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Archive for September, 2009

Day 15: Walkabout Sep 28

This brings the Australia Virtual Tour full circle to Day 1 / September 1 of the tour when I first greeted you from deep “Down Under” in one of those lava tubes. In future tours, we will visit other territories within this vast continent.

“Walkabout” is the aussie aboriginal term for ‘”travel”.  Join me on a walkabout through parts of this fascinating country. My Aussie Adventure Getaway to Sydney and Cairns scheduled for February incorporates city, reef and rainforest activities and experiences discussed throughout the month. Individual extensions are available to other regions such as the Outback, Melbourne or Adelaide.

I will also be offering a New Zealand Discovery Cruisetour in March that begins and ends in Sydney. This itinerary visis both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Pre-cruise land extensions are available for Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and Kuranda Rainforest areas or to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs in the heart of the Outback’s Red Center.

View details on my web site: www.IslandGetawaysTravel.com

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Day 14: The Bat Cave Sep 25

lava-lodge-train-cars1Traveling in the opposite direction, south and inland from Cairns, we cross the Atherton Tablelands, past extinct volcanic craters and vast plains where you can see agricultural plains with cattle stations and tropical savannah woodlands with abundant wildlife. These highlands contain national parks, rainforests, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. You can enjoy bush walking, bird watching, fishing and even hot air ballooning over the area.

Once you arrive in Undara, you are in the Outback region of Queensland. Overnight stays can be arranged at the unusual Undara Lava Lodge where converted turn-of-the-century railway cars serve as your accommodations and dining cars.

kangaroos-22A wildlife tour at sunset with an experienced  savannah guide reveals local native animals: kangaroos, wallabies, lizards, birds and  . . . bats. Later in the evening , our guide walks visitors over to the mouth of  Barker’s Cave to await the nightly exodus of thousands of tiny, furry, microbats into the night sky. Also lying in wait are the brown tree snakes or “night tigers” who strike out and try to capture their small prey as they fly past. It’s quite the nightly drama during the summer months.

 

 

undara-lava-tube-tour-21We return the next morning, this time in broad daylight, to descend down into the fascinating geological phenomenon of the Undara lava tubes for a closer inspection. This requires a moderate level of fitness due to the uneven terrain and the climbing down and up over rocks at either end. And the bats have returned to their home on the cave ceiling after feeding on insects last night. Don’t worry, they’re not the least bit interested in you.

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Day 13: Life’s A Beach Sep 23

The place where the rainforest and reef meet in North Queensland is the expanse of idyllic of coastal beaches.

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The Coconut Beach Rainforest Lodge enjoys a unique location. It straddles the single road with one half stretching back into the rainforest and the other half reaching forward to the uncrowded beach. The units are individual bungalows nestled within the rainforest with screened windows (no glass) so that you are barely separated from Nature outside.

Palm Cove is a small, charming, coastal village built along a quiet  beach lined with majestic palms. Offering luxury beachfront resorts and fine dining, it is also fast developing as the spa capital of Australia. And you just have to step across the narrow front lane to laze away the day in warm tropical waters & silky sand.

 

port-douglas-beachThe equally quaint but more sophisticated and slightly more crowded town of Port Douglas has become a hotspot with its famous Four Mile Beach, al fresco restaurants , chic boutiques and international clientele. You can enjoy a day of sunbathing, take a day trip into Mossman Gorge or the Coral Sea, and then return in the evening to dine under star-filled velvet skies.

 

port-douglas-surf-rescueThe one drawback to these shores is the seasonal prevalence of the venonous box jellyfish during the months of November to March. Also called marine stingers or sea wasps, they are transparent with a cube shaped body and up to 15 tentacles each up to 3 yards in length housing thousands of stinging cells. However, lifeguards post daily signs regarding the water conditions and their recommendations. It’s important to heed them.

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Day 12: Nature Abounds Sep 21

Cape Trib, JP 2
Yesterday, I talked about animal life in the region. Before we leave Cape Tribulation, I want to also discuss some unusual plant life. Notice that I’m standing in the photo to give a sense of relative size. The roots on this long-time local resident are even taller than I am. The Blue Quandon towers up to 35 yards high with a prominently buttressed base and distinctive blue fruit like large suspended figs.

Meanwhile the Stinging Tree is strictly a look-but-don’t-touch type of flora. The heart-shaped leaves have jagged edges but the real danger is the thousands of microscopic needles that embed themselves in the skin if touched. Heaven help the person who uses these leaves as a substitute for toilet paper. Unfortunately, it has been known to happen in rare instances and requires treatment at a hospital. My advise: wait and use the facilities at the next rest stop.

cape-trib-giant-lizardSpeaking of which, at a rest area, I came upon  a rather large lizard, sunning himself, on the sidewalk. I didn’t approach and attempt to stand next to him for a size comparison. He was well over 3 feet long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. I didn’t want him to scurry off but he seemed completely unperturbed by the presence of people. I believe he owned the place and apparently, so did he.

Also, when walking through the rainforest,  be wary of the wait-a-while vines hanging down from trees to the ground or gathered in clumps around the base of  a tree. These are covered with small spikes that grab at clothing and can tear skin. It’s best to stay with your guide or use areas that have boardwalks built into the area for visitors.

Cairns, botanic gardens 1If you are an avid gardener, the Cairns Botanical Gardens may be just the kind of relaxed, cultivated and safe place to visit at your leisure after you return from this wildnerness. But it might all seem quite tame after our recent adventures.

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Day 11: Crikey, It’s a Croc Sep 18

Cape Trib 2Traveling farther north of Cairns, you approach the Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world, containing the most species of plants and animals in Australia. This is a lush, tropical but wild world best experienced with an expert guide. This is an unpredictable environment, not a petting zoo or a place to wander off and explore alone.

The indigenous cassowary, somewhat resembling an ostrich in size and appearance, is listed as an endangered species and is quite rare and elusive. Standing between 5 and 6 feet in height, it has a black body and bright blue head with 2 swinging wattles at the front of its neck and an orange patch at the back. This flightless bird has one very long, sharp spike on each foot.  If it feels threatened, it has been known to charge straight ahead, lashing out violently with those claws and slashing  the target to ribbons.

crocsIf you take a cruise on the Daintree River, you may spy an estuarine crocodile lazing on the riverbank. It’s the ones you don’t see lurking underneath the water that are truly dangerous. In one rapid movement, they will pounce with sudden fury on unsuspecting prey, wrestling with them before dragging them below the water line. This is as close as you want to get. Definitely no swimming here.

We will return to our 4WD vehicle and take the cable ferry across the Daintree River to continue our journey through the Cape Tribulation wilderness area. Later, we will visit the coast for an invigorating walk on Coconut Beach and some afternoon tea before heading back to “civilization”.

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Day 10: The Kissing Bandit Sep 16

Australia is one of the most eco-diverse  countries on the planet with species of flora and fauna unique to this continent.

wild-world-jp-1-koalaJust north of Cairns is the Palm Cove, home to the unique Cairns Tropical Zoo. Their Night Zoo nocturnal interactive tour begins with an aussie BBQ as the sun goes down and continues with a guided walk through the grounds by flashlight, meeting the creatures of the night.

wild-world-jp-2-wombatSee crocodile eyes glow in the darkness. Pat a koala, touch a possum. Be kissed by  a wombat – squarely on the lips. Aha, that’s right, this one performs this amazing little surprize as you’re holding it, unsuspecting, standing still for the photo, prompted by the Aussie bloke in the hat.  Hand feed kangaroos as you sit around the campfire having billy tea and damper made by the resident Swaggie.

There’s even some good old-fashioned singalong and dancing with audience participation encouraged. If you’re shy, just exit stage left for the restroom at this time. By the time you come back, they’ll have moved on to another activity. Or just relax, play along and have some fun. Aussie beer is provided.

On a clear night, your guide will even do a little star gazing. Remember, this is the Southern Hemisphere. There are different constellations visible from Down under. No North Star, but certainly the Southern Cross.

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Day 9: Finding Nemo Sep 14

Australia is the world’s largest island encircled by thousands of kilometers of shoreline and beautiful beaches. The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, lies off the coast of Tropical North Queensland with the 74 Whitsunday Islands sprinkled inside the Coral Sea.

The capital city of Cairns is a convenient access point for everything from resort island stays to day sails on sail boats to multi day cruises on small cruise ship or live-aboard dive boats.

QuickSilver observation windowIf your time is limited, I suggest a day trip out to the Barrier Reef. There are several options to choose from.  One is a sleek wave-piercing catamaran which can whisk you out to an activities platform at the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef while you enjoy morning tea.

Barrier Reef, diver 2Of course, there is swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving for those who like the water. For those who prefer not to get wet, you can watch others take the plunge from the deck or through the underwater observation window. You may also go out in a semi-submersible vessel which, unlike a submarine, floats on the surface and does not descend below the surface. You may even join a marine biologist for an informative discussion. The last option is to get the bird’s eye view as you glide over the reef in a helicopter.

Barrier Reef, pahua shell 1

There’s something for everyone  and more than one way to experience this famous offshore playround – the largest structure on the planet built by living organisms. and you’ll be sure to see Nemo and his clown fish friends as you discover thousands of species of brightly colored fish and molluscs and hundreds of  types of coral.

Photography note: these grainy photos were taken with a disposable waterproof camera on a dive I did myself. All of the colors get muted as the light diffuses down through the water. You really need to see it for yourself.

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Day 8: Didgeridoo Sep 11

Aboriginal Australians express their culture through a combination of story-telling, music, dance and art.

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From the town of Kuranda, we can transfer to the Pamagirri Aboriginal Center and take a walk through guided stations to witness spear throwing and didgeridoo playing. You may even try your hand at throwing a boomerang.

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Aboriginal Australians explain their heritage through a Dreamtime Walk or stories about the land and animals based ion their nature-based spiritual belief system. according to the Dreamtime, spirit ancestors descended from the sky, emerged from the earth and sprang from the waterways. You can see references to these elements in much of the artwork.

There is also an opportunity to see the Pamagirri Aboriginal dancers perform and demonstrate skills in a traditional corroboree or gathering.

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Day 7: Whistle Stop Sep 10

Australia is comprised of 6 large continental territories plus the island territory of Tasmania.  

Within a  2 week vacation period, you could visit 3 areas quite well with a home base and day tours, perhaps even an overnight stay but this requires air travel between major points. Time permiting, there are some excellent scenic driving routes in many parts of the country. Since this is a introductory overview of Australia, I am going to quickly transport us to another region.

kuranda-rail-2We are now going to fly up the east coast from Sydney in New South Wales to Cairns in tropical north Queensland. After an evening to get settled, explore downtown and have dinner along the marina, we head off the next morning on the Kuranda Railway up to the Kuranda rainforest. As the train climbs through the Barron Gorge National Park, we will cross 40 bridges and see a lush landscape with steep ravines and waterfalls.

Once we arrive at Kuranda, we will have some time to wander through the shops and galleries, the wildlife park and rainforest station before visiting the Pamagirri Aboriginal Center. I will discuss these topics in more detail in the next few days.

Skyrail

Skyrail

We will return via the Skyrail Cableway, gliding over the 9 miles of rainforest canopy in individual gondolas.

I am a big fan of rail travel and there are several wonderful routes within Australia. The transcontinental Indian Pacific runs between Perth on the west coast and Sydney on the east coast. Meanwhile the Ghan travels through the very heart of Australia’s outback between Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south. These are multiday journeys in trains with sleeper cars and restaurant cars. If you have the time and the interest, they are worth consideration.

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Day 6: Wine by the Glass Sep 09

In recent years,  award winning, full-flavored Australian wines have been exported all over the world as a hot commodity. It’s time for a little day trip out into the picturesque countryside to sample some aussie wines not available elsewhere.

The Hunter Valley is a 2 hour drive north of Sydney and claims to have about 90 wineries within the region. It is Sydney’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Napa Valley.

hunter-valley-wine-tasting-2The Hunter Valley Wine School has a 2 hour wine experience at its on site winery program showcasing how wine is produced from grapevine to bottle. The tour portion takes you from the Shiraz vineyards to the crushers and fermenters and finally to the tasting cellar.

 

hunter-valley-wine-tasting-1The cellarmaster discusses the qualities of a good wine as you proceed through tastings of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Semillion wines this region is known for. Of course, you will have an opportunity to ask questions and also to buy some to take with you.

 

 

There is also a Hunter Valley Cooking School program that concludes with  a leisurely gourmet lunch – complete with wine parings, of course!

Before we start back, we’ll swing by a local cheeserie and a chocolatier for some goodies for the trip back. I’ll let you discover those delicious details for yourself.

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