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Trip Report - Australia/New Zealand/Bora Bora in 30 days from August 18 - September 18, 2008

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Sep 30th, 2008, 01:13 PM
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Trip Report - Australia/New Zealand/Bora Bora in 30 days from August 18 - September 18, 2008

At the outset, let me say that the Aussies and Kiwis bent over backwards to make our journey the best it could possibly be. This included accommodating hosts at B&Bs, tips on where the locals eat, and the best way to travel from one spot to the next. Our criteria are seeing wildlife, scenery, and eating where the locals eat. We are not into history or museums on a regular basis.

I looked at several websites but I received the most help from the Trip Advisor, Fodor’s guidebooks, and this forum.

If you don’t mind eating and staying at places as you go, you could have easily done that as this was “low season.” The following is our itinerary and my reflections on each day:

Monday, August 18th
Left LAX on Qantas Airways.

Tuesday, August 19th
In flight

Wednesday, August 20th
At the airport, we purchased a cell phone from Vodaphone with an Australia SIM card. We stayed at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay. One small hassle was we had to get our own shuttle to and from the hotel. I paid additional money for a deluxe room overlooking the Sydney Opera House which was a waste of money since the view wasn’t that great (a large apartment building obstructing part of the view of the Sydney Opera House) and we were never there anyway. We did get a couple of nice pictures at sunrise and at night where the apartment building was not obvious but the expense wasn’t worth a couple of pictures.

We sent a quick e-mail from the “early arrival lounge” to tell our family of the new cell phone number and we checked out the shops at Circular Quay. It was not necessary to rent a car as everything is within walking distance. We also checked out the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens where we had a delightful lunch. The trees were amazing as well as the fruit bats – dozens of them which is a real nuisance to the groundskeepers!

In the afternoon, we took the Captain Cook’s Harbor Cruise which was another waste of money because we had a hard time understanding the narrator. The temperatures were in the low 70’s and generally quite cold. Someone told us that Sydney had the coldest winter in 64 years. We ate at Selah where we had spatchcock, wine, and ravioli and were in bed by 8:00 PM!

Thursday, August 21st
We awoke at 4:00 AM and my wife took some great pictures of the sunrise while I was checking my e-mail in the lobby! We walked to Woolworths (a grocery store) at the City Center where we bought some snacks. We looked at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Queen Victoria Building, and the Sydney Town Hall in the Sydney City Center. We walked back to the Rocks area and had breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks where the waitress was very engaging.

We did the Essentials Tour of the Opera House which was one our highlights of our stay in Sydney. We bought some souvenirs, had a smoothie, took a nap, and had the theater dinner at Aria which included Hapuka, sirloin, Passion Fruit Souffle, and Petit Fours. We then attended “Don Giovanni” at the Opera House which was stunning! We met a nice family from New York and regular opera goers who warned us, upon hearing of our plans to go to Tasmania, “Antarctica has moved into Tasmania.” I had made the Opera House reservation very early but there were some seats available that day as well as other venues.

Friday, August 22nd
This morning, we were greeted by cold and rainy weather. Someone at the hotel said he was there for 2 weeks and this was the worst day so far. We had breakfast at the Market Place where we noticed the day before a sea of people eating lunch at the various venues. We picked up some postcards and did some preliminary packing. We had soup and salad at Swagmans in the Rocks before starting the Twilight Bridge Climb where the weather broke just before we left. The climb was very organized, wasn’t very tough, had appropriate clothing, and met some great people including one person who was scared to death. The city lights were cool and the sights were amazing despite a very cold wind. City Extra provided us with dinner.

Saturday, August 23rd
We had a light breakfast at Rossini at Quay, took one more walk around the Rocks and under the bridge before leaving for the airport. We departed Sydney on Qantus Airways to fly to Cairns. It occurred to me at the Cairns airport “What if they lost my bags?” as happened to two people (including a serious diver). We never ran into lost bags or postponed flights. Australia and New Zealand do not appear to have delays and/or lost bags as we have in the US. We checked into Lilybank B& B hosted by Mike and Pat Woolford. Pat was constantly referred to in this forum with good reason. Everything we did for the next 4 days were with her suggestions. They made us feel right at home right away. They even let us leave our bags while we took some overnights in the area.

At the last minute, we called Sugarland Rentals and changed days for rental. Despite the written rules re: late cancellations, they said “No problem” after I mentioned Pat’s name! We ate dinner at the Siam, a new Thai restaurant, and just 3-4 blocks from Pat’s place. The presentation was the entire fish and it was great!

Sunday, August 24th
We did the Lizard Island daytrip with Daintree Air with 7 other people – 3 Germans, 2 from Melbourne, and 2 from Brisbane. Our pilot, Greg Letondeur, landed the plane in a 40 knot wind like a feather. Two other planes couldn’t land and two other planes that did land had mechanical problems – one was leaking hydraulic fluid! In addition to the wind, it was very overcast and rainy at times. We saw the coastline going up but very little of the Great Barrier Reef coming back due to low cloud cover. The snorkeling was OK – saw a white stingray for the first time but the water was quite cold. We had some interesting hikes and Greg was a hoot!

He could not fly us to Cow Bay air strip as they shortened the runway by 300 meters and this plane, with 9 of us, was too big to land there so he arranged for a bus to drive us to Daintree which turned out to be OK. The rainforest has a certain mystique at night and we got to experience a ferry, nonstop conversation with the driver, and even a random breath test by the local police!

Alison from the Exotic Fruit Farm met us at the air strip and even made a late dinner reservation at a local restaurant called Whet. They literally kept the restaurant open for us and we thought that the food here was as good as any place we ate. This evening we had berunmundi salad, white wine, and dessert which were wonderful. We met the young owners who had a vision for this restaurant in the rainforest and made it happen!

The Exotic Fruit Farm ranks as our favorite place out of the 13 places we stayed. Alison and Digby are so unassuming, have a great story to tell, very accommodating, and the cottages were modern and took full advantage of the surroundings. They are also very environmentally conscious. Here, in the heart of the rainforest, they have put in 12 solar panels! The forest is such an auditory experience that we could sleep and eat outside under a protected porch and enjoy the rainforest to the fullest extent. Tonight alone it rained 2-3 times and it was great to listen and smell the rain! Alison and Digby have purposely limited their cottages to two so early reservations are a must.

Monday, August 25th
This morning we sit in the porch waiting for our banana pancakes to be brought to us and it pours again! We didn’t mind sitting in the veranda watching and hearing the rain while Digby brings us our breakfast in his poncho. Since the main theme is fruit, he takes the time to explain what fruits are being served. Later, he took us to Emmagen Creek where we walked for a couple of hours in the forest as well as the beach. I even swam in the creek! One of the more interesting parts of the forest is the hooked vine named Lawyer Cane! The uniqueness of this area is that two World Heritage Sites literally meet! We literally walked out of the forest onto a beach which is part of the Great Barrier Reef. Later, we took a self guided walk near the Exotic Fruit Farm.

At 2:00 PM, about 30 of us attended the daily fruit tasting. We sampled West Indian Lime, Breadfruit, Pommelo, Pitanga, Black Sapote (“chocolate pudding fruit”), Davidson Plum, Purple Star Apple, Yellow Sapote (“bread pudding fruit”), Atemoya, and Guabanana. This was the highlight of the highlight!

We ate a second time at Whet and went on a nocturnal tour with Cooper Wildness Guided Walks at Digby’s recommendation. We saw a few things but the moment I’ll remember the most is when the guide asked us to shut off our “torches” (flashlights) and it was so black that I couldn’t see my wife right next to me! The only thing we could see was a small fluorescent glow from a nearby fungus.

Tuesday, August 26th
Because of the low cloud cover, we were not sure if Greg could fly us out in a smaller plane. He worked with Digby to get us out about an hour later than we had planned. Greg suggested lunch at Mondos in Cairns before setting out in our rented car. We took Highway 52 that had a 17km stretch with over 200 curves to go to the Atherton tablelands to meet Allan Gillanders for a pre-arranged afternoon and nocturnal tour. We saw platypus, turtles, 13 Coppery Brushtail Possums, 1 Common Brushtail Possum (rare in this area), and 4 Green Ringtail Possums. He tried in vain to find a Tree Kangaroo. Although relatively new to guiding, we both liked his calm demeanor and his vast knowledge of the local wildlife. Allan suggested a different way back to Cairns to see some more wildlife. He even suggested Nick’s Swiss Italian Restaurant for dinner between our tours. Be prepared to pay him in cash for his tours.

At Allan’s recommendation, we stayed overnight at the Crater Lakes Rainforest Cottages hosted by John and Jenny Wright. This was one of three places that we stayed that were selling their places because of family issues. The accommodation was average although we didn’t stay there too long. I decided to take a Z-pack (6 days of azithromycin) that I had with me thinking I might have pneumonia because my symptoms were similar to my Galapagos experience in 2007 where a pulmonologist diagnosed pneumonia and prescribed the Z-pack

Wednesday, August 27th
During the night, I developed a chronic cough. The next morning, John was eager to show off his wildlife from the back of his house. He tossed some bread and bananas and we saw our first wallaby. Several beautiful birds came to feed on his feeders and competed with the wallabies for the bread.

We headed for Atherton where we, on an impromptu basis, stopped at a very interesting cemetery just south of Atherton. We were struck about how much different the cemetery was in that everything was above ground and ranged from very old to relatively modern. It was here we spotted some yellow crested cockatoos flying in the trees next to the cemetery. We met a local walking his dog in the mist and, when I complained about the weather, he said, “What do you expect of the tablelands?”

We stopped at the Humpy Nut Farm – a tourist trap to be sure - but nonetheless enjoyable as the owner extolled all of the positive aspects of his business. I must say that the nut samples were quite good and the mango sorbet was excellent! We bought a package of almonds that lasted us the rest of our trip! We also made a brief stop at the Mt. Uncle Distillery where they use bananas as their base and sampled their wine.

Most of our time was spent getting to the Granite Gorge Native Park where we saw different types of parrots, a kingfisher, and rock wallabies. We had a brief lunch at their picnic table before moving along to the weirdest sight of the trip where Grey Kangaroos take residence on a golf course near Mareeba! Since it was overcast, we saw over a 100 kangaroos in the open and we walked to within twenty feet of them. It is so strange to see these beautiful animals with a flagstick in the background!

Kuranda was a place we wanted to spend more time but by the time we got there all the tourist traps were going to close in 30 minutes. So we did a “hurry up offense” in the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary trying to photograph a Ulysses butterfly that I couldn’t capture in the wild at the Exotic Fruit Farm. Equally beautiful was the Cairns Birdwing. We had some quiet time with some wine and cheese in our room at Lilybank before dinner. Pat made a reservation for us at the Garden Restaurant about a block away.

Thursday, August 28th
We spent about 30 minutes at the Flecker Botanical Gardens in Cairns before we left on JetStar for Kangaroo Island with a layover at Adelaide where we had lunch at Billie Chu. The agent at JetStar was the only agent that was not very accommodating on the entire trip. We used the regional airline, REX, to fly to Kangaroo Island. The overhead bins were too small for my camera bag and backpack but they seemed pretty lax about that as well as the weight. Kangaroo Island Wilderness Resort had rented a car where we received a free upgrade to a 4 wheel drive with serious warnings about driving at night due to all the wildlife that dart in front of cars. I hit only one wallaby for which I felt bad but everyone said “Don’t worry about that – they are like your rabbits – and we have a legal kill of these pests every year.”

My biggest shock of the trip was when James Knight, who so faithfully wrote me over several months, had sold the resort in July. It was being managed by a two week management company who knew nothing about the area. Luckily, the accommodations were nice and I knew where to go the next day based on my previous correspondence with James.

Friday, August 29th
One of the risks you take when you book only one day at an area is the weather. But, on this day, we had extraordinarily clear blue skies and no wind to see this magical place. After breakfast, we went to the Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park where they had a free koala walk. We found our first koala about half way into the walk. He was very active for a koala in the daytime and we got some nice pictures and video footage. We also heard a currawong, a raven-like bird, who cries in despair! We met a couple from Scotland and the four of us were the only ones there! We talked them into joining our nocturnal walk that we had pre-arranged at Hanson Bay.

We went to the Flinders Chase Visitor Center and were told that a lot of the local roads to the Snake Lagoon and the Platypus Waterholes Walk were closed due to a serious fire in December (12 – 13 simultaneous lightning strikes that wiped out 97% of the ravine and 65% of Chase Flinders National Park and averaged 85% overall) compounded with recent heavy rains. Because of the fire, 61 out of 2000 koalas were relocated to South Australia. However, Mother Nature’s sights along the beach were still there and off we went for the 20 km ride to reach them. All sights are close to one another which make an easy day of it.

The Remarkable Rocks were, indeed, remarkable – sheer beauty and a lot of good photo ops. Cape Du Couedic was fun watching the fur seals frolic in the ocean and we spent a fair amount of time exploring Admirals Arch enjoying the fur seals, the sheer beauty, and the native birds. We spent a little time at Weirs Cove – a place that not many people visit but it has an interesting history. My wife took a quick “picky” (picture) of the Cape Borda Lightstation

That night was the nocturnal tour at Hanson Bay where we saw wallabies, koalas, a Short Beaked Echidna, Western Grey Kangaroos, a Common Bushtail Possum, parrots, bats, and even Jupiter in a beautiful sky!
RTR1944 is offline  
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Oct 1st, 2008, 08:52 AM
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Thanks for the informative and detailed trip report! You might consider copying & pasting your parts 2 and 3 "replies" to part 1, so you can keep it all together.

Anyway, great details! Thanks again!
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Oct 1st, 2008, 10:23 AM
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Fodor's limits you to 3000 words. Otherwise, I would
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Oct 1st, 2008, 03:16 PM
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You can add the other parts of your trip report as separate replies to this thread, if you like.

It sounds like you had a good time overall. How is your wife feeling now?

Lee Ann
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Oct 2nd, 2008, 10:38 AM
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Thanks - I'll leave it the way it is for now.

My wife is better - thanks for asking. She may seek followup care here in Phoenix - she still has a few problems
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Oct 2nd, 2008, 11:34 PM
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Hi Richard, I have enjoyed your trip reports both here and in the TA section with the photos. My only gripe is that the photo of you cannot be increased in size so that I still cannot put a face to the name.
Sorry I missed you when you were in Tassie and also sorry that you were here for the coldest week for the year.
Anyway hope all is better on the health side of things and hoping that you both continue to get enjoyment from your holiday.
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 12:31 PM
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Hi, Liz

I, too, missed seeing you. You and Pat were HUGE inputs to my trip and I can't thank you enough.

FYI, I did try to eat at Harbor Lights but they were closed
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Oct 4th, 2008, 03:41 PM
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I'll be staying at Lilybank in a couple of weeks Richard so I hope that Pat took some pics of you and your good lady so that I get to see what you really look like. So watch out other guests of Lilybank from October 21st I'll be on some R&R.
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Oct 6th, 2008, 10:35 AM
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She didn't but, if you write me at [email protected], I'll send you a couple
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Oct 13th, 2008, 04:41 PM
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Great report
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