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After having arranged an ETA online, and organising flights through the highly competent Trailfinders with Singapore Airlines we found ourselves on the other side of world. The ten o'clock flight had been pleasant and with watching some fab films, the red cockatoo and the lake house amongst them the time just flew (pardon the pun). Arriving in Singapore the next morning brought an overcast sky and the immense humidity we'd been briefed on (even at that early hour).. phew!
At the airport we'd got roped into an excursion to Sentosa an island with all sorts of attractions including a water show (I hate shows too!) and the Magic Merlion which turned out to house lots of steps up to a view out of its mouth. It also contained a film show explaining the history of the Merlion, Singapore's symbol. We got to go there via a cable car ride, with a great view of the port and spent some time in undersea world, which as it turned out is the only way I want to see these creatures in future!
All the time we were there we were accompanied by a haze, which we were told was due to smoke from forest fires across the South China Sea from Indonesia. It still didn't obscure the sights of the city, stunning sky scrappers of the new age dwarfing their old colonial neighbours such as Raffles and the Fullerton Hotel and sited along side colourful temples (shoes outside please).. not that we went in.
We really didn't know what to expect regarding food so the revelation of little India was a tad dashed when it appeared to be so little we couldn't find it! With all the walking Lisa ended up with sore feet so it was time to get a cycle rickshaw ride back to our Hotel, the Amara. At the end of it we got sore wallet (so yes do what I knew I should have done and agree your price first!). During our stay here we did try the runny eggs and toast, whilst getting a bargin or two at the Funan Centre (huge electrical mall).
The Polar puff cakes place (which we'd discovered at the airport) did a mean curry pastie not to mention the yummi pasta at Pasta Mania. Away from the centre on the riverside we had a great Italian meal in Ricciotti, well worth a visit. We also managed to obtain a new Buddha for the collection, that got wrapped up in an old Chinese newspaper.. A bit different from our red tops!
After arriving on the next continent! Early in the morning and having a run in with the very rude customs guy, which no doubt help convinced them that my case had to be checked through, we took a train circular Quay, Sydney. After a short walk we checked into our hotel for the next four nights, the Old Sydney Inn located in the 'rocks' area. Its a pleasant hotel with a great view of the ferries, bridge and opera house from its rooftop pool and Jacuzzi.
During our time in Sydney we did the usual tourist stuff. The Bridge Climb, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would as well as taking a Captain cook bay cruise which gave us a good overview of the waterfront. Had a shuffters at the Opera house, which bizarrely enough when view close up is made up from lots of yellow and white tiles (why it looks just white from a distance is no doubt someone's dissertation subject).
For food we had breakfast at the Rocks and Pony café's and for evening meals we ate down in Darling Harbour, one night at the Zaaffran Indian, one night at the Angus steak place but two at Baia Italian Restaurant, which I'd well, recommend. The steak house was good hmm but the Indian?… As we found out during our trip the Indian food tended to be rather poor, mainly because the meat in wasn't the best quality.
One day we spent hopping on and off the Bondi explorer bus, and visited lots of great bays including, Watson bay, Bondi and coogee beaches. We also spent some time in the city centre, the Queen Victoria building is how shops should still be built and did our best to enjoy the pubs there. One place not sure of the name (opposite bushells tea building) was just like a UK pub, very friendly atmosphere and had a free juke box playing Icehouse (just what you want in an Oz pub). Unfortunately all the others we went in, including the one we walked out of because we just got ignored (the place was virtually empty too), were not very welcoming due to the arrogance of the bar staff. Most had been spoilt too by the in your face presence of the Pokies (slot machines) which really toned them down. Australians seem obsessed by the things. As a result whilst in Oz, we mostly stayed away from the pubs, the beer isn't the best either anyway, preferring instead the comfort of the restaurants and the value of the BYO (bring your own) wines and the unique tastes of the local house/boutique ones
After picking up a very modest Toyota car from Avis, a right hand drive but still an automatic, we set off to the hills…
No too long a trip and we were into the Blue mountains and checked into Lurline house, where Peter was a most excellent host. He gave us a run down of the place and explained why they had central heating! Later on in the evening sure enough we found out why as it was indeed colder here than the UK! Well almost anyway. As the sun was setting we took the short walk down to the 3 sisters, for a view of the NSW version of the Grand Canyon. OK it's a lot smaller scale but it is stunning scenery all the same. The Blue in the name of the mountains refers to the colour of the haze that sometimes hangs over them caused by the suns long rays apparently.
After a free early evening port or two back the B&B and a wash and brush up we headed into town (ie one main street!) where the architecture was so art deco but actually looked about right for the place . Peter had suggested a few options for a meal but we chose the Isobar, which along with virtually all the eateries there, were BYO. The Isobar also had a licence so its was a pasta and white wine night along with some guy strumming a guitar in the background.. All very relaxing (except for the fact everyone left and didn't shut the door, what's wrong with people. One woman, who was sitting nearby was having a fit!). What surprised us though was that everyone seemed to be heading home around 9ish, we were the last to leave, after being brushed up around!
Next day and Peter and his Mum in law (I think) cooked a brilliant breakfast in the open plan area whilst we looked out into the trees where their garden birds, to say the least, were slightly different than the those we get in the UK! We came to realise that there were birds everywhere; sulpher crested cockatoos, Rosella cockatoos and kookaburras were the ones on display/squawk that day.
After a warming soup at the Katoomba falls kiosk we paid a visit to Scenic World, having a stroll along the Scenic walkway, a terrifying drop on the old mine railway before taking the less fearful ride back on the cableway. We didn't however ride on the skyway which has a glass bottom and travels across the valley but I'm sure the view would have been terrific. That night we visited the Isobar again and fancied a beer in one of only a few pubs we could see. Again it seemed everyone was on curfew and we got told to drink up and be gone by 10pm! After our experiences in Sydney I don't know why we even bothered trying to have a beer.
Out from the bush and back to the coast, for a couple of days stay at the Landmark, Nelson bay. There were flaming flies everywhere (and hence the introduction of the 'Ausie wave') but they were soon left behind when we went out Whale watching on board an imagine cruise. We never got that close , but to witness such animals was rare privilege and make you think a bit more about this planet home of ours.
On the way back in we had a coupling of dolphins swimming in and out of the catamarans hulls. Back on land and we got to see the Pelicans walking up and down the marina wall, huge beasts who like anglers sandwiches we witnessed. Speaking of grub we tried out the two Indian restaurants The Only place and Taj Tandoori hmmm not sure which was best.
As we headed off up the coast, popping into small towns on the way, we came across our first big reptile a Goanna.. Not sure who was more scared of who!
As our trip continued we moved further up the coast. Our next port of call was Port Macquarrie where we had one nights stay at The Observatory. This hotel was really nice, way over the top as it was more like a full apartment but still great value. The swimming pool, complete with waterfall, was great to relax in as was the Sauna and outdoor spa.
We took a short walk into the town itself and discovered there wasn't that much to see and not that many places to eat, which we fancied. Lots of churches however.. it seemed like there was one on every corner! We returned to the hotel via the beach whose sand was so fine it squeaked (something to do with silica content or something). It started raining, our first spell since we'd got to Oz and so headed back to the apartment to make a start on the tawny port and some merlot we'd managed to not break into from the Hunter valley. Food came in the form of BOGOF Eagle boys pizza. Brilliant pepperoni..nice and hot too. As soon as the speed dialled number (obviously the thing to eat here) was disconnected there was a tap on the door, great service! The guys didn't have his eagle outfit on which disappointed a little..
Back onto the Pacific highway and we headed north for our next stop at Coffs Harbour. The rain continued intermittently until we arrived at yet another Observatory greeted by the smiling and very helpful Alicia, the manager there. After checking in we had a look round the Jetty and spotted the Tide and Pilot restaurant, which we patronised later that evening very nice it was too (as they say the only thing they overlook is the ocean). Despite the grey overcast skies we headed towards Mutton bird island but never got to see much of it as rain stopped play.
Next day wasn't much brighter but undeterred visited the Dorrigo National Park, which we'd spotted on the way up. Couple of walks are available (we'd got a leaflet from the Rainforest centre and a warning about leeches) but decided to do the whole circular route, Wonga walk, which took in the Crystal shower & Tristania falls and the birds boardwalk high in the semi tropical rainforest canopy. Maybe it was the weather but there was hardly anyone about, it was like our own vast forest complete with a clear sound of the animal and bird chatter. We saw quite a few forest natives including brush turkeys, lyre birds and we managed to get to see a cute Pademelon nibbling on a forest fruit. Regarding leeches we were doing so well until we headed back to the centre and Lisa fell foul of one! Out from the centre is a skywalk, a high walkway in the canopy of the trees. Great view on a clear day I imagine.
Later that evening we made our way into the main part of the town and then out to have a meal at the SSS chain of ranch style restaurants, tasty and very filling before grabbing a vino at the drive though bottlo
After a tea and coffee stop at Maclean, a strange mix of Scottish and Australian cultures we reached Byron Bay. Famous for its lighthouse as well as being the Furthest easterly point on Oz mainland. After we'd checked into a stunning Balinese styled two tiered huts at the Garden Burgees we drove up to the lighthouse for some great views of the beaches as the sun was starting to set. Then we were back at the Garden Burgees for a quick outdoor shower, which came complete with its own Chinese Water dragon! Even though we weren't that close to the centre, as a single night stop off this was just what we needed, a great 'hut' to stay in and a trendy bar and Restaurant (the Buddha), next door. The huge Jacuzzi took quite a time to fill too!
After dropping the car off in Brisbane (why are these drop offs always located in most inaccessible parts of cities!!) we had a coffee whilst waiting for Helen, my mates better half, to pick us up and take us back to their place for three nights stay and chill!
It was really great to see both of them again as it was by pure chance that John had emigrated the year before we visited. It was also really good to not be in a hotel so as to properly wash all our clothes ready for the next stage of the journey as well as to free up my cameras memory cards! Thanks guys... Whilst we were there John donned his barbi bib more than once and what with copious amounts of Carlton draught bottled beer (complete with stubby coolers!), thoroughly enjoyed our 'living in Oz' experience.
They really spoiled us over the coming days, treating us to a city view from the lookout near where they live, and from a hot air balloon, a mode of transport which we'd never done before. We were also taken out for a top meal at the Gap Tavern, and a day out at a most beautiful beach, Bribi, the jellyfish (blue bottles) that were washed up on it were gloriously translucent blue/green.
Unfortunately our trip timetable dictated we only had a limited spell in Brisbane, but it was really great to be able to stay with friends, and we got to see a truer picture of what life is OZ is really like.
After all the driving around we'd decided to have a holiday within a holiday and have a week at the beach. To save time we flew from Brisbane to Cairns on Jetstar (great service) and as we did so experienced fabulous views of the Great Barrier Reef from the air. After landing at tropical Cairns we took our prebooked (through Sunpalm transport) transfer up to Port Douglas, which in turn dropped us off right outside our hotel for the next seven nights, the Hibiscus gardens, such a relaxing place. It was ideally situated not far from the main drag, Macrossan Street and a short walk to the start of four mile beach (yes we did walk it all there and back on one day).
Whilst in Port Douglas we ate at Michael Angelos place, recommended and at Tortillas, nice but not the most authentic Mexican I've been to. We also had a few beers in Paddy's bar watching a huge beetle try and carry a keg of beer from the neighbouring Bottlo (honest) and at the Central Hotel where we became embroiled in a bingo/wheel of fortune kind of thing… We made good our escape!
During the daytime we spent a few days at the beach but it was simply too hot to stay on it for too long. After spending over an hour trying to get a coconut out of its husk one day, using only what was on the beach (hey if Robinson Cruso could do it!) I got sunburnt (us Britts never learn). Luckily enough the next couple of days were booked up with a fabulous 'safari' into the Daintree rainforest (with Tonys tropical tours) and a diving experience of the Great Barrier Reef with Poseidon (specifically at Agincourt Reef).
The former was a brilliant full day out (just five of us in a four by four), including a Daintree river cruise spotting the 'logadiles' (we did see one crocodile), a swim in a private and very secluded freshwater stream in Noah valley, lots of photo opportunities (at Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge National Park and the various gorgeous little beached we found ourselves on) and a wilderness experience through the rainforest. We didn't come across any cassowaries (just as well as they sound a tad angry) but we did see lots of wildlife including a rather large Lace monitor who wanted some of our lunch! We had a great host on the tour and not only was he courteous and entertaining but he really knew his onions backed up with real passion for the animals and plants of this very old rainforest.
The latter was something I really wasn't looking forward to or more accurately, the scuba diving. I'd never done it before and don't intend ever to do it again. As a friend put it there's much better ways to die! Lisa on the other hand was looking forward to it but we were both surprised at the length and depth of the briefing session we had which took virtually the whole of the time it took us to reach the reef from Port Douglas, about an hour and a half. We decided just to snorkel at subsequent dive sites and the fish and coral we saw just beneath the waves were truly spectacular. It certainly puts into context our stewardship responsibilities of the planet and thoughout our time in Oz the tourism was managed with this primarily in mind. The catamaran we went out on was a fine ship as was the on board buffet.
Also during our time on the beach I took some time out to just relax and listen on my MP3 player to Icehouse, an Australian band, I've been a fan of for years. The bars of Great Southeren Land in my ears lying on a native beach was just excellent.
Our assumption that Australia's season's are in reverse to ours is rather an oversimplification as one evening we were treated to a right tropical downpour, which seemed to freshen things up a bit. In effect they have a rainy season rather than spring.
Port Douglas is also famous for its flying foxes, which we never spotted until late one night walking back to the hotel. We heard a huge swooping bat sound overhead and sure enough this thing was huge! Amazing creatures… to add to the rest of them on this paradise continent. I spent ages trying to get a photograph of one.. just to darn quick for me!
It's a shame we didn't have a few more relaxing days here but even the longest holiday must come to an end.
Penultimate day and we got a Virgin Blue flight (our 'free' internal) back to Brisbane for a stop over at Helen and John's, another barbi and some more stubbies!!. How small are these airports!
The flight home from a holiday always drags of course but this
was the longest ever!… but well worth it for the Oz experience
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