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A Few Words About Melbourne

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on April 13, 2009

We hadn’t plan to spend three nights with Sue and Bill but we were enjoying our time with them that I’m glad we did. So we spent only three nights in Melbourne. We found a rather old but clean B&B on the east side of the city – walking distance to the downtown area. We walked a lot in Melbourne and they have a wonderful free tram that circles the major business district. Melbourne is on the south coast of Australia and it reminds me of San Diego quite a bit flatter than Sydney. It is a very nice city, clean, modern but still with some of that old world Aussie feel – pubs and gardens and Victorian/Edwardian townhouses.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs almost the entire month of April so we went to two comedy shows in two nights. During the day we did the sightseeing things; the old gaol (that’s how they spell jail), Victoria Markets, the parks, Rod Laver Area where the Australian Open is held. The grand prix had just completed the day before we arrived and we were able to drive the course while they were dismantling the grandstands.

Although we enjoyed Melbourne we were a little down knowing that our time in Australia is almost over. Major decisions need to be made and then there is the packing and the travel plans back to the states. All of this was weighing on our minds and putting a damper on our time in Melbourne. In an upcoming (not the next one but the following one) blog entry I will tell you what we are doing about coming back to the US of A.

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A Visit to Wombat Bend

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on April 5, 2009

We finally got to Victoria and visited Bill and Sue and their four Airedales at Wombat Bend in Yarra Glen Valley east of Melbourne. It was a fantastic time. We spent three nights with them and were able to hear all about their battles with the fires. 

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Their B&B is so cute. It’s a one bedroom and bath but it has a large living room and kitchen – the place is bigger than our house in Canberra if you exclude the extra two bedrooms. It was so peaceful and quiet. One early morning I heard and saw the hot air balloon go by –  it was magical. We were surrounded with Airedales, birds I hadn’t seen before and the billabong was full of ducks. In these pictures you can see their round house and the B&B with it’s surrounding veranda.

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They are still doing a lot of cleaning up and also having their billabong dredged since the water is so low due to the drought. The silt that they are digging out of the billabong will be spread out over the property and the grass will eventually grow.

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With the help of a neighbor they were able to save all their buildings, their cars and many trees but manyof their fence posts were gone. When we were there it was seven weeks after the fires and a soft covering of grass was visible in many of the burned out fields we saw. In these pictures you can see how close the fires came to their house and the B&B. The fences are their property line.

This isn't Fall color - it's burned leaves.

This isn't Fall color - it's burned leaves.

 

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wombatbend13 These pictures are just a sample of the area around Sue and Bill’s house. We took a ride throughout other areas where entire hills and houses were burned to the ground – it was very sad. For those of you who where in the Bay Area during the Oakland Hills fires you will remember the look of the devastation – multiply that by acres and acres and that is how this area looks.

I was so relieved to see Sue, Bill and the dogs safe. It is scary to see how close they came to losing everything. It wasn’t luck however, they have been prepared to fight the fires for years because they knew it wasn’t a matter of if there would be a fire but when. Years of drought and a history of bush fires has made them even more vigilant. This is Australia after all.

Seven weeks after the fires the eucalyptus trees have already begun to sprout new branches from their charred trunks. More about our trip in upcoming blog entries.

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Scuba-Doo

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on March 6, 2009

After two days in Townsville we headed south to Airlie Beach our jumping-off spot for the Great Barrier Reef. Airlie Beach is a cute beach town catering to the young beach bums and bunnies. Shop after shop sells beach clothes and souvenirs. The restaurants have sidewalk or balcony outdoor seating since the weather is so good.

Leslie and Manu stayed in a backpackers inn right on the main road through the town, Fergus and I picked a cute B&B with ocean views in a quiet neighborhood. We spent most of the afternoon deciding which reef/island cruises we wanted to take. We finally settled on a FantaSea Reef Sleep cruise.

So early Thursday morning a bus picked us up at our B&B and took us to the harbour where the boat launched. It was a bit of a bumpy ride  out to the reef which was about two hours out to sea. It was a windy and rainy day but since we were going to be snorkeling and scuba diving it didn’t really matter. Just as a precaution I took some seas sickness pills but they didn’t work for me. By the time we got to the reef I was feeling very green.

The boat took us out to an anchored pontoon barge equipped with sleeping cabins, all the snorkel and diving suits and equipment needed for lots of people, a kitchen, dressing rooms, picnic tables, and a sun deck with deck chairs. Unfortunately it was raining most people where trying to stay under the awning or on the boat. I was still not feeling great so I tried to stay dry while Leslie, Manu and Fergus went snorkeling.

In the afternoon we got our scuba equipment and had a lesson for what is called a resort dive. I did this twenty years ago and remembered it being one of the most amazing activities I had ever done. I was going to pass on it this trip but decided to try it again and I’m glad.

At first I felt a little claustrophobic. The instructor reminded us that it is important to keep breathing. It seems like a stupid thing to be reminded but it is easy to hold your breath especially when you see awesome giant clams or the colorful fish among the coral. The time passed too quickly. This has to be high on the list of 100 things to do before you die.

Around 2 pm the “day trippers” had to get back on the boat back to the mainland. That was about the time the weather improved. We got to stay on the pontoon with another couple from Germany. Marcus and Julia are about Leslie and Manu’s age and the six of us had a great sunset dinner cooked and served by the crew. It was wonderful being surrounded by the sea, no TV, no COMPUTER, just good food, nice wine and great company. I slept the best I have in months. The gentle rocking of the barge put me out of the entire night.

The next morning it was rise and shine by 8am for breakfast before the “day trippers” of the new day arrived. Leslie, Manu and Fergus did another dive but I hung out on the sundeck and read my book because the weather was so good and I wanted to get a deck chair before the boat arrived. All in all it was a great trip.

We spent Friday night back at the B&B and Leslie and Manu at the backpacker inn. We had a flight back to Canberra the next morning while Leslie and Manu will continue to explore the Queensland Coast before coming to Canberra before going back to Belgium. We had a wonderful time with them. Here are some picture of our reef trip.

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Tropical Queensland

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on March 5, 2009

You really start to realize how big Australia is when you fly from one state to another. As I’ve mentioned before, Sydney is much like San Francisco in feel and climate. We flew to Townsville on Monday morning and even though it isn’t the northermost city in Queensland – it felt like we landed in Hawaii. It was warm and humid, there were palm trees and fanigipangi trees everywhere. And it was very green. They have been having extreme rain and flooding for weeks and we were concerned that this might not be a good time to visit but the only visable signs to us was extensive street erosion which they were working on repairing and areas of standing woater along sides of the roads.

Our first day in Townsvill we took the ferry over to Magnetic Island. There wasn’t much to do but hike the nature trails but once we got there it started raining. Fergus and I sat in a pub to weather the storm while Leslie and Manu attempted to brave the storm. They were soon back because they found out it took 1/2 hour to get to the trailhead from where we were and then the trail walk takes two hours. We had to catch the ferry back to Townsville  in less than an hour so they decided to postpone the hike.

Seeking shelter from the storm.

Seeking shelter from the storm.

Good thing they did because we decided to come back the next day and I’m glad we did. It turned out to be a beautiful clear day, not too hot and no rain. We had the best time. The nature walk on Magnetic Island goes up to the ruins of an old WWII ammunitions lookout. The trees were a combinations of tropical and eucalyptus trees. The best part was that we finally saw koalas in the wild for the first time. Now they don’t look much different but there is just something so great seeing them resting on a tree branch within arms reach. We saw many three or four just along the path. You have to keep you eye out for them because they don’t move much and their grey coloring really makes them blend into the tree trunks.

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It is a myth that koalas are drunk on eucalyptus leaves – the truth is that there are very little nutrients in the leaves of the eucalyptus and so the koalas have to sleep to reserve their energy. They are nocturnal so you rarely see them moving around during the day the best time to see them moving about is early morning or late evening. This little fellow moved his head a bit and his arms just a little the entire time we were watching him. He wasn’t frightened by our voices nor when we got close to take pictures.

The three bears

The three bears

The great koala scouts have another sighting.

The great koala scouts have another sighting.

It was a trulyexciting adventure being this close to these unusual animals. We didn’t see an wild kangaroos for Leslie even though the bus driver said there were plenty on the island. Well Leslie and Manu have three weeks to see one. Next stop The Great Barrier Reef – not many ‘roos there but lots of other amazing things to see and do once we get there.

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Meeting Leslie & Manu in Sydney

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on March 5, 2009

Leslie and Manu flew into Sydney on a Thursday night so we gave them Friday to rest before we flew up there to meet them on Saturday. The last time we saw them was when we met in New York on Spring Break several years ago. They look great and it was so much fun getting a chance to catch up while visiting several Sydney sights  – some we have been to and others we hadn’t.

Our first dinner together in Sydney.

Our first dinner together in Sydney.

Our first venture was to take a bus to Circular Quay and then walk to The Rocks and visit the street market. It started to rain after a while so we stopped for a light lunch. We caught a ferry to Darling Harbor so that we could go to the Aquarium. It is a nice aquarium but expensive. The best part is that they have these plexiglass tunnels that go under the big tanks so you can see the fish swim over you. These aren’t just pretty fish – they have sharks and stingrays and sea turtles. Very cool. It was a lot of walking so afterwards Fergus and I headed back to the hotel while Leslie and Manu stayed to see more.

Sydney has great resturants and we found two Spanish Tapas Resturants, they happen to be two doors down from each other on the same street. There aren’t many places in Kansas that you can get Spanish food – good Mexican but not Spanish. Our first trip to Sydney we went to one these tapas resturants and this time we tried the other. Both are really good.

Leslie and Manu

Leslie and Manu

The next day we went to the Toronga Zoo. You take the ferry from Circular Quay to the Zoo Dock. The zoo is on the side of a hill across the harbor over looking downtown Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. The giraffes have the best view of Sydney. This visit took most of the day and we didn’t see all of it. We consentrated on seeing Australian and African animals, too many reptiles for my tastes but lots of birds which I really enjoy.

Fergus and I

Fergus and I

 

 

 

We had dinner at a Chinese resturant that didn’t have red wallpaper and dragon designs everywhere. We had an early flight because the next morning we had a 7 am flight to Queensland. I still haven’t seen everything I would like to see in Sydney so I’m hoping we get at least one more visit before we fly back to the states.

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Maori Hangi at Wairakei Terraces

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

One of our final experiences in New Zealand was to go to a traditional Maori Cultural Center and Hangi Feast. The area was given back to the Maori tribe of the area and they recreated the geo-thermal terraces and build traditional Maori huts and demonstrated Maori arts, crafts, and music. We learned quite a bit about the Maori Culture when we spent time in both the Christchurch Museum and The Te Papa (National Museum of New Zealand) in Wellington.

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It was good to hear Maori history from the descendants of New Zealand’s indigenous people. This performance group where all related: brothers, sisters and cousins, a group of young people sharing the language, dance and music of their ancestors. To learn more click here. Dinner was fun and Fergus was pulled from the crowd to dance – I guess all that bungy jumping brought out the Maori warrior in him.

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Boogie Woogie Bungy Boy!!

Boogie Woogie Bungy Boy!!

The week before we had dinner at a castle on top of the hill in Wellington at a place called Sign of the Takahe. As many of you know I have this thing about King Arthur and anything about medieval times. I had Fergus take a ton of pictures of this restaurant just in case I ever build my own castle (miniature).
The Great Hall

The Great Hall

There was no performance and we had a early dinner because the place was reserved for a really large party that night – how cool would that be? Great place for a Renaissance Faire or Medieval Theme wedding. These are some examples of how diverse the cultural experiences we had in New Zealand were I can’t wait for our next visit.
My knight in a button-down shirt!!

My knight in a button-down shirt!!

The views from the windows were beautiful. The windows were also beautiful. This is a must visit even if only for a drink in the pub, a cup of coffee in the afternoon or an elegant dinner.
My knight in shining armor - a little late.

My knight in shining armor - a little late.

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More NZ Adrenaline Adventures

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

Whale watching and swimming with the dolphins were not enough excitment for Fergus so when we got back to the North Island we added a few more adrenaline adventures for fun. Since the moment we started talking about going to New Zealand, Fergus started talking about Bungy Jumping. So when we got to Taupo we checked out the jump area. NOOOOO WAAAAYYY was he going to talk me into this one. I don’t like rollercoaster or stomach whirly-likes rides so jumping off a platform and whirling upside down  with a bungy cord attached to my feet just wasn’t going to happen.

I was happy to film it from the sidelines and crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t be the first person to die at this Bungy Jump site. But before he took the dive we went to Huka Falls for an easy going boat ride – in a jet boat. What a blast. I thought we would be riding the rapids but we only got close to the falls.  If you’d like to a video from the jet boat company click here

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After a blast of cool down spray from the jet boat ride we headed back to the Bungy site. I will refer you to Fergus’ blog for his personal experience ( docdownunder ). From my side I have to admit it seemed like a pretty silly thing to do and I was a little scared for him. Fortunately it is was a quick experience and after almost two weeks of anticipation it was over in seconds – we were able to  enjoy our last days in New Zealand without having to talk about and think about -“do it or not?”

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Botanical Gardens

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 12, 2008

It seemed as if all large cities in Australia and  New Zealand have botanic gardens. Canberra’s is a hilly landscape with natural Australian flora. They pride themselves in their large collection of vegetation from all over Australia which by now you know is vast.

New Zealand botanic gardens especially during these summer months looks like it was plucked from England and so much more. I spent a couple of hours at the Christchurch Gardens but my camera battries died so I didn’t get many pictures. This garden is 21 hectares and I didn’t see it all.

By comparison the Wellington Botanic Gardens is 25  hectares but it covers a hilly landscape and I spent several hours there. I got plenty of pictures at the Wellington Botanical Gardens which was in full bloom. It was a lovely day in Wellington and the garden was one of my favorite sites. 

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New Zealand Landscapes

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 11, 2008

We saw some pretty amazing landscapes during our travels around New Zealand. We didn’t even see the top half of the North Island nor the bottom half of the South Island. This is a place that really takes more than two weeks to visit. I just wanted to add some pictures we took along the way to give you all a sense of how beautiful it is. These are some pictures we took on the North Island.

Check back in a couple of days when I add more about our New Zealand trip: gardens, jet boats, bungy jumping and the hangi. And if you haven’t logged in for awhile read below about our swim with the dolphins.

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Swimming with the Dolphins

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 11, 2008

This had to be the highlight of our trip to New Zealand. After the Waitomo Caves I never thought I’d have to get into a wetsuit again. I did and this time I had to tread water – oh how I wished I had my inner tube. The dolphin swim boat launched from the pier at Akaroa about 90 minutes south of Christchurch. This quaint village was a French settlement prior to the English taking over New Zealand. It has a cute waterfront with small shops and cafes.

The day was a bit overcast so it made it all seem colder than it probably was. The wetsuits we used this time , however, were newer and a little more stylish, and not wet prior to us getting into them so the preparation wasn’t as shocking as it was for glowworm watching.

The group was smaller too. There were maybe eight of us on the boat plus the captain and a crew member. We sailed out towards the opening of the Akaroa Harbor and then waited to spot the dolphins. The dolphins in this harbor are Hector Dolphins and this is a good place to watch them because the harbor keeps them safe from sharks.

Two Hector Dolphins along side the boat.

Two Hector Dolphins along side the boat.

I was the first to spot them jumping and even though I couldn’t say “Thar she blow!” I did shout to the captain “I see them!” We headed the boat towards them, stopped and then slipped into the icy cold water one at a time so as to not scare them away. We weren’t out in the open sea but the rolling waves were still pretty big and which made  it was hard to see the dolphins while we were in the water. The captain and the crew guy would yell from the boat, “coming your way on the left” or ” two right behind you” so we could position ourselves to see them.

 

IT WAS AWESOME! We were all separated by several feet so that the dolphins would swin in between us. They came by in pairs or sets of three so if we missed one we usually could see the other. These dophins are little and have a black fin so they were fairly easy to spot but they were fast so if  we were turned in the wrong direction we’d miss them.

Dolphins with the group.

Dolphins with the group.

We were in the water for forty minutes but it seemed like five. The skipper said we’d be leaving soon so I got out first so I could take some pictures and video. As I was getting into the boat one of them jumped completely out of the water – behind my back- so I missed it. I guess all those ohhs and ahhs were not for me.

I got some shots of the dolphins near Fergus and some with the other people on the boat.

Fergus and Hector

                             Fergus and Hector

They come so close you can almost touch them but they warn you not to because their skin is so delicate that it can be injured easily. It really was a wonderful experience. As we were preparing to leave a dolphin watching boat came near us and the dolphins went crazy swimming along side of the ship. We could see them clearly then. I think the people on the boat, bundled up in their jackets, were envious that we were down there close and personal with the dolphins – a much better view.

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