Last Day Exploring in Australia

So today (Saturday) was my last full day in Australia – and it was a full day, as I ventured outside of Cairns to Kuranda.

I had a fun day, and it was action packed!

But first, I will share with you my adventure on Friday – Friday I had no plans, the weather was gross – so I took the opportunity to do laundry (as dull as that is) and some paperwork I needed to knock out, as I have about a 24 hour turn around when I arrive back to Wellington before I leave for Dunedin and my road trip with the awesome Rachel to the Energise Conference in Queenstown. However, in teh late afternoon the showers had cleared a little bit, so I spent some time at the pool, then decided that I wanted to try something new for dinner, so I headed to the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant to give it a try. I settled on the be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk) – and it came with rice, pickled veggies and some sort of sprouts side dish that was spicy and good. It was delicious – and the portion was huge – I only finished about half before I was stuffed.

But anyway – back to today. I caught my shuttle at 7:30 and headed to the Railway Station to take the Scenic Railway to Kuranda.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so I spent some time exploring the railway station, museum and old cottage before boarding the train.

The construction of the railway was treacherous, and was completed with hand tools. . . Crazy!

The ride up was gorgeous.

The train stopped briefly at Barron Falls Station – with great overlooks:

Then we finished the journey and arrived in Kuranda.

Kuranda is small and super touristy – but I decided to hit up the 3 wildlife parks – starting with the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

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Then, my next stop was the Bird Sanctuary – these birds were amazing – and very mischievous – you can see my friend (A Macaw) who decided to hang out and try and open the zippers on my backpack!

At this point it was pouring, so I stopped for lunch, where I had a reptile join me beside my table and I had a sampler platter of Emu, Kangaroo and Crocodile – and made the mistake of posting the picture with #minifigmerry on Twitter – and got some interesting tweets – about the inhumanity of consuming meat – whoops. . .

After lunch, I headed to the last of the Wildlife parks – the Koala Sanctuary – I had not planned to do a wildlife experience here, as I had done one in the blue mountains – but the girl convinced me – they had an extra spot – and I could actually hold the koala – so I did it – the cost was less than $15 USD, by the way.

Meet my friend Yoshi:

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It was like holding a sleepy toddler – Yoshi kept leaning his head in.

I explored the rest of the park.

Then I headed back to the Cable Way. There were 2 stations on the way down – and I was able to stop at each, walk around and enjoy the rain forest before ending my journey and catching the bus back to the hotel.

It was a great day – and a neat way to end my Australian Adventure – now I guess I should pack – I have an airplane shuttle to catch tomorrow!

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Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

So today was absolutely amazing – and a total bucket list item – many of you know that when I was young we lived in a trailer on the lake on Corps of Engineer property at Little River Landing off of Bells Ferry – so I could swim about the same time I could walk. Water – particularly coral reefs have always fascinated me. I have snorkeled and scubaed throughout the Caribbean, Florida and recently New Zealand – and I have always dreamed of snorkeling or diving in Australia at the Great Barrier reef – and I am so blessed that I have now had this opportunity. Today I snorkeled in 3 sites within the Great Barrier Reef, all on a Reef called Flynn Reef. (Unfortunately due to having had Sinus Surgery and being cautioned by my ENT that diving would likely be uncomfortable, I was not sold on the idea of scubadiving, and I was told by many that snorkeling was just as good, if not better, and I was not at all disappointed.)

But, back to Flynn Reef.

Here is a diagram from Pro Dive Cairns Queensland that shows where Flynn is located:

Great Barrier Reef Dive Site Maps – 

Great Barrier Reef Map

Unfortunately the wind was high (30 Knots) and the sea was quite rough – so there was a lot of sea sickness on the way out – including yours truly. (even after meds, as they were highly recommended by the crew given the sea conditions) Seasickness was another first for me, in fact – but not one I really would like to repeat. I will spare you the details, but I assure you that everyone on the boat (including the crew) was glad when we docked at our first spot of the 3 locations we were visiting.

We stopped at 3 great sights on Flynn Reef: Tracy’s, Gordon’s and Coral Gardens.

Here is a close up of the reef with these sites marked, again from Pro Dive:

Flynn Reef Map

I saw all sorts of fish, a turtle, a small shark, rays and so much beautiful colorful coral that I just can’t even explain the beauty. It’s amazing that such a small organism can join together to make such a large living thing. I am going to let pictures and videos do the talking now.

First, Tracy’s site (with 2 videos):

 

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Next stop – Gordon’s Site:

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and the final site was Coral Gardens:

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So yeah – it was an amazing day. . . I hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos! 🙂

Wednesday Travels ~ Sydney to Cairns

Wednesday was a less exciting day, as it was mostly a travel day – I was up at 5:30 to head to the Sydney Airport to catch my flight to Cairns. Getting to the airport, checking in a getting through security were easy and painless, and I was happy with the simplicity. I hung out at the gate, reading papers, playing games and just chilling – oh and fantastic people watching, as usual – airports are the best!

The flight was minimally turbulent, but all was well, and we landed in Cairns early. I got off the plane, grabbed by bags and caught the shuttle to my hotel, where I found I couldn’t check in for a little under 2 hours, so I secured my bags, and decided to grab a quick lunch and come back to check in. As soon as I stepped off the plane I knew I had arrived in the tropics – it was hot and muggy and felt like a nice Atlanta summer.

Once I was able to check in, I got to my room, and was pleasantly surprised. I booked a cheap room online, and did not have high expectations, but this room is great! I even have my own little porch area. #winning

Once settled in, I took a stroll through Cairns – to the waterfront area (mostly so I know where to go in the morning for my snorkeling tour).

Check out the loud birds in the trees walking home:

The waterfront was fun and lively – and since the beach is closed because of crocodiles and jellies, people were enjoying the free waterfront pool. It was a fun stroll, complete with birds, rainbows and sculptures. Moving along the Wharf, I stumbled upon The Prawn Star Restaurant – serving sea food on a boat – and thought “why not” so I had oysters for dinner on the boat before heading back to rest up for my exciting day in the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow!

 

 

Final Day in Sydney

After the action packed day that was Monday, I was thankful not to have much planned for Tuesday, other than just enjoying this beautiful city.

I spent some time this morning updating my blog, then I set out to explore. I decided that I would head to the Sydney Fish Market, which is the 3rd largest fish market in the world, and the largest working fish market in the southern hemisphere. As one would expect, the market had a quite distinctive odor, but it was so neat to experience the sights, the people, and yes, the smells. . .

 

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After I explored, I settled on some sushi and an avocado stuffed lobster, and ate it outside on the harbor, a little bit away from the smells! Yum!

After I finished my yummy lunch, I headed to Circular Quay to take the ferry over to Manly – It came highly recommended, and I had Opal transport money to burn.

I arrived in Manly and enjoyed the seashore and boardwalk area, well until some creepy old guy said “you know I could hook you up with a visa – a pretty girl like you shouldn’t be traveling alone” UGH!  – you all will be glad to know I did not punch him, or call him names (even though I thought about both), but I did decline his advances and headed back to the ferry.

The ride was gorgeous there and back to Sydney, but I did add several pages to my tourists behaving badly book, in addition to creepy local guy.

I am really not kidding – I could write that book. On a more positive note, I also got one last look at the Sydney Opera House. 🙂

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I had to be back at the hostel before 7 to collect my key deposit, as I have to leave in the morning before the office opens to catch my plane, so I headed back to the hostel – collected my deposit, then packed a little before I decided I was hungry. I pulled up Yelp to see what was close, and settled on a little bitty Thai restaurant. The Pad Thai was fantastic, and was just perfect for dinner, then I went back to the hostel, finished packing for Cairns and headed to bed.

Beautiful Monday in the Blue Mountains

Monday was an adventure packed day, to say the least – we packed so much into a day – and that was thanks to Anderson’s Tours, and my awesome tour guide: Scott (I think – I should have written down his name) he was superb and added things to the day that weren’t on the itinerary because the group wanted them. The group was 20 people – 2 of use were solo female travelers, there were several older couples who were doing this trip before boarding their cruise ships headed to NZ and other cities in Australia, a mother daughter pair, and a few other couples just vacationing in Sydney. It was a fun group – with Americans, Kiwis, Aussies, Canadians, Germans, Brits and South Koreans all represented – so we were a multicultural, quite fun group.

The day started at 7:30 at Circular Quay – I walked from the hostel (3k). We loaded up on our bus, and set out to the Blue Mountains.

After about a 2 hour drive, we arrived in the Blue Mountains, and were greeting with fantastic vistas. Much like the reason the Blue Ridge Mountains back home are “blue”, the Blue Mountains in Australia are  so named because, from Sydney, they look blue. The eucalypts (gum trees), which in the hot sun discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves. This mist refracts light, which makes the haze look blue at a distance.

Our first order of business was to explore Scenic World a “theme park” with some cool scenic rides. Ride #1 was the Funicular Railway – the steepest incline railway in the world. It has a 128% incline – or 52 degrees. I captured a video going down:

The mountain you see is Serenity Mountain. You will see in the pictures below that I was REALLY happy they updated the cars – the original ones were freaky scary!

After we go off the railway, our guide took us on a little bush walk – talking about the cool flora and fauna we were seeing. There were also remnants and information from the coal mining roots of the village.

After our little walk, we boarded the Cableway back up – the car was crowded, so I don’t have the best pictures, but trust me, the views were amazing!

The next stop was the glass bottom Skyway, which gave us more vistas, a look down at the gorge and a small waterfall.

Next we got back in the mini-bus, and headed to Echo Point, where we looked at the overlook to the 3 Sisters rock formations. There are several legends about the 3 sisters, and most relate to the Pleiades star cluster – I encourage you to Bing or Google and check some out. The Gundungurra and Darug tribes of Australia’s Aboriginal people are a few of many tribes that hold this area sacred. It was tourist-palooza – but an amazing sight to see.

Our next stop – I told y’all it was a fun-filled day – we aren’t even to lunch yet! – was the Waradah Aboriginal Center and show – I learned so much about Aboriginal cultures, and really enjoyed the history of the Didgeridoo and the other stories they shared with us! I have a few videos as well as some pictures.

Once the show was over, we thought we were headed to lunch, but our AMAZING guide had a bit of a surprise in store for us. If we were willing to miss a little lunch time, we could actually take the hike back to the bus, since several folks wanted to walk the trail. Most of us agreed – and a few were shuttled back, and we did the trail. It was totally worth the amazing views – I mean – I am so glad he took us on this journey – because I would have missed these amazing views!

After our hike, we did go have lunch, at an Australian Country Club – lunch was fine – but I was so glad that we traded the hike for the longer lunch – after all – I am a teacher – I can eat in 10 mins – no problem!

But my friends, this day still wasn’t done – our next stop (we thought) was the Wildlife Park – where we knew we would see some of Australia’s most famous creatures, but our guide had another surprise for us – I mean – seriously – this guy was amazing – there were 2 other tours operated by the same company that day – and I think my bus definitely got the best deal and bang for our buck.  He took us to Lennox Bridge – which is the oldest stone arch bridge on the Australian Mainland – cool, right?

We then headed to the Featherdale Wildlife Park, a conservation and animal rescue. . .I got to touch a koala – and I have pictures to prove it! 🙂

I also saw wombats, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, blue penguins, kookaburras, pelicans, the most venomous snake in the world and all sorts of amazing animals – it was definitely a bucket list experience. I will let the pictures speak for themselves though!

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We left the park, and headed to our final adventure – cruise on the Parramatta River to the Sydney Harbor – at sunset. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic day.

I disembarked at Darling Harbor, and went to an Irish Pub with WiFi to have dinner, a nice stout, and work on my blog. It was a fantastic, amazing, unbelievable day! One more day in Sydney (no plans, so we will see what I get up to), before heading to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef!

A Sunny Sydney Sunday

Easter Sunday I awoke to a beautiful sunny morning in Sydney. I had not planned appropriately in my packing to attend church on Easter Sunday, and originally thought that I was just going to be a total Easter slacker, but that was not to be the case, as you will see. I started my morning walking back to Central Station (about 10 minutes from my hostel, if that). My bus tour was a 48 hour pass, and I still had the second “loop” to do, which would take me to the famous Bondi Beach.

The drive out to Bondi was pretty cool – again – you definitely can see the Victorian influence on Sydney.

When I disembarked the bus at Bondi, I was greeted with some pretty fantastic vistas, and an interesting site – a church that had set up a “beach-side” Easter service on the lawn by the beach – and I was right on time. I popped into the service and enjoyed it before continuing my journey to the white sand glistening from Bondi.

I plopped on the beach – and enjoyed the views of the waves, the sunshine, and yes, the surfers.

It was a quite enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, I did have some work I needed to do, which required wifi – as well as a blog update I started last night that I wanted to get rolling, so I went to the place where I knew I could get some decent WiFi, and complete some work – no where other than McDonald’s (which they call Macca’s here in Australia and New Zealand). I grabbed a coffee and knocked out some work.

Once I had finished both my (crazy large) coffee – and my work, I set back out, and re-boarded the bus. I rode the Bondi Bus back – taking in new views – and adding a chapter to my future book of things obnoxious tourists do, brought to you by a bunch of young adults with a selfie-stick – seriously – I could write a book – about obnoxious tourists from all over the world.

The views, as usual, were fantastic – despite selfie stick girl trying to impress the young men with her (who I have hopefully cropped out of all the pictures).

 

At this point I decided, since I had paid for the bus, I would use it to see the city for the rest of the day. I started by transferring buses at St. Mary’s Church – so I walked around a bit, and was even rewarded with a cool water show from the fountains.

After that little detour, I boarded the bus, headed for the Royal Botanical Gardens, where I spent the rest of my time (until they closed at dusk). I was rewarded for staying in the Gardens by the amazing views at the end – Y’all  – Sydney is certainly a beautiful city!

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After I left the gardens, I caught the bus once more, and headed to Darling Harbor for dinner – another bucket list item for me, as I headed for a Brazilian Churrascaria – oh it was yummy!

I left Darling Harbor, caught an Uber to my hostel, and crashed – excited about a big day tomorrow in the Blue Mountains – and seeing some koalas, kangaroos and more!

 

Saturday in Sydney

I started my Australian Adventure early, leaving the house at 5:45 for my flight to Sydney – because it was International, I felt that I needed to plan on the 3 hour travel time as stated on the website. I also was unable to check into my flight online, so I wanted to do what I could to secure I decent seat, if possible. I didn’t need to worry – my flight was obviously booked at a higher tier than I thought, so I had a seat with “the works”, my bag was free, as was a meal on board, and I had a lovely window seat, 2A. A pleasant surprise! I checked in my bag, then decided I would enjoy a nice flat white and breakfast before heading to the international security check point. I am glad I didn’t rush, as the security check point didn’t open until 7:30! Thankfully the Wellington Airport is lovely – and has free wifi – and comfy chairs (by airport standards) and I settled in with Netflix and watched the fine, high-quality entertainment that can only be given in the form of a Mel Brooks movie – “Robin Hood – Men in Tights”.  I breezed through security and awaited boarding. The flight was an easy 3 hour crossing of the Tasman – Air NZ has great entertainment options, and the flight wasn’t full, so I had my row to myself – I love when that happens!

Check out these views coming into Sydney!

 

Arrval in Sydney was smooth, I collected my luggage, then cleared customs. While in the airport I got a Optus sim card (for Data) and an Opal card for the Sydney Transit system, then caught the train to Central Station, a short walk from my Hostel.

The hostel is nothing special, but I am in a solo room, so I will survive. (Although the stinky wifi makes me really happy I got the cellphone data card!)

After settling in and shifting my day bag around, I was ready to explore, and decided that the Big Bus Tour was the way to go – so I walked back to Central and “hopped” on the bus.

Sydney is a big city, and is very Victorian, as you can see from the pictures!

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Check out the Aboriginal Artists –

And this crazy wall at the convention center:

I hopped off a few stops, including at the Opera House at the end of the day – it was gorgeous!

After catching the last Big Bus back to Central, I wandered back to the Hostel, stopping and picking up Sushi on my way. To my New Zealand time zone adjusted self, it felt like almost midnight, and I had been up since 4:45 AM,so I was in bed by 8:30 – especially since I couldn’t update my blog – the hostel wifi is the WORST! (This blog update is brought to you by “Macca’s” (Also known as McDonalds!), and the data plan on my cellphone! 🙂

Tomorrow’s adventures are a trip out to Bondi Beach, and probably exploring the Botanical Gardens!