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.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Koala and Kangaroo Sightings!

We spent much more time on the Great Ocean Road (GOR) than we expected! What a spectacular drive. The coastline is pure magic. We have walked along many rugged beaches, seen kangaroos lazing around the golf course, koalas sleeping and eating in the trees, cockatoos screaming from the trees at our Bed and Breakfast and numerous other birds.

We woke up early to catch the sunrise over the 12 Apostles. The enormity of the rocks, the colour of the sky, the smell of the ocean and absence of man made sounds and light was magical. We tried to get the perfect picture for you but no camera shot can do it justice.

We have taken in every scenic walk and lookout that was available to us but we could not get enough of the views.

Once we reached the official end of the GOR, we high tailed it towards Adelaide to make our way to Kangaroo Island. We stopped at a few beautiful places along the way - Port Fairy, a lovely historical port town with old fashioned awnings over the store fronts; and Mount Gambian which has an aquamarine, turquoise blue deep volcanic lake that changes from blue in summer to grey in winter.

The distance from the GOR was much greater than we anticipated and we drove a long way Saturday from Port Campbell at the Twelve Apostles to 2 1/2 hours from the Kangaroo Island ferry. We managed to dodge any kangaroos in the precarious dusk to dark driving conditions - whew!!

We are onwards to Victor Bay to buy food and wine supplies for our 3 day adventure on Kangaroo Island. We have booked a self catering cottage near Vivionne Bay, a famous beach. We will be close to the seal colony. Kangaroo Island was recently ravaged with bush fires but is now reopened for tourism and we hope the crowds will be diminished just for our viewing pleasure!

We are off to catch a 6 pm car ferry - a 40 minute journey to Kangaroo Island.

Lisa is looking forward to seeing Annette and Jan on Thursday, friends she made during her Nepal trekking holiday in 2005. It is wonderful to meet up with travel friends again. The world seems like such a smaller place even though we live on opposite sides of this planet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2 Canucks meet The Great Ocean Road

Here is the blog post everyone has been waiting for! Sorry, folks. We have had some difficulty locating Internet access.

Our 2nd day in Sydney together, we visited the Sydney Aquarium. The highlight was most definitely the shark tanks that one can walk underneath with sharks, stingrays, turtles and other fish swimming above. We were engrossed trying to get the 'perfect camera shot' but the light was not conducive to these 2 amateur photographers.

We visited the Queen Elizabeth Building or the QVB which is a much more beautiful building than Toronto's architectural tribute to Elizabeth II. It was built as a market building at the turn of the century and was restored to its original beauty and now has lovely shops. It was a nice spot to wait out the next Sydney downpour which seems to be a daily event.

After a short walk through the historic Rocks area (no Matt, I did not get to the pub for a Bloody midi - next time!), we made our way over the Sydney Harbour bridge. Karin was adamant that we do this hike and I was glad she coaxed me on.

We had an Italian seafood meal with BYO white Aussie wine and bubbly with our new friends - Michelle, Tobi and Suze. Karin had 'Sea bugs' and an assortment of other ocean delights.

The next morning, we flew to Melbourne and picked up our hire car. Lisa decided to skip Melbourne because she was too chicken to try to drive around the trams doing those fancy 'hook turns'. I miss my standard car - it is much easier to drive left sided with my clutch and stick shift. I keep signalling with the wind shield wipers and signalling left rather than right, reaching for the seat belt incorrectly. But, I have only driven on the wrong side of the road once. Not bad for 2 days of driving.

We are now on the Great Ocean Road, build just after WW1 by Australian war vets. Will write more tomorrow, folks.

By the way, it is going to be 30C and sunny tomorrow. Hope y'all keep warm !!

Michelle and Tobi are officially hitched!

Despite ongoing rain in Sydney (after years of drought), the dam is up to 67% capacity. This is good news to Sydneysiders but not for my friends who planned their Commitent Ceremony on the beach. There was lots of stressing, alternative arrangements were made and lots of comments about how rain brings a couple good luck (ya, right!).

And guess what happened, folks?! The sun shone through about 20 minutes before, the champagne bottles were opened and the both of them walked along Shelley Beach in Manly in their bare feet towards a crowd of 80 close friends and relatives. The sun was out, the beach was relatively free and they both looked absolutely gorgeous. Michelle was wearing a Marilyn Munroe type cocktail dress and Tobi had a bohemian type dress. It was so lovely. I wish I was on a computer that had a card reader.

I read a poem that Tobi had written Michelle just prior to my last travels to Nepal and India with Michelle in 2006. It was titled "Sexy Princess". I have never felt so important at a wedding. I was the honoured guest from Canada, Michelle's travelling buddy these last 9 years and I was welcomed with so so much warmth and love from everyone. Honestly, it was wonderful.

Tobi and Michelle are off to Cambodia and Thailand for 3 weeks. I will post a picture of their happy day when I can locate a computer with a card reader.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Karin finally made it (Toronto-Minneapolis-Los Angeles-Fiji-Sydney!

It was a long flight but well worth the journey. A sunny blue sky, a friendly Aussie greeting followed by a 5 hour walking tour of Sydney escorted by Barbara and Ray and here we are with Michelle and Tobi enjoying that glass of chilled Verdehlo, a fresh salad and a steak in the Enchanted Garden (the backyard) accompanied by orchestrated sounds of frogs....It is amazing here. So clean, so beautiful, and no snow.

Karin is exhausted but too excited to sleep. Miss you all but the Aussie adventure begins! Tomorrow is a tour around Sydney again - The Rocks, The Aquarium and whatever comes our way.

Cheers mate. G'day!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Arrived Safely but drenched!

I arrived to the rain that was predicted. I think Aussies forecasts their weather far better than us Canuck's.

My first sighting of the infamous Sydney Opera House was cloud cover and pouring rain but hey, I am still in Australia. The flight was long but well tolerated owing to the two wonderful seat mates I had for the 2nd long 14 hour flight. Remind me never to fly United Airlines again. It is now 9:30 pm Monday evening....I think.....I don't know. I have lost track. Nonetheless, I can't believe I am finally here. We had a few cafe late, followed by some afternoon drinking outside on the porch of a local pub and then switched to champagne and a nice home cooked fish and veggie meal.

Karin: If you can, go and pick up some more smoked BC salmon at Loblaws. Tobi loves the stuff. If you bring any food, be sure to declare it all: I did and only lost the Manitoba wild rice and 1 fresh green apple. The Aussies are VERY protective of their environment and x-ray and search your bags for everything. Understandably for this island continent. You will be right at home - 2 dogs and 2 cats here!

It is wonderful to see Michelle and Tobi. I am looking forward to a nice relaxing week of prepping for the party on Saturday and meeting all the friends and family. We will spend 2 night in a hotel in Manly overlooking the Sydney harbour for the ceremony Saturday....a facial and massage followed by more drinking and relaxing are on the agenda this week . It all sounds good to me!

For tonight, I am looking forward to a nice good night sleep in a normal recumbent position! I hope the rain is gone by the weekend. There is flooding with torrential downpour - very unusual I am told!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mon dieu qu'il pleut !!!

You will all be happy to know that it is going to rain for my arrival in Sydney on Monday and possibly for the next several days thereafter. Wait! It is going to rain in TO as well! Hmm ....what would I rather have? 23C and raining, or freezing rain, slush and flooding post snow storm? Duh! Keep warm and dry everyone!

As long as it is a beautiful day for Michelle and Tobi on February 9th, I don't care. I am on vacation and on my way to Australia!