A Travellerspoint blog

Port Douglas and Singapore

Home again, Home again

This is a tiny cheat as many of you will know that we are now home and trying to adjust to staying in one place. However I did want to say a few words about Port Douglas and Singapore, since we spent almost 10 days there overall.

Port Douglas is in North Queensland and is really a holiday resort town nestled at the foot of the Queensland Rainforest. It was probably the strangest place on our trip. It really is tropical, the town sits on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains and the mountains are covered in dense rainforest. Each evening, at the sun set, hundreds of large fruit bats would make their way from the trees around the town up to the mountains, like a bombing raid. It is the rainy season there (as if you didn't know!) and a couple of times the boys played in the pool at our apartments while rain poured down on them.

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Australia_329.jpgAt this time of year the sea is a no go area on the Queensland coastline because of the box jellyfish, which are truly deadly, but you don't want to swim in the rivers either because of the estuarine crocodiles. The photos below were taken at a crocodile farm, apart from the last one, which was taken from a boat trip. Crocodiles are completely ruthless predators, I cannot imagine what it takes to do the stunts which the presenter pulled at the farm, without a doubt if that croc could have got near enough it would have taken a piece out of him.

Australia_312.jpgWe took a guided walk with an aboriginal lady in the forest, which was eyeopening as she explained some of the local knowledge used by aboriginees to live in the environment. She brought us to this "strangler fig", a parasitic plant which is estimated to be over 1000 years old.

Port Douglas is a jumping off point for the Barrier Reef and we duly went snorkelling at a coral cay island (Low Island). It was wonderful, like the Jaques Cousteau films of my childhood. It really teamed with tropical fish of every description and the corals and anemones were enchanting. The outer reef is apparently even more spectacular, but we didn't go out that far... we'll just have to go back. We do have photographs but they are on another disc which has not yet emerged from the packing.

Australia_356.jpgWe sadly left Australia and headed to Singapore on Saturday for three nights at Sentosa Island resort. Like Hong Kong this is an amazing city, not as picturesque perhaps, but just as vibrant. It is becoming increasingly a leisure destination, the photograph is of the Sands resort Hotel due to open next year, which will, controversially, include a large casino, the second one on the island. I hope it will not be swamped by the giant hotel and casino chains, it does have a wonderful multicultural personality, and if you like food and shopping it is heaven!

So now we are home, we survived the flight and the boys are back in school. Though we avoided the floods we have still been swept away, and I have been reminded how big the world is and that I only live in a tiny fragment of it.

But what is the greatest revelation I will take from my trip? The abundant wildlife? The epic unspoilt landscape? The booming Asian economies? No. It is the poetry in the soul of every Australian that had us chuckling so many times. The following is a tiny sample.image330.jpgimage332.jpg270_image323.jpg
And I have to add the ones that got away; "Dogs Business" pet grooming services in Hobart; and the charming tour guide at Port Arthur who described a slightly depraved cleric as having "a couple of kangaroos loose in the top paddock". The Australian command of the English Language is second to none.

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!

P, C, J and S x

Posted by Mrs C 06:20 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Blue Mountains and the Red Centre

I know its a bit much cramming both of these into one post, but internet access is a bit patchy in the 'Red Centre', so I had to wait till we got to Cairns to up date.

270_image341.jpgThings did pick up in the Blue Mountains and on our last day we has glorious sunshine. The mountains to the west of Sydney were a bit of a poser for the Victorian expeditionists of Australia; though not particularly high, they are criss crossed by deep gorges and it took many years before a route was found across them. (I am embarassed to say that I can't remember why crossing them was important in the first place though).

They are a mecca for weekenders from Sydney now, like....well, like any nice spot not far from a big city. There are really breathtaking spots; which is lucky because there isn't room to breath in a lot of them, but our very nice Welsh landlady tipped us off with a walk in the less well known but lovely Megalong valley – see photos. We had it almost to ourselves, walking behind waterfalls, climbing rocky stairs and bumping into a nice man with a “blue heeler” - an Australian cattle dog (Elyne Mitchell again folks).imgp0845.jpgimgp0844.jpg

Weather in Ayres rock was much more predictable – HOT! Not quite as hot as Death Valley in the US, but who's counting over 40 degrees!

imgp0884.jpgThe rock – Uluru now since it was handed back to the Anangu people in the 80's – is as impressive as you could imagine. The desert around is very green, but flat, and the rock, together with the “Olgas” n nearby – just sit there like they were dropped from space. The focus of the park since the handover is very much on the aboriginal cultural aspects – the spiritual significance of the rock – and it just adds to the other-worldly atmosphere.
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And nature was all around us and in some cases cuddling up with us. I have never seen so many enormous bugs as we did walking the 100 meters back to our apartment at night. We called the “snake catcher” in on what turned out to be a slow worm in our bathroom (a story too long for this blog), and the children obligingly settled down with a small lizard in their bedroom (on the basis that at least it would eat the ants).

More on Port Douglas, crocodiles, jellyfish and spitfire pilots to come.

P, C, J and S x

PS Happy New Year and thank you all for taking the time to read!

Posted by Mrs C 04:36 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sydney

having ourselves a Merry Christmas

sunny 25 °C

This is a hard one to write - Sydney in a nutshell.

270_image338.jpgLike Hong Kong it has a setting to die for, and is incredibly photogenic, the coves and rolling headlands that make up the harbour break it up so that its doesn't feel like a big city, more like a collection of little villages and towns. It has been heaving with visitors over Christmas, but it absorbed us all pretty well - goodness knows what it is like on New Years Eve which is the real big event in the city. There is a booming party culture, but it doesn't seem to get out of control and its not hard to find peace and quiet if you want it. The museums and parks are all excellent (and cheap) and the architecture is terrific. Didn't see any funnel web spiders but there is a very bad cockroach problem. In a way maybe it is working too hard on delivering the perfect tourist experience, and sometimes it felt a little soulless, but then we didn't get out of the tourist compound much.

imgp0773.jpgWe had a magical Christmas Eve, surfing at Bondi, which of course is much harder than it looks. You spend about 80% of your time dragging the bloody board out to the waves, 10% of your time falling off and 10% actually surfing (I imagine skiing is much the same). We all loved it and Bondi was great.

We followed up with a night visit to the Sydney Observatory, looking at Jupiter and Sirius through the telescopes. The guide supplied a non stop list of the relative sizes of the sun, each of the planets, their moons and a number of stars which the boys now keep reciting every time there is a gap in the conversation.

imgp0790.jpgChristmas day brought blazing sunshine all day. The whole of Sydney seemed to be packing their picnic baskets and headed round to their mum's, the neighbours, or down to the beach. We went for the last option (cheapest really) and took the ferry and the bus to Balmoral, which is like Four Oaks by the sea. Every square inch of grass and alot of the beach was taken up with picnics and bar-b-ques. We ate at a nice restaurant run by a Frenchman – it was full to bursting and service was slightly frantic – like Marco Pierre White doing school dinners - but it was a great meal and very jolly. And it really didn't feel in the slightest bit odd to be on the beach.

In between we have picnicked in the beautiful botanical gardens, looked at the opera house from almost every angle, seen hundreds of flying foxes, and walked miles and miles round the city. The worst part of the whole experience was leaving today, when we were stuck in grinding post holiday traffic for two hours driving up to the Blue mountains. Naturally, they have been shrouded in mist all day. I think it suited our mood – we are crossing our fingers for better.
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Thank you for all your comments and I really hope you have all had a wonderful time too, snuggled round the tree in the seasonal chill. Can't wait for next year......

P, C, S and J

Posted by Mrs C 02:02 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Hobart

- a town of two sides

overcast -17 °C

Today it appears that the whole of Hobart has broken up for the Christmas holidays.270_image324.jpgFor the past few days we have walked around a fairly sedate town, refined and sophisticated, (the town, not us). In fact, in Battery point where we are staying, with it's renovated seaman's cottages and Victorian villas, now housing restaurants, antique shops and elegant cafes, it is a bit like a Dorset fishing village. But tonight it's like Dublin on a bank holiday weekend. Every single bar and pub was bursting with drinkers, already very loud when we walked into town at 5.30pm. By the time we walked back they were louder still, and they had been joined by a considerable police presence (the first I've really seen the whole week we've been here).

I guess the weather is partly to blame; finally it has been mild enough for us to get on the beach. Yesterday we spent the day in Port Arthur, the site of a notorious prison where deported offenders were housed from all over the Empire, and we froze our backsides off, in between the downpours. In Cliffs words, it was like an April day at Chatsworth house (right I promise that is the last time I use a comparison with anywhere back home).

IMGP0725.jpgPort Arthur is a bit of a hub for people examining their convict roots and it was fascinating as an insight into 19th century prison theory. The convict contribution to the ancestry of Australia still feels like something that people are ambiguous about here, probably because while many were deported for trivial offences, there were a good many violent and predatory criminals sent here too. After transportation had stopped and Port Arthur had closed as a prison towards the end of the 19th century, there seems to have been an effort to paper over the whole thing to some degree but then in the '20s and '30s there was a change in direction and people began to take a positive interest in it. Port Arthur became a popular tourist destination as a result. The site does focus a great deal on the rigours of the prison regime (which were considerable) and occasionally makes the convicts look like martyrs but I found it hard to believe that prisoners were really worse off here than in any prison back in England at the time. And as a result of the strong focus on education and training, many on gaining their freedom, in a land desperate for skilled workers, made out like bandits. Thought provoking stuff.

270_image333.jpgSo today we put all that behind us and headed into the Huon valley. This is in the gorgeous mountain area that lies behind Hobart, really heart stopping scenery and very unspoilt. We took a ride on a jet boat up the river – sorry no photos as I found I was unable to let go of the handrail for the entire trip - and had lunch on a tiny cafe on a house boat. We drove back up the coast, stopped at Blackman's Bay and sat on the beach for half an hour watching breakers roll in, enjoying the warmth and looking out for sharks. Tonight's dinner was fish and chips in Hobart at Fish Frenzy which is very famous locally; it is really good but please don't ask what we paid as Cliff will start crying again.imgp0746.jpgimgp0740.jpg

We have done more that I can't fit in with out making this entry too long to bother with. We have really enjoyed Tasmania, and I will be a bit sad to leave tomorrow for Sydney, but excited too.

Ahh, I hear the sound of the first police sirens... must be time for bed.

P, C, S and J

Posted by Mrs C 03:23 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Launceston

- that's Lawn - cess- ton

rain -15 °C

Launceston is one of Tasmania's (and Australia's) oldest settlements, kicked off in about 1804. The river Tamar, which empties out to the right on the top edge of Tasmania, was navigable by ships for some distance down it length (thought it sounds like it was so tricky you wonder why they bothered) and several settlements grew up along its shores. Launceston eventually dominated, obviously growing very rapidly in the late 19th /early 20th century, on the back of a prosperous agricultural economy and – yes you've guessed it – gold mining just a bit further up the river.

270_image315.jpg image316.jpg The town is now full of modern shops and cafes in square brick fronted buildings with wrought iron balconies and canopies, giving it a slightly wild west feel. The main attraction here is the Cataract Gorge, which (as the name suggests) is a gorge, with dramatic cliffs dropping to a wide river. The Victorian Launcestonians saw this vision of natural beauty, laid a path down its length, turfed over the end of it and put a bandstand up. (This was apparently a bit controversial at the time). It is lovely (see photos) but it did make me think of Matlock Bath..... without the motorcycles.

270_image309.jpg We have also been getting close to our first Australian wildlife, at a centre for Platypus (es?) and echidnas. Both animals are extraordinary and very endearing, but the echidna takes the prize. The mother echidna lays a single egg about the size of a marble and keeps it in a pouch until it hatches. She then finds a nice soft bit of earth and buries the baby (its called a 'puggle'), going back to it every 4-5 days to feed it until its about 6 months old. That has to be the most low maintenance child care short of just walking off and leaving it. Brilliant!

Yesterday we left Launceston and drove via the coast to Hobart. I was a big fan of Elyne Mitchell's 'Silver Brumby' books when young and this drive took us through the Australian landscape which I have imagined, with rolling hills and acres of Eucalyptus trees. It rained on an off for the whole journey and the smell filled the car. We saw cockatoos and Kookaburras but no kangaroos or wallabies yet.

If its any comfort, the weather here has not been good so far, with torrential downpours and temperatures hardly rising above 15 degrees. On balance though I think we are better off than being at home!

P, C, J&S

Posted by Mrs C 02:12 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

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