Read about the exploits of the Cronsberrys as they leave New Zealand for a brief vacation in Australia
Did you miss us?
The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity - all of it absoloutely fantastique! We left New Zealand seeking warmer climes and boy did we find what we were looking for. Our Australia trip was a really nice break from the day to day of our lives in New Zealand, and with the two week school break it gave Jenn, Jack, and Bronte a chance to relax and not worry about school for a bit. For Tim, it was the culmination of weeks of planning that was worth every single second. This will be a long post, so grab a beverage and some munchies, and take the phone off the hook. Here we go...
This adventure began on Sunday, September 26 when we boarded one of the fine aircraft piloted by Air New Zealand, and flew "across the ditch" to Cairns, Australia - which, by the way, you can see overhead here. After checking into the Rydges Tradewinds, we set off to investigate the town. Most of the action in Cairns happens along the Esplanade. This is where many restaurants, tour operators, and various other tourist traps can be found. The street runs along the waterfront and comes complete with a wading pool that got heavily populated when the heat of the afternoon arrived. Here's a photo of Bronte by said pool:
australia Bronte in Cairns
After lunching at Barnacle Bill's (honestly, the food and ambiance was much better than the name might suggest), we slipped next door to investigate tour options. Armed with info, we continued our stroll. Following a swim in the hotel pool and dinner at "Grilled", we returned to the tour booking place and we managed to snag one of the last spots on the Kuranda Railroad for the next day. This is a slow-moving train that travels from Cairns up a short mountain through the Barron Gorge to the town of Kuranda. Kuranda is a total tourist town, but it was quaint and entertaining for the afternoon. The highlight of Kuranda for us was visiting the Koala Gardens. Bronte and Jack took the opportunity presented to them to feed wallabies by hand. Oh, and there was the whole bit about Bronte and Jack holding a Koala Bear too. In case you wanted confirmation, Koala Bears are indeed every bit as soft and cuddly as you might imagine. It might have been that this particular bear was just off the Thorazine drip, but we prefer to believe that the semi-toxic Eucalyptus leaves that exclusively form the Koala diet was affecting its consciousness. Here's the photo evidence:
Australia Jack with koala
australia Bronte with Koala
We also saw a cute wallaby with it's little joey in the pouch!
Happy and warm, we performed some ritual souvenir shopping before heading to the Skyrail. This is a gondola that carries passengers from Kuranda back down the mountain over the top of the rainforest - it was a great way to survey the landscape from another perspective. The bus collected us at the bottom and we returned to the hotel. After a refreshing swim we headed back to the Esplanade and strolled along the pier, watching the tour boats return from their day at the reef. On the way back to the hotel we observed an interesting roost in one of the trees on one of the other streets. Fruit bats. Hundreds of them, all hanging from the branches with their wings wrapped around them. As the sun set they took to the wing and the sky was filled with the colony. We were sure we'd see Vincent Price walking down the street grinning menacingly (if he weren't already deceased). Here's a photo (of the bats, not of Vincent Price):
australia Cairns bats in the tree
Tuesday morning arrived early and we picked up our rental car from Avis. After safely making it out of Cairns proper, we headed to the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world. We started our Daintree experience with a river tour where the guide described the various species of birds and spiders that inhabit the mangroves. He was either quite knowledgable or spoke with sufficient confidence that we didn't question his facts - it was fascinating. After a relatively short time we spied our quarry - a female crocodile. Here's what she looked like:
australia Daintree crocodile
After Jack fed the croc small bits of raw meat from his mouth as we dangled him over the side of the boat, we climbed back into the Toyota and crossed the river on the cable ferry. On the other side beckoned the Daintree Discovery Centre. Within this spot we learned much about the forest and its inhabitants. The boardwalk through the rainforest conjured images of velociraptors stalking through the deep green, but we only saw an abundance of birds and lush vegetation. We then drove down the road and walked the Jindalba trail. The attraction here was the Cassowary. A Cassowary is an endangered bird, is about the size of a small ostrich, looks like it just stepped out of the Jurrasic period, and is only found in two places on the planet - one of those places being the very rainforest we were walking through. We did hear the distinctive call of the bird/dinosaur, but failed to spot any. We saw one later at the zoo in Sydney, which we'll talk about later. Here's a photo of the Cassowary behind bars:
Australia Sydney Zoo Cassowary
We returned to Cairns happy once again for a great day. The next day was Wednesday - Great Barrier Reef Day! We made our way down to the wharf and boarded the Tusa 5 boat. The boat set out for the first of our reef stops, which you can see overhead here, and about an hour and a half later we arrived. Everyone thought the trip out was great, except Tim after the first hour. Tim's normal lust for adrenaline was tempered greatly by a rare case of sea queasiness. Fortunately he caught it in time and the Gravol-ish concoction worked its magic before a bag needed to be employed. Once in the water, everyone had an amazing time. Snorkeling in tropical waters is always a wonderous experience, but something about being on the Great Barrier Reef made this session the best ever. We all marvelled at the colour of the coral, and at the various fish swimming all around us. Jenn commented later with a smile that she needed to keep reminding herself that we weren't looking through aquarium glass and that no one put those fish there for the tourists - the vibrancy of the setting was completely natural and strikingly beautiful. These photos and video really don't come anywhere close to illustrating the magic that we all felt:
australia Great Barrier Reef 1
australia Great Barrier Reef 2
australia Great Barrier Reef 3
australia Great Barrier Reef Jack snorkel
After the first reef stop we had lunch and then motored on to the second stop - Thetford Reef, which you can see overhead here. We all thought that this second stop was even more gorgeous than the first, but unfortunately we had considerably less time to explore. Climbing back aboard the boat we were ecstatic, and enjoyed the waning sun as we approached the Cairns harbour. What an amazing day!
Thursday was a travel day, and we made our way to the airport to board Qantas flight 1949 to Alice Springs, which you can see overhead here. Alice Springs is located moderately close to the geographic centre of Australia, and the scenery changed dramatically when we stepped off the plane. Gone was the lushness and humidity of Cairns, replaced by the dryness, dustiness, and redness of "The Alice". After checking into the Desert Palms hotel, we walked for about 20 minutes into the town of Alice Springs itself and poked around a bit like the tourists we were. One of the notable features of Alice Springs is the mighty Todd River which "flows" through the town. Here's a photo of the Todd:
australia Todd River flowing
The town holds an annual regatta called "Henley on Todd", which requires participants to carry their sculls down the river in a foot race. A few years ago the race needed to be cancelled for an obvious reason - there was water in the river! The next day we headed back into town once again and started our day at the Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery. Aboriginal paintings are all the rage in the parts of Australia we visited. The paintings tell stories, and many of them are quite intricate. We went on a gallery tour where we heard about the gallery's artists from the Utopia region of Australia. Bronte was quite taken with the style, and bought a small piece that she's very excited to hang in her room back home. She passed on the $88,000 one though. Following the gallery, we walked over to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre where we learned about the various animals in Australia that can kill you. There are quite a few! In fact, 18 of the 20 most venomous snakes in the world are found in the country. Jack got rather close to a non-lethal variety as you can see in this photo:
After an afternoon swim in the surprisingly cold pool, we dined down the road on quite tasty Thai food at Hanuman. The following morning (Saturday), we packed up and checked out of the hotel. The flight that day was taking us further into the Red Centre - to Ayers Rock. After a short 45 minutes in the air, it was great to see Uluru looming out of the window. Following dinner at the Gecko Cafe, we walked over to one of the lookouts to gaze at the rock from afar. As the next morning was going to be a mega-early one for us, we said goodnight earlier than the surroundings should have demanded.
The next morning our wake up call came at 3:30 AM (yes, you read that correctly). We boarded a bus shortly after 4 AM that would take us to Kings Canyon. Along the way as the sun rose we sighted wild camels and horses a short distance from the road. We learned an interesting fact about camels in Australia. Firstly, we had no idea there were wild camels, let alone in abundance. We stopped at Kings Creek Station for breakfast, where they capture wild camels and export some 2000 per year to Morocco. That's right, Morocco. Apparently in Morocco they have eaten most of their camels, and the gene pool of those that remain is too shallow, thus requiring outside inputs to boost their stock. We did not eat camel for breakfast.
At around 8:30 we began the hike around Kings Canyon, which you can see overhead here. Tim and Jack headed up high to do the "Rim Walk", while Jenn and Bronte took care of the "River Bed Walk". It was blisteringly hot as the day wore on (which is why we were picked up at 4 AM), but the scenery was spectacular. Here are some photos and a video:
australia Kings Canyon Tim and Jack
australia Kings Canyon Jack
By 11:30 the temperature was above 30, but the hikes were finished and we climbed back into the airconditioned bus. On the way back to Ayers Rock we saw more camels and horses, and eventually stopped at a cattle ranch called Curtin Springs. Stepping off the bus at this spot was quite uncomfortable, as by then the thermometer had surpassed 37. After a brief time looking at the cattle ranch and giving the wandering emu respectable distance, we headed the last bit of the way down the road to the Desert Gardens hotel where we were staying. Jenn, Bronte, and Jack hit the pool while Tim went to pick up the rental car from the helpful staff at Hertz. Cramming himself into the Toyota Yaris, Tim picked up the rest of the family and then drove into the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, eventually arriving at the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area. As Jack would say, "it was the bomb". We had a nice time chatting with some friendlies from Washington State in the USA as we snagged the following magical photos:
australia Ayers Rock sunset
Very, very tired, we drove back to the hotel and collapsed. The next morning we rose early-ish and Yarised our way into the National Park once again - this time heading over to Kata Tjuta, colloquially known as "The Olgas". The peak of Mt. Olga is actually higher than Ayers Rock, which could be seen in the distance. As we peeled ourselves out onto the parking lot, Tim noted that the very spot they were standing on was the furthest away from home we had ever been, and the furthest away we would be during this year away from home (16,487.54 km from our house in St. Marys). You can see this spot and measure it for yourself here. Excited that any step we took from that point would be a step closer to home, we set out to do the "Valley of the Winds" hike. Although it was hot, there was a wind to cool us (surprise!). The hike wound us through the domes of Kata Tjuta, and we loved taking in the red rocks and the highly unusual greenery and flowers. It had rained heavily in the area a couple of weeks previous, and as a result there was growth where normally there is dust. On the top of one of the domes there was growing a meadow, complete with grass and flowers that we could see from down below! Here's some photos and a video of the experience:
australia Kata Tjuta Cronsberry family
Just under three hours later at the conclusion of this magnificent walk, we headed over to Uluru to visit the Cultural Centre, where we learned a bit more about the Aboriginal people of the area. We lunched in the cafe there, and then headed back to the hotel for a swim. The day was not over yet though! We cleaned ourselves up and then boarded a bus which took us to the Sounds of Silence dinner. This is a cool gig the resort has going, where they bus you out a little further into the Outback and feed you under the stars. The food was incredible. We tasted Crocodile Caesar salad, and loved the succulent kangaroo meat. The desserts were to die for as well! We had a great time chatting with the others at our table (two Aussies from Cairns, and four Spaniards on their honeymoons). Following the meal, the sounds of a didgeridoo filled the air. We were speechless as the performance continued. We had no idea that a didgeridoo could make the sounds the musician was making emanate from the end of the thing. It was eerie and beautiful. To wrap up the night, an astronomer gave a brief talk about the southern night sky, and we gazed at the moons of Jupiter from a beefy-looking telescope they had set up. What a magical experience!
The next day was Tuesday, and it was time for us to say hello to the main attraction - Ayers Rock itself. We made our way to the start of the Mala Walk, which follows the base of Uluru for some distance. We joined a ranger-guided walk where we heard from a couple of members of the Anangu tribe (the aboriginal tribe which owns the park). After breaking away from the guided walk, we explored the trail and marvelled at the majesty of the rock itself. Although we knew that it was one of the largest "rocks" in the world - we weren't exactly sure what that meant before being there. Uluru is the 2nd largest actually, behind Mt. Augustus which is also in Australia), and deserves this designation because it is a single, unfractured monolith of sandstone. While the highest point of Uluru is only 348 metres above the ground, the base of the rock is some 2000 metres below the surface. It's massive. Before arriving, we didn't really understand the magic of Uluru, and like many of you reading this, we thought that it was an interesting destination. It really is much more than that though, and it's difficult to describe - it's a bit mystical being in the presence of this iconic rock, and we were a bit further along in understanding why the aboriginal people hold the site as sacred. In fact, some of the areas of the rock are especially sacred to the Anangu and cannot be photographed, and the stories connected to those areas cannot be told to just anyone. It was fascinating. Here's some photos and a video:
australia Ayers Rock
Thoroughly impressed with the monlith, we returned to the hotel and checked out as there was nothing left to see. The little sign at the reception desk listed all of the flight times for the Ayers Rock airport, and it showed our Virgin Blue flight leaving at 2 pm. Tim muttered that he must have made a mistake as he was sure it was supposed to leave at 1 pm. Well, it was indeed to leave at 1 pm and when we arrived at the airport at 12:15 and heard that the plane was about to board, the Cronsberry blood pressure rose to dangerous levels. We did make it though, and jetted our way to our next stop - Sydney. The flight was smooth.
Wednesday morning we strolled through Sydney to "The Rocks" area for breakfast. With our bellies full, we headed down to Circular Quay, which you can see overhead here, and caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. This was a great boat ride as it took us right past the Sydney Opera House. More on that little shack in a minute. The Taronga Zoo was great. We saw Red Pandas, seals, white faced Gibbon monkeys, and of course kangaroos. Here's Tim trying to make sense of the whole thing:
australia Sydney skyline
When we had our fill of animals, we headed back to Circular Quay on the ferry and ventured into the Sydney Opera House for a look-see. We took in the "Essential Tour" and were thoroughly impressed with the whole thing. We didn't realise that the building opened way back in 1973! It was originally budgeted to cost $7 million to build, but it went slightly over budget and ended up costing $102 million. They thought that it would take 3 years to build, but it was only completed after 14! The truly remarkable thing is that the project was completely paid off within 18 months of opening. WOW! In 2007 it was designated a World Heritage Site. The tour took us around the building, and into the two largest theatre spaces - the Concert Hall and the Opera Theatre. Here's a couple of photos:
australia Sydney inside the Opera House
australia Sydney Cronsberry Family at the Opera House
We celebrated getting all cultured up by having dinner at Rosini, and grabbing dessert at Michaels. We retired to the hotel happy!
The following morning we strolled around the streets of Sydney and ended up at the State Library where we viewed a historical exhibit and marvelled at the gorgeous interior of the library. Bronte in particular was in heaven!
Back to hotel we went to collect our bags, and off to the airport for the final leg of our journey. The flight back to Auckland was uneventful, and after a night at the Holiday Inn, we piled into the Capella, which had been waiting patiently in the parking lot the entire time, and headed back to Tauranga, where our Canadian friends the Allores were waiting. We spent the next few days catching up with our friends - it was a great way to top off an amazing couple of weeks. Now it's back to the grind, and time to plan for the next trip!
As usual, there are more photos than shown here in this post, and you can see them by visiting the photo gallery here.