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Australia (New South Wales, Queensland)

Total Pictures Taken: 448

Summary

Detail

Sydney / Cairns / Outback / Innisfail / Blue Mountains

Getting There

Contacts


Summary

We spent a total of 17 days in Australia, the first couple of which we spent in Sydney on the way to New Zealand.  Australia is so huge that we only touched the very eastern portion of the country in the states of New South Wales (Sydney) and Queensland (Cairns, etc).  We spent the first two days before New Zealand getting acclimated to Sydney, then Kristen's sister, Stacey, joined us for the second two week stretch.  We found Australia very easy to enjoy, with the genuine friendliness of the Aussies similar to New Zealanders.  In addition, the modern tourism support, and interesting places to see/things to do made our stay in Australia very enjoyable.  We explored Sydney, Cairns, the Outback, and the Blue Mountains.  Since it was our last stop before heading home, we probably cut the trip shorter than we otherwise would have. We definitely hope to go back one day and spend more time seeing more of the vast country.

Facts

Currency: Australian Dollar (AU1.9:US$1)

Language: English

Population: 18 million

Kangaroo population: 40M

Internet connection speed: 28-56 bps

English speaking TV channels (in hotel): plenty

Religion: 58% 'nominally' Christian, 20% no religion

Time difference:GMT +10:00 (14:00 hours ahead of Atlanta)

Driving lane: left side

Temperature: 60-85F (awesome!)

 

Detail

Australia is a vast and varied country.  We understand that it is the 6th largest country in the world and also the flattest country (most of the once large mountain ranges have flattened over time). The land is very old -- the Daintree Rainforest north of Cairns has existed for at least 130 million years, making it 10 times older than the Amazon Rainforest.  The Aborigines walked into Australia over 60,000 years ago, though their origin is disputed.  Aborigines have the longest 'unbroken' culture in the world, lasting over 2000 generations, passing down the stories/lessons to each generation.

 Australia holds the world record for shark attacks and has more deadly creatures than anywhere in the world.  A brush with certain jellyfish can cause death within minutes.  Certain octopi can cause death with a single bite. It is also a country where the majority of snakes are poisonous.  

We could go on forever with 'most and biggest' points about Australia because there are so many that apply.  We read Bill Bryson's book, Down Under, while we were there, and it provides an outstanding (and humorous) description of Australia.  Bryson describes Australia as "the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile, and climactically aggressive of all inhabited continents".  He also comments on how little attention the US pays to Australian news.  He claims that with much research he determined that the New York Times published only 9 articles in 1996 and 6 in 1998 in which Australia was the main subject.  Maybe this neglect is the reason Australians make such an extra effort to maintain their identity.  Many TV commercials clearly state that their businesses are 'Australian owned and operated' as a major selling point, especially when they are competing against a chain based somewhere outside of Australia.

But what we liked most about Australia was the ease of existence and travel in the country.  Obviously, having English as the primary language helped, but also the generally friendly and laid back attitude of most of the people we met made it enjoyable.  Additionally, the strong dollar made activities and accommodations at the level we are used to in the United States very affordable.  Another positive travel point is that Australia is not generally a tipping society (although tipping was expected slightly more often than in New Zealand).

Although we were visiting Australia during their winter, it was sunny and 70F in Sydney every day, 60-80F but cloudy/rainy in Cairns, and sunny/warmer in the Outback.  The locals said it was generally warm for their winter but we understand that it rarely gets very cold in in the areas we visited.

The following sections provide some details about the places we visited in Australia.

Sydney

When we arrived in Sydney from Tokyo, after a whole day of traveling, we both smiled in appreciation of being back in an 'all English-speaking' country.  We could read all the signs in the airport and we could interact easily with any of the people working there.  The friendliness of the people was an added bonus.

Because Stacey, Kristen's sister, was joining us on our return to Sydney after New Zealand, we did not want to do much touring on our first pass so that we could all do it together on the second pass.  This feeling of not needing to do any touring was a very welcome feeling given the previous five months of having to figure out what we needed to see and do as soon as we arrived in a country. 

So, on the first stop through Sydney we just relaxed, read, mailed back some extra baggage, and researched/planned the New Zealand trip.

After our outstanding time in New Zealand we returned to Sydney a couple days before Stacey arrived and we spent that time relaxing and finding a place to stay that suited three people.  In the New Zealand airport we had gone online and used Last Minute.com (Aus) and reserved an apartment at a great rate in an active area near Chinatown in Sydney.  We figured that we could check out the apartments as a potential place for the three of us.  We found out when we arrived that the rate we had secured online was far better than any rate we could get directly from the apartment building.  When the woman behind the desk said she could not give us the internet rate for the next night, we just got online again and secured the same rate and stayed in the same room.  The next day we looked at every range of apartments in our walk through the city, and finally found a great, large, luxurious, but acceptably priced apartment for the rest of our time in Sydney with the three of us.

With some time to kill in Sydney, we sent some extra baggage home, and Dan went in search of a much-needed haircut.  In the Chinatown area we saw businesses offering $8 and $10 haircuts on almost every block.  A bit skeptical about paying only US$5, Dan found a place that cost $12 (US$7) and looked larger and more organized that some of the smaller places.  He was immediately seated and the 'stylist' asked the simple question, "what number".  Dan asked what she meant, and she again asked "what number".  Dan looked around and realized that the people in the chairs on either side of him were undergoing rapid swipes with electric shears, and realized she was pointing to a line of different sized attachments for her shears.  After several back and forth confusing statements, Dan got her to agree to cut his hair with just scissors.  She reluctantly agreed as it took about 3 times longer to cut his hair as those around her (no more than 5 minutes each).  However, it seemed a 30% tip (in this non-tipping oriented society) made her happy for expending the effort.

One very interesting detail about that weekend in Sydney was the constant commercials we saw for temporary changes to speeding and seat belt laws for the upcoming holiday weekend.  We had no idea that Australia celebrated the Queen of England's birthday that weekend -- we had celebrated the same holiday the weekend before while we were in New Zealand.  The commercials informed drivers that speeding more than 16 kph over the speed limit would result in double penalty points or the equivalent of half the the allotted points on the driver's license.  Any seatbelt violation (failure to use one) by anyone in the car would also result in 6 points for the driver, and a $200 fine to the passenger not wearing his or her seatbelt.  Thus, speeding only 10mph over the speed limit without wearing a seatbelt  would cause a driver to lose his/her license.  Clearly Australian police were serious about stopping speeding and enforcing their seat belt laws, at least for that weekend.  We found the idea interesting and wondered whether any city in the US had considered that approach to raising awareness of and adherence to traffic laws.  The commercials worked as far as we could tell, since the driver of the only taxi we took that Saturday made us wear our seatbelts in the back seat! 

We were in Sydney during the NBA Finals, and we were starved of any spectator sports other than rugby or cricket.  With the time difference we found ourselves at a sports bar at 10:30 in the morning to watch the live broadcast of one of the playoff games.  As it turns out, the sports bar was quite crowded -- we were surprised that so many people cared about an American sport.  Well, we soon found out that the bar was filling up with people staking out tables extra early in the day for a big Australia-New Zealand rugby match later that night!  The spectators did watch the NBA finals, but it was clear that much of the crowd planned to spend the rest of the day there preparing for the later game.  Although we had heard many times in the US about how Australians like things in excess or oversized (remember the beer commercials),  we were quite disappointed to find that this is not totally true.  As we lingered in the sports bar and ordered an early lunch, the waitresses would give us only a little thimble-full of ketchup for our veggie-burger and fries, no matter how many times we asked for extra ketchup  -- very irritating.

Once Stacey joined us, we were ready to do the full Sydney experience and see the sights.   We did a quick hour-long harbor cruise to see the Opera House and Harbor Bridge from the harbor view.  We were amazed at how long the internal coast line is in and around Sydney and its accompanying harbors.  Based on a guide book and other recommendations, we had planned to do the 'Bridge  Walk', which involves hiking for three hours to the top of the Harbor Bridge, partly for the experience of walking on the bridge and partly to see the sights from the perspective of the bridge.  But, we we cruised under the bridge we realized what it would be like.  We saw 4-6 groups of 15 people each standing at different points on the bridge infrastructure, all tethered to the bridge, and dressed in gray jumpsuits.  As we watched, not a single group progressed from their idle positions.  We realized that with the bridge being 'not-so-large', the hike can only take 3 hours if you stop at each position on the bridge for extended periods of time.  We might have just been turned off by the herd-like nature of the hike, but we chose not to partake.  

We found lots of remnants of the 2000 Olympics in the form of some modern buildings, and great park settings.  Another clear indicator of the recent Olympics was the proliferation of Olympic T-shirts for sale everywhere at huge discounts.  

Darling Harbor is a major attraction in the middle of Sydney.  For the Queen's Birthday they held a Jazz Festival at the harbor and we joined the thousands of other people enjoying the music, food, entertainment and sunshine.  

The Rocks is a culturally significant area of Sydney, having been the home of the original European settlers (mostly convicts, btw) to Australia. This area has attempted to maintain a historic atmosphere.  We walked through the streets, viewing the architecture of the houses, and the art museums and curio shops.  We found a great pub for dinner, with an equally great bar downstairs.  After we ate we went downstairs and ordered a round of beer.  The bartender gave us a list of the hundreds of beers from around the world and encouraged us to try them all.  We declined, his invitation despite the free t-shirt that he promised if we drank just ten of them -- there were no "cheap, light, American beers" so Dan would not have contributed.  

We walked through many other parts of Sydney, trying to hit the major 'must see' locations.  We walked through Hyde Park and the accompanying ANZAC Museum (ANZAC=Australia-New Zealand Army Corp) which honors the contribution made by the Australian and New Zealand armed forces to four major wars including World War I and II, Vietnam War, and Korean War.  We had forgotten the role Australia had played in those conflicts, and we learned a great deal.  

We had read in a guidebook that Sydney often has amazing sunsets, best viewed from the Sky Tower that shadows the downtown area.  Being suckers for a great sunset, we took the elevator to the top with camera in hand -- the sun sets at an early 5PM in the wintertime.  From start to finish the sunset was spectacular, and we even let loose a couple 'oohs' and 'aahs' at different points.  Dan went a little crazy and took over 50 pictures of the sunset sequence!

Cairns

We flew from Sydney to Cairns, our jumping- off point for the Great Barrier reef, and other nearby attractions.  We rented a car, drove through the town, and found a reasonable hotel right on the main street.  Cairns reminded us of towns in New Zealand -- every conceivable adventure sport was offered at excellent prices (we could have done a 4 day scuba diving course with 4+ dives for AUS$275). Quality backpacker accommodations were everywhere and the town seemed to be a hub for younger travelers.  We found outstanding food vendors and Dan was sure he could eat Turkish kebabs at one of the food stands for every meal.

The weather did not look good with heavy clouds, wind and intermittent rain.  Our main goal in Cairns was to snorkel on the great barrier reef, maybe do some ocean fishing, and then drive into the Outback.  When we started asking around about reef tours, the locals were very clear that the wind and resulting huge waves would make a reef trip unbearable and was even preventing the  fishing charters from going out.  Of course, we were in the off-season for the best fishing anyway -- Cairns has the world's best big tackle fishing, but from August to December.  

So, we decided to head to the Outback to escape the weather and return when the weather was better  (See next section, Outback/Undara).

Our first order of business on returning to Cairns from the Outback and Innisfail was to find a place to fix the laptop.  As we drove into town we saw a computer store that specialized in laptops, but it was closed on Sat.  Dan went to the door and saw a guy who had just stopped by the office, and he told Dan that they could likely fix it on Monday.  After several discussions on Monday and Tuesday, we determined that the store could not find the required Sony parts in Australia, but that they could get the parts in 4-7 days. We even tried to set up a temporary monitor, just so we could download pictures and keep the website up to date, but we had left the special adapter required for external monitors in Atlanta.  To make matters worse, the screen on the Palm Pilot quit working that night in the hotel.  So we were without laptop, Palm Pilot, and camera -- we were having serious technology withdrawal.  We did buy some extra SmartMedia cards for the camera to allow us to take more pictures, but we could not find the Olympus cards that would enable us to take more panoramic pictures.  

On the return to Cairns we were disappointed to discover that the weather had not improved.  So, instead of going fishing in the ocean we decided to take a boat into the estuary/river where the waves were smaller.  Not until we got on the boat did we find out that it was low tide and off season, the worst combination for fishing in the estuary.  While the captain threw the net out to catch live bait, Dan drove the boat.  After a few hours of fishing we had a few bites but had not caught anything.  Just as we thought about packing it in and heading to shore, the rod closest to Dan started to bend and we had hooked a fish.  As Dan reeled it in, the fish jumped out of the water several times.  We were just happy to have caught something.  The captain had no idea what kind of fish it was (he was new to the area) and could not find its picture in any of his books, but since it was 45cm long it was plenty large enough to keep.  We gave it to the other passenger to take home for dinner.

On one of our nights in Cairns we walked to a local blues bar, hoping to catch some local bands.  Instead of bands that night they were having a Didgeridoo contest.  The Didgeridoo is a long, slightly conical wooden trumpet or horn, used traditionally by the aboriginal people of Northern Australia.  We thought the sound was similar to a deep pitched kazoo played underwater.  We saw at least twenty stores making and selling "didge's" in Cairns, and it seemed like the cool instrument to play.  But after listening to over an hour of didg music in the super smoky bar, we had had enough.

Even though the weather was terrible on our last day in Cairns we felt like we had to see the Great Barrier Reef -- we would have felt stupid being that close and not seeing it. We joined a   large 250 person boat tour because that was the only real option for the shortest trip to the reef, and it still requires a full day.  For most of the ride to the reef, we experienced rain and huge waves.  The crew walked around with sick bags giving them to the many people getting sick.  The boat stopped on Fitzroy Island for an hour on the way to the reef.  We were not sure why it stops on the island, since the island has only one covered building area and a pool.  Actually, we could have joined the 100+ people on a guided rainforest walk (yeah, right).  Dan played a great pinball game and Kristen/Stacey played crazy-8's for the hour we hung out on the island.  When we reached the reef, it was still raining, but the water was much smoother.  Unfortunately, we did not appreciate the reef since there were few of the colorful fish and coral that we had expected.  We assume that the clouds and low tide possibly contributed to the blandness. We are glad we did it, but wished it been a little more interesting.

One the way out of Cairns, we stopped by the Peter Lik Gallery and bought a photograph (see the photograph on the Peter Lik web site).  Peter Lik is a popular photographer from Cairns and we loved the picture with a rustic sheet metal frame.

Outback/Undara Lava Lodge

As an easy way to see the Outback, the very helpful manager of our hotel in Cairns suggested visiting Undara Lava Lodge, which was a four-hour drive from Cairns.  This provided us with a way to see at least some portion of the Outback without committing to days of driving.  The drive from Cairns west to the Outback involved leaving the flat, green, coastal areas, passing through a large mountainous rain forest range, then arriving in the very flat empty Outback area.  Once we passed through the rainy coastal and mountain areas, we enjoyed perfect skies and warm weather in the Outback.  Undara is the last small dot looking west on a map before thousands of miles of nothing; the Outback.  We passed a few other towns on our drive which were represented by larger dots on our map, but they consisted of no more than 5 buildings.  We never actually saw any buildings or a 'town' representing Undara, but did find the Lava Lodge 20 miles off the main road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  The Lava Lodge offers five levels of accommodations from empty campsite space to Railway Cars which had been converted to sleeper rooms.  We chose the railway cars, having to share bathrooms with only the other cabins in our railway car.  

We had hoped to join a sunset hike described in the brochure that included watching millions of bats leave their cave perches to start their nightly hunt -- unfortunately we learned that the bats are viewed only at a certain time of year, which was not this time of year.  We therefore settled for a quick hike up to a bluff near the lodge to see what was around the lodge area.  The raised bluff provided 360 views of flat land covered lightly with small trees.  While watching the sunset from the bluff and enjoying the isolation of the area, we appreciated the vastness and nothingness we had associated with the Outback.

au-syd-harbor-cruise-opera-house-harbor-bridge-2-600.jpg (64194 bytes) We took a one hour cruise from Darling Harbor to get pictures of the famous Opera House and Harbor Bridge in Sydney.
Stacey, Kristen's sister, joined us in Sydney for our Australia trip, and joined us on this cruise. au-syd-harbor-cruise-kristen-dan-stacey-600.jpg (71292 bytes)
au-syd-harbor-cruise-view-skyline-2-600.jpg (60705 bytes) View of the Sydney skyline from our Darling Harbor cruise.
While walking through the Sydney Rocks area, we stand on Circular Quay with the Opera House in the background. au-syd-rocks-view-opera-house-kristen-dan-600.jpg (61995 bytes)
au-syd-sky-tower-view-sunset-11-600.jpg (56654 bytes) Sunset view from the Sky Tower in Sydney.  The hour-long sunset was amazing from the 20-story high viewpoint.
Panoramic sunset view from the Sky Tower in Sydney.  au-syd-sky-tower-view-sunset-23-pano-2200.jpg (121834 bytes)
au-syd-rocks-street-view-harbor-bridge-600.jpg (70651 bytes) The Harbor Bridge is visible from many points in the city.  This is the view from the old Rocks section of Sydney,
We enjoyed walking through Sydney parks.  Sure was nice to have Stacey with us to take pictures:)! au-syd-hyde-park-trees-fountain-kristen-dan-1-600.jpg (87269 bytes)
au-syd-darling-walk-restaurant-bubble-kristen-stacey-1-600.jpg (72079 bytes) Kristen and Stacey playing with a bubble we created with a tube of 'plastic bubble' Dan borrowed from the child at the nearby table.
We visited the Sydney Aquarium and saw some cool animals.  This one is in the outdoor seal exhibit. au-syd-aquarian-seal-2-600.jpg (67029 bytes)
au-syd-aquarian-stingray-1-600.jpg (53479 bytes) As we walked through the tunnel in one of the tanks, we saw many stingrays swimming above us.
A very long necked turtle. au-syd-aquarian-turtle-600.jpg (58724 bytes)
au-syd-aquarian-jellyfish-1-600.jpg (46319 bytes) Translucent jellyfish in an unnerving exhibit.
Kristen and Dan enjoying the sunset on the rocky peninsula in Cairns. au-cai-pier-sunset-dan-kristen-1-600.jpg (64893 bytes)
au-cai-pier-sunset-stacey-kristen-600.jpg (73519 bytes) Kristen and Stacey enjoying the sunset on the rocky peninsula in Cairns.
During our long drive into the outback from Cairns, we came upon a wind farm with huge windmills. au-cai-road-to-undara-windmills-7-600.jpg (52080 bytes)
au-und-lava-lodge-railway-car-kristen-dan-600.jpg (96564 bytes) We stayed one night in railway cars at Undara Lava Lodge In the middle of no where (the outback).
Stacey in front of her rail car in Undara Lava Lodge.  The nearby lava tunnels are the major attraction supporting the lodge. au-und-lava-lodge-railway-car-stacey-2-600.jpg (122612 bytes)
au-und-lava-lodge-railway-car-inside-600.jpg (84878 bytes) The rooms in the Lava Lodge are real rail cars converted to hotel rooms.  Pretty cool, but more expensive than it should be.
While in Undara we toured the huge lava tubes.  Lava flowing from the many volcanoes formed  these tubes tens of millions ago. au-und-lava-tube-1-inside-entrance-2-600.jpg (66515 bytes)
au-und-lava-tube-1-inside-kristen-dan-600.jpg (41792 bytes) Dan and Kristen with the opening in the background.  We carried flashlights with us since it was pitch black in the caves.
Kristen and Stacey about to exit one of the lava tubes. au-und-lava-tube-2-inside-entrance-stacey-kristen-600.jpg (63577 bytes)
au-und-lava-lodge-bluff-walk-outback-dan-1-600.jpg (64093 bytes) Dan standing on the rocks at the top of a bluff near the Undara Lava Lodge with the flat landscape of the outback in the background.
Kristen and Stacey sitting on the rocks at the top of a bluff near the Undara Lava Lodge. au-und-lava-lodge-bluff-walk-outback-stacey-kristen-600.jpg (82716 bytes)
au-und-lava-lodge-bluff-walk-sunset-8-600.jpg (50517 bytes) Sunset view from the bluff at the Lava Lodge. 
After visiting the lava tubes, we hiked up to and around the rim of  the Kalkani Crater of a now dormant volcano.  The landscape shows that the crater is mostly a hill with grass and trees. au-und-kalkani-crater-hike-kristen-600.jpg (154455 bytes)
au-und-kalkani-crater-kangaroos-03-600.jpg (113568 bytes) Our first kangaroos!  We took this picture at the Kalkani Crater with the zoom lens on the digital camera.
Take a close look at this outback road sign. Along with the distances of 100's of kilometers along this road, it carefully points out that there is no fuel on this road.  More typical of the outback, the small white sign in the background points out that this is not a through road and ends with no outlet! au-und-road-to-innisfail-road-sign-no-outlet-600.jpg (90556 bytes)
au-und-road-to-innisfail-termite-mound-3-dan-600.jpg (141782 bytes) Dan with one of the thousands of huge termite mounds in the outback -- termite tunnels extend 100 meters from the mound.  We must say, though, that we saw similar mounds in the African countryside. 
On our drive from Undara and the outback, we stopped for some cool views of the more lush closer-to-coast countryside. au-und-road-to-innisfail-millaa-millaa-dan-kristen-600.jpg (98868 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-saltwater-croc-huge-1-6-600.jpg (126240 bytes) In the tiny coastal town of Innisfail, we visited the Johnstone Croc Farm.  The owner was a very nice gentleman who showed us his bravery as he sits on the 2000 pound saltwater crocodile, typically the most viscious of crocodiles.
Dan holds a baby saltwater croc and Stacey holds a python as we enter the Croc Farm. au-inn-croc-farm-saltwater-baby-croc-dan-snake-stacey-600.jpg (91958 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-saltwater-baby-croc-kristen-600.jpg (97692 bytes) Kristen holds the baby saltwater crocodile.  We have to admit that its mouth is taped shut, or it would have taken an appendage from us.
We witnessed feeding time in the croc bins.  Those bloody objects serving as food are chicken heads.  au-inn-croc-farm-saltwater-croc-feeding-4-600.jpg (126484 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-emu-3-stacey-600.jpg (128267 bytes) The owner of the croc farm gave us bread to feed the animals. The large emu was quite aggressive as Stacey gave it some some bread.
Stacey backs away as another emu approaches and both want food. au-inn-croc-farm-emu-5-stacey-600.jpg (125398 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-cossawary-2-600.jpg (147404 bytes) The cassawary is a near-extinct bird that can grow to six feet in height and can kill a human with its razor sharp claws.
The large number of kangaroos were the best part of our visit to the farm .  These guys are just chilling out. au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-44-lounging-600.jpg (142378 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-52-lounging-600.jpg (138967 bytes) And this one looks the most comfortable.
Dan shaking hands with this one. au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-47-dan-shaking-hands-600.jpg (104671 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-21-dan-600.jpg (136894 bytes) The kangaroos were very friendly and very willing to eat from our hands. 
This joey was quite curious about the camera, and very happy to provide a close-up. au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-29-closeup-600.jpg (68080 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-30-hand-eating-600.jpg (126565 bytes) Sometimes, the kangaroos would take the food with their hands and feed themselves.
This muscle-covered older kangaroo was the biggest! au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-34-muscles-600.jpg (122318 bytes)
au-inn-croc-farm-kangaroo-38-kristen-stacey-600.jpg (103894 bytes) Kristen and Stacey feeding a trio of interested 'roos.
From Innisfail, we drove into the Woonooroonan Forest and hiked to the Nandroya Waterfall, a nice 3-5 km hike through 'real' rainforest. au-woo-rainforest-nandroya-hike-waterfall-3-kristen-dan-600.jpg (128018 bytes)
au-woo-rainforest-nandroya-hike-leach-blood-600.jpg (62719 bytes) And the cute inchworms we saw on the ground turned into blood-sucking leaches in our shoes once we reached the falls.  We each had 10+ leaches in our shoes/socks.  Here, Dan has pulled one off after it had connected.
On our second visit to Cairns, we went fishing in the estuary/river -- it was too rough to ocean fish.  The captain asked Dan to drive while he threw the net to catch bait. au-cai-estuary-fishing-boat-driving-dan-600.jpg (87015 bytes)
au-cai-estuary-fishing-boat-fish-caught-dan-1-600.jpg (75121 bytes) This was the only fish we caught, a 45cm, jumping, fighting, mystery fish -- the captain had no idea what kind of fish it was.
Kristen and Stacey at the end of our estuary fishing, while the sun sets, just before it became super-cold on the water. au-cai-estuary-fishing-boat-stacey-kristen-1-600.jpg (83193 bytes)
au-cai-great-barrier-reef-snorkeling-stacey-kristen-2-600.jpg (69354 bytes) Kristen and Stacey snorkeling at the great barrier reef.  Partially because it was cloudy and raining the underwater views were less than impressive.
On our return to Sydney, we stayed at Bondi Beach, a suburb of Sydney.  We walked along the boardwalk and beach and took this shadow picture.  au-bon-bondi-beach-shadows-stacey-kristen-dan-2-600.jpg (62382 bytes)
au-bon-bondi-beach-sunset-09-pano-1200.jpg (43822 bytes) Panoramic view of the sunset from Bondi beach. 
We stayed over in the Blue Mountains, an hour from Sydney.  This is the Three Sisters, a natural landmark in Katoomba, one of the towns in the mountains. au-blu-katoomba-echo-point-three-sisters-2-600.jpg (76101 bytes)
au-blu-canyon-hike-4-creek-ravine-pano-1200.jpg (207839 bytes) We hiked through some canyons and saw the changes from dry mountain to wet rainforest terrain.
Kristen walking under one of the waterfalls on our hike in the Blue Mountains. au-blu-canyon-hike-6-waterfall-kristen-2-600.jpg (126932 bytes)
au-blu-canyon-hike-7-tunnel-stacey-kristen-600.jpg (98133 bytes) Kristen and Stacey emerging from one of the tunnels the well-marked path traversed.
 

Being the tourists the that we are, we were disappointed in not yet having seen a kangaroo in a country that is supposedly overrun with them.  We had thought that a four hour drive to Undara would have resulted in a sighting -- many of the locals equip their cars with kangaroo grill guards to protect from hitting kangaroos crossing the road.  From the lodge workers we learned that kangaroos are most active at dawn and dusk so we jumped into the car after sunset to try for a sighting.  We drove on empty roads for an hour, giving up after seeing only cows in the now pitch black night.

After dinner at the lodge we joined a group of lodgers around a campfire where an aged tour guide was entertaining the group by telling stories and answering questions.  He just talked, and answered questions -- the crowd must have been all Aussie since they seemed to be very well informed about the names of places and current issues about which we were clueless.  But we must admit that his stories and vast knowledge provided great entertainment.  Some of the more interesting points he shared included facts about saltwater crocodiles, kangaroos, and earthquakes.  Supposedly, the saltwater crocodile is one of the most vicious and aggressive of all animals, attacking hundreds of people a year.  'Salties' can grow to up to 15 feet in length and can weigh thousands of pounds.  A saltwater croc can pull a human from a tree up to six feet high by resting on its tail.  The guide suggested that the only vulnerability of a saltie is its eyes -- he suggested that if you are ever attacked by a saltie, your only hope is to stick a thumb in its eye, and attempt to get away when he recovers for a short moment.  The guide told stories about working at a saltie farm, and having to re-capture hundreds of salties from a nearby pond after a huge flood.  He and a group of other workers had to walk slowly through the pond, and nudge the the crocodiles from the bottom of the pond and into a capture bin.  Supposedly, crocodiles in a large group will move when nudged, since they assume that the nudge came from a nearby crocodile repositioning itself.  Although they did successfully recapture all the crocs, he confessed that it was the scariest thing he had ever done and the last time he has been that close to a saltie, by choice.

The guide also informed us that much of Australia is on fault lines resulting in thousands of earthquakes over the last 90 years, some of which have been quite large.  But because there are so few people in most of Australia, most of the earthquakes go unnoticed.  He also talked about the dangers of feeding human food to wild kangaroos.  Supposedly they have an indention in the jaw bone where soft food like bread can become lodged.  The kangaroo's tongue is stiff and cannot reach the lodged bread, which will then rot to the point of poisoning the kangaroo, leading to a slow agonizing death.  We were a bit confused by this detail later when we were provided with bread to feed the kangaroo at the crocodile farm in Innisfail (See Innisfail).  We questioned the owner of the farm about this and he assured us that he had never had such a problem arise with any of his kangaroos.

One of the attractions of the Lava Lodge is a tour through the nearby lava tubes.  Australia is covered by volcanoes, most of which are dormant today.  Millions of years ago some of the lava flows formed natural tunnels when the upper crust of the flow cooled quickly and remained as solid rock while the rest of the lava continued flowing.  We toured two of these tubes and were quite impressed with the enormity of the tunnels and the permanence of their existence.  We understand that the only inhabitants of these tunnels are bats, and the occasional animal that goes into the tunnels to die alone.  The Lava Lodge offered full day tours of the lava tubes, but we were quite happy to have chosen the shorter two hour tour, since the second tunnel was much like the first, and we could not imagine seeing 5-10 more of them.  One of the critical successes of the our lava tube tour was that we saw several kangaroos from the bus on the way to the tubes. 

While on the lava tube tour the guide showed us a map of the surrounding area and pointed out a dormant volcano several miles away but accessible for hiking.  After checking out of the lodge  we drove to the crater and hiked to the top where we again enjoyed the views of the vast nothingness.

Innisfail

Instead of driving directly from Undara to Cairns, we decided to stop in a small town south of Cairns, to be close to the Woonooroonan Rainforest, where we planned to do a long hike the next day.  When we arrived in Innisfail late in the afternoon, we immediately started looking for a place to stay.  We quickly found out that Innisfail had only motels and some mobile home parks to offer, and from a quick tour of some of them, few were worth the price (in our opinion).  

We were getting frustrated, and considered driving back to Cairns, when we drove by Johnstone River Crocodile Farm and decided to stop, figuring anything was better than looking at another motel.  As soon as we entered the gate, a jolly, portly gentleman welcomed us and immediately told us that they were running a special today, and for only $10 we could feed baby kangaroos to the saltwater crocodiles.  We were, of course, offended at the idea, but as he pushed the offer, Dan started to consider how the pictures would look on the website, even though it was offensive :-).  After some time, the owner laughed and told us he was just kidding and welcomed us into his establishment.  He handed us a baby saltwater crocodile, and mentioned that if the mouth was not taped shut (which it was) we might lose an arm.  He also had some snakes for us to hold.  Then he yelled to some of his keepers and suggested they feed the salties while we watched, and he walked us over to the saltie house.  They dumped hundreds of bloody chicken heads into the pool area, and the medium-sized salties grabbed some heads and retreated from the pile to eat their catch.  He then walked us to the much larger crocs, and he proceeded to open the fence, and climb on top of the biggest, a 17 foot, 2000 pound saltwater crocodile -- we were quite impressed.  As we looked across the field, we saw tens of kangaroos coming towards us.  He had given us bags full of bread to feed the kangaroo, and said even though it was close to their typical closing time, we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted.  The kangaroos were so cute, eating the bread from our hands, or taking it with their own little hands.  Some would even let us pet them and hold their hands -- we were immediate kangaroo fans!  We also fed the the emu's, large birds similar to ostriches, but they were less cute, as they aggressively reached toward the bread with their beaks, and got right in our faces.  One of the kangaroos was carrying a joey, and the owner explained that kangaroos can carry one joey in their pouch, raise one outside the pouch, and have another embryo in the making.  They can control when they allow the embryo to develop based on the season and the food supply.  We got carried away with picture taking, and took over a hundred pictures of us petting and feeding the kangaroos.

We were so impressed with the hospitality of the farm that we asked the owner why there were not more customers (even though it was closing time).  He said that he likes the number of people that visit, and did not want to advertise or do anything to draw bigger crowds.  He likes the personal touch, and makes enough money raising the saltwater crocodiles for skins and food, that he does not need to draw bigger crowds of tourists and make it more of a factory.  We left with warm greetings and promised to come back if were ever in the area again.  We were so happy that we stopped by!  Oh, and he suggested a friendly motel in the middle of town and it turned out to the be the one in which we chose to stay -- as he suggested, the proprietors were very nice, and it was fairly priced.

Unfortunately, to taint the entire day, the unmentionable happened in the motel that night, a technology nightmare -- the laptop broke.  Actually, Dan knocked it off the desk onto a carpeted floor and the LCD screen broke.  The laptop would power up, but the screen was a mush of colors and no massaging could bring it back.  And to make matters worse, the camera card on which pictures are stored, was full (of kangaroo pictures), and we could not see to unload the pictures to the laptop.  So, in one simple mishap, we were without laptop and camera.  We knew there was no chance to get it fixed in Innisfail, and planned to search for repair places in Cairns (see fix laptop in Cairns section).

The next morning (or should we say 'mourning'), we called a company from a hiking brochure that offered what sounded like a great full-day challenging hike through the Woonooroonan rainforest.  They did not offer that hike on Saturday during the off season, but the person on the phone gave very explicit directions to a great self -guided hike in the rainforest  -- he was a very nice guy!

Woonooroonan Forest

The Woonoonroonan Forest is a very large, sparsely-visited rainforest west of Innisfail and south of Cairns.  We followed the directions provided and reached the starting point for the Nandroya Falls hike 45 minutes from Innisfail.  The terrain reminded us of our hikes in the Amazon Jungle.  At the start of the hike, Stacey saw an inchworm on the ground and we did not think much about it.  When we reached the beautiful Nandroya Falls more than an hour later, we happened to look down at our shoes and saw blood in our socks.  We also saw several of those inchworms crawling up our shoes.  We immediately realized that the inchworms were leeches!  Kristen and Dan had just seen a 'Bloodsucker' Discovery show the week before and learned how leeches sense the CO2 in the air breathed by humans/animals.  In the show, the narrator walked through a rainforest with sandals on, and the camera showed tens of leeches all over the ground moving towards the footsteps and reaching up trying to grab hold.  As we ripped off our shoes and socks and pulled off the leaches and flung them on the ground, we watched them immediately head back towards our feet.  It was quite an experience.  We quickly finished the hike, checking often for leaches.

After hiking in the rainforest, we headed back to Cairns.

Bondi Beach

When we returned from Cairns, we decided to stay on Bondi Beach, "Australia's  most famous stretch of sand" (according to an advertisement), 20 minutes from Sydney.  Once again we found the hotel online and secured a rate far lower than the hotel ever offers directly.  When we checked in, the porter took us to a room on a floor under renovation and the room was full of fumes and unbearable to us.  The hotel staff agreed to move us since it was dangerous to remai and breathe those fumes, but they were not willing to give us anything but the least expensive rooms -- we think they were frustrated at how little we were paying in such a nice hotel.  We stayed in the same hotel two days later when we returned from the Blue Mountains, and they gave us a better room at the same online rate. The town's main street runs along the beach and has several restaurants, bars and small shops.  The beach is protected on each end by an outcropping of land/rock, so the waves were not very big. We walked on the beach, marvelled at the brilliant sunset, and enjoyed the food.

We had heard that even as far south as Sydney we could find surfers on the large waves you see in commercials.  We drove from Bondi to several other beaches, but all of them were protected somewhat by land and had few waves.  If/when we return to Australia, we will definitely hit Surfer's Paradise area near Brisbane, just south of the Great Barrier Reef, mid-way between Cairns and Sydney.

Blue Mountains

From Bondi Beach we drove 90 minutes to the Blue Mountains and, with guidebook in hand, stopped in the small mountain town of Katoomba.  We took pictures of the Three Sisters at Echo Point, one of the most famous picture shots in the mountains, and then looked for a place to stay.  We decided on a guest house, since many other places we called were full.  We did not realize how much colder it would be in the mountains -- we were very cold in guest house and except for heated blankets would have froze.

We went to an IMAX movie theatre (The Edge) that night and saw an outstanding movie about the Blue Mountains.  We were surprised to find an IMAX movie theatre in such a small town, but we enjoyed it and we stayed in the same seats after the Blue Mountains movie and watched a first-run movie (Moulin Rouge).

The next day we did a very good three hour Canyon Hike in two hours. The terrain changed from steep dry rocky stairs to very wet, lush green valleys.  .

 

Getting There

Our 18 hours of flying from Tokyo to Sydney, with short stops in Taiwan and Hong Kong, was one of our three longest travel days.  Fortunately, both flights were in first class so the traveling was not too bad.  We ate lots of good first-class food, watched too many movies and slept.  The one mentionable point of the flight was flying across the South China Sea somewhere between Indonesia and Northern Australia.  Although we were miles high, we could see the moon reflecting in the water as if the water was only 100 feet below.  We found the sight pretty cool in the middle of the night on a very long flight.

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
Hilton Hotel, Sydney

259 Pitt Street, Sydney,  NSW, Australia 2000

Tel: 61-2-9266 2000Sydney Hilton Hotel website

Nice hotel in great location in downtown Sydney. Pretty expensive rack rates.
Pacific International Apartments, Sydney

653 George Street

Sydney NSW 2000 Australia

Tel: 61 2 9284 4500

Pacific International Apartments website

Great deal via Last Minute.com.au, but be sure that Chinatown location is what you want.
The York Hotel Apartments, Sydney

York St.

Tel: 61 2 9210 5000

The York website

Large luxury apartments at reasonable prices, with very helpful staff.  Location in Sydney is a very nice area, but not the most exciting. 
Il Palazzo, Cairns

62 Abbott Street
Cairns Queensland 4870
Australia

 

Il Palazzo website

Great location at a great price on main street, and the owners are super nice.  Also, rooms are newly renovated.
Lava Lodge, Undara

Lava Lodge, Mt Surprise

Queensland, 4871, Australia

Tel: 61 7 4097 1411

Undara Experience Website

Good destination for a drive into the outback from Cairns.  But try to get a deal because can be expensive (they don't tell you published fares are 'per person' not 'per room')
Johnstone Motel, Innisfail main street In a town with very limited selection of accommodations, this one is the best we found.
Johnstone River Crocodile Farm, Innisfail

Flying Fish Point Road

Innisfail Qld 4860

Tel: 61 7 4061 1121

Crocodile Farm website

A 'must visit' for any visit to the Cairns area.  Mick, the owner is super nice -- you will not regret the effort to visit.
Swiss Grand Hotel, Bondi Beach (outside Sydney)

Tel: 61 2 9365 5666

Swiss Grand Hotel website

Great deal via Last Minute.com.au for this very nice all suites hotel across from the beach on the main street.

 

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