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 – Saturday 29th November – Noosa 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.

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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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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Australian Diary – Part 2

Sydney – Thursday 14th November. So one of the activities we had both talked about since arriving in Australia was our desire to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, which if visiting the city, was apparently a must do. When Tina mentioned doing it back in the UK I was sceptical as she doesn’t really do heights (she felt very uncomfortable when we went up the Shard earlier in the year and also she suffers with her knees). So the idea of her climbing over 1300 steps and then freezing due to how high she was or her legs ceasing up before we even reached the summit didn’t really appeal. But she was determined to go through with it, “I won’t get another chance to do it so let’s go for it” she affirmed.

And so the day had come. Firstly we had buy a cheap pair of trainers as she’d forgotten to pack any, and then we were off. The actual climb takes 3.5 hours; the first 60 minutes dedicated to getting into your snazzy overalls, sorting out your climbing gear, and the radio headphones. We then had to do a practice climb, up and down some short ladders too make sure we were competent at this before tackling the real thing. Prior to this we’d all (14 in our group) had to be breathalyzed as well as signing a medical form, just to ensure there were no incidents whilst we were up top. I will admit the safety side of the preparation was very thorough, I guess it wouldn’t be good publicity to lose clients, even if they were stupid enough to go up drunk!

We were then all led off by Bernie, our guide for the ascent. Bernie was very knowledgeable and reassured us that he’d never lost anyone so far. Again reassuring. The first part of the climb took you horizontally to one of the two pylons that help to hold the bridge up. The walkways were quite narrow and it reminded me a bit of my mast climbing course I completed with BT many years ago. Fortunately I didn’t fall off then either. We then climbed some steep steps to get on to the main part of the bridge structure before slowly climbing the bridge to the top. Tina found the steps part a little tough on her knees but she coped well and didn’t hold up the group, one of her fears before starting. Bernie took a few photos of us as we climbed and then a group photo at the summit. The views of Sydney were incredible, even though it wasn’t the clearest of days. There was a light breeze making it quite comfortable and not too scary. We joined in singing happy birthday to one of the climbers (not many can say they’ve sung that at the top off the bridge), recorded a short video message and then started our descent. We were back on the ground pretty much on the 3.5 hour mark.

We took up the offer of the ‘non-obligatory’ photos for $50, collected our certificate and headed back to the hotel room for a rest, satisfied we’d accomplished something amazing.

We then decided to head to Darling Harbour to get some lunch and found a lovely restaurant I the waterside, enjoying it even more knowing we’d earned it following our earlier endeavors. We then strolled to Paddy’s Market, where there were a number of stalls  selling all sorts of stuff before walking back to the hotel to freshen up for the evening.

For dinner, we both fancied a Nando’s so went off in search of the only one in Sydney, but when we got there it was just closing up so we instead walked back to Darling Harbour and ate at the same restaurant we’d frequented earlier in the day. Afterwards, completely knackered, we returned to the hotel for an early night, and fell into bed.

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Australian Diary – Part 1

So week one is over and no blog update other than the photos, how remiss of me, I’d better get something written down or it will be just a blur in a few days. I am currently experiencing the most wonderful dawn  chorus I’ve ever heard; tropical birdsong at its loudest. But more of that later.

Sydney – Monday 10th November – It was really day three of the holiday of a lifetime before we arrived in Sydney but for the purposes of the blog I’ll call it day one. This is of course because traveling half way around the world, literally, means you lose a day in the plane and a day crossing time zones. The flights were surprisingly ok though, the large Qantas Airbus A380 allowed for plenty of leg room to get some sleep.

We arrived in Sydney around 6 am and were soon on our way to the hotel, not before queuing to get through the tough quarantine checkpoint, although we weren’t actually stopped. The taxi ride was an interesting ride, the driver didn’t know where our hotel was; you don’t get that with a London cabbie. Still he got us there eventually. Fortunately when we arrived our hotel room was ready so we were able to unpack before setting off towards central quay to explore. We had a walk around iconic Opera House before grabbing a coffee at the quayside, but tiredness soon caught us up so we returned to the room for a few hours kip.

Mid afternoon and we were back in the land of living so this time we headed for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, crossing it using the footbridge and descending down to the park across the bay. This afforded grejustat views of the city, the bridge and the opera house.

By the time we returned to the south side it was getting dark so we found an Italian restaurant on the quay and ordered some food. The meal was quite expensive, but of good quality. After paying the bill, we walked the short distance back to the hotel and were in bed shortly afterwards. As expected, I failed to get more than a few hours sleep; my body clock  still on UK time.

Sydney – Tuesday 11th November – After showering we headed off to the hotel restaurant for our pre-booked breakfast. We decided not to bother for the other days in Sydney, the meal was expensive and limited in choice. We n went exploring again. As we have done in previous cities we’ve visited, we purchased open top bus tickets and spent the day riding around Sydney, looking at the sights and hearing  the complementary commentary. This is an ideal way of getting to know a place and can be used as a taxi service as the buses are hop on hop off at any point on the circular route. The weather was not particularly warm, overcast for most of the day, which was fine until we got to Bondi beach. Here it was positively cold so we ended up buying hoodies, typical Brits, sitting on the beach in all weather.

After returning to Sydney in the afternoon we went back to the room for a shower before heading out for some dinner. We ate at another expensive restaurant, again a very nice meal and this time, with a bottle of wine inside me and a sleeping tablet I managed to sleep through until 7am.

Sydney – Wednesday 12th  November – Our third day in Australia, and so far we were impressed. The atmosphere was relaxed and people friendly. Of course being in  a city, it was full of tourists so we weren’t really getting the true Aussie hospitality yet, but it was great all the same. We found a cafe in CBD (Central Business District we think) and we enjoyed wonderful omelettes, mine coming with gf toast, which was great.

We then took a ferry from the quay to Manly, about a half an hour ride across the bay to explore that part of the city, on the recommendation of the waiter from last night’s restaurant. There are a number of ferries that leave from the quay terminus, some do shorter trips to other parts of the harbour and they are a great way to see Sydney. And they’re relatively cheap too.

Manly beach was very nice, is the ideal spot for learning to surf due to the gentle, but reasonably good waves. The sun decided to join us at that point to. Bondi beach is the more surf-friendly beach for the serious surfers but the guys at Manly seemed to be enjoying themselves too.

We had a walk around some of the tourist shops before stopping for some lunch at a cafe, enjoying a large bowl of nachos which did me for the rest of the day… well until dinner of course:). By this time the temperature had risen considerably so we decided to get back on the ferry and head back to the city.

We had a walk around the very pretty Botanical Gardens before going back to the hotel to freshen up. The restaurant we found tonight was another Italian, with gf Pizza my preferred choice. We then headed off to bed, exhausted for the walking we’d done during the day.