Archive for the 'Australia' Category

Sand sledding and shipwrecks

Ah…finally, our last post about our Australian adventure.

Day: 11

Location: Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island

Event: Sand tobogganing and shipwrecks

Since Moreton Island is an all-sand island, (complete with its own desert), it only made sense to partake in an activity that makes use of the soft, tan stuff…sand tobagganing!

A short ride on a massive 4WD bus and we were surrounded by well…sand…lots and lots of sand.  We took the 8:30am time slot so that it wouldn’t be as hot…but it still was. 

SAM_0999

SAM_1001

Since the basic premise of sand tobogganing is about sliding down, well…that means you have to climb up.  There was a fairly steep sand hill we had to hike up (this hill is the main reason why most of the people on our tour only went one time.  But we took full advantage – Micah went seven times and I went six).

SAM_1006

Once you get to the top, you lay down on your waxed board, hold on to the top, keep your legs straight and lifted – and SLIDE ON DOWN!  Woo hoo!!!!!!!  And you get to wear nifty goggles!

page

Of course, some people didn’t make it all the way down…crashing along the way and getting sand in every crevice possible.  Those people tended to not go again either.  We ended up being “those people” on our last go down. 😦

Sorry the video is sideways…but here’s Micah sledding on down.

 

Shipwrecks:

A quick note about the shipwrecks on the island.  There’s about a dozen or so old ships – that when no longer in service – were intentionally downed close to the island.  It was done to create a harbor and man-made reef.  We kayaked out to these one day (and walked along the beach the next).  It’s a great place to snorkel since the fish like to convene around these parts.

SAM_1025

Cloudy and rainy on our second day – so we walked all over the beautiful island.

BBQ:

We ended our time at Tangalooma grilling steaks!  It was awesome.  The convenience store on the island happens to sell fresh steaks – and the resort provides large grills for the guests to use.  And it’s definitely cheaper than eating at the restaurants.  Yum – it’s been FOREVER since we’ve eaten BBQ.

SAM_1038

Feeding Flipper!!

Day: 10

Location: Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island

Event/activity: Wild dolphin feeding

The resort also has some dolphin research center connected to it (that provides a lot of great info on these highly intelligent, playful creatures).  Part of the appeal of the island (and the resort) is that guests are allowed to feed the regularly appearing wild dolphins nightly.  (We had 10 show up on our night!!)

SAM_0953

They like to keep track of which dolphins show up each night.

So that they continue to be wild, there are some strict rules about feeding the dolphins.  For example, the feeding only provides 10% of their daily diet (thus they keep their natural hunting instincts sharp).  Also, as tempting as it is – no one is allowed to touch the dolphins.  They don’t want them getting accustomed to human contact like that. 

Nonetheless, it was a really fun and unforgettable experience!!!  Dolphins are amazing creatures.  Oh yeah, there was no flash photography allowed up close to the dolphins – video only.  It’s a little shaky, but you can check it out below.

Paradise FOUND!

Our last leg of the trip.  Moreton Island. We didn’t know much about this place, but knew when planning our vacation that we wanted to go someplace really “beachy.”  We wish we spent less time in Melbourne and more time here.  It’s the kind of place where you have to pinch yourself because it is so beautiful and unreal – Tropical Islands calendar quality unreal. 🙂

Getting there: A flight from Melbourne to Brisbane.  An overnight stay in a Brisbane hostel. A tram-ride, followed by a bus ride, followed by at least a two mile walk (with our suitcases) in the hot sun – following some sidewalk-less road, hoping it will lead to the ferry dock that happens to be in the middle of nowhere.  (Most people would just pay for a shuttle or cab…but not us.  What’s that saying about the ‘road less traveled?’ 🙂 ) We eventually made it (only once having to ask directions). Lastly, a 75 minute boat ride to the island.  Soooo worth it!

page5

More about Moreton:  This island is completely made up of sand – making it the third largest sand island in the world.  Fraser Island is the largest and is also part of Australia.

SAM_0936

We stayed at the Tangalooma Island Resort(We used credit card points to stay here for free).  We were immediately welcomed by the staff, given a short orientation, and taken to our rooms early (where our luggage was already waiting for us).  Our room was HUGE and had a nice outdoor patio.  We immediately changed clothes and headed for the beach.

SAM_0932

The beach had the softest sand, was immaculately clean and very swimmable.  One small area of the beach was roped off because that is where the wild dolphins visit every night for their feeding.  More on that in a later post.

Even though this part of the island housed the resort, it didn’t feel like it.  It was peaceful, ultra-relaxing, and not many people around.  It felt like we had our own private beach. 

SAM_0940

The weather was perfect…hot and sunny.  But the forecast for the next day predicted some rain and clouds.  We decided to take full advantage of the sun with some kayaking, laying on the beach, and swimming for our first day there.  Ahh…paradise!

Melboured

Quaint…yes. Charming…sure.  Touristy…definitely – but I’m not quite sure why.  When planning a trip to Australia, most people feel compelled to include Melbourne on their itinerary.  For Micah and I, we didn’t really have a specific reason why we were going there, other than…”Well, it’s Melbourne. You have to go there.”  (A bit of reading in the Lonely Planet Guidebook also played a role.)

As I’ve eluded to in earlier posts (and my not so subtle blog post title), Melbourne is Mel…boring!  It’s no Sydney…which is fine (why would you visit Sydney to just go and visit another Sydney again?)  But after a day walking around the city (like Sydney, the city is very walkable), there is not much else to do.  The museum offerings seemed desperate.  Luna Park (Melbourne’s “theme park”) was dirty, old, and looked dangerous.  Granted, if you love architecture, then you are in paradise – a city chock FULL of old Victorian Buildings.  I can appreciate that.  But beyond appreciation…now what?

page2

The best part of Melbourne: Hands down, it’s the Queen Victoria Market!  It’s a HUGE open market filled with endless fruit, veggies, cheese, meats, seafood, bakery, souvenirs stands and shops. 

This is where the locals come to do their daily shopping.  The prices for a HUGE array of fresh fruits and veggies are cheap.  Probably the only cheap food we encountered in our entire Aussie stay. 

It’s a fun place to just look around and kill a few hours.  We took advantage of the prices and bought a bunch of fresh fruit to eat for breakfasts and snacks. 

page

Had we access to a kitchen or BBQ, we would have been in heaven – the steak selection looked so good!  But we did chow down on some of the yummy food offerings.  I heard on a tv show that Bratwurst is Melbourne’s most popular street food to eat…so naturally, I HAD to get one 🙂

page3

Here’s some other stuff we did:

  • St. Kilda’s Beach: A short-tram ride away on a beautiful sunny Saturday.  We get there and…the beach is basically empty.  (I think the locals have some other really nice beach hidden away from the tourists.)  There was nothing special about this beach.  We spent at least an hour walking around trying to figure out what to do.  It should have been an easy decision – lay on the beach! but it didn’t feel right.  It lacked that “beach” vibe.  For some reason, this beach came across as being dirty.  I like sunny beaches…and I should have liked it here…but I didn’t. 

SAM_0881

  • Costco: It’s weird. But Micah and I love Costco. And we like visiting Costco’s in different places – just interesting to see how they change it up (or what’s left the same).  Of course, we didn’t buy anything.  However…this was tempting.  Scrabble! The edible chocolate edition! (Also available was edible Pictionary).

SAM_0891

  • Lounging and working out at parks:  There are a lot of nice, grassy, shady parks all over the city.  So some days we just brought our lunches and ate and relaxed in the park.  We played lots of Scrabble against each other on our Nintendo DSs too :-).  In the evenings, a couple nights we went to the park by our hotel and actually worked out. 

SAM_0914

The most disappointing part of Melbourne:  Our over-hyped dinner at the “famous” Dainty Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown. 

-Background: Prior to leaving for Aussie, Micah and I did a bit of reconnaissance (phew, that’s a hard word to spell) work to scout out the good and “cheap” (ha! ha!) eats in our cities.  I stumbled on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s tv show “No Reservations” – where he highlighted the culinary exploits of Melbourne.  He was practically swooning over everything he put in his mouth.  He ate at Dainty Szechuan, and pretty much made it out to be one of the best meals ever.  I was hooked.  I noted the address, recorded the dishes he ate, and was determined to eat here.

-The meal: Before I begin, let me offer this full disclosure: I did see many things on the menu that looked really delicious, but, they weren’t what Anthony Bourdain ate…so they weren’t up for consideration. 

In hindsight, I really really wish we went in with no prior knowledge of what he ate.  We ended up ordering two of the dishes highlighted on the show: mouthwatering chicken and spicy cumin pork spare ribs.  The chicken was just ok.  Since it’s szechuan-style, the food is really spicy…but that wasn’t the problem for us.  It was just WAY too salty.  And then the pork spare ribs came out looking all delectable…but again, we could barely stomach more than a few bites.  It really was an awful meal.  The highlight of the meal…plain, steamed white rice.

page4

Despite having tons of food left on our plates (a rarity for us), we had to just suck it up, pay the bill, and decline the offer for a doggy bag.

FYI: Korean food is salty.  We are used to salty.  We like salty.  This food was beyond salty.  What a let down.

Wines away!

Day: 5

Location: Hunter Valley

Event: Hunter Valley Wine and Cheese Tour  (http://www.activitytours.com.au/hunter_valley_tours.html)

Australia is a major wine-producing country.  Korea…is not.  It’s difficult to find any decent wines at decent prices in Korea.  So, given the opportunity, we purchased a tour (with the same company who did the Blue Mountains Tour) – and off we went to wine country!  Specifically, to the Hunter Valley – a 2.5 hour drive out of Sydney.

SAM_0832

A little side note: Don’t quote me on this, but a few of the Aussies we spoke with said Australians don’t drink Yellowtail wine.  Australians make Yellowtail wine, and then export it to America, where Americans drink Yellowtail wine.  One of our tour guides likened Yellowtail wine to Fosters beer.  You might think it’s Australian, (the advertising certainly suggests so) but you won’t find many down here who actually drink it.

clipboard0-horz

So back to the tour…The full day tour included stops at three different wineries (each one being really different in terms of size, style, philosophy, etc.)  It was a nice mix.  And they each provided something you like to see when visiting wineries: free and generous samples!

wine

I’m still a newbie when it comes to wines, and Micah is a lot more knowledgeable.  And he seemed to enjoy all the tastings (and any of the tastings I couldn’t finish).  Each winery provided a TON of information on how their wines were made, mixed, bottled, etc. and boasted about why their wines are the best. 

In between winery visits, we stopped for lunch and to sample the Smelly Cheese Shop.  So yummy.

wine2

It was a great day! Great weather, beautiful vineyards, great tasting wines, friendly people…and only a little dehydration. 🙂

We see Sydney

Day: 2

Location: Sydney CBD (Central Business District)

Event: Exploring the major city attractions

Our hostel (Wake Up!) was perfectly located – near the Central Railway Station and walking distance to a plethora of sights.  Apparently this particular area of Sydney has TONS of hostels all within a few blocks radius. 

Side note: This was our first time staying in a hostel and it worked out great.  Granted, we didn’t share bunk beds with four other strangers, but instead, paid a little more to have our own private room and private bath.  Given that both of us got really sick during our stay in Sydney – it ended up being a very smart decision.  And saved us a ton of money over staying in a hotel.

This hostel was equipped with its own restaurant (serving very decently priced meals), its own bar/club (which I only went to one night but had a lot of fun), and the cheapest internet we found anywhere in Australia ($2 for 30 minutes).  I’d definitely recommend this place to others.

page1

Chinese New Year: We were pretty excited about being in Sydney for Chinese New Year (Sydney’s Chinatown area is known to make a pretty big deal out of this).  However, it was a let down.  All the big festivities (e.g. parade) were moved to the following week.  So when we were there, not much was going on except for a few booths, lanterns, and one string of firecrackers being lit.

page2

Hop on, hop off bus: Many major cities have these types of buses now and they work great for tourists trying to see the sights.  The Sydney bus passed by all the major city attractions and it was easy to find where the stops were.  We still did a TON of walking, but the bus helped steer us in the right direction.

And speaking of walking, Sydney is one of the most walkable big cities I’ve ever been to.  The central part of the city is actually fairly small.  It’s easy to navigate the streets (and that’s coming from someone who is directionally-challenged).  We took the bus often, but also walked to many of the sights.

Here’s a rundown of the attractions we visited:

  • Sydney Opera House – of course.  Who goes to Sydney and doesn’t get a picture of this?  🙂

page3

  • Botanical Gardens – it’s huge.  It’s peaceful.  And there’s one section where all the fruit bats fly around – which was pretty cool. 

page4

  • Chinatown – not as great as other Chinatowns I’ve been to.  But we were on a mission to eat at Gumshara Ramen.  I read about this place here (it’s unreal what the chef does to make his ramen) and knew we HAD TO EAT HERE.  Micah and I both love some authentic Japanese ramen.  Unfortunately, our chance to eat it was when I was still recovering from being really sick.  So, I snuck in a few bites and that’s all I could handle.  But…it was amazingly good.  We managed to get the 1 of 10 bowls of pork spare rib noodle ramen (seriously, he only makes 10 bowls of this a day).

page5

  • Queen Victoria Building – a cool building filled with tons of high end stores that we never shop at – and probably never will.  But…a cool building nonetheless. 🙂

SAM_0654

  • Woolloomooloo – what a fun name! This part of town is home to the original Harry Cafe de Wheels…which is home to the original Australian icon called…the Tiger Pie(A beef pot pie layered with mashed potatoes and mashed green peas, and topped with brown gravy.)  YUM!

page6

Although we were in Sydney for five days, we ran out of time – and never got to see Bondi Beach or Manly Island.  😦 Compared to Melbourne and Brisbane…Sydney has an endless offering of things to do and see.

Kangaroos, koalas, and wombats…oh my!

Day: 4

Location: Outside Sydney (Featherdale Wildlife Park and Blue Mountains)

Event: Blue Mountains Wildlife Day Tour (http://www.activitytours.com.au/)

First stop: Featherdale Wildlife Park

With both of us FINALLY feeling better, we hopped on the tour bus early in the morning and headed first to the Featherdale Wildlife Park.  It’s about an hour drive from Sydney. 

SAM_0716

Since we were doing this as part of a tour package, we only had about 45 minutes to see the park.  I could have easily spent at least another hour there, but there were a lot of other activities planned for the day.

The tour package included admission to the park, so I’m not sure how much it is to go here.  But unlike some other wildlife parks around the country, at Featherdale, you can go up to the kangaroos and koalas, and take as many pictures as you want and hand feed them (at no additional cost). 

We got to see a lot of Australian wildlife that I’ve never seen in person before: kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, dingos, wombats, a Tasmanian devil, etc.  Since we were there first thing in the morning, we were able to get around to see most everything in the short amount of time. 

park1

The kangaroos (and emus who like to sneak up on you) love eating the ice cream cones filled with grassy stuff.

park2

I would definitely say this is a “must visit” place for anyone who’ll be visiting the Sydney area. 

Next stop: Blue Mountains and surrounding area

The rest of the day was comprised of driving around to view the scenic sights of the Blue Mountains: Wentworth Falls, Three Sisters, National Park, etc. and a stop off for lunch in the middle. 

park4

The rock formation (above) is called the Three Sisters

SAM_0822

 Last stop: Olympic Village (home of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games)

A quick stop-off to see the home base of the 2000 Olympic Games, and then off to catch a ferry boat on the Parramatta River ending in Sydney Harbour.

SAM_0827

This is where the Olympic Torch was burning during the games.

A really enjoyable tour, with a really fun tour guide.  We were able to see some great sights outside of Sydney.

Ain’t no bridge high enough

Day: 3

Location: Sydney

Event: Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (www.bridgeclimb.com)

As written earlier in the overall summary of our Aussie trip post, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make this climb, but I did!  A special thanks to my body for holding out just long enough to make this happen.

Micah and I opted for the “Express Climb” which takes about two hours (which includes filling out forms, taking a breathalyzer, changing into jumpsuits, and the actual climb.  Other climbs are much longer).

SAM_0700

We were with a group of 10 other climbers and our bridge climb leader.  Each of us were outfitted with jumpsuits and headpieces so that we can hear our leader tell us about the bridge and stories while we climb. 

The climb is extremely safe.  You are constantly connected to a cable that runs along the bridge.  There’s no chance you can fall over.  It’s not very difficult either.  A few stairs here and there, but even a fairly out of shape person can handle this. 

The history of the bridge is really interesting, but I won’t go into that.  You can check with wikipedia if you want to read up on it.

The view from the top is awesome.  On a clear day (which we had), you can see for miles and miles in every direction.  And of course, the Sydney Opera House is right under your nose too. 

Due to safety reasons, you are not allowed to bring cell phones, cameras, jewelry (basically anything that could possibly fall over board).  So, the only option of capturing this moment is via a picture that the bridge climb leader takes.  And of course, this picture can be purchased for a ridiculous price when the climb is over.  And of course, we totally bought it.  🙂

Our Australian adventure!

Ok, we are back in action.  The vacation was fun while it lasted, but we are back to work starting Tuesday.  There’s a lot to write about – but for now here are the Cliff’s Notes.  I’ll follow up with separate posts on some of the really fun things we did. 

In sickness and in health:  Our first day in Sydney and Micah is sick.  He started feeling sick on our 10 hour flight.  We took a shuttle to our hostel, but still had about three hours before we could check-in.  Perfect sightseeing time? Well, yes…for me. 

SAM_0615

Micah stayed back and slept in the lobby area.

Micah was in bed all day and night, but fortunately he was feeling better by the next morning.  This is when we did most of our Sydney city sightseeing (Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Botanical Gardens).

That night, we ate some Malaysian food for dinner and settled into our room.  In the early early morning, I started feeling REALLY sick.  Sparing all the horrible details…I was sick the entire night.  I barely slept a wink.  We were going to be climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a couple hours…and I was still chained to the bathroom.  I made Micah promise he would still go…as our tickets were purchased months ago and were non-refundable. 

Miraculously, my body came through (with the helps of some drugs Micah rushed out to get that morning).  We successfully did the Bridge Climb!  And then…pretty much spent the rest of that day back in our room.  My body was only willing to behave for a few short hours. 😦

Somehow managed to make it through the 2.5 hour climb…and with a smile.

Sadly, this was the only day we had time to go to Manly Island and Bondi Beach.  But instead…we stayed in watching many hours of Olympic coverage on TV and forcing myself to drink little sips of Gatorade.

For richer or poorer: We were warned when planning this trip that Australia is expensive, but we didn’t realize how true that was until we got there.  This has to be one of the most expensive countries to live in.  $3.00 for a regular bottle of water.  $2.50 for a candy bar.  $7 for a McDonald’s breakfast meal.  $15 for Covergirl Mascara.  $20 for a 6-pack of beer.  I think you get the point.  There wasn’t a single thing we did that didn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money

SAM_0662

Those two drinks cost $7.40 at the convenience store.

Food and transportation was where we spent the bulk of our money.  Lodging actually was reasonable (but that’s because we stayed in hostels, or budget hotel, and used credit card reward points for some places).  The “good” thing about both of us being so sick was that we didn’t have big appetites and could easily share meals and weren’t forced to eat fast food the whole time.  We managed to stay away from all fast food until the very last day (the exception being McDonald’s soft serve ice cream cones – those were a steal at $.50 each.  I ate one or two many of the days.  Mmmmmm).

SAM_0913

Burger King to us, Hungry Jack’s to Aussie’s. 

Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane all had fairly decent public transportation – but, it isn’t cheap.  To get from the airport into the city was at least $15 to $20 a person – one way.  We walked or took free trams when we could.  One time, we had to take a cab…for a 10 minute drive to the airport it was $30.  The ferry ride to Moreton Island was $70 each…roundtrip at least.

SAM_0894

The free tram in Melbourne.  We took advantage of this many times.

Fortunately, we could use our credit card at many places.  Our Capital One card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, and with the  US/AUS exchange rate, it’s in our favor.  🙂

We also tried to be resourceful when we could.  The tap water is safe to drink, so we continually refilled our water bottles.  We purchased granola bars and fruit, saving our money to buy the pricey dinners. 

For better or worse:  I was REALLY excited to eat all the foods.  But, Australia doesn’t really have it’s own unique cuisine.  Everywhere we went, we had a plethora of Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and bar food.  Nothing really that new to us.  We tried when possible to seek out the unique foods – for example, kangaroo and emu pizza (which was delicious). 

In Melbourne, we went to Chinatown and ate at Dainty Szechuan (a restaurant I’ve read rave reviews about).  We were sorely disappointed.  The two (expensive) dishes we got were way too salty, and we ended up leaving with tons of food left and no desire to take it home with us.  😦

SAM_0874

Looks really good, but tasted so so salty.  😦

When in Sydney, we took two tours…and they were both really great.  We got to see a lot of sights, sample many many wines, and hang out with the koalas and roos.  That was money and time well spent.

SAM_0736

Yes, they really are THAT cute. 

We stayed in Melbourne for 3.5 days and that was probably 2 days longer than we needed.  The central downtown area of the city is quite small and not a lot to see.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful city with beautiful architecture and friendly people.  The Queen Victoria Market is awesome.  But overall, it doesn’t have the attractions like Sydney does (which I’m sure the Melbournians are proud of). We actually got bored.  We would take our lunches to the park and lounge around (napping even) for a couple hours (which was great).  We were anxious to leave and move on though.  However, we did have fun browsing around Melbourne Costco and Target (two of our favorite stores in the states…and abroad!)

SAM_0912Lounging at many of the nice parks in Melbourne…and snacking too! 

The best part of our adventure was Moreton Island.  It’s off the coast of Brisbane. It’s the third largest island in the world made entirely of sand.  We stayed at the Tangalooma Island Resort – and it was fabulous!  The highlight was being able to feed the wild dolphins that come to visit the island every night.  Working on the video of that…cameras weren’t allowed up close to the dolphins.

moreton island map

A 75 minute ferry ride is all it takes to get to this amazing piece of paradise.

SAM_0937

We basically had our own private beach – as there weren’t a lot of people around.  It was THE best beach we’ve ever been to.

As stated earlier, I’ll write more about some of the experiences we had – but for now, that gives you a good glimpse of our time in the land down under. 

Off to see the wonderful land of ‘Oz’

Today is the day!  At 8pm tonight, we will be on a plane…and 10 hours later, we’ll be landing in Sydney, Australia!  We couldn’t be more excited.  Excluding the days it takes to get to and from Australia, we have 12 full days to explore, experience, and EAT!

Here’s where we’ll be:

  1. Sydney: 5 days and then fly to…
  2. Melbourne: 3.5 days and then fly to…
  3. Brisbane: .5 days and then take a ferry to…
  4. Moreton Island: 2.5 days and then take a ferry back to Brisbane and then fly to…
  5. Sydney: stay overnight and fly to…
  6. Seoul

We plan to see/pet some kangaroos and koalas, take a wine tour, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, visit the Blue Mountains, relax on the beaches, do lots of walking tours, and of course…lots of EATING!

We are especially lucky because Chinese New Year falls on Sunday, which is when we arrive…which is also Valentine’s Day.  Sydney’s Chinatown is known to have some pretty amazing festivities and an awesome parade.  We are definitely going to check it out.

A special thanks to our friend Jodie for helping us with our Aussie travel plans!


Where in the world…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 27 other followers

Archives