Date of Trip: October 2010
A DETAILED BREAKDOWN SYNOPSIS OF OUR TRIP
September 26, 2010 through October 12, 2010
September 26 — Flew from Ft Lauderdale to Los Angeles and spent two and a half days visiting family, in El Segundo, right near LAX. After arriving and settling in we went for a short time to the pier at Manhattan Beach, then later we went out to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law at a Mandarin BBQ Restaurant.
September 27 — We went with my parents to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. We were also joined by my Mom’s cousin Warren, whose wife and daughter work at the park. The park was great with all sorts of animals. The day was unusually hot, over 106°F, and we later learned that it was the hottest day on record in LA. Being a dry heat, it wasn’t too bad for us, but the rest of the family had a real hard time with the heat. So we cut the time at the park short and went to an early dinner at a nice Mexican Restaurant in Escondido, Warren’s wife Lowana joined us for dinner. Then on our way back to El Segundo we stopped in at a Casino.
September 28 — In the late morning we drove up to Calabasas and visited the Biggest Loser Ranch, a place that has been a great inspiration to both of us in our weight loss. Next we visited the Interdenominational Shrine Garden in Santa Monica, then we met up with my sister and after a quick lunch, we walked along the boardwalk at Venice Beach. Later we had pizza back at the house and then my parents took us to the airport at about 8:30 pm, (3 hours early), but it turns out we didn’t need to leave so early. We were checked in, luggage left with TSA and through security and at the gate by 9:00 pm for our 11:30 pm flight. We left LA late at night for our overnight flight to Australia and lost a day due to crossing the International Date Line from East to West. The Trans-Pacific flight from LA to AUS is very long, at about 13 hours in the air. This was probably the worst thing about the trip. It’s too bad SST’s never really took the market and became reasonably priced. We were up all day before the flight, took 2 Tylenol PM’s just before boarding, in the hopes we’d sleep most of the way, but that didn’t happen. After take-off, getting our Immigration Cards sorted out, having a dinner and then finally settling down to fall asleep, which I did, I awoke after 2 to 3 hours of sleeping, checked the flight status and we still had over 9 hours left. But they had On Demand movies you could watch and the time went by, eventually. I also got to see Hawaii from the plane, at night, all the islands lit up, just like on a map.
September 30 — As our flight approached Australia and the sun began to rise, I got a beautiful photo from the plane of the sunrise. Then we had a bit of excitement, as we began our descent we must have hit a sudden updraft and the plane really went wild. A male flight attendant near us was knocked to the ground, several of the carts they were using were knocked about and one fell over. Then it happened a second time and they laid the rest of the carts down and the pilot announced for all passengers and crew to be seated. During this the wings were shaking up and down and the engines were shaking fiercely back and forth. Eventually this passed and the rest of the landing went fairly smooth. I did notice an engineer looking at the engine mounts shortly after we landed. So our first stop in Australia was at Brisbane, here we cleared customs and then flew on to Cairns. I have to say, they had it together in Brisbane in regards to Customs and Immigration. I would estimate it was about a half hour from the time we landed until we had cleared Immigration, gotten our luggage from the carousel, then took our luggage through and cleared Customs. All the agents here were very polite, courteous and welcoming. After that we headed over to our domestic flight to Cairns and waited for that plane. Whilst waiting we bought up some postcards to send to family and friends, did them up and posted them straight-away. After arrival in Cairns, we got settled into our hotel and then went to get some lunch. We walked along the Esplanade and not finding anything that I was in the mood for, we worked our way towards the mall, Cairns Central. Along the way, we found one place to eat that seemed good and reasonable. We went inside, and they were closed. We found out many restaurants in Australia close for two or more hours between lunch and dinner. So we wound up at KFC in the mall. Cretia got two pieces of fried chicken and I had a chicken burger, with chips (fries), a roll and mashed potatoes and a pop, it came to $14. Here we learned better how to work with Australian currency, as I thought I had gotten short-changed, but forgot that some of the coins they gave me as change were actually $1 and $2 coins. Next we walked around town a bit, and went to the Cairns Wildlife Dome where Cretia held a koala while we were both photographed with it. Then we took in the various exhibits there, seeing wallabies, estuarine and freshwater crocodiles and many other animals. After that, we went out to dinner at Shenanigans, an Irish Pub we had passed earlier. For all the rest of this, realize whenever I say “chips” I am referring to fries, not Lays or Doritos. I had a burger and chips and Cretia had Fish & Chips. Many of the eateries in Australia were like Shenanigans. Basically a bar, with a food counter. If you want to eat there, you go to the food counter and order your food, when it is ready, you pick it up and take it to your table. For your drinks, you go up to the bar and order what you want and take that to your table, as well. It should also be noted that almost every restaurant serves chips with almost any dish and Fish & Chips is on almost every menu. Even at some Italian Restaurants we went to later in our trip, they had Chicken Parmegiana & Chips, and also had Fish & Chips on their menu.
October 1 — Woke early, had our first brekky in Australia, a full selection of eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, as well as cereal, juices, coffee, tea. These breakfasts were a great way to start each day and helped us save money on food. Each day we would eat a selection of a hot plate, then follow up with some cereal and juice. Then we left on our morning excursion to the Great Barrier Reef at Green Island. I have to give kudos to our tour company, Monograms. The company they contracted with for this excursion had two different levels, the basic one just included a glass-bottom boat ride, and the upgraded package added a semi-submarine. The package they provided for us included the semi-submarine, in which you are sitting about 15 feet below the waterline, with glass on both sides. The reefs and marine life were fantastic. Back in Cairns we stopped for some tucker, we picked up a take-away pizza and took it back to the hotel so we could meet with our tour director, (something that was supposed to have happened the previous afternoon, but there was a mixup and we didn’t get the word). Later we walked around town then had a nice dinner at P.J. O’Briens. They had a $10 dinner special, a choice from 8 or 9 mains, and it included one drink, (beer, wine or soda). I had a shank steak with mash & veggies and Cretia had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. It was really good food at a great price. After, we walked back through the Esplanade, did a little shopping and had some ice cream. It was raining on the walk back to the hotel and due to the rain, I started catching a head cold from this.
October 2 — Up for an early breakfast then off for a full day excursion to Kuranda. They took us by coach to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway station in Caravonica (about 13kms NW of Cairns). The Skyrail is a cable car ride in 3 segments, a total distance of 7.5 kms. You travel in the gondolas just above the tree tops, for a spectacular view of the rainforest, the Cairns area and the Pacific beaches. At each of the transfer points there are scenic guided walks in the rainforest. Upon arrival in Kuranda, we walked around the village, grabbed some tucker, (hot dog & chips, the hot dog bun was huge, much bigger than the usual ones served in the US), and did a little shopping, especially interesting was the wide selection of opals. Next we went to Rainforestation and whilst there we got to walk through their wildlife area and get up close with some kangaroos. Then we took a ride through the rainforest in an Army Duck, (on wheels in the rainforest and then in the water as a boat). Saw some interesting plant life, but we were really hoping we’d have seen a croc in the water, but we didn’t. After the Duck Ride, we got to see an Aboriginal Dance Show, which we really enjoyed. Then the Aboriginals took us in groups to throw a boomerang, showed us some things about the didgeridoo and demonstrated spear throwing. Then we went back to Kuranda Village and boarded the Kuranda Scenic Railway for our ride back into Cairns, where we had dinner at Outback Jack’s, about half way along on our walk back to the hotel. We got one huge full rack of ribs and shared it. After dinner we did a little more walking and shopping in Cairns and had another ice cream along the Esplanade. It was raining again, but this time I at least had a jacket. I had tried to pickup some cold medicine, but they didn’t seem to carry anything like that in the stores. We did have some Hall’s lozenges and I had started taking them.
October 3 — Up early for breakfast, then we flew to Ayers Rock. After settling into our room, we got some lunch, a take-away pizza. But when I got it back to the room, we had found that what was supposed to be just a plain pizza, (tomato & cheese), actually had slices of tomato under the cheese, not just tomato sauce, so Cretia would not eat it, instead she just had a granola bar and later a Picnic Dairy Milk bar, (candy bar). Then a little later, we had our afternoon trip to Uluru, where we walked around the base at a few locations. There was a lot of information about the rock from a geological standpoint, as well as from the Aboriginal mythical point of view, all very interesting. We also saw some old cave drawings and water holes. Next we went for our sunset viewing where we got to see the rock change colors and had some wine, cheese and crackers. Back at the resort we had dinner at the Outback Pioneer Kitchen, a small take-away eatery, Cretia had Fish & Chips and I had a burger and some of her chips. This was the hottest day of our entire time in Australia, about 99°F, and also a very dry heat, so it felt good to us, and helped me shed the head cold that had been trying to hamper my holiday. The weather in general in Australia was a bit of a surprise. In preparing for the trip, after reading so much about how hot it is there, always wear a hat and sunscreen, etc. I fully expected the coolest weather would be like what we were used to in South Florida and this was not the case. Cairns was a bit cooler than home and the rain made it seem even cooler, here at Ayers Rock was a little hot, but not too bad. Alice Springs was a little cooler than Ayers Rock, whilst Melbourne and Sydney varied from just bearably cool to quite cold at times. And this was not really the cold time of year, (July-August), rather this was like their Spring, going into Summer. But it really didn’t hinder our enjoyment, just was a bit unexpected.
October 4 — Up very early and straight-away for our morning excursion to see Uluru at sunrise. This was not as colorful as the sunset and it was more interesting seeing the actual sunrise over the Outback, than the very minimal changes of the rock itself. It was quite cool this early, but they served hot chocolate and cookies, which helped. Next we went to another interesting formation nearby called Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), where we hiked what they called the Walpa Gorge Walk, (Walpa means windy), and it was, often the wind would fluctuate from stillness to strong gusts in an instant. We were back at the resort by 10am, in time to catch breakfast, which was served until 10:30. After that we did a short camel ride at the camel ranch on the resort property and the rest of the day we just hung out around the resort. It was still quite warm, maybe about 96°F, so I decided I was going in the pool. I had felt the water and it did seem a bit cold, so I jumped in. Well it was so cold I swam to the edge straight-away and then basked in the warm sun and dried off. Later we had dinner at Gecko’s Cafe. This is the same place I had gotten the pizza the day before, after asking if this one could be made with just tomato sauce and cheese, we ordered that and shared it. I also had a burger, as I was just in the mood for one. Also, I had been wanting some Sangria, (basically the only wine I like) and this was the first place so far in Australia that had it. They offered a glass or a carafe. Unsure of how their Sangria would taste, I asked for a sample and the waitress brought a nearly full glass. Well I liked it, so I ordered the carafe. After dinner and finishing the Sangria, I could really say I was feeling, “no worries mate”.
October 5 — Up early for breakfast and then a short flight to Alice Springs. After settling into our room, we had lunch at one of the restaurants in the hotel/casino, then we had our afternoon tour of Alice, (locals call it The Alice or Alice, for short). This tour stopped in five places. First was an Aboriginal Art Museum, where our tour guide gave us a little more insight into Aboriginal Life. Next was The Royal Doctors Flying Service, these men and women would fly all about the Outback and the Northern Territory providing medical care and transporting patients to hospitals, etc. The aircraft portion of the service was the origins of QANTAS Airlines, (an acronym for Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service). Next was the School of the Air, which provides education for children throughout the vast Northern Territory. They would teach over radio until about 2005, when they started using the internet, computers and webcams. After this was the Telegraph Station, which is where and why Alice Springs was first settled as a telegraph relay station for the telegraph line between Adelaide in South Australia and Darwin at the far north end of the Northern Territory. Last was ANZAC Hill. This hill on the edge of Alice Springs contains a memorial dedicated to members of the Australian New Zealand Army Corps who served during World War I. After, the tour guide dropped us in the center of town, at Todd Mall. We were going to take in a little shopping here, but the tour went until almost 6 pm and strangely here, almost all the stores were closed at that time, unlike Cairns, where things stayed open late. While some parts of the tour were interesting, others not so much and we felt we would have preferred a little less tour and a little more time to take in Alice, especially since this afternoon and evening was all the time we’d have, as the next morning we were to head to Melbourne. Anyway, we walked about a block over and had dinner at Bojangles Saloon & Restaurant, decorated with cowhide seats, wooden tables and western knickknacks, even some seats at the bar that were saddles mounted onto a fixed bar stool, it provided a very colorful setting for an Outback dinner. After we took a cab back to our hotel, (our tour director recommended this as the walk, while not terribly long, would go through some questionable areas of the town). Upon returning to our room we were saddened to learn that the early morning balloon ride we had planned to start off our 25th Anniversary, was cancelled due to the weather forecast.
October 6 — Our 25th Anniversary — Woke up, went to breakfast, then came back to the room to pack for our flight to Melbourne. After settling into our room, we took the free City Tram and visited Old Melbourne Gaol, this was where the famed outlaw Ned Kelly was imprisoned and later hung. Then we went back to the room to get ready and go out for our Anniversary. We took a cab to the Crown Plaza Entertainment Complex. A huge center with a huge casino, a couple dozen various eateries, a few different night clubs and more. Outside, they shoot off fireballs from towers along the river every hour. We would have gone out to see more of the fireballs, but it was raining and cold, so we just had a quick go at that. After walking around and trying to choose where we would eat, we had dinner at Margo’s, which was mostly Italian food. Cretia had the fabled Chicken Parmegiana & Chips and I had a penne pasta dish. Next we wanted to go to the disco, but it didn’t open until 9:30 pm. So Cretia did some gambling in the casino, playing the slots, and by the time we left she was up $50. We then went to the disco, called Co. at Crown, where we had several Bundy & Cokes and did some dancing. Then we took a cab back to our hotel, just a few blocks away.
October 7 — Up early for breakfast and then a morning sightseeing tour around Melbourne, (where we saw various sports venues, gardens, and the Shrine of Remembrance). This tour was almost all sightseeing from the bus, with very limited getting out and actually going into places, so we were a little disappointed with this. Our tour ended at Queen Victoria Market, where we grabbed some tucker and then did some shopping. Then we ate an early dinner at a nearby food court, and then made our way back to our hotel to get picked up for our evening trip to Phillip Island and the Penguin Parade. We booked the Penguins Plus package and we were quite pleased. I’d guess about 50 people were in our little area at the end of the boardwalk, much less than the main area, and not much more expensive. It was fantastic watching the little penguins come ashore and work their way along the side of the boardwalk, heading back to their burrows. We watched as the penguins lined up right where the water broke, ready to waddle across the sand and at the same time, seagulls eyed them deciding if they could pull off an attack. One seagull did have a go at one penguin, and then there was a flurry of the other penguins jumping in, we really couldn’t see how that turned out. One thing though, it was quite cold, even though we had dressed warm. But it was worth braving the cold, and after we had complimentary hot chocolate in the visitors center.
October 8 — Up early for breakfast and then our flight to Sydney. Prior to our trip I researched and purchased the See Sydney Cards with Transportation. This card turned out to be not only a great value, but a great convenience as well. With the July promo, the 3 days with transportation cost only $183 each. We calculated what we would have spent, (or paid more for), without the card, and that would have come to about $226 each, and that is just for the attractions we visited. Plus we made extensive use of the Sydney Public Transportation system, especially the trains and ferries, and simply inserting and then retrieving our “My Multi” card each time made it a breeze, no need to queue up for tickets each time. Also, since we did so much research on what we wanted to do and see in Sydney, along with the guide book that came with the See Sydney Card, and since we were not very happy with the Melbourne and Alice tours, and since we had a relatively short time in Sydney, we decided to forego the half-day Gray Line Bus Tour that would have taken up the full morning of our second day in Sydney. After settling into our room we walked up into The Rocks and had lunch at an outdoor kiosk. It seems there was some kind of Friday afternoon outdoor festival going on. Then we walked up to the Harbor Bridge and went up onto the Bridge Pylon, where we got some great views of the Bridge, the Opera House across the marina and The Rocks. Then we went back to The Rocks for the Rocks Walking Tour. This was a very interesting and informative outing telling about the history of Sydney being first settled and other historical happenings in the area over the years. Next we took the bus down to Darling Harbour and visited the Sydney Aquarium. We saw many kinds of aquatic life, various sharks, giant sea turtles, dugongs (relatives of the manatees), various sting-rays, penguins, etc. After that we walked over to the Sydney Tower and saw the Oz Trek film, then went up to the observation tower and then we went outside on the Skywalk, where you walk around the outside of the tower and you are standing on glass, where you can look down at your feet to the ground below, here it was also very cold and windy, but a great 360° view of the Sydney area. After this we walked back to hotel, since we could not seem to catch a bus going in our direction and since we couldn’t find any places to eat along the route, and as it was getting late, we grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s for our dinner.
October 9 — Up early, ate breakfast then took the train to Circular Quay. We walked around the Opera House and then booked our Whale Watching ride for later that afternoon. Next we took the ferry to Darling Harbour and visited Sydney Wildlife World. Here we got to pet a kangaroo, saw a baby Joey, then got to see Rex, a huge estuarine crocodile they transplanted from up north in Darwin and his trainer gave us an informative talk about Rex and crocs in general. Then we took the ferry back to Circular Quay, grabbed a quick lunch and then went out into the Pacific for our Whale Watching ride. Once out there, the boat driver gave us instructions on what to look for to spot the whales, and I was the first one in our group to see them and shout out “thar she blows”. We saw several pods of whales and spent probably about 1.5 hours out there looking at them. Back in Sydney, we next visited Susannah Place, and old set of small row houses from the first buildings in Sydney, from the late 1700’s. Then we had dinner at an Italian Restaurant in The Rocks, where we shared a pizza. Next we did the Rocks Ghost Tour (this was a role playing tour, Cretia was the ghost of a 21 year old girl and I was a lantern carrier). Then we took the train back to the hotel.
October 10 — Up early for breakfast and then we took the train down to Paddy’s Market for some shopping. Paddy’s Market wasn’t really on our plans of places to go but Patty, who was our airport shuttle driver both ways had given us a nice map of Sydney with key points marked in highlighter and recommended Paddy’s Market as much cheaper for souvenirs than Circular Quay or Darling Harbour, and it was. I bought a 4 foot didgeridoo here for $65, one like we’d seen in many other places for well over $100. Next we took the train up to Circular Quay where we caught the ferry to Manly Beach. We grabbed a pizza for lunch and then spent a little time at the beach, and then took the ferry back to Circular Quay. On the ferry ride we got some great views of the harbor inlet, as well as Sydney’s Skyline from the Harbor View. Next we went to the Sydney Observatory, where among other things, we got to look through the telescope in the dome and saw Venus during the day, it was in a crescent phase and appeared much like the moon would look at night. After this we just enjoyed the view from the gazebo on Observatory Hill. Very interesting is that here and in The Rocks, a lot of people have their weddings in this area. They come up to the gazebo and even down in The Rocks to take pictures. Both today and yesterday, we must have seen, combined, nearly a dozen different wedding parties outside taking pictures. Seeing all these wedding parties was poignantly sentimental to us, considering this whole trip to Australia was in celebration of our own 25th Wedding Anniversary. After this we walked back down into The Rocks and had dinner at Phillip’s Foote (where you grill your own steaks). We shared a large flank steak and some boiled potatoes, along with some Bundy & Cokes. Since it was our last night in Sydney, we decided to try and see a couple other places we hadn’t been to, even if only to pass through. So next we went to Circular Quay and rode the ferry all the way west to see the Sydney Olympic Park. We caught the bus at the ferry pier there and rode it through the Olympic Park Area to the Strathfield Train Station, where we took the train over to Kings Cross. Kings Cross has a huge Coca-Cola sign and is kind of a mix between Times Square and a typical red-light district. In fact, we walked a block or so here and saw a few strip clubs, some shady characters on the street, and Cretia said this was the first place on the trip where she felt a little uneasy from a personal safety viewpoint. So we kept our time here short. As we walked back to the train station we noticed a sidewalk café where we stopped and shared a cheesecake and hot chocolates. Then we took the train back to our hotel and packed for our trip home.
October 11 — Up early for breakfast and then off to the airport for our flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. We were a little lucky on this flight, as the 3 seat row we were in, there was no third person, just Cretia & I. This gave us a little more room to try to get comfortable and get some rest on the flight home. We gained a day due to crossing the International Date Line from West to East and arrived in LA earlier the same morning. We spent the day visiting family, went to Venice Beach again for a short while, then later to dinner, a BBQ, at my brother-in-laws parents house.
October 12 — Up very early and left straight-away to LAX for our flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale.
This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We got to see and do so much and had a great time all around. Overall, we both enjoyed Cairns the most. The city itself is just large enough not to feel like your in the sticks, yet small enough to be personable. Whilst the people all over Australia were very friendly, in general and of Americans, the people in Cairns just seemed to be a little more outgoing and a little bit friendlier. Perhaps because in Melbourne and Sydney, people get so caught up in the city life. If we ever get to go to Australia again, we’re thinking to visit Darwin, Perth, Tasmania, as well as take in New Zealand.