02.24.2012 - 03.02.2012
From Sydney, we rented a car and drove north to Byron Bay. Australia is enormous – it is roughly the size of the continental US, so we were covering some ground. After about seven hours in the car, we decided to take a pit stop at a wildlife park to see some native animals. It was really neat to see koalas up close and get to touch one (they really do very little other than eat and sleep). We also got to feed a whole slew of kangaroos. We were a little timid at first since the kangaroos were not in cages and no one was around to tell us what to do- plus I’ve seen America’s Funniest Home Videos where they kick and slap people. Initially, we just threw the corn at them, but eventually, Jeff just put his hand out and they came over, grabbed his hand, and started to eat right out of it. It was then that we realized they were actually pretty docile.
One of the cute koalas at the park
Steven getting up close- I think the koala looks like it's smiling
One of the kangaroos carrying a baby in her pouch
Jeff feeding the kangaroo some corn
We arrived in the small town of Byron Bay after about ten hours of driving and were spent. Byron Bay used to be a sleepy little place, but it was discovered by surfers back in the 70’s and has since become a popular tourist destination. While we were there, we loaded ourselves up with activities, starting with surf lessons. Even though the “waves” were pretty small, it was still a lot of fun figuring out how to stand up, balance and turn. It was Steven and Emily’s first lesson and they were fast learners. After surfing, we moved on to one of Mom’s bucket list items – horseback riding – she had never done it before. It was really amusing seeing her constantly talking to her horse and telling it to “go easy on her”. Steven had a horse that was naughty and wouldn’t listen, which I thought was a great fit for him. We spent the rest of our time in Byron Bay relaxing on the beach, enjoying views from the lighthouse, and checking out a nearby farmers’ market. It is a really great town to visit and I was impressed that it maintains a local feel despite all of its notoriety.
Getting our "land lesson" and me just being a goof
Doing the surfer stereotype
Looking very excited- and check out how big that wave is!
Emily going for a wave
Mom looking pretty giddy pre-ride
The equestrian gang towards the end of the ride
A nice view of the Byron Bay Lighthouse
The beach at Byron
After three full days in Byron Bay, we drove two hours north to Brisbane in order to catch a flight to Cairns. On our way, we stopped for a few hours to watch the Quicksilver Pro Snapper Rocks Professional Surf Competition in the small town of Tweed Heads. Having never been to a surf competition before, it was very cool watching some of the best surfers in the world perform. Our timing was perfect because we showed up just in time to see Kelly Slater, one of the biggest surfers in the world. What I find most ironic is that we went all the way to Australia to see Kelly Slater, a guy who’s from Cocoa Beach, Florida, just down the road from Orlando!
An action shot of Kelly Slater during his heat
Kelly Slater during his post-surf interview
Proves we were there
After catching our flight from Brisbane, we landed in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s pretty far north on the east coast of Australia and is currently in the midst a rainy season, but, fortunately for us, it wasn’t that rainy. Our main goal in traveling to Cairns was to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Mom, Steven, and Emily all suffered through a winter time SCUBA class in Pennsylvania just for this, so we were very excited to go. We took a boat out to the outer reef and completed three dives. The reef was beautiful, the fish colorful and diverse, and we even saw several small sharks. A lot of the reef is located 10 to 60 feet below the surface, so the colors can be National Geographic vivid, especially near the surface when the sun is out. From hearing Steven’s stories from the SCUBA class, Mom sounded like a bit of a spazz under the water – “she’s up, she’s down, she’s at the surface” – but she was a champ diving with us. Learning something like SCUBA at almost 60 is very impressive!
That blue thing is the inside of a huge clam- pretty amazing
A white-tipped reef shark
The back of our dive boat- we had a mix of divers and snorkelers
Just before heading back to Cairns from the reef
After diving the Great Barrier Reef, we spent a day exploring the rainforest surrounding Cairns. We took a 4.5 mile long gondola ride above and through the rainforest canopy to the small town of Kuranda. Along the way, we also took a few short hikes through the rain forest, came upon several humungous spiders (apparently not poisonous, but they gave me the heebee-jeebees anyway), and saw a massive waterfall. After walking around town and grabbing lunch, we took a historic train ride back to Cairns.
On our gondola ride to Kuranda
On our train ride back from Kuranda- amazing waterfall!
Our historic train- said to be from the late 1800's
After two fun filled weeks of traveling around Australia, our time with Mom, Steven and Emily came to an end and they headed back to the States. As Steven and I have gotten older, family vacations have become harder to come by, so this was a rare, wonderful and forever memorable family vacation! Thanks to Mom, Steven and Emily for making the trip!
So, this is funny- our last night together for dinner we pick the "#14 restaurant in Cairns on tripadvisor"- turned out to be the hotel restaurant at the Best Western, slightly dumpy but did in fact turn out to be pretty good
For the next leg of our trip, Jeff and I have rented a campervan and are driving south to Brisbane. We’ll write again soon!