This day does not exist for us we cross the international date line.
The flight was very comfortable, with good meals and lots of room to stretch out. We arrive in Sydney at 6am, take a cab to the hotel, and check in. No room is ready so we wait for the porter to place our luggage in the hotel lock-up before we head out sightseeing.
In the 10 minutes we are waiting for our luggage transfer in the hotel lobby there is a theft!! Andrews camera, my camera, the video camera, my airline tickets, passport, drivers licence, bank card, diving certification cards, etc. are stolen out from under us. The bag was there one second and gone the next. We are extremely upset and almost turn around to come back to Canada. However, we decide to stick it out our home insurance plans will cover the cameras, the consulate can get me a passport on Monday, and the hotel grants us free phone call until noon to straighten everything out (we run up $350 worth of phone calls between the two of us!!). Today is basically a write-off we sort things out, apply for my passport, and then basically collapse at the end of the day.
In the running around, we do get to see a good part of Sydney, which is much smaller than we both expected. Hyde Park is like a small Central Park in the middle of the city, The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney and the most expensive (this is where the original British settlers & criminals set up housing). We make a pact to try to forget our horrible 1st day in Australia & attempt to have a great vacation.
Off to the zoo - Tarongo Zoo is reached by a ferry ride (Sydney has a wonderful ferry commuter system that is inexpensive, very on-time, and clean) and a sky rail (an aerial view of the zoo is nice). My first words once off the sky rail are Where are the koalas?
A few hours and four sore feet later, we have seen a seal show, a free flight bird show, had our photos taken with koalas, been in a walkabout with kangaroos and wallabies, viewed Kodiak bears, zebras, giraffes, meerkats, platypus and echidnas (e-kid-na my new favorite animal an Aussie hedgehog/porcupine combination). This is an excellent zoo all the animals have good sized enclosures and seem to be well looked after.
For the evening, we decide to take the Harbour Cruise, 1 ½ hours of Sydney lights and tours of historical harbour sites.
We signed up for a wilderness/hiking tour of the Blue Mountains, but it is cancelled due to lack of interest. We are put onto a general tour and upgraded to include a river cruise option.
1st Stop Wentworth Falls very picturesque, there is a 20 minute hike down to view the waterfall and then its back to the bus for billy tea (loose tea boiled in a pot over a fire) and anzac biskets (like oatmeal/coconut cookies).
2nd Stop Katoomba we take the scenic sky rail, which is basically like hanging over a valley, waterfall, and rocks for 6 minutes when people move in the car, it swings! It is during this ride that we realize being in a Eucalyptus forest is like having Vicks VapoRub on the evaporating eucalyptus oil makes the Blue Mountains look blue!)
3rd Stop 3 Sisters three rocks perched on the edge of a cliff this is our lunch stop Australians enjoy beets on their hamburgers.
4th Stop Featherdale Wildlife Park a big hit with us!! By this point I am sunburned and will glow in the dark! This park is an interactive zoo all animals have been raised in captivity and the native ones are used to being around humans. Everywhere you walk, kangaroos and wallabies are in front of and behind you. We are permitted to pet the koalas (soft like a stuffed animal), feed the kangaroos (they are the softest, silkiest of all the marsupials we touched), and play with the wallabies (their fur is rather bristly). And its mating season for the hoppers!! This is where we wished we had the video camera these roos & wallabies can move fast & mount fast! It was quite an experience!
5th Stop Olympic Site a quick drive around the Olympic grounds everything was quite close together including Olympic Stadium and Athletes Village.
Then we are onto the Matilda River Cruise a high speed catamaran which takes us to Darling Harbour.
Since we were in Darling Harbour anyway, we decided to take in the Sydney Aquarium they have a truly impressive harbour display, a tank full of cute seals, an awe-inspiring shark & ray exhibit (they swim on both sides of you & above you as you walk through the tank), and an excellent Great Barrier Reef display were now getting geared up for diving LET US IN THE WATER!!!
We head off to the airport to go to Cairns, which is our Great Barrier Reef location. The first thing we do is walk around town to do window shopping. We book a couple of day trips and check federal election results on the internet.
We are staying at the Fig Tree Lodge, which is a Jamaican style hotel (décor) with an Irish pub very odd. Their steaks are great & Andrew decides on the indigenous animal platter Kangaroo, emu, crocodile, and buffalo (yum!).
At 8am the bus picks us up for the dive boat. We will be staying on board for three days 10 dives in total on the reef.
We arrive at the liveaboard after a 1¾ trip on a quick boat to the slow boat. We spend the next three days approximately 30 miles from the closest land. We are greeted by the crew in a very military manner put your stuff here, hurry, eat lunch, hurry, we need to check your certification, hurry, put on dive gear, hurry, in the water (finally we get to relax)!! We are lumped in with divers who have only their beginning certification and only 4 dives. Not too impressed. We are advanced divers and want to do advanced dives without worrying about idiots who may just kill themselves. The clientel seemed to be mostly backpackers who wanted to be able to say they dove the Great Barrier Reef not that they were there specifically on the boat to dive the Great Barrier Reef.
The room on the boat allowed you to turn around without hitting anything (barely), and had bunk beds. There were 3 showers for 50 divers on the boat. Breakfast was cold cereal, toast and tea. Lunch was cold plates (meat, salads, etc.). Supper was the only hot meal of the day and usually consisted of pasta or stew. I was covered in salt from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. I was very glad to leave after three days!
Dive times were as follows:
We saw lots of great sea life heres a few items of interest: giant clams, sea turtles, flute fish, black tipped reef shark, white tipped reef sharks, cuttle fish, stingrays, potato cods, barracuda, honeycomb cod, parrot fish, clown fish, and lots of other really big tropical fish it was truly like swimming in an aquarium.
When we were brought back to land on Friday, we promptly shower (goodbye salt!) at the hotel and then walk into town and purchase Cairns souvenirs. Andrew buys a 6 foot tall digeridoo (an aboriginal musical instrument).
We have an 8:30am pickup for our day tour a self-guided prepaid excursion.
Our first stop is Tjapukai (pronounced JA-POOH-Ki) the Tjapukai is an aboriginal band such as the MicMac or Huron. They have set up an excellent historical display which sells out constantly. There is a history presentation, a creation (how the world became to exist & how they became to exist) presentation, an Aboriginal dance presentation, as well as the shorter presentations how to play a digeridoo, how to throw a spear and a boomerang, an explanation of foods and medicines of the rainforest (where they live).
We continue on to the Kuranda skyrail (how many skyrails can we do this trip?) which is another gondola ride this time over the rainforest broken into 3 land segments:
The next leg of our journey is to be the Kuranda Scenic Rail, a train trip through the rainforest, however another train has derailed earlier in the day so there is no train for us the tour company has arranged for a bus to pick us all up. On the drive back to Cairns, we meet a Swiss couple (Thomas & Dagmar) who are going on our dive trip tomorrow.
We head back to our hotel for a swim, to do a laundry and order room service tomorrow morning is coming quickly.
Diving with Tusa Dive Centre, a far superior operation from the liveaboard we spent 3 days on. Thomas & Dagmar partner with us for the day we head off the boat together for both dives and see a lot of great fish and experience VERY tight swim-through opportunities (caves which have openings in the top) often my tank scrapes along the rocks/coral as I make my way through the cave. We also have the opportunity to snorkel in one location and see a GIANT parrotfish approximately 5 feet long!!
We decide to make dinner plans with Thomas & Dagmar and after showers, we go to an Indian restaurant. Then its sleepy time diving really takes it out of you.
This morning we head out on a 4x4 rainforest tour a 7:30am pickup! We start by visiting Lake Morris and the water reserve that supplies Cairns. We off road through the rainforest and hike several times several plants & trees are pointed out to us, along with an iguana egg. We see a giant fig tree (they cant tell the age of the trees because the lack of distinct seasons does not produce growth rings) that dwarfs Andrew, termite mounds, and freshwater turtles. We lunch at a campsite where I get to hold a brown tree snake (a venomous snake) and we feed wallabies, kangaroos and see a joey in the pouch.
At this point we are going to hike to a waterfall sounds nice, doesnt it? I was told it is a hard hike, but I should have no problem doing it after all a 60 yr old woman did it in one hour. LIARS!!!! This is the worst thing I have ever done I fall several times and just wish to be left to die after 45 minutes. Then when we reach the waterfall we have to climb the falls in order to get back in the 4x4. I barely recover on the way back to Cairns.
We are tired after this adventure from hell and decide on take-out fish for supper and then to bed. Tomorrow is approaching very fast.
The alarm goes off at 5:30am ouch! We have to catch the flight at 7am to Ayers Rock. We arrive at 9:30am and it is already too hot to breathe. We limp to the resort shopping centre where, of course, everything is outrageously priced (Hotel rooms in this resort the only place to stay range from $200 to $350 per night, we are cheap an have booked a cabin at the campground which has a kitchen, but no bathroom, for $130 per night). After 45 minutes in the outdoors, we are ready for the pool, which is shockingly cold. We head back to the cabin to prepare the meal we purchased at the grocery store two sandwiches, two Cokes, and one bag of chips cost us $26 for lunch!
The bus for the Frontier Camel Tour picks us up at 6pm Andrew and I are given a camel each. We ride 45 minutes for a view of sunset and Ayers Rock. The sky turns amazing colors we can see the Olgas (another rock formation) in the distance they also turn colors that can not de described. Ayers Rock is not remarkable this evening due to the cloud cover (one cloud can ruin the whole thing!). We ride 15 minutes back to the camp and watch the guide desaddle the camels. We are taken back to the cabin at 9pm.
OK this is getting a little out of hand a 4:20am pickup for sunrise at Ayers Rock. Now we get to see the Rock in action it does actually glow! It changes color constantly for an hour before sunrise, then theres 2 minutes or so that the rock has a life of its own.
The bus then takes us to the Climb area we are set free to climb it or to take a guided tour of the base. We have said we would climb it, but after 200 feet or so, I give up its too steep for my liking. It seems as if I have given up at a point called Chicken Rock a usual stopping point for those not so foolish. However, Andrew continues with my blessing and disappears from sight in a few minutes its a long way up there.
I decide to sit at Chicken Rock for a while to take in the sights. While I am sitting, a see a person slip, fall, roll and take out another person with them. When they stop rolling, no one moves, an ambulance comes, takes away the injured climbers and the Climb is closed while it is washed down from the mess the climbers left. This is when I drag my ass down the rock, shaking all the way. Andrews climb takes over 2 hours by the time I can see him through my binoculars, I am a totally irrational, sure that he has died on the top and they cant get him down.
After this hair-raising adventure we head back to the resort, check out of the cabin, and take a quick shopping trip, where Andrew picks up the required I climbed Ayers Rock t-shirt. I dont need one I survived the day.
Our flight out is at 1:30pm, back to Sydney. Due to time zones we arrive in Sydney at 6pm. We check in the hotel, go to Hungry Jacks (really Burger King) for supper, and then head to bed.
Another diving day one that we have been looking forward to for the entire trip! We travel to Bondi Beach to dive with sharks!!
Our first dive of the day has wobegones (a type of shark that will rip your arm off something I didnt know at the time), grouper, and nudibranches. The second dive is the one weve been waiting for sharks these guys live in a cave about 45 feet down and sleep during the day. We were their wake up call. There were 6 or 7 big nurse sharks that looked really scary however this type of shark doesnt want to eat humans but were very timid & wished we would leave. We continued on with the dive, after Andrew got a few photos, to see another wobegone, a cuttlefish and a grouper that decided he would be our escort. He decided to make his film debut & posed for a few shots.
We spend our last night in Australia picking up those last minute presents for folks at home, and eating at yet another overpriced restaurant ($6 beer, $4.50 Coke).
I decide that I should call Air New Zealand to ensure that there is a replacement ticket for me (since mine was stolen) this is 9:30am. The call centre rep questions me as to when we are flying. I say today. She says, I show you on the 11am flight I say, no, we are on the 8pm flight this evening. Pause - We dont have a flight this evening. OH MY GOD!!! At this time, we are not packed, not checked out of the hotel, I dont have a ticket, and we both proceed to have nervous breakdowns.
So the visit to the Sydney Opera House, Botanical Gardens, Chinatown, and a relaxing meal is shot to hell throw the clothes in a suitcase, check out of the hotel, get a cab and race to the airport, where the luggage conveyor belt system is out of order. We were literally saved by the belt!! We would have been late if the belt system was in order, and would not have made the flight. However, we scraped by the deadline and made it onto the plane. Air New Zealand issued a new ticket for me for free with the police report I was given and everyone was happy.
We travel 16 hours to Los Angeles, wait 6 hours in LA (due to snowstorm in Toronto), travel 5 hours to Toronto, wait in Toronto for 4 hours, travel to Halifax (3½ hours including the wait for de-icing) 34½ hours is enough travel for one day!! Especially without sleep or good food.
Speaking of food Air New Zealand has the best, Air Canada is a distant second and Qantas is bringing up the rear. Did you know that Australians eat beets on their hamburgers? Even on Big Macs!!