Australian Diary – Part 6

Palm Cove – Thursday 20th November. Today was our last full day in the tropical North, so we decided to take a break from doing anything and instead relax and spend time on the beach and poolside.
After breakfast we walked across the road and found a spot on the beach, under the shade of a tree, and stayed there for the morning. Because of the danger of jellyfish and sea crocodiles at this time of the year, there was a section of the beach sectioned off for safe swimming, a large barrier extending out to sea protecting the public from the menaces of the sea. This area was also patrolled by a lifeguard, who ensured no one misbehaved and used the area safely. We remained there until lunchtime before returning back to the apartment for some food and spent the afternoon by the pool.

Whilst relaxing in the pool, we got chatting to a retired couple from St Albans, who were over visiting family in Sydney, but had come to Palm Cove for a break from their grandchildren. They had also just been to see The Rolling Stones, who were on tour in Australia and loved them.
For dinner, we found a Thai restaurant and although I enjoyed the food, Tina wasn’t so keen. Back to the hotel for an early night as we had a long drive the next day.

Palm Cove/Airlie Beach – Friday 21st November. After checking out, we loaded the car and set off on the journey for the next stage of our Australian adventure, heading south. Ahead of us was a 650km (405 miles) drive to Airlie Beach. We drove into Cairns and stopped for petrol before joining the A1 Bruce Highway, which runs southwards through Queensland. For the first couple of hours the scenery was lovely, the tree covered mountains to the right looking spectacular. We had a couple of breaks from driving including a place that the hotel manager had recommended, Frozen Mango, then eventually stopped for lunch just outside Townsville, about half way to our destination.

By then it was around. 2pm so we pressed on, this time driving through pretty uninteresting countryside. The main crops grown throughout this part of Queensland was sugar cane, with railway tracks running parallel to the road for hundreds of kilometers, which are used to carry the trains hauling the sugar plants off for processing. As for wildlife, we saw plenty of dead things in the side of the road, but was fortunate to see a wallaby sitting close to the edge of the roadside, waiting to be run over, I guess. Other than that, we only saw cattle looking very sad, munching on very dry grassland.

We eventually got within 100km of Airlie Beach so pulled into a petrol station to fill up and have a wee. Just as we came out the station was invaded by a coach load of teenagers; we timed that visit just right as all of them headed for the loos. Little did we know that the encounter wasn’t going to be the last we had of teenagers whilst in Queensland.

We finally reached the coastal town and after a few wrong turns finally found the hotel and checked in. On checking in we were informed by Pete, the hotel manager, that it was the start of ‘schoolies’ and the town was about to be invaded by school leavers. It seemed that in Australia, there is an annual event where all the kids leaving school after their exams descend on the coastal resorts for some ‘relaxation’. And when I say relaxation I mean booze, sex and loud music. Tina remarked it could be a good time to get some earplugs. The Best Western was a bit out of the way of the towns shops, bars and restaurant but of good quality and the pool area lovely.

We decided that enough driving had been done so we walked in to the main part of Airlie Beach, not realising it was good mile or so. Fortunately it had cooled down a bit so was not too uncomfortable. We found a bar and grill and a table outside and ordered our food only to find it didn’t have half the items on the menu. It seemed they were about to close the restaurant for 10 days and were running stock down. Great. We managed to order some food they did have left after enjoying a nice meal. Whilst we sat, we observed the start of the arrival of the schoolies, all wearing coloured lanyards with their photos on, showing that the event was fairly well organised and under some sort of control, certainly early on. The time was still early so we browsed some shops before making the long walk back, stating that a taxi might have been a better idea.

Airlie Beach – Saturday 22nd November. I woke early and popped to the local supermarket for some milk whilst Tina slept. On the way back I went in to reception to speak to Pete for advice on things to do in the area. He suggested booking a trip on a tall ship, the Derwent Hunter, so after speaking to Tina we agreed it would be a good way to see the Whitsunday Islands.

We wanted a chill out day after the long drive the previous day so walked back into the main part of town, bought some prezzies, sat on the beach and generally relaxed in the warm sunshine. By this time the town was starting to fill up with schoolies; there were hundreds of them, but all seemed well behaved…at this stage. We walked to the Airlie Beach lagoon and paddled in the cool water before getting some lunch in a nice cafe in the town. More prezzie hunting before we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel and use the pool facilities at the hotel. We drove back later for a meal; earlier than normal as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to get a table with some many kids around.

Airlie Beach – Sunday 23rd November. An early start for the boat trip; 7am on a Sunday morning was not the time we’d expected to be up on holiday but with the coach pick up shortly after that time we had to breakfast early. We were taken to the quayside and soon were boarding the ship, a small tall ship built in 1946. As we boarded we had to remove our footwear so as to not mark the decking. This was fine but we’d specially bought Tina some white soled flip-flops the previous day.

The crew were young and enthusiastic and soon made us feel at home. There were only 25 guests sailing so the boat didn’t seem crowded and there was plenty of places to sit and enjoy the scenery as we sailed out of port. As we crossed the bay towards the Whitsunday Islands were were given a talk by the captain, a young guy, about the history of the tall ship followed by a safety briefing on snorkelling. I managed to let the ships cook, Jade, know that I needed gluten free diet and sue said it was fine and could accommodate. Great.

As the ship sailed on we were treated to some beautiful scenery, although we weren’t able to see any of the famous beaches at that point. We arrived at our first snorkelling destination after a couple of hours and boarded a small dingy to cross over to the sandbank. We were told there was a good chance we’d see turtles and even swim with them and sure enough someone had spotted one as we crossed. We did some snorkelling and spotted more turtles; the waters were not as clear as the were seen further north but the reefs were still full of fish. After an hour or so we moved off to our second spot; Black Island, and did some more snorkelling. The coral there was more colourful and had an abundance of various types of fish, it was really an honour to experience this wonder under the sea.

We sat on the beach for a while before returning to the ship for some lunch, a really good spread. The ship then slowly headed back to port, not before getting a talk on the fish and other creatures we might have seen. There had been an official photographer with us during the day so it will be great to see the pictures he’d taken, including lots under water.

As we neared port, the wind picked up so we were able to unfurl the sails to get the boat to do what it was designed to do…sail. I helped pull up the sheets and soon we were under the power of the wind and it felt such a wonderful way of spending an afternoon, slowly crossing the bay towards land.
Eventually we arrived back in port and disembarked and were taken back to the hotel where we freshened up before driving to Airlie Beach for some dinner. The schoolies seemed a bit rowdier tonight, clearly incapable of holding it together after 24 hours of drinking. We grabbed an ice cream then sat by the beach for a while before driving back to the hotel for drinks on the balcony.

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The hike from the hotel to Airlie Beach restaurants included this hill

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A room with a view – Mango House Resort

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Selfie – Airlie Beach

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The Derwent Hunter, our tall ship for the day

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Black Island, Whitsunday National Park

Australian Diary – Part 4

Yulara – Sunday 16th November – We had such a wonderful evening watching the sunset over Uluru, I decided to set my alarm clock for 5 am and take the opportunity to watch the sunrise. When I woke it was just starting to get light so I set off with camera and tripod in tow to the mound which allows for good views of Ayres Rock and the surrounding Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park. I wasn’t disappointed and experienced a beautiful sunrise, although the photos I took didn’t do it justice.

What I also got whilst waiting for the sun to rise were mosquito bites, the first of our holiday. And boy did they itch. (Note – I am writing this blog five days later and my arm is still red and itchy). One of the bites on my leg caused swelling and was uncomfortable for a couple of days).
I returned to the hotel room and woke Tina as we’d paid for an early breakfast so we were ready for the pick up for the helicopter trip the I’d pre booked. For our 50th birthdays, Tina and I had been given some Australian dollars by my brother and sister so we agreed we would use the money for something we would both be able to remember on the trip. The last helicopter flight we did was over the Grand Canyon and we both loved it so we thought seeing the rock from the air would be a great idea and very memorable.

The minibus arrived promptly and we were greeted by TJ, who turned out to be the pilot, in what appeared to be a one-man operation. And as we got chatting on our way to the airport we discovered it pretty much was. He did the pick ups, the flying and the commentary, as well as confirm the booking times too. He was expecting another guest to be on our flight but after waiting at her hotel for 10 minutes he decided to abandon waiting and we headed for the airport. It turns out she’d overslept and took a later flight instead.

When we arrived at the airport we went straight to the helicopter, a small four seater and waited whilst TJ did his checks, including siphoning off some fuel, which is apparently a requirement and checking the helicopter over (blades connected, windows intact etc). He did a quick safely briefing before we were strapped in ready for the flight, then started the engine and we were soon off. We had booked 30 minute flight, which gave us time to fly over both Uluru and Kata Tjuta, which is another sacred rock formation close to the main attraction. The helicopter trip didn’t disappoint and we experienced a fantastic view of the rock and the surrounding landscape, with TJ commentary helping us to understand what we were seeing.

After the flight was over we were dropped back off at the hotel where we explored the town of Yulara until it was time for the coach transfer back to the airport for our onward flight to Cairns, the tropical region on the east coast. I’m glad we went to see, what is essentially a great big rock in the desert, but until you do you can’t really appreciate the wonder of it.

We didn’t have long before we were boarding the flight and the hours later we arrived at our destination about an hour before sunset. We were hoping for a quick getaway once we arrived so that we could drive our hire car in daylight, rather than hunt for the hotel in the dark but it wasn’t to be. The luggage came through very quickly but it took ages to get the car and by the time we’d loaded our cases it was dark.
The car was a large Mitsubishi, very comfortable and would do us nicely for the rest of our holiday (the air conditioning was a godsend as it was a little warmer than we’d experienced elsewhere on our travels).

We left the airport, following the instructions given by the Avis Rentals man and headed north on the Captain Cook Highway, towards Palm Cove, which was to be our base for the next five nights. The driving  was very straight forward, helped by the fact that the Australian’s drive on the same side of the road as we do and the car was an automatic, so it was just a case of follow the signs until we find out hotel.

Thirty minutes later and we were there; the reception was shut but a note had been left giving us instructions on finding our room, a very spacious apartment of a very high standard finish. I’d chosen this particular hotel as it had the best rating in Trip Adviser, and by first impressions I could see why. We unpacked and found a nice restaurant close by and then headed back to the room after a long day again.

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Australian Diary – Part 3

Sydney – Friday 14th November – So today, someone had turned the heater up a bit with temperatures higher than any day in the week we’d been in Sydney. As this was our last full day in the city, we decided to take it easy and chill out in the same way the Aussies do and take the day as it came with nothing planned. We agreed to take the short boat ride around to Darling Harbour but pretty much as soon as we got there realised that it would be too hot to walk around so we bought some drinks and found a shady spot to people watch.

The area was Tumbalonga Park, just off the harbour and was a great place to sit and relax and watch the world go by. As it was a Friday we suspected there were many people doing the same thing, skipping off work early for the weekend and just enjoying the sunshine. In the park there were snazzy deck chairs and mats to use, free of charge and we soon found a spot under a brolly and remained there until lunchtime. Surrounding the park were  cafe’s, restaurants and takeaway outlets, ideal for visitors and workers to use; the place was really set up for a relaxing time. I grabbed a couple of Greek salad takeaways and we ate in the shade before strolling back to the market we’d visited yesterday. A few more prezzies later and we decided to have an earlier dinner, returning to the Nando’s we’d missed out on last night.

We ordered our food, as we normally would in the UK, but to our amazement the portions were huge and we both struggled to finish the meal. A slow walk back to the hotel to start to pack for the next part of our Australian trip.

Sydney/Alice Springs/Ayres Rock (Ulura) – Saturday 15th November – In order to get to Yulara, the town that has been purpose built for the Ulura-Kata Tjuta National Park, we firstly had to fly to Alice Springs, smack bang in the middle of Australia, although actually in the Northern Territories. We ordered a taxi to get us to the airport, which did so with plenty of time to spare as traffic was light on an early Saturday morning. The Qantas check in was so easy; everything was done self service, including printing the tickets, weighing the cases and printing and attaching the baggage labels on the conveyor belt. A short queue through security and we were in the departure lounge (after having my bag sniffed for explosives… none found btw). The flight departure was on time and we were soon flying north west towards Alice Springs, some three hours away.

Our arrival at the transit town was weird; the place seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, which I guess should be expected as it was. We disembarked from the plane and left the arrivals lounge to collect our cases for the flight to Ayres Rock. We waited, and waited but when we were the last at the collection belt with no cases left to collect we guessed Qantas were doing the donkey work for us and sure enough after a quick confirmation from the check in desk, we were assured the cases would be on the next plane.

We grabbed a coffee and then waited a short period before boarding the next flight, not before checking out the gift shop, which was the only one at the airport. The aircraft was only a third full of  passengers and so were able to take off early (we were the last flight of the day and it was only 2 pm!)

Three quarters of an hour later and we were landing at Ayres Rock, seeing for the first time the iconic landmark on the horizon. After collecting the cases we boarded the complimentary coach to the hotel (there are no taxis in Yulara) and were soon checking in and unpacking.

The town of Yulara is a purpose built place, dedicated solely for the visitor to the national park, with only three hotels and one bar. Any organised excursions had to be booked through two agents, AATKings being the one we’d used. We had booked a sunset viewing of the rock followed by a BBQ under the stars and at the agreed time we were picked up from the hotel, along with a number of other guests.

We arrived at the viewing area and were offered a drink, some nibbles followed by more drink until the sun started to drop. By this time there were quite a few other coaches that had arrived, the guests all waiting patiently for the main spectacle. As the sun started to drop, the rock was a sight to behold, colours changing every minute that passed and the cameras started in earnest. Also the sunset behind us was spectacular, adding to the beauty, it really was worth experiencing.

We then departed for the BBQ; a number of tables set out in the middle of nowhere and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, which included steak, kangaroo meat, chicken skewers and lamb sausages. And plenty of wine. After the meal the tour guide led us to a spot near the coach, switched off the lights and talked about the stars in the sky. This night was the first time we actually managed to see any stars, as most nights had been cloudy. The dark surroundings, devoid of street lights allowed for a magnificent view of the night sky and we saw, for the first time, the southern hemisphere stars. Once the lights came back up we reboarded the coach and returned to the hotel, falling into our bed after a long but enjoyable day.

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Fancy deckchairs in Tumbalonga Park, Sydney. They weren’t so comfy as they looked.

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Darling Harbour

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Alice Springs Airport. Not the biggest I’ve been in…

 
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Ours is out there somewhere!

towerAnother photo from London and this time quite a breathtaking tribute it was too. To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, an artist was commissioned to create a river of poppies at the Tower of London. The photo doesn’t really do the display justice and it is really worth visiting in person before they are all removed and sold off for charity after the 11th November completion date.

We, of course, ordered ours, which is number 401,580 of the 888,246 in total that are to be installed.

Bill and Ben

benMother pigeon had been sitting at the top of our conifer tree for a few weeks, with dad popping back every so often to take over the egg warming duties. Then about a fortnight ago we spotted a chick, and then a second. We named them Bill and Ben.

We then noticed that dad abandon any further involvement, seemingly happy to leave mum to feed the growing offspring. A week later and they were off testing their new wings but stayed close around the garden, monitored by a protective mum.

And so to Sunday, when Tina and I  observed that one of the chicks, Ben we think, was not looking too great. When I spotted it lying on the patio, struggling to move I guessed something was wrong. We both had commented on how scrawny it was looking and sure enough, and hour later it was no more.

Nature can be a cruel thing sometimes.

Family BBQ

DSC02298Had a great day today, drinking copious amounts of wine and managing to cook food on a BBQ, without poisoning too many of the family.

Bit disconcerting when my six year old niece said she said my sausages were a bit burnt though. Kids just don’t appreciate good cooking these days!

The idea is to drink sufficient alcohol to not worry about what the food actually tastes like, but then for a six year old that’s not really possible!

 

Bletchley Park

Bletchley_Park_Naval_Enigma_IMG_3604Yesterday Tina and I visited Bletchley Park, which was the home of the codebreakers during the Second World War. The site was a formally a large private country estate until the Government purchased in the late 1930’s and used it to develop a highly secret spy station.

I first heard about Bletchley Park in the early 1980’s as it was being used as a management school for my employer at the time, BT. Now the site has been purchased by a charitable trust who are restoring it to show the part BP played during the war, including the work that was carried out to decipher Enigma and Lorenz cyphers. Whilst many of the ‘huts’ are still being restored, there is plenty to see including a working reconstruction of a bombe, the electromechanical device used to help break the Enigma code.
Interestingly, after the war, the government wanted to keep the work of Bletchley Park so secret, all the machines were dismantled and it’s only recently that replica units are able to show how effective the machines were.

Secrecy is a theme throughout the exhibition and it is incredible to think that the people who worked there didn’t let on about the work they did, even to family or friends. In fact they didn’t even know what work was going on in adjacent huts but was aware that they were carrying out a vital job to aid the war effort.

Bletchley Park was also where Collussus, the first electronic programmable computer was used and one version is also on display in the museum.

Tina and I agreed we could spend hours at the site and will certain return in the near future to visit the other buildings once they’re fully restored, but time was of the essence and the nearby IKEA store was calling so we departed after a very interesting and enjoyable few hours.