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Trip Report A major meander through Australia/Tasmania, Bali, Laos & Vietnam.

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September - October, 2014

Itinerary:
http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=JFK-DFW-BNE-CNS-MEL-LST-MEL-KUL-DPS-KUL-VTE-LPQ-HAN-HKG-JFK

NYC to Australia:
• Brisbane - Cairns - Mossman vicinity - Cape Tribulation - Geelong - Cape Otway - Melbourne - Cradle Mountain, Tasmania - Bronte Park - Hobart - Freycinet Peninsula - Launceston

• Kuala Lumpur: stopover
• Bali: Ubud - Pejeng - Sideman - Nusa Lembongan -
• Kuala Lumpur: stopover
• Laos: Vientiane - drive to Vang Vieng - drive to Luang Prabang
• Vietnam: Hanoi- private junk at Bai Tu Long Bay - Ninh Binh
• Hong Kong - NYC


Photos:
Albums of photos are up on Flickr now for Queensland, and I'll keep adding more for other areas as I add to the trip report:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067489@N04/sets/72157650183203682/

They look best large. To see them larger, click the first photo, and after it opens, click on the icon that looks like 2 diagonal white arrows going in opposite directions. This is located on the upper right of the page.

You may find navigating forward and back through the photos is easiest by using the left and right arrows on your keyboard.


Prelude:

Why would a fearful flyer book a trip with 13 flights in 2 months? Well, if you love to travel like I do, and have a large cache of frequent flyer miles, you want to squeeze as much travel out of them as possible. So I booked a OneWorld mile-based award, based on distance flown, with as many as 16 flights allowed on one ticket (which sadly has been discontinued).

The Great Circle Mapper website and I soon became close friends, as I had to make the trip come in at a total of no more than 25,000 air miles. To keep the mileage below that, we opted for an open jaw between Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, traveling on cheap flights as well as driving through Laos.

We were still a little short of miles needed, so to get more, we made the ultimate sacrifice and endured a 3-week trip to Italy previous fall - Rome, the Amalfi Coast (Naples, Capri, Nocelle, Atrani), Siena, Venice and Varenna before flying home from Milan.

Shortly after returning, AA deposited the frequent flyer miles from the Italy flights. It was time to finalize planning for the award trip. I poured over maps, airline routes, weather patterns, temple festival dates, sea conditions, even lunar calendars! Weather patterns were a big factor, so here was our plan:

1) Get to the Great Barrier Reef early enough in the Australian spring to increase our chances for sunshine, as it would make snorkeling more beautiful. So we made Queensland our first stop.

2) Then we'd fly south, where the weather would hopefully be warming in Victoria and Tasmania. Tasmania seemed to be especially tricky, because there was a real chance we'd encounter snow at Cradle Mountain in September, making packing more complicated. We really didn't want to drag a lot of heavy winter clothes and snow boots all over steamy Southeast Asia, so I looked for strategies like mailing the warm clothes home when we were leaving Australia, renting clothes for a week, or purchasing in Tasmania. None of these ideas turned out to be practical, so we ended up just taking a few items, and crossed our fingers it would be enough, and we lucked out, with warmer than normal temperatures.

3) Then on to Bali, where hopefully the rainy season would not yet have started.

4) Then Laos, the complete opposite, where hopefully the rainy season would be ending.

5) Then North Vietnam, where the weather promised to be especially good by the time we arrived. Spoiler alert - it lied.

6) And by this point in the planning, we were ready to just give up and let Hong Kong be whatever it would be!

Actually, we were very lucky. With the exception of North Vietnam, the weather was ridiculously perfect throughout most of this long trip. Actually, the rain in North Vietnam was perfect, too, as it ended up enhancing the experience.

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I started by trying to book what is for several reasons the hardest flight to get - New York City to Australia. I managed to bag 2 business class seats through a combination of perseverance, strategy, and luck. We needed to fly all the long flights in business class, as C has a disability that makes such long flights too painful for her unless she can lie down for part of the time.

The rest of the booking was made over a period of weeks, grabbing individual flights as they became available. Finally I had the entire itinerary of 13 flights booked. Or so I thought. To make a long story short, I discovered that an American Airlines agent had made a technical mistake while entering the booking, and I almost lost the entire trip. But after some long scary phone calls with multiple agents and supervisors, it was reinstated, and on the AA website, our trip which had for so long been listed as being "On Request" finally changed to "Ticketed".

I stared at it, hoping it wasn't a mirage. Then, just to be safe, I took a screenshot!

We had a lot of hotel reservations and rental cars reservations, so I compiled all of the email confirmations in a single PDF, so in case there was a problem, I could pull out my phone and have a copy to show. I also stored them on the cloud as a backup, along with photos of our visas, passports, health insurance cards, etc. Any of a number of things could have gone wrong during 2 months of travel, and perhaps being so cautious appeased the gods of calamity, because almost everything went smoothly.

If we had paid cash for these 13 flights, the total cost would have been obscenely high, but instead the costs (we paid just taxes and fees) were so low we felt giddy.

I guess I should be breaking up this trip report on the Australia and Asia Forums, right? So when I start the Asian segment, I'll link the trip reports for both.

Anyway, now I'll start the Trip Report here on the Australia Forum, as that was our first destination:

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Chapter 1 - In which we commence our meander.

September 7th, was a Sunday, so traffic was light on the way to LaGuardia Airport. We were flying American Airlines to Dallas/Fort Worth where we'd connect with the Qantas non-stop to Brisbane. At the checkin, the AA ticket agent stared at our complicated itinerary and looked confused. But then it appeared that a light went on in her head and after a flurry of keystrokes at her computer, her printer began spitting out a sizable pile of boarding passes. "Looks like great trip" she said, and we smiled and agreed!

The first flight was in First Class (there was no business class on that leg), but it was First Class in name only. Things started out less than swimmingly when the pilot announced that due to AA not getting their paperwork delivered on time, the plane wouldn't be allowed to fly above 20,000 feet! I couldn't hear it clearly on the tinny speaker, but it seemed to be something about not having proper certifying papers for the air conditioning?! This meant the plane would fly slower, giving me more time in the air for my fear of flying to kick in. An inauspicious start. It also meant that we'd have to fly right through turbulence instead of being allowed to fly over it at a higher altitude. I hoped this wasn't an omen of things to come, as the prospect of another 12 flights already had me quite nervous. I was beginning to question my sanity for having booked a 13-flight trip. Sitting back in my lumpy First Class chair, I decided to pass on the movie being shown on a monitor mounted at a neck-aching angle near the ceiling (made worse by considerable glare), and instead concentrated on the food that was coming down the aisle. That turned out to be a mistake. Remember Swanson TV dinners? The Chicken Piccata being served was of that level of quality. Still, I did enjoy the warm chocolate chip cookies that followed!

On the ground at DFW, things improved markedly as we relaxed in the peaceful Qantas lounge and enjoyed a snack. We had 2 1/2 hours to wait, but it was so comfortable that the time went quickly. Then it was time to board. One nice thing about flying business class is that there are many distractions to take my mind away from the fear of flying, starting with the seat. Extremely comfortable, with lots of controls and settings to learn. We shared a glass of champagne before takeoff, and settled in for the 16 hour flight. I have to say that some of the food Qantas served was surprisingly good. We really enjoyed the sea bass as well as the shrimp ceviche with avocado, lime, coconut and tortilla chips. In fact the only negative was that an old song "Put The Lime In The Coconut" started playing in my head over and over.

Here's a suggestion aimed at whoever picks the content for the Qantas entertainment system - you might consider omitting "Cast Away" from the movie offerings. Since we were flying thousands of miles across the Pacific with no place to land if there was a problem, a movie commencing with a harrowing crash landing in the Pacific wouldn't be my top choice for viewing!

A little while later, the plane's "mood lighting" suddenly went berserk, rapidly changing colors, and making the interior of the plane look like we were in a 1970s disco. Several flight attendants struggled to quell it. At any moment it seemed likely that the pilot would commence singing "YMCA" over the cockpit microphone while flight attendants would dance The Hustle amidst a flurry of tinfoil confetti and fog descending from the cabin air-conditioning vents. Mercifully, the flight attendants were soon able to end the problem before any of that could come to pass.

When it came time to sleep, we were very happy to find that the Qantas flat beds were fairly respectable. As I nestled under the quilt, mid-Pacific turbulence began to shake the plane and didn't allow me to sleep more than 2 or 3 hours. But even though I was sleepy when we landed in Brisbane at 5AM, I was physically in much better shape than I would have expected, and was very happy that we chose Qantas. And I have to confess that we've already worn the kangaroo-emblazoned Qantas pajamas in our home on a couple of chilly nights.

When planning, we'd decided not to stop when we landed in Brisbane, as we wanted to get to the less city-like Cairns and have our rest there. We live in New York City, and also visit a lot of other cities, but on this trip we wanted to focus on places outside of cities. Also, I'd stayed in Sydney and Melbourne for a month during a work trip, so I didn't feel a need to visit either again on this trip.

We had reservations for one night at the Pullman Reef Hotel, which looked like a very comfortable place to rest, as I assumed we'd be doing during the first day of our arrival. I'd written requesting an early check in if possible, as we were landing in Cairns at 9AM. The morning was beautiful, with blue skies and some puffy white clouds, and we were lucky to find that a room was indeed ready for us. But it was not the room with a sea view I'd paid for months before. If we wanted that room, we'd have to wait. We decided to wait, and had a very good breakfast at Tamarind, the hotel restaurant which had a buffet and hot dishes cooked to order. Their eggs benedict were great.

Our room turned out to be as comfortable as hoped, and had a balcony looking out at the sparkling water and boats. It was that view which drew us back outside before we could succumb to drowsiness, so luckily we avoided any napping that might interfere with acclimating to the new time zone.

We walked across the street to stroll on the Esplanade along the water, which was very pleasant, and there we saw the first Lorikeets of our trip streak noisily (and colorfully) low above the water in front of us. Later we took our time-confused bodies to a lunch/dinner of hamburgers at Grill'd. The very friendly young woman behind the counter answered our query about where best to spot Lorikeets with an authoritative "Oh, you won't see them anywhere in Cairns". Then we walked back to the hotel, listening to the scores of Lorikeets sitting in the trees above us.

We were granted a beautiful sunset as we walked back along the water and then stumbled into our room. That was about as much as we were going to do that first day!

The next morning, after another tasty Tamarind breakfast, we picked up our rental car. Then we bought some savory pies for a picnic lunch, and proceeded north up the Captain Cook Highway… (to be continued)

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    tripplanner001,
    Thanks! For the underwater pics, I used an Olympus Stylus TG-2. It is basically a point-and-shoot, but with some nice features that give a bit of extra control. I'd never shot underwater before, and wanted something easy to use, and it really was. On the trip I also I used it as in kayaks and canoes, too - anywhere that I wouldn't want to risk an SLR getting wet.

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    Chapter 2 - The meander picks up steam.

    The winding Captain Cook Highway revealed many lovely views of sea and foliage, and we stopped for a picnic at Ellis Beach. Right after that, the Rex lookout provided a vista well worth stopping for. And we saw one of the small-scale sugar cane trains, which on a side-road shares a one-lane bridge over a creek with automobiles, so some care is appropriate there!

    After passing through the small town of Mossman, we made the turnoff to Silky Oaks Lodge, where we stayed for the next 3 days. Tropical and lush, it was a wonderful place to ease into the radically new time zone! Breakfasts and dinners were included, which are served at a lovely open-air restaurant perched over a slope thick with palms and trees covered in lichen and ferns. All to the relaxing sound of the Mossman River below, which was also true of the terrace of our "Riverhouse" room. At first we just lounged, admiring the view from our hammock while being lulled by the sounds of water below rushing over rocks - the only rushing we wanted. As energy became replenished, we stirred to canoe on the crystal clear river, gliding around huge rounded boulders and under canopies of tropical foliage.

    After the second night we were recharged and ready for a morning snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I'd booked with Wavelength, out of Port Douglas, who I heartily recommend. I also went with them on my last trip to Queensland. Great boat, great people, great reef locations, and only snorkelers, which as a scuba diver I can tell you makes for a better experience. Since the water conditions would so greatly affect how good the experience would be, I'd been watching the sea reports diligently. The morning was not nearly as ideal as my last trip. I'd been really lucky on that trip, as the day was perfect, and the water was super-calm, allowing me to frolic with sea turtles. This time was rougher, but the Great Barrier Reef is still a fantastic experience.The fish were less abundant than at the reefs we'd visit later around Nusa Lembongan, but still are quite lovely (especially the butterflyfish), and there were plenty of gorgeous formations of plate coral and staghorn coral. And I was able to try out my new underwater camera, a compact Olympus TG-2, which performed quite well. I'd never shot underwater before, but it was easy to use, and I managed to get some pretty respectable shots which you can see by following the link at the top of this page.

    After returning to dry land, we moved to a fantastic B&B, also near Mossman, called Papillon. What a wonderful place. Maureen and Stephen, the owners are so friendly (without being intrusive) and really work hard to make the entire experience great. The setup of the place made it a good B&B for people who don't really like B&Bs, as the two rooms are on a separate level from the owners, with a big wood deck by the pool and a beautiful lush garden beyond, with many butterflies, justifying the name Papillon. We were especially charmed by small vivd yellow sunbirds who seemed to be flirting with us.

    We stayed there for several days, enjoying the Mossman/Port Douglas area. We saw (and photographed) our first kangaroo of this trip. We walked into a forest where the trees had scores of bickering Flying Foxes hanging upside down from tree-limbs above us. Although I'm not generally a big fan of bats, these are really quite cute, with faces like a sweet little dog, and big soulful eyes. We also had a very close encounter with a kookaburra.

    Mossman Gorge didn't have a tourist building and shuttle bus when I was last there, but it is still a beautiful place to walk through lush tropical foliage, and the vines are Tarzan-worthy.

    And a drive through the Atherton Tablelands was quite enjoyable, first up into wooded hills with broad views of the coast far below, stopping to explore several abandoned and overgrown old furnace buildings, and then across a dry landscape covered in termite hills before the terrain changed to lovely rolling grassy hills of dairyland. Stopped along the way to attempt to photograph cockatoos and parrots, but they were to tease us with only tantalizing glimpses, as they would throughout our time in Queensland. This would change when we reached Victoria a few days later in the trip, where they would begin posing constantly and seductively for us, like aspiring models yearning to be discovered.

    Lunch was good at the Coffee Works at Mareeba, although it was rather touristy, with a twee gift shop. Then a visit to Yungaburra and Lake Barrine. But the unexpected favorite thing for us were two ancient and towering fig trees, which we stopped at only as an afterthought. They were at 2 different locations, not too far apart, and are called the Curtain Fig and the Cathedral Fig and are aptly named. Soaring, majestic, sculptural, and even a bit mystical. We returned to Mossman on the long twisty downhill run through the Gillies Range, with more amazing views and then up the coast road past Cairns.

    At the time of our trip, the dollar was down and Australia was expensive compared to the US. After the splurge at Silky Oaks, and all the high-end dinners there, we were trying to save a bit on food. Also, we knew we would have much more attractively priced food when we got to Asia. So we cut costs by having a couple of very pleasant and romantic candle-lit take-away dinners on the deck outside our room. We did go to On The Inlet, in Port Douglas, where we shared the chilled prawns and the Thai-inspired whole crispy baby Barramundi with asian salad, which made both our mouths very happy. The place is mostly outdoors, casual, and the sunset view out over the water is great.

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    Chapter 3 - In which we encounter Tribulation and Sorrow.

    It was time to move on to Cape Tribulation.
    In the shadow of Mount Sorrow.
    Later, Tasmania, passing close to the Dismal Swamp.
    And flying over Lake Disappointment.
    Sadly, we never did make it to Mount Desolation.
    Australians are such a cheery bunch.

    But so far it had been wonderful, and now it was time to return to the Daintree Rain Forest.
    (I have to mention that Spellcheck just tried to correct that to the "Dainty" Rain Forest)

    Shortly after the ferry crossing, we stopped at the Alexandra Range viewing area, and luckily it was morning, so we arrived before all the tour buses. The tree ferns are so beautiful there, framing the views down to the Coral Sea, and you can see Port Douglas far off in the distance. Then we walked on the Jindalba Boardwalk. We had a good picnic lunch there with food we'd brought from the Junction Cafe in Mossman.

    We stayed 2 nights at the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm, which as the name suggests is a working fruit farm. it was very pleasant to stroll around the property, through the fruit trees, and it was conveniently located. Their breakfast featured their own fruit, but the pickings at that time of year were a bit sparse, and sadly not as flavorful as the larger selection of "store-bought" fruit we'd been served at Papillon.

    We found out the owners are selling the property. This was to happen to us over and over during the trip. Turns out the owners of Papillon are selling, too, as is the owner of Cockatoo Hill (where we didn't end up staying). Also, the place we would later stay at Coles Bay in Tasmania are selling, as are the owners of a restaurant we enjoyed in St. Helen. It would have been almost enough to make us paranoid and start wondering if we were driving people to say "No more!", if they hadn't all already put their places up for sale before we arrived!

    We had one of 2 cabins, with a very nice deck looking into the rain forest. We watched a big Lace Monitor scamper along the now dry creek by the deck. We had called it a Goanna, but was corrected by one of the B&B owners. Nary a Cassowary was seen, although I'd had good spottings on my last trip. More cute Flying Foxes, which C adores! We greatly enjoyed the Dubuji Boardwalk, which provided wonderful rain forest walks. The Fan Palms are so beautifully decorative when the sun shines through them. And the lovely flowers growing out of the trunk of the Satinash tree were quite unique. Cape Tribulation Beach & Myall Beach are also appealing, with all that lush vegetation growing right down to the beach, and the hill and mountain views around. We had reservations to go snorkeling again, this time from Cape Tribulation. But high winds gave me another kind of reservations, and knowing that we'd still have very good snorkeling around Nusa Lembongan, we reluctantly decided to cancel.

    We ended up eating at Whet 2 nights. The food was very good, the atmosphere relaxed. The Pumpkin Coconut soup and Fresh Tuna Nicoise salad were especially good. They do get a bit silly with their menu, serving drinks with names like Whet Dream. After dinner we stumbled down the inky darkness of their walkway to the parking lot, fruitlessly straining to see even the slightest hint of path. Learning from this, we brought a flashlight the second time!

    Returning to Papillon for our last afternoon in Queensland, we found we were the only guests, and between dips in the pool, we enjoyed chilled champagne in the warm sun, as colorful butterflies and yellow-crested cockatoos flew over our heads through the brilliant blue sky. If the trip had ended here, we would have said it was an amazing experience. But it wasn't ending here, but instead was just beginning… (to be continued)

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    Just realized I mistyped the model of the camera - it should have read Olympus TG-3. But the older model is quite good, too.

    The reasons I chose it over other underwater cameras is the F2.0 lens, which is quite fast, meaning it performs well in low light. Just being underwater means that there will be less light, so a fast lens is a big advantage. It is also very good for close-up shots.

    All of this with the caveat that it is of course a point-and-shoot camera. For a lot more money, one can invest in better cameras and lights. But on a vacation, that would mean lugging all that around, and at this price point, I was quite content with the results.

    We were in Far North Queensland for 2 weeks. Could have happily spent a lot more time there!

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    Just posted more photos to go with this post in another album including a sequence of two kangaroos engaged in a mock battle.
    To see, go to
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067489@N04/sets/72157650431304802/


    Chapter 4 - Pterodactyls, Dragons, Stegosaurus and Demon Cows.


    We woke up early, and upon walking out on our deck we were immediately greeted by those flirting yellow sunbirds. After enjoying their antics one more time, we went upstairs for another lovely Papillon breakfast. We were sad to be leaving, especially as we probably will never get to stay at Papillon again, as the owners plan to move to Spain. But many adventures still awaited, so we were excited, too.

    After a relatively quick flight to Melbourne, we rented a car and drove to Geelong. The idea was to get up early and avoid Melbourne rush hour traffic by already being close to the Great Ocean Road. I would have liked to fly into Avalon Airport, which is much closer to Geelong than Melbourne, but couldn't find award availability for when we wanted to fly. So we were quite willing to accept a little extra driving in exchange for free flights.

    We stayed at the Bayside Geelong, which served its function as a comfortable place to sleep, with the added bonus of a pretty sunrise over the bay when we woke up. On our way out of town, we saw a small bakery called Le Fournil, where we had cappuccino and almond croissants, and then drove to Bell Beach to watch the surfers stare at nonexistent waves. No matter, the day was gorgeous, the scenery splendid, and the birds colorful. Like others, the drive reminded us of the coast highway in California from Monterrey to Big Sur, but with the added promise of marsupials to come! We took it slow, enjoying the drive, with lots of stops. Then we arrived at Kennett River, where again we'd beaten the tour buses, and found large numbers of rosellas, Sulfur crested cockatoos and parrots perched on low branches and feeding on the grass, not afraid of humans, probably due to frequent feedings. Some of them were positively iridescent in the bright sunshine, and I enjoyed photographing them at close range.

    The discovery of a lone sleepy koala in a tree above me reminded that it was time to drive up a little road we'd read about, which we found lived up to its reputation as a veritable Koala-Land! So many koalas! Again we were lucky to have the whole stretch to ourself, and C proved she had a talent for spotting koalas even when perched high up in the Eucalyptus trees. To save weight I'd decided not to bring my good but heavy telephoto lens on the trip, but instead only a casual lens that wasn't up to this kind of distance,. So I parked the car and climbed up the hill above the road, as C waited in the car, watching skeptically. The ground crumbled under my feet as I scrambled up to the top of the hill, and there at the top I found myself eye-to-eye with the fierce Australian koala. He gave me a jaded look that clearly said "Damn paparazzi", followed by a sleepy yawn. The sky chose this moment to cloud up, which was too bad, as I could have really used more light for my "challenged" lens. But I had a ball, climbing around photographing cuddly koalas.

    As we drove toward Apollo Bay, cloudiness turned to a bit of misty drizzle, which actually gave a nice contrast to the earlier blue skies and brilliant sunshine and a moodiness to the seascapes. By the time the road curved inland, the sun was again beginning to break through, and we arrived at Mait's Rest, with an easy trail and some boardwalks and bridges through the tree fern forest. It turned out we were lucky it had rained, as it turned what would already have been a beautiful place into a mystical one. There was just enough filtered sun to illuminate what felt like a place that surely was inhabited by fairies. The emerald moss and fern-covered tree limbs were part of the reason, as were the trees that had grown in shapes that looked out of a fairy tale. The fact that it was all wet made the colors richer and more saturated, and we walked in reverential silence broken only by the occasional "Wow".

    Back in the car, we came upon a sign. You know those yellow signs with black silhouettes of local animals? Silhouettes signifying the animals which for a specified distance are apparently likely to lunge in front of your car at any moment? Well, upon returning to the main road, we saw that some wags had taken black paint or marker to just such a sign and transformed 4 common indigenous critters into fearsome beasts. To be specific, a Pterodactyl, Dragon, Stegosaurus and Demon Cow. At least I hope it was a joke. Because when it comes to Australia's ecosystem, one can never be sure.

    A short drive off the main road toward the Cape Otway lighthouse brought us to the gate of the Great Ocean Ecolodge, where we would be staying for only one night. I'd been considering Bimbi Park (if only for the name!), and because it was so much less expensive, but would still place us near wildlife and natural beauty. But since we only had the one night, I was swayed by the greater likelihood of seeing more wildlife with guidance from the folks at the Ecolodge. Set on a large property, we discovered we were the only guests that night, and after settling in and after having afternoon tea and cake, we set out for a dusk guided walk with Shayne, who along with Lizzie had founded the place. They are involved in many conservation and research projects, which the Ecolodge helps to fund. His walking tour was fascinating and very informative. And he was considerate of C's difficulties walking by taking us the shortest route. After just a few minutes walking, we were gazing at a mob of perhaps 40 kangaroos. Many photos were taken as we walked, and then suddenly more koalas! And then on to see Tiger Quolls, which are rare and endangered, and 2 are being kept on the property. After seeing them fed, we returned to the lodge where a warm fire was welcome, and then it was time for the nocturnal Sugar Gliders to wake, so we got to hand feed them "breakfast". We stuck our fingers in a jar of honey, and the impossibly cute Sugar Gliders licked them off eagerly! After that, I would have expected to be left with sticky fingers, but it seemed they were quite adept at getting every last trace of honey from our digits! Then a very good dinner, and early to bed, so that we could be up with the sun.

    Well, I actually woke before the sun, pulled from sleep by the prospect that kangaroos might be very close. We'd taken the ground floor room with a sliding glass door to the outside for just that possibility. I sleepily stumbled from the bed, and pulling aside the drapes, my eyes struggled to focus on more kangaroos than I could count, grazing just outside our window. C was still dozing and I asked with a whisper if she wanted to see the kangaroos, and she was up like a shot! We watched them for a while, and even got to photograph a couple of adolescents engage in a mock kangaroo fight, which was really just practice for later in life, when they'd battle for real over who would be the top roo. The kangaroos here differed greatly from the one we'd seen in Queensland. While that one had a short sleek coat, these Victoria roos had thick, soft, luxuriant fur, which makes sense.

    And lots more wildlife around the lodge grounds. A group of Galahs were having their breakfasts on the grass, their pink and white plumage contrasting with the vivid green. I discovered that galah is also Australian slang for an idiot! I didn't tell the Galahs. And the Cockatoos were showing off their aerial prowess, soaring and dive-bombing before making showy landings. I was able to slowly approach one female kangaroo, and she let me get within about 4 feet of her, watching me the whole time. I got some amusing closeups from the distance. Then we drove the short distance to the Cape Otway lighthouse. After that, we had planned to go to the 12 Apostles, but I was feeling pretty tired, and decided to skip it this trip. Instead, we turned inland, and meandered back to Melbourne, driving through some beautiful back roads, with many lovely birds.

    We weren't actually going to Melbourne, as I wrote earlier, and since we had an early flight to Tasmania the next morning, we had decided to stay at an airport hotel. The Parkroyal filled the bill very well. Very comfortable, and convenient, with the car rental return mere yards away from the entrance! And a very short walk to where we'd check in for the next day's flight. But as I was moving things around the room, I accidentally brushed my iPad on the night table, and it fell to the floor, taking my glasses which had been sitting next to it with it. The carpet broke the fall for my iPad, but the iPad broke my glasses! The weight and impact of my iPad were somehow enough to snap the right temple of my glasses. I did bring a backup pair, but they are an old prescription, and things would have been a bit off for the rest of the trip. C being intrepid took some duct tape that we'd wrapped around a pencil for such a need and was able to re-attach it… sort of. The break was in a bad place, and it really wasn't holding well, but I was glad it was staying on my face at all!
    (to be continued)

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    New photos posted
    To see the photos of Tasmania that go with this post, check out the new "Cradle Mountain" and "Strahan to Hobart" albums at
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067489@N04/sets/


    Chapter 5 - In which I am head-butted by a wombat.

    I was a bit nervous about the flight in a Bombardier Dash 8, as the last flight I had taken in a prop plane had been less than reassuring. But that was many years ago, and this flight was with Qantas. So I kept thinking of that scene in the film "Rain Man" and was happy to experience a surprisingly powerful takeoff. So different from my last experience of years ago when it had felt we were struggling to even get off the ground. A scant hour later we were looking down at the verdant Tasmanian landscape speckled with flowering trees of pink, white and yellow in bright sunshine. I watched the shadow of the plane get bigger and bigger as we approached the runway, and then we'd landed at Launceston, with a very short walk to our rental car.

    Ah, Tasmania, where the notorious land of unpredictable weather had graced us with a glorious warm spring day. We were headed for Cradle Mountain, and stopped for a late breakfast at Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Cafe. I wasn't sure if this was going to be a good idea, as it sounded like it could be a tourist trap, but it turned out to be very enjoyable, helped by a table in the sun out on a deck overlooking a sparkling pond and flowering trees. Two flat whites arrived, soon followed by an indulgent order of Raspberry Chocolate French Toast and Waffles with Ice Cream & Raspberries! And as we stumbled back to the car, we were given a couple of chocolate covered raspberries to take with us!

    As we would be staying 2 nights in a cabin at Cradle Mountain, we stopped in Deloraine to buy provisions. Then we took the scenic but very winding route past Mole Creek and up through mountains to Cradle Mountain. We arrived at Cradle Mountain Highlanders Cottages, where just moments after we stepped out of the door, we spotted a sleepy Pademelon sitting in a pool of sunlight. We had hoped to see one during our stay, as they are so cute - one of the smaller marsupials, like diminutive wallabies. It wandered into the brush so we went inside our cabin, which we found to be absolutely charming. A large stack of firewood was promising, as was a full and very serviceable kitchen, And a whirlpool tub with a view of the woods! Everything was clean, and fresh. There was even a view from the terrace of the snow-capped peak of Cradle Mountain itself!

    We went back to the car to get our bags and there was a wallaby! What we didn't know was we were going to have a wildlife festival for the next 2 days. We'd hoped for some spottings, but what we saw exceeded our hopes. Several of the cutest Pademelons imaginable came to visit us at the cabin frequently, and one even crossed the transom of the front door momentarily. Even funnier was when I sat motionless with my arm extended and she approached me, touching me on the finger with her cool little Pademelon nose. I still didn't move, but just that momentary contact with human flesh spooked her so greatly that she leapt straight up into the air like a cartoon character and then fled!

    Tasmania kept delivering experiences that made us feel like we were living stories in a book. For example, we seemed to find ourselves in a real-life Edgar Allen Poe story when a big black Currawong landed on the railing of our porch and stared at us with intense yellow eyes. We'd already seen other Currawongs, but this one seemed actually menacing! It even followed us around when we'd go outside, always watching. It had a huge curved beak, which we later found out was a birth defect, and it was well-known character there. The manager said, "Oh, that's Jessie. She just likes to be around people"! After that, her presence became welcome, instead of macabre. She even started calling out to us in parrot-like tones what sounded like a cheery "Hello!", and we would call "Hello, Jessie!" back to her.

    During my previous visit to Cradle Mountain I'd seen Currawongs repeatedly raid a table set up with snacks and coffee for our film crew. Currawongs actually stole whole large apples that must have outweighed them. But the ultimate theft involved an especially ambitious Currawong who took off with a large number of nested styrofoam coffee cups. It struggled to carry them up into the sky, the big string of white cups contrasting with its jet-black body as it climbed higher and higher, until it disappeared into the low clouds! I can't imagine what it did with them - open a Starbucks?

    At dusk I came upon a beautiful Green Rosella, with startlingly vivid multicolored plumage made more intense from being bathed in late-day sunshine.

    And we had numerous Wombat encounters. These made us feel like we were in a "Winnie The Pooh" story. At first we only saw shy ones momentarily, but the next night at dusk we walked in a field of button grass with several blasé wombats. I approached one slowly and quietly, but he could have cared less, as he munched on toothsome bits of the grass. Finally he got really close, and for some reason decided to head-bump twice against my knee as I knelt taking photos. And then he took a tentative nibble at my leg. Luckily I was wearing heavy jeans! Apparently I don't taste good, as he immediately moved on. I found later that I was lucky he only bit the jeans without getting any flesh, as they have powerful jaws and good teeth! And I got to pet him, which was fun!

    I also re-discovered how to make a fire, which was lucky, because in spite of days in the 60s, the nights went below freezing. But the room was cozy, including a very comfortable bed with a comfy quilt and ceiling heat lamp in the bathroom. The first night C cooked a very tasty pasta with mushrooms and asparagus, which we ate by the fire, and I reciprocated by making breakfasts. And going outside (briefly) was magical ----- oh, so many stars in the sky! Helped along by so few man-made lights for many miles. We looked up at the spectacular sky and almost fell over backwards.

    I'd been to Cradle Mountain once before several years ago for work (a film shoot), and knew that the top of the peak was frequently obscured by clouds. It had been very rainy on that trip. So we enjoyed the rare abundant sunshine and brilliant blue skies we experienced this trip, with hardly any need for the warm clothes we'd brought. I'd been hoping there would not be snow, as I knew it would be a hardship for C to walk in, and we got our wish! And I was pleasantly surprised to find Dove Lake at sunrise as still and polished as a mirror, with the peak reflecting with perfect clarity.

    We took various easy walks, and 2 of our favorites, the Enchanted Walk and The Weindorfers Forest Walk, were like something out of a Tolkien book. Moss-laden trees in filtered sunlight, with twisted limbs. Some of those trees looked like they were perfectly capable of pulling themselves out of the ground and walking alongside us!

    We only went out once for dinner at Cradle Mountain, as most reports we'd heard were of food with prices that greatly exceeded the quality. We had a barely OK but still expensive dinner at the casual Peppers pub. I understand this is a fairly isolated area, but it isn't that far removed, and after all, this is Tasmania, where there are so many good places to eat, and so many high-quality ingredients.

    After Cradle Mountain we headed for the Lyle Highway to drive through the Franklin wilderness areas. We weren't sure if we'd stop at Strahan, as I had stayed there on the last trip, and it was not on our way. Reaching the turn-off, we decided to make a quick drive through, but when we arrived, it was such a gorgeous day that we wanted to spend more a little more time there. We stopped at a casual little place serving lunch, with a patio looking out at the boats in the harbor. The water was an amazing shade of Prussian blue. As we admired it, we had a lunch of savory pies, followed by vanilla slices for dessert, which seem like a close cousin to a Napoleon (mille-feuille).

    Then we headed to Queenstown to buy more groceries, as we'd be staying in another cabin that night - this time in Bronte Park, just past Derwent Bridge. Queenstown has some beautiful old buildings, but it has definitely seen better days, and I guess those days were a long time ago, when it was a center for mining. I'd stayed there with little enthusiasm on my last trip to Australia, as we were shooting nearby. The place where we stayed was pretty run-down, and the kicker was the sign affixed to the bathroom mirror above the sink, warning guests NOT to drink the water from the tap, as it was a health hazard!

    We found an acceptable grocery store and bought some provisions. Heading out of Queenstown with our groceries, we climbed up into the denuded but oddly beautiful hills above town, and then down and across Lake Burbury. By this time the sun was getting low, and I didn't want to end up driving such an isolated stretch in the dark. But this desire clashed with the desire to go slow and enjoy the amazing light and landscapes, so I kept stopping against my better judgement. To help make up time, we decided to skip walking to a nearby waterfall, as I knew we'd have plenty of other opportunities later when we got to Bali and Laos.

    As it turned out, we just made it before dark to Bronte Park, and we'd spent the last hour of driving with both our eyes peeled for wallabies, of which we saw many sitting by the side of the road. But luckily none jumped out in front of our car. That night we stayed at Highland Cabins, which was clean and comfortable, and we again cooked dinner.

    We left early, and realized that I'd forgotten to get petrol in Queenstown. We now only had 1/4 of a tank, so I headed for the local station to fill up. "Bad timing" said the owner. He'd just filled his underground tank, and it had to sit until the impurities settled, so thered be no petrol available for about a half hour. We thought we'd find more stations ahead, so we didn't wait, which almost turned out to be a terrible decision. The landscape changed into rolling grassy hills and then wooded hills, and as the miles went by, still no gas stations. We stopped at Tarraleah, where I'd considered having us spend the night before we decided on Bronte Park, and walked up to see the Highland Cattle, described as an ancient Scottish breed of beef cattle with long horns and shaggy pelts. They certainly were shaggy - I'm not sure how they could even see through that fur to walk! We found out the next gas station was still not close, and as we proceeded and watched the gas gauge approach empty, the atmosphere in our car got a bit quiet and tense. But we made it to a tiny town with a tiny gas station with only one pump, and continued, refilled and relieved, through Hamilton to a turnoff to the scenic road to Bothwell. This is an especially lovely drive through sheep country. Unfortunately the cafe in Bothwell we'd read about appeared to be closed for good, so we made do with snacks and continued on to Hobart.
    (to be continued)

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    Wow!! Tasmania looks and sounds so awesome. You're giving me some great ideas for next year (looked at Great Ocean Lodge this morning after learning about it from you yesterday). And my I say I'm really enjoying your writing style.

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    really enjoying this, rje, as it's bringing back memories of the trip we did - was it only just over a year ago? time flies.


    wonderful photos BTW - I loved trying to spot where they were.

    keep it coming.

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    tripplanner001, Thanks, and yes, Tasmania is wonderful!

    We really liked the Great Ocean Ecolodge, but it is expensive. It makes it better knowing that the money they get goes to help animals and conservation. But if the expense is a negative for anyone, Bimbi Park is extremely close, and has "glamping options". We'd seriously considered staying there. Having said that, the added value of having the guided nature walks at Great Ocean Ecolodge was a big plus for us.

    Patty, I'll post more tomorrow!

    annhig, so glad you're enjoying this. I hope you saw that the photos are tagged with location, as well as some of the titles, so if you want to verify a location, I've identified them.

    I don't know how many people are familiar with Flickr, but when the photos are being viewed larger (as I suggested), one can toggle back and forth between the large size and a smaller size which shows text and tags by clicking on the 2 diagonal arrows on the upper left (the arrows may disappear, but will reappear when moused over).

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    Correction:
    That should have read "clicking on the 2 white diagonal arrows on the upper right".

    If you don't see them, either mouse over the area, or make sure the browser window is fully open on your screen.

    I'll never understand why Fodors doesn't allow editing!

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    My LOL was at the vision of the pademelon's startled leap, having been curious enough to stick her nose on your finger.

    I'm having such fun on your trip! Thank you so much. And yes, you have a great writing style & also an observant eye & a curious & open heart.

    My idea of the perfect visitor.

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    Melnq8, I was surprised to learn that Redhead matches are now manufactured by a company in Sweden!


    Bokhara2,
    Thank you so much.
    And I have to say that the Pademelon's leap was as funny in person as your mental picture!
    If she could have talked, I think she would have cried out "Ewwww, I touched a human!".

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    Photos
    To see the photos of Tasmania that go with this post and previous ones, go to
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067489@N04/sets

    Chapter 6 - In which we find ourselves wallowing in wallabies.

    In Hobart the clouds finally moved in, but that was perfect timing, because after days of brilliant sunshine, the low clouds gave an atmospheric moodiness to Hobart's harbor area, where we'd be staying. We splurged on a room at the Henry James Art Hotel, a converted jam factory, with loads of character. We were lucky enough to be upgraded from a standard room to a one with a view of the harbor and the boats. The room had old wood beams, some large sandstone walls, and even a fragment of stone block with "US Embassy" lettered on it, taken from…well…the old US Embassy building! The rest of the fittings in the room were modern, high-end and luxurious. And since we only had one night, the location was great, as we could walk around the very historic waterfront. We went out for a nice simple seafood dinner of fresh grilled fish and a salad at Mures, and enjoyed walking around the area.

    Up early again, I went out with my camera as the sun came up and played hide and seek with the clouds. We then went for breakfast at the wonderful Machine Laundry, which actually has coin-operated washers and dryers where one could do their laundry while they ate. C was ecstatic about her Ricotta pancakes with pancetta and I had an excellent Eggs Benedict. We had initially sat inside, but look, the sun has come out again! So we moved to a table outside, and enjoyed the perfect weather.

    We would have loved to spend more time in Hobart, but it was not to be this trip. We'll save that for next time. So we headed toward the Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast. We stopped in Sorell to buy some provisions at Woolworth's. Then after stopping several times whenever the view enticed, we arrived at the Edge of the Bay Resort in Coles Bay. We'd reserved a room with sliding glass doors out to a deck with a great view of the peaks across the water called the Hazards. But amazingly, the view from the bed was almost as good. We used the kitchen in our room to make breakfasts and ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, "The Edge", which we thought was quite good. The prices were higher than we would have been prepared to spend, but we were given guest discounts.

    By the way, we were told that the multiple stone peaks called "The Hazards" are not so named because of any danger posed, but because of a local whaler, Captain Richard Hazard.

    It turned out we were staying in Wallaby Central. And as with the kangaroos in Victoria, it seemed this was their time of the year for motherhood, as so many had joeys in their pouches. We learned to identify individual wallabies that came to visit us by their markings. And visit us they did, going so far as to come up on our deck and peer in at us through the glass doors! It was a veritable Wallaby Aquarium, and I wasn't sure if it was them on display, or us! At one point, there were actually 4 wallabies on our deck. Actually, 6, if you count the 2 joeys in their mother's pouches!

    One morning, C even fed one momma through the sliding door as I took pictures. We'd done research before we left, and knew the dangers for them of feeding them "people food". But everything I read stated that vegetables and fruit were OK in small quantities. So we fed them cut up chunks of apple and carrot, and only small amounts at that, as we didn't want them to start viewing humans as food ATMs. We did see that after being given a little treat from us that they'd return to nibbling on bushes, which we were happy about.

    The room was nice and comfortable, and the location is superb. But I have to say that the wifi situation was bizarre. Instead of being available in our room, or even the lobby, we had to walk in the dark (which in such an isolated location was very dark) to what we started calling the Wifi Hut, a tiny, cold, free-standing shed with a single glass wall. When we got there, it was already occupied by 5 boys about 9 years old, and a girl about 15, all looking down concentrating intently at their various hand held devices, their faces glowing blue-white. There was no room to sit, so everybody stood, like commuters in a crowded bus. Even when we went back after they'd gone, there was still hardly enough room for 2 adults. We could sit, but our legs bumped whenever we changed positions!

    On the plus side, we did appreciate reasonably priced laundry facilities, of which we by then had great need!

    We knew C wouldn't be able to go to Wineglass Bay due to the hike involved, but we loved the Cape Tourville lighthouse walk, which wound along cliffs high above the sparkling water, with glimpses of Wineglass Bay too. Something about he look of the sea and light and foliage and landscape reminded us of places we've been on the Amalfi Coast, in Southern Italy. We also thought the Friendly Beaches were quite beautiful, with dazzling white sands and turquoise sea which quickly turned to Ultramarine Blue in the deeper water. And we were again blessed with sun and blue skies and mild temperatures.

    After a couple of days we continued on north, stopping for lunch at a casual restaurant by the water in St Helen’s called The Paddle Wheeler.
    Correction - IN the water, as it was on a small ship.
    We enjoyed fresh and well-prepared shrimp and oysters, and after we'd finished, I couldn't resist ordering some grilled scallops, as some of the seafood was available "by the piece", which I thought was great.

    Then on to the Bay of Fires and the Gardens. I'd heard they were pretty, but was unprepared for how beautiful they were. We were surprised at how tropical the beaches looked. Under the bright sun and blue skies, the gin-clear water quickly turned a vivid turquoise as it got deeper, and then inky blue further out. The sand was dazzling white, and the rounded rock formations are famous for having red areas from a lichen growing on them. They were so sculptural, and you can walk in and out between them, with pools of the clear water forming pools throughout. I'd love to have been there when it would be possible to swim, but the temperatures were still quite mild, so we still felt very lucky! Again, we'd love to have had more time in this area. Although one particular rock formation did seem to have a poor attitude and made me feel a bit unwelcome there. It appeared to be "giving me the finger". Check out the photo and see if you agree.

    As we started back down the coast on the way to Launceston, we stopped to watch a group of pelicans standing by the water's edge. They were striking, but it wasn't until I blew up the photos I took that I realized how oddly cartoonish their faces are. They don't look real at all. They truly look like characters out of a Pixar movie! If you follow the link to the photos, be sure to make the photos of them large, as they are a hoot!

    The drive to Launceston was longer than expected, and we were tired when we arrived at nightfall. We were staying the night at Peppers Seaport Hotel, and basically just crashed there. Which is a shame, because we were given an upgrade to a suite with a big living room and a huge full kitchen, none of which we had no time to use, but we appreciated the nice gesture from the management.

    In the morning we arrived at the airport early, and waited in the small airport lounge. I watched uneasily as the wind kept increasing in strength. Over a loudspeaker comes a Jet Airways announcement warning that passengers walking outside to their plane "should use caution due to the extreme winds". I watched a woman outside lose her hat, and nearly her footing. I sat and wished silently that I'd booked us on a jet out of Hobart, instead of a little prop plane. I look out the window and it is getting ridiculous - the metal light posts outside are quivering now from the strong winds. Finally it was time to board the Dash 8 prop plane, and as I walked outside toward it, a sudden more powerful blast of wind blew my broken glasses right off my face. Luckily I have good reflexes, and my hand shot out catching them as they became airborne.

    The takeoff was a bit bouncy, but it was the landing I was concerned about. At that point the engines would be at low power, and there would be no room for error as we came in over the runway. The captain announces that it is going to be a rough landing. As we approached the airport, I made the mistake of looking at the ground, and saw the trees being whipped about. The small plane was buffeted from the gusts, but maintained a fairly good approach, only dropping suddenly a few times, and then I saw the concrete of the runway and felt the wheels touch ground.

    As I walked to pick up the luggage we'd stored at the airport hotel, I was still amazed at how windy it was here in Melbourne. Some people were having some difficulty just walking. I was happy to be back on terra firma, but we'd soon be in the air again, as in a couple of hours we'd be on a Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur.

    (since we'll be moving on to Bali, this trip report will be continued in the Asia Forum)

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    Songdoc, Thanks, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
    I'm thinking "Wombat Headbutt" kinda sounds like the name of a band...

    tripplanner001, Looking forward to seeing you there!

    Melnq8, Your feedback made this a pleasure!

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    Fabulous photos and great report! I absolutely love the shots of the wallabies- they are pretty funny to look at!

    I'm looking forward to the rest- were planning a trip to Indonesia next year, so am eager to see what you say about Bali.

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    annhig, that is very nice of you to say. I hope you'll continue reading in the Asia Forum!

    And I think Tasmania is under-rated. Which makes it great for those of us who go, because it is still not crowded with tourists!

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