Our days in Jersey

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A little damp looking out of the window at breakfast on our first day in Jersey

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Gluten-free cider of course ūüôā

After breakfast we decided to go and explore St Helier, a ten minute walk from the hotel. Fortunately the taxi driver had given us general directions to find the town centre and we were soon browsing the shops, doing some reconnaissance for Abby before finding a cafe on the promenade for a mid-morning coffee. I texted my sister to let her know we’d arrived and said we’d meet her at lunchtime, then did some more wandering before grabbing a drink at one of the pubs near the high street. Whilst we sat outside, we watched someone being interviewed outside the council offices nearby (and watched it again on the local news channel later that evening).

We met up with Lesley for some lunch before heading back to the hotel for a rest, then¬† ventured out for an Italian meal at La Cantina, which we had spotted served gluten-free pasta. I naively telephoned to book a table before we set off but needn’t have bothered as it was very quiet, being a mid-week evening. The meal was excellent. We took a slow stroll back to the hotel for an early night.

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Gorey Harbour

tiffin in tiffin

It would have been rude to drink the tea before the champagne

The next morning we picked up Lesley’s car and went exploring the island, including visiting Gorey and the Jersey Pearl showroom before stopping at St Brelade’s Bay for some lunch. I dropped Tina off at the hotel (she’d not slept well during the night) and I took Lesley’s car back and picked up some wine for the later in the day (we were spending the evening at her house, with Jason, Iona, Isla and a takeaway). We met Lesley after work, picked up the girls from school and then drove back to Lesley’s house in St Peter’s. The island is so small, it only takes 30 minutes to get to most places from St Helier. Lesley’s girls were pleased to see us and I was soon helping make a car out of a cardboard box (isn’t that what uncle’s are supposed to do?). After enjoying a lovely curry, some cider and wine we eventually headed back to the hotel, via a taxi and both slept much better after an exhausting day.

We managed to get a good walk in the next morning before the rain set in for the day so returned back to the hotel before getting a lift by Lesley to Tiffin for afternoon tea (and a glass of champagne). When we went to pay we had a nice surprise as Lesley had rung them whilst we were there and paid for the meal. Thanks sis!

We visited Pizza Express in St Helier for our evening meal before retiring back to our hotel, fully stuffed from all the food we’d eaten throughout the day.

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Last minute purchase for a special lady

Check out at the hotel was at 10am so following breakfast we packed up our cases and left them at reception before wandering into town for the final time. Again the rain started to fall so we dodged the showers by visiting any of the shops to try to keep dry. We had about an hour left to kill so started to look in the windows of the jewellery shops, of which Jersey is quite famous for.

During our stay Tina had mentioned about getting an eternity ring and spotted one she like in a shop window, so in we went. Thirty minutes later she was leaving the same shop wearing her new, diamond encrusted white gold ring, with my wallet significantly lighter!

And then it was time to leave Jersey, with getting home far less hassle than getting there.

I’ll be heading back there in a couple of weeks when I’ll be helping Abby to relocate.¬† I’ll be travelling by sea this time so they’ll be no problems with fog, I just hope the Channel is relatively flat as I’m not a great sailor!

Journeying to Jersey

Back in September we decided to gamble on booking flights and a hotel to Jersey to coincide with Abby’s relocation to the Channel Island following her managing to secure a job there. Unfortunately her start date was delayed by paperwork which meant we had travel there Abbyless. Oh well, we would just have to have a holiday instead.

We had managed to pick up reasonably priced EasyJet flights from Gatwick and decided to let the train take the strain, rather than have to suffer the hassle of driving around the M25, especially as we would be returning during Friday rush hour. Having never used a ‘no frills’ airline before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but was impressed by the online booking process, the dedicated app and of course the price.

The downside to using a budget airline is that you need to avoid taking hold baggage as it bumps the price considerably, but that wasn’t an issue for us as we were only going to be away for five nights. As the flights got closer we were able to check-in online using the iPhone app, which presents the boarding passes in an electronic form, something I’ve never used before and a little scary as you don’t have physical paperwork to fall back on. Similarly I’d booked the train tickets online and the accommodation using my favourite hotel booking app (Booking.com). Don’t you just love the 21st century.

Finally the day of travel arrived, and after dropping Rio at the kennels, we set off towards Bedford Station for our two hour train ride to Gatwick. We did have a little apprehension about the flight as the weather wasn’t looking good, with thick fog affecting large parts of the South of England causing flight cancellations, but as we were not actually flying until mid-afternoon there was plenty of time for it to burn off.

The train left on time and soon we were heading South, with visibility still poor but brightening up. As we got closer to London I checked the app and all was looking good until suddenly a message flashed up on the screen. I stared in disbelief as the words ‘flight cancelled‘ blinked at me. The app gave me two button options ‘Re-book‘ or ‘Refund‘ but by this time we were reaching London and I’d lost all mobile signal. I made a snap decision and suggested we leave the train at St Pancras and consider our options.

tina enjoying her wineAfter some thinking, some failed attempts to get through to EasyJet we decided to try to re-book our flight to later in the day. With return train tickets already paid for, a hotel in Jersey booked for the week and the car park paid for for five days, we were really committed to being away for the week. But unfortunately there were no flights available on the day due to the impact of the weather. We re-booked for the early morning flight the next day.

Next problem was where to stay. I got straight on to Booking and found a Premier Inn close to the airport and we re-boarded the Gatwick train, not before trying to get through to EasyJet just to see if there was any chance of getting a flight later in the evening. We couldn’t get through!

On arrival at Gatwick we made our way to our unplanned hotel accommodation and soon found the bar for a well-deserved glass of wine, followed by a nice meal and an early night in order to be fresh for our five o clock alarm call.

Fortunately the rearranged flight suffered no hold-ups and we were checking into our hotel in Jersey, even managing to make breakfast, which went down really well. I checked my mails and noticed a mail from EasyJet apologising for the cancellation of the flight and asking for feedback. That was something I would definitely be giving but not until later in the day when I had time to think of a suitable response.

More of the actual holiday break soon…

Photos from Australia

I thought I’d add a few of the photos I took with my DSLR whilst we were in Australia last month as the only ones published during the trip were from my iPhone. I must admit though that the quality of the images from the camera phone were exceptional and have given my Canon a run for it’s money. Having said that the phone did cost more than the camera!

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The Right Way Up

So we finally arrived back at Heathrow at Sunday lunchtime; to glorious blue skies. So much for the cold, damp, wet weather everyone said it had been like whilst we’d been on holiday, I think others were just trying to make us feel guilty.

As expected, the journey home was a long one; with the internal flight from Brisbane to Melbourne adding to the endurance flights. We finally left Australia just before midnight and settled down in the Qantas A380 Airbus with the full intention of getting some sleep.

No chance!

The fourteen hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai seemed to go on for ever and even a large dose of ‘Game of Thrones’ to watch on my iPad didn’t really help. Also, just when I managed to get to sleep I was woken by the stewardess offering me my dinner/breakfast/lunch (I didn’t really know what the time was so it could have been any one of those meals) but seeing as it was food I was happy to accept it.

Eventually we arrived in Dubai around 7am and after negotiating the two lots of security checks that were in place, we re-boarded the same plane (all spick and span again after a service clean) and headed off on the final leg from there to Heathrow, some seven hours apart.

We got through UK Border Control after thirty minutes of queuing and were soon collecting our cases and entering Arrivals, where Matt was waiting to take us home. After rescuing the dog from the kennels Tina and I managed to stay awake for a couple of hours before giving up and catching up on the lost sleep.

And so to reflect on the holiday.

I must say Australia is a fantastic place to visit; with so much to see and do. And you really do feel chilled when you get back. I drove to work on Tuesday with not a care in the world. ‘No worries’ when someone overtook me. ‘Fair dinkum’ when someone cut me up on the roundabout. ‘Alright Possums’ when I met my work colleagues on my arrival.

Then I checked my e-mails and started working through the backlog of the past three weeks. Arghhh.

Still as someone quite rightly said “You need to do one to pay for the other!” How very true.

man-in-overload

Australia Diary – Part 8

Noosa Heads – Thursday 27th November. On the road again, this time heading towards Sunshine Coast of Queensland. We ate breakfast at a cafe close to the hotel before checking out and joining the A1 once more. We only had a short drive to our final stop of the holiday, Noosa Head and were there by lunchtime. We eventually found the hotel, after some dodgy instructions by the tour operator and were soon unpacking our cases for the final time. The hotel room was really big, actually it was a suite, with laundry facilities included.

We walked to the parade of ships and restaurants near the beach and had lunch before inspecting the beach, which was up to the usually Australia standards. Noosa was much busier than other places we’d been to on the holiday; the beach actually had people sunbathing and enjoying the sea, something we’d not seen elsewhere in the north. We bought an ice cream before heading back to the hotel and spent the afternoon by the pool. For our evening meal we ate at a nice restaurant on Hastings Street. Whilst we ate we were asked by one of the waitresses where we came from and it turned out she had lived in Finedon for a while. It really is a small world. After eating we strolled slowly back up the tree lined road that were decorated with christmas lights before returning to the hotel apartment.

Noosa Heads – Friday 28th November. Another telephone call during the night disturbed my sleep; too late to get to it though but fortunately no message was left so nothing important I guessed. Our plan on the last full day in Australia was to have a lazy day, spend some time on the beach and by the pool but when we dressed the day was overcast and as we walked to get some breakfast rain was in the air. We enjoyed a very hearty granola, natural yogurt and fresh fruit offering from the cafe we’d used for lunch the previous day then walked along the main Hastings Street looking in the shops. There was a sign near the main roundabout saying the Xmas lights were switched on in the evening. Ha ha, it still didn’t seem right being so warm. Even our cafe had arranged a Santa visit in the evening too.

As we walked the rain started again, but it was still warm and was only a quick shower. We headed for the beach and set ourselves up for the morning. Well, at least we thought we’d done do until it really did start training so we abandoned the beach and headed back to the hotel. We needed a plan b and so decided that a walk in the nearby Noosa Heads National Park would be a good idea and would shelter us from rain showers. The park was a fifteen minute walk from town and soon we were following one of the trails set out for visitors, which would take around an hour and a half to complete. As we started there was a sign saying that a koala bear had been spotted in one of the trees so we eagerly moved off looking treewards as we strolled on up the track. Within five minutes of setting off the rain started again, although the forest canopy was so thick it was pretty dry below.

We continued following the track, hearing loss of noises in the forest and soon spotted birds and butterflies in the trees. Then we both spotted an animal about twenty feet in the air hanging in the tree, very still but very well camouflaged. I took a few photos and although aware it wasn’t a koala, knew it was an animal that was unusual to see. It turned out to be a ringtailed possum, which generally you only see at night. We were really lucky to spot it.

Pleased with our find, we returned to town and had some lunch at the same cafe we had used earlier, with even the waitress commenting about our revisit. Another walkaround the shops before we returned to the apartment to start the job of packing the suitcases really for our journey home in the morning. Soon after the rain started again, this time a really heavy shower which I doubt even the forest would have kept us dry from had we’d still been walking.

After showering we returned to the same restaurant we visited the previous day and enjoyed equally good meals, albeit different than before. We then walked back along Hastings Street, not before witnessing a commotion in one of the trees. At first we thought it was birds squabbling but on closer inspection we realised the birds we’re actually giant bats! They were so low in the trees you could almost touch them. Tina decided to get a closer look at one that was hanging upside down for it to suddenly take off and head straight for her. That made her jump. The wingspan on them was enormous. It turned out they are actually known as flying foxes are regarded as a pest by the locals because of the mess they make when eating the local fruit.¬†After our final encounter with Australian wildlife, we headed back to the hotel to finish off packing for our journey home.

Noosa Heads/Brisbane РSaturday 29th November РNoosa Heads. Home today. After having our breakfast at our favourite cafe, buying a t-shirt for Tina and saying goodbye to Noosa beach, we checked out and took a slow drive towards Brisbane airport. We stopped off at Maroochydore for a coffee and enjoyed walking through the cotton park but soon left and headed south on the Bruce Highway for the final time.

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Selfie – Noosa Heads Beach

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Noosa Heads Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

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View from our apartment at Mantra French Quarter during the rain (on our last day as well)

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Tina yomping through the Noosa Heads National Park looking for Koala’s

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Taken on our last day (hence Tina looking sad)

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Christmas decorations above our favourite cafe in Hastings Street, Noosa Heads

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The main tree in Hastings Street, decorated for Christmas

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Maroochydore looking towards the large river with beaches. Very strange.

Australia Diary – Part 7

Airlie Beach/Rockhampton – Monday 24th November. It was a bit noisy during the night; the schoolies deciding that chatting in the early hours was preferable to sleep. Fortunately the wax earplugs I’d bought did the trick and was soon back to sleep. I woke early and wrote up some diary before getting up and preparing to pack up ready for our next move on. When we arrived at the hotel we hadn’t bothered unpacking as we were only there for two nights and this would be the pattern for the remainder of the holiday, living out of suitcases.
After loading the car, I settled the hotel bill and we then departed South, back on the A1 Bruce Highway again. The weather was warm but overcast and so driving was quite pleasant at that time. We intended to stop in Prosperpine to fuel up, but when we got there it was a tiny town so ploughed on southwards towards Mackay. Here we filled up and grabbed coffees before driving a further ten minutes and stopped somewhere suitable to drink them.

The landscape from Airlie Beach was similar all the way down, either fields of cane plants or wooded areas. Tina and I agreed that we would do a ‘let’s see how many creatures we could spot’ game but we didn’t manage many other than horses, cows and a few different species of birds. Of course we did see lots of dead animals in the road, but they didn’t count.
We drove onwards, still seeing lots of cane fields; we didn’t realise this part of Australia was sugar country. We even spotted a couple of museums dedicated to the stuff, but passed them by, far too sweet for us ūüôā

Occasionally we spotted the refineries, with the chimneys smoking away, I assumed boiling up the sugar cane and drying it out ready for refining. We also saw lots of wagons loaded with the canes, ready to be transported, it really was the main industry of the area.
We continued on until we came to a small section of the A1 that ran parallel to the coast so stopped for a break. The sea was an incredible blue/green colour and so I took a few photos as the views were so picturesque. I also spotted an ants nest next to the spot I’d parked the car which looked like coral but was in fact made from a wax like material. Beautiful.

By 3pm we were getting into cattle country, so stopped at a small township called Marlborough, which had a post office, hotel, bar and supermarket. The bar had stopped serving food at 2pm so the barman steered us towards the supermarket. The lady serving made Tina a cheese sandwich but couldn’t offer me a gf option so a bag of crisps sufficed. We ate in the car, used the public toilets and then set off again. The car temperature gauge read 37 degrees. Still, we only had around 100km to go, about an hours drive, so onward we progressed. As we drove on we observed warning signs of wild koala’s; now they would be a good spot in the trees but alas it wasn’t to be. We did see large ants or termites nests build half way up trees though. Amazing.

Eventually we arrived in Rockhampton and soon found the hotel, our home for the next two nights. Our room was on the 6th floor but unfortunately not on the riverside but still afforded great views of the city. We rested and showered before venturing out early to explore and find a restaurant.
Directly across the road was the Fitzroy River, really wide, at least as wide as the Thames is in London but the waterline was down, apparently as it is tidal. We walked south adjacent the river until we came upon a steakhouse and ordered our food. We both agreed that we should both have steak, in what is the main beef producing part of Australia. We then strolled along the riverbank walk until we got back to the hotel, where we had a drink. Whilst looking out of the hotel window, we finally confirmed something I’d been meaning to check since we arrived down under and that was the direction the moon moves across the sky when in the southern hemisphere. I had heard it goes the opposite way to the northern hemisphere, but due to the many cloudy nights we’d not actually been able to check. Finally we saw the new moon and watched it’s progress in the sky… going right to left. I was right it did go backwards. Content with observing this I went to bed.

Rockhampton – Tuesday 25th November. Reasonably good nights sleep, except from the telephone call from a nurse from the UK wanting to discuss my dad. Fortunately nothing important that couldn’t wait until our return. After getting up we walked a few blocks to a shopping centre and grabbed breakfast in a caf√©; scrambled egg on toast (gluten free for me) before returning to the hotel room to grab some things for the day ahead. We decided to go exploring the surrounding area of Rockhampton, including visiting the Capricorn Caves just north of the city.

There was lots of references to Capricorn which we discovered was due to the fact that Rockhampton sits on the Tropic of Capricorn. Apparently there is a spot in the city where you can stand in both the Equator side and Tropic of Capricorn side, but we didn’t bother finding it. Anyhow, the caves were a nice break from the heat of the morning and the tour guide gave us some interesting facts on how they were discovered and about the bats that frequent them during the summer months (they were just starting to arrive in an adjacent cave when we were there). After the tour and a coffee we then headed for the Coast and arrived an hour later at a beautiful beach at Yeppoon, a town on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. The views of the coral sea were stunning and very photogenic. We bought a packet of chips and ate them looking out to sea, all very British and then went paddling in the warm waters and beach combed for shells before getting ice creams and chilling out in the shade.

We then drove onwards, following the scenic coast drive back towards Rockhampton, stopping off at Emu Park and Keppel Sands on the way. The beaches were empty; apparently the region was out of season for tourists. We assumed the winter months were when they came as the temperatures were cooler and the seas free from jellyfish. Anyhow, it was nice to be able to wander around easily, free from hundreds of families.

Back at the hotel we freshened up before going out for some dinner, finding an Outback Jack restaurant and I had the best steak I’d eaten for a long time, whilst Tina had beef bangers and mash. We both waddled back to the hotel full to the brim, vowing to diet when we got back to the UK.

Rockhampton/Hervey Bay – Wednesday 26th November. Time to move on South again, the drive not so far as earlier in the week but still we were to be travelling for most of the day. We got up early and were checked out of the hotel by 8.30am, when we drove to the nearby shopping centre we’d used the previous day. Both still full from the large meals on the night before, we both just had light breakfasts, bought a couple of bits we liked from a gift shop in the centre then drove onwards, not before filling the car with petrol again. We were heading towards Hervey Bay, following the A1 Bruce Highway, our now familiar road and soon were speeding southwards through beef and cane country.

At lunchtime, we stopped at a roadside cafe and had a sandwich before progressing towards our destination. During the journey we remarked on how good the Australian roads were, despite a few hold ups due to roadworks, which while inconvenient were strangely a nice way to get a rest, having to await for the ‘lollipop men or women’ to let you through. You certainly wouldn’t get that on the M1. For part of the journey we drove parallel to rail tracks and a spotted a couple of trains; one of which was really long and was carrying coal in the same direction was we were travelling. It must have had about 50 or 60 wagons being pulled by three engines.

Eventually we arrived in Hervey Bay and checked into out hotel for the one night we were staying there. The Mantra hotel was on the harbour and our room had a great view of the boats and sea. As we only had limited time at the town, we went straight out after dropping the cases off and grabbed a coffee in a nearby cafe on the harbour side. We then strolled along the the enormous beach, with the tide having gone out and leaving at least a kilometre of sand between the shore and sea. We walked for s couple of hours, taking photos and searching for more shells before heading back to the Mantra. After showering, we went to a nearby restaurant, which was very busy; probably the busiest we’d been to whilst in Australia and enjoyed a very nice, although filling meal. Then back to the room for an early night after not such a busy day, but still tiring.

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One of the many cane refinery factories dotted along the Bruce Highway

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An unusual ants or termite construction.

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A welcome relief stop for lunch although no gluten free options for me

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Clairview, Queensland, Australia

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Tina posing during one of our beach combing sessions. This was at Yeppoon

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Yeppoon Beach, Queensland, Australia

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Not the I’m a Celebrity bridge but the way out from the Capricorn Caves, north of Rockhampton, Queensland

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Very big jacuzzi bath in the hotel in Hervey Bay (we didn’t use it…)

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The Hervey Bay Marina, viewed from our hotel balcony

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Hervey Bay Beach

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We believe these patterns, loads of tiny balls of sand, are made from a crab….

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 5

Palm Cove –¬†Monday 17th November – I woke early to the sounds of the tropical dawn; cockatoo and other such birds and thought I’d arrived in heaven it was such a joy to hear. I remained in bed until Tina woke so that we could share the moment of looking out of the apartment window at the view and when we did we knew we had arrived in heaven! Just peeking between the palm trees was the Pacific ocean in all its glory, with its golden sands and almost certainly warm water, we were going to enjoy the next few days. It was still early yet the temperature was high and it¬†was only going to get warmer as the day went on. This is what we’d travelled north for though.

We went in search of some provisions as we wanted to eat breakfast in the apartment rather than buy out and used the supermarket next door, pleased that even they stocked gluten free cereals. After eating we checked in at reception, meeting Margaret, one of the managers of the hotel. She gave us some suggestions as to places to visit and advised on who to use for the great barrier reef excursion we planned to undertake whilst in the region.

Back to the room to gather some things for the day then we went off exploring. We headed for the rainforest village of Kuranda, which was high up in the mountains and had a number of attractions to visit and lots of souvenir shops and restaurants. The road up was pretty winding but as we reached the top we were rewarded by a magnificent view of the Cairns region and of the Coral Sea coastline. We continued upwards and shortly reached Kuranda and parked up.

As it was lunchtime we found a great restaurant that served gf food and I enjoyed a nice lasagne. Afterwards we visited the butterfly attraction, containing hundreds of the native butterflies found in and around the region and rainforests. Lots of filming and photos later we then grabbed a drink, browsed some of the shops before making our way back to the apartment. After freshening up we revisited the same restaurant as the previous night, staying there until most guests had departed then back for a drink on the balcony.

Palm Cove – Tuesday 18th November – We decided to visit Kuranda again, but this time ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a 7.5km cable car system that travels from Smithfield, near Cairns to the rainforest village we’d been to yesterday. Firstly though we booked our trip to the Great Barrier Reef through the hotel manager, Stephen, who sorted out the arrangements for us.

We then drove the short journey to the Skyrail station and parked up, paid for the tickets and boarded the cable car. We stretched to ‘gold’ tickets on the flight up; which afforded us a glass bottomed car allowing for great views of the rain forest canopy. The views of the Cairns region as we rose high above the trees were magnificent, with the coastline stretching out North and South. The trees were ancient and tropical, ferns and other wonderful species and there was plenty of birdsong too, it was such a special place. The ride was divided into three sections and at each station you can get out and walk around the rainforest and experience it from ground level. The second station, Barron Falls had a look out point that afforded great views of the waterfall, although it was pretty tame as the rains were yet to arrive. We boarded the car to head for the final stop and this leg gave us great views of the Barron River, which was huge.

We arrived at Kuranda and grabbed a drink before doing some more shop browsing and ordering lunch at the same restaurant we ate at yesterday. We then walked back to the Skyrail station and rode it back down, not before I bought a wide-brimmed Australian hat that was made from Kangaroo skin. Very fetching and will be ideal for dog walking, although I’m not sure what Rio will think.

On arrival back at Smithfield we jumped in the car and drove into Cairns for the first time, spending a bit of time at the lagoon, a spot built specifically for everyone to chill out. This area has a large pool, BBQ stations and toilets and is all free. Everyone seemed so chilled out and relaxed, such a nice way to spend an afternoon. But it was hot and seeing as we’d only paid for an hour parking we retuned to the car and drove back to the apartment.
We returned to Cairns later that evening and found a nice seafood restaurant before heading back for an early night, once again exhausted from the days excursions.

Palm Cove – Wednesday 19th November – Another early start as we had to be in Port Douglas at 9am to catch the boat to the reef. We left the apartment just before 8am and headed north and were soon driving along one of the most beautiful coastal roads, with great views of the Coral Sea to our right. We arrived at the port in plenty of time and grabbed a coffee before joining our boat for the day. There were quite a few people waiting in the queue but apparently it wasn’t that busy so we had no trouble finding a spot on the top deck to enjoy the sunshine during the onward journey to the pontoon.

Once the boat, a catamaran made completely of aluminium, set off we were cooled by the sea breeze as it sped up the coastline before heading eastward out to sea. The journey took around 90 minutes and so we enjoyed the ride, stretched out, slowly burning in the heat of the morning. As we approached the pontoon we started to see the clear waters of the reef and the golden sands surrounding them. We crossed onto the main deck of the pontoon and soon donned our stinger suits and snorkeling gear. There is a high risk of getting stung by jellyfish in the coral seas so it is advisable to wear the lycra suits (at an extra cost of course) and it seemed everyone was wearing them so it was silly to ignore advice. I fact getting stung by a box jellyfish can be lethal.

Once Tina had sorted out some prescription google’s were were off; I having done snorkeling before got straight to it but Tina, a first timer, was a bit more wary. But she soon got to grips with breathing (always helpful) and we spent a good hour exploring the reef and looking in wonder at the varied fish and coral below. The waters were so clear and the fish didn’t seem bothered by us, swimming up really close at times. On my only previous snorkeling trip, with Matt in Florida, I thought what we saw there was great but it was no comparison to what we saw at the Great Barrier Reef. Fantastic.

We returned to the pontoon for some lunch, a really good spread with plenty for me too, before getting back into our suits for more reef watching. An hour later and we were both exhausted so we got out for a drink and relax before the trip back.

Soon we were making our way back to port, not before the captain stopped the engines for a while when a pod of minke whales were spotted close by. I got some great video of this rare encounter, they were apparently unusual to be seen this late in the year. Eventually the captain said we had to move on, which was a shame as we could have watched them all day. At port we grabbed a coffee before driving back to the apartment  for a rest before going out for a pizza in a restaurant close by.

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Barron Falls National Park, Queensland

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The river Barron from the Skyrail in North Queensland

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Me donning my new kangaroo skin hat on the Skyrail

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Looking good in Lycra

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One of the minke whales showing off

A few of our Australian observations…

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Big Country – whilst I’ve always know Australia is vast, it’s not until you travel around you realise how big it is. It is so huge that even Australians have not visited parts of their own country. Jumping on a plane seems to be the normal way of getting between towns and cities, just the mad tourists making the long treks across the regions.

Toilets – Australia is absolutely mad on public toilets, they are everywhere you go. And they are spotlessly clean. You’ll never need to go behind a tree in Australia as there is probably one there anyhow. In the rain forest the toilets were proper housings like you would get in a town or city, but the pan opened up straight to the forest floor. You can get much natural than that for deposits.

Roads – the roads in Australian are very well maintained, towns well sign posted and everyone obeys the speed limit (which seems on average lower than the UK). It can take some time to get used to kilometres and km per hour though but as this distance is less than a mile journeys do seem quicker. They do seem to like roundabouts in Australia and traffic lights change very quickly so you have to be on your guard ready for the off.

Early Closing – it seems that most restaurants close by 9.30, even in the city. Whether it was just the time of year but it did seem strange that everyone ate so early. Many a time on this holiday we have been the last to leave the restaurant, with the staff clearing tables around us. Also the tourist attractions close early, often by 4pm. Again this may have been the time of year but it does seem odd coming from a country that seems to be open 24 hours these days.

Ants – they come in all sorts of sizes in Australia, from large menacing ones to tiny versions that apparently are the ones that can give you a nasty bite. Judging by the amount I’ve seen so far, I think they be having a world domination bid, starting in Australia as thee are thousands of the buggers. In Queensland the authorities are particularly concerned about electric ants, which have invaded and taken over the indigenous species causing mayhem in their wake. There are roadside signs such as ‘Don’t Spread Electric Ants’ warning contractors not to help them dominate the world. I think they’re losing the battle.

Flies – and whilst I’m on the subject of insects, those flies can be so annoying. Not experienced too many so far but when you do get ‘attacked’ they get up you nose, in your eyes and ears resulting in the continual Aussie wave. I can see why the corked hat is iconic headwear, although so far we’ve only seen tourists wearing them.

Money – things seem quite expensive in Australia (exchange rate $1.75 to the pound). For an example a can of coke is around $3 (¬£1.60) and a coffee around $5 (¬£2.70). Fuel seems cheaper ($150 for unleaded and $159 for diesel), but then in Britain we are heavily taxed so it’s bound to be cheaper. A meal for two has been costing us around $100 per night, which is quite reasonable I guess, although if you add alcohol, it can bump up the cost considerably. Our most expensive meal was $159 in Sydney but that did include a bottle of wine and desserts.

Gluten Free – I love Australia. It is so geared up for people with Coeliacs with most restaurants and cafe’s marking their menus with GF options. And the supermarkets don’t just have a small section dedicated to GF but whole isles. I was spoilt for choice. One supermarket chain offered an online delivery services so I was wondering if they delivered to Thrapston?

Birds – noisy buggers over in Australia. The dawn chorus is quite loud but quite magnificent, with the cockatoos being quite vociferous. We saw a couple of laughing kookaburras in Kuranda and they really have a distinctive call and all around Sydney we saw birds with long beaks (we referred to them as the Australian pigeon as they were as common but were actually Australian white ibis).

Australians – very laid back and they really do say ‘no worries’ a lot. It seems such a relaxing country so I can see why they are so chilled out. There are lots of non-Australians around, many from Asian who I guess are working here for the holiday season.

The Southern Hemisphere – we’ve yet to see the Milky Way but we have seen stars and constellations not visible from the UK. I’m hopeful we’ll get to really observe the stars before we return, clear skies permitting.

Alice Springs – it really is in the middle of nowhere. We flew for three hours and the majority of the landscape down below was just desert or mountains. You could drive it but it would take around 30 hours non stop. When you are there you get the feeling you are in the back of beyond. The people who live there, and there are people that live there must really love the feeling of isolation.

Visitors – we’ve met some British people and there are loads of Japanese and other Asians (Malaysian & Thai) but we have been surprised as to how many Americans are visiting. Almost everywhere we’ve been there have been Americans. Distance wise, it must be just as far to travel to Australia as it is for us to travel from the UK, yet there seems to be loads around. They all see friendly enough though.

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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