Saturday, March 22, 2008

Skyhigh from the Sydney Bridge

After 2 hours of walking and 1300 steps, Tobi and me summited the great Sydney Harbour Bridge. It may not be as great a feat as Nepal's Everest or Africa's Kilimanjaro but it was a wonderful experience hosting incredible views of a world class harbour city. Since I have climbed Kilimanjaro, I can assure you it was a helluva lot easier! No training required.

We did have to pass a breathalyzer (my 2nd one in this country) What is it with Aussie's and their breathalyzers?! We had to shed our own clothing for these dowdy grey blue suits. The were not a Sydney fashion statement. My favourite part was walking over the grated floors to look down at the ocean and street pavement below. That sent a thrill of excitement through my bones and almost sent Tobi running! Fortunately, we were also chained to the bridge with safety equipment. This was the ultimate Sydney view.

We did the dusk climb so we got to watch the sunset on a Saturday evening over Sydney.....ahhhh. Cameras were not allowed so all we have is the tourist photo for evidence.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sydney Blues

Wow, is Sydney ever blue! Blue water and blue skies are just everywhere. After Karin's departure, I welcomed several days of rest and relaxation. We did little more than drink bubbles, lunch at a cafe on the beach and relax with the pets in the garden.

Sydney is a World Class city with all the benefits of arts, culture, history, excellent restaurants and cafes but with the beauty of coastal scenery and a beach playground around every hairpin turn. From blue sky and coastal road, you find yourself at the blue water of a gorgeous Paris and London in my books.

Our last evening dinner with Karin was highlighted by a lovely dinner with panoramic views of Sydney from the 41st floor with the dramatics of a rainstorm accompanied by .lightening and thunder. It was fantastic!

I am pleased to report that I have not seen a single rain cloud or rain drop since that night and have enjoyed the 27C sunshine. I can't wait to see what Toronto will greet me with on my return. I have heard horror stories of the "Winter From Hell".

Michelle took me on a tour of the Northern Beaches of Sydney, her place of birth and where her homeland heart can be found. I have seen Bondi, Manly, Curl Curl, Freshie, Palm, Avalon, Narabeen, name only a few. I wish I had time to swim them all. I enjoyed watching the new sport of Kite Surfing, a cross between para sailing and surfing and water skiiing...what a life some people have!

We had the opportunity to spend the day on a 56foot cruiser boat on Pittwater, the sheltered waters behind the northern beaches. We went swimming on a few beaches and had few glasses on a fine sunny day.
In between all of that I have been to lunch with Michelle's mom Barbara, BBQ with friends and brekkie with more friends and shopping in Sydney. It has been nice and relaxing, something I have not done in a long time.

After shopping in the Paddington markets this fine day, me and Tobi are off to do the dusk Sydney Bridge Climb!! We are going to walk to top of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. We start at 4:45 after we are suited up and strapped in. I guess I should write one more entry to let you all know how it went!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Time for Karin to Say Good bye (sniff, sniff...)

After a month of travelling, Karin's holiday has come to an end. She is feeling melancholy about leaving this warm, sunny island but is anxious to see her family, fur babies and friends (but not the snow!).

After visiting 4 states, she is leaving from Sydney and has experienced a small glimpse of the fun, easy going life that the Australians live. The pride in their country and environment is endearing. The Sydney harbour front is amazing. It is fun to take ferries to different parts of the city which is a departure from our lifestyle (snow mobiles, skis, snow shoes - ha ha).

Tonight we will have a final meal with Tobi and Michelle at Level 41, a restaurant with panoramic views of the Sydney Harbour at night. We have lots of pictures to share and to help remind us of the wonderful time we've had. I feel a scrapbook coming on! (even bought special Australian paper). Love to you all. See you soon.

To be continued by Lisa......alone....

Fraser Island - Sand Fly Capital of the World

Lisa was sure to keep the car on 'speed control' so she did not get another speeding ticket, but we finally made our way to Bundaberg where Karin had read about seeing Loggerhead turtles nest and hatch. We made it to Mos Repos Conservation park, just in time after a long days drive and managed to squeeze in one more nature thrill - a night walk on the beach to witness the 'running of the baby turtles'.

We felt really excited to walk out onto this dark beach with only the sound of crashing ocean waves. We were guided by a park ranger by one flashlight to an area where a Loggerhead turtle nest was about to hatch. What a thrill! These little tiny turtle turtles with the strongest little flippers and tenacious will to run to the ocean came bursting out of this hole in the sand. There was a group of about 30 people accompanied by the ranger whose primary concern was the welfare of each of these hatchlings.

We formed a long 'Tunnel of Light' using our flashlights between 2 lines of people and guided the 95 hatchlings from their sand nest to the ocean to begin their life. It took them only 5 minutes to reach the ocean and swim away. Karin aptly renamed this "The Tunnel of Love". What amazed us the most, is that these turtles knew exactly what to do. A Loggerhead Turtle is an endangered species. Only 1 in 500 of these hatchlings will reach sexual maturity at age 30 and find her way back to this same beach to lay eggs for the next generation. The temperature of the sand determines the sex of the turtle and this beach produces mostly females that require warmer temperatures (because women are hotter!).

From Bundaberg, we made our way directly to catch the ferry to the "Land of Sand". Fraser Island may be the largest sand island in the world, but it is also the greatest sand fly capital and every one of those flies has bitten poor Karin. She has the red spotted legs to prove it. And blisters to boot. But even though the flies looked at Karin as the next meal, we still adored Fraser Island.

The 40 minute ferry from Hervey Bay took us the the posh Kingfisher Bay resort. We loved the extravagance of this resort. Heated pools, cabana boys (well, almost) and cold beer by the poolside. Karin went for all the nature walks offered; Lisa slugged by the pool with a beer or slept in.

There are no roads on this island, only sand road tracks and 4WD is the only method of transportation. It was like being on a roller coaster at times and we were amazed at how this 4WD bus (18+ gears) could manoeuvre through these forested sand one track roadways. The coolest feeling was when we exited from the forest into the wide open 75 Mile Beach and cruised at 80 km/hr along the sand beach highway. On one side of the roadway is the ocean and a shipwreck, on the other side was vegetation, coloured sand cliffs, sand blows and freshwater creeks that flow into the ocean. The same road rules apply: drive on the left, pedestrians watch for vehicles before crossing the beach!

We took a joyride 15 minute flight in a 7 seater plane over the island. The runway, of course, was the beach!! A great aerial view of the numerous fresh water lakes, one in the exact shape of a butterfly, the sand blows, the old tropical forest and the sand track roads. We had a smooth landing on the beach and hopped back on the bus.

We had a lovely 1.5 km walk in the tropical rain forest at Wanggoolba Creek where the water is so clear and pure that you cannot even distinguish that it is water. Our last stop was a swim at the crystal blue water and silica sand white beach of Lake McKenzie where our visit was topped off with our first sighting of a dingo. Fraser Island is known as the last place in Australia where the dingo is pure bred and the population is well protected by the rangers. The dingo here has a lifespan of 5-7 years because they ingest so much sand and are unable to absorb nutrients from the food.

Kingfisher Bay Resort was a wonderful place to stay for ecotourism. Anyone interested in this type of holiday, should be sure to include a visit to this resort.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

They Have Different Reef Fish in the Whitsunday's

We drove the long green road from Cairns to Townsville, a very pretty drive through sugar cane fields and green mountains. We missed seeing kangaroos though. They do have some interesting and different looking cows here! They have to be able to adjust to extreme heat and humid conditions.

Lisa Lead Foot got a speeding ticket doing 12 km over the limit! (they should see how I usually drive) And they make you take a breathalyzer here. There is a first time for everything. The pimpled face police man was very pleasant. He asked me if I had seen their red car sitting there and I responded, "No, our police cars in Canada are white". When I asked him about the ramifications if I don't pay this $100 ticket, he shrugged. There isn't any, I think. Guess I will be keeping that for my scrapbook. I love the breathalyzer though! They are serious here (a good thing).

Once Lead Foot discovered the cruise control, we coasted at exactly 100km/hr to Townsville and stayed the night. Townsville is the Capital of North Queensland and offered a 'different' perspective of Australia, including the lesser socioeconomic people. We visited the Queensland Tropical Museum, did some shopping and then got back on the road again for Arlie Beach, the heart of the Whitsunday Islands. By the way, Lead Foot was cruising at 100 km/hr but the bloody transport trucks were passing her!!!!! For all of those who know how much I love to speed, you are having a good laugh at this one.

Karin got her snorkel fix again (bad addiction starting here, folks...) on a day cruise to the Reef and the famous Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. The Whitsunday's would have been particularly spectacular if we had a sunny day but, alas, it rained on us. The coral and reef fish were even different from the ones we saw on the northern reef, with electric blues, pinks, yellows and greens. Had to drag that Karin out of the water again.

We have an early morning rise scheduled for tomorrow as we have a 12 hour drive from Arlie Beach to Hervey Bay. Then, we are off to Fraser Island which all of our fellow travelers have said we MUST SEE.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From Dry South Australia to Tropical Queensland

We had a wonderful final day in the sunny dry Adelaide Hills and McClaren Vale wine regions. Thanks to the wonderful hospitality from our friends Jan and Annette (Lisa met them trekking in Nepal 2 years ago) we had a whirlwind tour of some wineries in this region and then had a cold beer in the Handorf hotel. We had a beautiful dinner overlooking the city of Adelaide, the ocean with a full moon over the hills. There was a major car race in town that weekend and we could not find a hotel room to save our lives. Thanks so much to Annette and Kym for putting us up (and putting up with us!) for the night! Thanks to Jan and Annette for taking us out for such a wonderful day and evening. Can't wait til we meet again, hopefully in our fair city.

We flew from Adelaide to tropical Cairns to be greeted by stifling tropical heat and humidity. It was just like a day in Toronto during a summer heat wave. We stayed for 4 nights in Port Douglas, a quaint town one hour north of Cairns. It did not take us long to discover the beautiful lagoon style pool accompanied by a bottle of Australian wine. We spent every evening in this pool, even during a light rain. We made wonderful friends with some lovely people from the UK and had a bit too much fun (and wine).

We took the Quicksilver boat out to the Great Barrier Reef and had a gorgeous sunny day. The box jelly fish are dangerous stingers at this time of year so we all had to wear these blue Lycra suits with a matching hoodie and mitts. We looked like blue smurfs with our varied body shapes but these suits had the additional bonus of protecting us from the sun. We loved these suits! Most people were in tears laughing. We looked ridiculous.

Karin had her first snorkeling experience on the Great Barrier Reef - what an introduction! She felt a bit apprehensive to be breathing through a mouthpiece adorned with a mask but once she caught her first glimpse of the coral reef and beautiful tropical fish, she was hooked! She saw a sea turtle the size of a tire, a shark and neon coloured fish. She was in sensory overload because it was so visually stimulating and ever changing.

We took a small group snorkeling tour to a different part of the coral reef and saw sea cucumber, star fish, Nemo and Dory and a sea monster. They had to drag Karin out of the water to go home and she can't wait to get to the Whitsundays to do some more snorkeling. We may just have to power drive through the night to get there so she can get her next fix!

The next day took us from ocean to the tropical rain forest where we travelled a cable car over top of the rain forest canopy to the village of Karunda. We visited the RainForestation park where Lisa got dragged on to the stage to try her shake her booty like the Aboriginals do. She gave Karin such a good laugh and she is still giggling as we write this. We saw some crocs, a dingo and the usual koalas, kangaroos and wallabies which are becoming commonplace to us. We tried to throw a boomerang and and watched spear throwing. We had a lovely Spanish style meal at Salsa and enjoyed drinking our own wine (BYO).

Our final day we went on a search for crocodiles in the wild along the Daintree River. We saw a little wee snake, some bats and a wee wee crocodile. The big ones were too far inland to see. We walked through the Daintree Rainforest, a World Heritage site. Some of these trees are over 600 years old. At Cape Tribulation, the tropical rain forest meets the Great Barrier Reef but we think it may be best viewed from the sky since it just looked like a beach to us! A nice beach but it still does not meet Lisa's criteria for Best Beach in Australia(no cabana boys to be found here...need to keep searching).

We are southbound and on the road again seeking new adventures. Check in soon. Love you all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kangaroo Island Highlights

We have come to the conclusion that there are not very many people on this lovely continent. We drove for hours passing farmland, sheep and cows grazing and yes, even real kangaroos. We ask ourselves, "Where are the people?".

After driving off of the ferry and out of the small town of Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island (K.I.) Karin commented, "I feel like we are the only ones here". Once again we met up with the potential driving hazards of hitting roos at dusk but unfortunately, many of these were roadkill. It was very sad to see so many animals on the roadside instead of happily hopping around. I know Aussies think roos are boring, but we think they are gentle and sweet.

The cool ocean wind from the Victoria and GOR coast turned to a baking hot, dry 37C heat. the sun was so hot we could not even consider going to the beach until late afternoon. Our first morning started with a visit to the Seal Bay Australian seal colony, a seal species that was almost wiped out by man in the sealing hunts in the last century. This colony is passionately protected by the K.I. wildlife foundation.

We had a guided small group tour on the beach and were able to observe them closely in their natural habitat - no walls, no gates, no fences. This was their home. There are only about 600 in this particular colony at this moment. There were many pups nursing with their moms, playful young ones but mostly they seem to have a pretty lazy life. They fish out in sea for up to 3 days and then return to this colony or beach to rest for 3 days. We enjoyed watching them waddle out of the water, take several steps on the beach and then flop down onto the beach for a rest! We could have watched them for hours....

Because it was such a hot day, we tried to chose some 'indoor activities'. We went to a eucalyptus distillery which uses old fashioned methods to produce this popular medicinal and household oil. Yes, we bought some! How could we resist. Our favourite part was their 9 month old 'pet' kangaroo who was resting on the floor shop trying to get out of the heat.

We visited the Cliffords honey farm which uses the rare Liguiran bee from Italy. These bees were brought to the island in the 1800's and no other bee has been introduced or is allowed to come onto K.I. It is the only true pure honey from these bees known today. Yes, we bought some of the honey too but the highlight was the home made Liguiran honey ice cream made by the owner. It was so damn good, we had 2! It was worth the sugar crash that followed an hour later.

To wake up from our 'sugar crash', we went for a late afternoon swim at Vivionne Bay which has been voted the 'Best Beach in Australia'. We are not too sure how it attained this esteemed honour or title because every beach in Australia to date has been beautiful. We tried to speculate what criteria was used and came to the conclusion that without the grass hut bar serving cold beer and rum drinks decorated with little umbrellas that are served by scantily clad cabana boys, it just cannot awarded with this honour. We will continue to keep looking for that "Best Beach in Australia" and promise to post it here on this blog.

The following day, we started at the stunning sand dunes Little Sahara. We drove to the western side of the island where most of the destruction of the bush fires was quite evident. There is a glimmer of hope because we could see some new growth poking through the burned trees. Part of the park is closed due to danger from falling debris.

Fortunately, we were able to see the main sites we wanted to - The Remarkable Rocks and the New Zealand fur sea colony at Admiral's arch. We had fun taking some pictures of these unusual rock formations. They lived up to their name!

There were 2 highlights to this day. Firstly, observing the colony of seals in their natural habitat on the rocks. We were completely awestruck by witnessing a little pup calling out for his mother and the mother calling out for her baby but they were on different rocks with a stretch of ocean separating them. They could not see each other but eventually moved towards each other and were reunited after jumping in the ocean. It was a joy to witness this slice of nature.

The 2nd highlight was a Koala walk on Hanson's reserve. We were able to observe them very closely and soon became familiar with the mating call - a big loud grunt kind of like a fog horn or an angry bull. The female was not too interested in this poor male and they both came down from the tree and ran up another tree - right in front of us. We knew it was a male because a fellow Aussie observer commented, "That's a male - I could see his little bits". We felt like a voyeur but it was entertaining and enjoyable nonetheless. And for those of you wondering: No, she did not give in!

Our last day was spent feeding kangaroos and wallabies at the Pardana wildlife park. It may sound ketchy but we loved it. We even saw a mother with her joey peaking out of the pouch. Sometimes, the joey was head first in her pouch with his little feet sticking out.

We ended our KI journey on a Lavender farm tasting lavender tea, lavender tea and of course, homemade lavender ice cream (our 2nd favourite).

Off to the mainland for a wine tasting journey and more adventures in the land of Oz.