Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Big Bend National Park

My first trip of the summer is coming up!

Next week I'll be going to Big Bend National Park. I'll have about 48 hours in the park and my two hopes are to take a ton of pictures and go on some fun hikes. And watch some awesome sunrises. And sunsets. And probably take some naps. Okay, you got me, I have more than two goals :)

I went to Big Bend NP in December of 2004 with Michael. We camped in the park and had a great time hiking around. My favorite hike was the Window Trail and I am pretty sure I'll do that one again since the hotel is right next to that trail head. This picture is of me at the end of the trail at The Window. It's amazing how far my personal camera technology has come in the past 5.5 years.

After Big Bend, I'll be going to Ft. Davis to visit the MacDonald Observatory there. More on that in a later post!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finished Booking Accommodations

About a week ago we made our final booking for a place to stay in Hawaii. I don't really love hotel hopping, but the big island makes that necessary. For our first four nights on the big island, we'll be staying in an apartment attached to a private home in Captain Cook. It's up the hill a bit from the coast, with a view of Kealakekua Bay, which is supposed to have the best snorkeling in the islands.

To me, this looks like heaven. A quiet place to have a cup of coffee in the morning while I watch the sun begin to light up the water. A kitchen to cook our own meals. A perfect view of orange & red sunsets. A fire pit to keep warm after the light fades.

I daydream about this place every day. I can't wait!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Four Seasons Maui

We did it! We took the plunge last night and hit "submit" on our reservation at the Maui Four Seasons! It's crazy to think that 5 years ago we were just thrilled to be going to Hawaii - who cares where we stay/how we get there/what we do - we were going! And now we've booked the #1 and #2 hotels on Maui according to tripadvisor. I never would have imagined...

There are too many things about the Four Seasons that excite me, so here are a few:

*Free yoga on the beach!
*We got breakfast included in our rate, so we get an awesome breakfast each morning.
*An outdoor cardio area - if I can't find time to run on a trail, I can run on a treadmill while overlooking the Pacific!
*Complimentary snorkel gear.
*Complimentary outrigger canoe lessons.
*Complimentary scuba intro lesson in a pool.
*An adults-only pool!
*Free use of cabanas at the other pools.
*The resort staff will come and SPRITZ ME with water while I lounge at the pool or on the beach.
*From what I read on tripadvisor, they will also offer me sunscreen and offer to clean my sunglasses.

I could just go on and on. We never splurge quite like this, and I'm excited! This will be the perfect ending to Hawaii 2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Planning - Summer 2010 - Hawaii

Michael and I are working on our plans for our summer trip this year - we will be visiting the lovely Hawaiian Islands!

So far we have two places to stay booked, one on the Big Island and one on Maui.

We'll be spending 7 nights on the Big Island - 4 nights somewhere on the Kona Coast, and 3 nights in a vacation rental in the town of Volcano, right outside Volcanoes National Park. The rental is surrounded by trees and has a ridiculous amount of windows. There's a fireplace, nice large deck, and sitting areas outside in the yard. We are pretty pumped about this place!

We'll fly to Maui on our 8th day there, and spend 5 nights on Maui. The first two nights will be in the Paia Inn on the north coast. It's a little boutique hotel with only six guest rooms. There's a private beach only for guests!

We'll be staying in one of the smallest rooms there, saving money for the next hotel. It's located right at the beginning of the Hana Highway, so we'll be able to get an early morning start for that on our first full day in Maui. I also think it's a pretty decent starting point for the drive up the volcano to view the sunrise. I think we'll do that on our 2nd day. After checking out the Paia Inn, we'll head south to Wailea and we're 99% sure we'll be booking the Four Seasons Maui.

The Four Seasons is our huge splurge on this trip. We'll be celebrating our 5th anniversary while we're away, so this is like our big present to ourselves. We'll spend 3 nights here before coming back home.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day in Sydney - Last Day in Australia

Up early (7:15) and out around 8 for “brekkie.” We made our way over to the Royal Botanical Gardens and “Mrs. Macquerie’s Chair.” It is a big chair carved into the rock and provides a great view of the harbour. It was also the best spot for a simultaneous view of the Opera House & bridge. Took lots of pictures, then walked over to have a closer look at the opera house. It was a lot bigger than I’d expected, and just so interesting. We walked around it and took a quick look around the foyer.

After that, we walked over to Circular Quay and got on a ferry to cross the harbour. We got over to Luna Park and then walked back over the bridge, which really let us see how far the city goes. The harbour just goes on and on in both directions. After crossing, we found a food court and had Mexican, then went back to our hotel to rest for an hour before our bike tour.

The bike tour began in the oldest district of Sydney, known as The Rocks. We met up there a little early and had a nice chat with a guy from the US who lived in Dallas for 8 years. He played in a band in Dallas and worked w/ the city council. Really nice guy and let us know that one of the founders of Bonza Bike Tours is an Aggie!

Our guide was a college-age guy named Adrian and there was only one other guest with us. We started w/ a look @ Circular Quay, and learned a little bit of Sydney history. Saw the oldest building in Sydney, from around 1810. We rode along the water, up to some old docks that are now luxury apartments (our guide pointed out where Nicole Kidman lives when in Sydney). Up next was Darling Harbour, which was like a big outdoor hangout spot. We then made our way through China town, then to the gardens. First through Hyde Park, then __I forgot the name__, then the Royal Botanicals. Went by Mrs. M’s chair, saw huge flocks of cockatoos in the gardens, went past the opera house, and slowly made our way back to Circular Quay and to The Rocks. After the tour we found out our next outing, a pub tour of The Rocks, was cancelled. We got a refund and went out to find dinner on our own. We found a little Italian place, then walked around Circular Quay trying to find somewhere to go for dessert. We found nothing and ended up at a Starbucks. After that, we were pretty much done. Our fabulous trip to Australia was over, and while we are sad for it to be over, we are excited to go home to see our family and friends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

To Sydney

Well, we’ve done everything we need to do here at Ayer’s Rock, so we slept in this morning! After checkout, we spent a little time wandering around the resort grounds before one last look at Uluru. It was a cloudy morning which kept things cool. We made our way back to the airport, killed a few hours, and then we were on our way to our last Australian city, Sydney!

Flight was nice, & the descent into Sydney was lovely. It’s a really clean & pretty city. We easily found the city train (and checked emails on our iphones, yay!) and made our way to the Circular Quay station (quay = “key”; this was news to me). The city was hopping as the locals were leaving work and heading to the pubs to watch the big “State of Origin” rugby game between Queensland and New South Wales. This was apparently a really huge deal, we’d been hearing about it on TV for days. We made our way to the Intercontinental and checked in. Our room was way up on the 14th floor – we were expecting a city view, but WOW! They gave us a harbour view room! We had a beautiful view of the both Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Wowzers.

We had a quick dinner then went out to the Sydney Aquarium. I’m so glad we went, because we got to see two things that evaded us in the wild – a platypus and a big ol’ sea turtle! The platypus was smaller than I’d expected, only about a foot in length. It was more bizarre-looking than I’d expected, and kind of looked like he knew he was strange. I remember learning about the platypus when I was a kid (on some set of cards I had??) and it was neat to finally see one J The turtles were just big gigantor turtles, they liked to wedge underneath rocks and stuff to prevent drifting. Some other highlights included little penguins (KI style!), a huge tank with reef fish, a shark tank that you could walk under, and another walk-under tank with “Dugongs,” big things that looked like manatees to me. It was a very good aquarium, but for some reason there was spongebob crap everywhere. That was a little bit obnoxious.

We made our way back to the hotel and watched the end of the rugby game. Michael had learned the rules over the past 2 weeks so he explained it to me. Queensland won, 24-14. probably a good thing we weren’t out at the bars.

A few times I woke up in the night, and I loved opening my eyes to see the Harbour bridge just outside my window. This city has definitely charmed me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Climb and The Base Walk

Today we slept in a bit (which means not viewing sunrise). We headed out to the roc by 8:30. Our mission for the day was to climb Uluru! We started the climb, which began as a steep ascent over a broad face of the rock. We (I) started to feel a little worried and sat down for a bit. Eventually we continued and got to the large portion of the climb that has posts and a chain to hold on to. I thought this would be helpful, but the chain was so low you had to stoop down to hold on. So we continued to climb, all stooped over. We took several breaks along the way as it got cooler and the air thinned out. I kept hoping I would look up and see the end, but it was nowhere in sight. A few times I asked someone coming down if we were close, they would always just chuckle and say “no.” We got to the point where the chain ended and found a nice flat spot to sit and rest. Upon arriving up there, I started to get my usual lightheaded feeling and tunnel vision that I get before blacking out, so I was glad to rest. We sat there for about 15 minutes, then tried to continue on. After about 20 meters, I needed to rest again as I had completely lost my breath. We looked up, saw that we had a long way to go, and made the tough decision to go back. I just couldn’t do it. On top of being exhausted, I was terrified of falling. Eventually we started down. It was crazy. Sometimes I was able to stand upright, but a few times I had to sit down and scoot on my butt. Crazy. When we finally got to the bottom, I sat down and was very thankful to be done. I felt a little bit like a failure for not making it when so many other people do, but my body just wasn’t willing or able. To anyone ever reading this, if you ever go to Uluru, just don’t climb it. 30 something people have died on it because it’s not safe. Do what the Aborigines say and stay on the ground. I wish I had listened.

After the climb, we had a quick early lunch in the car (to avoid the million bajillion flies that I haven’t mentioned yet) and began the base walk that goes around Uluru. Much better! J It is about 9 km around and took us 2 hrs and 15 minutes. It was a really nice walk with constantly beautiful views of Uluru. Some of the best parts are sacred to the Aborigines, so I couldn’t take pictures of them, I’ll just have to remember them. To those of you reading this who ever want to go here, this is the walk to do. Forget the climb, this was much better. Seriously.

After the walk we came back to the resort with no plans other than relaxing J It’s been a while since we did that! I went for a swim, did some more sunbathing, read, and watched TV. I enjoyed that the resort (at least our hotel) was relatively empty. Lots of space to myself.

After some relaxing we went back to the park for sunset. It was totally different from the 1st night we watched sunset because there were different types of clouds. WE both thought the rock appeared more orange than red. Even so, it was really pretty and again the rock was GLOWING in the few minutes before official sunset. Truly spectacular. Back at the resort, we had a “picnic” in our room of cheese, crackers, wine, and chocolate. Good times.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Desert Awakenings

We got up super early today and met our tour guide at 6:00 AM in the total darkness of night. We picked up one other passenger and the four of us were off into the desert. We drove about 20 minutes into the outback, walked up a sand dune, and met our camp chef! There was a campfire going and they took our order for “brekky.” While waiting we watched the lightening sky and warmed up the fire (it was COLD out, about 2oC.) We also had some coffee and pastries while waiting for our hot food. Learned that the other guy on the tour was Australian but lives in Toronto. He was a really nice guy. Eric, our guide, had been working at Uluru for 6.5 years, which is a long time considering the average employee lasts 2-3 months. It is incredibly remote and that gets to people. The sunrise was beautiful, we watched from the tip top of the dune. It was so neat to see the sunshine spread over the cold sleepy space. After sunrise we made our way to the National Park and drove around the rock a bit. Our guide told us a story of some ancient ancestral beings that the Aborigines believe in. We stopped to watch some people begin the climb, then drove around to a big waterhole where the story was to have taken place. He finished out the story and showed us the physical marks in the rock to go along with the story. We also saw the heart of Uluru, which I was excited about. It is accompanied by a kangaroo paw print and a man footprint, and somehow symbolized the ancient beings, animals, and man all living together. Something like that.

After we finished there, he dropped us at the Aboriginal Culture center to learn more about them. We listening to some old men and women speaking about their way of life. The oldest man remembered the 1st time their community saw white men – he thought they were ghosts. I thought one of the most interesting things in the culture center was a “Sorry Book” – a collection of letters written and delivered to park service. The people who wrote the letters were apologizing for taking a rock or handful of sand from around Uluru, which is forbidden and supposedly brings bad luck. All these people had such bad luck after returning home that they bothered to ship the pieces back to Uluru with their apologize. I decided then and there that I wouldn’t be removing any part of Uluru, despite the strong temptation I felt. We hopped back on the bus and were dropped off at the resort around 11:30. Very good tour.

After a quick lunch back in our room, we (I! Amy!) drove out to Kata Tjuta, or “The Olgas.” It’s about a 45 minute drive, and upon arrival you are really shocked by how huge they are!! We did a 7.4 km walk called “The Valley of the Winds” – it takes you between two of the giant domes, then back around one to return to the starting point. Even though it was just 7.4 km, it took us a good 2.5 hours to finish. Some of the sections were just so steep. (Luckily some sections had some steps built by park services) The walk provided some really lovely sights, and a true appreciation for how big just one dome is!

The walk wore us out big time. We came back to the resort, I took a quick swim in the heated pool (bliss), and read a bit before dinner. We went back to Gecko’s – it is the least expensive of the expensive restaurants. Expensive resort restaurants are the only options here. There is nothing outside the resort except sand.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Red Center

Today we see Ayer’s Rock!!

Caught our flight at 11:35 and landed at Ayer’s Rock around 1:00. The flight was relatively empty, Michael and I had an entire row, both sides of the aisle, to ourselves! Nice. We caught just a few glimpses of the rock from the windows, and wow. Just wow. I couldn’t wait to see it up close. Got out into the tiny airport (used a stair case to get off the plane) and got our car. We got upgraded from a compact to a Camry. On our drive to the resort we caught several more glimpses of the rock, getting bigger and bigger. We could also see Katu Tjuta off in the distance, which is big in area like Uluru, but more like individual domes. We got to the resort and found our hotel pretty easily. We stayed at “Sails in the Desert” which is the higher end hotel in the resort complex. It seemed really nice while walking around and finding our room, had a beautiful heated pool & the room lived up to our expectations! We had a private hot tub and very spacious balcony lined with bougainvilleas, overlooking the pool. After settling in and a quick trip to the grocery store, we set off for Uluru! We got our 3-day passes and were in the park, on our way. Uluru grew & grew, far past the size it had in my wildest dreams. What an amazing sight, seeing the world’s largest rock, this place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a teenager. Amazing. Our 1st stop was the base of the climb. I was already starting to feel the guilt, but I came here for the rock, and I knew I must climb. I was really amazed at the steepness of the climb and how sheer the side dropoffs were. And how high it was! The people at the top looked like ants. In a few days, I will be up there.

To get ourselves acquainted w/ the rock, we took a short base walk, called the Mala Walk. It took us to a gorge in the rock and a small watering hole. It was incredibly peaceful and almost silent at the watering hole, and I was starting to see, on a small scale, what was so special about this place. After our walk, we drove to the sunset viewing area, which was just a long parking lot facing the rock. We killed some time with some German backpackers and awaited sunset. As the sun drew closer to the horizon, the rock was definitely getting more red. The most spectacular part was when the sun was *just* at the horizon, Uluru began to glow at its base. The glow spread up the rock over the next two minutes, and almost as quickly, it went away. Just in those few moments, I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to see it. In such a remote area of a remote country, accommodations have been made to allow me to share in this wonder. How very special.

After sunset we made our way back, had a quick drink at the hotel bar, then had dinner at Gecko’s CafĂ©. We turned in pretty early because tomorrow we have to be up at 5:15 for our Desert Awakenings Tour!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

what's so great about the barrier reef?

Today we see the Great Barrier Reef! We met our boat at 7:30 AM, we were cruising w/ “Ocean Freedom,” and we were happy to see that our boat was small compared to the other reef cruises. We had 6 crew and about 30 passengers. We sailed at 8 and got a briefing on our day and safety. The cruise out was perfectly smooth and totally beautiful. The weather was warming up nicely. We anchored at a relatively deep area (~20 meters) with coral all around. It’s the Upoluu Reef, one of 2500 or so reefs in the GBR. They pointed out Upoluu Cay that we would visit later on. It seemed very small, but they assured us that it would expose a lot when low tide happened.

We grabbed our gear & got in the water. Immediately we saw some angel fish the size of couch cushions! There were 6 or 7 of them right by our boat. We made out way over to the reef and spent about 45 minutes looking around. We saw SO much stuff – countless fish of every shape, size, & color. Sea cucumbers were everywhere, giant clams, bright cobalt blue starfish… We got out for about 10 minutes to warm up, then I went on a little speed boat up-current to get out & drift back over the reef with a guide. The guides were very helpful about pointing things out to us. When I got back to the boat, I saw that Michael had gone on the glass bottom boat w/ everyone else, so I just warmed up on the sun deck for a while until they all came back & lunch was served. It was a huge lunch of prawns (ick), pasta salad, meats & breads, etc. SO MUCH! After lunch we got on the glass bottom boat & headed over the Upoluu Cay which was now 2 islands! It was amazing how things changed w/ low tide. Huge sections of reef were now exposed & the stuff just under the surface created a really spectacular turquoise color. When we got the cay they dropped us off at the smaller island (about 50 feet out, it was so shallow) and we waded across to the bigger one. We lounged in the sun for a while, then it was announced that 2 of the crew had brought a soccer ball for a game of “footie” on the cay. Michael and I watched and spent some time wading w/ the fish. It was a really beautiful time – a pristine sandy island in the middle of the barrier reef on a gorgeous day. What a unique experience.

After a while, the tide started to rise (so the island started disappearing) and we snorkeled back to the boat, probably 250 m away. We saw a “nemo” fish in a sea anemone. I know they are clown fish, but the guides called them “nemos” all the time. We also saw some rays very close to the boat. We got out of the water and were done snorkeling for the day. We went back up to the sun deck to warm up and dry off. Unfortunately it was on the chilly side during our return trip with tons of sea spray. It was a bumpy but exciting trip. During this part of the trip they served us cheese & crackers, fresh fruit, and little desserts. I would absolutely recommend this tour company to anyone! We were sad to get off the boat in Cairns because the staff was just so nice. They had learned all of our names by the end of the day. It was a great great great day.

We made our way back to the hotel for a shower, did most of our packing, then went out for – surprise! – pizza. And then – bigger surprise! – gelato! My gelato was “tim-tam” flavored, which is some sort of candy? It tasted like chocolate and was good J