Sydney to Cairns
On Monday, March 2, I departed for a four day guided tour through the Australian countryside that would take me up the east coast and drop me off at Byron Bay. Rob was the tour guide and along on the tour was James and Sam (Brits), Donna and Cathy (Irish), Janell (Italian), and Billie (Israeli). The first stop was at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby. The name doesn't cover everything as there are plenty of non-reptile animals to see. Along with the extensive collection of snakes, crocs, and lizards, they also had Tasmanian devils, dingoes, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and koalas.
Up close and personal with a koala.
I finally got to see a platypus, but the room was dark and no flashes were allowed. It was smaller than I expected. He moved around too fast to get any quality pictures. However, if your curious, check out the Picasa site (photo link to the right).
They also had a kangaroo petting zoo where people could feed and pet the kangaroos. I picked a medium sized kangaroo to feed and play with. I thought it was pretty safe since there were several kids there. But this dude started coming at me, scratching me with his claws. In about ten seconds he reached up and bit me on the side of my stomach. Little f%&cker was mean. A zoo worker took him away this happened. They said he was a young male and was trying to show dominance. I told my mother this story and she said, “I'm glad that happened to you rather than some kid.”
Me and the juvenile delinquent.
It was just a flesh wound.
The next stop was a wine tasting at the McGuigan winery in Hunter Valley before heading up to a ranch near Glocester.
On Tuesday, for the first time in my adult life, I got on a horse. We did a one-day "City Slickers" type ride. It was an actual 3,000 acre working ranch with 600 head of cattle and we rounded them up and moved them old school style on horseback. My horse was named Monty. We separated a group of steers and drove them to a grain lot for finishing. We also tried to separate a bull and bring him back (I was never clear on where "back" was). We failed. There was some really gorgeous scenery. It was fun, but not something I'm dying to do again right away. All the cliches about horseback riding are true. My bum and legs were quite sore. The horses seemed very well trained and good tempered.
Australian road kill.
We came across this. Someone had hit a kangaroo. Rob, the tour guide said whenever you come across roadkill, it should be checked for a joey and then moved off the road. This one had a joey in its pouch, but it was also dead.
The third day was spent canoeing and the fourth ended in Byron Bay, a charming little beach town not overgrown with high rise condos. Most of the beaches in Australia allow topless sunbathing, although less than about 5% of women actually do it.
Byron Bay lighthouse.
Eastern most point on Australia's mainland.
On Friday March 6 we spent most of the day on the beach and in the evening, I took a greyhound bus from Byron Bay to Brisbane.
On Saturday morning, I took a train from Brisbane to Beerwah, home of the Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin zoo). Beerwah is about an hour train ride from Brisbane. About halfway there something just didn't feel right and I discovered it was because I didn't bring my camera. I bought a disposable camera at the zoo. That's why these pictures are kind of lousy. What did we do before digital cameras? Most of the animals there I had already seen. They had an extensive collection of crocodiles. Crocodiles are kind of boring unless they are feeding. They just lay there. Luckily, they had two shows in the "Crocoseum" where they fed the crocs. That was pretty cool. The zoo workers also got in the tiger den and played around with he tigers, getting them to jump into the water to chase them. No pics of the tigers as these didn't really come out good.
On Sunday, I flew from Brisbane to Cairns. Cairns is the most popular base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. On Monday I went for a dive. It was a day package of two guided dives, snorkeling, and glass bottom boat ride. The reefs were amazing, but I thought they would have been more colorful.
On Wednesday I flew back to Brisbane and on Thursday, March 12, I flew from Brisbane to Singapore. I flew on Etihad Airlines. Etihad is a fairly new airline based out of the United Arab Emirates. It was by far the cheapest trip from Australia to Asia. It was actually a connecting flight from Brisbane to Abu Dabhi. Most of the people on the flight didn't look like they were from either Singapore or Abu Dabhi. I believe a lot of people were connecting to Europe. Great service and good food. I would recommend them. It's a seven hour flight from Brisbane to Singapore. On a map it doesn't really look very far.
A few more observations about Oz.
Australia has really good coffee. Almost all coffee sold is espresso based and really good. There are very few Starbucks, so it happened independently of Starbucks. That's something that wasn't on my radar.
They love their pies. Meat pies are the traditional foods of Australia. It's basically a pot pie, but better than the one's that cost 30 cents at the grocery.
Sales tax is included in prices of items in stores and restaurants. So the price shown is the price you pay. It's good as it helps keep ones pockets from filling up. Also, they round to the nearest 5 cents. So they don't have to deal with pennies. Brilliant! If you order something in a restaurant that is listed at $15, you pay exactly $15. Tax and service are included in the prices.
Most of Australia is wide open spaces. It is about the size of the continental United States, with a population of only 21 million. And most Aussies live in cities. The look out a plane window is pretty barren.
Aussies are crazy about traveling. Both Lonely Planet and Frommer's are headquartered in Australia. Travel books are featured prominently in bookstores at the entrance. One guy I talked to summed it up pretty well. He said that Australia is really far from anywhere else. So if they travel, it is usually a long trip and they make it count.
I would like to spend a lot more time here. I think one could easily spend 4-5 months here. There's a lot to see. But it is time for me to move on to southeast Asia.
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