Australia/Fiji 2012

Day 19, 20, 21: Melbourne and travel

Day 19

The main reason that we came to Melbourne was to go look at the tennis center. So, after sleeping in, we made our way to Subway for some breakfast/lunch, and then walked our way over. It was about a 20 minute walk – if we were to come back for the Australian Open, we would definitely stay in the same hotel. Once we arrived, we walked around the arena.

 

 

 

When we got to the outer courts, there were people playing. As we approached, we noticed that there were line judges working the courts. It turns out that the finals for an AMT Platinum tournament were going on. The AMT is a series of semi-pro tournaments that give out prize money. The platinum tournaments have the biggest payouts ($10k). We watched the end of the men’s singles final and then most of the women’s singles final.

After tennis, we hopped on the free Melbourne tour bus. The bus had a 90 minute circuit around the area, and was packed pretty full. I suspect that the locals used it as free transportation (particularly since one of the stops was at the university). I did not find it as interesting as the tour bus in Sydney (did not even take any pictures), but the price was right.

Day 20 and 21

Days 20 and 21 were both travel days. We took a 90ish minute flight to Sydney and checked into a hotel near the airport. It was pouring down rain, and not much interesting near the hotel, so we spent the afternoon hanging out in the room and reading. The next day we were off, saying goodbye to Australia. We upgraded to business class for the flight to Fiji – although the upgrade this direction was 2x the cost of the other direction. After about a 4 hour flight, we landed in Fiji and grabbed a cab to the hotel. Once things were squared away, we snagged some prawns and chips for dinner, and then rented a movie in our room.

 

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Day 17 and 18: Melbourne, here we come!

Day 17

Woke up after a night of thunderstorms. Right now the Outback is in a wet cycle and has been for the last two years, so everything is really green here (relative to how it normally looks). This is the wettest it has been in the last 100 years, although the locals think it is part of the natural cycle.

Packed for the next leg of our trip and had breakfast in our room. The hotel staff confirmed our flight and printed our boarding passes for us, so all we had to do was show up. They drove us to the airport where we boarded the plane for a quick hop to Alice Springs, and then on to Melbourne.

Once we arrived in Melbourne and pulled up to the gate, the gate was broken. We sat there for several minutes while they tried to fix it. Eventually they gave up – fortunately, the gate right next to us was open, so they moved the plane over so we could actually exit.

Jumped in a cab and made it to our hotel room. It is a small hotel, but nice. I will say that it has the worst view of all the hotels so far…

 

 

Day 18

It rained last night, and looked like we were going to get showers all day. We slept in and went downstairs for a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant. I had awesome cinnamon and apple pancakes – clearly something I need to eat every day to keep myself fit and trim.

Since the forecast was for showers, we decided that we would go to the Melbourne Museum and IMAX. We put on our raincoats and walked the seven blocks. Of course, we didn’t get rained on, we were too well prepared. On the way there, we walked through the Carlton Gardens and saw a pretty cool fountain.

The Melbourne Museum was pretty cool. There was a semi-outdoor exhibit that displayed a bunch of the local plants and wildlife. There was another really cool exhibit on evolution – there were tons of interactive touch screen displays. In one room a bunch of modern animals were displayed, and there was a corresponding touch screen that you could use to get information on each of the animals.

We also went to the IMAX and watched a film on Antarctica – it was pretty interesting. I’ll need to go there some day on my quest to visit all of the continents (I only have South America and Antarctica left).

After the museum, we took the long way back to the hotel, looking for places to eat dinner. There are tons of little restaurants here, but nothing really caught our eye. So, we went back to the room and just ordered room service.

 

Day 15 and 16: Walkabout around the Outback…

…well, if staying in a 5 star hotel and being ferried around in an air conditioned van is still considered a walkabout…

Day 15

Off to an early start today – had to be ready to go by 6:15a. The group is heading to Kata Tjuta to do a hike up a canyon. Kata Tjuta is the other large rock formation in the area. Normally it is off limits to everyone except for aboriginal initiated males. The hike that we went on is one of two areas where they have lifted this restriction. On the way out to the hike, we passed a herd of wild camels.

We stopped at an overlook for a quick peek of Kata Tjuta, so we could take some pictures from a distance. The flies were really thick here – they gave us some fly cream to get them to ignore us. It mostly worked.

We continued on to the hiking trail after this. The guide that we had was very good. He pointed out the different plants and trees and explained how the locals used them. He also discussed why boomerangs don’t need to come back to you around here…The returning boomerang is used to hunt waterfowl. They would throw the boomerang over a flock of birds on the water. As the boomerang passed over the birds, they would spook and start to fly. As the boomerang curved back, it’s trajectory would be right in the flight path of the birds and would strike them in the head, increasing the chance of a kill…if they were lucky, the boomerang and bird would fall over land – that way they wouldn’t have to argue with the crocs…

The hike was into a canyon, and it made lighting conditions tough to take good pictures, but I tried as best I could with the camera that I had…

 

after the hike, we made our way back to the resort. As we got close to the resort, the driver slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the van without any explanation. After several minutes, he showed up with a horney devil – apparently they are pretty rare to see.

 

After we got back to the resort, we had about an hour break, and then we went off to “town”. Town is the central resort area that has a couple of shops and some art galleries. We spent about an hour poking around and resisted the urge to buy anything.

In the late afternoon, we made our way to the base of Uluru. We stopped at the trail that leads up to the top of the rock. It is closed around 90% of the year – due to weather. If it is too hot, too windy, or too rainy, the hike is closed. On top of that, they discourage people from climbing it anymore.

 

 

 

As we walked around the base, there were several caves that you could look into – some you are not allowed to photograph as they are sacred sites. Many had pictures that had been painted in them.

 

Apparently the rock is pretty spectacular when it rains. You get massive waterfalls that come down the sides. Only about 1% of the visitors get to see them. There are black streaks along the rock where the waterfalls occur.

Once we were done with the hike, we returned to the resort to watch the sunset over Kata Tjuta before we had dinner.

 

 

 

Day 15

Today started really early – out the door at 5a to see the sunrise at Uluru.

 

After we were done watching the sun come up, we stopped at the cultural center for a bit. Learned a little about the culture, and avoided buying anything again. Then we went back to our room to relax for the afternoon.

At dinner time, there was a lightning storm off in the distance, which was pretty cool. We were supposed to have a star talk tonight, but the clouds have rolled in, so there aren’t too many stars out…Too bad it wasn’t last night, because the stars looked awesome – clear and no moon. We leave tomorrow morning, so it looks like we are going to just miss seeing water come off of Uluru 😦

Day 14: Uluru

Today we moved on to Uluru. Uluru is the Aborigine name for Ayer’s Rock – it is a big rock out in the middle of the outback. We are staying at Longitude 131…this is the same place that Oprah stayed when she visited Australia.

We had a fairly early flight and arrived at Uluru at about 1p or so – the timezone change here was 1/2 hour earlier than Cairns, which is the first time I recall going to a 1/2 hr timezone. We were greeted at the airport, and given a short ride to the resort. On the way to the resort, the driver explained that Longitude is the exclusive resort here – only employees and guests are allowed on the grounds. There is no signage for the resort, and you have to take dirt fire roads to get there. Apparently most people in town don’t even know the exact location.

When we arrived at the resort, there was someone waiting at the door to check us in – which consisted of going to the lounge and having our itinerary for the next 3 days explained to us. We are going to be doing sunset and sunrise tours at the rocks, some hikes up close, some star gazing, and a trip to town. This is an all-inclusive resort, but everything is top-notch (think nicest restaurant you have been to)- I’ve been to a couple of all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, and there is no comparison. Once we were done with our check in, we had lunch and then went on to our room.

There are 15 “tents” at the resort, and each of them are named after an Outback explorer or pioneer. We are staying in the John Flynn tent – he was the “flying” doctor. He basically flew around the outback doing doctor (medical) kinds of things. Each of the tents has a view of Uluru.

 

We got to relax for a couple of hours in the afternoon – we spent it lounging around the room reading our books (and catching up on email). We then went to an overlook to watch sunset at Uluru. The interesting thing – you actually watched the rock, which was opposite the direction of the sunset. You could see the colors of the rock change as the sun set.

 

After we were done with the sunset, we returned to Longitude for dinner. It was a wonderful four course dinner with a different glass of wine with each course (which is why my typing and English is so poor tonight). We were supposed to go to a star talk tonight, but we decided to pass – we are pretty tired and the same talk will be offered on Sunday night. When we walked back to our tent, we definitely noticed a lot of stars!

Off to bed, we’ve got a 5:30a start tomorrow!

 

 

Day 13: I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat

Today was one of those days that reminds me of how wonderful my wife is…she let me go fishing while we are on vacation. To top it off, she came with me! We were up bright and early to get to the boat by 6:15a. Fortunately, the marina is right next to the hotel, so it was about a 2 minute walk.

 

In the past, I’ve gone on fishing trips while on tropical vacations, but I (or the rest of the boat) never seem to catch anything. Hopefully, this won’t be like all of the other trips. When we get to the boat, it looks promising – it looks like a charter boat from back home – 42′ long w/a big back deck. We get our stuff situated and start heading out to the reef to go fishing.

 

The cruise speed on the boat is about 10 knots – on the way out, we troll for fish (a little faster than salmon fishing). We make our way to the first spot, and we caught nothing on the two trolling rods. They set the anchor at the first spot, and everyone baits up and drops the line down. We fish for about 10 minutes and catch a lot of nothing. A typical tropical fishing trip for me.

So, we move on to the next spot. Out go the two trolling rods again – yeah, like we are gonna catch something…However, the unthinkable happens – we get a hookup while trolling. The deckhand grabs the rod and hands it off to one of the other fisherman. After a bit of a fight, we land a Salmon Mackerel.

We finally get to to the next spot, and we drop down the lines again. Uh-oh, I’ve got one on, but it swam into the rocks! We let the line slack, and the fish swam out and I cranked it in. Don’t remember the name of the species, but here is a picture.

 

They had an interesting way of pulling up the anchor – the boat did not have a windlass. They had a big red buoy with a ring on it attached to the line. The process started by running the boat over the anchor at full cruise speed. The buoy would slide behind the boat, and the anchor would get lifted up to the surface. Once the anchor got up to the ring, it would stay at the surface. They would turn the boat toward the buoy and the deckhand would bring it in.

Well, we cruised on to the next spot and one of the trolling lines hooked up again – this time it was a barracuda. Check out the teeth!

 

Well, we get to the next spot and put our lines down again. I get another one on…no it is the bottom again. Wait, how come I can crank the bottom in? Fought the fish for about 10 minutes and I “High-rodded” it. With the short rods we were using, if you lift it “high” (like you are fighting a salmon), one of two things happen – the rod breaks or the line breaks. Well, there was a massive pop – I thought I broke the rod, but it was just the line. Don’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was by far the largest fish anyone had on all day.

We jump around to several more spots, I caught several little ones that we either threw back or kept for bait. At the final spot of the day, I ended up catching a reef trout.

overall I caught 5 or 6 fish, two of which were keepers, plus I lost the one big one. Kim only fished at the first couple of spots, so she didn’t end up catching anything. There were 5 or 6 other people on the boat, and they averaged about 1 keeper per person.

The captain apologized for the slow day when we got back to the dock – didn’t seem that slow to me, but apparently they typically do better. We gave one of our fish to the captain, and the other to another fisherman – we don’t have any place to store or cook fish here.

Tomorrow we move on to our next destination (ayers rock). Don’t know if we’ll have internet access for the few days.

 

 

Days 10, 11, 12: On to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

Well, I’ve been slacking with the blog post again. Actually, we’ve just been really busy doing a lot of cool stuff. So, today is a three for one day!

Day 10

Day 10 was mostly a travel day. We checked out of the hotel and got some good news. Apparently we are Marriott rewards members, so they comped all of our internet usage. At $20/day, that came out to $80 – not bad for first thing in the morning.

We got to the airport a bit early and tried to upgrade out of coach, but we were denied and had to sit in the cattle section. Unfortunately, I can’t download movies to my Kindle Fire while outside the US, so I was thinking it may be a long flight. However Quantas had free on demand video in coach – I still got to watch a movie.

It was a fairly short ride from the airport to the hotel. We got all checked in, and went to the concierge to plan our next few days. After that, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and were off to bed.

Day 11

Today was our day to go ride ATVs. A bus picked us up at the hotel and took us about 45 min out into the rainforest. There were actually two options ATVs or horseback riding, and Kim really wanted to ride ATVs (most people were horseback riding). We didn’t get a lot of pictures because they confiscated all electronics when you arrived (so they can sell you overpriced pictures). But I did get a nice picture of the restroom greeter.

 

There were a total of 4 people doing the ATV tour and two guides – the main guide was explaining to me and Kim that they were going to evaluate our skills and if everyone seemed to be near the same level, she was going to send the second guide home (it was supposed to be his day off). As soon a she was through with the story, the japanese lady in our group veered off the road and into the grass and got stuck. So, the main guide just grabbed me and Kim and went 🙂 It turns out she was a 45 yr old grandmother and was the manager of the whole place – for another week, she is quitting and moving to Brisbane.

I actually found riding an ATV pretty difficult. I wanted to ride it like a motorcycle – and that just doesn’t work. No matter how hard you lean, it does not turn. This caused me all sorts of problems.

The actual route was on a big farm – there were trails all over. We started out easy, and got harder as time went on. Lots of rut avoidance and picking the right line down the trail. Eventually we went down some gullies that were barely wider than the ATVs – would have been really cool to have the helmet cam.

When we got back to the room, we did laundry (although we did not get as muddy as I thought we would). It was raining outside, so we hung out on our deck and read our books for the afternoon.

Day 11

Diving day, yay! Went to check in for the boat at 7:15a and there was quite a line. The boat we were on was 20m long and was jam packed with people 60ish maybe? We had signed up for one dive – an intro dive to get back in the swing of diving, and we had an option for a second dive if we wanted. We were filling out the medical info when we ran into a problem – Kim had asthma after she had pneumonia last May, and had to use an emergency inhaler. She put this down on her medical clearance and told them the last time she used the inhaler was 4 months ago. They went back and forth with the doctor over the phone several times and ultimately decided that she would not be allowed to dive – which was a bit of a bummer since she is more of a diver than I am. The boat was also a snorkel boat, so she would still be able to do that.

It was about a 45 minute run out to the reef we were going to be hanging out at. I still did the first dive, and was in the first group that went out. The ratio was 2 divers to a divemaster – they do this for all the intro dives, in fact, the intro divers hold the hand of the divemasters the entire time. Since I’m certified, they had me do an extra drill in the water (regulator retrieve) and let me dive w/o holding hands. My buoyancy control sucks – but I never ran into the reef. The dive was pretty easy – went down to about 25 feet max, which was good for me. We saw a giant clam and some clownfish, and a lot of other things. I will say that I was paying more attention to avoiding the reef than I was looking around. I did get some videos though – the dive videos typically did not have as much color as the snorkel videos (due to being in deeper water and no light).

After the dive, I waited for Kim to get back from the first snorkel group. When she got back, we went for a ride in a glass bottom boat that they had there. The boat ride was interesting, but it wasn’t that impressive compared to snorkeling or diving.

We then did a drift snorkel – they took us upcurrent of the boat, and then let us drift back. The highlight of this snorkel was swimming with turtles. There were two or three that we saw.

Grabbed some quick lunch, and the main boat moved to a shallower section of the reef. I opted out of the second dive so I could snorkel with Kim. The fish in this area were much larger, and the colors popped out a bit more since the water wasn’t as deep. Got the closest I had been to a turtle yet, but the battery on my camera was daed, so I didn’t get a video. There was an area where the water got so shallow that we took our fins off and walked around a bit – pretty cool for being out in the middle of nowhere.

 

Turtle Video

 

Clownfish

 

Giant Clam

 

Day 9: Sydney Aquarium and the National Maritime Museum

Well, there is going to be a slight change in my blogging style for the rest of the trip. The apps on the iPad are so lame and unreliable that it has been taking me around 1.5 hrs to do my blog posts. I’m normally writing them at the end of the day, before I go to bed, so this is way too much time. At this point, I’m really wishing I had brought my netbook – I could write these same posts in about 20 minutes. The main problem is getting pictures inserted…So, expect fewer pictures in my posts.

Once again, I’m writing this the morning after due to the reasons above…Yesterday, we got a late start – slept in a bit, did some laundry, and wrote my blog post for the previous day. Our initial plan was to do the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb, but there was rain forecast for the afternoon. We didn’t feel like being on the top of the bridge in a rainstorm, so we decided to walk to the Sydney Aquarium instead.

The aquarium was a little bit of a disappointment. It was very expensive (as is everything in Sydney), and is about the same size as the Seattle Aquarium. There were a couple of cool things to note though. The first – they had a platypus. It really is a strange looking creature, and it is much smaller than I expected it. They also had a shark tank with glass tunnels through it, so you could get up and close to them (and count their teeth if you like). Finally, they had another large exhibit that contained the fishes of the Great Barrier Reef.

After the aquarium, we stopped for a quick snack. I was feeling a little brave today, so I had some kangaroo jerky. Kangaroo is a super lean meat, and the jerky tasted like – well, beef jerky. That was the new food that I braved. Perhaps I’ll try a kangaroo steak for dinner one of these nights.

Since it hadn’t started raining yet, we made our way over to the National Maritime Museum. We figured that we could walk around and look at old anchors for a bit and then grab some dinner. As it turns out, this place was really awesome. We ended up touring 3 different ships.

The first ship was the Duyfken – a sailing ship that was built in the 1500s. It is so old, the steering wheel hadn’t been invented yet – there was a plank that went down to a simple linkage that controlled the rudder. The ship is still operational – it last sailed about 10 yrs ago to Denmark and back. I was surprised at the amount of space under the deck. I still can’t imagine sailing for long distances on it though, it wasn’t that large.

The second ship that we toured was HMAS Onslow – an Oberon class submarine. Thing that really stood out was how narrow the sub was. There is a walkway that goes the length of the interior that is one person wide, with very small rooms off to the side. To answer questions, they had an older gentleman who had actually served on the sub. The really amazing thing was that it contained 68 people while it was deployed. Not sure where they all went.

The last ship was the HMAS Vampire – a destroyer. This ship was quite a bit bigger than the others :). This boat was built in the late 50s and was a support vessel during Vietnam. It never saw any fighting. I don’t recall when it was decommissioned…it did have a very old GPS on it, so I’m sure it made it into the 80s.

After the museum, we snagged some dinner and walked back to the room. The rain still hadn’t come yet, so we could have done the bridge climb. After it got dark, the thunderstorms finally rolled in and it rained pretty hard.

Next, off to Cairns!

Day 8: The Blue Mountains

Well, I’m a little late getting this post done – yesterday was a long day, and I was too tired to type up my entry before heading off to bed.

We spent the day touring the Blue Mountains. There was a small outfit that the hotel recommended – we ended up in a small Mercedes van with a group of 12 people.

Our first stop on the tour was at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. This park was about 1/2 hr outside of town and had all kinds of different animals and birds. Of course they had some Koalas.

After hanging out with the Koalas, we moved on to another area where we could feed the kangaroos. In the kangaroo area, there were also emus walking around stealing the food – they were big and kinda nasty.

One of the interesting things that they had was an albino wallaby.

After the wildlife park, we drove for another 45 minutes or so and stopped at an orchard. They had the best apples! We bought a couple for a snack.

 

Then we moved on to one of the scenic overlooks that we stopped at.

 

The main destination was The Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are a famous rock formation in the mountains.

At The Three Sisters, there was a park that you could stop at and ride the steepest railroad in the world. We had front row seats! To make things even better – there were no seatbelts!

Once you got to the bottom of the train, you were in the rainforest. There was a boardwalk that took you around some relics from the coal mine that used to exist here. The majority of the walk was a bit strange – you could stop along the way and read the signs that talk about the natural beauty of the rainforest and how frail the environment is (hence the boardwalk that you couldn’t leave), or you could look at one of the 100 random man-made sculptures they placed out in the fragile rainforest…

We took a gondola back up from the forest floor.

The end of the tour was a drive through the Olympic Village at which point we got on a ferry back to Sydney Harbor (to avoid traffic). The ferry dropped us off at the Circular Quay, which is just a couple of blocks from our hotel.

 

 

Day 7: Exploring Sydney

Today we decided to explore the city.  We thought it would be cool to ride around on one of the double decker busses, so we bought a pass from http://www.citysightseeing.com.au.  There were two different tours that the busses conducted – one around downtown Sydney, and another that went out to the Bondi beach area.  In the morning, we did the downtown loop.

One problem with riding the bus is that it is a bit hard to take pictures – the bus is moving, and you are stuck with the lighting/angle as you drive by the things you want to photograph.  I tried to do my best though.

This first picture is the bus coming to get us.

and the view from the top of the bus…

 We drove by some very cool buildings, like the Queen Victoria building

and this cathedral…they tour said that the builders left the spires unfinished to avoid paying taxes that only applied to finished buildings.  The tax no longer exists, so they finished them off.

We stopped at Darling Harbor for lunch…Had to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe – it is tradition!  After lunch, we walked around the mall and the waterfront for a bit. Then we jumped back on the bus and finished out the downtown route.

For the afternoon, we took the Bondi route.  While we were waiting for the Bondi bus, it began to rain, so we hid inside the bus while we did this tour.  It was still raining when we arrived at the beach, so we didn’t get out.  I did take a quick video though.

At the Bondi beach stop, the bus picked up a ton of people, and was absolutely packed. Apparently nobody else wanted to hang out at the beach in the rain.  All the extra people made it difficult to really see anything on the tour, which was a bit of a bummer.

After touring around all day, we were looking for places to eat as we walked back to the hotel room.  Most of the restaraunts had lines out the door.  Not being a stand in line person, we went back to the hotel and ate at the restaraunt in the lobby.  The food was good, but it was a bit expensive (everything here is a bit expensive).

Overall it was a fun day!  We are heading to the mountains tomorrow!

Day 6: So Much for No Checked Baggage

Today we moved on to Sydney.  Our flight left at 9a, so we were up bright and early at 5:30a.  Fortunately, the timezones are with us, and getting up that early wasn’t too bad.  We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to the airport.  We were plenty early for our flight, and there was first class available, so we upgraded again.  When we attempted to go through security, they weighed our carry-on bags and said they were too heavy, and we needed to check them.  There is a 7kg limit, and Kim’s bag was around 12kg, mine was around 10kg.  First class didn’t even save us…So, back to the counter we went and checked our bags.  There was still plenty of time to hang out at the business class lounge before our flight left.

It turns out that checking our luggage was not that big of a deal – because the line through customs took forever.  By the time we got our passports stamped, all the checked baggage was already out in the carousel.  

Once we had our bags we bought a mobile phone!  It was $20 for the phone, and we bought a pre-paid SIM loaded w/$20.  Calls back to the states are $0.07/minute and cap out at $1.00.  We snagged a taxi and proceeded to our hotel.  The room is a bit small, but it is still nice.

After they brought our luggage up, we went down to a pub and grabbed some lunch and a beer.

Then it was off to the Circular Quay!  The nice thing about the hotel we are staying at – everything is within walking distance.  As we arrived at the waterfront, we immediately noticed the big cruise ship that was docked.

The cruise ship was pretty massive and was blocking the view of the opera house…we walked around a bit and still got some decent shots.  The harbor is super-busy and it was hard to get a picture of the opera house without a boat in it.

We also walked down (and under) the Sydney Harbor Bridge

one thing we are contemplating is climbing the bridge.  You could see the groups going up and down while we were walking around it.

Underneath the bridge is a little park where there used to be a bunch of cannons in the 1800s, they still had a few on display – If we decide to buy the island in Fiji, these would be perfect to defend it!

 We made our way back to our room and found a present!

They sent us a bottle of champagne for our anniversary.  We had mentioned it when we were checking in, but didn’t expect them to do anything!  

Now we need to figure out what to do tomorrow, and then it is off to bed!