Sean Mc on Skynet

Terrigal

We drove from Hunter Valley to Newcastle on the coast with the notion that it would be a nice drive from Newcastle down along the coast to Terrigal where we were meeting up with some UCCCC paddlers who'd moved over a few months back. I'll can now say it's not worth driving along the coast, the map is deceiving and you don't see any ocean or coastline along the way, next time I'd be opting for the freeway instead.
We had planned on just staying with Gunther, Mary and Eilís for a few hours but our arms got twisted and the drink started flowing and before we knew it we were staying the night and having a BBQ. The next day we did drive to Sydney, only a few days later than expected.

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posted by SeanMc @ 6:22 PM, ,

On to Hunter Valley and it's vineyards

There isn't really much to see between Tamworth the Hunter Valley wine producing area so it was a day of driving mainly. We stopped to have a look at a mountain known as burning mountain. It sounds impressive, but after seeing so much volcanic activity in the Taupo area I'm now a bit choosier about these things. We walked uphill for about an hour to have a look at some vague wisps of smoke coming out of the ground, not worth it I think. See here for some more information

We just drove on to Hunter Valley after lunch. Last time we did a wine tour in NZ I did the driving but now it was my turn to do the tasting. Clare had the pleasure of watching the wine take effect on me this time, I had fun and she just laughed at me.
We visited 3 wineries in total, McGuigans, Glandore and Mistletoe. Our next call was to Harrigans Irish bar where we knew the manager of the Cellar, Grant Oosterdijk. The problem with knowing the manager is that the wine samples you get are that much bigger than normal, not that it's always a bad thing of course.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:31 PM, ,

Glen Innes(Stonehenge) and Nymboida


When we left Tenterfield our first stop was Glen Innes, just a few km along the road, where we'd been told about a modern Stonehenge monument. A few years back it seems the locals wanted to attract some tourists to the town so they built s copy of the Stonehenge monument. It's impressive alright but it doesn't seem to draw the same numbers as the real Stonehenge in England.
There's not a lot else to see in the area though so we continued driving towards Grafton in search of nymboida national park and canoe centre. Unfortunately for us the road was closed 97km along the way and the very officious road worker wouldn't tell us a way around and we didn't have a map good enough, all he kept saying was that the department of transport advice is blah blah blah. We had little choice but to wait for a few hours until the road reopened. Once the road reopened we continued on to Nymboida.
We hadn't been paddling for a while now so we were eager to get wet again. We'd been told about the canoe centre at Nymboida. Before the whitewater course at Penrith was built this was the big place for slalom and downriver racing in Australia. It's a simple enough setup, there's a hydro power plant on the river and the river has been slightly modified with various sized boulders being put in the flow to create features. When we were there the water level was very low but we could easily see the potential of the place. We arrived late in the evening so it wasn't worth renting paddling kit so we used their camp cabins for the night. We rented plastic slalom boats for a half-day and ran the course over and over. As it's a short run we could just carry our boats back up to the top and go again. Most of the course is grade II but there's one grade III rapid.
From Nymboida we continued south to Tamworth, our route there took us along another route called 'waterfall way' but we'd had enough water for the day so didn't even bother stopping to look. A few km along the road after leaving the canoe centre we saw the best roadsign ever, it's sign warning of a steep descent ahead but there's a playboat on the roof of the car, clearly doctored by someone with too much time on their hands but it looks cool.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:49 PM, ,

Brisbane




We'd stopped off in Brisbane to visit Steff so we might as well see what the city has to offer whilst we are here. People had told us that there wasn't a lot to see/do in Brisbane and they were right. Brisbane is the Capital of Queensland so it was certainly the busiest place in the state and there was a good atmosphere and lots of bars and eateries as you walked around the streets. This good vibe may have been becasue the Melbourne Cup was on at the same time as we were there so there were lots of parties going on. On the South bank there's a public park with gardens with a public pool that takes the form of a beach, complete with sand and a beach lifeguard hut that has a surfski. I can't really workout why they need a ski to patrol a few hundred square metre's of water. The main feature of the city is the river that it's built on, this is a very busy river and is used for various commuter craft to ferry people in and out of the city centre. We'd been told that it also offered the best views of the city so we took a ferry ride from one end of the route to the other and back. When this was done we thought we'd seen enough of Brisbane so we called it a day. I think the city council must be watching what other places around the world are up to because they have a giant ferris wheel that bears a remarkable resemblance to the London Eye.



Day 2 in Brisbane and we went to Wet'n'Wild, this is a water based theme park fulls of pools and waterslides. The weather so far in Oz had been great for us but wouldn't you know it that the day we decide to get wet it was raining! On the plus side it meant that we didn't have to queue for ages to get on any of the rides. We did get cold though so popped back to the changing rooms regularly for a hot shower.


video


As it was wet'n'cold and there were no queues at the park we were done fairly early so went to see the much famed surfers paradise. Even though it was wet and dull day the place still oozed tacky tourism from every corner. There were shops selling souvenirs everywhere and tacky neon signs on every business. We decided there and then that it wasn't really the place we wanted to hang around for too long, even though the surf was good, but busy even on a wet miserable day. We had a look around for a few hours and went home again. What surprised me about the area was the number of high rise buildings, I'd never really associated Australia with skyscrapers but here there were plenty.



Dinner normally isn't something worth blogging about but we had skippy for dinner, yes we had kangaroo steaks...mmmm ... tasty....

The next day we moved on from Brisbane, but instead of taking the coastal route we headed inland for some adventure.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:38 AM, ,

Australia Zoo

We're all going to the zoo today, zoo today, zoo today... you get the idea.
Today we were visitng Australia Zoo, the animal habitat made famous by Steve "crocodile hunter" Irwin. After seeing so many tv programs about the famous crocodile hunter on television over the years and was looking forward to visiting the zoo. In a lot of ways it's like many other zoo's, they keep a wide range of animals in captivity but making the best efforts to ensure the welfare of the animals is taken care of. What make's it different is that there are lots of native Australian animals that are on the endangered species list.
Although the man who made the zoo famous is now dead his memory lives on and cannot be forgotten by visitors. In fact it's hard to forget him because his image is everywhere. Although the zoo has many animals the biggest show of the day is the crocodile show. This is a great display and information centre about the crocodile and is held daily in a specially constructed arena which by my guess holds about 2000 people. Although it's billed as a crocodile show there's also a large and small birds display and the elephants are brought out to please the crown too.
There's not really a lot to say about today, we wandered about looking at strange looking animals so what can you say?
Here's a few sample pictures from the day, I'll try to put up some more soon.

After the Zoo it was onwards to Brisbane to meet a friend of ours Steff whom we'd first met in Uganda a few years back.





posted by SeanMc @ 4:08 AM, ,

Fraser Island

As I've already said we booked onto a trip to Fraser Island, this is a 3 day, 2 night trip where they set 10 tourists in a 4x4 off-road truck loose on the worlds biggest Sand Island. Being a sand island there's no sealed road on the island and all the unsealed roads are tracks in the soft sand. A potential recipe for disaster you might think. Fortunately the group we ended up with were all like minded people wanted a fun weekend and just to get along with each other. Everyone in the group pulled their weight and everyone drove responsiblly and with the comfort of the other 9 people in mind, a great bunch of people. Our group included, 1 Corkmand(that's me), 1 from Monaghan(Clare), 2 from Dublin, 1 from Kildare, 1 from Laois, 2 English girls and 2 German girls.

Before leaving Hervey Bay were given a quick driving lesson which didn't involve driving(it was assumed we knew what a steering wheel was) and a talk about what equipment we were bringing with us to the island. All camping gear and cooking equipment and even some firewood was provided. We each chipped in €20 to buy food and most of us donated some food that we had ourselves already.

The tour company gave us a suggested itinerary for the trip so we couldn't even get lost. They even escorted us to the ferry to make sure we got there on time. Once the ferry pulled away from the port we were on our own.

Once on the island our first stop was Lake Mackenzie, the largest freshwater lake on the island. It amazes me that a sand island can have over 100 freshwater lakes. This lake was probably the nicest scene we'd come across so far in Australia. The photo below doesn't do it justice.



Although the island isn't really that large it still takes time to get anywhere because of the and trails. So the itinerary for the rest of the day kept us along the beach, we had a look at a rusted old shipwreck, the ship was called the Maheno. The other sight of the day was a rock formation known as the pinnacles. The pinnacles look good but after seeing so many other rock formations they're really just more rocks.



By now it was getting late and we still had to get to our campsite and cook dinner. We stayed at the Dundubarra campground. This was a national parks campsite and was fully equipped with toilets, showers and bbq's for cooking on. There was even a dingo fence around the perimeter to keep the dingos out, not that we saw many of them anyway.


The next morning we had to get going early to drive north to Indian heads. The reason for getting going early was that we had to be at Indian head before the tide got too high and we'd have been stranded. We looked about this area for a while, hoping to see some sharks in the water below. I'm not sure we saw some sharks but we did see a dolphin playing in the surf, it was catching a wave in and then swimming out to catch it back in again. I'd never seen a dolphin playing in the surf before, it was fascinating.

From there we had a 40minute walk north to Middle Rocks aka Champagne pools. As we neared the area we saw a group of people bathing in a rockpool so we figured that was it, and joined them. It wasn't until sometime later that 2 of us decided to have a look around the area and found the real champagne pools, at the far side of the same headland. They were fun to play about in, the waves continuously crashed into the large pool and gave them a frothy champagne like look (hence the name) and still it was big enough to find calm water to lie in. UNfortunately by time we dragged evveryone else to the pols we didn't have a lot of time to lounge around, but it was still worth it. After this it was a long slog back to 4x4 in the heat of the midday sun before driving back to Dundubarra campsite to have lunch.

AFter lunch we drove further down the beach to Eli creek, we'd been told that this was a great place to go for a swim in the river and float gently downstream much like a lazy river at a leisure centre. It was so lazy though that there wasn't much floating involved but walking the shallow water instead to get downstream. I think it had been hyped up a bit. It didn't take long to get bored here so we played volleyball until the sun was almost set instead.

Our campsite tonight was the K'gari aborgine camp. No bbq tonight so it was regular cooking on gas stoves instead, but we did have a campfire that went on until the wee small hours. The Aborigine in charge of the site joined us and played his dijerdoo for a few hours, he gave moct of us the chance to play too but not too many people were able to get a note out. There was no dingo fence about this site so we did see a few dingo's wandering through the site during the course of the evening.

Up early again to race the tide along the beach so we could visit Lake Wabby. It was only a 2km walk from the beach into Lake Wabby but it was one of the toughest slogs I've ever done. The first 750m were easy trail wakling but after that we were walking across a sandblow(mini desert) where every footstep we out in the ground sunk into the soft dry sand. I think it was worth it for the view of the lake, only thing was though, we now had to walk 2km back.

Our trip was nearly over now, just another visit to Lake Mackenzie before driving to the ferry. It was a good weekend made great by the by the people on the trip.

Our plan for the next day was to visit Australia Zoo so after getting back to Hervey bay we got on the road South as quick as we could and phoned ahead to sort out accomodation in a place called Mooloolaba

If you want more information on the tour company we used just go to http://www.uniquefraser.com
or if you want to find out more about Frser Island go here http://www.fraserisland.net

posted by SeanMc @ 6:17 AM, ,

Bowen to Airlie Beach

We got to Bowen the previous night and eventually found somewhere to stay for the night, all the hostels in the town were full and the campsites were pricey, and to crown it all off... there was nothing to do in the town. So why did we stop here, I hear you ask? It was on the map, we were tired and needed somewhere to sleep. Bearing that in mind we didn't waste any time in getting going the next morning.

We drove to Airly beach to enquire about going sailing in the Whitsunday's for a few days.

We'd been told it was "fantastic, out of this world" etc. We didn't go. We'd have been on a sail boat for 3 days and doing some snorkelling, which we'd done plenty of already. On a sail boat for 3 days sounds like fun but you don't even get to do any of the sailing stuff yourself, you just lie out on deck and roast like a piece of meat, not for us thank you very much, we'd rather be doing active stuff. We did book ourselves onto a tour to Fraser Island though so it wasn't a complete waste of a stop, and had lunch and went for a swim. They have a manmade lagoon right in the town where you can swim for free. When they call it a lagoon they really mean an outdoor swimming pool but it's good nonetheless.



With no further reason to hang around Airlie Beach we kept driving in search of more activity. We somehow stumbled across a place called the Finch Hatton gorge, I'm not sure how we managed to 'stumble' across it, given that it's about 40km from the main highway and down about 10km of unsealed dirt track but we did. Wow, was it worth it! When we arrived there were only 2 other cars in the carpark so we knew it was going to be quiet. We spent about 2 1/2 hours walking through the rainforest up to some waterfalls. At the base of the second one was a pool where we were told we could go for a swim. It was a hot humid day and we were after walking uphill for the last 80 minutes so a refreshing swim was just what we needed. Swimming shorts on and into the picturesque pool... oh s**t it's freezing, this wasn't in the brochure. I think I stayed in just about long enough to be able to coherently say "it's freezing". After I had warmed up on the bank I did go back in for a proper swim, it wasn't as bad this time, I would even say it was super refreshing and well worth it.



Back at the car we were hungry after the walking and swimming so we opted for lunch. Some of the wildlife in these parts are very very cheeky. We had the boot door (trunk for you Americans) open and were sitting at the boot munching our food when along comes a bird looking for food, a so called wild bird sitting less that 2foot from us! The picture show's it happily sitting on the open door of the car, he wasn't alone either, all of his buddies were watching to see how he got on before joining him.



Onwards to McKay, and this time we'd phoned ahead to book our accomodation so no worries.

posted by SeanMc @ 5:41 AM, ,

The Drive South Begins




We'd collected our rental car and were ready to get back on the road, I think 3 days in Cairns was enough for us. Our destination for today was Mission Beach, there isn't really a lot to be seen along the coast so we took the inland mountain route. Some of the scenery was stunning as we stopped at various lookout points along the road and joined what is called the 'waterfall way'. This at least gave us something different to look at, there were 3 main 'falls on the route, Milaa Milaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Elinjaa Falls. The 1st and last were by far the most spectacular and we were able to get down below the for a good view, the middle one was down in a gorge and we didn't really get a feel for it's size or power from the viewing platform.

It was late when we arrived in Mission Beach so we had some trouble getting accomodation. We ended up staying in the YHA, hostel, this was a nice hostel in a great setting. It was about 5 miles out of the town way up in the rainforest and aptly named 'The Treehouse'. WHen you looked out from the veranda you were looking out over the rainforest canopy, it was something you'd see on the National Geographic or Discovery channel. Another great thing about the hostel was that they were doing an all you could eat BBQ for $5, little did they know how hungry I was :) That freed up a lot of time for us so we went off to see if we could find a rainforest walk or similiar, and have a look around the town. We went down to the beach and it was good timing, there were a load of tandem parachutists landing. The setting was surreal, you had all these people falling out of the sky as the sun was setting. The tide was high and I'd imaging it was quite nerveracking to be landing on such a narrow strip of sand, maybe only 12m wide.



Enough of watching human rain we went in search of a rainforest walk, as it was getting dark we knew that we'd only manage a short walk so we opted for the Lacy Creek walk, it was supposed to be about 40minutes long, ideal for our timeframe, we had it completed in 20 minutes.

The next morning we were due to go kayaking but turned up early and were told to come back in a while so we went back to Lacy Creek walk but this time for a jog, we jogged it twice in 15minutes!

Now it was time for kayaking, unfortunately they only had sit-on-tops for us but we didn't care because we were happy to go paddling in any craft. This was my first time ever paddling a sit-on-top and I'll admit that it was fun, the sunny weather may have had something to do with that.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:44 AM, ,

Kuranda Rain Forest




We had set today aside to try and sort out some transport so that we could drive south from Cairns. We were hoping to get a campervan but it turned out that we'd have to hang around at least another week before we could get one, when you've only got a month you can't really afford to be wasting a week of your time. We settled on renting a car instead, not ideal but it meant we could be on the road the next morning. We'd expected the sorting of transport to take a whole day so you can imagine how surprised we were to have it all sorted by 10am. What to do for the rest of the day, the tourist office in the hostel told us that there was a tour leaving in 20minutes to go to Kurunda village and the rainforest and that it would collect us at the hostel, "count us in" we said. Twenty minutes later we found ourselves on a bus.

Kurunda is a village up in the mountains surrounded by rainforest, to get there we get a skyline gondola(same as a ski gondola). This is a 7.5km skyline with 2 stops. THe gondola runs above the rainforest and at the two stations you can get out and walk through the rainforest. It sounds a bit like you should be able to wander as you please but there's actually a decked walkway to follow, still though, you do get to see the different plants that make up the ecosystem in a rainforest. In Kurunda village itself is a tourist haven, there's shops of all sorts selling trinkets for tourists and not a lot else. There's a few art galleries too, they're pretty good. After wandering around the village for a few hours it's down the the train station to get the train back down to Cairns. It's an old style train with old wooden carriages and 1920's style decor inside them. The gondola was good but I preffered the train journey. I felt that on the train you saw a lot more as you went through the forest and crossed over some valleys on great big bridges, whereas on the gondola you were above the trees and they all looked the same because you were too far from them. There were much more photo opportunites on the way back to Cairns.

If you want to know more about Kurunda village click on http://www.kuranda.org/

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posted by SeanMc @ 4:25 PM, ,

Cairns - Australia, a whole new adventure

So we finally got to Cairns, in spite of airline and visa problems. We were lucky on our flight though, the guy who was sitting next to us was renting a car at Cairns airport for himself and offered us a lift into the city to our hostel, at least that part of the journey would be easy.
It was a bit after lunch when we arrived in Cairns so by time we checked in we didn't really have much time to go on any tour or such. Because of that we just checked-in to our hostel and went for a wander around Cairns to find lunch and generally get information about what to do over the next few days, it didn't help that we were so tired either, from being up at 4:30 am this morning. We did book onto a boat trip out to the Great Barrier reef.

Up early (not as early as yesterday) to be at the marina for 8am to catch our cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. Most people in the world have heard of the Great Barrier Reef but if you've been hiding under a rock and haven't then click here

For us the trip meant about a 90minute cruise out to the reef area where we moored at Michelmas Cay for our first snorkelling session of the day. The cruise also offered taster sessions of scuba diving. This involved taking a few minutes to explain what to do then bringing you 2m down, back up and down again and then underwater asking if you wanted to pay to continue, talk about catching you while you're vulnerable, I didn't have any interest in diving so it didn't affect me. The boat anchored slilghtly off the Cay, as it's a bird reserve they couldn't moor at the sand island but instead ran a smaller boat to bring you to the beach. From there we spent the next 90minutes snorkelling and chilling on the beach. It was pretty relaxed, you could snorkel for a while and if you got cold you could sit on the beach and warm up again.





When our time was up at Michelmas or people were too cold to continue it was back onto the boat for lunch and to cruise off to another dive location. I've no idea what the next site was called except that it was about 1.5 nautical miles from where we were first. This second site we were told was "not for the faint hearted", why? This time there was no beach we just jumped off the back of the boat and started swimming. We gave it a go anyway. As the water was deeper there was a lot more coral and varieties of fish to see, but I got to the stage after a while of 'there goes another fish'. I'd seen most of the fish at the site after about 45minutes and was getting a bit bored. The biggest problem I had was water coming unto the snorkel because the swell was bigger than I was, a minor issue and I didn't drown. After our 2nd swim it was time to head home to Cairns. A good day and we'd worked up a good appetite.

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posted by SeanMc @ 5:30 PM, ,

Airline Hassle

Everyone knows that travel by plane can be a whole load of hassle these days but we were hoping for a smooth run. It was our flight from Auckland to Cairns that was the problem this time.
We arrived at check in with lots of time to spare so no worries on us. We arrived to the check in desk and we were told 2 things
1. Theres a problem with your visa's, but don't worry about that

How are we meant to not worry about our visas not being in order, we want to go to Oz.

2. Your bags are too heavy.
We were a mere 3kg each over the limit! Many check-in staff would let it go but not this one, she sent us off to throw stuff out. All either of us did was move stuff from our check-in luggage to our carry-on luggage, there was still the same weight going onto the plane so why did she have to try charging us in the first place!

Back to the visa issue, we got our luggage weighed again and sent on the conveyer this time but the woman was still insisting on our visa's not being in order. Being a little annoyed this stage we insisted that everything was in order and she should check her computer screen again. She obliged and funnily enough everything appeared on the screen just as it should do.

After that I was happy to walk away from the check-in desk and get on a plane, hoping that my luggage would arrive at the far end.

posted by SeanMc @ 5:28 AM, ,

Leaving New Zealand

Our year in NZ went quicker and more enjoyable than we ever expected but all good things must come to and end. It was with heavy hearts and wet eyes that we said goodbye to all our kiwi friends.

Thanks to everyone who made our year so enjoyable and maybe we'll see you in the northern hemisphere sometime so we can return the kindness you showed to us.

posted by SeanMc @ 5:07 AM, ,


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