A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: KulaRing

Cheesy Australia Summary

sunny 27 °C
View Supermoon on KulaRing's travel map.

With still a final blog post for Sydney to come this may be a bit premature, but we are sat at the airport to leave and this one needs now upload of photos!

Favourite town/city
Rob – Fraser Island, closely followed by Ayers Rock
Sarah – Byron Bay or Sydney

Worst town/city
Rob – Port Fairy, it rained and there wasn’t much to do in the rain
Sarah – Brisbane, because I saw so little

Best accommodation
Rob – Denison Boutique Hotel in Rockhampton
Sarah – Tropic Days in Cairns, still by far the best “hostel” I’ve ever stayed in. But excellent marks to Russell Hotel in Sydney for location and Kingfisher Bay on Fraser Island for the views.

Worst accommodation
Rob – Powerplay Catamaran – liked the cabin but not the 1 minute showers, and the people sleeping in the “living room”
Sarah – Baronnet Apartments in Gold Coast. Lovely accommodation, but shocking management. Accused us of deliberately flooding the apartment so we could get them to mop it up when our washing machine broke.

Best Australia Experience
Rob – Sounds of Silence (Uluru/Ayers Rock)
Sarah – Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Experience most regret missing due to lack of time
Rob – driving through the Red Centre or visit the west coast
Sarah – seeing Brisbane, need a lot longer than one night. Canyoning in the Blue Mountains is another, we had the time but not the knees

Best Australia meal/restaurant
Rob – Colonial Tram Restaurant
Sarah – Koi Dessert Bar in Sydney

Most quirky Australia behaviour
Rob – the obsession with Botanical Gardens, every village, town or city has one
Sarah – the Free Julian Assange campaign in all the female public toilets in the small seaside town of Lorne. Odd place to start a political movement

Favourite mode of transport in Australia
Rob – 4wd bus on Fraser Island
Sarah – campervan

Best thing about Australia
Rob – cultural differences across the whole country. Like many countries in one
Sarah – sunshine!!!!!

Worst thing about Australia
Rob – lack of driving skills, particularly the undertaking
Sarah – absolutely shocking wifi in many places

Posted by KulaRing 20:31 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Penguins!!!!!

sunny 24 °C
View Supermoon on KulaRing's travel map.

First thing I need to do with this entry is apologise, as in all the typing excitement with the campervan tales I forgot to thank those that bought us the campervan hire at our wedding. So thanks to Esther, Owen, Claire, Markus, Gem, Matt (& Sophie), Will, Siew, Kate and Chris. In case you didn’t get from the long gushing we absolutely loved the experience.

Right on with the travelling. We arrived in Melbourne on the Thursday evening, after hitting the wineries of Bellarine in the camper in the morning. Had a bit of a mad dash dropping the camper back to the depot in time, as in all our time away ignoring LA and a minor delay in Auckland, heavy traffic is not something we’ve seen and we’d forgotten what it was like. Anyway we made the cut off and lugged all our gear and leftover food into a cab and across to Quest Bayside St Kilda, where once again we received an upgrade, this time to an executive apartment rather than the standard. I’m not really sure what difference it made….. maybe just the inclusion of the espresso machine?

After the constant moving of the week previously all we wanted to do was veg out on the sofa and watch the TV. However even though 4 nights in Melbourne was a pretty long stretch for this trip, it still isn’t enough to see and do all that you want to. So we took the short wander down to St Kilda pier arriving just before sunset. Unknown to us a colony of little blue penguins consider the rocks of the pier and breakwater home, and come out to survey their world just after sunset. So this ended up being a pretty special evening stroll. My first wild penguins!!!! And some lovely views of the sunset across the city and out across Port Phillip.

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there is a small penguin hiding under this rock
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After a much longer stroll we came across the local Coles supermarket (of Australian Masterchef fame for those of you as sad as us), and a nice dirty kebab. On Friday we had booked one of our dining highlights of the trip, something I saw cruising around Melbourne when here previously and knew if I were ever to come back with Rob he would love it. It is the Colonial Tram Restaurant. This is a pretty posh little restaurant with a set 4 course lunch including wine (and fizz) with the slight difference of being inside a vintage tram car which travels around the city sights as you dine (thank you Abby and Mark). This was as good as I thought it would be and the lack of dinner reservations was probably the best thing as we saw so much more of the city and residential streets during the daylight. We left the tram a little bit tiddly, and therefore thought it was an excellent time to hit the casino. I have never been to Vegas, but I imagine the Crown Casino in Melbourne is on par size wise with some of the casinos there. We spent a fair bit of time just wandering the inside, before leaving without spending a cent when we were unable to find a table that had less than a $5 buy in (last of the big spenders!).

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Saturday in Melbourne we had no pre booked plans so just picked up the tram to the city centre and strolled about looking more at the amazing architecture more than shops. Melbourne is known as the cultural capital of Australia and with its colonial background on show in the gorgeous old buildings I can see why it has this name. Found a nice little rooftop bar overlooking the Victoria Government building and watched numerous wedding parties have pictures taken. By coincidence our visit to Melbourne occurred during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (now in its 30th year), and we thought we should really make the most of such opportunities. Reading the guide, one show popped out amongst the others; What would Spock do? A show about Star Trek, love and being a proud geek. We bought ourselves some tickets, had some lush Mexican street food then went into the show which could not have been more perfect for me. It is a British production, initially seen at the Edinburgh Fringe and if it returns to play in the UK I recommend if you are a secret or not so secret trekkie heading to check it out.

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On Sunday we had another activity I have been longing to do since my trip 4 years ago, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. But before we caught our Little Penguin Bus (again who I cannot recommend enough!) out to see the island, we popped down to the Queen Victoria Markets, which we seriously underestimated and despite leaving ourselves 2 hours to explore, we barely scratched the surface. Then it was on to the penguins, with some commentary about rural Victoria and the sporting history of Melbourne from our amazing driver Bruce (actual name) on route. Before you head across to the beach upon which the penguins march across to their homes post sunset, you get to have a wander around the far end of the island, which is still penguin territory but with awesome waves. March/April is moulting time for the penguins so can still if lucky be seen in their burrows or boxes with a squint during daylight. After seeing a hidden moulting penguin, a wallaby or 1000s, and some Cape Barren geese I was very excited to see the penguin march. As it is a bit of a wait on a breezy beach to see the penguins, as they don’t seem to have watches and then seem in no hurry to find their homes and leave the socialising of the beach, it can get a bit nippy. Bruce supplied us with blankets, and Rob purchased me a penguin hat (as seen below I am rather fond of this hat). The sadly feel that penguin hats are not something adults want, even for ski trips, and only make them in children’s sizes. Luckily I have a now infamously small head and the age 7-12 fitted me perfectly!
Photographs are not allowed once the first raft (collective name for a group of penguins in the water) have hit the beach so there are no pictures to try and show how amazing this experience is. For over an hour the little fairy penguins float into the beach in groups of up to 100+, stand and mingle with each other for a while then waddle off up the hills or along the boardwalk to their homes. We paid extra for penguin plus seating, which meant we were but mere feet from these amazing little creatures. As it is the moulting season and this means the penguins cannot go in the water until waterproofed in their new feather coats, they have to fatten themselves up to twice their normal size before taking to their burrows for up to 3 weeks without food. So we had a display of quite chunky rather unbalanced little fellas parading in front of us, and occasionally a rather undignified falls as this weight makes them rather wobbly on their feet, and all the cuter for it. (thank you to Helena, Peter, Louisa and Jessica)

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a goose
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A home for the more discerning penguin, for whom dirt just will not do
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a wallaby
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my amazing penguin hat
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Our last day in Melbourne was to end with the night train, and a first class sleeper cabin to Sydney, so we didn’t want to do anything too expensive or far away during the day. I made Rob go to a vegetarian restaurant – which he actually liked. Then we went to Luna Park, an over a century old small amusement park on the edge of St Kilda beach. It has the world’s only brakeman wooden rollercoaster and is one of the original rides, which still has all its original bumps. It was a great ride and we still have the bruises to prove it. After Luna Park we wandered along the beach then up Fitzroy Street to Albert Park.

Luna Park including the Scenic Railway rollercoaster
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The Albert Park name is well known to those who follow Formula One, as the home of the Australian GP. The timing of our Australia trip was designed to have us in Melbourne for this event, but sadly the FIA changed the dates on us last minute and we ended up several thousand KMs away in Cairns over the GP weekend. Never fear though as I had spent over a week here back in my F1 days at the circuit and I managed to find the pit buildings and finish line for Rob with little fuss. It is amazing how quickly the F1 travelling circus can move on, only 2 weeks after the race only a few catch fences remained of the circuit and the park looked vastly different to my memories. Being back at a now only slightly rigger busy race track made me realise how much I do miss my FOM job, and the longer that I work back in the NHS I wonder if I made the right decision to leave.

a few photos from our walk to and around Albert Park
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The night train was another Rob orientated element to the trip, and he was very excited by the train. Rather annoyingly we had an unbelievably rattlely door to the cabin that made sleeping a bit of a hard to come by item, to the point Rob awoke in the night to find me stacking our various rucksacks against the door at 4 in the morning in an attempt to lessen the noise. With perhaps less sleep than ideal we caught another train straight out of Sydney Central immediately after our arrival, up into the Blue Mountains, more specifically to a town called Katoomba. Another place like Melbourne that has a fascinating Art Deco history. Our first day in the town mainly consisted of a nap, a stroll and then me catching up on my sorely neglected uni work, including an exam – how very honeymoon romantic.

view from the night train leaving Melbourne
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Our second and final day in Katoomba was used for what Katoomba is now known for, bushwalking around the Jamieson Valley. We sampled the local trolley tour bus, hopping on and off to walk along the majority of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk soaking in the fantastic valley (more like massive gorge) views and some rather impressive waterfalls. I’ll let the photos do the talking for this:

The 3 Sisters
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The Leura Cascades (the small orange blob in some of these is me)
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Katoomba Falls and Scenic World cable car
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other views from the Prince Henry Cliff Walk (many km's were walked)
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So now we have only 3 nights left in Sydney before we say goodbye to Oz, hopefully only for a short time.

Posted by KulaRing 03:58 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne train st_kilda katoomba penguins comedy bushwalking Comments (1)

Mini adventures on the Great Southern Touring Route

overcast 19 °C
View Supermoon on KulaRing's travel map.

It seems Australia takes Good Friday a lot more seriously than us in the UK, as such everywhere including car/camper rental places were all closed when we arrived in Melbourne from Ayers Rock. Luckily we knew about this in advance so had booked up an airport motel to spend the night relaxing before picking up the camper and heading for the open roads early on Saturday morning.

We collected our camper, and found a slight upgrade from our pre-booked older Hippie camper, to an almost ready to be downgraded to the value Hippie but not quite Apollo one (all the same company, along with Cheapa Camper and Star RV). This is a modified Toyota Hiace, so it has a high top for standing, or in my case jumping up and down without hitting ones head. I was very excited the morning of camper collection, to the point I think Rob seriously considered leaving me in the hotel. We named our camper Jenny. She had a fridge, a sink with a water pump, a gas stove, a microwave and with us on board a trusty garden gnome.

Camper evening set up
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Rob making tea
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Jenny night set up
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Jenny ready for morning departure
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My attempt at a selfie with Jenny
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Our first stop on the Great Southern Touring route was Ballarat. This for those eagle eyed of you, is a change to the original mapped plan. We had to reverse the route as we didn't book our holiday park sites until we hit Cairns and had forgot perhaps seaside resorts not far from Melbourne might be popular on a long bank holiday. Anyway this led us to Ballarat, an old gold mining town which has something to do with the birthplace of democracy in Australia. I can't be sure what it has to do with the birth of democracy as I meant to Google it but campers don't have wifi and I forgot I wanted to look it up until just now. I am slightly ashamed to say that despite there being a wealth of history to discover in Ballarat we just went to the supermarket and stocked up for the week, and then went to a mini golf that had a very well done gold rush themed course, and a time travel course.

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We spent the night at the Shady Acres holiday park, a peaceful little place about 3km out of town. First the positives, it was super clean, the owners/front staff were super friendly and helpful and the site was spacious and quiet. Negatives, and they did puzzle us, were that something's were rather run down. There was what would once have been a really tricky fun little mini golf course that was clearly uncared for many a year and was unplayable. Although it had a runaway beauty like the abandoned Sheraton on Rarotonga. A games room that had a beautiful mural summarising the local history running around 3 walls, with the 4th started and not finished, this had now been vandalised by previous awful guests. This would have taken someone hours in the preparation and painting. There is a pool, that wasn't open when we were there due to Australia suffering the UK's bank holiday weather (Thursday in Melbourne sunny at 28, Friday to Tuesday cloudy with rain at 19) but it looked perfectly acceptable. The site looked as though someone had truly loved it at some point a few years ago, but something had happened and although the amenities were spotless things had obviously been left somewhat. This something turned out to be being bought out by the highways and the site earmarked for a slip road at some point in the near future (which has now been a cloud over the site for several years) and needing permission from the highways to do any work to the site. It was the cheapest site we stayed on, and with all the facilities you could need and the friendly front desk I can only recommend it.

Next stop was Halls Gap, a little township at the heart of the Grampian mountains. On route we took a hair raising ride up the mountains to Mackenzie Falls. It is a long steep climb down to the falls, but very much worth it. Halls Gap is a cute little town but seems to have very little that isn't just there for the holiday parks and hikers passing through. We stayed the night in the Halls Gap Caravan Park. Big, clean, centred perfectly in town and friendly but with the world's most frustrating wifi! We got talking to our neighbours who along with 100 members of their family head to the site for the Easter bank holiday weekend every year and we could see why. This site being at the base of the mountains means it also has wild kangaroos come to visit you, which is pretty cool.
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Mackenzie falls - so disappointed I had a finger over the Rob and the waterfall photo
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The view from Halls Gap Caravan Park
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I found this in the supermarket for all you non believers in the greatness of chips and gravy
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Not quite the right spelling but this ice creamery has the right idea with the name. They do also put ice cream on their cones but Rob had eaten that by photo time
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Sunday took us to a historic old port, Port Fairy. Sadly it was gloomy and raining, and as it was Easter Sunday pretty much all indoor activities were shut. We had a leisurely lunch at a lush little cafe in the main parade and drove around admiring the old port buildings. We took a detour on the way back to the camp for the night to admire the beautiful beach that I imagine is crammed in lovely weather, with a light house overlooking it. The camp, Gum Tree Caravan Park, was new and tiny. Again spotless facilities and very friendly. As it rained the whole afternoon and evening, confining us to the campervan they lent us a board game, and along with the good wifi which we just to rent a film (Mission Impossible, whatever the new one is called) and download a Risk app we enjoyed a rare lazy afternoon on the trip.

The view from the road between Halls Gap and Port Fairy
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Port Fairy beach with the lighthouse in the background of the 2nd picture
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Port Fairy was the start of the Great Ocean Road for us, so we got an early start so we could take in some well known and some less known geological wonders on route to the evenings camp at Apollo Bay. Along the Great Ocean Road there are many brown tourist signs indicating stops for scenery or place of interest. Our rule for stopping was if we liked the look of the name. But before any of these grand geological features we had to make a stop at Cheese World. This interesting little place had a small museum that taught me how to make cheese, and some cheese tasting (that led to some cheese buying), and makes an absolutely cracking milkshake. Our stop at the cheese factory also led to the creation of the amazing Ring Canape, which after seeing the picture and the description many of you may want, but you can't because I've eaten all the ingredients.

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The Ring Canape consists of a flattened popcorn chip (sounds out but was pretty amazing), with 44 month aged vintage cheddar (very limited reserve) smothered with a rhubarb chilli salsa
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First geological coastal stop was the Bay of Islands.
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Followed by London Bridge, which used to be a double arch but we were about 20 years too late to see it as the sea wore it down.
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Then on to the Thunder Cave, which looked like an ideal place for the storing of pirate treasure so will now be named the Pirate Treasure Thunder Cave
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Which is only a short walk away from the Loch Ard Gorge, named for a shipwreck there back in the 19th century

Last fantastic rock formation stop was the world famous 12 Apostles (although after much sea erosion 12 is somewhat an exaggeration these days). Sadly I feel these have become too famous and were rather commercial, and the experience is somewhat ruined by the bus loads of Chinese tourist who come in just to take many a photo and then head back to Melbourne. We preferred the quieter London Bridge and found the rocks to be just as stunning, if not more so, and no we aren't biased just because they have London in the name.
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At this point the so called ocean road, leaves the ocean and heads up over a steep forest for an hour or so. Beautiful, but unexpected. The road twisted us down into Apollo Bay back on the coast in time for sunset. This was our only Big 4 holiday park, and this example was called Pisces and set right on the beach a little way out of town. Again the site was new, had decent wifi (the rented film of the night was The Martian, which along with the book which I read earlier in the trip I recommend), amazing showers and a great looking play park for kids. It also had a pool, but although the weather had start to turn and there were slivers of blue sky it wasn't quite enough to tempt us in.

The view from Jenny's night parking spot
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We got up with the sun for our second to last day with Jenny, swung by the beach to grab some photos then headed along the road, which by this point was one of the prettiest roads I've ever had the pleasure of cruising down. It rivalled those near Kaikoura in New Zealand for breath taking beauty. As the day before we followed if we liked the name of a brown signed stop, we stopped. This paid off with our first stop at the Carisbrook Falls. No one else was up at the falls walking track as they were all distracted by the rather fantastic rock beach on which hundreds of people have created rock tower sculptures, but we didn't let this deter us. About 50m along the track a rustling could be heard, Rob admits he hurried up just in case this was a snake. I also thought my death by snake could be close but I wanted to see my doom, but instead of a snake I was face to face with a koala. Rob has been desperate to see wild koalas since his first encounter at Australia Zoo so was thrilled. I'm not sure who fascinated who more, Rob or the koala. Leaving the koala to his dinner we continued up the walking track, which ended in a deep wooded gorge with what in winter would be a thunderous waterfall, but even the autumnal trickle we saw was amazing. We spent a good 15 minutes just stood at the edge of the gorge on our own in the silence (except the falls) soaking it all in. The camera does nothing to convey this view. We said hello to the koala again on the way back down the track, then went to the rocky beach to admire others work and try our hand at building our own rocky tower.

Apollo Bay beach
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Carisbrook Falls, its koala and rock sculpture beach
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A few km along the road Rob pulled over to make a cup of tea just because he could, and I hopped out to get a few look where we took our campervan photo. Then onwards to Lorne, a bigger town than I was expecting, but where the fish and chips I'd heard raved about lived up to the hype. Lorne is like many other local places built around a beautiful bay. This one was full of surfers and had from the few we passed, a good looking sculpture trail all the way around the bay, including some climb on ones on the beach itself. We both agreed Lorne would be a place to spend more time in, maybe even a night with more time.

Tea spot view
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Lorne beach
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Our final stop of the day, before our final night stop with Jenny in Torquay (not that one), was Split Point and it's lighthouse. Which all you 90s kids should recognise as the Round the Twist lighthouse! This has led to many renditions of the theme tune from Rob, and was the thing that has brought him closest to a sudden fall from a cliff.

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As you can tell from the photos the sun had finally found us, so we braved a quick dip in the pool at our final camp of Torquay Holiday Park. We treated ourselves to a dinner our after using Jenny's cooking facilities for the rest of the week. By chance we were in Torquay at the same time as the Rip Curl Pro Championship Tour. We couldn't miss the chance to go see something so terribly stereotypically Australian as a pro surf competition so we were up before sunrise to get the the competition site. Although we got to watch the pros during their morning practice, sadly the competition heat for the day was postponed until at least lunch time so due to our tight schedule (needing to get Jenny back to Melbourne for 4pm) we couldn't stay to watch.

Torquay in the evening
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Some poor photos of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
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On the way back to Melbourne we took a detour out to the Bellarine peninsula and it's wineries. We stopped off for tastings at Leura Park and Bellarine, before a lunch stop at Jack Rabbit. I can thoroughly recommend these local wines, and we may have purchased some of our favourites to restock our wine rack back in the UK. The welcomes and information given by all those walking us through our tastings were amazing, and even better the bank holidays were over so we often had the place to ourselves!

The view from the Jack Rabbit lunch stop
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After lunch there was nothing left to do but battle through the only traffic we encountered on our campervan travels back to part ways with Jenny and begin our 4 night stay in Melbourne. Only 13 days left our our supermoon, with 3 more places to explore.

Posted by KulaRing 03:14 Archived in Australia Tagged great_ocean_road koala beach surf rocks campervan ballarat torquay apollo_bay port_fairy halls_gap Comments (1)

Red Centre (consisting almost entirely of Ayers Rock photos)

sunny 40 °C
View Supermoon on KulaRing's travel map.

Our longest drive of this trip was from Airlie Beach to Cairns, a 620km meander through field after field of sugar cane, where as we had just stepped foot onto dry land after 40 odd hours on a yacht the world around was quite swaying. Rob refused to let me take the wheel as he wanted to complete the whole east coast drive himself, this rather risky strategy paid off and we arrived in Cairns at 7pm and immediately headed for local Mexican restaurant that also brews its own beer. Avoiding the beer I sampled the mojitos and found them to be chair falling off strength after 2!

We had 4 nights in Cairns, partly as on my last Oz trip it was my favourite place and hostel (Tropic Days, were we stayed again this trip) and partly so we could unpack the bags properly and put our feet up for a few days. Our only real plans were to get out on an outer Great Barrier Reef boat trip and have a dive and a snorkel. Aboard a fine vessel called Reef Experience we did this on our 2nd full day in Cairns. All the photos for this are on the underwater camera that is sat in Rob's bag waiting to be developed. This was another early start to the day and we were collected from Tropic Days at just gone 7am and sailing away from the marina by 8am. Luckily they eased this early start with a BBQ'd bacon and egg butty, followed by a marine biology talk, then it was time to suit up and get under the water. Having dived on a part of the inner reef at the Whitsunday's just a week earlier we were both still amazed by the sheer variety of fish and coral visible, and the amount of colour and noise around this underwater world. After a big buffet lunch whilst the boat moved to our afternoon site, we took up the offer of a guided marine biologist snorkel to learn more about the reef and it's inhabitants. Can not recommend this enough, and an hour has never passed so quickly! (thank you to Stef, Pam, Jo & Dominic)

That evening after a day at sea we were pretty hungry and luckily this coincided with Tropic Days infamous outback BBQ night. A $12 all you can eat fiesta of all the local edible fauna e.g. crocodile, kangaroo, emu and barracuda. My personal favourite was crocodile, as I take great pleasure in eating an animal that would not hesitate to eat me in return with great enthusiasm. There are a lot of crocodiles around Cairns, but they mostly like to hang around on the main beach. This obviously means the beach is off limits to humans, or at least humans with any sense, so the city has built a beach on the esplanade instead. This is called the Lagoon and is free to anyone, and also has free use BBQs and picnic areas surrounding it, so is a pretty grand interpretation of a day at the beach (but even better as not as much sand!). We spent a full day here, paddling and picnicking on our last full day in Cairns. The rest of our time was spent chilling in the hostel's hammocks, wandering around the city and checking out the night market.

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We had another shockingly early start to get to the airport for our flight to Ayers Rock on Wednesday, where we were expecting a day of hanging around waiting for our room to be ready as check in was not until 3pm. However another honeymoon perk was our room was ready and waiting on our arrival at 11am!!! This meant we could find our swimming stuff and suncream and make use of the pool, after a wander around the resort centre/town square to buy a lot of water as Ayers Rock being in the middle of the desert is pretty hot and rather short on shade. A 2nd honeymoon perk was the rock view room upgrade, a view that was missed by Rob for some time as he was more interested in planning his dinner. A 3rd perk was yet more champagne, after the amount we have had on this trip, I am not sure I can ever drink non fizz again.

Our fridge post water purchase - guess what is Rob's
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View from our balcony
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We were staying in the Desert Gardens hotel but took a walk across a well marked patch of bush to the Outback Pioneer hotel for dinner and a visit to the astro lab, where we found out that again we had arrived at a perfect stargazing site at full moon so would miss the full Milky Way effect. We also found an old tour vehicle for Rob to pose in.
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Ayers Rock or Uluru consists purely of the resort and the national park, with nothing but the red dirt and some scrub for many miles. It makes you feel pretty small in the scheme of things. We were booked in on the sunrise base walk on our only full day at the rock, which meant another blooming early start, but one that was well worth it. We were driven to the sunrise viewing area to watch the light hit the rock face and change colour, then driven on to the base to meet a local guide to discuss the history and significance to the Aboriginal people and take us around the base. (thanks to Pam, Stef, Zoe & James). I think having an Aboriginal guide was a massive bonus on this tour, we didn't just learn about the geology of the rock, and a dry telling of it's cultural significance to the local communities but an understanding of the difficulties this community faces trying to hold onto their traditions and past, whilst facing a modern world. This historically has not gone easily, however the Ayers Rock Resort has recently been pushing to raise their aboriginal workforce to majority, and find local apprenticeships for the Aboriginal children. The original owners of Uluru, the Aboriginal people, do not allow people to climb the rock, as to them it is a sacred place, however although they currently are involved in running the national park, so are the government who approve of the climbing as they feel in brings in more tourists therefore more money. Our guide (James) was a perfect mix of local and park ranger on this point, he doesn't like people disrespecting the local culture and climbing, but also it is an awful looking climb and most set out on it woefully unprepared and many then get themselves in trouble and need rescuing which annoys him. Like many he believes the climb should have a ban. We did not climb Ayers Rock as we thought it would be rude to ignore the pleas on the signposts from the local people (plus there was no way with my fear of heights I'd ever get down even if I got up!).

Please excuse the jumble of the photos, Rob's phone gets them in a muddled order and the thumbnails here are too small to get them ordered correctly. If it is darker it is pre sunrise etc. Also from the viewing spot we got to see a distant sunrise over the Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), visible in some of the photos with the moon.

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One negative of visiting Uluru at this time of year is the number of flies, and I guess in a vast landscape of dirt humans are very interesting.
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That evening we had an activity which we had both been looking forward to since seeing it advertised all those months ago when I first started putting this trip together, the Sounds of Silence dinner. This involves being picked up from our hotel at 6pm and driven out to a secluded sand dune to watch the sunset on Uluru and Kata Tjata to the sound of didgeridoo whilst being plied with some fizzy pop. After this a buffet bush dinner with some more free booze, then to end the night a stargazing talk and play with some telescopes. We were a bit apprehensive about the trip having seen the queue of folks just from Desert Gardens waiting for the bus the night before, but I think they may run several sits as the dinner didn't feel crowded at all. Sadly this also deprived me of watching the 3 Chinese girls in full ballgowns and stiletto heels tackle the sand dune. For the dinner we were seated on a table with 4 other couples - an Ozzie and a long lost Scotsman, 2 of the nicest people (even for Canadians) I have ever met, who spend their retirement in Kenya helping orphans through school and into jobs or university as they never had children of their own, 2 fellow Brits and a Frenchman with a lovely Kiwi girlfriend. Probably because of all the free wine the talk turned to politics and a friendly debate ensued, after which I am still no clearer if I want the UK to stay in the EU or not..... The stargazing as predicted by the lack of city lights for miles was again amazing, and Rob even remembered how to find due south using the stars. This was one of the best nights if not the best night of the trip! (thank you to Sandra and Malcolm, we put your gift to good use).
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Before we went to Ayers Rock, I wasn't that enthusiastic. I felt like it was something I should do as a visitor to Australia, even when looking at the shocking cost of getting there and onto somewhere else, and the cost of the accommodation (which admittedly was a lot swisher than most on this trip), even during the initial moments of sunrise I thought it was pretty but not wow. However not to get too cheesy or whimsical, watching the first rays of sunlight hitting the face of Uluru and watching the colours dance over the rock, changing minute to minute was awe inspiring and magical. Then to learn of the unique geological processes that have brought the rock from the beginnings of the Himalayas to the middle of the Australian outback, turning it a full 90 degrees vertical in the process, it was something really special and not something I will forget for sometime.

Next up...... will I kill Rob during our week on the Great Southern Touring Route in a campervan?

Posted by KulaRing 20:36 Archived in Australia Tagged uluru ayers_rock lagoon crocodile cairns Comments (1)

Queensland and lots of sand

sunny 32 °C
View Supermoon on KulaRing's travel map.

From Brisbane we continued up the M/A1 now named the "Bruce Highway" nice and early, so that on route to Riverheads and the Fraser Island ferry we would have time to make a quick diversion to Bli Bli and it's aquapark. This is a salt water lake complex on the Sunshine Coast, that consists of an inflatable assault course of immense proportions. $20 bought us each 50 mins on the assault course which doesn't sound like much but it was one of the best work outs I've had in many a year. My abs even now have not recovered from the frequent struggle to get back on the course after falling off or going down one of the awesome giant slides when I could conquer the not Sarah sized steps up to them!
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We reached Riverheads with a few moments to spare, parked up and hopped on the Kingfisher Bay Fraser Island ferry (thank you Talah & Nick). Fraser Island is the world's biggest sand dune, the scale of which is hard to describe. It has a few hotels, lots of dingos, snakes and spiders and the longest pure sand highway on the planet.

After a short 50 minute sail we disembarked on the pier onto a little train (Rob of course loved this) that took us to the main resort building and then on to our room. Without a word to us at check in the staff had upgraded us to an ocean view room and we found chilled champagne and a congratulations on our wedding card in the room. We enjoyed the fizz that night sat on our balcony watching the sun go down. We sampled the one of the on site restaurants that evening and had a seafood tower for 2 that probably could have fed at least 7!
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View from the pier train
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Another early start for us the next morning saw us boarding our 4wd mini bus for our Beauty Spots Tour (thank you Danny & Jan) at 8am. There is only one very short road on Fraser and this leads to the old sand logging tracks that make up most of the road system. This was a very similar journey to some of the rollercoasters we went on a few days prior, and felt like what I imagine the inside of a tumble dryer feels like - it was great fun! First stop was the Stone Tool Sand Blow.
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Then it was onto 75 Mile Beach, which is a beach and a highway, but not actually 75 miles long. There we met up with Air Fraser and some very small prop planes (only seating 5 people) for a scenic flight over some of the highlights of the island. I as always when involving going high up in something not a big jumbo jet type plane was terrified, and Rob as always laughed at me and tried to capture my fear on film. The take off and landing on the beach were incredible, as were the views from the flight, however I remain unconvinced that this type of flight is for me!
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The plane dropped us off at Eli Creek, where the bus had made its bumpy way to. Eli Creek is a freshwater and somehow freezing stream that is great to float down in a tube.
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After a morning tea and time to dry off in the sun, we continued along the beach to the Maheno shipwreck, which doesn't look so healthy after almost 70 years and a few cyclones.
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Then on to the Pinnacles before a buffet lunch at a resort along the 75 Mile Beach.
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The last stop of the day was Lake Mckenzie, a white sandy beach lined fresh water lake known for its healing powers. I don't know if I was healed of anything after an hour splashing in the lake but my skin felt very soft and my rings were shiny clean after a scrub in the pure white sand.
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The vastness of Australia is not something you can comprehend looking at the maps, and although you hear how big it is compared to Europe or the US until you drive it and can drive for over 150km without seeing even a village you don't get it. As our drive to the next stop (Airlie Beach) was about 900km we broke it up with a night in Rockhampton at the Denison Boutique Hotel, which is in the old rail post station near the centre of town. This is the most outback town we are going to on our trip (ignoring Ayers Rock) and it had a wild west feel that we both loved. The hotel was spectacular with high ceilings, 4 poster bed and a spa bath filled with rose petals.
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The town has grown up around the railway and this means that the trains run right down the middle of the road no doubt causing traffic chaos in rush hour. The line ran down the road the hotel was on and it was an odd sight to see these massive locomotives chugging through the shops. Opposite the hotel was the Grand Western, another old hotel and bar but one which has a full rodeo stadium in the back room. Sadly we were a few weeks too early for the rodeo. I can't comment on much of the town as we only had a few waking hours there, nor can I comment on the restaurants as we just had a Dominos in the hotel room as we had a 5am start planned to get us to Airlie in time to catch our yacht. Dominos in Oz is $5 if you collect, this is £2.60 and I can think of a few people who would be very jealous about this!
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We started our Whitsundays cruise abroad the Powerplay on St Patrick's day at midday, and we sailed straight out for a rendezvous with their dive boat. As the only certified diver I had a guide all to myself and we went on a sadly unsuccessful shark hunt, but as the Whitsundays are still in the Great Barrier Reef the corals and other sealife were still incredible. Rob went off for a shorter dive with a group of beginners and was much improved from his first rather clumsy dives in Malaysia a few years ago (thank you Pam & Stef). Back on the yacht we cruised to another awesome snorkelling site before a BBQ dinner and stargazing from the hot tub on the bow of the yacht, with a glass of 2 of "goon" (very cheap boxed Australian white wine that is a must pack when sailing the Whitsundays.
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Apparently all boats have early starts, and Powerplay was no different, by 7am we were all out of bed and out on deck cruising towards Whitehaven Beach, somewhere after almost 24 hours on a constantly shifting deck and feeling a tad queasy (again Rob laughed at me) I was rather happy to reach. After a quick bush walk from the landing beach to the viewing platform we arrived at Whitehaven Beach, and the postcards really don't do it justice! Here we got a few hours to lay on the beach and sunbathe, or go into the water and splash around with lemon sharks and stingrays, and even the odd turtle or 2.
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Yes this is a very rare sighting of the Rob reading a book!!!!
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Back on Powerplay we had lunch and journeyed to another snorkelling site before dinner and another glorious sunset.
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The next morning we reached the mainland at Airlie Beach at 10am, and were ready to start our longest car journey yet, the 600+km drive to Cairns, our last stop on the east coast, and from where I am writing this blog.

Posted by KulaRing 17:59 Archived in Australia Tagged snorkelling sunset diving fraser_island sand sailing whitsundays rockhampton dingoes Comments (0)

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