Saturday, May 21, 2011

The amazing Oz from land, sea, and sky

I don’t remember the last time I swore that much! Seriously. I’m not one to throw out blasphemies like they’re going out of style, but as I fell through the sky at 120 mph, I can’t remember anything else that came out of my mouth other than the F-word, the S-word, and WOOOHOOOO!!

Perhaps I should start from the beginning. Last weekend was my birthday - my 30th birthday to be precise - and as a gift to me, Pete whisked me off on a one-week trip to the great Oz! We spent a few days in a place called Port Douglas which is situated near the Great Barrier Reef and ended the week off with a couple of nights in beautiful Sydney. 

We departed Wellington on the evening before my birthday and awoke in Cairns as the sun was beginning to peek out above the Tasman sea. A beautiful sunny day; perfect for jumping out of an airplane. And that’s exactly what we did! On the morning of my birthday, we boarded a tiny plane and rose to 11,000 feet above Cairns breaking through the clouds (and breaking a serious sweat in the process). I was the first to jump and the initial 5 seconds were a complete blur, but the rest…. The rest was magical! I literally felt like I was flying. And above the Great Barrier Reef, no less! If any of you have ever even toyed with the idea of sky diving, I strongly urge you to take the leap. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life and the best birthday present ever! What a way to ring in a new decade!

That afternoon we headed North to Port Douglas stopping at a wildlife centre along the way to cuddle koalas and feed kangaroos. Touristy, I know, but so much fun! Koalas are incredibly beautiful animals and they’re hilarious. Sleeping 22 hours a day and struggling to keep their eyes open during the other two – life for them is the eternal holiday. Sweet as!

Exploring the Aussie rainforest
Kanga awaiting some treats from the tourists
Candid shot
Working on an itch. I couldn't get enough.

Just waking from his nap
Like holding a living teddy bear
Some of the other not-so-friendly neighbours
Port Douglas was our final destination that day – a laid back tropical town with a 4 mile long white sand beach though not sure I could ever be convinced to venture in there... It is also the jumping off point for one of the natural Wonders of World – the Great Barrier Reef. 

Fancy a dip?
For three days, we chillaxed to the max in this beautiful town, wandering in and out of shops, picnicking by the sea, and breakfasting with a beautiful bunch of native and exotic birds. 
Australian owl
Spectacled flying fox
Southern cassowary - a native Australian bird
Profile shot
We even came across a dog shelter in town and had the chance to take two homeless pups for a walk down the beach. Buddy and Biscuit were only 7 months old and the coast was new territory for them so needless to say they were a little hesitant at first. But after an hour of sniffing and exploring, they slowly gained their confidence and were wagging their way down the coastline! 

Sunset in Port Doug
Four Mile beach
Buddy 'n' Biscuit
Taking a break with the pups
Sand balls created by small beach crabs excavating their underground home
On our last day in town, we boarded a magnificent 52 foot long catamaran for a magnificent day at sea. Our sail took us to the Low Isles, an unspoilt coral cay along the Great Barrier Reef. This particular tour usually takes a max of 35-40 passengers. Luckily, we were only a party of 6 and as the Cat is so big, it really felt like we were on our own chartered yacht. By the time we anchored in the bay, I was chomping at the bit to get in the water and start exploring the reef. And I was not disappointed! We hopped aboard a small boat with a glass floor to take us into shore on this tiny white sand island and from there we began our exploration. As we were situated on the edge of the reef, the corals were softer, sea turtles were more plentiful and the small black tipped reef sharks were eager to say hello (which, thankfully, we enjoyed from the safety of our boat)! It was so incredible to explore one of the natural Wonders of the World. I’ve snorkeled many underwater worlds around the globe and this one certainly did not disappoint. Plus, the journey itself aboard an impressively beautiful catamaran was just as memorable. 

Great Barrier Reef from above
Our stunning cruise for the day
Spent our day at this gorgeous beach
Chilling on the boat
A plethora of soft coral
Full of life
Sea turtle (sadly not the clearest shot due to sediment build up)
Black tipped reef sharks
A giant clam. Crazy.
A clam opening. Double crazy. Because they are found in shallow regions of the reef, they use their multiple green spots to photosynthesize at low tide.
Port Douglas is a beautiful, quiet, little town. It was the perfect place to while away a few days, enjoy a day at sea, and soak up a little much needed sun (Windy Welli is currently turning the seasonal corner).

A few days later, we were back on the plane and headed South to Sydney. What a city! A massive metropolis (compared to anything else we’ve visited this past year) surrounded by dozens of coastal inlets. I didn’t realize how much water surrounded this city. We spent an entire day just cruising the streets, wandering through the botanic gardens, walking across the harbour bridge and checking out the shopping scene (including Burberry, Tiffany’s, and Chanel). After one week of beach life, I didn’t quite realize how much I looked like an old hippy ‘till I wandered into these shops! Wait ‘till I’ve traveled for 8 weeks!  
Downtown Sydney
Opera house and harbour bridge. And Pete!
Along the waterfront
Stunning view from the harbour bridge
A comfy seat in the botanic gardens
Visiting the Sydney Museum's exhibit on birds of paradise. This little guy is in an eternal state of shock!
Can you believe this guy used to exist? It was the largest marsupial in the world.
This crazy guy had only 6 huge teeth for tearing into its prey. But as its prey began to go extinct, so too did this creature.
On our last evening in Oz, we splurged and treated ourselves to a show at the Opera House. The space was stunning and the production was great. Not entirely what we expected – kind of some new age ballet. Not sure Pete thoroughly enjoyed it but it was still exciting to be enjoying this magnificent building for all that it is meant to do. 
A night out on the town
Not a bad place to dine
Last day in Australia and pure sunshine was in the forecast. A perfect day for a short run followed by a scrumptious brekkie to celebrate Pete’s special day! Then we headed to the park and relaxed with our books in the afternoon sun before grabbing a cab to the airport for our flight home.
Chillaxing the afternoon away
A bottle tree
Bats in the park!
A sulphur crested cockatoo
Palm tree bark. Pretty.
It was an incredible journey through an absolutely stunning country. Australia has a unique set of vegetation and wildlife, entirely different from New Zealand’s. It’s incredible how environmentally exceptional these few islands are down here. It truly feels like we’re on the other side of the globe. Funny that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A lot of littles.

So I was flipping through my weekly calendar the other day and was stunned at how few pages were sitting in between current day and take off time. With only a handful of weeks remaining, each weekend is now two days that are yet to be filled with friends, fun, and fiestas!

Last weekend we celebrated 4 birthdays, one royal wedding, and the incredibly beautiful weather. On Saturday, we took a beautiful walk up Mt. Victoria before I joined some friends for a girls’ day at a posh resto downtown. An afternoon of bubbly shared with good company. Perfection.

En route up Mt. Vic
Presenting downtown Welli
Napping under my tree
Ladies who lunch
Some bubbly, great company, and scrumptious eats. Fantastic.

The weather was far too beautiful to spend indoors and so the very next day I joined some friends to explore the bays just to the East of downtown. It’s incredible – no matter what view of this city you’ve got, it’s always a stunner. Plus, it's always only a few minutes escape and before you know it, you're in yet another blissful surrounding. We biked our way to a cafĂ© called Chocolate Fish where we enjoyed a yummy picnic and some lounging in the sun. A perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon and a perfect way to end a fab weekend!
Working up an appetite (with the opening to the city harbour waaay in the background)
Chocolate Fish - an artisan cafe specializing in an endless variety of BBQ treats

Loved the decor of this place
A picnic by the bay
The global crew (1 Kiwi + 1 Canuck + 1 German)
Touring the harbour
Colourful wind towers (in windy Wellington, these bad boys are always spinning away!)
Lucky for us, we got one last visit from Jill who was in town prepping for the second half of her national tour with Regeneration. What an inspiration this crew is - touring the country and inspiring youth to get inspired and become more active in their communities. Plus it was Jill's birthday so we got to take her out on the town and celebrate in style!

Celebrating the birthday girl!
In our 30s now. Contemplating if we feel any wiser...
Happy Birthday Bean!
Regatta outside our front door.