A Travellerspoint blog

The End of OZ

Our final week in Australia and a few final thoughts about about our time here.

semi-overcast 30 °C
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With one giant step off the boat, we plunge into the South Pacific. The waves at the surface are crashing over our heads as we hold on to a rope tethered to the boat. We are struggling to catch our breath using the dry air from our tanks. We are both looking at each other thinking the same thing, “What the hell did we get into?” After the last person leaps from the boat we duck under the water and descend to the ocean floor, leaving behind the chaos at the surface. It’s immediately peaceful being surrounded by enormous coral formations. We have arrived at the Great Barrier Reef. Our final adventure is in the books and we have saved some good stuff for the end!

Our final week in OZ gave us a lot to appreciate. It has been an amazing time in Australia and spending the last few days on the Great Barrier Reef is the cherry on top. During our last week we traveled through the capitol of Queensland for a two night spell and ended the trip in one of the most popular tourist sites in Australia, Cairns (pronounced Cans). We continued to ride the train, and thankfully did not have to travel over night. We even lucked out and were upgraded to a car with bigger seats for our last leg.

After living it up on the Island, we were off bright and early in morning headed to Townsville. The capitol of Queensland isn’t much of tourist sight, but it does provide some good food, a nice board walk area called The Strand, and one very excellent coffee spot. Our first night there we dined at Benny’s Hot Wok. We shared two dishes, sizzling pepper crusted steak with oyster mushrooms and duck stir fry with leeks and garlic oyster sauce. It was amazing! Sorry, no pictures. We were so hungry it totally slipped our minds.

Our one and only full day in this city was Australia Day, celebrated every 26th of January. It commemorates the first settlement of New South Wales. It is much like our 4th of July, people are decked out in their country colors, they are grilling on the barbie, and sharing drinks with friends. We strolled down The Strand and did some people and bird watching. We thought about jumping in the ocean to cool off. There are designated swimming areas protected by stinger nets. However, we watched several individuals receive treatment for stings, so we elected to forgo that activity. We eventually made it back to our room, our energy zapped from the high heat and humidity.
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The next day we boarded the train for the last time. We headed up the coast about 8 hours into the coastal tourist den of Cairns. Cairns was founded in 1876 as a port city for exporting gold and eventually turning to agriculture, specifically sugar cane. After WWII turned this costal city into a staging place for allied forces it slowly developed into the international tourist destination it is today. The weather here can be best described as mild to moderately unbearable during the summer. The heat and humidity combine to create an energy vacuum. Zapping your strength each minute you’re out and about.

Self proclaimed as the reef-diving capitol of Australia, it offers a variety of ways to see and experience the Great Barrier Reef. Besides the Reef, Cairns is surrounded by lush rain forest, numerous waterfalls, and volcanic-crater lakes. Cairns has also spent considerable money upgrading their board walk. Reclaiming land taken by the ocean and sprucing it up with the grand Cairns Esplanade. The Esplanade is a long boardwalk lined with well manicured trees and shrubs, full of unique workout stations, kiddie parks, and even has one of the best public pools we have seen. The Lagoon, as it is called, is shaped like the state of Queensland and is full almost everyday from morning until late in the evening. The main street running along side the boardwalk is home to many fine dinning options, pubs, gelato spots, hotels ranging from posh to backpacker, and a delightful yet tacky Night Market.

The people traveling through this city are as variable as the plethora of colorful coral growing in the ocean. Sitting in one spot you can see backpackers walking barefoot hunting for deals, professionals and wealthier tourist dining in fine restaurants, and a rowdy group locals partying in the park. Cairns is inviting and full of atmosphere. A great place to get your party on or get your adrenaline pumping. As with everything, there is a price on fun, and we were running low on budgeted funds. Sacrifices were made, but one thing was certain, scuba!

We spent the first day grocery shopping, scoping out free internet sights, and most importantly scheduling our scuba trip. We elected to just do a day trip, rather than do a live aboard trip. It would be our first dive experience in the ocean and we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. After we booked our trip we settled into the hostel, laying by the pool and eventually cooking dinner before the rains came in.

The next morning began bright and early, 6:30 in the morning. We made our way to the Wharf to finish checking in for our day on the Reef. We had signed up for two dives on the Silver Swift Boat in the Outer Reef. The weather was overcast but the winds were calm. We were both nervous, no way around it, we were both new to the idea of jumping into the ocean and heading into Great White Shark territory. It all seemed a bit nuts to be honest. Our dive leader was relaxed, he joked in the dive briefing and commented on how loopy he felt today. Not comforting at all, but he did seem to be a competent diver and that was important. We may have been nervous, but we were committed.

We arrived at our first dive sight, Flynn Reef. The weather had picked up a bit and the boat was rocking with the increasing wave activity. We geared up and one by one walked off the edge of the boat, plunging into the South Pacific. There was a moment when the waves were crashing over us that it seemed like this wasn’t such a good idea. Once we ducked under water and made our decent to the bottom all that doubt dissipated. It was peaceful, quite, and a whole new world was emerging. Here it was, the Great Barrier Reef, right in front of our eyes. The fish brightly colored to match the colorful coral. The coral stretched as far as we could see. We descended down a wall of coral and it was one of the most impressive natural wonders we have ever seen.

On our first dive we reached a max depth of 20 m and the visibility was around 8-10 m. We kicked our fins and glided through the water crossing an area in Flynn Reef known as The Flats. Next to us a wall of coral was rising up, displaying green, blue, white, and yellow coral formations. All around us fish of all shapes and color were darting in, out and around the coral. Our first dive introduced us to a world of wild life that included clown fish, parrot fish, and a spiny rock lobster, just to name a few.

After our first dive, we were hooked. All the nervous tension had settled and we were ready for more. Our Second dive did not disappoint. We reached a max depth of 17 m and the visibility remained the same. For the second dive we were in a new reef formation called Milln Reef. We explored a section called the Channels. It was during this second dive that we encountered the most variety of wild life. The fish remained the usual suspects, but the best encounters lurked just around the corner. We crept slowly along the reef until we came upon an unsuspecting Hawks Bill Sea Turtle. Once he spotted us he darted down in to the darkness. The short lived turtle sighting was immediately followed by our first look at a reef shark, the White-Tipped Reef Shark. The second dive was full of excitement and was the talk of our group over lunch.
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Having bagged two ocean dives we were still hungry for more. We made the easy decision to join in on the third and final dive. For the last dive of the day the max depth was 11 m and the visibility was still great. The last dive took place at Moore Reef in an area know as Twin Peaks. By this time, we were much more comfortable under the water. As we drifted along with our dive leader we were seeing more variations of coral, tropical fish, and we even stopped to play with a Pineapple Sea Cucumber. The highlights of the last dive were the GIant Clams. They are brightly colored and in a moments notice they can shut the door and hide from danger.
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Our first diving experience was amazing. The sight of the Great Barrier Reef just can’t be fully described. We did take some video and snap some photos with the GoPro, unfortunately the color just doesn’t come through very well. Next time we might have to hire a camera with a flash. Still, the photos we did capture are a great reminder of what we saw.

After seeing one of the worlds greatest natural wonders up close, it was going to be hard to top. Not having the funds to more dives or hire a car to take us to the outer lakes and waterfalls, we looked for the free stuff. We spent the next few days window shopping in the town square, searching for deals at the Night Markets, relaxing by the pools, and enjoying a little gelato at night to beat the heat. The rains came off and on through out each day and we sought out refuge in air-conditioned cafes.
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We did make a friend at one of the local Dijiridoo shops named Tony. He helped us learn how to play this unique sounding aboriginal instrument. We both succeeded in getting the Dijirdoo to make the right note, however we struggled with the circular breathing needed to continue making it play. In order to master this instrument you have to relax the face as well as control your cheek muscles with precision. The noise is made by sealing your lips with one end of the DIjiridoo and vibrating your lips. While playing you have to relax face to loosen the lips and then in one smooth motion use your cheeks to push the air out and inhale with your nose. Tony was patient as we butchered this art form. Needless to say it takes some practice to get this technique down.
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Our final week in Australia was a proper send off. We had one last great adventure and plenty of relaxing fun by the pool. Australia is a great country and we only scratched the surface of what you can do here. We had so much fun seeing old friends, making new friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed the beach scene.

The part of this epic journey spent in english speaking countries is ending. We are now moving on to unfamiliar territory, Southeast Asia. We are excited and nervous at the same time. One thing is for sure, we welcome the new challenge and can’t wait to see what’s out there.

As with New Zealand we each have a few favorite experiences worth noting and a few lessons learned:

McKenna:
1. Visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we cuddled a koala and fed kangaroos. Koalas are easily the cutest animals we have seen thus far.
2. Browsing Paddington Market in Sydney. All the crafts in the market must be made by the artist so nothing is mass produced.
3. Scuba diving of course…absolutely beautiful and peaceful.
4. Favorite Food: Mamak Malaysian Food in Sydney and Benny’s Hot Wok in Townsville.

Scott:
1. Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. What an amazing sight!
2. Go to Sydney. This City is amazing and has so much to offer. The Sydney Opera House is brilliant, the beach scenes are awesome, and the night life is outstanding.
3. Cuddling the Koala has to be on this list. I didn’t expect them to have such piercing claws, but they were so cute I didn’t mind.
4. The Brisbane Roar game with our friends Kat and Rick. The most exciting 5 minutes of a game I have seen live. Still can’t believe it, 2 goals, a game winner, and a bench clearing event.
5. Favorite Food: Kangaroo grilled on the barbie and the Vegetarian Pizza on Hamilton Island, it had goat cheese on it so of course I loved it.

Lessons Learned:
1. We learned a lot about trains this trip. Take shorter trips if you can and if you have an overnight, pony up for the sleeper car.
2. Lonely Planet rocks! The books are expensive for a reason and that's because they are full of useful information. Not everything is spot on, but they do give you an advantage of knowing a few inside tips when you are in unfamiliar territory.
3. Our camera is a work in progress and each day we discover a new setting. We should have spent a little more time getting to know the settings menu.

As always, check out more pictures here: The End of Oz

Next stop, Singapore!

McKenna & Scott

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Posted by mands186 22:55 Archived in Australia Tagged birds scuba cairns great_barrier_reef coral townsville travel_lessons black_parrots Comments (5)

Island Living and Loving It

A long weekend relaxing in the Whitsunday Islands.

sunny 28 °C
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Picture this, turquoise waters are slowly lapping at white sandy beaches, a cool sea breeze is rustling the palm trees, and cold drinks are resting in our hands as the sun warms our faces. Reclined and relaxed poolside on a picturesque island complete with swim up bars, lazy hammocks, and private bungalows. Snap back to reality, the foul stench of stale dirty diaper air rudely awakens us, we are still on the train. It’s at least light out, and the dreamy island life is not far away.

We arrived in Proserpine early Friday morning. Our eventful train ride on the J car was finally over, thank goodness. We survived the night and were in desperate need of a shower to wash the stench of the train off. From Proserpine it was a 30 minute bus ride to Airlie Beach. At Airlie Beach we split a hot breakfast and sipped on flat whites as we deliriously laughed about the train ride and what we had witnessed. After breakfast we did some grocery shopping before catching yet another bus to Shute Harbor. From Shute Harbor it was just a 30 minute ferry ride to Hamilton Island and four days of relaxation.

After what seemed like forever and a day, we finally made it to the Reef Resort on Hamilton Island. We checked into our room, a quite bungalow overlooking a tropical garden. We dropped our bags in the room, showered of the J car grease, and headed to the pool. We headed to the biggest pool in the resort and the only one with a swim up bar. We ordered a couple frozen margaritas and spent the rest of day soaking up the sun. So happy to finally be in the Whitsunday Islands!
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The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of 74 islands in the Coral sea, just off the Northeast cost of Queensland. This marvelous archipelago is as cliché as it gets, a true tropical paradise. The purest of white sandy beaches resides in this group islands, Whitehaven beach. There are no waves or strong undertows, creating the perfect calm atmosphere to snorkel the tiny reefs that are dotted around the islands.

We used the next few days to unwind. Each morning we were treated to a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, croissants, coffee, and juice. We swam in the pool and sipped libations at the swim up bar. Occasionally we would head back to the bungalow to nap in the hammock or take advantage of the free WiFi in the lobby. At night we dined on gourmet pizza, we especially liked the vegetarian pizza with goat cheese (Scott’s favorite). After lugging a heavy pack, staying in cramped hostels, and walking everywhere, the chance to completely relax was amazing. We both admit that traveling has become tiresome and tough at times. Hamilton Island was a chance to recharge our batteries and we took full advantage.
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After a few days of relaxing by the pool we decided to plan a day trip to check out the rest of the Whitsunday Islands. We signed up for a 2 in 1 trip, an hour of snorkeling and an hour of beach time at the best beach found in this cluster of Islands, Whitehaven Beach. Before our day trip we spent the morning on the resort beach. We took out one of the two-person kayaks and paddled around the bay. It was actually a really great way to work out the arms!
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That afternoon we took a jet boat out to the Whitsunday Island, the largest island in this area. From there we spent an hour snorkeling at a place known as Chalkies Beach. We were right on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and finally got to see a small sampling of bright coral and colorful tropical fish. It was also a chance to test out the GoPro under water.
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After an hour of snorkeling we headed to Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven Beach is amazing. The white sand stretches for miles and the pure silica keeps it from heating up unlike most beach sand. The silica gives the sand its white color and this particular sand is 98% pure silica. Our guide mentioned that the sand from this beach was actually used to make some of the glass used on the Hubble Telescope. I can’t really confirm this, but it sounded cool.
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It was about the time we got back to Hamilton Island that the sun went away and the clouds rolled in. On our last day and a half the clouds would hang around and block the sun. We didn’t really mind that much. We had plenty of sun the first three days and a break from the intense heat was nice.

The relaxing had to come to end at some point. We are now back on the train headed up the coast in search of new adventure. First stop is Townsville for two nights before heading up to Cairns. At Cairns we will attempt to scuba dive one day and do some more snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, weather permitting. Currently the forecast calls for rain over the next week. Cairns will be our last stop in Australia, and from what we hear of Cairns it should be a great place to have one last hurrah in Oz.

Check out the Island Life in pictures here: The Whitsundays

McKenna & Scott

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Posted by mands186 18:58 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches koala sunsets relaxing snorkeling coral whitsunday hamilton_island Comments (2)

The Koala, The J Car, and Good News!

Our introduction to Queensland gave us some rain, furry animals, and the best news we have received on this trip.

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It’s after 10 pm and we’re in hour 6 of 15 on the overnight train from Caloundra to Proserpine.  I have just finished charging the computer in the empty dinner car and begin to head back to my seat. The lights are off and the only noise is the roar of the train engine chugging down the track. I make my way through three train cars, each half full of people who are tucked in and resting comfortably.  I arrive at our car, the J Car, our accommodation for this long and arduous journey.  Before I enter, I prepare the light on my phone to help me find McKenna and our seats. I am expecting the same dark and quiet car as the three before it.  

As I open the door, I am shocked at what I find.  There are people standing in the entryway talking, kids have erected a fort between the first two rows of seats and they are literally climbing the walls and hanging from the luggage rack.  People are in loud and vulgar conversations, babies are crying, and nothing about this car makes me feel like anyone will be sleeping tonight.  Life on the road, never really quiet and never really what you expect.  Seems like as good a time as any to crank up some music and delve into writing a blog entry.

We have spent the last week in Brisbane and Caloundra, both in the Australian State of Queensland.  We have been fortunate this week, we had some amazing friends put us up and show us around each place.  First, it was our good friends Kat and Rick from Colorado who opened their doors in Brisbane. Then it was Sharon Rourke, mother of the (in)famous Rachel Rourke, who put us up for a few nights in Rachel's home town of Caloundra.
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We arrived into Brisbane at 5:30 in the morning. Feeling haggard from our first overnight train adventure we dragged ourselves to Kat and Ricks house and both took an extra long nap. Brisbane is Australia's fastest growing city, brimming with jobs in the natural resource sector.  The city is split by the snaking Brisbane River and sits north of the Gold Coast and south of the Sunshine Coast. Brisbane is on the rebound from last years devastating river flood. Although the memory is still fresh it appears to have made a speedy recovery.  

We stayed with Kat and Rick, whom we met during our days at the Mountain House in Colorado.  They live around the corner from downtown in a house built in true Queenslander style. The house is built on stilts and has high ceilings throughout, all to promote good air flow. It is complete with charming detail and modern conveniences. It was great seeing some familiar faces, and they were excellent hosts.

While in Brisbane we had a chance to get a way from museums, botanical gardens, and hostels.  We have had a steady diet of them the past month and a break was welcomed.  Our first night in Brisbane was simple, dinner and drinks at Kat and Rick’s with lots of conversation.  For dinner we dined on Kangaroo, Rick's selection.  Kangaroo is a lean meat and has a taste similar to venison.  I admit, I was skeptical at first, but it actually tasted delicious.  We also sipped on a Queensland rum called Bundaberg Rum.  The label sports a Polar Bear, which is odd because the city of Bundaberg resides on the Sunshine coast.  The rum has a distinct smokey flavor reminiscent of whiskey at times.  We reminisced about Colorado, heard stories from Kat and Rick's first two months in Australia, and watched possums stalk the neighborhood in the dark of the night.

The next day brought about the best news we have received on this trip.  Just as we were leaving the house to attend a farmers market, McKenna was intently staring at her phone.  There was a look of shock and excitement on her face as she handed me her phone, asking, "Can you read this and tell me what you think?!"  I glanced at the first word, 'Congratulations!' and immediately knew what this was saying.  McKenna has been accepted into the Veterinary Medicine Program at Oregon State University starting in the fall of 2012!  For all of you who know McKenna, you know that this is truly a dream come true.  I am so proud of her, and we are both excited to be officially moving to Oregon.

That called for a celebration, so after the market we headed to a Mexican restaurant and ordered up some frozen margaritas.  “No one hates a blended bevie!” as McKenna likes to say.  With this news came a surge of good feelings, and I think for the first time on this trip we are both feeling relaxed now knowing where we will be heading once this adventure winds down.

That night we took in an A-League soccer match at SunCorp Stadium.  The Brisbane Roar were hosting Sydney FC, and we came to understand that quite a rivalry exists between the two teams.  The game stayed even for the most part with Sydney pulling ahead 1-0 just before halftime.  We never got the feeling that Brisbane was ever going to make a comeback in the game and when 90 minutes hit, it should have been over.  The ref had elected to add 5 minutes of stoppage time due to some delay tactics used by Sydney.  The crowd was still in it, a small crowd, but faithful to the bitter end.  Sydney gave up a free kick just outside the penalty area and Brisbane took advantage.  Number 16 struck the ball beautifully into the upper left corner.  Just like that the game was tied.  It only seemed like a matter of seconds later that the Roar came surging forward with a quick shot and brilliant misdirection header from the fiery striker for a GOOOAAAALLLLL!  The crowd was going nuts and the celebration was on.  The final whistle blew, but the teams weren't done.  The rivalry boiled over, and the benches began to clear as two of the players headed to the tunnel for a brawl.  Luckily they were separated and cooler heads prevailed.  A great finish and exciting day all around.
Goal

Goal

Over the next four days it would rain, and rain buckets at times.  We didn’t let this slow us down too much.  We spent an afternoon at Surfer's Paradise, where Kat and Rick braved the surf, and we strolled through the shops.  The hotels were enormous at Surfer's Paradise, and there was a distinct Vegas vibe to this vacation spot.
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The next day we headed out into the cloudy weather in search of the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in western Brisbane. When we arrived at the sanctuary we were pleasantly surprised to find it mostly empty of tourist. With the weather overcast the animals were also milling about with more energy. We wondered the reserve checking out the different native species when we came upon this adorable baby Koala munching on some eucalyptus leaves.
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When you see koalas up close it becomes almost impossible to imagine a cuter animal. They have to be the most adorable animals on the planet.  We enjoyed a great day at the Sanctuary, we both got to hold a Koala and we took turns feeding a pack of Kangaroos.  It was well worth braving the weather.
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After a few days in the city we headed north by train to the quite beach community of Caloundra. It’s here on the sandy beaches that one of McKenna’s dearest friends, Rachel, spent her childhood. Rachel’s mother, Sharon, picked us up from the bus stop and took us to her house. We spent the next day and a half looking through photos of a young Rachel growing taller by the pages it seemed. We cooked sausages and vegetable on the barbie at the beach and walked the Caloundra Boardwalk area talking and laughing with Sharon.
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It was nice to slow down for a day or two. Scott had felt under the weather when leaving Brisbane and had a chance to fully recover. Sharon was an exceptional host and we had a great time getting to know her. We were sad that Rachel couldn’t be there, she is in Poland at the moment, but we were able to speak with her one morning over the phone.

We bid farewell to Sharon on Thursday afternoon as we boarded the train to Proserpine. Our next destination is Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays Islands and it will be an interesting ride in our section, the J car.

This brings us back to where this blog began, sitting in the J car. The train ride is still interesting, and getting crazier by the minute.  It is coming up on 1 in the morning and over my music (which is Daft Punk cranked up loudly) I start to hear the shouts of an intoxicated man sitting across from us. I can’t type the words he is currently using knowing that moms will be reading this. Time to listen in and see what happens next.

He continues to repeat a few choice words as he verbally assaults the women in front of us. It escalates to the point where everyone is now awake and feels violated. The car supervisor is brought in to settle the argument, and the drunken cursing of the older gentlemen is not tolerated. The cops are called and he will be escorted off at the next stop. Nothing like the J car to remind you that you should have just coughed up the extra dough for the sleeper car.

Traveling for an extended period of time usually means relying on many forms of vehicles. Be it plane, train, bus, or ferry you will undoubtably encounter the unexpected, the crazy, and the unidentified stench of being in close quarters with too many people.

On to the Islands for some sun, relaxation, and blended bevies!

Be sure and check out the Brisbane & Caloundra Pictures: Brisbane & Caloundra

McKenna and Scott

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Posted by mands186 17:09 Archived in Australia Tagged koala beach friends sunsets brisbane kangaroos caloundra brisbane_roar Comments (7)

The Beginning of Oz: Scenic Sydney

Part 2 of our week long stay in Sydney. Venture outside the city for some amzing views and more beach time!

sunny 28 °C
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After three wonderful days in Sydney, it was clear we needed more time.  With so much still left on our to do list we extended our stay at Hostel HQ for three more nights.  Our MyMulti passes were still in good standing and we were going to get our moneys worth.  

On our fourth day in Sydney we traded in the city sights and sandy beaches for one of Australia's World Heritage Sights, the Blue Mountains.  The Blue Mountains get their name from the slate-colored hue in the rocks caused by a mist of oil exuded from the large gums of eucalyptus trees. This National park has valleys full of eucalyptus trees that create a dense forest canopy. You can spend an afternoon hiking around or even take three days to rough it in the jungle, or bush as they say here in Australia.
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We made the two hour train journey from Sydney to Katoomba, the biggest town in the region.  We walked a few kilometers to Echo Point and set our sights on this amazing National Park.  From the top of Echo Point we were looking across the Jamison Valley, and over three rock tower formations known as The Three Sisters.  The Jamison Valley looks like a miniature Grand Canyon with a large green jungle instead of desert red and brown rocks.
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After taking in the view we headed down The Three Sisters Giant Stairway to Federal Pass.  The staircase is more than 800 steps and descends 300 m (1000 Ft).  At the bottom we connected with the Federal Pass, an extensive bush trail near the bottom of the Valley.  In the bottom of the valley we hiked through the jungle where it was cool and damp, a nice break from the intense sun.  Eventually we had to face the inevitable, a steep hike back up to the top.  We took a similar staircase all the way back up to the top where we were greeted with a fortunate bird sighting.  At the top of our hike, two Lyrebirds were rustling in the bush making very noisy bird calls.  These birds are able to imitate other birds songs and can even imitate car sirens.  They are a dark colored bird and the males have a long tail feather with intricate markings.  There was a cute little boy who had found them and was eagerly sharing all that he knew about them with McKenna, I think he a had a little crush on her.  We hiked back to the Katoomba train station and took the two hour ride home and both slept like a rock.  It was nice to get out of the city for a day and also cool to see that Sydney has such a great hiking place so close.

The next day we returned to the West end of downtown, where all the shopping resides.  We strolled along the pedestrian mall for a few minutes and then we decided to split up so McKenna could "power shop" and Scott could go roam the Circular Quay, the main wharf downtown.   While McKenna sorted through the shops looking for deals, Scott walked along the wharf checking out views of the Opera House, The Rocks neighborhood, and listened to some Dijiridoo street music.  We met up at Circular Quay and took the scenic ferry ride through Sydney Harbor to Manly Beach.  

This east coast neighborhood is home to Sydney's second popular beach spot and caters to a more laid back locals crowd than Bondi.  We strolled the streets of Manly checking out the small pedestrian mall before heading to the beach for some more sun soaking. Don't worry we have been wearing plenty of sun screen.  It's hard to describe just how intense the sun feels, but we can tell you that the absence of an ozone layer is very noticeable.  After some beach lounging we explored the small town some more in search of the Manly Fish Market.  We found the tiny market just off the South end of the beach and it was packed with beach goers and locals just off of work.  We dined on some Fish & Chips and then headed back to the ferry.  We timed our ferry ride just right for sunset on the harbor.  We took some amazing photos of the Opera House with the pink and orange sky in the back ground.  You really can't get enough pictures of this building!
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For our last full day in Sydney we started off early, grabbing a pastry and flat white (a latte, no foam) for a bargain from a popular cafe chain known as Pie Face.  We walked down to the amazing Sydney Botanical Gardens and Domain, a huge park on the harbor with gardens, running paths, concert stages, and the spectacular Art Museum of New South Wales.  The museum was our first stop, and is free admission, except for the traveling exhibitions.  When we found out that the traveling exhibit was on loan from the Picasso Museum in Paris, we knew we had to see it.  It didn't not disappoint.  We walked through a small collection of Picasso paintings and sculptures designed around the stages of his life.  It was truly amazing to see the talent of this master painter.
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After seeing such an exceptional exhibit we strolled through the gardens to a harbor look out point to snap a few more photos of the Opera House.  This building really is magnificently designed and from every angle offers an unbelievable sight.  We had taken pictures of this building from every angle and finally walked close enough to get a close up view of it.  To our surprise, the roof of the Opera House was created by an intricate pattern of tiles, and it makes the building even more impressive.
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After walking around for awhile we headed to Manly Beach for a few more hours a sun soaking.  Seriously, we can't get enough!  It was the perfect end to a long day.  For our last night in Sydney we decided to try making a mexican dish.  Being creative with the ingredients we could find at the grocery store, we made some delicious quesadillas. The fajita seasoning they have here taste more like BBQ, but the buttery tortilla and cheese were enough to mask the odd seasoning of our chicken. It tasted great!

On our last day in Sydney we did some more window shopping in the West end of town and checked out The Rocks. The Rocks is an area west of Circular Quay that is full of Sydney's rich history. We toured the local museum and learned about the original settlement and the convicts that built it. Most convicts elected to stay after finishing there sentences and several took advantage of the change of scenery to turn their lives around and prosper in this new country down under.

It has been an amazing stay in Sydney and we feel we could spend even more time here.  There is still so much to see and do. Now we board the train for an overnight trip to Brisbane. It's going to be a long night!

We need to send a special thanks to Adi Teman, a friend who reached out to us with some advice on navigating this large city. We couldn’t have had such a great time without his help, thank’s Adi!

Check out this link for more pictures of Sydney: Beginning of Oz: Part 2

McKenna & Scott

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Posted by mands186 20:42 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney museum house opera blue_mountains picasso manly_beach Comments (2)

The Beginning of Oz: Super Sydney

Part 1 of our week long stay in Sydney. This city has more to offer than you can imagine.

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Sydney

Sydney


The iconic city of Australia is undoubtably Sydney. The oldest and largest city on this enormous continent sits on a long harbor on the south east coast boasting world class beaches and gorgeous modern architecture. Sydney is part laid back beach town, part bustling port city, part tourist trap, and chalk full of surprises around every corner. The Eora peoples inhabited the harbour first but, like most indigenous cultures in this region of the Pacific, they were smothered out by the massive land grab by the European explorers during the 1700's and ensuing settlements. After settlement the city was built on the backs of former convicts, some convicts even prospered in the shipping industry afterwards. Initially Sydney became a haven for drunken sailors and was known for its rum-fuelled turmoil. It wasn't until immigration of post-WWII Europeans did Sydney transform itself into the modern city it is today.

Today Sydney hums with business and shopping that rival any large city, while the beaches of Bondi and Manly invite you to relax and soak up the intense sun. The food is trendy and superb, the markets are full of creativity and color, the architecture is out of this world, and the public transit makes everything accessible. This city has something for everyone. It does live up to its description as one of the worlds most expensive cities and can be well worth it if you do it correctly.

We arrived in Sydney excited but slightly apprehensive. We had not been in a city with a population larger than 100,000 in almost a month and we were suddenly thrust into 4 million. Sydney commanded our attention immediately, the sprawling subway lines and the sheer amount of people moving through Central Station with purpose was overwhelming. We navigated our way to the neighborhood of Kings Cross with relative quickness. Apparently all backpacker accommodations have been relegated to this area. After we settled into our hostel we took a stroll down Darlinghurst Road, the main drag of Kings Cross, immediately we noticed the ecletic mix of businesses and patrons. We saw everything from night clubs, desert bars, dive bars, restaurants, and numerous questionable ladies of the night establishments. We grabed a drink at the Goldfish Jazz Club and sat on the patio for some excellent people watching. We enjoyed viewing the audacious outfit choices by some and cringed at a few questionable selections. On the outside Kings Cross looks suspicious, but its bark is far louder than its actual bite. It was an interesting introduction to Sydney to say the least.

On our first full day in Sydney the first thing we did was purchase a MyMulti pass for the week. A great deal that gives you access to all busses, ferries, and trains for a week and you will definitely use all forms. We headed down to Darling Harbor to the Sydney Aquarium. We had high expetations for the Sydney Aquarium, unfortunately they were not met. While McKenna found joy in seeing the Dugong, the Manatee cousin, and Scott thoroughly enjoyed the Lego sculptures, the Aquarium disappointed overall. We moved on to China Town to shake off the experience and made an excellent choice for lunch, Mamak Malaysian Roti & Satay. Roti is a malaysian pastry similar to flour tortillas and served with dipping sauces. In our case, we had a delicious vegetarian sauce and a spiced fish curry sauce. We both enjoyed the chicken curry with rice and spicy chunky potatoes. We highly recommend this lunch spot.
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Afterwards we put our legs to work, walking circles around west downtown in and out of Sydney's maze of shopping malls. Two shopping areas stood out above all others, not for the stores, but for the decor and the buildings themselves. The Queen Victoria Building and The Strand Arcade are beautifully tiled and the shops are lined with colorful stained glass windows. Both buildings hold on to the past with their victorian facade. We were so impressed by the decor we didn't even need to window shop, not that any of the stores were in our price range anyways. After a long day of walking the streets we hopped the train back to Kings Cross, did a quick grocery stop, and headed down to Tiger Baker for a spirit and more people watching in this crazy hood.

Day two started with a short walk to the charming neighborhood of Paddington looking for a much talked about Saturday Market. The Paddington Market was easily one of our favorite things that we did. The market consists of local artist, jewelry designers, pottery makers, and clothing designers. Everything was original; a requirement of the market was that you make what you sell. This kept out the mass produced goods and because everyone one is a local artist the prices stay at reasonable levels. The colors, the creativity, and the variety at this market were first class. We spent a good while walking the market but eventually hopped a bus down to Bondi Beach. Bondi is an eastern neighborhood of Sydney and possesses one of the most popular beaches in the city. We found a spot on the soft sandy beach and soaked up some rays. It felt good to feel the sand beneath our feet and taking a dip in the Tasman Sea was even better. On our way back to the bus, Scott ventured into a Fish & Chip shop looking for the infamous deep fried Mars bar. It sounds exactly like what it is, a deep fried candy bar and it was scrumptious! We took the bus and a train back to our hostel and managed to make some dinner before heading out for a night on the town.
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As we headed out downtown we had no idea what this city would offer. What we found were people dancing in the street and laughing the night away. Seriously everywhere you turned there was a concert, DJ, or a party of some sort. Even Occupy Sydney wasn't impervious, the party just surrounded them and they joined in.

Our arrival into downtown put us right in the middle of it all. As we exited the train station at Martin Place we were greeted with flashing lights, a crowd of people, and some cool bluesy rock music by The Jolly Boys. We had stumbled into one of Sydney Festival 2012 concerts, a string of concerts put on every summer by the city. We danced in the streets of downtown for an hour or so before heading off to the world renowned Opera House. Again, we found a crowd of people jamming at the Opera House Bar to an interesting DJ. We say interesting because aside from spinning records he accompanied it with his own high pitched voice. The Opera House Bar was a scene and Scott sipped on a delicious Opera House Organic Pale Ale while we both enjoyed the views of Sydney Harbour lit up for the night of partying. Downtown on a Saturday night in Sydney was a blast!
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The next day we did basically more of the same. We started with a weekend market, this time in Bondi and then spent a few more hours on Bondi Beach. Who could blame us? The beaches are amazing here! Well, it wasn't long before the rains came and we had to make our way back to the Hostel. We got back just in time before the skies opened up and we expereinced our first monsoon rain of the trip. It poured all night and at times the rain was so loud it became deafening.

Our first three days in Sydney were an excellent introduction to Oz. This city is a full of adventure, sight seeing, and relaxation on the beach. This is part 1 of our stay in Sydney, and part 2 promises to be just as full of excitement, adventure, and yes more time at a gorgeous beach!

Check out the first set of Sydney Pictures: Beginning of Oz: Part 1

McKenna & Scott

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Posted by mands186 04:03 Archived in Australia Tagged buildings opera_house sydney food bondi Comments (0)

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