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.

Planning for Australia

sydney-harbour-bridgeI mentioned in my Review of the Year post that we had finally booked up our trip to Australia, which is to be Tina and I’s celebration of reaching the grand old age of fifty this year. We originally intended to do the trip for our 25th wedding anniversary but didn’t manage to save sufficiently to do the holiday justice so instead did New York, which was equally as memorable. We will be travelling in November, which will be the start of the Australian summer, hopefully ideal holiday weather. So when Tina’s late father left her some money, she wanted to use it for a holiday to remember him by (he loved travelling to it would be a fitting way to spend his money) and Australia came as a viable option.

As usual, I had to do the research and wanted to ensure it was booked early to get the best deals on flights etc. I did consider booking all the flights independently and book the hotels online, similar to the way I booked for California but in the end decided to use a specialist travel firm, Freedom Australia. The online reviews seemed positive and although they are a little more expensive than DIY, I felt the extra cost would be worth it. I e-mailed them asking for a brochure and was soon speaking to Carlie, discussing where we would like to visit, the sort of hotels we would like to stay in and what excursions we would like to consider.

After some initial changes, we agreed the itinerary, finalised the travel dates and paid the deposit, after firstly ensuring both Tina and I could have the three weeks off work needed for the holiday. How exciting 🙂

And so to the itinerary…

We fly to Sydney, spending five nights exploring the famous city before flying to the Red Centre, via Alice Springs for a night visiting Ayres Rock, now known by the Aboriginal name of Uluru. We then fly north to Cairns, where we pick up a hire car to use for the remainder of the holiday. There we will stay at Palm Cove, experiencing the tropical climate for five nights before starting a fly/drive along the coast towards Brisbane, where we will depart back to the UK, via Melbourne. During the fly/drive we intend to visit the Great Barrier Reef, hopefully to do some snorkeling and sight seeing.

With so much to see and do, I do intend to keep a diary so I certainly can see plenty of blog posts being written later this year. The only downside of a holiday in our winter months is the lack of a summer break, with all our allocation being taken by the long trip. Still hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!