Australia in Review

Overall this was a very positive trip to Australia. We got to see our AWL (away with leave) kids. Even though we have been to Aus before, it is big, we got to scratch the surface of a completely different area.

The car and road are things that stuck out. First, driving on the ‘wrong’ side is a learning experience, every time. The passenger becomes a very valuable ally. Giving directions and keeping the driver from heading into oncoming traffic or guard rails. The roads are in pretty good shape and even though they spend a portion of their lives under water, (flooding is common) they do not get the freeze/thaw cycles we get and the asphalt is mostly intact. They do however allot less space than we do to the auto. The lanes are narrower, not by much but noticeable. And the parking spaces are smaller, again noticeable. The speed limits are faster for the quality of road. Five or ten kph, again not much. This I think is because cars, if not now, were in the past smaller than the boats we drive in NA, but the size of the autos in Australia is creeping up and it is difficult to change such standards as lane width once they have been established.

Australia roads

I think the restaurants are slightly cheaper than in Canada. We had a budget in accordance with the prices we pay here for a meal out and did not come close to spending what we thought. We did not eat at many ‘high’ class places and did eat at a few fast food establishments, most of the time we ate at smaller eateries and came home with money in our pockets.

After spending a couple of weeks with our photos, sorting and making them pretty I reconsidered my blog comment on the quality of the diving at the Great Barrier Reef. I said the diving was only good. I think I should up grade that a notch to very good, or maybe very, very. I may have missed a lot and Debbie was shooting pics of all the unusual fish, fishes those of us who don’t dive the Pacific don’t see, but we have a whack of images of different undersea life. When we were there the diving was fairly easy, good for novices and advanced divers alike and with the diversity of wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef is a good spot to head too.

Dory Fish

We found Dory!

The traveling is easy for North Americans and English speakers in general. Of course English is the language spoken so any problems that may arise are easily solved by just asking the next person on the street you meet. For those of us from NA the infrastructure is very similar. From the kinds of accommodation available, the restaurants and food to be found, to the types of stores and what can be found to purchase. All at least resemble what is at home.

Ah, the people. They are so friendly. Everywhere. I think folks in Edmonton are generally that way, in fact in all of North America they are generally friendly but in Australia their kindness is noticeable. Every restaurant waiter, every store clerk and even random people on the street asked us where we were from, could they help us with anything and were we having a good time. Australians have a reputation as ‘travelers’ and it shows in almost everyone’s conversation. They asked about our homeland and expressed an interest in visiting.

Autralia

I have said it before but it is the people that make the place and the Aussies are a people worth confronting. We will go back, our kids are there, but while there we will head off in another direction and see what else the country has to offer.

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Home Again

Twenty or so hours in transit and an uneventful journey home, just like I like it.

We check two bags on the return journey. We had checked one going to Australia that contained stuff for M&D and a few extra clothes for us. For the trip home, we pack most of our dive gear in that bag plus my roller carry on bag. The only carry on we have are our backpacks and one light roller bag. Don’t tell anyone, but I like not having to deal with a roller bag! Moving about is so much easier. And the bonus, both checked bags arrived in Edmonton at the same time we did!

It is day two at home and we are settling in. Weeding done, laundry done, dive gear almost put away. Murray has started processing photos. Life is quickly getting back to normal.

My head is still buzzing though. When we change day for night, it takes a few days to get the sleep pattern turned around again. It is said that it takes one day for every time zone crossed. Well, we were 18 hours out of sync, so it will take awhile to get our bodies readjusted. In the meantime, naps are allowed.

2013 was the last time we traveled for more than about 10 days. We had traveled on long trips five years in a row, and by the time we got home from Myanmar, Maldives and Bangkok in 2013, I was burnt out. We took a break from long trips and this trip to Australia was the longest since then. I think I am ready to continue to travel on long haul trips as I didn’t feel like I wanted to go home. We were going home because we had plane tickets. And now that I am home, I still feel like I could have stayed away longer. This trip had down time built into it, I think we just have to make sure we always plan for a few days of staying put and not doing to much.

So, where to next?

clown fish

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Reflections on Brisbane

Some thoughts on Brisbane and Queensland in general, and some bits and pieces we missed in our last few blogs.

First, Chinatown. We strolled through yesterday and it was early in the morning but it was dead. I think we were the only ones on the street. The main street is all fairly new. Nicely done but it missed some of the seedyness that most “Chinatowns” of the world maintain. In my opinion the street level was missing the building interface that would allow for people oriented activity. There were things like offices and a parkade entrance instead of restaurants and stores selling herbal remedies, and grocery stores and, and, and. Maybe if we had gone in the evening it would be different. I hope so.

It is an unplanned day in Brisbane today but we manage to fill it up. We had planned to take the tram to Roma Street Parkland but once aboard we look at the map and decide to get off at the Central Station and take the free bus to the top of the park then walk downhill. I had read a little about the park so we thought it would be worth a visit. The park is grand. Lots of pathways wound and interlaced throughout a park on a very sloped piece of land.

Roma steer parklands

There are manicured gardens, a kids park, water works and waterways lacing with the walkways and at least an hours worth of exploring. In my opinion this is the nicest park we visited in Brisbane.

Roma street parklands

There are public washrooms throughout Brisbane and it seems Queensland for that matter. For the most part they are well maintained. I only ran into a single ‘gross’ one and that was in Noosa, the most upscale resort we visited. In Edmonton there are fewer and fewer of this type of facility. I don’t know if it is because they are expensive to maintain, if the public are too prissy to use public facilities or if our winters preclude plumbing without major infrastructure but if Queensland can provide such a service Alberta should be able to as well.

Brisbane public art

Brisbane has an amazing amount of public art. I know Edmonton has a mandated budget for art but here there is art everywhere you turn. You don’t have to like every thing presented but it does make for points of  interest in the urban landscape.

Brisbane public art

Brisbane public art

Street lighting in Queensland is minimal. Everything seems dark to me.

Street signs are random. Some corners there are signs indicating the names of both the intersecting streets. Sometimes the signs only tell you one of the streets assuming you should know the name of the busy street you are on. Other times I could not find any signs what so ever. This may be fine for the person that knows where they are and/or where they are going but for the tourist it is a pain. Yes, Debbie and I eventually found our ultimate goal but some of the journeys were a little circuitous.

Road direction signs on the highways and freeways could be a little better. A couple of times we were trying to follow a certain road and the signs indicated where the road we did not want to take went but gave us absolutely no indication where the road we wanted was. No highway number, no street name, nada.

One of the advantages of being in a climate where the temperature does not go below freezing is it allows for water to be included in everyday life. There is a plethera of drinking fountains and they are not your standard bowl with a bubbler on the edge. The design of the standard fountain has progressed a long way. There are some real cool renditions here and all along the Queensland coast. Waterways and fountains are everywhere. They are a big part of every green park and most of the urban hardsuface parks as well.

There is very little rubbish or trash on the streets. It is a city of 2 or 3 million people and the streets are basically spotless. Edmonton is a clean city but it has to improve a bunch to match here.

It’s lunch time and the Queen Street mall is packed. Up till the twelve o’clock bell we had most of the street to ourselves. Noon arrives, I turn around look up the street it is wall to wall humanity.

Most of that humanity is conjenial and friendly. We stopped folks on the street and asked for help, they answered our question and continued to chat, store clerks are all interested in where we are from and what we are up to in Aus, everyone seems to have the time of day and is willing to help us out.

If you are on a budget, Brisbane is a place you can keep yourself occupied for a few days without spending a penny. There are two free bus routes traversing different areas of downtown. We rode one thinking it would be a good way to see a few things but felt it is  really only transportation. Both the modern art gallerey and the Queensland art gallery are free and can take up quite a few hours. The river ferry, CityHopper, costs nothing and it provides a different and wonderful view of much of the city, well worth the time spent. All the parks including the Botanic Gardens in Queen’s Park, and the Roma Street Park are free.

The river plays a big part of the fabric of Brisbane. Winding through the city quite similar to our home town Edmonton. I don’t know if anyone has ever said this but I might nickname Brisbane, ‘The City of Bridges’. No matter where you are in the downtown area you can see at least one bridge.

City Hall

City Hall

Our unplanned day progressed quite well. We walked a few more areas we have not covered and ended up sitting on the Queens Street pedestrian mall watching the world pass by.

We do have some packing so we think it might be a good idea to head back to the hotel early and get that done. By some weird twist of fate we turned the corner and headed south when in fact the tram station was north of our location. As we were about to exit the pedestrian part of the mall and enter the regular street grid. A busker’s voice caught my attention. I stopped a few meters away and Debbie and I talk about how the busker sounded like someone we are familiar with. We queued up to cross the street and I had this odd feeling we should take a flyer and buy one of the CDs this fellow had for sale. I returned to where he was standing and started to read a couple of the signs he had propped up against wall when I noted the name on the CDs. Babar Luck. Damn, no wonder his voice is so familiar, we have one of his CDs. Right in the middle of a song I interrupt him asking if he is indeed Babar Luck. He is.

Babar Luck

Babar Luck

This is truly one of those weird moments in life. I had been looking for one of his albums for a couple of years and now here it is laying on the jacket of the man himself as he stands on a street corner singing for coins in Brisbane, Australia. The three of us chat for about 1/2 hour. I end up buying the CD I have been hunting for and the other one he has on display as well. He autographs them both. For some reason I encounter more than my fair share of these moments, maybe it is luck, and maybe it is the way I go about living but I will embrace everyone that comes my way. To me the half hour we spend on the street talking to this fellow is the pearl of an outstanding day.

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People Watching in Brisbane

Day 2 in Brisbane. We walk and ride the train and walk and ride the CityHopper and walk and visit the Gallery of Modern Art and the Queensland Art Gallery and walk and ride the Hop on Hop Off Bus through Spring Hill and walk and ride the train and collapse 7 hours later.

CityHopper

CityHopper

In between all that we people watch. All over the world, people are fascinating. Are the folks here any different than back home? In the way they dress and act?

Yesterday we walked past an area where there were maybe 60 students sitting on the walkway walls, all looking down at their mobile devices. There were one or two young adults not on their phones. We shook our heads and wished they could all see themselves. We happen to walk by the same spot today and there were just as many doing the same thing as yesterday. AH HA! It is a WIFI hotspot! That is why they are gathered at that particular spot! Makes sense now.

WIFI Hotspot?

WIFI Hotspot?

We have seen school kids, both in the Art Gallery and riding the trains in the afternoons. They all are wearing uniforms. The boys in shorts or pants, blazers, ties and Panama hats. I actually felt bad for one fellow as his jacket and hat looked like some overzealous mother committee picked these out. Worst ever. The girls have on skirts, blouses, blazers and hats. They all seem quite comfortable in them. I guess if you have worn a uniform since first grade, you get used to it. The trains have small clumps of kids riding them home from school, dropping a student or two off at every stop. Do these kids have neighbourhood friends? Are there rivalries between the various schools, making you not want to talk to someone from another school?

Kurilpa Bridge

Kurilpa Bridge

We sit in the Central Train Station for a bit watching the foot traffic. People are going about their business. Murray comments that most look normal enough and then about every 15th person looks like they are from outer space. One young women is racing for the train dressed in a skirt that is far too tight and wearing high heels she cannot even walk in. Then comes a fellow in a business suit, stylish enough but the pants are too tight and the jacket buttons are ready to pull off. The fellow that looks like he walked out of the 80’s.

We chat to folks, asking directions and kibitz with them. The city worker changing a light bulb on the bridge pedway, the elderly couple also wondering about the group of students on their cell phones, a businessman helping us find a bus stop. Friendly people here in Brisbane and good subjects for people watching!

 

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Brisbane

After enough hugs to last six months, we say good bye to M&D and drive north to spend a few days in Brisbane before our flight home.

Brisbane

We are staying at a motel near the airport to make our departure day easier, so we take the Translink train into downtown Brisbane.

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We brought with us a copy of a walking tour we found in a Lonely Planet book. We decide to follow it to get a sense of the downtown area. Meandering through the street peering up, first at a tall modern glass tower and then, at a stately historic stone building.

Treasury Building

Treasury Building

We stroll along the riverside Boardwalk following the Brisbane River and then step into the edge of the City Botanical Gardens. Deep greens, shady, peaceful. Cross the Goodwill Pedestrian Bridge and find ourselves in the South Bank Parklands, which houses Streets Beach, a man made beach and park for all ages. Brisbane, in fact the whole state of Queensland, has beautiful and abundant parks.

South Bank Parklands

South Bank Parklands

At the end of the park, are the performing arts center, museum and art galleries. We will explore the art galleries tomorrow.

We cross back over the Victoria Bridge into downtown again and wander a part of Queen’s Street, where all the shopping is. We may have to go back there! Past City Hall and back to the train station with tired feet.

Brisbane Skyline

Brisbane Skyline

An hour of rest at the hotel and the stomach says it is dinner time. The street we are on is mostly residential and does not have much in the way of food. However 5 or 6 blocks to the west is Racecourse Road with an abundence of restaurants and cafes.

Debbie has a hankering for sushi and damned if we don’t find a sushi place. Mediocre sushi but it does the trick and we are satisfied. Traversing the rest of the street we scope out places for the next couple of days dinner.

Farther afield down by the river is the Portside Wharf. The docking place for the cruise ships. Here is another cluster of eating places, with prices seemingly higher than on Racecourse Road. It is quite busy even for a Tuesday night.

Our walks today, this afternoon through the neighbourhood to a distant tram station, around the downtown area and this evening traversing another neighbour has left us with a good impression of Brisbane. It is a big city but to me quite homey, not alienating at all. We will see what day 2 brings.

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Coffs Harbour in a Morning

Arrived at Coffs Harbour and headed to the ocean front road expecting to eye the beach. Odd but there is a forest between the beach and the ocean. You cannot even see the water. Today is most about touring the environs and walking a beach or two.

It is 9ish and we meet at T & S’s place, transfer to their car and head off. First destination, Sealy Lookout. The recently built Forest Sky Pier takes you out over the forest canopy and gives a clear vision up and down the coast. From here we get an idea of where we are headed and what places we may visit next.

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Diggers Beach is a short walk over a headland. The beach is slightly protected and usually a little calmer than its big brother next door, Park Beach but it is worth the walk. I could see this being crowded on a nice summer day but today there are only a couple of surfers plying the waters and us walking the sand.

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Bellingen is a town with a lot of character. It does look as if it hasn’t changed much since it was built up in the early 20th Century. The people seemed to have been stuck in the 1960’s. It makes for a really nice laid back kinda place. It is a little busy today. The yearly 3 day music festival ended yesterday and a ‘hanger over’ was quite evident. A good number of the visitors stayed on, including some of the musicians who were sitting on a bench on main street busking. I think this place would be worth a few hours strolling the streets and poking around the shops.

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Coffs Harbour is more of a small city. A bit more generic and maybe a bit more anonymous. It is Monday and everyone is going about the business of daily life. It is a nice place but nothing in particular stands out. I don’t think you would spend a week long vacation there.

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Driving into town yesterday we noticed on the way in there was an abundance of banana plantations but were told blueberries are also a big crop. The fields are recognizable by the white gauze netting over the plants, placed there to keep the bats at bay.

After taking in a few sights it is on the freeway and headed north. We want to make time and try and avoid driving too much after dark. The A1/M1 is pretty much like any freeway in the world. A road with little personality. Asphalt and fast. It takes us almost exactly the 4 hours Google Maps said it would and we are back in Southport for the night. Tomorrow we head into Brisbane to spend our last few days.

 

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Farther South

After a week of staying put in the Gold Coast we hit the road headed south to Coffs Harbour. A couple of former Snow Valley employees moved here and since we are within driving distance a visit is in the offing.

When in tourist central and it is a travel day it is best to get up before the masses and get on the road. 9am we are on the highway. M1 is still quite crowded but our plan will take us inland on smaller highways. Hoping the lemmings will follow each other down the main highway, we expect much less traffic.

The road is small, really small. I’m thinking I might clip the mirror of the oncoming vehicles. It is still 100kph though. This road is taking us up into the mountains. Twisty, turny, no straight what so ever road. The scenery is fantasic. There are a few farm/ranches about but most of the area is forested and completely covered. As we guessed, it is Sunday and the traffic is very light. Never in a line up. As we are playing tourist and not in a hurry we find places to pull over and let those with somewhere to go pass.

Over the first range of mountains and we are on a sort of plateau. To us it is reminisent of the Alberta. All cleared with rolling hills like our foothills.k

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As lunch time approaches we start to look for a cafe or the like so we can eat. Again I will say it is Sunday. I remember Sunday in New Zealand a few years ago and having to forgo lunch because Sunday is a day off. Well, seems as though Sunday in the hinterland of Aus is also a day off. We eventually find a small city big enough to have a few places open, Grafton. On the main street Debbie spots a few folks seated at tables outside an open establishment. We stop. I Scream is open and they serve not only ice cream but burgers. Lunch has been found. And damn the milkshake is good. If you happen to be in Grafton, New South Wales have a milkshake. It is well worth the time and expense.

Coffs Harbour is another small city but it is on the main highway and there are a few things open. It is not bustling but at least it is not sealed up. We had done some research on hotels here so we knew a couple of places to try. Drove by one of them without even seeing it but found another on our list without much trouble. Pretty standard motel but nice enough.

The owner has taken up a hobby of feeding the lorikeets twice a day and we are around when the 4 o’clock feeding takes place. The birds must have a clock in their stomach because they arrive about 5 minutes early and make a hell of a racket. We duck outside and the pool area is chaulk full of birds. Bright green birds with orange and red and yellow feathers. Not afraid of us at all and screaming like mad.

imageThen the food arrives and they go nuts. The nice fellow lets Debbie hold the pan with the bread soaked in maple syrup and the birds befriend her quickly. Sitting on her shoulder or head or wherever they can grab on.

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This is Debbie smiling, not grimacing, cuz there’s a bird on her head!

We connect with T & S late in the afternoon and have a chat catching up on each others lives and our common ground. Like the happenings at Snow Valley, etc.

There is a happening place in Coffs Harbour, it is Hoey Moeys. Bar is packed and a live band is playing when we walk in at 6.30. Odd because most places on earth normally have bands that don’t start until 8 or later but here it seems they are packing it in at 7. The attached restaurant is also packed. Food is only OK and it is somewhat pricey but the portions are large and that would appeal to the younger crowd seeming to frequent the place.

A couple of random thoughts. Street lighting in Aus is terrible. For the most part it is dark. There are lights at intervals but between is blackness. Our back alley is lit better than all but the most main roads. It makes for less light pollution but it is quite hard to drive or walk as the light is intermittent.

And we made it all the way from Cairns to Coffs Harbour using paper maps. How 20th century. But as those that try to sail the Atlantic Ocean in a paper boat or walk the Camino de Santiago using the medieval pathway we were able to use ancient technology to traverse our way 2000 km down the coast of Queensland and only got off on a tangent a couple of times.

Our journey southward is complete and the last leg was somewhat different but very pleasent. Tomorrow we will explore Coffs with our friends and then double back to the north and Southport for one more night.

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Walking the Beach

Today is our last full day with M&D. D has a lunch date with a friend, so M, Murray and I walk the beach. We walk to the north edge of Surfer’s Paradise on the pavement, and then turn around and stroll the sand back.

Main Beach

The beach goes for miles in both directions.  I look south and the tall buildings go on for miles too. It is an odd sight, these 50 story buildings fronting this magnificent beach. There should be grass huts and tiki bars.

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The water is turbulent today. No body surfing, just frolicking in the rollers and foam balls. In some spots there are four sets of waves crashing in parallel towards the shore. It is close to high tide, so the water rushes up the sand and gets us wet.

Walking the beach is therapeutic. The sound of the waves, the movement of the water and the heat of the sand on my feet are calming. I could walk forever with the sight of the blue water on the right, the light brown sand in the middle and the greenery on the left. Blue skies and cooling water as we walk the beach.

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Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Today we introduce D to Australia’s wildlife, in a zoo of course. We are off to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

We meet dingos,

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wallabies,

Wallaby

fresh water crocodiles,

Fresh water crocodile

merino rams (can you please make me a sweater?),

Merino ram

red kangaroos,

Red kangaroo

and, my fav, koalas.

Koala

We also meet many other birds, mammals and reptiles indigenous to Australia. I think D’s fav is the koala too!

Koala

 

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Body Surfing

Main Beach. D is lolling in the sun reading. Murray, M and I are in the water. I was smarter today and am wearing my sleeveless scuba diving  “hoodie” made of neoprene to keep me warm. M is teaching me how to body surf.

Timing is everything! We try to catch the lip of the wave, just before it starts to break. Swim like he** for a few strokes and then extend arms and put hands together, like a surf board shape, and go for it!

I ride a few waves getting caught in the foam ball. Don’t get nearly as far as M does. Salt water up my nose every time.

The waves come in sets so we wait. Murray watches out to sea and warns us when they are coming.

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M tells me about not getting caught at the very top of the wave as it will break and pummel a body surfer into the sand. Great. It is quite shallow, only about 2 feet of water in the trough between waves. Sure enough, I get caught on the wrong part of the wave and get nicely tossed around. Fortunately I do not hit the sand, just a huge nose full of water. Ouch, that burns!

M coaches me when to start swimming on the next wave and we both ride the wave for about 40 feet. WOW! That was amazing! I went as far as M did that time and could feel my body riding with the wave. Another nose full of water.

Main Beach

Main Beach

I think I have had enough water in my nose, so I frolic in the water as I make my way to shore. Even after all the salt water up my nose, I am eager to try body surfing again!

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