executives and consultants in addition to academics.

I have long wanted to travel to Australia and New Zealand so - though I would have preferred going in January or February rather than trying to fit the trip in between Thanksgiving and Christmas - John and I left soon after Thanksgiving for Auckland, New Zealand. That way I had a week to recover from the very long trip and adjust to local time before the conference. So, first a little about New Zealand, then the conference, and then our travels in Australia.

Auckland, New Zealand: They call Auckland the "City of Sails." It is surrounded by water and there are boats everywhere one looks: commuter ferries, touring ferries, and lots of sailboats. The weather was cool and often drizzling while we were there, but that didn't interfere with our exploring the city. Though much of the city of Auckland is bland and not very remarkable, we enjoyed walking through the park, along the harbor, and trips to Devonport and Waikeke Island.

This red fence runs all along the old harbor.

The bell tower of Auckland University as seen from Albert Park.
Albert Park was a delightful walk in the center of Aukland.

The main activity on Devonport is a walk up Mt. Victoria from which one gets gorgeous views of Auckland and the volcano, Rangitoto Island.

A view of Rangitoto Island from the top of Mt. Victoria in Devonport; below, a sampling of the cute little Victorian cottages in Devonport.

The Auckland ferry port has two of the more interesting buildings in Auckland - the old harbor building in the background and the new one in front.

We also took a ferry to the beautiful Waikeke Island. Many people come here for the beaches and to visit the wineries, but just strolling the "bush walk" was worth the trip. We also had a great educational visit with the owner, vintner, and viticulturist at the Jurassic Ridge Winery.

We wanted to see a bit of the New Zealand countryside so took a bus ride to Rotorua that stopped in several cities and towns along the way - including Hamilton, which is home to Waikato University where I applied for a Fulbright Grant. (The Fulbright Commission in DC lost my letter of invitation so I didn't get the grant, but I'm glad I didn't: everything worked out for the best since I would have been in New Zealand when Alison and Scott's baby is due. Plus, after seeing Hamilton, John couldn't imagine what he would have done there for three months.) Also on the route to Rotorua was a stop at Matamata, home of "Hobbiton" - the movie set for the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Almost everyone exited the bus at that point.

The geography of this area is very interesting - not the dramatic mountains of the South Island of New Zealand, but beautiful rolling grasslands with lots of strange mounds. 
This is the best picture of the 'mounds' we could get from the bus window - at first we thought they were manmade leftovers from building the road or something, but there were so many and the geology of the region is so unusual (boiling "hotpots," geysers, etc.) that we thought there were likely a natural landscape feature. In a little post-travel research I noticed one travel books called these sulphur mounds or mounds volcanic rock. 

I wanted to visit Rotorua for two reasons: its geology is unique - it has the same type of "hot pots" and geysers seen only in Iceland and Yellowstone Park - and it is the center of the Maori culture in New Zealand. 

After a long bus ride we had a relaxing lunch and afternoon walking around Rotorua, opting out of the available tours. The Governor's Gardens were particularly lovely - the sulphur smell from the hot pots was evident, but not overwhelming.

I also found a nice Maori koru pendant.

We caught a direct bus back to Auckland and found our way to a little dive of a place off the main street for what John says is the best burger he's ever had. Grass fed beef does make a difference.
And did you know there are two kinds of kiwi? Gold and green. The gold ones are sweeter and juicier - and likely don't travel as well as the hard, little green ones, which is perhaps why we don't see them in the U.S.
Our New Zealand breakfasts: John's smoked salmon, pickled onions and capers in the back; my yummy yogurt (both here and in Australia, the best I've ever had) with kiwis and cheese.

Australia: Soon it was time to be off to Sydney for the SMS Conference. Sydney welcomed us with a spectacular lightning storm.

The morning after our arrival turned out to be a beautiful day. The conference didn't start until evening so we had time to explore the Sydney landmarks. First, though, breakfast at the Circular Quay with great views of the harbor - and some colorful visitors at the next table.

The Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge. 
During a beautiful walk through the Botanical Gardens we stopped at the outdoor cafe for a "flat white" - like a cappuccino only less foamy. (Just heard that Starbucks is planning to add flat whites to their U.S. menu!)

We met Andrew Burdick, who is working in Sydney, for lunch after which he took us on a brief walking tour of the CBD (Central Business District), including his office building (one of the very nice modern buildings in Sydney), the historic Hyde Park Barracks - a beautiful building constructed in 1819 to house convicts, and a walk through Hyde Park.

The weather was so nice we had to keep reminding ourselves it was December. The next morning all the streets around our hotel were closed off for a "Santa run."

Then in was time for the conference. Makoto Kanda, my research partner, flew in from Japan and we had a great response to our paper. Several people stayed after our session to discuss our research and encourage us to publish. 

We had great conversations with conference participants from Japan and Taiwan at the closing dinner.
John explored Sydney while I attended the conference, including walking the Harbor Bridge and taking a bus tour of the city and out to Bondi Beach. Once the conference was over, I was able to join him on a ferry trip to Manly. Manly is known for its beaches - and they were beautiful. Not being beach people, we opted for one of the easy hikes through the area.

Manly's main beach

It was much more of a "hike" than we were prepared for, so stopped at a cafe on Little Manly Beach - amazingly great food at a tiny little shack (seafood platter for John and lamb salad for me).
On the ferry ride back we had more amazing views of the Sydney Opera House - I never tired of this view.

I had this mental image of Australia being flat, dry, and hot. Wrong. At least the east coast of the country where we were was hilly, damp (we had rain almost every day), breezy, and comfortable. This was reinforced during our day trip to the Blue Mountains, which are part of the dividing range between Eastern Australia and the rest of the country.
We signed up for a van tour to the Blue Mountains and had a driver/guide who was very knowledgable about Australian history, including the indigenous people. On this trip I also learned the difference between the "bush" and the "outback:" The outback is the vast, remote, arid area of Australia - we didn't go there. The "bush" refers to any lands outside the main urban area, and that's what we visited both on our trip to the Blue Mountains and on our trip to Hunter Valley.
Our first view of the Blue Mountains
On our day trip we stopped first at a wildlife park to see some of Australia's unique animals. I'm not a big fan of zoos, but this was the best (only?) way to see these interesting creatures. And, except for the wombats and Southern Cassowaries which bite, most of the animals were roaming around and not caged in.


Didn't realize there were so many kinds of wallabies, including these tiny little rat-like ones


More wallabies

And, yes, there were koalas!

Emus and kangaroos

This one has a baby in her pouch
Southern Cassowary - that's a big "horn" on top of its head

Then it was on to the Blue Mountains and some pretty impressive views of the Three Sisters and other rock formations.

We decided to take the scenic tour that included rides on a "railway, cableway, and skyway" down and back up the mountains, including a "walkway" through the temperate rain forest at the bottom (which also went by an abandoned coal mine). Though rather touristy, it was still fun and the views were spectacular.

 The return trip to Sydney was on a river boat, so we got to experience yet another mode of transportation - and another great view of the Sydney Opera House

We spent our last few days in Australia in the Hunter Valley region, about a three hour drive north of Sydney. John braved driving on the left side of the road through the Sydney suburbs and the winding roads of the hilly old coal mining region and we had a wonderful end to our time in Australia.
Watch out for those wombats! We also saw signs for kangaroo crossing, but the road was too curvy and narrow to stop for a picture.
Once we got on the highway, the driving was less stressful - except for the fact that the GPS system Avis gave us didn't recognize the road (it's quite new apparently) so it didn't know where we were and kept telling us to turn off onto roads where there were no exits.  We also got a little confused when it would tell us to turn off onto slipway road and I didn't see a sign for it - not the name of a street, it turns out, but what they call a service road. At least we had directions from the website of the guest house where we were staying.  
It was a relief to arrive in beautiful Hunter Valley wine country.

The view from the patio in front of our room at the Splinters Guest House. One evening while sitting outside watching the rain we saw a kangaroo hop through. 

Australia has unusual (for us) flora and fauna: above is the spotted gum tree, which looks just like camo. One of the Hunter Valley wineries was even named Spotted Gum. 

And I did have to try Vegemite at breakfast. Our hostess told me the proper way to eat it - on buttered toast with the poached egg. This yeasty concoction tasted sort of like spreadable soy sauce to me - good thing the rest of the breakfast (including more great yogurt) was good.

Besides driving around the lovely valley we enjoyed a few wine tastings at places recommended by the B&B owner. A great way to end our trip.

We ended the month of December with a very merry Christmas with the TenHaken-Meshkin-Sale family.