We spent a total of 17 days in Australia, the first
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.
Currency: Australian Dollar (AU1.9:US$1)
Population: 18 million
Kangaroo population: 40M
Internet connection speed: 28-56 bps
English speaking TV channels (in hotel):
Religion: 58% 'nominally' Christian, 20% no
Time difference:GMT +10:00 (14:00
hours ahead of Atlanta)
Driving lane: left side
Temperature: 60-85°F (awesome!)
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
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.
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
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
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
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 70°F in Sydney every day, 60-80°F 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
The following sections provide some details about
the places we visited in Australia.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
View of the Sydney skyline from our Darling Harbor
While walking through the Sydney Rocks area, we stand on
Circular Quay with the Opera House in the background.
Sunset view from the Sky Tower in Sydney. The hour-long sunset was amazing from the 20-story
Panoramic sunset view from the Sky Tower in
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:)!
Kristen and Stacey playing with a bubble we created with
a tube of 'plastic bubble' Dan borrowed from the child at the nearby
We visited the Sydney Aquarium and saw some cool
animals. This one is in the outdoor seal exhibit.
As we walked through the tunnel in one of the
tanks, we saw many stingrays swimming above us.
A very long necked turtle.
Translucent jellyfish in an unnerving exhibit.
Kristen and Dan enjoying the sunset on the rocky
peninsula in Cairns.
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.
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 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
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.
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
Kristen and Stacey sitting on the rocks at the top of a bluff
near the Undara Lava Lodge.
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.
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!
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
On our drive from Undara and the outback, we stopped for
some cool views of the more lush closer-to-coast countryside.
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.
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.
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
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.
And this one looks the most comfortable.
Dan shaking hands with this one.
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.
Sometimes, the kangaroos would take the food with their
hands and feed themselves.
This muscle-covered older kangaroo was the biggest!
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'
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.
This was the only fish we caught, a 45cm, jumping,
fighting, mystery fish -- the captain had no idea what kind of fish it
Kristen and Stacey at the end of our estuary fishing,
while the sun sets, just before it became super-cold on the water.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
After hiking in the rainforest, we headed back to Cairns.
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.
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
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. .
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.
|Hilton Hotel, Sydney
Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW, Australia 2000
Hilton Hotel website
|Nice hotel in great location in downtown
Sydney. Pretty expensive rack rates.
|Pacific International Apartments, Sydney
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: 61 2 9284
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
Tel: 61 2 9210
|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
|Great location at a great price on main
street, and the owners are super nice. Also, rooms are newly
|Lava Lodge, Undara
Lava Lodge, Mt
Tel: 61 7 4097
|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
||In a town with very limited selection of
accommodations, this one is the best we found.
|Johnstone River Crocodile Farm, Innisfail
Tel: 61 7 4061
|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
Tel: 61 2 9365
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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