Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coral Reef Resorting in Cairns- My final stop in Australia

It's about time I finish up with this trip! For some reason, in my mind, I though my Cairns review would be the shortest and quickest. I have no idea why, maybe because it was supposed to be the more laid back portion of the trip, but going over my journals, I realized just how much there is to do around there once you include all the day trips and such. So I'm very sorry, but this will be another wordy post, conciseness is not my forte, but I'll do my best!

We took a Qantas flight again, I've already given them the thumbs up, and this one simply reaffirmed that, so let's move on to our resort/ hotel. We reserved an apartment about 40 minutes from downtown Cairns in an area called Palm Cove. The apartment was really nice, fully furnished, air conditioned, and spacious, plus had a balcony so we could get some fresh air with breakfast. Kitchens mean you can do your own cooking for much of the trip, which I always prefer, and it saves a ton of money. Especially with such a large group, and considering 2 members of said group are myself and my teenaged brother....well, much food is consumed. Our apartment was just a short and scenic walk to the beach. There's even a good chance you'll run into some wallabies or kangaroos on the way! Along the coast there are all the fancy 5 star hotels and a few restaurants (standard Australia prices apply) so there was nothing too great, but we did stop at a place called Coffee Haven a few times for our coffee fixes and decent lunch sandwiches for around $10 each. Our resort had a fitness center, tennis courts, and a small gym. My brother and dad were able to play tennis for a pretty reasonable fee. I tested out the gym my last day there but it's not very well equipped and I almost broke my foot on a stationary bike most likely from the 1980's. I saw they offered fitness classes for extra charge, but I didn't try them. I did step into the room though, and they sort of smell. Ick. Bike rentals are also an option, but, of course, that will cost extra. The lap pool would have been nice had it been summer. 

Yeah, did I mention that already? As much as I enjoyed it, this is most definitely a summer destination. I know we would have been able to see and do a lot more if we had gone around December, not July.

They keep the streets super dark at night, which is kind of scary if you're used to the city, but you're really in one of the safest places ever, so we took full advantage of the stargazing. The stars look like you’re looking at those professional space images. Amazing! They are so much brighter than I’ve ever seen before. The moon one night was also interesting, it was one of those crescent moons but instead of sideways like we have them here in the northern hemisphere, it was a crescent on the bottom like a smile. Awww!
The beach itself was a little chilly. Ok really chilly, I spent a lot of time wrapped up in a towel while reading, or enjoying walks and experimenting with freezing my feet in the waves. Also, though it's not an exclusively Australian experience, with all the barefoot running hype, and also since I had not run in forever and ever, I took a short barefoot jog on the beach. I loved it! It was so grounding to feel the sand between my toes and have that extra challenge from the instability of the sand. I ended up with some calluses, but the endorphin rush was wonderful. 

Our first afternoon we made a quick drive over to Trinity Beach just a few km's from our resort and it also happens to be on the way to Cole's, the grocery store nearby. The beach is nice but essentially the same as where we were with different restaurants and fewer hotels. Cole's is a large supermarket, pretty standard as far as they go, but I did notice that Australia as a whole doesn't have the variety we have here. But I did sort of fall in love with Wheatabix minis with berries cereal and am sad I didn't bring any home. 

Everyone but my mom and I took a day trip to Chillagoe. It's basically the outback, and 3 hours away by car over some not so driveable areas. I know I probably seem like a party pooper not going, but I needed a break from family and was not really into 3 hours of carsickness to see giant termite mounds. And my brother said it was not worth it. Maybe none of us are extreme adventurers.  I went into Cairns city with my mom. It was very easy to get to from our resort. Buses run between all the resorts and small beaches to the downtown and make stops at all the main tourist attractions, too. It took about 40 minutes from Palm Cove. The city is a cute beach town much like others, full of beach tourist shops, cafe’s, gelato, markets, etc. In other words, a lot of fun!  

The city is located around the Marina and the Lagoon, which was dried up when we went due to the draught they're having. It looked like a big mud basin but generally it’s supposed to be a big open area of water next to the Marina. 
Next to lagoon is huge public swimming area. It's a shallow salt water pool and was filled with people splashing around,  laying out, having picnics, and just hanging out. I was particularly fascinated by how many different languages I heard among the crowd. It seems people come from all over.The park around it is really nice too and has some quick food places and picnic tables. They also hold free events like concerts, and fitness classes outside. It's very much like Discovery Green here in Houston plus the pool (Houston developers, are you reading??)  These cities are so well planned and developed, and as I mentioned, they have a level of safety and security unheard of in the rest of the world.
My mom and I ate lunch at the Lily Pad Cafe. I have a mixed review for this place. It was really nice on the inside. Definitely a hippy veggie type place. The food was really good, and portions are massive, meaning I should have stopped eating way before I did :X.  The only problem with it was they took over an hour and a half!! It was ridiculous. We ended up complaining a couple of times and I think they just forgot to put our order in. We also stopped by the mall at the train station. It was a mall.  

Fresh taffy machine

Of course we thought a day trip to coral reef would be essential, but this will really only be worth it in summer, and do a lot of research on what company you use. We spent $139 per person plus $16 for the pickup in the van. I already knew I’d probably be too cold to get in the water but I was still excited for a day on a nice island. Unfortunately, the whole thing seemed really unorganized. I think all the programs are about the same, some more expensive, some cheaper, but Australians seem to be very laid back about things. This is good in some ways, but things like this trip just drive me crazy. We had to be out in front of the hotel waiting for our pickup at 6:55 am. No big deal for me, I can handle waking up early. But then we spent over an hour and a half picking up other people who were late, stopping at convenience stores looking for a disposable camera because one couple had forgotten theirs, and then we had to pick up our tour guide, and she was late! By that point I had turned into a cranky toddler from not having slept much and being in the car for too long. We boarded the boat at some hidden spot along the river, rather than a big marina like you'd expect. They take you on a  "Crocodile River Tour", meaning they basically need to get down the river anyways to get to open water. We saw one croc on the way back. This may just be because it's not the right season.  After getting out of the river it takes about 30 min of rocking on open water to get to the island where they stop the boat far off the island and you have to transfer to the glass bottom boat to be ferried to the island. But the “glass bottom” is about 2 feet wide and the rest is like you’re in this big metal safe where you can’t see out. I felt almost instantly seasick and claustrophobic so I went back up and sat with a few people on top of the boat. Perhaps I just have sensitive inner ears? 
The weather was beautiful and sunny the first hour and  a half. I tested the water but it was way too cold so I took pictures of seashells then laid around and read while my family snorkeled. They said they could see some coral and fish but our family friends said it wasn’t as bright as previous trips. I'd be interested in finding out if the reef and marine life change seasonally or if it's been damaged over time. 

Eventually they served lunch that I'm guessing was exciting for anyone that likes seafood with eyes.I had a ton of salad and fruit. By that time it had started to drizzle, and turned into a full on downpour for the rest of the afternoon so we huddled up under towels in the tent for the next 2 hours until the boat could take us back. My dad and brother ventured back out and my brother claimed that the water felt warmer, but his purple lips said otherwise. The trip back to shore was really choppy, so I was really happy when we made it back!

See the wetsuits? They don't help!
The following day we check out Port Douglas- We packed some lunches and drove to 4 mile beach, which is a little before the actual Port Douglas. It was beautiful but SOOO windy! As in painful sandblasting windy. After a while we took refuge among the trees at the park entrance, ate our lunch and drove to Port Douglas the city. I really liked it! It's smaller but a bit more ritzy than Cairns. The main street has a lot of places to see, drink coffee, shop, or read. We got ice cream and coffee, and later I also found a bookshop/ teahouse.  It has a nice beach too but  it was even windier than 4 mile beach and almost impossible to even walk near.  My dad and brother convinced us all to brave the wind to climb up to a lookout then we walked back through a nice neighborhood behind the main streets. 

Our final contribution to the Cairns tourism industry was taking the Skyrail to Kuranda Village. The skyrail is the longest I've ever been on, taking you on a 45 minute ride over the rainforest. It has two stops with hikes. The second one takes to to the lookout over Barron Falls. Kuranda village is pretty, but mostly pricey markets and cafe's. We ate at a cool restaurant with a lot of sweet potato based entrees. I can't contain my love for the orange! I also found some candy and taffy stores.Also, if you go to the market at the bottom of the hill at the very end of the main street, it’s practically empty and has better prices. To return to Cairns, you take an old train through the mountains that takes you by the river and falls as it tells you the history of the railway. 

And that concludes my trip to Australia! I hope you've all enjoyed cyber traveling with me :) 
Next up, I'm very excited to tell you all about a special trip I took last week, which included visiting some very special people. (Hint** Apples are more than just one of my favorite fruits) 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brisbane. My Aussie Adventures part II

Hello friends!  
As it turns out, my computer had more issues than I had orignally been told so I still don’t have it back and thus, do not have access to my files or photos. But since I left you with such a cliff hanger- still in Sydney with two cities still left to see! - I know you’ve all been waiting at the edge of your desk chairs for weeks now. So I’ve downloaded some of my own photos from facebook and let’s hope they’re decent quality as I attempt to finish my recaps of Australia.
From Sydney we took Qantas, the Australian airline to Brisbane. As an airline, they are so much better than the United we took on the way here!I hate to say negative things about airlines, especially because I’ve been a loyal Continental passenger since I can remember, but since the merger with United....well, I’m dissapointed. Anyways,  The flight was only an hour and a half, it was a super quick boarding process, and despite the short duration, we were given full dinners, snacks, and the nice headsets. We arrived pretty late at night and went straight to our family friend’s apartment. There we admired the beauty and brilliant location that is an oil company provided living space on the 32nd floor in the middle of Queen street. It was tight quarters for 7 people in a two bedroom but I managed enough rest to be ready to see the city in the morning (ok so I'm actually superhuman while traveling and don't need rest). 

Brisbane is absolutely gorgeous! It's very spread out architecturally and everything is brand new, shiny, and modern. Did I say this about Sydney, too? Well, Brisbane is even more so. The main part of the city is on the water and has canals that run through it. It's very easy to get around. The downtown area is small enough to walk everywhere, and the bus system is easy to use and can take you outside the city to see all the sights, neighborhoods (also some of the fanciest living I've ever seen!) and are easy to hop on and off if you're just tired of walking. Another cool form of transportation, especially for us tourists, are the City- Cat's or City Ferries. They make a big loop through the canals and will drop you off at several main attractions. 
Here are some of the main sights: 
Mt. Coot-ha. The highest point in Brisbane There’s a beautiful lookout, café, and restaurant, along with several trails. We ate at the overpriced café that did not have much in the way of veg choices, but I took amazing scenery pictures. Then we randomly chose a trail that turned out to be really steep and it took a while to try to not slide down on our butts. At least I tried and succeeded in keeping my jeans dirt free, but, not naming names, some of us did not haha.  It finally leveled off but we didn’t know where we were so we found a neighborhood street and walked along that for a while. The houses are beautiful and the architecture is very different from what I'm used to here in the states. It looks like walking through architecture competitions! Brisbane is also very green, so it made for a nice walk with a lot of trees and perfectly manicured yards. We then had to ask some locals at a playground where we could take the bus back to downtown. See? buses everywhere! 
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary- This place is the ultimate Australian experience! It was by far my favorite part of the trip. You get up close and personal with all the native wildlife. Although you have to pay if you want to get your picture with the koalas, and they’re vehemently against letting you use your own camera. So we got to hold them but had to face backwards as a crazy paranoid lady stood as lookout. Afterwards, things looked up. We watched a birds of prey demo, pet some sheep and billy goats, and saw a sheep sheering and herding show. Then we went to see the kangaroos! They have a huge open area filled with kangaroos and emus that are all totally used to people. They let you cuddle, pet them, take photos, and even sell kangaroo food for you to feed them, although we didn’t need any to be able to get close to them. We also pet the emu’s, but they were kind of indifferent to our presence. We spent over an hour just playing in the kangaroo field. Then we were running out of time so we went back to the koalas, and even saw a baby one! Then the dingos, wombats, tazmanian devils, and the funniest parrots ever. They played with us for a while, and sadly were extremely distressed when we left :( 

Libraries- There are two great libraries that provide amazing resources and services for all the residents. We visited the State library and the City library. They're both beautiful and will provide you with computer and internet access, tons of books, and also have art exhibits and activities for people of all ages. Around this area, you'll also find the Cultural Center, and Queensland Museum. All of these are great places to stop by to get a better feel for the city and learn more about it. 
GoMa – Brisbane's museum of Modern Art. I'm an art nerd so I will happily wander art museums for hours by myself, so I've seen many museums in many different countries. This was a beautiful museum and while I didn't have the time to walk through all the exhibits, I had been excited since way before our arrival in Australia for one exhibit in particular- Ron Mueck. Totally incredible! His sculptures are so lifelike, yet on a variety of scales. Some are huge and some are small scale replicas of human figures, but his attention to detail and authenticity is mind blowing. We saw the exhibit and watched the movie about how he makes his sculptures.

Riverside Sunday Market- This is only one of several outdoor markets but it's the only one I got to see. It’s mostly arts, crafts, and clothes. It did have some strawberries, a bakery stand, and some cooked food in the form of german sausages and pancakes. It was really nice, not the best or biggest I’ve seen but I found some earrings for gifts, and tested out some lotions. Plus it's right on the water so it's a beautiful area to walk around. Other markets that sounded really nice were the Wednesday Twilight Fresh Market- every wednesday evening for fresh produce and gourmet products, dining areas, and coffee, and given Brisbane's mild climate, this is surely beautiful any time of year. The Valley Laneway Markets are all about local and unique artists and designers and also showcase live music and comedy on some nights. I wish I could have seen this one! There are literally dozens more, so if you're like me and love open markets, do your research before and find out what days you need to be where. I slacked a little in this department :\

New Farm Park- This is just one of many local outdoor hangouts and green spaces. There are also Botanical Gardens and other parks in all the residential neighborhoods. I visited this one, which is beautiful, with a lot of different and exotic trees and plants. On the sunday I went, it was packed with locals having fun, cooking, and playing. The Powerhouse is right next to it but I didn’t know this at the time since I had gotten kind of lost so didn’t go in, but it also has a lot of cool artsy stuff to see and films and shows if you check the schedule ahead of time. 
Like all major cities, Brisbane is divided into different "zones", each with its own unique vibe. It's always my goal to explore all of them! 
One of the stops on the City Cat is called Bulimba. This leaves you right at Oxford street where there are cute shops and café’s. We got off the one before and took a long walk through the neighborhoods. The houses were incredible and also so unique! These were even more high class than the houses around Mt. Coot-ha, and that's saying a lot. All the parks also have flat top grills for families or groups to cook their picnic fare. Though I have to admit, on this day, I was more than ready for some refueling at the coffee shops!  
Queen Street shops. Did I just say shopping?! Yes please! The main pedestrian area of Queen Street is full of  galleries, food courts, and definitely cheaper shopping than we’d seen in Sydney. It has good food and café’s, actual quality places, fresh juice, soups salads and sandwiches and all can be found in the food courts, surprisingly, and for relatively bargain prices. I enjoyed “Sumo Salad”, and also found some good smoothies and healthy snack stores so I could stock up on my dried fruit and nuts. 
China Town- This is on the Northeast side of town. We ate at a Singaporean/ Malaysian place one night since our family friends had lived in Singapore a long time ago. It was just ok in my opinion. There are several more Asian food restaurants and grocers, but I think I'm spoiled with Houston's giant China Town. 
Brunswick street- This is the north part right next to China town. Brunswick is where you go for a night out, club/ bar hopping. I simply walked through it then continued south where there are a  lot of Indian restaurants, café’s and some shops. It’s a bit more yuppy than other areas, but in my opinion that's a good thing. Not much was open sadly, because it was Sunday but I found an organic store with vegan desserts! I had to buy several of course, but the sugar was clouding my brain and I didn't think to take pictures before eating them. 
On our last day, we took Melbourne from the city center to Boundary Street. It’s kind of the Montrose (hippy) area of Brisane. This is like a magnet for me in every city! There were really cute café’s and thrift stores. We ate at another bookstore with a café and beautiful patio out back. More soup and good comfort food for moi! :) 
Before closing this guide to Brisbane, I cannot forget to give some shout-outs that made my stay enjoyable!
First of all, Lululemon on queen street. Anyone that knows me here, knows that I'm a huge fan of Lululemon, not for their clothing (I WISH I could afford it!) but for all their community involvement and free events. I'm at my local Housotn Lululemon almost every Sunday for free yoga classes and have become friends with a lot of amazing people from the fitness community here because of it. So when I saw Lululemon in Brisbane, I of course walked in and started chatting with some of the girls there. I was able to attend a free yoga class the weekend I was there. They also referred me to Brisbane City Yoga where I got to take a free Power Yoga class. I love being able to connect with yoga instructors all over the world! 
I can't travel somewhere without eating gelato. I know some countries are obviously known for their gelato's like Italy and France, but let's face it, it's everywhere, therefore, I must eat it. Gelatissimo came to my rescue with flavors like chocolate sorbet and lychee. 
There was also one occasion where I was about to collapse from hunger but no one else wanted to eat yet, so I was saved by one of the greatest veggie burgers I've ever had from a place on Oxford called Grill'd, Just check out the expansive menu. I had no idea you could get so creative with burgers, and they had 3 vegan options.  My burger was over half a foot tall. It was insane and delicious, and I do in fact have a picture of this but it's on my virus infested computer so you'll just have to use your imaginations. Try not to drool on your keyboards. 
I'll end here for now, and I'll be back soon with my final Australia Recap of Cairns, the Coral Reef resort! Hope you enjoyed my post, and of course, feel free to ask me questions if you are traveling here because it's always impossible to capture everything on the blog while still holding your attention :p
G'day mates!