Monthly Archives: January 2014

Never Thought We’d Be In Bali

(Bali, Indonesia – 20 January 2014) Friendliest people on Earth are in Bali, Indonesia. I’ll grant you that a big spoonful of that sugar helps the Balinese sell souvenirs to tourists, but that cannot explain the positive, welcoming, helpful spirit that seems to pervade the culture. One of our days in Ubud we rented a scooter. While late in the day and on our way to return it, I felt the tell-tale softness that comes from a tire that’s nearly flat. Moments later and we were riding the rim.

Help literally came in seconds. A house under remodel was to our left at the point we could ride no further. A small man in the short, covered driveway motioned for us to roll the scooter over to him. He then disappeared into the house and re-emerged a flash later with a pig-sized air compressor riding on his hip. He quickly aired us up and we were able to roll again. “Terima kasih,” we nodded several times. (That’s ‘Thank you’ in Bahasa, the primary language of Bali.) The little man smiled big and seemed so pleased to have helped us.


Sanur and the $3.50 Massage

Bali is one island of literally thousands that make up Indonesian archipelago- part of the largest island chains in the world. Denpasar is the main city on Bali’s southern end and where we landed on our flight up from Australia. From the airport we traveled by taxi to a hotel in Sanur. I’m not sure if Sanur is a resort town next to Denpasar or considered part of Denpasar, but I do know our hotel was located just 5 minutes from the beach by foot.

Having just come from the are-you-kidding-me expensive Australia, Bali was a welcome relief to our pocketbooks. About $30/night got us an air-conditioned room with a balcony overlooking a luscious green courtyard with a cool blue pool. Breakfast was included and there was no extra charge for wifi (like we’d seen so many times in Australia).


Our hotel was located on one of the main drags and everything we would need was just a few steps away. Our first full day in Sanur and Jessica went out for a mani-pedi for around $10 US. Less interested in the mani or the pedi, myself, I became enticed by the super cheap massages. I could have gone foot, head, Tai, full-body or heated rocks, but in the end zeroed in on a simple 30 minute back massage. The US Dollar is pretty strong right now in Indonesia so the cost to me was about $3.50. Of course, it was actually more than that after I left a $4.00 tip.

Aside from the cooking class I talk about next, we did a whole lot of nothing special in Sanur. Jessica caught up on some books, I blogged about Australia and went for a long jog down by the beach. And we ate out every night with no threat to our budget. Good food, too. Plus, we found THE BEST gelato stand! Our favorite flavor was called, Cherry Float.


More pics from in and around Sanur.


Enjoyed a rock cover-band at a neighborhood bar. The drummer sure got a lot of sound out of one bongo drum. Dog’s a rocker, too.


Cooking Class

It wasn’t all about the three R’s- rest, relaxation and restaurants. We also signed up for an Indonesian cooking class on our last day in Sanur. Straight from the hotel to the local food market was how our morning of cooking began. Dewy, our instructor, led us on a tour through the market and had us taste and smell some of the local flavors. Among the items we tried was jackfruit, a melon-sized oddity covered with rough, prickly green skin. It’s a huge fruit, though only a small part of it is typically eaten, the yellowish lining around the seeds. For such an ugly monstrosity, it sure tasted sweet.


Here is what Jackfruit looks like in the trees.


From the market, our driver took us to Dewy’s house. There we found a spacious covered outdoor kitchen/patio set up and waiting for our group of five students. The patio roof kept us nice and dry as it started raining, heavily on occasion. Helping her with the set-up were three assistants. Tea or coffee was offered upon our arrival for that added welcoming touch.

Every person in our group played a role in preparing five dishes that morning. Whether cutting up ingredients like lemon-grass, garlic or onion, or manually grinding them together with the additional spices (in a shallow stone bowl with a stone mallet), we all got involved. (Yes, even Jessica cooked!)


It was great fun and a wonderful learning experience. Hats off to Jessica for delivering the line-of-the-day. She offered loudly, “I figured out how you can get me to cook more. Find me three assistants and I’ll cook every day.”

Eating the food we’d prepared for our lunch provided the perfect conclusion to the class. Yum!


Getting Cleansed in Ubud

Ubud (pronounced oo-bood), a busy little city only about an hour north of Sanur, was our second stop in Bali. We’d heard good things about it from our friend Boris, who traveled to Bali last year.

The street where our hotel was located was noisy, narrow and not lacking in touristy shops. Great for us, because it made us feel like we were in the thick of all the hub-bub. The rooms of the hotel were set far enough back from the chaos so that slipping behind the hotel walls brought immediate and welcome tranquility.

Ubud surely grew into a lively tourist destination because several prominent Hindu temples were built in and around it. One such temple was smartly placed on the site of a natural spring, called the Holy Springs by the locals. To reach the Holy Springs we chose to rent a scooter (yes, this is the same scooter that winds up with the flat tire by days end), and brave the 50 minute ride into the rural outskirts of Ubud. Our route took us through the rice paddy terraced countryside and several tiny villages before we reached the springs’ obscure hiding place. (I say it was “hiding” because we saw zero road signs pointing to it and relied solely on gestures and nods from villagers to find it.)

We had such a blast that day. Even before the springs, we scooted over to the aptly-named Monkey Forest. For more reasons than just its monkeys, the whole place was very cool with temples, statues and hidden pathways all winding beneath a thick forest canopy.



Next we toured the art museum of Antonio Blanco. The grounds of the museum were as good as the art itself.


The scooter ride to the Holy Springs was quite an adventure. While on the streets within the town, we felt like a bee moving through the hive. Other scooters buzzed us on all sides…sometimes coming within inches. It was exciting indeed. Once we’d cleared the busier city streets and motored to the edges, we were amazed to see shop after shop of eye-catching artwork. Furniture makers, sculptors, painters, glassworkers, wood carvers and more…all displaying their incredibly beautiful works at roadside. What a dream place this would be for a buyer from Gardenridge.

Once at the Holy Springs we participated in a cleansing ritual. This involved wearing a sarong and bathing in each of the spring-sourced fountains- bathing meant three splashes to the body, three dunks over the head, and three swallows of the water. Then repeat that ritual at each of the dozen water shoots feeding into multiple bathing pools. Jessica did it all, except for swallowing the water. She kinda pretended to drink it. Perhaps a wise move since we’d already laid eyes on the larger spring-fed pool from which this water flowed. It had plenty of algae growing in it and quite a few fish. I drank my three swallows from the first shoot, but then thought better of it and faked the rest.

We could have visited the Holy Springs and never taken a dip; plenty of people were there simply observing. But that’s not how we roll. Getting ourselves immersed in the culture was far more fun. Plus, who doesn’t need a little cleansing from time to time?



The clean team.

A Hellish Turn at the Holy Springs

One more tidbit related to our visit to the Holy Springs, mentioned only because it is somewhat emblematic of one of the least pleasurable aspects of Indonesia- the shopping. Due to the nature of our trip, Jessica and I are not able to buy pretty things; we simply cannot carry more items in our already stuffed packs. However, we do sometimes enjoy “window shopping” to see the kinds of interesting things for sale in whichever country we’re in. What we found frequently in Indonesia were shop owners that had taken the concept of friendly to an uncomfortable extreme. Meaning, they would occasionally cross the line and become pushy and desperate for a sale. That had the immediate effect of turning us off like a switch.

When we exited the Holy Springs we entered an area with a row of souvenir shops. All too soon we were barked at so aggressively by the sellers we just wanted to run screaming from the area. Not even this did they make easy, the row of shops we’d entered turned left and right without ending until we were sure to be caught in a hellish labyrinth. Finally, we saw an escape route to the parking lot and ran for our lives. Ugh! Don’t they know they’d sell 10 times as much merchandise if they didn’t scare people off?

Thankfully, this style of salesmanship was not everywhere. We did enter shops in other areas of Bali and enjoyed the experience very much.

Also in Ubud…

We went to a classic Balinese dance. The performers knocked our socks off! The whole thing was simply mesmerizing. We’d never seen anything like it. So precise were their movements; even the dance of the eyes. We were thoroughly impressed.

Shipwreck Diving in Amed

Amed is a part of Bali located along the upper portion of the eastern coast. I’m really not sure if Amed is a city or just the name for that region. It’s not like we saw any big signs that said, Welcome to Amed. Neither city, nor town, nor even village would be a fitting label, anyway…at least not for what we found. There was basically one asphalt road that curved in unison with the coastline and that was it. Small hotels, restaurants, mini-stores and dive shops fit in uncrowded clusters along either side of the street for a couple-mile stretch. Nothing too fancy, mind you…no name brand hotels or restaurants were seen. We saw only sweet little family-run operations that were generally well-done, comfortable and very cheap. Amed has so far been untouched by commercialism and greed. Hallelujah!

Most people come to Amed specifically for the outstanding diving and snorkeling. In fact, many of the hotels and guesthouses are physically connected to dive shops and operate together as one business. This was true with regard to where Jessica and I stayed.


Just down the walk from our bungalow was the staging area for fitting divers with their equipment. On the morning of our dives, we gathered there (along with 5 other divers) before loading into a van and heading down to the dive site- the USAT Liberty shipwreck. Ketut was the name of the guide assigned to just Jessica and me by the dive master. (So much different than the group of 10 or so we were a part of when doing our Great Barrier Reef dives.) Ketut was a supercool Indonesian dude around 25 years old. He spoke very good English and smiled easily, showing a great set of white teeth every time.

The USAT Liberty was a military transport ship torpedoed by the Japanese in World War II while carrying rail ties and rubber from Australia to the Philippines. It was damaged heavily in the strike and took on water, but somehow managed to stay afloat. Tow ships pulled it to the beach in Tulamben, Bali where its cargo was salvaged. (Tulamben is one click north of Amed.) Abandoned, the ship remained beached at the water’s edge for 21 years….until tremors associated with the 1963 volcanic eruption of Mount Agung jiggled it into slightly deeper waters just offshore where it finally sank completely once and for all. Another fifty years has passed now and marine life has taken firm control of the ship.

Today it’s become a popular dive site. In fact, VERY popular, we were told. They say that during the high-season you can barely find a vacant spot on the beach to put down your things. Thankfully, while we were there it was not so crowded.

Diving at the USAT Liberty was so easy because we simply had to walk into the water from the beach and there it was. Such a contrast from the Great Barrier Reef; there we boarded a boat and trotted out to sea for 90 minutes before reaching the dive site. Ketut and others from our dive team helped Jessica and I get ready with our oxygen tanks, masks and fins. Then we locked arms and marched into the water. From the moment we lowered our masked faces into the water we saw fish- just little ones but they radiated blue color. Oh yeah, this was gonna be good!

The water was clear like a swimming pool. Ketut led us around the outside of the sunken ship, pointing out various marine life as we swam along easily. Here we are posing with the deadly scorpion fish in the foreground. I kept wanting to call it a rock fish, (for obvious reasons, right?).


Fish are so amazingly varied in their color-schemes. Wish I could upload all the pics, but….this will have to do.



We saw a couple of turtles. One of them is in the collage above. Sorry for the blurry pic. It’s really hard to hold the camera still in the water. Plus, whenever I see something cool, I want to rush and take the picture before it swims away. With turtles, however, (at least these turtles) that’s simply not an issue…they make no effort to swim away. I’m no marine biologists, but I think this is a loggerhead turtle just like the one we saw lay eggs in Australia.

We completed two brilliant dives that day. Best diving EVER!

From the island of Bali, we ventured westward to the island of Java. Our adventures there will be posted soon. Stay with us!

Aussie Road Trip- Brisbane to Cairns

(Australia’s northeast coast – 12 January 2014) From Sydney we flew to Brisbane, the city in the middle of what they call Australia’s “Gold Coast.” Brizzy, as its nicknamed, rides the easternmost edge of the continent and aligns closely with the Great Barrier Reef’s furthest extension to the south. We had about 10 days in front of us before Australia would be checked off our itinerary. To fill that time with Aussie exploration, we rented a shiny red car and drove from Brizzy to Cairns, making dozens of stops along the way. Aussie road trip!

Scheduled stops were Rainbow Beach, Bundaberg and the egg-laying sea turtles on Mon Repos, Mackay, and Townsville. Unscheduled stops included, Airlie Beach, Mission Beach, Dingo Beach, etc. [Yes, lots of beaches].


No Place to Rest for Turtles

Mon Repos (French for my rest) is a protected beach near the town of Bundaberg where mama sea turtles have been coming for thousands of years to lay their eggs. For a myriad of reasons, the numbers of these turtles has been in steep decline for decades. (No doubt, the decline started when European explorers first settled the area.)

Conservation efforts since the 80’s have helped to reverse the trend and promote the survival of these awesome creatures. Every night between November and March (egg-laying season), the public is invited to get involved. For a totally reasonable fee of $10, Jessica and I eagerly checked it out.

Once the sun sets and darkness pervades the beach, mother sea turtles emerge from the water, drag themselves across the beach to the high sand, and lay a clutch of between 100 – 150 eggs. The turtles don’t all come rushing out of the water at once, mind you. And they don’t have a set schedule, preferring to appear at random times throughout the night.

Jessica and I arrived to the Conservation Center around 6:30 pm. That’s the building just off the beach where people gather into color-coded groups until the Ranger gets word that a turtle has been spotted on the beach. “I need everyone with a green sticker to gather on the north walkway, please,” shouts the rangers. Jessica and I had pink stickers. About 20 minutes later, “If you have a blue sticker, please make your way to the walkway on the south side of the building.” After another 30 or so minutes had passed when the yellow-stickered folks were called. More time passed. We sat waiting and worrying there wouldn’t be a turtle for us. We saw one of the groups that had previously left for the beach come back to the center because their turtle had changed its mind and returned to the sea. Lightning flashed in the distance from a far-off storm and that may have caused some of the turtles to abandon their mission.

Finally, around 10:15 our group was called forth. Go pink! We were the last group and so the Ranger that seemed to be in charge throughout the night became our guide. We liked him. Loud and enthusiastic was his style.

Loggerheaded Mama

Groups were big. There were nearly 60 of us marching along the dark beach towards our turtle. It was quite dark, but we could make out tracks in the sand where other turtles had already made their beach crossings. Once arriving at the path of our turtle the Ranger asked us to pause and wait for him while he walked further up the high sand where our turtle was preparing her site for egg-laying. A team of researchers had already positioned themselves behind our mama turtle…to monitor her behavior. The Ranger returned informing us it was a Loggerhead, the most common variety found on this particular beach. He then invited us to walk slowly and quietly up to where she was nesting.

With so many people it was hard to see, but as we bunched around her, mama turtle was in the process of digging the pit within which she would drop her clutch. The Ranger placed a flashlight right by the hole (right at her butt) so that we could all see what was happening. She digs the hole with her two hind flippers so her head is facing the opposite way. The Ranger claimed she didn’t even know we were there. Seems hard to fathom, but okay. He made no effort to whisper, either, telling us loudly that human voices were outside the hearing range of sea turtles.

Uh oh! Mama turtle suddenly stopped digging. The Ranger instructed us to all hold really still. Our turtle then lumbered herself around in a circle and surveyed the area. If she didn’t know we were there before, there could be no doubt about it now. Sixty people, 20 of them fidgety kids, crouched 5 feet away from her? She couldn’t not know we were there. Fortunately for us she was undeterred and continued on about her business. (She obviously didn’t feel threatened.) Peering into the unfinished hole, the ranger explained that she had stopped digging because of a root. Moving herself to a new spot only a couple of meters away from where she was, she hit reboot and started over from scratch. The benefit to us was that we would now get to see the whole process.

Sand Angels

Her first step was to clear the top-sand off the nesting site using a technique the Ranger called body-pitting. She did this in a similar way to how kids (or adults) make angels in the snow, by sweeping the arms and legs back and forth. Unlike the snow-angel technique, however, the turtle forcefully flings away the dry sand with her flippers. Since we were all gathered in a semi-circle around her much of the flying sand landed in our laps. That was very cool.

After body-pitting for about 15 minutes, our lady shifted gears into digging herself a new egg cavity. Again, the Ranger placed a flashlight right behind her digging spot so we could all witness how skillfully this gentle creature used her flippers to dig. With machine-like precision, she pierced the sand with the tip of a her left flipper and lifted out a “handful” of sand, placing it away from the hole. A momentary pause… and then the right hind flipper did the same. This motion was repeated, one flipper then the other, until the hole was as deep as her flippers could extend.

She was now ready to lay her eggs into the hole. Plop, plop-plop! They started slowly dropping out of her like lottery balls on mega-millions night. The Ranger asked the kids closest to her to count the eggs as they drop and let him know once the number reached ten. Apparently, once the turtle starts laying eggs it goes into a trance-like state and won’t stop for any reason. Taking advantage of this fact, the Ranger turned on more lights around her, not just on her back side, but in front of her, too. Researchers went into action at that point, measuring her shell long-ways and side-to-side, and checking to see if she’d been tagged before. Visitors were now invited to take pictures.


All of this attention seems ridiculously intrusive, right? It only starts making sense once you consider the grander purpose- saving a species from extinction. To be effective in this goal, the conservationist have to understand what makes these turtles tick. Hence, all of the tracking and monitoring. The idea of inviting the public to view this awesome natural event is twofold: First, it educates the public and gives them a stake in the well-being of the turtles; secondly, it helps fund the conservation effort- each visitor pays $10 for the privilege of seeing the turtles in action. A maximum of 600 tickets are sold each night. They ALWAYS sell out.

Doing the Slow Shuffle

After our gal finished laying her clutch, her final step was covering the eggs. For this she used her great flippers again to scatter sand over the eggs and, in fact, the entire nesting area. Her flippers are amazingly quick and strong, throwing the sand 15-10 feet behind her with each flick. By the time she was done it was impossible to tell exactly where she’d laid her eggs. Where it not for a marker the Ranger placed next to the hole, they’d be hidden (from both us and any potential predators).

All that was left for her now was a slow shuffle back to the sea. The group parted at her front as she began drag-crawling across the sand. The space behind her then filled with her fans. Her journey back to the waves appeared so laborious. She simply looked exhausted; three scoots forward and then she’d stop and rest. We didn’t actually see her climb onto the beach so maybe that was just how she always walks and we just assumed she was exhausted from laying 112 eggs. Anyway, we were feeling for her up to the end… when she reached the surf and then slowly vanished into the waves. That was the most poignant part to me…seeing her return to the wild, alone, after sharing a small portion of her story with those curious humans for the previous hour or so.

Conservationists have found that sometimes the turtle’s choice of nesting sites is less than ideal. If they don’t lay their eggs high enough up into the dunes, the tides can reach them and make waste of all her efforts (by essentially drowning her eggs). For this reason, the conservationist will sometimes relocate eggs to a safer location. They have found that by doing this, the number of successful hatchlings will increase by 30 – 40 thousand each year. Which sounds like a huge number until you learn that only one in a thousand hatchlings will survive to maturity.

One of the conservationist removes the eggs and lines them up for us to relocate. Everybody pitched in to move the eggs to higher ground.

Was The Great Barrier Reef Great?

Prior to beginning our world tour Jessica and I got ourselves scuba certified. Our primary motivation at the time was so that we would be ready to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. Finally, that long-awaited day had arrived. We booked a day-trip to the reef out of Cairns that included 3 dives.

The weather in Cairns was off and on rain. Away from the coast at the dive site, however, we found lots of sun splitting the clouds and not a drop of rain. Visibility in the water was excellent, too. Everything was working out beautifully.

Our dive boat was named the T6. (…fly like a T6, like a T6)

This was the first ever dive experience for either of us (since completing our training) and much of it was a bustling blur. There were 60 or so divers and snorkelers on board our catamaran, plus about 15 staff. This meant we’d be diving in a somewhat industrial environment. I’ve heard diving excursions can be a cluster and this was certainly true in our case. The crew has to keep things moving so they’re calling for divers to hurry up and get their tanks on, but then it’s hard to find room to maneuver amid all of the bodies. It’s chaos to be sure, albeit a happy chaos…since everyone is feeling the thrill of diving the GBR.


Even after we’d stepped off the boat’s back deck and were bobbing in the open ocean, the chaos continued. There’s just so much going on! Which one of these black-suited bodies belongs to Jessica? Where’s my guide? We were all wearing lycra “stinger suits,” which look like wet suits, but are simply a covering to prevent jelly fish stings. I saw no jelly fish in the water so for me they only served to make every diver look nearly identical.

Our first dive was over and done with in less than 30 minutes. Crikey! Where does the time go? The scenery underwater was quite stunning. I don’t know why our photos are so void of color. We know part of the reason was that we didn’t use the underwater setting on the camera (because we didn’t know that setting existed). Bottom line, I swear it looks better in person.

Reef shark.

Experience matters. Even the experience of just one dive had a large influence on the second. Dive two felt so much more relaxed and slowed down. It was on dive two that we saw a nice-sized reef shark. We are also happy to report that we found Nemo. The little orange and white clown fish was swimming happily amid an anemone.


After dive two, a shockingly delicious buffet lunch was served. Meanwhile, our boat relocated to a second dive site. Minutes later and we were refitting ourselves a third time for our final dive of the day. At this point, we were feeling like pros.

Between Brizzy and the Reef

A road trip is just a car ride unless you stop along the way see the sites. We did plenty of that. Rainbow Beach was wonderfully pretty, but unseen jellyfish tentacles in the water discouraged us from swimming much. We swam some, just not for long…after mild stings were felt here and there on the skin, it seemed prudent to get out. In the photo below you’ll notice a tall orange-yellow flag. In a wider shot you would see two of them, placed by the lifeguards to corral everyone into a defined swimming area. So, you’ve got this endlessly long beautiful beach, but then everyone is bunched into one relatively small swimming area. I know they do it for safety reasons- so they can keep an eye out for trouble -it’s just kinda weird.

Bundaberg is home to the largest bat species in Australia, the Flying Fox. We first saw them flying around in the evening. The next day we found their daytime home in a nature preserve called Baldwin Swamp.
After Jessica’s narration, listen to the shrieking sounds made by the bats.

Airlie Beach was supposed to be a can’t miss spot, but once we got there we learned the real beach-to-see was on an offshore island called White Haven, named for its gleaming white beaches made of silicon. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to catch the boat. Now we have another reason to return to Australia some day. We still enjoyed hanging out at Airlie Beach and sharing lunch under some palm trees.

Driving between Mackay and Townsville, we stopped at two different swimming holes. The first was so clean and clear, we snorkeled a bit. It was like swimming inside a large aquarium. At the second spot, it was cool that we were the only ones there. So REEE-freshing!

Wild kangaroos were not seen everywhere like the sheep in New Zealand, though we did find them here and there.

Burger King becomes Hungry Jack’s down under. (I wonder what they have against the king?) I liked going for their Frozen Cokes (just like a Coke-flavored Slurpee). They were running a special- get a large frozen Coke for only $1. Find anything that cheap in Australia and you’d better jump on it!

Yet another gorgeous beach. I love the big bold sky.

Traveling in Australia like we did was good, but so incomplete. The land of oz is HUGE- comparable in size to the United States. It’s as if we’d gone to Disney World and only rode one ride. Coming back to Australia will be in our heads for a future time. For now, it’s onward to Indonesia.

Sydney- We Have a Winner

(Sydney, Australia – 1 January 2014) At almost five months in, we are far enough through our trip to be having conversations that start like this, “Are there any places that we’ve been to so far that you think you’ll ever come back to?” My answer includes a couple of places- Torres del Paine (in Chile) and Ecuador come to mind first. Jessica has consistently maintained that she is far more inclined to go to new places, instead of returning to any place we’ve already been…at least that’s what she was saying before Sydney.

We were fortunate to be sitting on the left side of the plane as it circled around Sydney Harbor to land. The wide blue skies held just the right number of white clouds to maximize the beauty of the scene.


Our excitement was reaching its peak as we took the metro from the Sydney airport to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”), the odd name of the stop right at Sydney Harbor. Delivered immediately into the thick of it we were. What a brilliant atmosphere. Down at the harbor people moved about in every direction….all happy with their faces and snappy with their cameras. Such an international city, too. Every country in the world sent someone to visit.

Ferry to Manly Beach

Jessica and I were weighted down with our big bags and getting to the apartment in Manly Beach where we’d stay the next five nights (through New Year’s Day) was our direct mission. The port at Circular Quay was bustling with five docks, our ferry to Manly was on #3. We’d purchased a one-week pass for public transport so we easily hopped on board with just a swipe of our card and a little crowd-weaving.

Spending our nights in the heart of Sydney would have been costly, especially because we were there in those prized days between Christmas and New Years. Many, if not all, of the Sydney hostels we researched prior to arriving required a minimum stay of 7 or 10 days. This didn’t work for us. In the end we turned to AirBnB and found a room for rent in an apartment on Manly Beach, 30 minutes north of Sydney by ferry. We knew nothing of Manly Beach before going, but a friend we’d met in New Zealand told us Manly Beach was their favorite place nearby to Sydney… so how could we go wrong?

Once on board the ferry we moved all the way to the back. We did this based on a hot tip we’d received from our host at the apartment. What great advice! We had THE BEST views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House right there from the deck. We bristled with enthusiasm. Cruising through Sydney Harbor on a beautiful day is without equal.

The beach at Manly Beach.
We enjoyed kayaking in the areas all around Manly Beach. Perfect weather, too!

Free Tour of Sydney!

Almost every touristy-type of activity in Sydney (and throughout Australia) is dishearteningly expensive. We managed to find one of the exceptions to this rule, the “free” guided city tour. Of course, free doesn’t always mean free, right? The guides works for tips, which means you would be a real jerk for going on the tour and then not giving up some coin. We love it because it allows us to pay what we feel is a reasonable amount for a city tour of this type.

The tour was rich and colorful with stories of Australia’s wild history- its early use as a prison colony for Mother England, how the architect for the Opera House was chosen, then forced out mid-project due to cost overruns, and how a Japanese mini-sub penetrated Sydney Harbor during WWII and tried to torpedo a docked US Warship. The torpedo missed its intended target and instead sunk an Aussie boat that served as living quarters for Australian naval officers. The story of the mini-sub didn’t end there. The plucky little menace managed to escape the harbor, but then took a wrong turn and failed to reunite with the mothership from whence it came. For more than half a century the ultimate fate of that sub was unknown…until about five years ago when it was found by chance at the bottom of the ocean somewhere off Australia’s northern coast.

One activity we really wanted to do was climb the Sydney Harbor bridge…not like, on our own, mind you. They offer organized tours for it. Look for the people walking across the top arch of the bridge in any of our bridge pics. The cost in US Dollars for the bridge climb was about $250 each. Crap-a-doodle! That’s just too outrageous.

Here are more sites/sights from Sydney, including pics of our own regular ol’ walk across the bridge.


Below are two photos of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building), one of the oldest grand buildings in Sydney. It was originally built to be a “market” for farmers and other vendors to come sell their goods and produce. The building’s purpose has changed about a billion times over the centuries. Today it is a market once more…though an extremely high-end one. The outside looks classic/original, but the inside is pure glitz and glamour.
The Sydney Harbor is always abuzz with activity.
Did you know the Sydney Opera House looks like this close up?
Jessica found a cathedral that was “this big!”
This interesting bird is called an Ibis.

New Year’s Eve in Sydney

New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Sydney. Being that it is not far from the International Date Line, Sydney is always one of the first major cities to celebrate the new year. Invariably, New Year’s Eve highlights from around the world will show a snippet of the Sydney celebration. Jessica and I were excited to be a part of it this year.


There were numerous choices regarding places to be when the clock struck midnight, but each one had a long list of pros and cons. Some sites cost big money (~$200 ea), others required huge commitments of time, (i.e. we’d have to camp out on a spot for up to 10 hours). In the end, we chose a spot overlooking the harbor that was very near the harbor bridge, but on the north side. We got to our targeted site around 8 pm and found a spot of turf. At 9 pm, they shot off a special round of fireworks for the families, many of whom cleared out once it was over allowing us to move to an even better spot further up. Now it was all about waiting for midnight.

An armada of sailboats and yachts slowly circled through the harbor waters, their outlines all lit up with string lights. One of the boats was an old sailing ship, perhaps a holdover from Captain James Cook’s expedition that “discovered” Australia in 1770.

As the clock approached midnight people transitioned from sitting on their blankets to standing next to them. Less than 10 minutes to go, less than five… The excited tension built up to the last 10 seconds when the crowd started shouting out the countdown, “10, 9, 8…” There was no official countdown clock, at least that we could see, but everyone was synched up by looking at the clocks on their phones.

On cue, the first fireworks lit the sky. From the bridge, from the harbor….even from the top sails of the Opera House roof, dazzling fireworks filled up the harbor. The whole outburst lasted only about 12 minutes, but it was so worth being a part of. Once in a lifetime, for sure.



This photo was taken just minutes after the fireworks ended. Hello 1/1/2014!


After wrapping up our five spectacular days in Sydney, we continued on up the Aussie coast until we reached Cairns. Check out those haps in the next post.

Last shot. Click on this one to enlarge it fully.