Posted on September 30th, 2011
Not quite the awe-inspiring experience I was hoping for.
Even before I became a certified diver, I've longed to dive The Great Barrier Reef. It just seems like one of those things that everybody should have on their bucket list. And while my actual dives were nice, it was a fairly underwhelming day. At first I thought it was just me, but my German table-mates felt the same way. I guess we can chalk it up to overly-high expectations?
Or maybe not. Because when I spoke to the dive master, he had mentioned that our first dive site "Coral Gardens" used to be amazingly beautiful. But it was wiped out by a cyclone eight months ago. This begged the question "Why in the heck don't you dive someplace else then?" but I don't know enough about the region to even know how widespread the damage was*.
But oh well. Not every dream is going to turn out as we had hoped, and I've been luckier than most.
I still had a good time. I haven't been diving in well over a decade, but it all came back to me really quickly. I don't know how, but I had forgotten what a wonderful experience diving is. It's about as close to flying as mere humans can get, as you are neither sinking or floating... you just are.
I bought a new underwater camera for the trip, but didn't end up taking many photos. After I almost missed seeing a turtle because I was concentrating on my camera, I thought I'd put my attention to better use. There's just so much to see.
Here's a few snapshots I took before retiring my camera...
Sadly, no sharks made an appearance.
I know people think I'm joking but, having swam with sharks before, I was really hoping to see one. They are absolutely fascinating to watch. And, no, I'm not saying I wanted a man-eating Great White to drop in... just a regular shark would have been fine.
Though the nachos I had for dinner tonight were so bad that I found myself kind of wishing I had been eaten by a shark so I could have avoided the suffering.
For some inexplicable reason, Aussies mix the salsa into the chips & cheese when they make nachos (instead of serving it on the side). This makes absolutely no fucking sense, because the chips on the bottom end up a soggy, inedible mess...
Seriously, what the fuck? I've been testing out a lot of unusual dishes since I got here, like this delicious pumpkin-feta pizza from last night...
But the terrible "nachos" have been my first disappointment. Blargh.
No worries. I'm sure tomorrow's dinner will be awesome.
*Speaking of damages... I was shocked... shocked... at how many people were sick on the boat-ride out. No less than six people were puking their guts out non-stop. Thankfully, I don't get sea-sick, but the sight of so many people hurling was not an easy thing to take in. Fortunately, there are barf-bag stations all over the ship...
And while I really do feel sorry for those people whose day was ruined because of sea-sickness, I find it odd that people don't find out if they are prone to getting motion-sick before paying big money to head out on the open ocean like this.
No worries. I'm sure the rest of their vacation will be great.
Posted on September 29th, 2011
After an early-morning flight sitting next to a little French kid so adorable that I wanted to take him home with me, I arrived in sunny Cairns (which is a pleasant change from the crap weather in Sydney).
After checking into my hotel, it was time to meet up with my friends Wes and Karen, whom I haven't seen in over a decade. They drove down from Port Douglas to have lunch and wander around a bit. This made for a nice afternoon since I had done -zero- research on the area, and had no idea what Cairns was about. First surprise was that the city proper doesn't have a beach. It sits on a mud flat...
As you head north, a beach does appear...
But it's not like you'll be doing any swimming there...
Luckily, the people of Cairns have an awesome water park right off the mud flats to compensate...
In what little I've seen of Australia so far, I've fallen in love with the "no worries" laid back atmosphere. But Cairns takes it to an entirely new level. The city is so laid back that it's almost as if even the locals are on perpetual holiday. And it's completely contagious. Right now I'm finding it very hard to give a crap about anything. Far easier to just be happy and see where the day takes you.
This attitude could be a real problem if I don't find a way to turn it off once my vacation is over.
Posted on September 28th, 2011
My flight didn't leave until late afternoon so I took the opportunity to sleep in late, explore the resort, and have a nice lunch.
I didn't really need a third day at Uluru, but seeing this area was so important to me that I booked it anyway... just in case the weather was bad, my flight was delayed, or some other unforeseen circumstance interfered with my plans. I've been traveling way too long to expect everything to go perfectly (even though it really did). Even so, I actually wish that I had more time so I could visit Kings Canyon and see Alice Springs, but there's more to Australia I have yet to explore.
Before leaving for the airport, I went to the hotel lookout for a last glimpse of Uluru...
...and said my goodbye to that magnificent giant red rock.
Posted on September 27th, 2011
At this point, I'm into day two of being covered with flies all the time. No mosquitoes, thank heavens (I was told that's the biggest problem when visiting Uluru), but more bugs than you'd ever care to encounter. After a while, you kind of get used to them swarming you constantly, but you never get used to the flies crawling on your face. Particularly up your nose and on your eyes (where I guess they're searching for moisture or something).
As the tour had us viewing Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunset last night, they had us viewing Uluru at sunrise this morning. For which I had to get up at 4:30am. It was nice, but not 4:30am-worthy spectacular...
And to prove I was there at that godawful time of morning, a photo of me ready to go back to bed after sunrise...
And then it was time to hike all the way around Uluru, which was a fascinating 2-1/2 hour journey. The rock looks completely different depending on where you view it. Some areas are sacred and not allowed to be photographed, but I picked out a few of the hundreds I was allowed to shoot...
Once my blisters had blisters and I had made my way around the site, it was time for a visit to the Uluru Visitor Centre which was a look into some aspects of Aboriginal culture. Most of their way of life is highly complex and secretive, but even the basics are fascinating. What I found particularly interesting is how their stories and teachings are place-sensitive. Meaning that you can only speak of some events at the place where they happened. If a story takes place at Uluru, but then moves to a different location, you will only hear about the part that's at Uluru. In order to hear the rest, you have to travel to the place where the story continues. Also, men and women live completely separate lives, so all aspects of a story can change depending on the sex of the person telling it. Remarkable.
The tour ended after lunch, at which time I decided I hadn't spent enough money (ha!) so I signed up for a helicopter flight over Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Uluru (Ayers Rock). It was kind of a bummer, because most of your time is spent getting there and back, but what precious little time you do spend at the sites is pretty impressive...
Some cloud cover had rolled in, which made the already deep red color even deeper. Those are some very sexy rocks.
This area of Central Australia is known as "Red Centre" which is not quite an accurate description as of late. Over the past two years, unprecedented rainfall has caused the ground to really green up. This makes the rocks look even more foreign and strange, but in a good way.
My original plan was to take in some kind of sunset dinner at Uluru tonight, but I am pretty much Uluru-ed out now. I'm also thoroughly exhausted with blisters in places on my feet I didn't even know I had.
And so... my vastly overpriced bed in my massively overpriced hotel room is calling...
Posted on September 26th, 2011
Alrighty then. Now that I'm back to civilization, bugs didn't carry me off, and I have internet once again... I suppose it's time to start getting caught up on my trip to Uluru (aka Ayers Rock).
After a 3-hour flight from Sydney I landed at Ayers Rock Airport, then hopped the bus to the Ayers Rock Resort where my tour group was waiting. After purchasing my $25 park ticket, we headed out.
Surprisingly, the first stop we made was not Uluru, but Kata Tjuta... another giant rock formation in the neighborhood...
A photo can't do it justice, but that's all I got for you.
Yes, it's really that red. My camera is set to "vivid color" and has a polarizer, but this isn't Photoshop trickery.
The trail for the "Valley of the Winds" walk.
Saying goodbye to Kata Tjuta as we leave the area.
Next it was at last time to head to Uluru for the sunset...
A dingo ate my baby! Then boarded this bus...
Uluru as the sun is low. Note the haze in the background.
That haze is actually smoke from bush-fires in Central Australia. Scary, but makes a pretty sunset!
Uluru turns purple after the sun goes down... which doesn't show too well in this photo.
From there it was back to camp for dinner and an early bedtime. Tomorrow, it's time to get up-close-and-personal with Uluru.
Posted on September 26th, 2011
Alas, there's no wi-fi at Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) to upload any photos. Guess that gives me something to do when I get back.
P.S. If you never hear from me again, it's because I was carried off by an army of bugs in the middle of the night. One thing they don't tell you in the travel brochures is that The Outback is overrun by bugs. Lots of bugs. A massively huge number of bugs. A vast array of bugs in astounding numbers. Bugs!
Posted on September 25th, 2011
Today was finally my chance to take it easy, which meant visiting a few museums instead of walking all over Sydney again. Luckily Kazza was kind enough to head back into the city to map out my morning, so all I had to worry about was keeping dry until the rain finally let up this afternoon.
The Australian Museum is a massive repository of the critters which inhabit the continent. There's also a special exhibit for Aboriginal art that's pretty great...
The way Native Australians "see" the world is endlessly fascinating to me.
Seal vs. Penguin... FIGHT!
Not a happy kitty. Probably a little upset about being shot and killed.
Most all the exhibits are dead, mounted, and stuffed... but there are some exceptions.
What would a museum be without dinosaurs?
A pity dinosaurs are extinct... some look like they'd make a fun pet.
Yeah, seeing one of these monsters would have me totally losing my shit.
Not all the insects shown are some scary shit... just most of them.
Fun with dead people in the "Skeletons" exhibit.
Ride 'em cowboy. The most disturbing thing about this? No ears on the horse.
The Art Gallery New South Wales is a fairly traditional art museum with a smattering of impressive works by popular painters... but it also has a beautiful selection of Aboriginal art which makes it uniquely worth visiting (alas, none of it photographical)...
It's amazing how museums never seem to run out of paintings.
Ape Girl with scary hand monster. How charming.
Demon angel with bat wings, snake, and lizard. Rock on, little dude.
Rabid Dog Pack vs. Wild Boar... FIGHT!
The National Opal Museum is a small exhibit which is mainly a front for an opal jewelry store, but it does still manage to give some insight into how opals are created and crafted...
Apparently dinosaurs made the opals. Or became opals. Or something.
Now dinosaurs help you purchase beautiful opals from the many jewelry showcases!
Pretty! As in "pretty fucking expensive."
And thus an early end to my last day in Sydney. I was just too drenched and tired to do anything else. Maybe when I swing back this way I'll have some better weather.
Posted on September 24th, 2011
Well, the crappy weather I was expecting yesterday finally decided to make an appearance today. Not that I am in any way complaining... I am so very grateful for yesterday's unexpectedly beautiful weather that I'll gladly suffer through a little rain.
After meeting up with Kazza we headed east to visit St. Mary's Cathedral. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the beautiful interior, but the exterior is quite nice as well...
Impressive. Most impressive.
The nun looks pretty bitchy, but...
...she gives all the kids an iPad, so she can't be all bad.
From there we were off to Mrs. Macquarie's Point. There's an interesting story behind the name, and it's a great place for spectacular Sydney Harbour views, even in the rain...
Yes. Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is just as comfortable as it looks.
A Rainbow Lorikeet... they're everywhere.
Still a pretty sight, even in the rain.
Heading back towards the city you run right through the Royal Botanic Gardens...
Leaving the Asian Gardens section of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Inside the Royal Botanic Gardens Greenhouse at the Tropical Center.
The Fern House atrium at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
It's Springtime in Sydney, so all the flowers are blooming.
Bats are hanging around everywhere... mostly sleeping, fighting, or drying their wings.
This is called a "Cockatoo," but I call it "Fucking Bastard Bird"... vicious, nasty, and total destruction with wings.
From there it was time to take a ferry across the harbor to Manly...
It's the world-famous Manly Ferry!
Cruising by that Sydney Opera House. Again.
Walking down The Corso towards Manly Beach.
Manly beach. Where only manly men dare swim in the rain.
Everything in Manly is pretty manly...
...especially the Manly menus, where they make cute little kangaroos into fajitas.
After returning to Sydney, it was time to visit the Queen Victoria Building, which is a real jaw dropper. Certainly the best-looking mall I've ever seen...
Not wanting to get drenched, it was time to visit the Queen Victoria Building!
Seriously beautiful everywhere you look. This is an entryway.
Center atrium at the Queen Victoria Building.
Awesome diorama clock at the QVB.
The sexiest damn mall you'll ever see.
It was as we headed toward Darling Harbour that the rain decided to get serious...
Rain pours down on the bridge across Darling Harbour to the Harbourside Mall.
But that's okay, because I was more interested in visiting my 138th Hard Rock than the weather. Unfortunately, Sydney's new Hard Rock is yet another "Hipster Lounge" travesty, but it's massive size means you get to see a lot of memorabilia even though it's pretty spread out...
Hard Rock Cafe entrance.
Welcome to the cheesiest hipster lounge you ever will see!
The Hard Rock Cafe Sydney's so-called "shrine" to INXS.
Not the most intimate and cozy Hard Rock property I've been to. The place is massively huge.
Leaving Darling Harbour at night.
Something I didn't know: Sydney has a monorail. It was a convenient way to escape the rain and head back into the city...
Hey, it may cost $5, but that's still cheaper than a ticket to Disneyland.
Another perfect day Down Under... albeit with police horses waiting in my hotel lobby...
No. They weren't there to arrest me. I think.
And.... I guess it's time to log-off and go charge every piece of electronics I own. It's shocking how much gadget crap it takes to be civilized now-a-days.
Posted on September 23rd, 2011
Better living through chemistry, I always say.
In theory, adjusting to the 17-hour time change in Sydney is a piece of cake. That's such a huge amount of time that you can quite nicely compress a full day into it, which means your internal clock doesn't need much of an adjustment. Just force yourself to stay awake a bit longer than you normally would, get a full night's sleep in the middle of your flight, then arrive in Sydney the next morning as if nothing happened.
I took a fist-full of sleeping pills just to be sure.
And ended up getting five hours of quality sleep, which is two more than I normally get. So not only did I land in Australia fully acclimated to the time change... I also felt better than I have in months.
For the past week I have been checking the weather forecast in Sydney. As the day of my trip got closer and closer, the weather outlook got worse and worse, ending with overcast skies and rain for the entirety of my stay. So imagine my surprise when I land to beautiful blue skies and an abundance of sunshine. So instead of spending my first day relaxing, I met up with my long-time blogger-friend Kazza and headed out into the city.
First stop was Sydney Tower for panorama views of the city...
Then it was off to the Opera House (of course)...
From all the photos I had ever seen, I had thought that the Opera House was smooth concrete painted white. It's not! It's tiled. Beautifully tiled...
Next it was off to walk across the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge...
You can climb up one of the pylons for terrific views of the harbor...
Amazingly, you can pay big money to climb up and over the bridge like these guys...
Across the harbor and under the bridge is Luna Park, made famous by its scary clown-face entrance...
We wanted to kill time until dark for some night photography, so we ate dinner at a really good tapas restaurant...
And then back to the harbor at night...
By the end of the day, the clouds and rolled in and the weather turned cold and incredibly windy, so I was grateful that I had at least one perfect day in Sydney.
I'm sure tomorrow will be perfect too... but with less nice weather.