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. 

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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?

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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. 

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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 🙂

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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. 

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  • 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).

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  • 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?  🙂

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

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  • 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).

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  • 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. 🙂

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  • 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!

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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. 

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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. 

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

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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. 

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The rock formation (above) is called the Three Sisters

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 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.

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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.


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