Tuesday – Shopping & Manly

April 20, 2006 at 11:43 am (Australia, Report)

Tuesday morning was a spot of relaxation for me – I'm sure you could tell by all the photos and reports arriving online. Ann & Samantha went for a spot of shopping instead. They bought shoes and stuff for the wedding, but I think they might have missed out on my cufflinks.

After lunch we took the ferry out to Manly. As ever, we cut the timing just beyond the point of perfection… Sam and I got the man on the ferry door to wait, while Ann had to vault the ticket gates & get shouted at by an Attendent. Ooops. Samantha called her "naughty" for the rest of the day…

Manly is a town on the peninsular that forms the northern barrier for Sydney Harbour (you can certainly feel the increase in the swell as the ferry crosses the narrow opening to the sea), in a narrow & low-lying spot, so has beaches on both the harbour-side and the ocean-side of the land, with a short walk between the two.

One thing I didn't mention about Monday's walk around the Rocks was that we wandered into the oddest department store… called the Galleria. It was full of high-end goods such as Burberry, Cartier etc, that were all being marketed to the Japanese (OK – they could be any of the Asian nationalities, but they *looked* Japanese to me). The signs were all 50:50 English & Japanese, the assistants were overwhelmingly Japanese, and the customers were entirely Japanese, and the line of tour-buses outside had Japanese hanging around sneaking a cigarette. We only used it as a cut-through to get to the next street, but we got such strange looks as we went, and even asked whether we needed help! I don't think I've ever felt so out-of-place, so unexpectedly (in the shadow of the harbour bridge). Anyway, my overwhelming feeling on exiting was that this was trashy tourism for the seriously-well-heeled.

Manly was catering for the opposite end of the universe. In being the closest seaside resort to Sydney, it must be something like Southend is to London. It caters for surfers, and has its share of back-packers doing the service jobs in the shops & cafes. And yet, while it was obviously a seaside resort, it was far less tacky than almost any resort in the UK. And it felt considerably nicer & cleaner to walk around in, less noisy, and with a conspicuous absence of drunk yobs. Perhaps someone has a better place to compare it to in the UK…

I don't want to do a disservice to the surfers or the back-packers here either (or to anyone actually). Everyone here (not just Manly) is extremely friendly. I find it hard to compare to the UK, but I have to both go back in time, and further to the north to find comparisons. There is a lot of pride in the place they live – the town/city as well as the country, as well as more of a recognition towards their place on the planet. Being ECO is a bigger thing here.

The ferry back to Sydney was just as the sun went down – and it goes with great speed here, around 6:30. There were good views of the city skyline appearing around the corner as the ferry sped along, but unfortunately a speeding ferry also brings a speeding wind, so we went to sit at the back, in much calmer conditions. Not so good a view though… and it was pitch black before we'd finished the 30 minute journey.

An early night needed tonight, as tomorrow has a really early start for a tour of the Blue Mountains.


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Monday – Opera House

April 18, 2006 at 2:47 am (Australia, Report)

Opera House

Originally uploaded by MikeWilcox.

I'm sure we didn't intend to spend most of the day at the Opera House when we went out this morning, but it seems like we did.

It was meant to be a stroll around the outisde, followed by a wander around the botanic gardens. However, we did a tour inside the opera house instead.

From that, we discovered that they were putting on a ballet at the time, and that evenings was earlier than the rest of the week – so decided to get tickets.

And before lunch, Samantha announced that she was really tired, and wanted to go to bed – so it was back to the hotel. She did actually sleep for a couple of hours, while we organised room service for lunch.

There was time for a quick wander around the Rocks before we went back to dress. We ended up late, of course, so Samantha and I rushed over to get our seats just in time, while Ann got delayed and had to wait until the interval before joining us.

It was a modern ballet, so you just had to let the experience wash over you without necessarily expecting any kind of story. We got there too late to see the synopsis & cast sheet, but I'm not sure it would have helped. Samantha enjoyed it though, and that was the point…

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Sunday – Sydney Zoo

April 18, 2006 at 2:32 am (Australia, Report)

Sydney Zoo – Kookaburra

Originally uploaded by MikeWilcox.

Sunday was a fine day – The weather forecast was probably a bit cold for the autumnal Sydneysiders, but pretty hot for us – so we decided to take the ferry across to the Zoo.

It seemed like half of Sydney had the same idea. It was pretty busy getting in, and around the top entry, but as you moved around, the zoo seemed to cope with the numbers well.

The zoo itself is perched on the side of a steepish hill, down to the water's edge. The main entrance is at the top, and they provide a cable-car to get you up there from the harbour entrance… but the queue was horrendous, so we took the bus up instead.

On the whole, the zoo is pretty compact, and has to make do with some relatively small enclosures. But they seem to be doing it well, and also seem to be rejuvenating the tired areas well.

For the lions & tigers, they have an underground area that juts out into the middle of the enclosure. It gets you close to the animals, and some good views – a bit like the aquariums do nowadays. I don't know what they can see of us in there, but they ignored the people totally, while they were prowling around. From their activity, and keen looks, I'd say they were expecting some food in the near future.

One show we did stop to see was of various birds in flight over an amphitheatre – where the backdrop view was of the city & the harbour. An excellent view!

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Saturday – Sydney by Ferry

April 18, 2006 at 2:12 am (Australia, Report)

Sydney Ferry

Originally uploaded by MikeWilcox.

Ann & Samantha went swimming on Saturday, joining me afterwards for a leisurely breakfast.

If you're staying on circular quay, the obvious thing to do first is get on a ferry. So we did – just around the corner to Darling harbour. We wandered for a while before stopping in a Cafe for lunch.

Ann wanted to see the markets in Paddington, so we then started a convoluted trip – via Circular Quay again – that eventually got us there just before they started to pack away. We know the bus routes a little better now, so know that we could have saved *ages* by walking 2 blocks east. Ho hum.

Afterwards, we meandered back again, and ended up having tea in Darling harbour too. We'll have to go back, to see the aquarium and perhaps one or two of the other museums.

A ferry home got us back in time for Samantha to have a bath, and for daddy to do the nighttime photos that you saw the other day.

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Friday – To Sydney

April 18, 2006 at 2:03 am (Australia, Report)

The Reef from 27000 feet

Originally uploaded by MikeWilcox.

It was time to leave the tropics, and head for Sydney. A shame… I'm not sure I've enjoyed a week's holiday like that since Ann and I were in Kenya. It was excellent!

The check-out time was 10:00, so we organised the transfer coach for the same time – no point in hanging around with all the luggage in the humidity.

There were a couple of local pickups, but no visits to any of the other beaches, so it was quite a quick journey back to Cairns. It gave us plenty of time for lunch before the flight.

The flight itself was fuller than the one from Melbourne, so no face-painting this time. Sam managed to keep herself going with more colouring, and on the whole was pretty good for a long boring flight.

The initial route took a sharp left away from Cairns and over the sea, giving us a great view of various reefs in the Great Barrier Reef. Pretty soon, we were back over land, and the view changed to something hot, red and dusty.

Arrival in Sydney was easy enough – pausing for something for Ann to eat. The train into the centre was easy and quick – nothing like you'd get on a Friday afternoon in Heathrow & London (maybe being Good Friday helped), and left us with a 300m walk to the hotel near Circular Quay.

We changed, and went to the top-floor lounge to take advantage of the free drinks. There were snacks, but not really enough to feed Sam properly. And the lounge was full, so we couldn't get seats with a view at first, but that changed.

But we were all tired, so headed for an earlyish night.

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Thursday – Port Douglas

April 18, 2006 at 1:34 am (Australia, Report)

Thursday was a bit of a slow day, and it rained frequently… It was probably the only day that the rain got in the way of things.

Ann caught up with a few more pampering sessions in Port Douglas, while Samantha & I had a couple of sessions in the pool (rain didn't stop play there!), and a walk on the beach. We might only have been 50 yards away from the beach, but we hardly went – there were so many things to do elsewhere.

It has been an excellent time here, and I can recommend Port Douglas over Cairns to anyone. Just remember that the various tours and activities can make a big dent in your wallet!

The last thing to do here was to organise all the washing, ironing and packing before flying to Sydney – an annoying necessity. This wasn't helped by the dishwasher continously tripping out the electricity.

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Saturday – Great Barrier Reef

April 12, 2006 at 2:59 am (Australia, Report)

Well, this was meant to be one of the highlight tours during our visit to Queensland – a day of snorkeling on the reef.

We were originally going to go with Quicksilver, but ended up being tempted by the HABA boat "Evolution". Take a look at http://www.habadive.com.au/evolution.htm and the pictures on Flickr. They were cheaper (especially when throwing in yesterday's boat trip too), but not quite so many things for small children. If we went again with Sam at this age, I'd probably choose QuickSilver, but apart from that aspect, the HABA tour was fine.

Sue & Ann started snorkeling at the morning site ('Snow' site on the Opal reef), so managed to get their photo taken by the boat's photographer. I looked after Sam, and helped her to swim around in her stinger suit & wetsuit, along with a flotation noodle under her arms. She was OK with the goggles & snorkel in her mouth, but never quite got confident enough to put her face in the water.

When Ann came back to look after Sam, I went off with Sue. Almost immediately we were investigated by a huge wrasse, that came to see us, and let us touch it. It was very friendly, and would turn back to us after it had passed. Fortunately, the boat's photographer was around at the time, so we got some excellent photos – see Flickr.

There were 2 downsides to the morning snorkel though… The boat was moored a short way away from the reef, and there was some current to counter when swimming back to the boat, even though the flippers made easy work of getting through the water. The main problem was that my mask was leaking sufficiently to let a fair amount of water into the mask. Enough that I would often pull water into my nose and the back of my throat. The combined effect of the salt-water, the frequent stops, and the current dragging me away at each stop, was enough to make the first part thoroughly dis-heartening.

Sue & I made it back to the main boat in enough time for Sue to join Sam & Ann on the glass-bottomed boat. While the threee of them had that tour, I recovered, and started lunch.

During lunch, the main boat moved to a new site, and while the food settled, all of us went on the second glass-bottomed boat tour.

On return from that, Sue and I went back out for snorkel; this time equipped with a new mask. This time, the swim was much more pleasant. The water was clearer; the boat was closer to decent reef; there was little current (but occasionally the waves were a little larger). It was much calmer just snorkelling around, looking at the various fish & reefs.

Then… just as we were thinking about maybe heading back towards the boat, a large turtle swam underneath us. All of a sudden there was a pack of 5 snorkellers following this turtle off along the reef… An excellent sight, but the photographer was nowhere to be seen 😦

That let us spend some more time snorkelling, and we finally headed for the boat amonst the last out of the water. Maybe 20 yards from the boat, I got a small sting – probably from a jellyfish – on on of the few bits of my skin not covered by the stinger suit. A shame I spent the last few minutes sitting with ice on my wrist, as I think Samantha would have liked one last swim, and Ann couldn't find her stuff to get changed into.

Samantha enjoyed what she did, and the boat & crew were excellent. The second swim made the trip for me – and I'm glad we got a few decent photo out of the trip. Shame there weren't any of Sam though!

We got back to the apartment at around 5pm, and dallied a little too long – the rain started before we were ready – so we orded a Thai take-away instead. The rain really does arrive at that time, and can bucket it down.

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Friday-Port Douglas

April 10, 2006 at 11:40 am (Australia, Report)

The apartment is only 50 yards trom the beach, so the day was bound to start with a walk there, which turned into a morning of mixed sun-bathing and swimming.

April is still in the ''stinger" (jellyfish) season here, so there is a large floating enclosure on the beach that is the only place that is safe to swim in. It is pulled in & out as the tide changes. Still, there is plenty of room for paddling & swimming, and Sam enjoys taking both of us out into the water for doing both.

A late lunch left us with just enough time to go back and change for our first tour- a small paddle-steamer called the ''Lady Douglas". This cruises around the inlet & the mangrove swamps hunting for crocodiles, but the tide-level helped keep them hidden. We did manage to tempt a sea-eagle out of the trees, and Samantha & Spencer had a go at steering the boat. The boat was then meant to head out to the mouth of the inlet, but a severe shower ahead forced us to turn back to the marina.

The same shower hit as we got back onto land, and forced us to stop and have tea at the bar on the pier. Looks like a late- afternoon storm is a common feature here.

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Thursday – Queensland

April 10, 2006 at 11:13 am (Australia, Report)

Up early for the taxi to Melbourne airport, with an easy journey that ended up beating the rush-hour traffic. And, typically, after getting there early, an extra toilet trip for Sam meant we still ended up rushing for the flight.

The flight to Cairns- still within Australia- was a 3 1/2 hour flight, which is longer than the flights I used to do to Stockholm. There were no seat-back tv screens, so entertainment for Samantha meant more old-fashioned colouring books. The cabin-crew on the Virgin-Blue plane were pretty friendly, and did some face-painting with Samantha. We also waited until last to get off, so they would let Samantha and Spencer bear visit the cockpit.

Did we mention Spencer? He is a bear from school who goes to all manner of exotic locations with the kids, and has a diary to fill in to show how life is different in these places. It's a cool key for getting Samantha to visit places she wouldn't normally go. Captains. pilots. Cabin crew. None are immune from the "ah" factor of Sam + bear!

We took a shuttle bus up the coast to Port Douglas. Wow! It's so beautiful, with lush verdant jungle covering steep mountainsides. The road is a twisty affair that gives some good views of the coastline. You also get a good idea of how it all must have looked to Captain Cook 200 years ago. But it (Port Douglas) is perhaps a bit touristy. Done pretty well though – nothing like as bad as some European resorts.

It is as hot & humid as expected though, with some cloud. There was a heavy shower in the late afternoon, while we had stopped for an ice- cream, which added to the humidity.

While out walking around the town, we booked a couple of tours, and got back to the apartment in time for Samantha to practice her swimming in the pool. Another long day…

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Wednesday – Philip Island & Melbourne

April 9, 2006 at 12:21 am (Australia, Report)

Sam kept us awake through the night, but gave us a bit of a rest by going for an early walk with Rod and Sue.

The report was of a nice sunny start, and a spot of pretend-aeroplanes and rabbit-hunting., along a couple of beaches.

After breakfast, we went to watch the pelican-feeding at San Remo. Boy – they're big hungry birds! I have one good photo that shows how big their beaks can get.

After that there was time to visit the koala sanctuary before lunch, which we cut a bit short because of the rain. The sanctuary was well- organised with a decent raised board- walk that lets you walk amongst the trees nearer the bear's level.

The Victorian koalas are a bit shaggier than the ones we normally see pictures of, and looked very sleepy, perched in the crook of a branch. They can be quite hard to spot, up in the canopy – they look just like a dense clump of leaves. It's a shame that the rain started- but I'm sure we'll see more before we're finished here 🙂

Lunch was good, in a place in Rhyll (everywhere on Philip Island seems named after the Isle of Wight !), then followed by the trip back to Melbourne.

After that, there was only time left to pack for the next leg of the journey -up to Port Douglas. Steamy tropical weather is expected now. 30 degrees each day!

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