Bell's Beach, great ocean road
Thu Mar 28/19
Sydney is about a 1 ½ hour flight south from Brisbane. We have arrived at our final stop on our long journey. Seems like we left yesterday, and eons ago, at the same time.
Sydney is 4.5 million people, slightly larger than Melbourne. But, to me, it seems like a bigger city. Melbourne is compact, walkable, well designed. Sydney seems more spread out and somewhat disjointed from an infrastructure perspective. That’s a first impression. The city revolves around the harbour, and the key central harbour location is called “The Rocks”. It’s at Circular Quay, right by the Opera House – a departure point for a lot of different ferry lines that connect all parts of Sydney and surrounds via the magnificent harbour.
We’re staying in the Rocks area. Upon arrival, we asked the Concierge for some tips for lunch. He told us that three pubs argued over the prestige of being the “oldest” in the city. The Lord Nelson, the Fortune of War and the Hero of Waterloo in the early 1800’s and were very close to us. We are knocking them off our list one at a time. First, the Lord Nelson for a bite to eat for lunch. It was OK, but I don’t know if it’s the oldest. It says it’s the oldest “hotel” in Sydney, going back to 1841.
Of course, the first tourist destination is the Opera House. It’s right across from the hotel an the ferry terminals – maybe a 10 minute walk for us. It really is quite magnificent. On TV or in pictures, I always thought that the roof was white, but it’s really a combination of white and cream-coloured clay tiles. They’re made to reflect the sunlight, so that the colours can change during the day.
When I originally booked, I looked for a performance to attend. Found it very confusing. There were all kinds of performances and theatres listed. Little did I know that they were ALL in the Sydney Opera House. We went on a 60 minute tour ($40 AUD) and discovered there are actually 6 different venues in the building. Bruce was our thoroughly entertaining guide. I’ll put more details in my blog posting, but there are 2,679 seats in the concert hall, 1,506 in the Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre, and all together the six venues have a capacity of over 5,500 seats. Also, in 2018, the building became 100% carbon neutral. Hard to believe, but the cooling system is run by seawater, so that is a huge contributor.
Trivia question – how many roof tiles have to be replaced each year, on average?
Answer – 4. Not sure how that works, but that’s what Bruce said.
Did a bit more of a wander around the Rocks and found old put # 2 – the Fortune of War. It boasts continuously serving food and drinks since 1928. So far, it’s the oldest pub we’ve found. They had a live entertainer who could cover Neil Young, Jim Croce and others really well. Fun evening.
Fri Mar 29/19
We followed our mini-tradition of doing the Hop-on Hop off tour on our first full day here. In Sydney, they didn’t have the Hop-on Hop-off; they only had the “Big Bus” tour, which is the same concept. Melbourne was $35 for one day; here it was $55. Like Melbourne, they have two circuits. The city tour and the Bondi Beach tour. We did ½ of the city tour, switched to the Bondi tour at Central Station, stopped off at Bondi for a while, and then returned and switched back to the City tour at Central and finished it off. Overall impression – Sydney has retained a lot of its old architecture. It sounded like there was a change in government thinking in the 1960’s, and they started to protect heritage buildings. But, unlike Melbourne, it’s definitely not walkable and not put together as logically. That could be because it is based all around a huge harbour rather than a single, relatively small (by comparison) river.
Comment on the Big Bus Tour – it’s the only game in town which is unfortunate. The commentary on the bus (recorded – listen to it through earphones) really lacked the kind of detail that should be available when touring a city like Sydney. For example, the commentary about the Opera House… we drove by it, with nary a word, and then the comment was “This is the stop for the Opera House”. Nothing, not a word about its significance.
In the evening, we had purchased tickets to the first home game of the AFL (Aussie Football League) game between the Sydney Swans and the Adelaide Crows. If you’ve never watched AFL, try it. It’s a totally crazy game where, basically, everything is legal. We sat down beside a family cheering for Adelaide and the lady helped explain a number of the rules. By the end, I think I had it pretty well. Adelaide won, 88-62. Lots of scoring in these games, and non-stop action!
As an illustration of the contrast in planning, in Melbourne, MCG and AIMI stadia were maybe a 5-10 minute tram ride from the heart of downtown, and the stops were right between the two buildings. In Sydney, we had to catch the 373 bus from near the ferry terminal, and it took us out to the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) – about a 25-30 minute trip. After the game, we could have returned the same way, but weren’t sure about schedules. There was a lineup of buses that shuttled people to Central Station, and then you could get your connection from there. Not bad, but overall the trip took a lot longer than we had when going to the rugby match in Melbourne.
Sat Mar 30/19
We ventured out onto the harbour for the first time. There are a lot of ferry lines, and it’s a good way to get around the city. For all public transit, you get a free Opal card and then charge it and recharge it as needed. The trip to/from the AFL game was about $6.50.
We had reservations for lunch at Doyles on the Beach on Watsons Bay. Recommended by a friend of ours. He said you have to make reservations at least a month in advance. So we booked our spot about 3-4 months out from (before we left Canada). Took the ferry there. Watsons Bay is out by the last peninsula at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Cross over to the other side and you see the Tasman Sea. Took about 20-25 minutes on the fast ferry, and only cost $6.01. On land, it probably would have taken a lot longer.
So, Doyles… how to describe it. Very old – family owned and operated since 1885. A legend in the area. Always full.
God knows why. You’ll understand my comment after you read below.
So, we got a table outside, and the restaurant is right beside the beach. Very nice. We actually wound up 30 seconds from walking away because they were going to put us behind a plastic drape that came down – to “protect from the wind”. Only it was dead calm when we were there. Any way, after a great deal of “negotiation”, we got a table and the plastic drape was raised, although we had a further discussion because they wanted to put us at a table with one chair behind a pillar that totally blocked the view. Anyway, things were eventually settled.
I had to have the “famous fish & chips”, and Wanda had a seafood pie. So, the fish and
chips might not have been the best I’ve ever had (they were pretty good), but they were the most expensive I’ve ever had - $48.90 AUD, plus a 10% “weekend and holiday premium”, plus about a 1.5% charge for paying with a credit card. So, about $55 for fish and chips. And in a restaurant that had plastic chairs and cheap tables. But, it had a name and was on the beach. As I said, it was pretty good, but I still think I preferred the F&C at our first stop in Paihia (NZ) which were about $15. Anyway, it was an chance to experience part of the history of Sydney.
The distressing part was that, on our way back to the city, we noticed that Doyle’s had a spot called “Doyles on the Wharf” – takeaway and limited seating. F&C there? About $15.90. From the same company; probably the same fish. Unbelievable.
Aside from Doyles, there was an interesting walk around the Watsons Bay area. Five minutes got you to Camp Cover, where there was a sand beach and an informal spot serving lunch. Five minutes further got you to Lady Beach, which was the “natural” beach in the area (natural = nude). Disturbing sites, so we just kept walking. At the end, another 5-8 minutes walk, was the Hornby Lighthouse, which shines out over the entrance to Sydney Harbour. It was built in 1858, after the Dunbar was wrecked at the foot of South Head and 121 out of 122 men aboard died. The sole survivor was seaman James Johnson. He actually became the first lighthouse keeper at the Hornby Lighthouse.
In the evening, we hit the last of the “oldest” pubs in town – the “Hero of Waterloo”. We met Santa Claus (I guess he goes south in the off-season) – a jolly old guy with a voice bigger than the room, who seemed to know everybody. It was a fun place, with lots of character.
Sun Mar 31/19
Clear blue skies, with cooler weather and some brisk winds. Maybe a last chance to explore Sydney outside, because the forecast for tomorrow is a bit dicey. And, after that, it’s home again!
There’s a street market in the Rocks on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. We wandered through it and then headed to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (aka the “Coathanger”) to walk across to the other side. Somewhat akin to crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, on not quite so daunting. The views of the Opera House and downtown were beautiful.
On the bridge, we saw some “bridge climbers”. You can sign up for a tour where you actually climb up the girders on the bridge to that you’re right near the top. Of course, you’ve got a cable that ties you to the bridge in case you fall off or anything happens.
We went to the Milsons Point Ferry dock in North Sydney, which is right between the bridge and Luna Park. The ferries really are like extended bus lines, but across the water. Make exploring the harbour easy. Took the boat across to Barangaroo and ultimately Pyrmont Bay. These areas are really quite close to the centre. They are on either side of Darling Harbour. Pyrmont is close to the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Harbourside Shopping Centre and the Sydney Convention Centre. On the other side of Darling Harbour is Barongaroo, another shopping and restaurant area. On the way, you’ll go past the Sea Life Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife Zoo and Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum.
Extending out at the end of Darling Harbour is Chinatown. On this Sunday, in Tumbalong Park, there was a large Thailand Grand Festival underway. Performances and booths all around. Beyond that is the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Since we had already been in a similar type of Garden in Dunedin, we decided to give this one a pass. We went into Chinatown on Harbour Street and found a Chinese “food court”. Stopped in for dumplings (excellent – 16 for $12.80) and then headed to Paddy’s “Market City”, a four level shopping centre. Ground floor was a flea market; second was grocery and miscellaneous stores, third floor – outlet stores and fourth floor – restaurants. Didn’t find much to buy, but there was a lot to see.
We didn’t make it down Barangaroo, but headed down George Street back to the hotel. The whole downtown seems very spread out. A great mix of old architecture and modern buildings. We came across the Queen Elizabeth Building, a fascinating, historic building currently hosting a multi-storey shopping arcade. There were two magnificent clocks inside – the Great Australian Clock and the Royal Clock. The Great Australian Clock was very interesting – it tells Australian history, both from the European and Aboriginal perspectives. It is supposed to be the world’s largest “hanging animated turret clock”. That’s quite a mouthful, but it is 10 metres tall and weighs 4 tonnes.
Later on, we visited the “Argyle”. It’s a multi-restaurant complex. Multiple floors, multiple restaurants and loud music, even on an early Sunday evening.
Mon Mar 25/19
In retrospect, it’s always better to fly in the morning. We didn’t fly out till 2:20 pm, and consequently had about 3 hours between checking out and leaving for the airport. That’s pretty dead time because you can’t really do anything, and you’ve already mentally checked out in anticipation of your next destination.
The flight was about 1 ½ hours, just down the east coast of the country.
Brisbane is part of a stretch of cities in southern Queensland. It’s about 2 ½ million people, the third largest city in the country. About an hour to the south is the Gold Coast, #6 in the country and to the north, it’s Sunshine Coast, #9 in the country at about 333k. Like Melbourne, Brisbane is centred on a river – the Brisbane River.
In the city core, the streets have an interesting naming convention. In one direction, they have female (royal) names – Ann, Adelaide, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Mary, Margaret, and of course, Queen Street. The cross streets have male names – George, Albert and Edward. Helps you not to get lost. A lot of activity centres around the Queen Street Mall, a pedestrian stretch with shopping malls and all kinds of restaurants, pubs and bars.
Tue Mar 26/19
In Te Anau, NZ, we met Roger Mathews, an octogenarian South African who was, more or less, a walking dictionary. We ran into him a couple of times, together with his traveling companions – Pam (or “Pammy”), his girlfriend from England, Marianne (turns out it was his ex-wife), and Peter (her second husband). Talk about an eclectic compendium of companions!
So, Roger invited us to visit him in the Gold Coast when we were in Brisbane.
We took the train down to Helensvale Station, where he picked us up. Turns out the Gold Coast and Surfers’ Paradise is very similar to beach strips in Florida. Lots of sand, lots of high rises and apartments, and lots of tourists. We were joined by Marianne and Peter for lunch at a Surf Life Saving Club. Turns out this is a very common type of club in this part of the word. They provide social activities, and training for youngsters on lifeguarding.
After that, we headed out to the hills behind the Gold Coast. We drove through Mudgeeraba (“the place of lies”), where apparently a large number of natives were poisoned by the early settlers. Disturbing history. Up to the Numinbah Lookout, a really spectacular view down to the Gold Coast, and then to Purling Brook Falls, an equally spectacular valley and waterfall, even if the water flow was a bit sparse. Thanks for a great day, Roger.
Wed Mar 27/19
Rain, rain, go away.
It didn’t listen. Rained all day long. Put a bit of a damper on things.
First thing, we walked to the downtown to the info centre to get some pointers on how to spend a rainy day in Brisbane. They suggested a couple of things that we were thinking about anyway. I see more museums in my future.
The City Hall is an interesting structure. It was opened in 1930, and for 37 years, was the tallest structure in the city. Reason was that the clock in the clock tower was the official time indicator for the city. The clock face is 4.8 metres in diameter, and the clock was the first fully electric tower clock in Australia. In 1967, the bylaws changed and the city started growing upwards. Can you tell we went on a tour of the tower?
The City Hall also has a rather interesting central hall – with a large open floor, a stage, a pipe organ, and seating for hundreds on the mezzanine level. Not usual to have a huge function hall in a civic building.
We also headed over to the other side of the river to the Queensland Museum, which had a couple of free exhibits and some paid exhibits as well. Queensland is a region with a huge variety of plant and animal species. Just in case we missed seeing of the unique indigenous species in the wild or at refuges, we saw them here – stuffed.
We were planning a ride on the free river ferry, but the weather was just too bad so we headed back to prepare for the final step of our journey…Sydney!
Fri Mar 22/19
Off for an early flight to Hamilton Island (in the Whitsunday Islands), which seems to be one of the exclusive resorts for the rich and famous on the Great Barrier Reef. It won the “Most Desirable Island Getaway” award from Australian Traveller in 2015. It’s about midway between Cairns and Brisbane, about 1 ¼ hours by plane from the continuing rains of Cairns. While cloudy, at least Hamilton Island was dry when we landed.
The island is small – about 4-5 km long and 3 km across. We really didn’t know what to expect, but it is small, even by comparison to Bermuda. Development started in the mid 1970’s with the establishment of an airport, but it got kicked into high gear when Bob Oatley bought it in 2003. Oatley made his money in the wine business – he owns Rosemount Wines.
His company owns almost all the businesses on the island, apparently. It’s convenient for guests – you could sign expenses to your room just about everywhere we went, including at the golf course on neighbouring Dent Island. One of the staff told us that the company has about 1,200 employees working on the island. There are a range of resorts, from family to ultra-high end that has attracted celebrities like Oprah, Leonardo DiCaprio and Taylor Swift. Sadly, we didn’t see any of them.
We stayed at the Beach Club, an adults-only resort. They sent a couple of representatives to pick us up at the airport and collect our baggage. First class service all the way. We had our room by about 10:30 am, although I’m sure that’s not always possible.
The way to get around the island is by golf cart. First time I ever saw golf carts with seat belts and turn signals! We decided to rent one for four hours, to get a quick “lay of the land”. We were pretty much done in an hour, but then toodled around for another two. We went up to the peak at “One Tree Hill”, which has a great view and is a popular location at sunset (when you can see it!).
The other mode of transportation is shuttle bus. There are two routes (the blue and the green) that provide free movement around the island. Very handy. There is a whole segment of the island that I don’t think is accessible – we tried to get to one remote beach, and there was a gravel road that said that 4WD was necessary, so we had to turn back.
We took a walk up and over the hill to the “downtown”, which was, essentially, the marina. There was an IGA, and about 6-7 restaurants and a bakery. Not much else, and naturally everything was overpriced. It’s the way it is here. We bought some cheese and had dinner on our patio, which was a walk-out with direct access to the beach. We checked out a few options for tours, but decided against them. Only “big” thing we’ll do here is a round of golf on Dent Island on Sunday morning, weather permitting.
Sat Mar 23/19
The watersports include kayaks, paddleboards and small catamaran sailboats. Sailing is always something I’ve wanted to learn, ever since that fateful day in Mexico in the early 1990s. Back then, Wanda and I went out on a little sunfish. I was sure I could figure it out, but we wound up out in the blazing sun for three hours, and then needed help getting back. I wonder that we’re still married after that.
So, they start the day off with sailing lessons and I signed up. Easy-peasy once someone tells you what to do. Spent some time sailing, first on my own and then with Wanda. We survived both, without so much as a single capsizing.
If you come to to Hamilton Island, you have to be prepared to lay back. There are a lot of tourists, aa small area and not a whole lot to do unless you want to go on tours – great barrier reef, jetskis, sunset dinners, etc etc. It’s very nice, but only for a few days (for me).
The wildlife here is fantastic. Dozens of white cockatoos, multi-coloured parrots, and more. The highlight today was seeing a mother wallaby and her joey. They came wandering by as we sat on our patio, and grazed right in front of us for about 15-20 minutes.
We had a surprisingly good dinner at a resort restaurant – Coca Chu. It’s an Asian place that serves sharing dishes. We should have listened – we asked for two dishes when one would have sufficed. Surprising for the value and the quality. Reservations are an absolute must! We were on a waiting list and barely got it. With so few options, everything seems to be full all the time.
Sun Mar 24/19
Up early and on the shuttle boat to Dent Island and the Hamilton Island Golf Club. Fascinating place. You can’t get on the shuttle if you’re wearing flip-flops. Boat departs on the hour – probably about 5-7 minute ride, and returns on the half-hour.
We passengers were greeted with wet towels to wipe our face and hands. They had everything set up for me. There are nets for practice, and chipping and putting greens. Rental clubs were Titleist 917s and AP1 irons. My tee time was 8:10 and I heard that things were quite busy. Well, I saw two groups go out at about 7:30 or so, and then…nothing. I was on my own and at 7:55, decided to head over to see if I could tee off. No-one in sight. Made it around in exactly 3 hours. The guys ahead of me played fast for a foursome! I only caught them on the 10th hole.
The island is dedicated to the golf course. Views are spectacular and most of the tees are elevated to showcase them. Not as dramatic as Cape Kidnappers, but still great. If you hit a ball into the tall grass, the local rule is to play it as a lateral hazard, drop a ball and take a stroke. Venomous snakes, you know. There are warning signs about them.
I called Wanda and suggested that she come over for lunch or a drink, since the views were so great. I finished just before she got off the shuttle. Then we found out the catch – you can’t just come over for a drink. You either have to pay $30 for the shuttle, or buy a $75, 2 course lunch. Oh well, it was a nice day for lunch.
The cost of the golf, actually, was not bad - $200 AUD, or about $190 CAD. That included the boat shuttle, Titleist rental clubs, and a power cart. Compare that to $90 CAD for a round with cart at Deerfield (a public course in Oakville), or about $150-175 CAD at peak times at prime times at the higher end courses in Toronto. And the views were a lot better!
More sailing practice in the afternoon, and hanging around the pool. The nice weather continued, thankfully!
Thinking about Australia, it looks pretty big when you look at it, but you probably don’t recognize how big it is. The northern tip is about 10 degrees latitude. That’s about the same latitude as San Jose, Costa Rica, in the northern hemisphere. And, it extends down to over 43 degrees south latitude. The equivalent in the north is Toronto. So – Toronto to Costa Rica – that’s a long way for one country. East to West, it’s about 3,300 km (Sydney to Perth) roughly the same as Toronto to Vancouver. Impressive. But, of course, that’s where Canada has Australia beat. East to West (Saint John’s NF to Vancouver, BC) is over 5,000 km.
And when we flew from the south to the north, it was unlike anything we’ve seen so far on this trip. It’s tropical – rainforest, sugar cane, banana plantations. And hot and humid! But that’s OK, it was starting to get a bit cool in Melbourne!
So, for the first month, we were in the State of Victoria. Traveling around, now we’ve got to learn a bit more about OZ. A few basics: there are six states and one territory. Each state has one main city, except for New South Wales, which has two). They are Victoria (Melbourne), New South Wales (Sydney and Canberra (the capital)), Queensland (Brisbane), South Australia (Adelaide), Western Australia (Perth), Tasmania (Hobart), and Northern Territory (Darwin). I have been able to recite Canadian provinces and cities, and ditto for the US, but it never occurred to me that I should learn those details about OZ.
And I guess the other thing that you realize – all the stupid things that make news headlines back home – most people in the world don’t know or care about most of them. So keep things in perspective.
Fri Mar 15/19
Up early to head to the airport. Ready for a new adventure.
On arriving in Cairns, I had a bit of an issue with the hotel. We’re staying at the Shangri-La, a very nice, high end international chain. Small detail, but I asked about parking and was told that underground was $20/night. Fair enough. I asked about street parking – there was a big lot out front and then street parking close by. The lady told me – and it sounded like a prepared speech – that you couldn’t park in the big lot out front overnight. It would be empty. So…would I get towed? No, probably not, but I could get a fine/ticket. And it was risky – she couldn’t guarantee the security of the car. Either she must have stupid or trained to say that. I have to believe it’s the latter – the hotel is trying to generate an additional $20 per night, and they wind up making it seem that they are situated in a run down, sleazy part of town. It’s quite common in Oz and NZ that street parking is free after 6 pm. Here was no different, and there have been lots of places on our trip where the front desk has volunteered that information.
So, I wrote up a check-in review and sent it in. I know that the hotel receives these reviews, because I’ve had direct responses on a number of occasions. No answer.
Anyway, we stopped in at the closest info store. The weather for next week looked dicey, so we booked a trip to the Great Barrier Reef for Monday, out of Port Douglas. Then we walked all around the town – the municipal swimming pool next door looks amazing. There’s a night market on Friday nights, and the Esplanade is the main street where things happen. Wanda found the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant on Lake Street, which serves the traditional Dutch Rijstaffel. Haven’t had that in a long time, but in the end it looked like way too much food, so we bailed and just ordered a la carte.
Sat Mar 16/19
So, much to my surprise (NOT), the car was OK in the morning, after parking on the street. We hooked up with Garrett and Melanie for the third time on our trip. They have been staying near Cairns for over a week already. They’re renting a beachfront place in Trinity Beach, about ½ hour north.
They suggested we go to the Atherton Tablelands. Now, the Tablelands are the area a bit inland from the coast – you rise up pretty quickly through the Rainforest, to about 1,000 metres, give-or-take. We had asked about the Tablelands at the Information Centre and the man told use that you could go from Cairns in a loop to the south, or a loop to the north. He said the north was pretty dry and arid, and the south was better – lots of waterfalls. Eventually, if you keep going deeper into the Tablelands, you’ll wind up in the Outback.
Since Garrett/Melanie were north and had already traveled around south of Cairns, they had a plan to see the northern loop.
Started off with a short hike at Barron Falls. Quite an impressive sight. There’s an historic train that you can take and it has a station there. The Falls are right close to Kuranda, an interesting looking town. We found out on our way back that it rolls up its sidewalks in the afternoon – even on a Saturday. Everything was closed.
After that, things did get drier. Garrett had found a place that has a coffee museum, if you can believe it. Coffee Works – in the middle of nowhere in the Tablelands. For $14, you can sample coffee and coffee chocolates, and see a ton of coffee making machines and equipment from all around the world. But no, it’s not air conditioned.
Then, on to the Mt. Uncle distillery for a tasting. It’s a very small establishment, with only a few staff. Yet, they make a wide range of distilled spirits – vodka, three types of gin, two rums, a single malt whiskey, and marshmallow and coffee liqueurs. Again, how do you get that in the middle of nowhere? One of the gins was “smoked”, and it actually tasted more like a peaty whiskey (a la Lagavulin).
Not to be out-done, the last stop was at a mango “winery”. Yes, mango wine. Better than I thought, but my expectations were low, based on our experience at a pineapple winery in Maui. 😊
On the drive back, Wanda spied a few kangaroos by the road, on a golf course. We circled around the block and discovered there weren’t a few – there were probably 100 or more. They were hopping around, staring at us, and generally chilling on a Saturday evening. We got some good pix of a mother with a joey in her pouch. So, our trip to Australia can be considered complete – we saw ‘roos in the wild.
Sun Mar 17/19
Once again, the car was OK. However, I made the mistake of parking underneath a tree overnight. Do you know how many birds live in these trees? Either a lot, or a few with bad cases of diarrhea, and all right above our car.
St. Patrick’s Day! Wanda and I put on our green and headed out to do the SOUTH route to the Tablelands. The gentleman from the Info Centre had outlined a route for us. Unfortunately, we followed it. The first 3 ½ hours were largely a waste. Saw a few things, but in retrospect it would have been better to drive direct to Millaa Millaa, see the sights along the way and then drive back on the same road. It would have turned an 8 hour day into about 5 hours, without missing too much.
One problem was that a number of the “attractions” and falls weren’t signed on the road, or if they were, we missed them. We did stop at Mungalli Falls and they were interesting. But you had a view from the top, and then a long descent (and re-ascent) without knowing how good the view at the bottom would be, so we gave it a pass. The other thing we noted was that, just like a lot of other places we have visited, rural areas tend to "manufacture" attractions to build the tourism industry. So, walks through the forest, or ice cream shops or cheese shops (or even mango wineries or coffee museums!) - they might be of interest, but they seem to be added for economic reasons, not for the intrinsic beauty that makes you want to visit the area in the first place.
Now, when you get to Millaa Millaa, there’s a 15 km road called the “Waterfall Circuit”. That’s where you want to go. You can see the Ellinjaa Falls, Zillie Falls and the Millaa Millaa Falls. All three are great, but M-M are the best. They’re swim-friendly, and it’s easy to swim right under the falls, and the view upward is great as long as you shield your eyes!
The other two things that are worthwhile are two trees – the Curtain Fig Tree and the Cathedral Fig Tree. Those are amazing, old trees that have been around for hundreds of years and reminded us of the Kauri trees in NZ’s Northland – the Lord of the Forest and the King of the Forest. The Curtain Fig Tree is very close to the main track. The Cathedral Fig Tree is about 6-7 minutes drive off of the highway. The weather was looking dicey, and it was late, so we were debating whether or not to make the detour. In the end, we did and it was well worth it.
Being St. Paddy’s Day, we had to visit the two Irish pubs in town. PeeWee and Mick were bugging us all day. Let’s just say the Aussies take their St. Patrick’s Day seriously!
Mon Mar 18/19
Already time to move on! Getting back into the swing of traveling again. We made the trip up to Port Douglas from Cairns. We were accompanied by the news that there was a cyclone forming off the northern peninsula of Australia. Say hello to Cyclone Trevor. He’ll be keeping us company the next few days – hopefully not too close company.
The enemy of the snorkeler is not rain, but wind. Or so we were told. As it turned out, it rained pretty well all day in Cairns and Port Douglas, but we boarded the QuickSilver VIII and headed out to the Agincourt Reef, about 1 ½ hours offshore, and right at the edge of the continental shelf. It’s called “the outer reef”. The wind was picking up and there were a number of people using the sickness bags. To me, it felt like a mild roller coaster. And the great thing was that, while it rained onshore, it didn’t rain at all during the day out on the reef.
Not sure what we expected, but both Wanda and I had different expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. When you think of the name, you might think that there are great sections that stand up above the water, so you can see them. And, in some spots, there are. They’re called islands. We passed some on the way back – the “Low Isles”. However, what makes the GBR great is the size. It extends for 2,300 km along from north of Australia down the Queensland coast. It consists of approximately 2,900 different reefs, so it’s not one great big reef. In total, it is larger than the size of Japan or Italy, and is about ½ the size of Texas.
The QuickSilver docked at a permanent pod beside that Agincourt Reef. I’m not sure how many people there were, but I’d guess 200+. This “pod” was like a miniature village. There was a two-level lounge/eating area (lunch was prepared), there were semi-submersible subs that gave tours every 15 minutes, there was an underwater viewing area, scuba diving for beginners and certified divers, a heli-pad for helicopter tours (didn’t see any today, probably because of the weather), and – of course – an area for snorkeling. Yellow buoys marked the “beginner” area, and white outlined the no-go zone for anyone.
It was cool. They provided suits to provide protection from jellyfish stings and against UV rays, and all the snorkeling gear and life jackets. Really, life jackets? In the ocean? It’s not like you’re going to sink. But, considering the ages and conditions of the people that were on the boat, life jackets are probably a good call. Of course, if you want to free dive, you need to take them off. One thing I learned was that if you have a moustache, you should put Vaseline on it to get a better seal on your mask.
Wanda and I went a couple of times on the semi-sub, and we tried snorkeling together. I stayed out longer and ditched the life jacket. On my own, I saw all kinds of coral and marine life. Even saw a giant sea turtle lazing along. We saw a second one on one of our semi-sub tours. Really beautiful and amazing fish, but I’d have to say that we both thought there would be “more”. More quantity – like schools of fish so bountiful that you’d have trouble seeing through them. That really didn’t happen, except maybe with schools of tiny fish. But still, it was a great experience.
And, it’s not without danger. There was a lady that had to be put on a stretcher for the way back. Not sure what happened to her, but I don’t think it was a shark bite – probably more a reflection that she tried to do to much for her capabilities.
When we returned, they rushed a group off the boat first to get back on the bus because some roads had been washed out because of the rain. I think that’s to the north…which is where we’re going tomorrow! We asked about a tour to the Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation. We were told that, yes, they were still going, despite the fact that there was a cyclone further north. Worst they expected was a lot of rain (and you’re in a rainforest, after all), and some winds. So that’s the plan for Tuesday!
Tue Mar 19/19
We may never go on another organized tour again. Today could have been the last one.
- Expense, lack of control over your time, idiotic people, over-selling and under-delivering, making a commitment and being able to change it if the weather doesn’t cooperate. You can pick.
My brother Garrett went on a tour with Daintree Discovery Tours and recommended it highly. My dissatisfaction is no reflection on his recommendation. All choices were pretty similar. This one included a 4WD side-trip to a falls for a chance to go for a swim.
So, what was supposed to happen: stop at Mossman Falls, river trip to spot crocodiles on the Daintree River, drive up to Cape Tribulation, “sumptuous” lunch at a spot in the middle of the forest, stop at an ice cream shoppe for dessert, 4WD trek up to Cassowary Falls for a swim, and then head back. Cost - $199 AUD pp. So, accounting for $10 admission pp at Mossman, $14 pp for the ferry crossing, $30 for the river cruise (I’m guessing at that one) and maybe $20 for food provided, that’s $74 in out-of-pockets, leaving $125 for the tour company (net of taxes).
So, we knew that Cyclone Trevor was going to land about 500 km north of our location. We knew we were in a rainforest and it would rain. You can’t control the weather. With that said, here was our day.
Kim, our guide, picked us up at 7:30 am. En route, we picked up 3 other couples, two in-town and one out near the Mossman River. One couple was from Wales – they were traveling on the man’s 70th birthday celebration. One couple was from the US, an American lady and her Dutch husband (celebrating his retirement). And then there was a French lady traveling with her son to celebrate his 21st birthday. They were only with us for half a day.
Overall, the day alternated between not much rain, steady rain and heavy rain and wind. There were a few times when the sun almost poked out, but it retreated quickly.
First stop was the Mossman River. Interesting walk up to see the river. The Daintree Forest is, apparently, the world’s oldest rainforest. It has been there for about 120,000 years. The variety of flora and fauna is fascinating, even to a non-horticulturist.
After that, we were on our way up to the Daintree River for a river tour to look for crocodiles. Now, having been to Florida lots of times, seeing crocs was nothing special for us. But, when we got there, it was pretty clear that there would be no crocs visible, anywhere. The river was flooding and there was nowhere for the crocs to “sun” themselves, and there was no sun, anyway. But the tour went ahead because it was included. It turned out to be a trip on rough water, in pelting rain and wind. Rather unpleasant. It’s the kind of thing that, had we been driving ourselves, we could have said “no thanks” and moved on.
We did learn a few facts. If you look at the pictures I posted, you’ll see a big mound – more than a metre high and around. That’s the world’s largest bird nest – the nest of the orange footed scrub fowl. Must take a lot of work to build! Also, there is one mango tree that can live near or in salt water – the red blossomed mango. It ingests the salt water and then expels it by sending the salt to its leaves. The leaves turn yellow and fall off. Smart tree. Finally, we learned that we weren’t having it so bad. Five weeks ago, our guide said, they had 1.4 metres of rain in a day. At the high point of the flooding, the river was 12.6 metres higher than normal! In the pictures, the banks of the river that you might see were all under water, a good 3-4 metres higher than the current water levels. Well, it is a rain forest you know. Rainy season is January – March. I wish we had known, although there’s not much we could have done. Dry season is in the winter here (our summer).
After the river cruise, the French pair left. Turns out this lady was a professor of something at Oxford University. Hard to believe, to hear her talk. I know some academics, and she didn't fit the profiel. But enough about that. They were gone.
The boat dropped us off on the other side of the Daintree, where our driver was waiting. We drove all the way to Cape Tribulation. I’ve mentioned before what a great influence Captain Cook had on the whole south Pacific region. On his first trip, he actually became grounded on the Great Barrier Reef (on the Endeavour Reef). After freeing the ship, he landed at Cape Tribulation and named it as such because “that’s where their tribulations began”. It is the only spot in the world where a tropical rainforest and a reef come together – the rainforest comes right down to the beach. Other than that, it’s about the same as it was 250 years ago. The road up was interesting – lots of debris strewn on the road (it was a bit like an obstacle course), and little rivulets coming down off the hills and making their way across the road. You could tell that road closures would be commonplace here.
So, a word about Kim, our driver. If you take a tour, the guide is absolutely key. Good guide = good tour, and vice versa. Kim looked to be in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He’d been here in northern Queensland for about 10 years. He was reasonably knowledgeable, but he spent most of the time talking about Papua/New Guinea. He had 28 and 25 year old sons, and had married a woman from Papua/New Guinea recently and had a step son and 7, 2 and 1 year old kids of his own. So, more than 50% of the time was spent talking about customs and the history of Papua/New Guinea. Now, that was interesting, but I was really here to know more about Australia. In the end, I learned two key things: the most northern island of Australia is only 2 miles from Papua/New Guinea, and I never want to visit there. Sounds dangerous, even to me.
After Cape Tribulation, we drove back southward and stopped at some land that was for sale. Just land – 20 acres, on sale for $400,000 AUD. There was a covered area and the company had contracted to have lunch there. The “sumptuous” lunch advertised consisted of a bun, slices of ham and chicken, and a salad. Orange juice or water to drink. Nothing wrong with it, but again, we spent close to an hour there. On our own, we would have made a different choice. We stopped at a local ice cream place (I’ve already forgotten the name) for some locally made ice cream.
That’s when we got the news. The road at Foxton Bridge, over the Mossman River, was under a metre of water. No way to get back. This was about 2 pm or so. We didn’t know earlier because there’s no cell coverage most of the way north after crossing the Daintree River. So, the head office told us to go for a walk 😊 (in a forest walk area) and get to the bridge by about 4 pm. The off-road vehicle ride to Cassowary Falls was off – it was under water, and so the view of the falls and swim was off too.
We got back to about a 1.5 km line of cars at the Foxton Bridge by 4 pm. Low tide was a bit after 2:30 pm, so the water had been receding. There were online cameras so we could see the levels going down to 0.4 metres, and then 0.2 metres (they have measuring sticks beside the road at all the bridges!). That’s when the traffic started to move. By the time we got across, it was even lower and we had no problem getting across. One of the couples was staying out of town and we had to drop them off for a helicopter ride to their hotel. A second bridge was closed and showed no possibility of re-opening.
So, all in all, an interesting yet frustrating day. I wonder if they’ll offer any kind of refund. My guess is no. But wait till I’m through with them!
Wed Mar 20/19
Today is an “enforced vacation” day. We did the two main things in Port Douglas - Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef. A lot was done in the rain. Today was constant rain. We revisited Mossman, but water levels had receded, so no excitement there. Basically, a day to chill.
Thu Mar 21/19
Back to Cairns for one day. Flight out is early Friday. I wanted to go swimMing in the public pool, but it rained the whole day, so there was no point.
Instead, we got in a trifecta of activities. First - Aussie mall walking at the Cairns shopping mall. Target and K-Mart! What else do you need? Then we visited the City Library. Outside are a number of huge trees. They are home to thousands of Spectacled Flying Foxes (aka bats). Around sunset, they wake up and fly out of town to feed. A spooky sight! Finally, we went to Rattle N Hum, a pub with locations in Cairns and Port Douglas. Best happy hour! We watched the kickoff to the AFL (Aussie Football League) season - Richmond vs Carleton. Craziest game, but I think I’m starting to understand it.
Mon Mar 4/19
Up for an early call (3 am), and then off to the airport at 5:30. Timothy, the Uber driver, was a Melbourne native and was good enough to explain the differences among Rugby League, Rugby Union and Aussie Rules Football. Of course, the best game was Aussie Rules. Rugby (especially Rugby Union) was just for the elites. Never mind – I’ve already forgotten what he told me.
Flight to Tassie was short – just over an hour. Picked up the rental car and drove directly to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, outside of Hobart. We would finally get to see kangaroos!
Bonorong was set up to take care of animals that couldn’t survive in the wild, protect endangered species, and rehabilitate animals that could be released once they had recovered. There are all kinds of birds, snakes and smaller animals, but we were focused on kangaroos, wombats, the kookaburra, echidna and – of course – the Tasmanian Devil!
When you arrive, they give you a small bag of food for the kangaroos – here, they’re just Forester kangaroos, that live in Tassie. They told us that they’re “all hungry”. Maybe, but maybe not. There’s a large area with perhaps 100 or so ‘roos lying down or wandering around. They all looked pretty well fed and in some cases, they rebuffed our offers of food. To be honest, it looked sort of sad to see these animals in captivity. Wanda used the term “hobo kangaroos” to describe them – just lying around, taking handouts. But at least they are being cared for.
We went on a 45 minute tour and got to see the wombat and Tasmanian devil, as well as some koalas up close.
Wombats are curious creatures. Apparently, up to the age of two, they are warm and cuddly and want attention and love. Then, at two years old, they turn on you and would be likely to take a bite out of you. Sort of like kids, when they become teenagers.
The devils are cute little creatures – severely endangered. They wander around harmlessly, but if you put a piece of meat in front of them and they show their teeth and become snarling little devils. Guess that’s where they got the name. They don't run very fast and don't hunt very well - they are scavengers. Did you know that they can eat 40% of their body weight in 30 minutes?!?!
There were three koalas at Bonorong. A mother and two of her babies (grown now). Koalas are not indigenous to Tassie. These came here from Kangaroo Island on the mainland, and couldn’t be returned because there were too many there when it came time to send them back. So, they stayed. Koalas sleep more than 20 hours a day, and only are awake to eat or move from one branch to another. We got to pet Bert (see the pictures). After you pet them, if you smell your hand, you can detect the scent of eucalyptus.
After wrapping up our visit, we stopped on the way in to Hobart, at the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). My assessment – UNIQUE. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, anywhere in the world. How it got to the bottom end of the world, I’ll never know. See www.mona.net.au
There was a huge variety of exhibits. They included things like:
- A series of metronomes set to different speeds (had to be wound manually by the attendant).
- A man covered with tattoos, sitting perfectly still, all day long. Apparently, he poses in the museum for six months of the year.
- A complex machine that reproduces the human digestive system (including operating at the normal human body temperature) and poops once a day.
- A recreation of Vermeer’s studio, where a man named Timothy sits and paints, using mirrors (Vermeer supposedly used mirrors when painting).
- A "waterfall" that spells out words based on frequency of usage on the internet
- A number of other exhibits that I can’t discuss here because I’m trying to keep this G-rated.
This is just skimming the surface of what we found at MONA.
We arrived at the Old Woolhouse Apartment Hotel, an old factory. Unfortunately, the only thing that seems to be remaining is the exterior wall. Everything else has been built new inside the walls – it’s almost like a hotel with an exterior casing. Interesting, though. Our room – 233 – is a reminder of how big the old factories were. It is a walk of about ¼ km to get from reception to the room. Right at the other end of the factory!
Tue Mar 5/19
Today we went on the Convict Trail – it’s widely known that convicts were shipped in great numbers from the British Isles to Australia to serve their time and help build infrastructure in the new country.
We skipped the prison in Hobart and started in Richmond, the site of the first prison in Australia and its oldest bridge (1825), built by the felons.
From there we drove direct to Port Arthur. When planning our trip, I had thought that Port Arthur was sort of a port town to Hobart, much like Piraeus to Athens. I figured it would be a pretty simple side trip. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Port Arthur was built as a “natural prison”. It’s on a long peninsula composed of heavy forests, surrounded by deep water, and entered only through Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow passage of land that is only 30 metres wide at its narrowest point. And it is over 1 ½ hours drive from Hobart, so back in those days it would have been extremely remote. It was founded by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur. It was a timber station (logged by prisoners) but quickly turned into a penal colony and was a prison from 1833 to 1877. Before settling on Port Arthur, Governor Arthur was considering sites on mainland Australia, but decided on Port Arthur because the weather on the mainland “was too nice”.
Once the prison was set up, aside from all the natural barriers, the narrow isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck was guarded by 18 dogs, chained across the width of the land and even posted on some platforms in the water. If anyone did try to escape and got that far, the dogs would alert the garrison that was stationed there.
Admission was $39 and included a guided walking tour and a boat tour that went out into the main channel, by Point Puer and around the Isle of the Dead (cemetery). Point Puer was where the first children’s jail in the British Empire was opened. The “age of majority” for purposes of criminal responsibility was… 7 years old. Really. And since the jails in England were overflowing, the government decided to open a youth prison and shipped all kinds of children on the 4 month journey around the world. The youngest prisoner was 9 years old.
In the 1860’s and 1870’s, the Commandant at the time decided that physical punishment wasn’t working on the most hardened criminals, so he built a new block – the “Separate Prison”. Here, each prisoner had a tiny cell. Prisoners were deprived of almost all human contact and of their identity. They became a number, lived in their cell 23 hours a day, had to put on a mask when they came out for the one hour exercise period and when they went into the chapel, there were dividers so they couldn’t see anyone else. No eye contact with guards or anyone else was allowed. The only time they were allowed to use their voice was to sing in the chapel. The reading material in the cell was a Bible. A precursor to today’s maximum security penitentiaries.
Most of the buildings were ruins, but the Commandant’s House was restored. The actual tours were interesting, but the most instructive part was that we saw the entire site as a condemnation of the British Empire's social system. Now, I’m not saying that other societies of the time were better, but a social system that promotes wealth and privilege for the upper class, doesn’t care for or look after the poor, and metes out harsh punishment for even the most menial crimes (especially by the disadvantaged classes) is not something that I think should be idolized or emulated. The key question is “have we learned anything from that today”?
The system did not fail everyone, of course. Cripps Bakery, the oldest in Tassie, was started by a convict that served his time at Port Arthur.
On the way back, we stopped at Eaglehawk Neck, where there were some impressive cliffs by the ocean – the Blowhole, the Tasman Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen.
Then, back to Hobart in time for Trivia Night at… some place. The good news is we didn’t come last, even with two people! The bad news is we don’t know much about Australian trivia, or Harry Potter, or things of interest to people under 30.
Wed Mar 6/19
Our plan was to have two days in the Freycinet area, about 2 ½ hours north of Hobart. The national park there was supposed to be very beautiful.
The trip up was uneventful and unspectacular. Some spots along the water; other sections inland. We went past “Spiky Bridge”, an old stone bridge with “spikes” in it. Passed through a couple of small towns. All along these roads, there was a lot of roadkill. Really unfortunate, but cars are a big hazard to the animals there – even more than in Canada.
We stayed at the Freycinet Lodge, a very nice place right on the water across from the town of Coles Bay. Did a bit of exploring (Honeymoon Bay) and narrowly missed getting caught outside in a flash hailstorm that hit us. We spoke to the front desk about going on a “penguin spotting” expedition. Penguins go out to sea in the morning and come back after dark to feed their young. The lady called the agency and they said that they were only seeing 5-10 penguins at night. Apparently, it’s the off season, and it has been a bad season for penguins because of the weather. So, at $40 per person, we decided to pass. Afterwards, the lady told us that we could go to the Blow Hole in Bicheno and we’d probably see some penguins on our own.
So we made the 30 minute drive north to Bicheno. It was pretty cold! Probably about 12-13 degrees. It was getting pretty dark by 8:30, and a tour guide actually showed up with about 5-6 people. We were about 20-30 feet away, along with some other “independent: seekers. The guide had a red flashlight, because apparently penguins can’t see the colour red. By 9:00 pm, nobody had shown up for the party! Penguins, I mean. You could hear the babies calling out, but no parents came. Maybe we scared them, maybe they landed somewhere else. Who knows? But it was a fun experience trying, and we saved $80.
The best part was the drive back. There’s a sign saying that the speed limit is 65 km/hour after dusk. That’s because of the big problem with animals on the road. Sure enough, we narrowly avoided two possums, and we saw at least 4-5 wallabies hopping around the side of the road.
Thu Mar 7/19
The national park is the big attraction. Hiking, camping, kayaking…the usual.
We made the hike up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout. About 45 minutes one way. There was an option to go down to the beach – 1,000 steps down. No problem. 1,000 steps back up. Not so much. So, we thought we’d pretend we went down, and go to a different beach instead.
After that, we went up the road to the Cape Tourville Lighthouse and outlook, and then wound up at the Friendly Beach. Much easier to reach than Wineglass Bay.
On the way back, we stopped in Coles Bay for a drink. Just outside town is the Saffire Resort. A friend stayed there a couple of years ago and he raved about it, so I thought we’d stop in. In the driveway was a sign reading, “If you’re not a Saffire guest, you should leave immediately”. So I looked them up online, and found out why. $2,800 AUD per night! But only $2,200 in the off-season.
Made me feel better about the price of our hotel.
Fri Mar 8/19
Just a transfer day. Left Freycinet about 10 am to head back to the airport for our 3 pm flight. Rented a car for the last week in Melbourne in anticipation of 1-2 out-of-town trips. The GPS that came with the car was set to avoid toll roads, which resulted in a VERY long trip into town. Rush hour didn’t help, either. Well over an hour to travel about 21 km.
Back to the Melbourne tab!
Mon Feb 25/19
We departed Melbourne for a brief sojourn, westward. The Great Ocean Road, a famous trip along the Australian coast. We’re planning on spending two nights en route, one in Apollo Bay and one in Port Fairy, before coming back.
Our car rental was “interesting”. Our landlord, Glenn, has a mate up the street who has a car rental agency. We got “mates rates”, and they definitely were cheaper than regular companies. But nobody told us that the car came with an apple core and potato chips on the floor, and an odometer that read 372k. But, it still ran!
The Great Ocean Road starts, officially, at Torquay. We consulted our Fodor’s directory and several websites and they said to check out Bell’s Beach (Torquay), Split Point Lighthouse, Lorne (and Erskine Falls and Teddy’s Lookout) and then to get to Apollo Bay. So we did.
Overall, the sights were interesting, but in comparison to New Zealand, I’d have to say they fell just a touch short. However, I’m reserving judgement until the end of the trip. The only thing I would definitely say is about Erskine Falls. It’s about a 15 minute detour north from Lorne, and then a 5 minute walk. We visited in the dry season, so the water flow was light. But, even considering that, the vantage point from the viewing platform really didn’t offer much of a view. I don’t know that it was worth the time. Teddy’s Lookout and the other spots were definitely worth the look.
Apollo Bay is a small town midway down the Road. It has a small strip of hotels and stores/restaurants. Quiet evening. 😊
But the biggest news was that we saw a koala! We were just walking along the street and saw a small crowd taking pictures. And there he was (I’m guessing it was “he”). We think he was asleep.
Tue Feb 26/19
If yesterday was disappointing, then today made up for it! The trip from Apollo Bay to Port Fairy was amazing. The sights along the ocean really warrant calling it the “Great Ocean Road”.
After we arrived in Apollo Bay, the hotel owner immediately gave us a map and told us where to stop in our travels. He circled all the key points. He also said that, for fish & chips (yes, I haven’t given up), to go to either Apollo Bay F&C on the main street, or down to the dock. We opted for the dock. Mistake. You need to be able to prepare food in addition to having fresh fish! I heard afterwards, independently, that Apollo Bay F&C is the place to go.
So, we got on our way. First stop was at Mait’s Rest Rainforest Walk. It was about a 20-30 minute walk through a really interesting rainforest. Lots of giant trees and photo ops for PeeWee and Mick.
Just down the road from that, we took a detour on C157 to the Cape Otway Lightstation. The hotel owner had said that we’d see koalas and kangaroos. So we saw koalas! Even one with a baby. Unfortunately, they were so high in the trees that good pix were difficult. We met a lady who said that she had seen one on the ground earlier in the morning, and she got a great picture. Maybe the answer is to come a bit earlier (it was about noon when we arrived).
At the end of the road is the Cape Otway Lightstation and “park”. It offers a great view from close to 100 metres above the ocean. The catch is that it costs $19.50 AUD to get in! We thought we might give it a pass, but after coming all that way, we went in. If the view was the only attraction, we would have felt resentful. However, we got there just in time for a “Bush Tucker” presentation. Brad, a “bush tucker”, half native and half Irish, talked to us for over an hour about the concept that man was a custodian of the land, not the owner of it. He talked about the regions and tribes in the surrounding areas, and showed us how people used to live – which plants could be eaten, which ones not, how they made rope and clothes, how they could survive without water (by eating certain plants), and much more. Fascinating stuff, and well worth the price of admission.
However, there were no kangaroos. The lady selling tickets, who was rather old and crotchety, said, “they’re sleeping. They won’t come out until tonight”. We felt like answering that for $19.50 per person, you can bloody well go wake them up! But we didn’t.
After that, back to the car. The GOR veers away from the ocean at a number of points, but eventually we got to the stars of the show, the “12 Apostles”. Yes, there aren’t 12 of them, but if you remember, 90 Mile Beach in Northland NZ was really only 60 miles long. It’s all about the marketing. Really impressive!
After that, there are lots of spots to stop, gaze and hike. Our stops included the Loch and Gorge, London Bridge (part of which has really fallen down) and the Grotto. Final stop was at the Bay of Islands. Check out the pictures.
There are lots of possible stops, all depending on time. We were running a bit late, and finally arrived in Port Fairy at about 6 pm – so total travel time for the day was between 8-9 hours, for 187 km.
Previously, we had consulted a few online links for the Great Ocean Road. My comment on them - not very useful. One of them suggested viewing the sunset on the Twelve Apostles, and at the same time staying the night in Apollo Bay. That's a good 1 1/2 hour drive away! Nice in a fantasy world, but not practical.
Port Fairy is an interesting town. It is labelled “the most liveable town in the world”, on the sign as you enter the town. I wonder who decides these things? In one town in NZ, we stopped at a coffee shop. There was a sign there, “Best coffee in town. Voted on by our mom, and she wouldn’t lie”. Well, at least they’re honest.
While it was a nice little town, I didn’t see that the label was warranted. The main street looked somewhat tired. The restaurants – half were closed (on a Tuesday) and most of the rest were overpriced (again) and not that interesting. The #1 attraction on TripAdvisor is to walk around Griffith’s Island. OK, so what do you do after the hour it takes to do that? Bottom line it’s a pretty, but sleepy, little town. There was a links style golf course on the way in, but we didn’t stop. Maybe that makes it liveable!
The hotels, judging by our experience, were overpriced. We stayed at Oscar’s Waterfront Boutique Hotel. Turns out waterfront means it’s on the river, not the ocean. Expensive! Beautiful building – an old private home. Great sitting room, nice view of the river from the breakfast room. The actual room – very plain and not updated. Not that you stay in the room a lot, but somewhat disappointing for the price.
I always thought that part of liveability should be affordability. There is a real estate boom going on in Australia. We took a quick look at a real estate office and saw some listings. There was one that caught our eye. I’m paraphrasing – “Prime location – east beach. You’ll realize that the house needs renovations, but the location is in the best part of town”. It wasn’t on the beach – it was facing the main road, a block from the beach. We drove by and took a picture. Major reno work required! That’s what $745,000 will get you in Port Fairy.
Wed Feb 27/19
We explored Port Fairy in the morning. Walked down the boardwalk to the end of the pier, the isolated beach and down to the lighthouse on Griffith’s Island. So, we did the #1 activity!
After that, it was back to Melbourne. We took the inland route, which took about 3 – 3 ½ hours to get back into town and return the car. Thankfully, the old bucket of bolts held together! Getting ready for another heat wave: 33 C today. Just chilled out, so to speak.
My only main achievement today was to finally be able to book tickets for rugby and AFL games. The sports teams here use “Ticketek” for booking – much like TicketMaster in Canada. One of the worst systems I’ve ever seen. But enough about that. I was successful in booking Friday March 1 – Super Rugby – Melbourne Rebels vs. Dunedin (NZ) Highlanders. Melbourne has won its first game of the season, and the Highlanders have won their two games. So someone will taste defeat for the first time on Friday night! The other game constantly on TV here is AFL (Australian Football League). I have zero idea of the rules, but it looks like chaos. We are booked to see the Sydney Swans vs. Adelaide Crows on March 29 at the Sydney Cricket Grounds. Should be a nice way to wrap up our trip to Oz!
Since we're back in Melbourne, I'm going to be swtiching my commentary back to the Melbourne page.