Australia Dec 23/09
We arrived in Brisbane Australia feeling under the weather. I had caught a flu or virus in India and subsequently passed it to the rest of the family. Fortunately, we had pre-booked a really nice apartment for the Christmas week, so we were all able to rest and recover in comfort. Consequently, we did not do too much the first couple of days in Brisbane and before we knew it, it was Christmas day. Drew was at the peak of his flu and spent most of Christmas day with his head in a bucket. Lyane and Jessica had gone shopping a few days before Christmas and they surprised us with some small Christmas gifts. They wrapped the presents and cut out a paper Christmas tree with the left over wrapping paper and then taped it to our patio door and placed the gifts underneath it. We opened our gifts in traditional fashion and pretended to be really surprised with the gifts we received. That night, we had soup and crackers for Christmas dinner. I think it was the first time in our trip that we all missed home. Boxing Day we finally felt healthy enough to venture out. We took the city transit bus to downtown Brisbane, to take advantage of shopping Boxing Day sales. The kids were pretty excited and they went a little over board on their budget buying clothes, shoes and junk. We all really enjoyed the day and the beautiful clean city of Brisbane. The following day we all felt even better and we decided to visit one of the most recognized Koala sanctuaries in the world called Lone Pine. When we arrived there, we saw a photo board of all the famous celebrities that had visited Lone Pine who came to see and hold a koala. The list included people such as Phil Collins, Madonna, Steve Earl, Taylor Swift, Marilyn Manson, Pope John Paul, The Dhali Lama and many more. It truly was a great experience as we were each able to hold a real live koala bear in our arms. They are really neat to hold and feel and we all realized that this was to be remembered as one of the highlights of our entire trip. One bad thing we learned about Koalas is that the males really stink! They have a gland in the middle of their chest that emits a stinky skunk like odor and is visible by a big yellowish stain in the middle of their chest. It is a natural gland that marks their territory. The guy that we held was indeed a male and Drew was particularly disgusted with its strong odor. Lone Pine also had many other animals native to Australia, and after the koalas, we spent most of our time feeding and petting the kangaroos that roamed freely in the park. It’s cool to watch Jessica and Drew with the animals because they both truly love animals and can both can spend hours just petting and feeding them. Other native animals in the park included the whambat and the famous Tasmanian devil.
The following day, we left Brisbane and took a shuttle bus one hour south to an area popular resort area called The Gold Coast. This is where all the action is. I guess it would compare to Florida’s Fort Lauderdale with white sand beaches, aqua water, big hotels, bars everywhere, and young people in skimpy clothing everywhere…etc….etc. The first full day there, it was a beautiful and hot and we were all pretty excited to get out of our apartment and get to the beach. We went to a store and bought cheap boogey boards and hurried to the beach to hit the waves. It was great time, but three hours later we suffered our second misfortune in Australia. With all the excitement of the beach, waves and body surfing, we neglected to put enough sunscreen on to protect ourselves from the intense Australian sun. When we realized that we were burnt, we headed up the beach to the main land for our apartment, and that is when we realized just how hot it was. The heat was stifling and the bright sun baked the down on the streets. That has to be one of the hottest days I have ever experienced. When we got back to our room, we could see we were pretty burnt, but not to the extent we really were. The next morning Jessica woke up blind and her face severely swollen. Yes, blind! It scared the hell out of us, but to our relief, a minute or two later she regained her site. Of course, Drew suffered the most damage, and large painful water blisters began to form on is face. To add to his problem, his back was pretty burnt too. Lyane didn’t fair much better than the kids and I was burnt, but not as severe. So there we were, all out of action again! We all went to the doctor and got loads of medication and headed back to the apartment to hide from the sun. We literally shed our old skin for weeks and left traces of us in all the places we stayed at for the next month after that. New Years Eve came and we were able to venture out into the night and enjoy a restaurant dinner followed by spectacular New Years Eve fireworks down at the main beach. It was a strange feeling to celebrate New Years in Australia because of global time, midnight strikes sixteen hours earlier than at home.
The week went by very slowly as we had to stay inside to protected our burns. Fortunately, there was a giant shopping mall across the street from our apartment and we were able to scurry across the street and shop, eat and entertain ourselves with movies at the theatres and video arcades. But still, how unfortunate to be at The Gold Coast and not able to enjoy the outside. Live and learn I guess.
Our next stop was the city of Sydney and by that time our burns had mostly healed and we were excited and ready to get back outside. We ended up renting a beachfront apartment on the world famous Bondi Beach, located about 25 minutes south of Sydney city center. Bondi is well know in Australia for it’s surfing and it’s humongous people capacity. On a busy day the beach came have as many as 30,000 people on it! It is so massive that it even has its rescue TV program and camera crew scour the beach for action everyday. The weather was again very hot, but this time we were ready and we slapped on gallons of high power, impenetrable, waterproof sunscreen. We all looked like a bunch of zombies invading the beach, but we were safe from the UV’s. The kids were really excited and determined to learn how to surf. I told the kids I would rent them boards, but as luck would have it, our next-door neighbor at our apartment loaned us hers for free! We were very grateful as the board was of high quality and the perfect size for the kids. The first day of surfing the kids struggled to even standup on the board. It appeared dangerous as the kids got pounded into the 7foot waves, so Lyane and I took turns watching them. By day two they were both standing on the board for a few seconds before falling and supervision was not necessary. By day three they were surprisingly surfing pretty well! For those who have never tried surfing, it is very difficult. I did try a couple of time, but never even came close to a standing posture. In no time, I was so flippin tired, I surrendered the board back to Jessica and Drew for the remainder of the trip. Lyane (the smart one) did not attempt to surf. For the next two weeks, we stayed in Bondi and most days was like groundhog day, getup, eat, go to the beach and surf, go for lunch back at the apartment and go back to the beach again. Fortunately, we met some really nice people from Sydney on our cruise months earlier and they offered to picked us up and tour us around for a couple of days. That was really great as we went to the their place for a home cooked dinner, had some drinks and ended up spending the night there. Boy, it was sure nice to live two days in a normal home setting with good friends. It was really neat to see that their beautiful backyard was home to many wild exotic birds such as parrots and cockatoos. Out of all the countries that we had traveled, that was the first time we had seen exotic birds in the wild. Thank you for your hospitality Jeff, Sue, Lewis, and Brent Hazelton. A few days later, Grandma Tremblay arrived (Lyane’s mom) to spend the next 6 weeks with us. Again our friends Sue and Jeff offered to tour us around town. They met us in beautiful downtown Sydney and toured us around to sites like the famous Opera House and the Sydney Harbor. It was another great day and we said our goodbyes to them and went back to beaching and surfing routine for the last couple of days. Then it was off to our final destination in Australia, the city of Melbourne.
After a long search for affordable and suitable accommodations, we ended up renting a house in a quaint little tourist based suburb of Melbourne called Williamstown. The house was a one floor huge property that was a nice change from apartments and hotel rooms. The metro train was within walking distance and we road it a couple of times to get to Melbourne city. The weather was very volatile in Melbourne. When we arrived in the afternoon of Jan 4th, it was 14C degrees, very windy with light rain. At first, I thought the plane had gone off course and landed in Newfoundland! The very next day it was suffocating 35C degrees hot and sunny, and the following day it was a high of 19C, sunny and cool. The whole week was a like that. The first few days we hung around Williamstown and enjoyed it’s small town charm. Day three we took the metro into Melbourne and toured the city on a turn of the century electric streetcar. No surprise that Melbourne too is a lovely city. Something about cities on the waterfronts I guess. We discovered that the Australian Tennis Open was in full swing and Lyane and I decided to attend while Grandma and the kids went back to Williamstown. It is truly a first class event with amazing facilities exclusive to tennis. Our seats were great and saw both Serena and Venus Williams, back to back, kick the crap out of the respective no name opponents. After, we walked around the grounds and watched several other lower profile games in some of the smaller stadiums. I think they said there are 32 tennis courts on the grounds. Some courts sat as few as 50 people and went all the way up in the big 15,000 seater. Even the little matches were cool to watch and the level of talent was hard to tell the difference from the top seed players. All the professional players were fast and powerful and played with great intensity.
We then decided to rent a car and take in the touristy sites in south Australia. The first day we drove to an island called Phillip Island to visit amazing beaches and witness surfers surf on some of the largest and most dangerous waves in the world at Woolamai Beach. It was amazing to watch the surfers wipe out, and then disappear, consumed by a massive 20ft wave, and then reappear what seemed to be minutes later. At times we really thought they had drowned, but then, their heads would suddenly pop up somewhere in the water where you would least expect. That evening it was off to a part of Phillip Island to experience a wild life natural phenomena. Every evening after a full day of hunting fish in the ocean, the smallest penguin in the world called Fairy Penguins, gather in the shallows by the thousands forming large black pools in the ocean. Once all of them have returned to the group and the safety of nightfall arrives, they begin to exit the sea up a narrow path to their little nests called borrows. They wait until it is completely dark in attempt to avoid their predators, which are predominantly fox and hawks. It is a really well run tourist attraction. Audiences sit in fenced bleachers with soft lighting strung along the side beginning of the penguin’s main natural path and like clock work, the little penguins surface at nightfall and walk right past the bleachers home to their borrows. Penguins are very social animals and do their socializing after a hard day at sea, so while you are watching them, many stop and chat with other penguins coming along the path. You can tell that they have social groups just like humans. Some hang around in larger social groups; some in smaller and some are loners who just keep walking (or waddling) and just want to get home. Some penguin borrows are right by the ocean and they have a quick easy access to their home, while other less fortunate penguins walk to their borrows as far as two kilometers away! Tourist fenced paths follow along side the penguin’s paths and people are encouraged to choose a penguin and follow it (with your eyes only) to it’s home. It was a very cool experience to see them in their natural habitat and behave as if no one was there. Maybe they are able to ignore us because the Phillip Island Fairy Penguins have been visited and watched by tourist since the 1920’s. It was a truly a fascinating experience.
The next day we drove to Melbourne’s most popular beach resort called St. Kilda. It was nice, but the beach was not has nice as we thought it might be. The highlight was the day beach houses, owned mostly by Australian and handed down from generation to generation. They are side by side on the beachfront and are about the size of a garden shed. Each house was unique in color and was painted in a bright, often artistic fashion. See pictures of Australia to view them.
The last day we drove down the southwest coast of Australia down the world famous highway called The Great Ocean Road. It rates as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the world and it did not disappoint. The curvy narrow road follows the beautiful south Australian coast displaying its white sand beaches, brilliant aqua ocean water and quaint little tourist towns. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at one of the larger towns called Lorne. It was absolutely gorgeous there with lots to do and we all agreed that someday we would like to return and spend some more time there. After lunch we continued south down the road and were fortunate and surprised to see wild Koalas in the Eucalyptus trees. They do not move very much and in fact they sleep up to 20 hours a day! However, we did see some action as one Koala jumped from one branch to another, and we all cheered with excitement. We then got back in the car and headed across country to save time in getting back to our house in Williamstown. The drive turned out to be one of those great, unexpected journeys. The countryside was extremely lush and very jungle like with giant leaved plants and massively tall trees. Later, we found out that South Australia is home to some of the tallest trees in the world! As we weaved through the jungle, Lyane saw a little highway sign for a lake she had read about called Lake Elizabeth. Apparently, Lake Elizabeth is one of the last places in the world that the rare Australian Platypus still lives in its natural inhabitant. So we made the decision to follow the road signs and try and find this mysterious lake. The road kept getting narrower and the highway signs faded into small tree nailed directions. It was late afternoon and we started to think we had made the wrong decision, but eventually we did arrive to the remote Lake Elizabeth campground. It was a strange little campground seemingly cut out in the middle a forest valley in the middle of nowhere. We walked around the site and found a sign that said that the lake was a 1-hour walk away by trail. While we were debating whether we should do the walk or not, a young French couple appeared off the trail and told us that they had gone to the lake and did not see any Platypuses/Platypy?/ Platypussies?/ Platypoos? Anyway, whatever the plural is, they didn’t see any. They said, when they got there, they were disappointed to see the lake had turned into a remote tourist haven that was full of kids and teenagers playing in the water. Weird. Our journey had ended in disappointment and our romantic vision of seeing a wild platypus was crushed. But, the day was full of adventure and the drive was amazing and certainly will be remembered as one of our best days in Australia.
After five weeks, it was time to say a reluctant goodbye to Australia. For the first time in our trip, we really did not want to leave, but fortunately pretty New Zealand was next and we were all excited about that.
We say good-bye to our good friends, the Koalas, Kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and all the beautiful tropical birds. We will miss the Australian friendly salutations like “ No worries ” and “How you going?” (pronounced: “Uow u go’in”) or “you all right mate” both meaning how are you? And last but not least…… we will miss the weather!!!!!