Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (https://www.fodors.com/community/)
-   Australia & the Pacific (https://www.fodors.com/community/australia-and-the-pacific/)
-   -   Trip report, Part 1: land in Sydney (Observatory hotel) , Kangeroo Island, Tasmania, Cairns and Sydney (https://www.fodors.com/community/australia-and-the-pacific/trip-report-part-1-land-in-sydney-observatory-hotel-kangeroo-island-tasmania-cairns-and-sydney-418681/)

SkaiSW Aug 24th, 2008 02:23 PM

Trip report, Part 1: land in Sydney (Observatory hotel) , Kangeroo Island, Tasmania, Cairns and Sydney
 
Ok, Australians. I am an American. You are a nicer, higher quality version of us, but there are some differences.
(1) Your ketchup comes in little easy-to-squeeze packets and you call it “tomato sauce.” [The term tomato sauce in American refers instead to any tomato-based pasta sauce. In the US, ketchup usually comes in jars or large squeeze bottles that sit on the table like salt and pepper. It is served automatically whenever hamburgers and/or fries --- er--- chips -- are ordered. Fast food outlets like McDonalds also provide ketchup in small packets, but these are difficult to open and are almost guaranteed to spill all over us.] Someone will have to tell Heinz about Australian squeeze packets. By the way, Heinz does taste better than your tomato sauce, so if they can put it in those little squeeze packets....
(2) You have two flushers on your toilets; we only have one.
(3) You serve only good coffee drinks (cappuccino, latte) and recognize neither drip coffee makers nor coffee percolators. Your hotels have hot water heaters and press pots so their American guests can make coffee in the room. The press pots in Australia work well and do not break the way ours used to. {We stopped using press pots because they tended to break}.
(4) You can apparently eat whatever you want without getting fat. And don’t tell me that you exercise more, because as far as I can tell your exercise consists of jumping on the free tram.
(5) You have a free tram.

I would like to prefix my report by saying that all hotel staff were nice and friendly. It’s a given.

Sydney
Highlight: Observatory hotel

I am sitting at a redwood desk writing out my thoughts with a pen, something I have not done in more than two decades. On an academician’s salary, I cannot live a life of quiet luxury, but I can steal it for a day, and I have. My hotel has a roaring 20’s decor and looks like it was frequented by the Great Gatsby. My room has curved ceilings and is upholstered in thick multivaried materials. The red, olive and cream drapes line a spectacular full wall view of Sydney’s bay. I see both boats and birds sailing by, and below are rustic-roofed brick tenements. It is very quiet. And – oh my goodness, there is now a full rainbow in my view!
The bed is soft with goose down and the room service coffee is a delicious French roast . I mean to swim in the Observatory’s famous planetarium pool , but I don’t want to leave my room. [A sidenote: The Observatory was the ONLY hotel to provide an American style “pot” of coffee. Everywhere else, I had to order double cappuccinos.]

I did finally go to the pool and spa. The steam in the steam-room was heavily scented with lemongrass.

The Asian influenced food (vegetable curry, rice soup with shrimp and calamari) at the Observatory was perfect. When asked how spicy I wanted it, I replied “American-medium”, and the server nodded as if this were a perfectly reasonable response. My choice of table, one in front of the window by the piano and antique book-shelves, was reserved for me for the duration of my stay. ps –the books were all original editions from the 1800’s, but they were too boring to read.


Kangaroo Island/Glenelg

I need to briefly explain. To get to Kangaroo island, one has to fly through and possibly stay overnight in Adelaide. During an overnight layover, one can stay in Adelaide proper or in Glenelg, a beachfront suburb of Adelaide. I chose the latter. In the morning, I flew to Kangaroo Island where I was picked up for Day 1 of my two day tour. After the first day of the tour, I was to stay at Seascape on Emu Bay. The next day would be Day 2 of my tour after which I would be dropped at the airport. I would then have another overnight layover in Adelaide before flying to Melbourne.

Highlight: Mary-Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile DunMary) and Wallaby footprints.

I went on a two day tour of Kangaroo island. My guide appeared to be a female doppelganger of Paul Hogan. Not only did her slim body frame, blond coloring and facial features match his, but her accent was identical. Turns out she was born and raised on Kangaroo Island. She watched no TV and about the only movie she ever saw was “Crocodile Dundee.” Her parents, she told me, had to crank a generator every morning to make their own electricity.

First, she drove me to a desert with huge sand dunes to look at kangaroo and wallaby footprints. I was soon captivated by some unique plants including one with glittering silver and gold buds. I wondered fleetingly if Australians were pranksters and the plant had been put together with gold and silver foil. The vastness of the landscape, as well as the fact that there were just too many strange plants (and ours were the only human footsteps), argued against this.

I mentioned that I would like to see the animals in addition to their footprints, so Crocodile DunMary took me to KI’s only wildlife park. This was a makeshift park; it looked to me like most of the animals could leave if they wanted to. In fact, when I was taken into an enclosure in which there was a “caged” crocodile, I got out of there fast. I saw several parrots including the crimson rosella. (I had just that morning bought at the Adelaide airport a stuffed animal toy- a crimson rosella). It is bright red with a royal blue wings and tail. I fed and pet about seven female kangaroos and started to take a pictures of a rare great red male kangaroo , when ... (extracted as #2 highlight-see below). Later, that day, Mary-Paul Hogan did take me to a forest where I saw a large kangaroo under a tree. I asked to go to a camera store for a new battery and saw civilization in the form of Cabot Cove Maine (from Murder She Wrote) – sort of. The camera store doubled as a pelican stand, where people came to feed the many pelicans. I live in Florida, but our pelicans are light colored. These pelicans were mostly black and were really cool looking.

Highlight *** (#2): Being mugged by a kangaroo on Kangaroo Island.

At the Kangaroo Island Animal Park, I was taking a picture of a rare great red kangaroo when another 5’2” (my height) kangaroo quickly hopped up to me. “Cool!” thought I, “I’ll get a good closeup.” Next thing I knew it was grabbing my camera and I was getting scratched. I did not want to let go of my camera. The great kangaroo did not want to let go of my camera. I squealed for help, and Mary-Paul Hogan came running. She pulled the kangaroo’s hands off me. The kangaroo laughed, I think.

Highlight: Mandy and Seascape at Emu Bay

The description of Seascape on Emu Bay appeared to be an oxymoron: A five star bed and breakfast. How, I wondered, can a bed and breakfast be five star? It was. Let me explain. First the side facing the bay was almost all glass, and the house was set in gorgeous gardens on the bay. There was no other building in sight. I had a delicious dinner of asparagus, prosciutto and goat cheese salad, fish and risotto (the fish was caught that day) and lemon soufflé’ for dessert. Before we retired for bed, Mandy, the eminently likable proprietor, showed me how to use the espresso machine and told me she would leave a snack in case I woke up in the middle of the night. I did wake up. There was a plate of large dates, tangerines, Swiss cheese, bread and crackers. In the morning I found that in addition to a huge fresh fruit and bread spread, I could order whatever I wanted, for example smoked salmon and eggs. By the way, there were fresh figs, perfect strawberries and giant green crispy grapes that I had never seen before among the fruit.

Highlight: Cold penguins

I had signed up for a night-time penguin tour. After dinner, Mandy drove me to a place where penguins march, sort of a rocky beach along a stream. However, I was very sleepy and the weather felt like a cold hurricane that night. So after we saw one penguin shivering under a rock, I told Mandy I wanted to go back, ignoring her protests that there were many penguins just a little further up the path.

Despite the cold hurricane raging outside when I fell asleep, I awoke the next morning to gorgeous, sunny spring weather. Apparently, this is common-place for Kangaroo Island, where the powers that be apparently select the weather at random twice a day.

Highlight: Sea Lions and Seals

On the second day of the tour, we were joined by Crocodile DunMary’s sidekick, another KI native who looked like Audrey Hepburn in a Crocodile Hunter Cowboy hat (For reasons that will quickly become apparent, I will call her “Sabrina”). She told me that her mother bore an even closer resemblance to Hepburn and would actually be mistaken for the beautiful late actress all the time. There was also a young Italian couple on their honeymoon and a French couple who spoke no English. Turns out our tour guide, “Sabrina,” had spent several years in France studying French and thus acted as translator. (Remember the movie, “Sabrina” anybody?). I did not ask if her husband looked like Humphrey Bogart. I wanted to imagine that he did.

The first stop was to visit the sea-lions. There is a magnificent untouched sandy beach that the sea-lions own. Humans can only go down there only with a tour guide for a few minutes to see the sea-lions. They cannot remove their shoes to wade in the water. There were maybe seven sea lions in close sight, including a mother and baby.

The second stop was to see the fur seals. These resided on a rocky white-water beach with rocky cliffs and waterfalls. There were wall-to-wall seals as far as the eye could see.

Later Crocodile DunMary told us that Australia was upset because the population of sea-lions was declining and no-one knew why. I thought the why was perfectly obvious: there were too many frigging seals!

The next stop was at a Eucalypt forest. Sabrina told us we would get 8 points for sighting a koala, 9 points if it were awake and 10 points if it had a baby. We got 9 points, but only because we were making enough noise to wake – well – a koala. (In case anyone doesn’t know, koalas sleep about 20 out of 24 hours.)

Highlight: The remarkable rocks and the Italian couple

The final stop on the tour was at the remarkable rocks. These are big rocks in weird jagged shapes. You would have to see pictures to understand. There was an attractive Italian couple on their honeymoon. I took a picture of them inside one of the rocks that looked like a giant hatching egg. (You would have to see pictures to understand.) They tried to take a picture of me inside the rock–egg, but I was too fat and almost got stuck.

She was a lawyer and he was a banker. They wanted to improve their English. We talked about American politics (“Yes, Barack Obama has a very good chance of winning,” and “Yes Jeb Bush is as much an idiot as his brother” ), and the stock market. After talking to them, and others, I understand that Americans really are the only people in the world who day-trade on their computers. Nice to be unique in some way.

Highlight: The Europa Cafe in Glenelg

On my way back from Kangaroo Island, I ate at a wonderful restaurant in Glenelg, called Europa. I only ordered spaghetti with chicken and herb meatballs and a strawberry hot fudge sundae with hazelnut gelato, but for some reason, the food really tasted good. The service was also excellent. I can’t explain why, but this may have been my favorite meal of the trip. Glendelg is a pretty cool beachfront town with a casino and a long street of shops and restaurants that stay open late. Since some groceries in Glendelg in walking distance of my hotel are open 24 hours, and it is actually closer to the Adelaide airport than Adelaide, it was good choice for me.

Lowlight: Slippery-tub Pier Plaza. The hotel in Glenelg was a two star affair that, while comfortable, looked like a college dormitory. They had, however, a Jacuzzi tub. The tub had no handles and was very slippery, as if it had been waxed. I had a difficult time getting in without slipping and sliding and told myself I shouldn’t get in --- but –but -- it was a Jacuzzi!!!. No sooner had I got both legs in when I took a heck of a fall. I was unhurt except for some bruises. I complained, and hopefully management has now addressed this problem.

When I later called down for a bell-person ---er --- porter, reception reminded me they didn’t have that service but I was welcome to barrow the trolley from the lobby if nobody else had it out. I said to them, “ I have an inordinate amount of luggage and I’m all banged up from your tub. If you don’t want me to come down and make a scene, I suggest you send someone up.” They did.

Next I flew to Melbourne.

SkaiSW Aug 24th, 2008 03:19 PM

Part 2. (sorry for misspelling kangaroo)
Next I flew to Melbourne.

Melbourne

Highlight: Hotel Windsor, the National Galleries and Dracula Cabaret

The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne is a five-star hotel and my room was only $50. more than I paid at the 2-star Oak Pier Plaza in Glenelg. The price also included breakfast. Given what I had for breakfast (smoked salmon, fruit, eggs benedict with spinach), I think the two hotels cost about the same. Food for thought – huh? Rooms are small but very pretty, and I didn’t slip in the tub.

I got in about 2:30 pm, and took a cab to the National gallery of Victoria. It is a major masterpiece art museum. What I remember most was looking at the sculptures and thinking that Rodan (sp?) really deserved his reputation, as his sculptures were miles – er – kilometers better than anyone else’s.

I walked north parallel to the tram, stopping at Ian Potter to take some photos of Aboriginal art. I continued walking nine whole blocks to Dracula’s Cabaret with everyone along the way in Melbourne asking me why I didn’t hop on the tram. At Draculas, the ghost ride into the theatre was fun, and the food (mushroom quiche. lamb with couscous) and show were good – no complaints, but I didn’t find it really memorable. The show had mild risqué humor. [Asked of an audience member: “Do you know what sexual position results in the ugliest offspring? -- Ask your mother.”] I guess it was a somewhat above average dinner theatre experience. My poor hearing may have had a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm; I probably missed about 60% the dialog.

Highlight (next day in Melbourne) : Pauline and coffee at the Melbourne stock exchange

Pauline Campbell has a walking tour business in Melbourne. She does not bear a close resemblance to any actress and has no obvious eccentricities. However, she is a wonderful tour guide. Since I had such a limited time in Melbourne, I asked her for a customized tour. I told her I was a stock market junkie and wanted to stop at a good bakery. She took me to eat at a bakery inside the Melbourne stock exchange. The stock exchange didn’t have people jumping up and down with orders. Instead it had several large screen TVs tuned to Bloomberg-Australia, and people sitting in leather lounge chairs watching these screens. Pauline then took me to the old ANZ building which boasts castle-like architecture and stain glass windows. She also took me on a tour of Melbourne’s impressive murals and eatery alleyways. I really enjoyed the tour.

Next was Hobart.

Hobart

Highlight ***(#5) : The Henry Jones Hotel, its Staff and the Farmer’s market.

My very large room called an “Oriental Suite” had one stone wall and one brick wall. It had a humongous overfill tub that sat in front of a window overlooking the Wharf. The tub acted like a Jacuzzi if you filled it high enough and let it overflow (it was a tub inside another tub to catch the overflow). It took me three days to develop the belief that it would work and find the patience to fill it all the way --- and then success! I literally floated on top of the massaging tub, and watched the people and boats below. I had a straight view of Mures, the emerald green restaurant where Fodor’s own LizzyF and others told me not to go. So I didn’t. Although --- now they sell tempting ice-cream too.

I noted the shower also had two spouts, so you could rinse both underarms at once, I guess.

My timing throughout my trip could not have been better. I had arrived in Hobart Friday evening and my Saturday tour did not start until 11:00 am. This gave me time to go to the Saturday Market, a landmark in Hobart that only happens on Saturday. To Americans this is a fairly large outdoor flea market. At the flea market, I bought a glass necklace. I do not generally like glass necklaces because they look tacky, but this one artist who was there really made beautiful ones. I also bought greeting cards with pictures of a crimson rosella on the front, and some quince paste (for non-Australians: a jell made from apple-pears that you eat with cheese. About a week later, I would be served some at Est with my cheese platter.) Finally, I was hungry and bought some poppy-seed bread that I started taking bites out of. This was not like poppy seed muffins but was the thick puree of poppy seeds interspersed with dough. They sell this in NYC, and my mother used to love it. I haven’t seen it elsewhere in the US. Little did I know how much sustenance that poppy seed bread would end up providing when I went to Port Douglas! (You’ll have to read on).
While munching on the poppy seed bread and with limited time left before my tour, I stopped at Harbor Lights Cafe’ and ordered a Cappuccino and a scallop pie. I tried to leave a note for Fodor’s LizzyF to let her (him?) know I had been there on her advice, but they did not know who that was. They suggested there was a gentleman with that name. LizzyF, what is your gender?

I need to tell you about the staff at the Henry Jones. What matters is the late evening staff, because that’s when I am loitering in the lobby. There is Andrew at reception and his cousin Vimel who manages the restaurant. Both have perpetual sincere ear-to-ear smiles, and one wonders what mischief they might be up to. There is a Christopher, the concierge with movie star looks, who does not seem conceited but (I was told) felt left out when I took a picture of Andrew and Vimel. To let you know what I had to put up with (tongue in cheek), I entered the restaurant to get some desert and Vimel asked if I wanted some mocha mousse. “No,” I said. I wanted to try their palate cleansers, champagne and red curry sorbet—for dessert. They were very good, but when I had finished, Vimel still wanted to know if I wanted some Mocha mousse. “No,” I said. He said he would bring me some. It was unbelievably delicious.
A day later, I went down to the lobby and complained to Andrew that I was having trouble regulating the temperature in my room, because 23 oC was too hot and 21 was too cold and 22 was an unlucky number. He hesitated only a few seconds before taking me in to see the spa director, who explained that I must be mistaken because in Oriental culture, 22, along with 11 and 33, is one of the three luckiest numbers in the Universe. She then gave me a smooth rock that she said stood for protection. Meanwhile Andrew had figured out that 22 oC was really 71.6 oF, so he wrote 71.6 oF on a card to be placed on top of the 22. Now that quick solution should be featured on Hotel Babylon – don’t you think?

I also want to mention the older beautician at the Henry Jones who gave me a facial, because it gave me something else to think about. She was born in Eastern Europe, escaped to Israel, migrated to France and then moved to Australia. I mentioned this to a cab driver, saying that there was a word for someone like that: American. In a hurt tone, he said that this was an Australian as well. I guess we should leave you our Statue of Liberty in our will, if we haven’t already.

Highlight: Purple Heather
The first day I saw my tour guide, owner of Let’s Show You Tasmania tours, www.showyoutasmania.com.au she was wearing a purple scarf and matching purple lipstick. The second day I saw her, she was wearing a Tasmanian (think Sherlock Holmes) purple overcoat that she told me was custom made for her. She also showed me her butterfly tattoo that she had bought herself for her 60th birthday. Guess what color it was?
We stopped at some point at a bakery in Geeveston, where I had a beef and bacon pie, half a chicken and Brie pie and some raspberry sugar cookies, while I looked out at the mural of a bear painted on front of a local hotel (Bear Hotel – I guess). Purple H, as her Asian tourists affectionately call her, because they cannot pronounce “Heather,” remarked that I reminded her a great deal of her four year old granddaughter and what was my sun-sign? It turns out that not only were her granddaughter and I the same sign, but we were born on the same day – when she would 5 and I would be 50. It was decided that her granddaughter and I would email each other on our birthday.
I went with Purple-H on tours for three days in a row. Day 1 was the full Convict experience (Port Arthur); Day 2 was the Air-Tecune walk and Day 3 – well she wanted to take me to Mt. Wellington, but I am scared of inclines, and besides I needed to see some Tasmanian Devils – right?

Highlight ***(#3): Port Arthur (day tour from Hobart)

The day tour of Port Arthur included a boat trip out to the Isle of the Dead followed by a walking tour of Port Arthur itself. Rumored to be the most haunted place in the world, Port Arthur is a place with spectacularly gorgeous views that was home to a brutal convict colony. Many of the original buildings still stand, at least in part, and we were told of the brutal physical and mental torture that took place within them just 150 years ago. The combination of extraordinary beauty and extraordinary evil made my hair stand on end (and I suspect most others had the same response). In addition to the prisons, one could walk through the houses where the officers resided, the church that played its role in the sadistic torture, and a very eerie looking large rectangular botanical garden that I did not want to be in. .
The only neutral place at Port Arthur was the newly built tourist center where dinner was served before the brave, myself included, could embark on a ghost tour. I thought the highlight of the ghost tour was the “dissectitude,” a basement of one of the officers homes where... ok, I’m scaring myself too much. Because Port Arthur was such a memorable experience, I ended up making it my number 3 highlight, barely trumping the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll think I’ll have stronger memories of that church and garden than I will of the coral walls or my Chippendales guide (guess you’ll have to keep on reading).

A sidenote (coincidence or fib?): One of the more minor ghost stories we heard on the ghost tour involved a 12 yo girl who wore her hair in a ponytail. One day, near Port Arthur, she screamed and witnesses saw her head snapped back. She said someone had yanked her ponytail. There was no-one behind her. Almost a week later in Sydney, a cab driver, after hearing I’d been to Port Arthur, told me that many years ago when his daughter was young, her ponytail was pulled by a ghost. She had screamed, and while he did not see it, bystanders saw her head yanked back. She had been very upset by the incident. I asked if he was kidding and he said it was the truth. So was he coincidentally the father of the girl in the story? Was he repeating what he had heard, or do ghosts have a habit of yanking ponytails?

Highlight: Apple factory

On Day 2, on the way to the Forest, we stopped for an apple tour. At one time Tasmania was the largest producer of apples in the world, but it took three men to work the apple corer and there was an apple fungus blight --- I think --- I don’t know. I was too busy eating apples.

Highlight: Forest and Tecune Air walk and swing bridges
At the state park, which is a beautiful forest, we went on the airwalk, which is a metal walkway built high up, and one looks down at the trees and streams. After this, we went across two swing bridges over the river. These are made of metal with 4 foot walls, but they swing (and I prayed).

Highlight: Cadbury cherry-chocolate crunch, Tasmanian Devils and Aboriginal art

On Day 3. Purple H was originally going to take me to the top of Mt. Wellington, apparently the most spectacular lookout in Tasmania, but I could never see what keeps cars from doing summersaults down steep inclines. I opted instead to go to Cadbury, where I had a delicious hot chocolate made with milk and dark chocolate shavings. I drank it while watching cartoons on a TV screen embedded in a purple Cadbury truck. I bought some dark chocolate with cherries for the office. I was told this variety is not sold outside Australia. Next stop was Banorong Wildlife park, also called Devil Zoo, because it raises Tasmanian Devils. Now, for non-Australians, a Devil is shaped like a small pig but has a pointed nose. It has a big mouth that drops open like the Christmas Nutcracker’s mouth and is bright red when open. It supposedly makes a terrifying shriek, but it didn’t sound bad to me, probably because I am hard of hearing.
Devil’s Park was also home to a giant koala. It was 3 times the size of an average koala, and for people who don’t believe me, I have pictures with it.
On this last day, Purple H also bought me a small platypus knickknack, and at my request took me shopping in Hobart City for some moderately priced opal jewelry (Who knew Hobart was a real city? I thought it was a Wharf!). She also stayed with me while I went shopping at the Aboriginal Art store within the Henry Jones complex and helped me pick out some things.

Highlight: Ball and Chain Restaurant

I walked to the Ball and Chain Restaurant. The dishes on the salad bar included unbelievably delicious sesame udon noodles and curried cabbage and fried rice with miniature vegetables. The oysters-casino were a little salty for my taste, but the very tender steak was among the best I ever had.
But then all hell broke loose. When I asked the server to wrap up the remainder of my steak. she said she couldn’t because they had not a “takeaway license.” After determining that she was not teasing me, I promptly threw a temper tantrum. “I’m not even Australian – why should I be subjected to this?” Whereupon they packed my leftover steak. I was told several times that this regulation was passed because of a lawsuit. Someone had left their leftovers in their car overnight and later sued when they got sick – and won. But I’m here to tell you the story makes no sense. Either you are missing a critical part of the story, like the customer got sick from a very rare germ that one of the Chefs was carrying, and other customers also got sick; or the judge was high and needs to be recalled. It seems I have a much better case for a lawsuit if you withhold the steak I paid for than for getting sick on food that has no chain of custody. All that aside, the Ball and Chain really is an excellent restaurant.
I need to mention that I did also have an opportunity to eat at Fish Frenzy. The fish and chips were excellent as expected. However, they could be ever so slightly improved with some Heinz ketchup.

Next I flew to Cairns.

SkaiSW Aug 24th, 2008 03:22 PM

Part 3
Cairns/ Port Douglas
Port Douglas

Lowlight: Thala Beach

I walked into Thala Beach resort at about 6:00 pm with a craving for Italian seafood. I found the hostess who greeted me at the door to be oddly pushy. She said I would sit down with some juice in the lobby before they took me to my room, and that I would have dinner in their restaurant that evening. I said I wanted Italian seafood. She showed me their menu. It not only didn’t have Italian seafood, it was the most bizarre menu I’ve ever seen in a fine dining establishment. (Later I found there was another couple who had had the same reaction). It was written in a very large font and went on for many pages in haphazard order like this:
Potato leek soup
Leg of lamb
Seafood ravioli
Duck salad
Shrimp tempura
Etc.
Etc.
Etc. (for six pages)

I had no idea how to order from this menu and decided I had better eat elsewhere. To my hostess’s obvious display of disappointment, another staff member suggested I eat at Sassi’s, an Italian restaurant in the nearby new resort called Bale’ about 3 miles away. I agreed.

The hostess then explained to me that a complementary shuttle could drop me off at 7 pm, but since there would be no return shuttle until after 10:00 pm, I should take a cab back. Something in her innocent look made be ask how much a taxi cost. “$45.,” she said. (It turns out the taxis charge Port Douglas resort customers a fortune because they have to come from Cairns.) At that point, I decided on two things – to wait for the return complementary shuttle, and to keep my distance from the hostess.

I need to explain this shuttle service. Thala Beach advertises complementary shuttle service, but does not have its own shuttle. They pay an existing shuttle company to come to Thala Beach once every three hours from about 11:00 am to 10:00 pm.

There was no room service and the restaurant also had very limited hours. For example, dinner was served from 6:30pm- 9:30pm. Though I told them I was hungry at 5:30pm, there was no food offered to me other than extremely expensive (about $75+.) picnic baskets. I heard that several other guests were offered a sandwich. They did not offer me a sandwich but instead acted like I was trouble.

My tours left too early for me to get breakfast, so each morning I made due with press pot of coffee, oranges I had picked up the night before and left-over poppy seed bread I had brought with me from Hobart.

A synopsis of my four dinners during my stay at Thala Beach is as follows:

Evening 1: Ate at Sassi’s at a competing resort. Waited an hour and a half for a ride back.
Evening 2: Ate at Zeus in Port Douglas. Waited an hour and a half for a ride back.
Evening 3: Needed a nap during their limited dinner hours before the star gazing, and missed dinner altogether. Had it not been for the leftover Greek custard from Zeus the night before, I’d have really gone to bed hungry. I was pretty upset .
Evening 4: Finally ate at Thala Beach, but I’ll tell you how...

The forest bungalow was plain but fine with me. It had a large porch with patio furniture and a beautiful view of mountains.

I found that the hostess had basically neglected to tell me anything important about the resort, like the fact that there was a swimming pool a short way down the path from my room (she told me about the one off the lobby—only because I saw it) and that should I continue down the path, I would come to a gorgeous beach. It was very clear that she was not there to help the customers, but to help the resort make money. But don’t they know --- that never works?

It was not until the last day that I found out about the beach. Having passed the beautiful beach now several times in transit, I asked a driver if it were accessible, and if so, how?. Surprised by my question, he told me access was through my hotel, Thala Beach. (So that’s why this minimal service resort was so expensive!) I got directions to the beach as soon as I got back, but by this time I only had an hour until dusk. It was a long, winding rocky path to walk, and I was afraid I would not be able find or stay on the path back to my room if it got dark. So while it was an incredibly beautiful swimmable beach with clean sand, gentle waves and magnificent views, I could only stay for about a half hour. I wished at that point that I were staying a couple more days at Thala Beach as I had finally figured out how it all worked.

I need to mention that during my somewhat arduous stay there, a receptionist/porter type person did go out of his way to help. (I’ll call him Porter, since I don’t want to use real names here). I had signed up for “star-gazing,” at Thala Beach which was supposed to be a beginning astronomy lesson. However, the guide literally ran down to the meeting point with about 20 students running after her. I decided I couldn’t keep up with her, and wouldn’t be able to hear anything she said anyway. I turned back Porter came round in a cart and asked why I turned back. I told him why and then proceeded to tell him everything else that was wrong with life. He drove me back to the stargazing experience, where they were now looking at Jupiter’s moons through a telescope. He also came back later to pick me up, but as would be expected, all 20 customers wanted a ride back and he only had three seats. I guess he had to go back several times. .

I had another run-in with the star-gazing guide, who doubled as a receptionist. The time that I was hungry at 5:30 pm and there was no food to be had, she actually yelled at me. “What more do you want?” she said. “We are open three full hours for dinner. We offer three varieties of picnic baskets, and we even offer a complementary shuttle to Port Douglas for dinner!” I wanted to retort that this was not a college dormitory but an exclusive resort. Simply put, I wanted food at 5:30 pm without having to buy a wicker basket for more than $75.

That said, my stay there did end on a happy note. The forth night I did sit down in their restaurant. I looked at the menu and determined I had not been imagining it. I watched the confused couple at the next table scratching their head as they turned the pages. When the waitress came, I told her, “I want to spend $70. Have the Chef bring me his best food for $70.” A minute later, a very happy energetic Chef with a heavy accent came running out. “What’d you likea? You likea lobster? I makea you a lobster bisque. Anda steak. How bout a pepper steaka –yes? I readily agreed to everything. I don’t know where he was from; my first guess would be South America, but maybe he was Spanish or Italian.

And everything was really delicious. The flavorful lobster bisque contained large chunks of lobster. The buttery pepper-steak was served with potato pancakes and ample grilled vegetables. For desert I was given ice-cream with a locally produced coffee-licorice liquor. It was really good.

Later that night, the hostess called me. She said she would not be there in the morning when I left and it was nice meeting me. She seemed sad. I don’t know if she realized that she messed up, or just felt that I was short with her. Maybe a little of both.

So would I go back to Thala with its gorgeous forest views and pristine private beach? I guess not. The initial pushiness of hostess and her neglecting to give me important information; the fact that I was not offered food when I told them I was hungry, and in fact had to go to bed hungry; the fact that I was given the choice of paying $45. to go 3 miles in a cab or waiting two hours for the next shuttle; and most of all, the fact that I was subjected to the ridiculous defensive stance of the receptionist when I told her I was hungry – all of this gives me the feeling of being abused. From the put-upon faces of other Thala Beach customers, I really don’t think I was alone.

That doesn’t mean others shouldn’t go. If you want a simple cabin in the forest and a secluded gorgeous beach for a couple of days, then go. If Thala won’t make simple amends to fix their problems, then you need to be prepared for them. Look at it as though you are just renting a cabin and not as a resort. Bring your own breakfast and lunch foods with you, and make getting dinner at 6:30pm-8:30pm a top priority. And if you can’t make heads or tails of the menu, then do what I did, and just ask the Chef to bring you food.

Highlight Sassi’s at Bale’

Sassi is an Italian Seafood restaurant in the Bale’ resort in Port Douglas. It is outstanding. For an appetizer, I had parmesan and pesto “mousse,” that was served with pears for dipping. Then I had linguine with seafood (all kinds), and homemade berry ice-cream and fruit in a sugar-cone nest. I also treated myself to some Australian champagne. The dinner was under $100., and I recommend this restaurant to anyone staying in Port Douglas. However, a bungalow at Bale’ runs $1100. as opposed to $450. I was paying at Thala Beach. Yes, Bale’ has room service.

Neutrallight: Port Douglas and Zeus Restaurant, and Highlight: The British couple.

The second night I was at Thala Beach, I took the complementary shuttle to Port Davis. Port Davis looked very similar to a richy area of Tampa FL where I am from. It has several restaurants interspersed with novelty and jewelry stores. I ate at Zeus, a Greek restaurant, and had an eggplant in tomato sauce (Marinara sauce?) appetizer, pasta with lamb in tomato sauce (Marinara sauce? For crying out loud, it you are going to insist on calling ketchup “tomato sauce,” then please tell me, what do you call tomato sauce?). For dessert, I had a Greek custard crepe (I forget the name of this) but I couldn’t finish it and had it packed to go. The food at Zeus was good, but the overall experience was not strong enough to raise to the level of a Highlight.

What was a Highlight was meeting a wonderful British couple, also staying at Thala Beach. They said that Australia and the US looked so similar that when they first got off the plane they wondered if it were the right plane. I did not mention ketchup. They said that because of the US mortgage meltdown, England was in recession on the brink of a depression. I told them Australia and the US were sisters and they were our mother. Great Britain, therefore, was in dire financial straits because of an irresponsible daughter. They agreed. Perhaps they should call Suze Orman. (For Australians who may not know, Suze Orman is an immensely popular financial guru with a phone-in-your-question show on CNBC.)

The Brits said the problem with Thala Beach’s menu was not my imagination, and that they too had hightailed it out to Port Douglas after looking at Thala’s menu. They were in their mid to late 60’s I think, and the husband was in some pain. The long wait for a shuttle was much harder on them than it was on me.

I had booked four tours in Port Douglas/Cairns. These included (1) Snorkeling; (2) Karanda; (3) Balloon ride and (4) Harleys Crocodile farm

Highlight: ***(#4) Wavelength Snorkeling in tandem with guide

Everything about my Wavelength (http://www.wavelength-reef.com.au/) snorkeling tour was extraordinary. There were three tour guides for 20 of us on a small but stable boat. The three good-looking muscular guides each looked like they should try out for the Chippendales. They gave us coffee, tea or hot chocolate and cinnamon muffins as soon as we got on board. I had a mocha which a guide helped me mix; this seemingly inane fact becomes important later in the story.

When the boat arrived at the reef and it came time to put on our wet suits, one of the guides asked each of us if we could swim. Everyone said yes except for yours truly, who said, “Um -define swimming?” I then explained that I was an excellent floater. “I can sit on top of the water and read a book. It’s the way my body fat is deposited,” I bragged.

What a lot of people don’t know is that coral grows until it hits air. The part that hits air then dissolves into white “sand” that builds up the ocean floor. So you end up with walls of coral starting from a fake ocean bottom to the top of the water. You have to be careful not to bump into the coral walls when you are snorkeling.

Not only am I a weak swimmer, but I am uncoordinated. If you this put together with my conviction that I cannot drown, you will note that I am a wonderful candidate for snorkeling in tandem. So that’s what they did. One of these Chippendale-should-bes simply swam around these coral walls taking me with him. Lets just call him “Chip,” short for Chippendale. Wow. Oh Wow. All the other women on the boat were as jealous as can be. To make matters even more extraordinary, I had purchased a water proof camera for the occasion, and it worked!

So we glided through the great coral reef. Corals come in all shades of pink and blue and in emerald green. Chip pointed out the fish that “Finding Nemo” was based on. At one point we chased a turtle that kept looking back at us.
[A side note here: I found out later there was a shark in one of my pictures. At least that’s what it looks like. Maybe it’s my finger. No, it really looks like a shark fin]

Back on the boat I continued to get extra attention. Twice Chip brought a me mug of mocha. The second time it happened, I exclaimed, “I’m in love!” To which the woman sitting next to me replied, “Yeah, how come I didn’t get one of those?” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t referring to the mocha.

Lunch was served on the boat and included roast beef, sliced Tandori chicken, jumbo prawns and several salads.

Finally, to make an amazing trip even more amazing, on our way back, out boat was more or less surrounded by bottle-nose whales. Even I was able to get a half dozen good pictures of them, before my battery died.

I need to come clean and let my audience know that in-tandem snorkeling is a service that Wavelength provides to anyone who needs it. If there are several people who need it, they are taken out in turns. I was just lucky because I was the only one who needed it on that day.

Highlight: Karanda black parrot and sky rail

Had I understood ahead of time that Karanda was really for shopping rather than seeing birds, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. For those of you who do not know, Karanda is a large shopping village – By village I mean a real town as opposed to a something like a Disney village. There you can find every souvenir imaginable. I strongly recommend that would be tourists devise a shopping list for souvenirs and/or Australian goods before heading over to Karanda. Though I myself was unprepared for shopping, I bought a fake opal, called a triplicate. On sight, it is gorgeous and indistinguishable from a real opal, but I can’t get it wet or smack it around. I also bought a sheepskin waist purse. I hesitate to call it a “fanny pack,” which is what most Americans call it, because an Australian photographer told me that in Australian the term “fanny” refers to the lower front of a woman rather than backside of a person.

There are also three attractions there: Koala World, Bird World and Butterfly World. These are not “worlds,” at all, but relatively small circles of koala, birds, and butterflies, respectively that each take about 7-10 minutes to walk through. However while quantity is limited, quality is not. Butterfly World has neon blue butterflies. Bird World has black swans and several parrots including a black parrot, called the Red-tailed black cockatoo.

Highlight (#7) The red-tailed black cockatoo. This is a large black parrot. Repeat: BLACK PARROT. You can’t really see its red tail unless it spreads it. The staff put it on my shoulder, for pictures. It kept trying to shriek in my ear, and was befuddled when I didn’t respond by jumping several feet in the air. LOL – I am deaf in that ear! My boss has a parrot knickknack collection so I bought her a Black Parrot refrigerator magnet. When I gave it to her, she said had not heard of a black parrot before.

Highlight The Skyride (#9).

Transportation between Cairns and Karanda is unique. One can come and go by car, antique train or skyrail. The tour company I booked with, Downunder Tours, decided I would go by train and come back by skyrail. I did not like the train; there were small kids on it; I am scared of small kids. I loved the skyrail. This is like an amusement park skyrail except that you are on it for 45 minutes flying over a magnificent forest. There are two station stops for those who want to hike or take pictures at lookouts. There is a small circular path with marked lookouts surrounding each skyrail stop. Those who stray from the path may need to mark their way back with pebbles. A couple of young men came happily running up – “Is this the way back to the skyrail?” “Yes,” I said. “Thank goodness, “ they said. “We have been walking for hours.” On second thought, it could just be that they were walking from one station to the next. After all, you should be able to look up and see where the skyrail is – right?

Highlight: The balloon ride.

I had never been on a balloon before, partly because they pick you up at 3:30 am. I told myself this time that I wasn’t getting any younger and I better do it. They picked me up at 3:30 am. They said that law required you to be able to climb into the balloon without assistance or you would not be allowed to get in. That worried me. They showed a film of people getting into a balloon. In my sleepy head, I visualized and practiced over and over, “left foot up; right foot up above; left foot over.” Imagine my dismay when I found that the slits in the basket were such that I would have to put my right foot up first! However, I managed without too much trouble, and after graciously accepting my applause, began fiddling with my camera. When I looked up from my camera, I noticed the people on the ground were pretty far way. I had not felt a thing. Apparently you don’t feel anything when you float. There was the guy who put on the fire from time to time to make the balloon keep moving and to warm us up. Other than that we were just floating high above people’s back yards and taking pictures of the sunrise. We saw some dots rapidly zigzagging across the landscape messing up the foliage. These were kangaroos of course.

The tour included breakfast at a ranch type place that looked like Arizona. They had fruit, eggs, bacon and rice (for the many Japanese ballooners) and coffee cake.

Highlight (#8) Hartleys Crocodile farm

Outside of Sydney’s Toronga zoo, Harley’s was my favorite wildlife park. Among its residents was a quoll – a homely and reputably mean carnivorous relative of the opossum, that for reasons I cannot understand, is nicknamed the Australian Cat. There are also the purple headed ostriches whose name escapes me. There are snakes and a snake show. But the primary attraction is the crocodiles and there are approximately a trillion of these. They have fresh water crocodiles and salt water crocodiles. They have the largest crocodile alive on display. They have a boat show, where one sits on a boat and they put chunks of meat out on a pole. They have a land show, where someone is standing a puddle of water while a crocodile slides in. And they pretty much get the Crocs to do the same tricks we get dolphins to do. This was a very memorable experience.

Next I returned to Sydney. I had four nights to spend in Sydney, I spent two of these at the Taj Blue hotel and two at the Establishment hotel.

LizzyF Aug 24th, 2008 05:38 PM

Fabulous trip report - you really should post this to Lonely Planet because it is so comprehensive. Here is a clue to my gender - the name is Elizabeth - not Bruce :0) You didn't say whether you liked the food at Harbour Lights either - I would like to know.
Now on the subject of Tomatoe Sauce and/or Ketchup - well firstly there is no reason why we should not call tomatoe sauce, tomatoe sauce because we are not Asian which is where the name originated - not America. Ketchup-like sauces originated in eastern Asia as a fish sauce, long before anyone outside the ( south/central )Americas had ever seen a tomato. The word "ketchup" comes from the Malay / Indonesian word kichoop or kechap (e.g., kecap manis — Dutch spelling ketjap manis) which itself was derived from the Chinese ke'tsiap ( Cantonese Jyutping: ke4 zap1); the first part of the word, "ket", in Cantonese Chinese means tomato and the second part, "chup", means sauce or juice; combined it means tomato sauce--in this case ketchup as we know it. English and Dutch sailors brought the Asian styled ketchup to Europe, where many flavorings, such as mushrooms, anchovies and nuts, were added to the basic fish sauce. It was not until early 19th Century that tomatoe/ketchup sauce appeared in recipe books in the US. End of you history lesson - Now for your cooking lesson - Marinara sauce: the word marinara means " of the sea " and is Italian and although it does not include, unless you specifically put them in, anything from the sea it does mean that the ingredients "marry" well with sea-food and its taste is very different in its make up from ketchup/tomatoe sauce type sauce. I cannot speak for people who indulge in eating that dreadful food at McDonalds but Australians mainly only use tomatoe sauce from a bottle for things like pies or perhaps on chips ( the hot cooked variety) Marinara and those sorts of sauces are used for pasta dishes.
Glad you enjoyed your trip and hope you will come back again some time.

Toucan2 Aug 24th, 2008 06:09 PM

I'm enjoying your report very much! Carry on(:

Neil_Oz Aug 24th, 2008 06:27 PM

Thanks for that detailed report, SkaiSW. A good guide to where to go, and in one case where not to, in no less than five states.

Being strictly a salt-and-vinegar man when it comes to chips I've never adjusted to the idea of putting bottled tomato sauce (ketchup) on them - this seems against the law of nature, so much so that I'm in favour of making it illegal, along with popcorn in cinemas.

Come to think of it, having on Friday night while on the road between Canberra and Sydney resorted in desperation to a McDonalds chicken burger and chips (or as they call them, "fries"), I'm inclined to ban McDonalds too. The burger was tiny and had a peculiar chemical taste, the bread roll seemed to have been partly made from recycled cotton waste, and the chips were emaciated, threadlike things.

Sorry, rant over.

Actually we call Italian-style tomato sauce, as used in pasta and other dishes, "tomato sauce". I think that calling it "marinara" sauce may be unique to the United States, where to my ear it's pronounced something like "merra-naira".

As Lizzie says, "marinara" means "of the sea", and I'd expect a marinara sauce to contain seafood, usually a mixture of fish chunks, prawns, squid and mussels.

SkaiSW Aug 24th, 2008 07:06 PM

Lizzy, I was only at Harbour Lights for 15 minutes as I had to run to meet my tour. The Capuccino and scallop pie were very good. I am glad I stopped to try it out. I only have about 10% of my trip report left to do, but school has started and I also have a grant to write - so I figured I had better go ahead and post what I had done. I will jump the gun and say that both the Blue and the Establishment are INCREDIBLE hotels. I have been advising people to stay at the Blue recently only because it is less expensive and has a swimming pool. Well I better go get my lecture notes together for tomorrow. I will check in a couple of days.

Saltuarius Aug 24th, 2008 09:56 PM

SkaiSW,
"Among its residents was a quoll – a homely and reputably mean carnivorous relative of the opossum, that for reasons I cannot understand, is nicknamed the Australian Cat. There are also the purple headed ostriches whose name escapes me."

Quolls are truly vicious predators, taking large prey and being able to climb well. The spotted tailed quoll does look a little like an Egyptian depiction of a cat when it sits and stares in its imperious manner. They are only related to the opossum in the same way as we are to elephants! Our Australian possums are not closely related to the American opossums either except that they are marsupials rather than eutherians.

The purple headed ‘ostrich’ was a Cassowary I imagine. Fewer of these birds than Pandas!

There are many black or mostly black parrots. In Australia we have six and a half species which would fit that description.

Thanks for all the lovely compliments despite your having a few difficulties.

Cilla_Tey Aug 25th, 2008 02:08 AM

Love your trip report. Very droll. I must explore this beautiful country of ours more.

foxf1 Aug 25th, 2008 09:22 AM

Hello-Love your reviews. You are a great writer. Will be leaving for Australia in mid-September for 27 nights. Would you mind if I ask you about specifics?
Thanks.

johnathome Aug 25th, 2008 10:08 AM

I'm headed to Australia next week, just love your trip report, well done. I've already taken some notes on American coffee!

Neil_Oz Aug 25th, 2008 03:28 PM

SkaiSW, I just returned to your opening comment and I must agree with Saltuarius that it's certainly a handsome compliment, but rest assured that I've always been treated with what I think was at least equal kindness and generosity in your country.

The coffee issue is worth noting. The post-WW2 boom in immigration from Italy to Australia created a boom in the availability of decent coffee. Until that point Australians were mainly tea-drinkers and unlike Americans their taste in coffee was somewhat unformed. These days, if you can't find an espresso machine in town you'll know you're really in the sticks. North Americans who prefer the weaker drip-filter coffee, though, will have to search harder, as it's much less common.

Immigration patterns have also meant that modern Australian ("mod oz") cuisine now draws heavily on Italian and Southeast Asian influences - sometimes with elements of both in the same dish. Native "bush tucker" ingredients such as lemon myrtle may also be used. To all intents and purposes no distinctive Australian cuisine preceded this, as traditionally we ate fairly standard British meals.

SkaiSW Aug 26th, 2008 08:53 AM

Fox, I'll be very happy to answer any questions if i can
last part
Back in Sydney:

Highlight ***(#6) Billy Elliot.

When I saw Cirque du Suleils LOVE, I told everybody it was the best show ever produced. Now I have to take that back. I did miss most of the dialog in Billy Elliot (my hearing) which was unfortunate as the audience seemed to find it very funny. It was still pretty obvious what was going on, and the singing and dancing was absolutely extraordinary. You just can’t go to Sydney now without trying to get tickets to this amazing show. If it ever comes to the US, I will fly to NYC (or Las Vegas?) to see it.

Highlight: The Blue Hotel

The Asian-Indian owned Taj Blue is a visually striking hotel both outside and in. When you first walk in, you walk up a short stairwell to a long sparkling silver and blue bar, and the walls on both sides are lined with production line equipment that maybe was flattened into a pancake. I can’t describe it better, because I have no idea what I was looking at, but the walls were lined with wheels and chains and gears that looked like something major would happen if you pulled them.

My room had unusual architecture and tall thin silver lamps and was foreign looking. I joked that the only time in Australia that I noticed that I was outside the US was when I was in my room at the Blue. The sign across the street was proof positive: “Show some respect; you are on Indian territory.”

But my two story, 1 and ˝ bath quarters soon became very comfortable. It had a high arched ceiling with skylights. It had big screen TVs in both the living room and upstairs (loft) bedroom. It had a luxurious royal blue bed spread on a goose down bed. I didn’t want to visit; I wanted to live there.

With the exception of room service, which was also the fastest I’ve ever seen (about 10 minutes for oatmeal in the morning), the Blue also had instantaneous service. For example when I asked for directions to the swimming pool, there was someone at my door to escort me to the pool before I had even hung up the phone. He (Chip #2?) came in and helped me find the hotel bathrobe, which he suggested I wear over my bathing-suit, because to get to the pool, you had to go through a small mall. He didn’t even blink when I wanted to stop on the way, in my bathrobe, to look in a Chinese furniture store, even though it turned out to be a restaurant and not a store at all. (Okay, so maybe he blinked, but he recovered quickly).

One more thing. When I got to the pool, there was a fellow filling up the Jacuzzi, and I lamented that I wouldn’t be able to use it. He said it would be available in a five minutes, and I realized he was filling it up with a hot water hose. I don’t think we have hot water hoses in the US, so Jacuzzis take 24 hours to heat up. I told him this. He said he needed to take his hot hose to the US to turn some heads.

Neutral-light: Blue Mountain tour.

Just a nice foresty townsy area with picturesque cliffs, and the tour includes a wildlife park on the way. While it was the first time I saw a Wombat and Echidnas, this wildlife park paled in comparison to Sydney’s Taronga zoo, where you could actually pet an Echidna. The only monotreme relative of the platypus, the absolutely adorable Echidna has a duck-bill and fur that stands on end to masquerade as porcupine quills. It eats bugs and things from the ground rather than through water like its platypus cousin.

There was a tour option that had to be booked in advanced to go hiking for two hours, rather than just stop at lookouts. (This would partly coincide with lunch for the rest of the guests, but they would give you packed lunches.) However I was traveling alone, and I draw the line at walking through forest alone. I guess I am recommending that people taking the tour go hiking. People who don’t take tour but drive themselves, should (1) eat at a bakery in town; (2) find out where the lookouts are and (3) go hiking. With few exceptions (see below) I have ESP when it comes to restaurants and can tell you without ever being there that the bakery in the Blue Mountains is excellent.

Lowlight: Aki’s Indian restaurant.

I did not care for Aki’s crabmeat special appetizer. It was crabmeat served with hollandaise sauce on some kind of brown pasta I hadn’t seen before. Whatever the pasta was, it didn’t go well with the crabmeat. Never mind the fact that most Indians would eat neither crabmeat nor hollandaise. Aki also had beef on their menu, a fact which freaked me out. The butter-chicken, my all time favorite dish, was tender and carefully prepared (ie no skin or grizzle), but the spices were flat and unaromatic, and the dish tasted nowhere near as good as it would in any of four Indian restaurants within a 5 mile (about 9 km) radius of my house in Tampa Florida. The desert was that sweet Indian cheese stuff which name escapes me now, but it was frozen and was kind of gross. They did not offer rice pudding. The Indian restaurants I am used to often have two different kinds of rice pudding, made with almonds or pistachios. Sometimes I will go to an Indian restaurant just for tea and rice pudding. Aki was also very expensive. Oops – language problem: “pudding” in American does NOT usually mean cake. It means a mousse or creamy stuff made with milk.

Apparently, a lot of people do like Aki. The restaurant was crowded, but there was not an Indian customer in sight. In Indian restaurants in the US, 80% of the clientele is Indian. I left very happy, whistling as well as I could, which is hardly at all. I had finally found something that is better in America than Australia! Who knew it would be Indian food?

You can tell me all you want that there are better Indian restaurants than Aki in Sydney. But I would argue that Aki was crowded, and I don’t think it would survive in my hometown. Logic dictates that your other Indian restaurants in Sydney are not strong enough or convenient enough to put Aki out of business, and that therefore we must have better Indian food than you do. Although ... you could argue that you are more advanced - you have created an Indian style hodgepodge restaurant that those who only eat steak and potatoes might enjoy ....

Nah.

(Australians – you need to give me this one. How would you feel if you went to another country that looked just like yours except everything but ketchup was better?)

Highlight: The Establishment hotel

The Establishment is even harder to explain than Blue. It is understated and eye-catching at the same time. The jagged bottom of the building is stone up to about 7 feet, and the top is modern glass and metal. It is decorated minimally in light neutral colors. There is incense burning in the lobby. There is an abstract-artsy type metal waterfall in their breakfast room.

My room was understated (in a tasteful way) but high-tech. The telephone doubled as some kind of room control computer. I know this because the porter checked my room temperature and turned on the (highly efficient) vacuum fan by pressing a button on the telephone. Every light in the room was on a dimmer-switch that could be controlled by switches by the door and probably by telephone. Also if I got up in the middle of the night, I could touch the telephone and it would light up so I could find the bathroom.

The bed was very comfortable and there was a huge flat screen TV. Service was outstanding. At my single request at the front desk, they brought up cappuccino and oranges within 5 minutes after my wakeup call, whenever that was. They escorted me to my room whenever I went up, although this may be because my elevator card wasn’t working right. The receptionist called to determine if I needed help getting to dinner on time and came up to my room to help me put on a necklace.

And most people in Sydney already know this: They leave big delicious chocolate and chocolate-chip cookies on your bed every day.

I had been told by Fodorites that there was no view from rooms in the Establishment, but when I entered my room the first time, I asked the porter to open the shades anyway, expecting to see brick walls. I did not see brick walls. What I saw was amazing: the well-lit fifth floor of a full office in busy mode. You see, outside the Establishment building there is a narrow alleyway, and then the next building, which was almost all glass. There were very busy offices in this glass building. I was told they were offices of a bank. The many personnel there paid me no attention although they had to see me, unless they were in a different dimension. I had brought binoculars, and considered using them to read their computer screens and whatever memos they were frantically running around with, but I was afraid I might be arrested.

Highlight: Est restaurant

Est, a restaurant in the Establishment, is locally famous in Sydney, and is frequented mostly for important anniversaries and birthdays. I opted for a fixed five course meal. I had wonton soup – (they didn’t call it this), pate’, the mini Australian lobster they call a bug, a lamb chop served with veggies, and a large cheese platter with quince paste and of course that plate of homemade mini candies and cookies that such restaurants like to bring, just in case you are not completely full. As expected, the food was excellent and nothing unusual happened.

Highlight ***(#1) : Saw a platypus!!!

Saw a platypus!!! At the Sydney aquarium (and again at Taronga zoo). I first read about the platypus when I was 12 years old. Since then whenever I heard that someone was going to Australia, I asked them to bring me back a platypus knick knack. Seeing a live platypus was fulfilling a lifelong dream. I watched the small adorable platypus swim back and forth for a long time. I found out that the platypus was the first ever protected species, a law dating back to about 1865. I already knew most of the rest. The male platypus has a poison spur on its foot. It cannot be milked like a snake, but one Australian did manage to capture two drops of the poison, whereupon a Japanese scientist hopped on the next plane to Australia to pick up the two drops to analyze. He reported it was not similar to cobra venom as had been previously thought, but was a highly unique substance that was capable of shutting down every system in the human body.

Highlight: the Sydney Opera Tour.

I had booked a combined opera and zoo tour through the Sidney Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House is a highly unique building. It looks like some artist wallpapered a round building with starched ship sails. In addition to the opera, it has a concert hall and a dramatic theatre and smaller rehearsal theatres . The tour inside was a lot of fun. We each got to stand on the opera stage and pretend to conduct while our tour guide took pictures. One of us, a woman from Wisconsin, US, got to sing. The tour guide asked her to sing the star-spangled banner.

Following the Opera House tour, I was placed on a water taxi headed for the zoo.

Highlight: Taronga Zoo

It was a VIP tour at the zoo, and I have previously alluded to watching the platypus as well as being able to pet its cousin the echidna. In retrospect, I don’t know why the platypus is so much more popular than the echidna; they are equally unique and equally adorable. However, if I had wanted to collect echidna knick knacks from childhood, I’d have been out of luck. The best I could manage on this trip was a single stuffed animal toy, whereas platypus souvenirs were everywhere.

I was introduced to more cuties: foot long miniature wallabies call ballies. Our group was given the privilege of feeding the ballies. We even watched the Chefs in the kitchen prepare ballie feed which consisted of fruit, vegetables and live maggots. We were told that not only did each species have special food prepared for it, but that the diet was changed regularly so that the animal did not get bored. I asked the guide then, “If I were living in a cage here, would you bring me food from Est every day?”

Highlight: Rocks Pub Tour and Photography

I took a rocks pub walking tour in Sydney. It turned out that I was the only one who showed up for the tour. Since neither the guide nor I drink, we decided to take pictures instead. It turns out my (very cute, but too young and married) guide was also a professional photographer. I explained that I only like candid pictures. If I am in my own picture, I think it ruins the picture. However I do people in pictures going about their business. A light-bulb went off. The result: A dozen pictures of the back of me sitting at at various bars (pretending to drink).



Highlight: Opals

Apparently all the dinosaurs who died in Australia opalfied when they fossilized. Opals, according to the National Opal Collection on Pitt Street in Sydney, are dinosaur remains. I had been looking at opals everywhere: in Melbourne, in Hobart, in Port Douglas and in Sydney. I had been offered opals in silver, gold filling and 22k gold; I had seen opal prices ranging from $25. to $25,000; I had been offered 60% off as soon as I walled in the door. I had been told the prices were firm. I had even knowingly bought a fake opal. But on my last day in Sydney, I decided to take the advice of my travel agent, and look at a place called the National Opal Collection, a block from where I was staying at the Establishment. I did not intend to buy anything, of course; I was just looking.

It was part small museum with a few interesting pieces such as an opalized dinosaur toe, and part store. I was minding my own business when I heard a very familiar voice ask, “what do you have in solid opal for under $1000?” Must have been a ghost from Port Arthur. Next thing I knew, I was walking out of the store with a gorgeous solid purple opal in a silver setting. (By the way, I don’t mean to doing free advertising, but the opal jewelry at this store did seem to be nicer and more reasonably priced than most.)

I would like to thank my travel agents Nancy and Gisela of SuntoursHawaii, without whom this amazing trip would not have been possible. Both the air and ground transportation they arranged was perfect.

Postscript and Last Highlight:

US Customs in Hawaii. “Food? I have Cadbury Chocolates with cherries for the office, and cookies from the Establishment. I meant to finish them on the plane. What did I spend? – Maybe about $900. to $1300.? No, I do not have receipts – are you kidding? But I bought an real opal necklace (it’s purple) for $650. – and another one that’s fake,” I said. “ I bought two Aboriginal bracelets as gifts, and an Aboriginal poster. I bought boomerang shaped refrigerator magnets and parrot refrigerator magnets, including two of an actual black parrot. I bought stuffed toys: an echidna, a wombat, and a Tasmanian devil and maybe a half dozen platypus. I bought a Billy Elliot tee shirt and CD. I bought ... .”

“Thank-you.” Customs said. “You can go on through.”

LizzyF Aug 26th, 2008 02:04 PM

SkaiSW, just so you know - your triplet opal is not fake at all but a slice of real opal which is glued onto a slice of potch ( a piece of a stone in which you would find opal in or some other black or grey backing)on the bottom of the opal slice & finished off with a clear resin on top of the opal slice which is designed to give the colours in the opal slice better reflective abilities. When they suggest you not put it in water it is because sometimes the water can get between the three layers and discolour or cover the colours of the opal itself.

wlzmatilida Aug 26th, 2008 05:42 PM

SkaiSW,

I must beg to differ on the "easy to squeeze" tomato sauce packets of Oz - I've "splurted" myself on several times using too much force apparently! Also, I resent having to pay for tomato sauce or tartar sauce - because I'm cheap? (possibly), but more likely because we can pick up that stuff by the handful at any fast food type
restaurant!

I really enjoyed your trip report - full of humor and lots of good facts, but expecially the fact that you gave your travel agents credit! Thank you on behalf of agents everywhere!!! I hope that you've shared your report with them both, as feedback from clients is so important! If it was me, I'd be sending an email to Thala about your stay as well.

Thanks again for taking the time to post your impressions.

Regards,

Melodie
Certified Aussie Specialist

SkaiSW Aug 26th, 2008 06:43 PM

Yes, Melodie, my travel agents were absolulely critical to putting this trip together and making it run smoothly. I don't know why, but Nancy was a little reluctant about Thala Beach, and had suggested I stay at the Marriott in POrt Douglas instead.
However, sometimes a bad experience is memorable as well, and it wasn't all bad. I will cherish memories of Thalas Chef and his pepper steak.

SnR Aug 27th, 2008 10:22 AM

Thanks for the great trip report, SkaiSW, you had a great time and described what you did so well. I have to differ with you as to Australia being so like America. Maybe it's a bit like Tampa, but it is nothing like Seattle! The light there is just fantastic (we have been there in July and in October)-it makes everything stand out so. The rainforests are so different from ours and of course, the animals are nothing like. You may have an alligator or two around, but not us. And although we have red rock areas in the US, they are not at all like the outback areas of Australia, that we have seen, anyway. We have snorkeling off the Fla. coast but not like the magnificant GBR which goes on for miles and miles. ETC.

RE the ketchup controversy, thanks a million, Lizzy, for the great history and word-origin lesson. Who knew? Now I do!! Our first trip to Oz in 2004 we only got the "tomato sauce" mentioned by SkaiSW, but in 2007 there was ketchup everywhere. We didn't eat at such higher end restaurants as she did, but we LOVED the food everywhere in Australia (except for the ready-made sandwich we bought in Cooktown which gave me mild food poisoning). And we had plenty of ketchup.

A side note on food: my husband's pipe dream of what to do in retirement was to import barramundi to the US (and of course have many shopping trips to Oz written off as business expenses) but my sister said she bought some in Long Island, NY at COSTCO of all places. We haven't seen it at our Costco, or anywhere else. Probably the farmed anyway.

I agree with the nicer people in Oz, btw, but if anyone comes to Seattle there will be loads of nice people, even on the highway, and one especially nice couple in a suburb called Bellevue!
Sally

foxf1 Aug 27th, 2008 10:23 AM

Hello Skai, your trip report is great. Great writing.
Questions-
How much luggage did you take? Did you fly business within Australia? Am flying business(used miles) on Qantas, and bought economy tix for travel within Oz.

How did you get to Observatory from Airport. Also sstaying at Observatory. Did you get early check-in?

Any reccomendation for restaurants which are not upscale? (In Sydney, Blue Mts, Melbourne, Hobart area, Cairns area) Live near San Francisco, and have overdone it with expensive venues. Love great views and ambience,though.

Also staying at Henry Jones. Any advice?
Thanks. Florence


SkaiSW Aug 27th, 2008 03:44 PM

I travelled Economy within Oz
All my hotel to airport and airport to hotel were taken care of ahead of time with transfers (like booking a Limo) It went smoothly and was very convenient.
Phone Number is 011 61-2-94939994

In Hobart - Fish Frenzy definitely, but I would go to Ball and Chain also. At $26. AUD for outstanding steak including all trimmings and GREAT salad bar, it is a better deal than Outback. (Just bring your own to-go container in case you don't finish your steak- they won't wrap it). I would AVOID the Chinese restaurant 2 doors down from the Henry Jones because they will give you the kind of Chinese food you are already used to at triple the price.
In Sydney - well I was told China town has some cheap and excellent restaurants. I did have good Thai food next door to the Capital theater. The Observatory actually also has very good food. Their late nite bar menu had reasonable prices.
Do you mean Cairns or Port Douglas? If you do mean Cairns, I can't help. If you mean Port Douglas, Salsas is casual and has rave reviews from everyone, but you will need a reservation days in advance. So if you are staying in Port Douglas, you might want to make that reservation a week before you land there.







SkaiSW Aug 27th, 2008 04:15 PM

My last post was in response to Fox.
Fox, also with respect to the Henry Jones, the staff made it to #5 on my top highlights list, because they were all so personnable -- I was laughing the entire time.
(1). Say hello to Warren, Andrew and Vimel
(2). Eat whatever Vimel, the restaurant manager, recommends
(3). Do not ignore Christopher, the concierge - he is sensitive.
(4). Get a facial or mini massage, to meet the spa director and the elderly beautition -- I don't remember their names, but they were pretty cool too.
(5) check out the shops in the Henry Jones complex, particularly the Aboriginal one.
(6) If you have any problems with tours, call Purple Heather at Lets See Tasmania TOurs. She is a terrific lady. And do not miss the Port Arthur full convict experience including the ghost tour. It made it to #3 of my highlights right behind seeing a platypus and getting mugged by a kangaroo. (In other words, for me it was the top attraction of my trip).
By the way, please don't forget to use the pool and steam room at the Observatory.


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:05 PM.