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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cairns Rainforest

Today was our rainforest tour day. My only previous experience with a rainforest is the Dallas World Aquarium, so I had a lot to learn J A bus picked us up at our hotel and took us to the SkyRail terminal. SkyRail is a cableway of “gondolas” (enclosed pods) going up into and over the rainforest. The views were amazing and like nothing I’d ever seen. It was also kind of scary how high up we were on what seemed to be tiny cables. The first station to stop at, called “Red Peak” had a boardwalk through the rainforest floor for us to learn about the plants & animals. Tons of ferns, a ginormous tree, so many vines, something called “wait-a-whiles” that stick to clothing, basket ferns, etc. Also learned more about the “Cassowary” which lives here, such a cool big bird. We did the short guided tour and continued on… the next section of the skyrail continued over the forst and over the “Barron Gorge” – right after leaving the station we saw two sulfur-crested cockatoos at the top of the canopy. They were singing so loud! We got out briefly at the next station, but continued on – we would return later.

The last stop was at the village “Kuranda” – I think it used to be a real town, but now it is pretty much just a big tourist trap. That’s ok. Had a quick lunch and hopped on a bus to “Rainforest Station” – a nature center/zoo/aboriginal culture center. First we had a walk through the wilderness center to see all the animals, but it didn’t come close to comparing to the Australia Zoo. Next was an Army Duck tour! We drove around the forest floor and drove into a small lake for a look around. I was only slightly afraid that a crocodile might eat me. Next was the aboriginal part. We began by seeing 7 of their traditional dances (really fun – sometimes they would act like kangaroos), learned to throw a boomerang, saw some spear throwing, then learned to play a didgeridoo. It is not easy. That was the end of our stay at Rainforest Station. Took a bus back to skyrail to go back down. This time on Skyrail we stopped at the station near Barron Gorge for the guided tour and some waterfall lookouts. It was a really pretty scene, but the waterfalls were not much more than a trickle. I’m sure it’s impressive in the wet season. We made our way back down to sealevel, caught our bus, and went back to the hotel.

It was just about dinner time, so after the bats came out, we went out, too. We found some takeaway pizza place and took it to the esplanade to eat by the water. Got our nightly gelato fix and walked along the boardwalk. There was some group of young girls juggling with fire to some techno music w/ lasers… that was pretty much it for the day. Tomorrow is the Great Barrier Reef!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Cairns

Today we go to Cairns! Checking out of Adelaide and getting to the flight was uneventful. The flight was with Jetstar, which seems to be the Southwest of Australia, except no free drink or snack. Hmmph!!

When we were flying, I got my first view of the Red Center. It seemed like every time I looked down, it was just endless red, sometimes with dried out creek beds.

Upon descending into Cairns, we saw how tropical it really is! We both thought it looked a bit like Hawaii. A beautiful bay surrounded by lush mountains. Nice.

We checked into our apartment-style hotel and fell in love J A washer & dryer! A couch! We really missed these things. We popped over to McD’s for a quick snack (I was obsessed w/ McD’s apple pies for this entire trip, I don’t know why), went to Woolworth’s to buy some food, then went back to our place to start some laundry. Our room had a great view of the water, mountains, city, and esplanade (a public pool area on the beach). At one point we heard some birds causing a ruckus outside, and thought of the ugly black birds that swarm in Dallas at dusk. But no, these were beautiful green, blue, & red birds. Lovely! Later on, I thought I saw some bigger birds swarming, but upon further inspection, I saw they were bats! Literally thousands of big bats were pouring out of the hills and out over the ocean waters, I guess to hunt. There were so many, they poured out for 10 minutes.

We went out for a quick dinner and discovered a gelato place (that we’d visit for the next 2 nights). We took the gelato to the esplanade/boardwalk and just strolled along. At some point some random guy came up to us and told us not to miss sunrises – it was beautiful. I kept waiting for him to try to sell us something or ask for money, but no, he was just a nice guy, just like so many people we’ve encountered here. While walking along, we saw some skipping/flying fish, a water snake, and more (smaller) bats.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's Raining in Adelaide

Today we are heading back to Adelaide, but before the ferry we made a few stops. After checking out, we went east on the South Coast Road. Our first stop was Vivonne Bay. It provided a nice last view of the Southern Ocean & Nobby Island (where the seal colony

ends). We were the only souls in sight, really peaceful.

Next up was the “Little Sahara,” a collection of sand dunes. We drove to the little turn-off, and found the road to be flooded over from all the rain L No Little Sahara for us. We kept driving around and saw a turnout/photo op so we parked & got out. It was a place called “Prospect Hill.” It was a bit of a hike to the top, but it offered really pretty views of the American River Aquatic Reserve, one of the many natural preserves on the island.

We continued east all the way to the far end of the island, to Cape Willoughby Lighthouse. We just made it to the 12:30 tour. We got to see all the old weather equipment and old lanterns/lenses that were used. Then we got to climb to the top of the lighthouse. It was about 20 meters up, and the views were great! Earlier in the day they’d spotted a whale, so I hoped to see one, but we didn’t. It was a gorgeous & clear day. Our tour guide assured us that the Backstairs Passage (where the ferry crosses) was at its calmest. The ride did turn out to be very calm, but there were 4 tractor trailers full of sheep on the ferry.. it did not smell pleasant, but that’s the reality of life down there, I guess J

Had a rather uneventful drive back to Adelaide, hit rush hour in the rain (and sang “It’s raining… in Adelaide”), had a quick dinner, and went to bed


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kangaroo Island - My Favorite Hike

The sun is out! Clear skies! FINALLY! J

Had the KIWR breakfast (yum!), then went back to Flinders Chase for the “Snake Lagoon” Hike. 2 park employees said it was the hike to do, so I was excited, but had no idea what to expect. A

snake? A lagoon? The 1st 20 minutes were just through bush, relatively flat. We then reached the Rocky River, crossed it, and walked along its east bank for another 15-20 minutes. Suddenly we turned around a bend and saw why this hike was so highly recommended. WOW! We saw the river valley gently slope down to meet the southern ocean at a little cove. Simply stunning, one of the most picturesque views I have ever seen. I was speechless for several minutes. This is what I had so hoped to see on this relatively remote little island. We finished out the walk and reached the point where river meets ocean (and a funny sign that said “Freak Waves”). Soaked in the view, greeted the one person we saw during the hike, & turned back. Just wow.

When we got back to the car we headed north to Paul’s Place Wildlife Sanctuary. What a CRAZY adventure that was! Paul is a guy who takes in sick or injured wildlife and keeps them on his farm. Right when we walked in, someone handed a bucket full of animal feed to Michael and told us we made it just in time for feeding! Goats, sheep, roos, a llama, ducks, a deer, a dog, emus, and chickens all swarmed around him! He finally handed it off after a few minutes. Eventually Paul came out and called us over to another area, added more emus to the mix, and we had feeding time again. Paul handed me the bucket and the animals attacked! Paul just laughed! We did that for about 10 minutes, then moved on. He got a scared girl, had her close her eyes, then got a marron (lobster-type thing I am unfamiliar with) out of a shed and put it in her hand. She pretty much freaked out, and I was glad he didn’t pick me J We also got to see & hold some emu eggs at the point. Big and teal-blue.

Next we went to a eucalyptus grove & paul got a koala out of a tree for each of us to hold. I didn’t care that it was the 3rd or 4th time I’d seen a koala, it was cuter than ever! Its claws hurt a bit, but it was so fuzzy, soft, and clingy. CUTE! Next was the bird cage area. There was some cockatoos & lots of other big birds, and we all got to let them perch on us. No poop on me or Michael, thank goodness. We saw some big KI native lizard nearby, then went over to hear Giggles the Kookaburra laugh. Pure joy!!! <3>

I thought this must be the end, but then Paul took us to the Sheep Shearing Shed (which is what his farm is really for). Shed a sheep for a demo. Interesting, but a little awkward to watch. The funniest part was that the dog liked to roll around in the freshly-cut wool.

Last on this adventure was holding a kangaroo like a baby (heavy!) and bottle-feeding it. It was completely weird J

After Paul’s Place we drove to Kingscoate to go to the daily 5:00 pelican feeding. The guide was quick to tell us that the Australian Pelican was much bigger than anything found in America, especially Texas. Whatever! He had a bucket of fish and was throwing out handfuls. I’m not sure what to say about it, but it was interesting! We had a quick dinner at a pizza place in town, then went back to the wharf to kill about an hour before the little penguin tour.

Oh, I forgot to say, before the pelican feeding, we went to a place called Emu Bay. It was a really beautiful beach, except for some weird seaweed/grass stuff that was all over the beach and stunk like rot. It was several feet high, about 20 feet wide, & as long as the entire bay. It will always be a mystery to us, I guess.

The penguin tour started at 7:30, which seemed SO LATE! We actually saw a penguin before the tour while walking around. We went into the Marine Center which has a display of saltwater aquariums. Seahorses, pufferfish, and lots of other locals. Also had a cuttlefish, which was a lot like a squid, and changed colors when it saw itself in a mirror. It was amusing. After all that we went out to the water to look for the penguins. Our guide had a red light to shine on them so we wouldn’t disturb them too much with regular flashlights. We saw a group of 3 in one area, and a few other individuals. Probably 7-8 total. They were so adorable and made the loudest crazy noises! They are the smallest species of penguins, only ~35 cm tall. So cute J

After the tour we had to make our way back across the island to the KIWR. It took an hour and a half, and was the creepiest drive ever. First off, after we got out of town, it was the darkest dark I have ever seen. Darker than any national park I’ve ever been to, which is the closest thing I can compare it to. There were 10 minute stretches when we were the only humans and lights for miles around. No street lights, no farm houses, no other cars, no nothing. On top of that, we encountered several patches of dense fog (had to slow to 25 km/hr) and rain. Totally crazy! The one good thing about the darkness is that we had ideal conditions for stargazing. This is what it must have looked like hundreds of years ago in most of the world. It was like someone sprinkled sparkly glitter all over the sky.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Full day on KI

Up around 7:30, had grocery store breakfast and made our way over to Flinders Chase National Park (just 7-8 minutes away). Checked in & went on a walk that started at the visitor’s center (Platypus Watering Hole Walk) w/ the suggestion that we might see a platypus since we were the first visitors of the day. On the walk out there we passed a huge colony of Cape Barron Geese (grey w/ a lemon-lime beak, sound like pits) and heard lots of frog calls. It was also pretty much raining the whole time. When we neared the end, we discovered that the trail was flooded over and impassable. So, no platypii were seen. L

After returning to our car, we drove out to the Admiral’s arch. This is a place where the waves have eroded low layers of rock, but not the top, creating a gigantic archway. Lots of seals live here, but a different breed. These were New Zealand fur seals, and they were much better camouflaged. They were the same size & color as the rocks they were lounging on. The arch was impressive – much bigger than I had expected! We enjoyed watching the seals jump in and out of the surf under the arch.

After the arch we went up a little hill & had a brief look at a lighthouse (Cape du Coudic). Built in 1909 after 3 very deadly shipwrecks.

Next we went east a bit to see the “Remarkable Rocks.” They are some unusual rock formations upon a granite dome. They were right on the ocean so it was a really remarkable (ha!) view. Would have been spectacular at sunrise or sunset. We got to climb around on the rocks which was fun. Read some stories about people who tried to swim here and died very painful deaths.

We headed back for the visitor’s center for a hot lunch, then went out to Kelly Hills Caves for a cave tour. We got there early and went on a walk before meeting our guide Hamish at the cave entrance. We were with 2 other groups from NYC and a couple from Adelaide. After a VERY steep staircase, we got into the caves. They are dry caves, so no new formations going on. Thousands of stalactites and –mites. We could see where some columns had formed & then broken off as the floor shifted. We went into several different chambers. In the last cavern, Hamish turned off all the lights and showed it what it looked like with just 1 candle (which is how the caves were originally explored), and then he blew that out to show what it would look like if we got lost. It was SCARY darm. A really neat and different kind of tour. (Nerd geology talk ahead). Oh, these were “Aeolian” caves. Caves in TX would have formed from CaCO3 sediments from seabeds getting eaten through by water. These were formed from CaCO3 getting windblown from dried up seabeds, then solidifying, and THEN getting eaten through. Much rarer, according to our expert Hamish.

On our way back to KIWR, we stopped at the Hanson Bay Sanctuary to go on the “Koala Walk.” Basically it’s a grove of eucalyptus trees w/ a bunch of koalas! We saw 5 or 6 up in the trees. Fewer than usual, probably due to some getting moved after the 2007 fires on the island. Also saw lots of wallabies, roos, & TONS of birds including some very colorful variety I can’t name. The koala walk is right next to some beautiful green fields and we saw several rainbows. This is truly heaven on earth.

Got back to KIWR, had a grocery store dinner & glasses of KI wine. Fed the wallabies & again turned in early.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kangaroo Island Arrival

Got up early and drove down to Cape Jervis (southern coast). The drive was absolutely beautiful, but a little drizzly. Beautiful coastal scenery.

When we saw the ocean (first time to see the “Southern Sea”), I got a little worried. It was really choppy & windy. How would this ferry ride be to Kangaroo Island? We were scheduled for a 10AM trip but got there early so we hopped on the 9AM. Lucky, because we heard later that the 10AM got cancelled due to the rough seas we were about to encounter.

Drove our car onto the ferry & went up to the lounge. Immediately realized this trip would SUCK! It was impossible to stand up without toppling over. The huge ferry was like a toy boat on those waters & we were on board. Oh my. About 1/3 of the passengers lost their breakfast on the way over. It was really bad.

After we arrived on the island, we spent about 30 minutes in the visitor center in Penneshaw to get over the seasickness. We drove around the island for a bit, then went to Kingscoate to go to “Foodtown” grocery store and stock up on some food. There aren’t a lot of restaurants on the island, and our hotel was on the far side of the island with no restaurants nearby. We had an in-car picnic by the Kingscoate Wharf, watching the boats tumble in the waves and wind. The weather was still pretty grey & drizzly.

We made our way back to the south shore and headed to Seal Bay. The weather was downright nasty. It was as rainy as a Texas thunderstorm. We just had to hope that the low pressure system over the island would move out quickly like the forecast said.

We lucked out! As we approached Seal Bay, the rain stopped, blue sky became visible, and a rainbow came out J

At Seal Bay, we had just missed a tour, so we got our passes & walked down the non-tour boardwalk. It was a long winding path down to the beach & immediately we realized how many seals really lived here!! They seemed to be everywhere. Moms & pups sleeping, boys fighting, big groups lounging together. We spent a good 25 minutes just observing their life out there. It was then time for our guided tour. We were the only guests on the tour! We met up with our guide Michelle down a private path. We had to pass a cranky seal & 2 sleepy seals on our way down. It was kind of intimidating. With our tour guide we got to actually walk along the beach, just a few meters from the seals. They were just adorable! There were several groups sleeping in piles, we saw a few leave for hunts and a few come back. They hunt for 3 days then rest for 3. Saw a pup play in the surf, a bull roll down a dune & get covered in sand. Lots of fun J We thought about the fact that there nothing but water between us & Antarctica! It was a very cool tour.

After Seal Bay we started towards our hotel, the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat. We were warmly greeted by reception (and also by a fire in the lodge!) and made our way to the courtyard & our room. We appeared to be the only guests out of 24 rooms (but 2 other rooms filled up later). We got settled in, had a grocery store dinner, went back to the lodge to check the internets. Whenever we walked around we were greeted by lots of wallabies and possums (cute possums, unlike ugly TX ones). Turned in early again.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brisbane to Adelaide

Up around 7:00, had hotel breakfast, and ate a ton!

We walked across from the hotel to an area called “South Bank” and they were setting up some wine & food festival. We walked around a bit to get our bearings, then got on the “CityCat” ferry to Riverwide, up the river a few stations. We walked back on the North Bank & spent a lot of time in the Botanical Gardens. There were lots of tropical plants – palms, hibiscus, a “dragon tree” that was super old, plumerias, and a gazillion things I can’t name. there was also a neat area showing the “mangrove” habitat. Full of eucalyptus (I think) birds & shallow water. We crossed back over to the South Bank and slowly made our way back to our hotel. Walked through a city waterpark just to people watch.

Got to our hotel, got the car and bags, and headed to the airport. Caught our flight to Adelaide (yummy carrot cupcake & other good stuff – thanks Qantas!), and smiled every time a flight attendant said “Adelaide.” It just rolls beautifully with an Australian accent! We arrived in Adelaide after dark, made our way to the hotel, had a quick dinner, and went to bed. Some group of guys got stuck in the elevator and were yelling with the alarm going off for over an hour. Ugh.

Friday, June 12, 2009

That’s right, there was no June 11th! We got our luggage & went through customs quickly and got our rental car, we were on our way in a Toyota Corolla!

We made our way up to Beerwah relatively easily, Michael did a good job of driving on the left side of the road. The Australia Zoo

(which is why we came to Brisbane) opens at 9:00 AM and we got there about 10 minutes early. It was a bit chilly, but the skies were clear and the sun was bright! (Michael and I both commented that the sun seemed brighter down here on the Sunshine Coast). Upon entering the gate, we were greeted by a 50 year old cockatoo and some nice “AZ” workers. He could say “Polly Wants a Cracker” and “byebye.” We then saw some otters (running in circles chasing each other), Gila monster, komodo dragon, and kookaburras! The kookaburras were really cute with their puffy heads of hair. I so wanted to hear their laugh!

Side note – I loved the idea of kookaburras when I was a child. I used to sing the kookaburra song a lot, even though I didn’t know what a “gum tree” or “the bush” was. Finally seeing a kookaburra, in Australia, was a big deal to me J

We then wandered through the very large area dedicated to alligators & crocodiles. I had no idea they lived so long – one of them was born in 1933! We briefly saw the koala home on our way to the wombats. The wombats were really cute and were up & about. They liked to dig in the sand a lot. They also enjoyed a picnic (on a picnic blanket, actually) while we were watching them, and we later learned about “death by wombat butt.” Wombats have a big bony plate in their butt that they can hit predators with.

Took a quick walk through a bird area & then the snake area. Saw tons of snakes – venomous and non.

Our next adventure was an elephant feeding. We thought we’d just get to watch, but we got to help! We each got to feed a pear to Bimbo the elephant who was born in the 1950’s. It was a really funny feeling when the trunk was feeling around my hand.

Next was our lemur encounter!! We got to ride on a golf cart to the “behind the scenes” area where they were preparing an African exhibit. They had about 10 lemurs and we got to hang out with three of them and feed them. They had some cut up fruit & they would take it out of our hands. They would also sit in our laps. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we did it, since the lemurs weren’t on display.

We had a quick lunch then went to “Roo Heaven” where the roos and wallabies just wander free & people can go in to feed them. We got some “roo food” and hung out with them for a while. A nice AZ lady took our picture with some sleepy roos.

Our next area had foxes (sleepy), dingos (sleepy & looked like a normal dog), & Tasmanian devils. The devils were not cute & reminded me of “ROUSes” from The Princess Bride.

We then listened to some quick presentations on 2 introduced species, camel & fox. Camel – slobbery! Fox – shy.

Next was a quick koala show. Learned why they’re lazy (not much energy in eucalyptus leaves), they have a special bony bottom for branch-sitting, & they may be extinct in a few decades because of a virus. Got to pet one that was brought around.

At some point we went to the “Crocoseum” for the big show. Got to see snakes, birds, etc. At the end, the big croc was brought out for feeding. It was HUGE & the only croc to ever bite anyone at the AZ (Steve & another guy). I can only imagine how cool this show would have been with Steve hosting it.

We then made our way to the far side of the zoo & saw rainforest birds, red pandas (Oy), a kind of free-range koala area, tigers (chillin out with 4 zookeepers), the old elephants, and a cheetah who was licking on a tuna ice cream bar J Also wandered through the wetland area and saw some “Cassowaries.” I’d never heard of or seen these birds before, but they are huge and beautiful.

We were finally done seeing everything and it was approaching closing time (and we were TIRED!). On our way out we encountered three cool things

1) Back in Roo Heaven we found a mama kangaroo w/ her joey hanging out!

2) Heard a kookaburra laugh!! It sounded like a happy toddler in fits of laughter.

3) The koalas were awake and stripping the eucalyptus branches.

Overall, the zoo was just amazing. Steve Irwin’s presence is still felt, the workers still refer to “Steve” as if he could show up at any time. I loved how interactive the zookeepers were – we got tons of spontaneous lessons and had some great conversations. Just wonderful.

The drive back to Brisbane was difficult when we got to town (rush hour, dark, wrong side of the road, sleepy, lost, etc) but we made it to the hotel eventually. I skipped dinner & Michael ate some food from a 7-11 around the corner. I just wasn’t all that hungry. I went to sleep at 7:00 J

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flight Down Under

  • Caught the 9:50 flight to LA. Had 12 hour layover, so we got a hotel room at the airport to relax. It was well worth the money to have a quiet bed, a pool, & TV. (and shower!)
  • Flight to Brisbane (which is Bris-bin) at 11:20 PM. Had dinner at Chili’s in the airport. Found out we had to check our luggage, which ended up ok, but caused me stress.
  • Luckily the flight was uneventful. I took a sleeping pill right at the beginning and got almost 7 hours of sleep!! After that there were “only” 6.5 to go…sigh! Watched some Fawlty Towers, Two and a Half Men, True Hollywood Story, etc.
  • Arrived on time in Brisbane at 6:00 AM

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Michael and I are finally starting to hash out the details for Australia (thank goodness, considering we leave in less than a month!), so I am finally able to post about it :) This is kind of a rundown of where we're staying and what our general plans are.

Flight - we have a 12 hour layover on LA. We're thinking about maybe getting a cab to the beach or something, but I'm not sure. I've never been to LA. I also don't know that I want to play on the beach and then get on a plane for an 16 hour flight. (I think it's 16 hours, I'm still not sure!) Anyway, it's going to be one freaking long day.


We're arriving in Brisbane in the morning, and immediately renting a car and driving north to Beerwah where the Australia Zoo is (Steve Irwin's zoo). I'm super excited about this, even though I know it'll probably be uber crowded and touristy. I loved Steve Irwin and I want to see what he was passionate about. We're only spending this one day in Brisbane, so we got a pretty generic hotel, called Mantra South Bank.

brisbane hotel

I'm pretty sure it will be about 48 hours between leaving DFW and arriving at the hotel that night.

The next day our flight isn't until 2:00 or so, and we're planning on visiting a Koala Sanctuary or some botanic gardens or something to pass the time that morning.

Adelaide/Kangaroo Island

We arrive in Adelaide late in the evening, and we're staying in a Holiday Inn that night. Not much is open after we arrive, so we'll just hit the town for dinner and people watching. The next morning we drive (rental car) to the ferry to Kangaroo Island. We're spending three nights on the island, staying at the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat.


Photobucket Photobucket The kangaroos come to the patio every night for dinner :)

It's on the border of Flinder's National Park, so we'll spend a full day in the park, another day touring the southern coast of the Island (Seal Bay and some other cool beaches) and maybe another day visiting a winery or honey farm. There's also a nightly Penguin Watching Party in the island's "big" city, so we'll definitely do that some day. I think it's going to be pretty chilly there in June, so we'll have to pack a jacket or sweater for these days.

We'll take an afternoon ferry back to the mainland and spend another quick night in Adelaide. After that, we fly to....


...for a change in scenery! We'll be in warm tropical Cairns for a look at the Great Barrier Reef. On our first full day there we are taking a boat out to the Reef and spending about 6 hours out there exploring a Cay and snorkeling on the reef. We're not sure what we'll do our second full day there. We're torn between doing a rain forest tour or another Great Barrier Reef tour. I just can't pick. I know in the future we'll visit other areas of the world with rain forests, but I doubt we'll ever return to the GBR. So.... that's still up in the air. What would you do?

We're staying at the Mantra Esplanade Hotel, which is just a short walk from the pier all the boats leave from.


I'll post Part 2 later with info on Uluru and Sydney!