Travelogue Australia 2004
8/2/04 – 8/27/04:
This was the most difficult
packing job of my life; I have more luggage than I have ever carried on any
trip. I’m carrying two bags, one full of “regular” luggage weighing 65 pounds,
the other a dive gear suitcase weighing 69 pounds, plus my carry-on bag. The
limit for checked luggage is two bags of 70 pounds each, so I am just under. Packing
wise, this trip is so complicated because it is winter in Australia, so I need
long sleeve shirts and light sweaters for Coffs Harbour
and Sydney, where the temperatures are not likely to get above 70 degrees
Fahrenheit. But in
Formerly when going
on a dive vacation I used to bring only a partial set of gear, but recently I
broke down and bought a complete scuba setup and a special suitcase to carry it
all. It’s the extra scuba gear that has really put me over the top weight-wise.
I’m also bringing hiking boots and some other hiking gear which I hope to use
in Northern Australia and in
I am flew from
Tuesday August 3, 2004
Due to crossing the date line, this day did not exist (aka “this page intentionally left blank.”)
Wednesday August 4, 2004
The flight to
I had two hours
between landing in
After finally getting my bags, I embarked on the epic march to the Qantas domestic transfer desk. I hadn’t realized this airport was sooooo big. The agent didn’t bat an eye at my two huge suitcases, checked me in, and directed me through security to a waiting area. From there I boarded a bus to the domestic airport. Then it was back through security again, followed by a medium-length walk from Terminal 1 (where the bus disgorges its passengers) to Terminal 2, where the little QantasLink flights depart. While none of these steps really took all that long, in the end the whole process took about an hour and a half. I had assumed that my two hour layover would leave time for a shower, a shave, a snack and some email, but it was really just enough to make the connection with a margin for safely.
For some unknown
reason my flight to
My old friend Jaybe was waiting at the airport to meet. It was terrific seeing him again. We drove to his beautiful beachfront home where I unpacked and showered while he went out to run errands. Later we met his wife Shelly at a local restaurant for delicious laksa (spicy Indonesian coconut-noodle soup.) Mmmmm, mmmmm. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, picking up Jaybe and Shelly’s kids at school, shopping, and checking out the beach. It was about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the sun it felt downright hot.
In order to keep me from falling asleep, Jaybe took me on a hike down the precipitous hill behind his house, down to the beach, and on a long loop back up and around to the house. There was some unnerving bush-whacking involved, but it did serve to wake me up!
After dinner at the house at 8pm I took a 1mg Melatonin pill as my doctor recommended. By 8:30 I was in bed asleep. I slept well and soundly till 6:00am the next morning.
Thursday August 5, 2004
I woke up at about 6:00am to the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise. The whole horizon was orange over a dark blue sea. Thankfully, I felt terrific. My doctor said that a small dose of Melatonin at the correct time would really help with jet-lag, and I believe he is right. The last time I tried Melatonin, I felt like a zombie. Presumably this was because I took too big a dose. Based on what my doctor said, I’m not sure why health food stores sell melatonin in such large doses.
Jaybe and I headed out to a local breakfast place owned by some friends of his. We had a pleasant but unremarkable breakfast, then headed south towards Nambucca Heads. Jaybe had me drive to reacquaint me with driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Nambucca Heads was pleasant. We had some lunch, drove around, looked at some empty beaches, then drove back.
Stopping in at a
newsstand I bought a new
A quiet and pleasant day.
Friday August 6, 2004
There was another beautiful sunrise, but it had been very damn cold during the night. There’s nothing quite like traveling from a place where it is the middle of summer to a place where it is dead winter, even if that winter is tropical. I had done the melatonin thing again the night before, but wasn’t able to stay awake past 8:30. I was up this morning before 6am. I felt great, but I also felt the need to move my schedule forward at least an hour or two.
Jaybe, Shelly and I took their kids to school in Woolgoolga (aka “woopie”), then had a nice breakfast at a restaurant there. Shelly had to head off to work, so Jaybe and I turned around and drove down to Sawtell. Along the way he took me to a lookout point above Coffs that gave a great view of the whole area. We looked at some beaches and towns, then ate a fairly good lunch at a place called Ooh La La in downtown Sawtell. Jaybe took care of some errands, including picking up lightbulbs at a place that looked exactly like an American Home Depot.
For dinner we took a load of kids to a local chain family pizza and “Italian” food place. The food was terrible, the service was worse, but the kids had a good time.
Saturday August 7, 2004
I had been pretty tired all day yesterday, but today I felt terrific. I managed to stay awake till 9:30pm the prio night, and was up at 5:45 this morning. But I still wanted to push my schedule forward an hour.
It was an
uneventful day. At 1pm I headed off to the tiny
I had a little trouble finding my way to the Avis parking area and ended up at the train station, which was a bit of a pain as I was lugging my two big suitcases. However, once I found Avis they upgraded me to a full size Holden (an Australian car), with a very cool GPS navigation system. It made finding my hotel much easier.
It turns out that it was a very good thing that I had a reservation. There were several conventions in town. The Sheraton was completely full, and they said that all the other hotels were as well. I had my room booked for three nights for free, using Starwood Hotel Points. It was a pretty boring room, but safe, clean, quiet, serviceable, and well located. Not bad considering the price.
By the time I had
gotten my car, found the Sheraton, checked in, and gotten settled, it was
getting late. I relaxed for a little while, then
attempted to make a dinner reservation at one of
attractive, open, and cleanly decorated, with very friendly wait staff. I
started with a Twice Baked Blue Cheese Soufflé. It was light, airy, and
enjoyable with a great blue-cheese aroma. However, it was a bit small. It was
served with wilted greens and terrific slices of pears that had been marinated
in something I couldn’t quite place. I mated my dinner with a glass of Leeuwin Vineyards “Siblings” Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc
blend, which was light in color with a fruity bouquet and a crisp, clean taste.
My main was a dish presented by a visiting guest chef for the evening. It was
sesame, cumin and macadamia nut crusted barramundi (an Australian ocean fish.) Served with artichokes, lettuce, sautéed onions, bacon, and a
cheddar chip. It was quite good. For desert I had the cheese plate with
a French washed rind cheese and a
I walked back along the water front, wandering around a bit, surprised to find the streets so empty. Getting back to my hotel I realized I was just one block away from the Palace Backpacker’s hostel, where I had stayed one night some years earlier.
Sunday August 8, 2004
I managed to sleep in till 6:30, then read and wrote for a while. I really did want to push my schedule forward.
I asked the concierge
about breakfast in the
There is something sort of “blah” about Australian cities. I’m not sure what it is, but they are just not that visually appealing. Perhaps because they are all so new. There is something generally unexciting about the architecture, the public spaces, and the store fronts. Walking through the CBD (central business district), there is very little that makes one want to stop and take a second look. There is an occasional old building, the odd intriguing shop, and the occasional very odd person, but that is about it.
I walked up the
After breakfast I
started the downtown walking tour shown in the Lonely Planet guide. There was a
nice little Sunday market going on at the Eagle Street Pier. There I picked up
a carry-on bag that would help me deal with my luggage on future flights, and a
cheap knock-off pair of polarized sunglasses for use whale watching in
Due to massive reconstruction
of the Southbank area, it took quite a detour to get
By this point I was super-hungry since I had eaten so little of breakfast. I went in to Café San Marco, one of the riverfront cafes. There is no table service, so I went to the counter to order a minted lamb salad and two sodas. By now I have learned that one soda isn’t going to be enough, and I didn’t want to have to get up during my meal to order another. It was insanely slow. Clearly they forgot about my order or gave it to someone else. In the end the salad was OK.
Properly refueled I
continued the walking tour.
Beat, took taxi back to hotel.
Really tired from walking, and a tiny bit of sunburn. Slept for an hour.
not at Luxe (
across the street at James Street Bistro (
Monday August 9, 2004
Brekky in West End at Tempo Café and Bar (181
Coot-tha viewpoint. Good view but not a very interesting view. Drove all around the top of
Botanic gardens. Lunch at the Lakeside Gardens Café (07-3870-9506), Tuna sandwich was mostly bread. More Ibis behaving like giant pigeons. Water dragons.
Nice botanic gardens, big but not too big. All the plants well signed, but poor pathway signage. Easy to get turned around/lost.
Paddington. Second lunch at Pandemonium (215 Given Terrace, Paddington, 07-3369-4420). Very funky place with nice couches. Ordered the Spanish Omelet. It was really some kind of frittata. Quite good though. Unbelievably slow.
Back to hotel, nap.
Out to Queen St. Mall. Rush hour, throngs of people rushing about. Unpleasant feeling pace. Mopped up last bits of Lonely Planet walk that I didn’t get to yesterday.
Consider: eat at the Customs House Brasserie (not open for dinner on Monday nights.)
Decided Sushi would
go down nicely. Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine
recommended Oshin (
Tuesday August 10, 2004
Up, pack, check out
Stupid stop at Tropical Fruit World
Eating macadamia nuts
Arrive in Byron,
lunch at Belongil Beachhouse
Cafe (formerly Café Swish) on
Belongil Beachhouse has only crappy rooms at high prices, and there is a construction site behind it. Sigh.
looking at B&B’s. Drove up Mellinger St past
where Frangiapani B&B used to be. Byron Bay Guest
Settle in, make reservation for Sea Kayaking and Massage.
Out to bar, Coopers Sparkling beer – not as good as I remembered. Chat with some locals
Awesome ice cream
at Bella Rosa (
Back to Belongil Beachhouse Café for dinner before my massage, but it is closed!
Really cold out.
Dinner at Red, Hot and Green. Wow. Perch tempura on pawpaw salad.
Massage at Relax
By 8:30 Byron has rolled up the sidewalks
Wednesday August 11, 2004
Up early, breakfast at The Byronian (under new management.) Muesli with yoghurt. Good, but not enough yoghurt.
Kayaking with Byron Bay Sea Kayaks (www.byronadventureco.com, 02-6685-4161.) Fun, but you cant step into the same river twice, eh? My guide says “wow, that was the first time I made it in without capsizing.”
Woman on boogie board in water “waiting for dolphins.”
at Fish Heads, right on the beach in front of the Beach Hotel. Berenice, the B&B owner’s, favorite restaurant in
Wander around town, look at some of my favorite shops, bought granola and yoghurt at the health food market for tommorow’s breakfast.
I stopped in at
Colin Heany glass studio (
at Expressohead on
Return, nap, write.
Dinner at Fresh (
More ice cream at Bella Rosa. Coffee is best, choco-mint second, almond third, Tiramisu fourth.
Thursday August 12, 2004
Wow do I hurt. My thighs and right wrist are killing my from yesterday’s kayaking. The motion of twisting an offset paddle is murder on wrists worn by years of typing induced RSI. I had expected my shoulders to hurt – which they didn’t. My quads hurting was a surprise. Ah well, it was a beautiful, clear, sunny but chilly morning. Having real granola and yoghurt for breakfast was definitely nice.
Note: Aussies being stingy with liquids: sauces, beverages, yoghurt vs. American expectations.
Talking with other B&B guests “the bitch is much nicer down here.” Eh? Oh “beach.”
Bamboo Cottage B&B: very nice, pleasant, nice room, nice people, good location, but thin walls. Other guests were quiet, but if they hadn’t been… BYO shampoo, breakfast not included.
Lunch in Coolangatta at the oddly named “Sweet Talk Café.” Lemon-Ginger Wort by Wort Organics.
Info center closed early. Help from nice woman at Backpackers place. Ridiculous drive around looking for a place to stay.
- Melalenca Cottage
Melalenca Cottage in Lota (
The loudest quiet neighborhood in the world.
Friday August 13, 2004
Feeling much better, but definitely not perfect. At least it wasn’t the flu!
Huge bruise on my leg – musta gotten it on one of the kayak capsizings.
Decide to keep the house for two more days. Just not enough time to go to Noosa or back to Byron, and don’t feel super well.
Lunch at Fish Café Food and Wine Bar (461 The Esplanade, 07-3893-0195) – crumbed whitefish. “Fish and Chips made by Chefs.” Good, not great. Have to pay for “sauce”. Why are Australians so stingy with liquids?
Drive up the
Back to house. Not feeling great. Super windy.
Dinner at Sbi Sbi Thai Restaurant (Cambridge Parade) – Moreton Bay Bugs in yellow curry. Probably a bad idea on an upset stomach, but tasted really good. Fortunately, they made it very mild (not surprising.) All the wait staff were white, but they swore that the chefs were Thai.
Saturday August 14, 2004
up this morning feeling improved, but still not 100%. Went back to
I decided to have a
look at more of the
About 45 minutes
later I pulled into
Wow, what a nice area of town. I sat and watched the sunset over the river. The air was beautiful - perfect sleeping air. As I sat on the stone wall next to the Watt restaurant drinking a latte, a little girl pointed out a possum in the tree over my head. I felt that I could sit there forever watching the river, joggers, and diners. It’s a funny spot, in front of an old power plant that has been converted into a museum and theater complex with the swish Watt restaurant in the bottom. Behind me the old power plant building, in front a pebble walkway then a railing keeping people from the broken concrete docks. Just to my right was a sculpture representing the word “Flood”, embedded in the concrete so that only the top half of each letter was visible – appearing as though there had indeed been a flood. Beyond that was the river, and across the river views of zillion dollar homes.
The floor manager
at Watt (
Though the waiters
were unbelievably friendly, the service was horrendous (no surprise, this is
Every time I’ve
After dinner I drove back to my “holiday apartment”, an easy ½ hour drive.
Sunday August 15, 2004
Thankfully, I was feeling almost completely better this morning. Just a mild lingering uneasiness in the stomach, nothing I couldn’t handle.
I was pretty hungry when I got out of the house. Though I wanted to head in to town for breakfast, I decided to eat out in Manly, then drive in. This time I checked out Da Vinci Café. As usual I was given a menu and a bottle of ice water almost before my butt hit the chair, but everything after that was in slow motion. The scrambled eggs were very good, but I’m sure I could have gone to the super market, bought eggs, brought them back to the house, and cooked them in the time it took the restaurant to serve me. It was absolutely glacial.
By this point I was
convinced that there was no point searching around
I made my way back
to the “heart” of New Farm (all two blocks of it), checking out restaurants for
lunch. A Chinese place caught my eye. Normally when traveling I try to eat
almost exclusively local cuisine. However,
I found another
park (Wilson Outlook Reserve) with a view of the river and
I couldn’t face
another restaurant meal. I particularly couldn’t face another restaurant wait. So, while driving back to my
holiday apartment I decided I would take advantage of it’s
kitchen. I stopped into a Woolworths super market (yes, in
Monday August 16, 2004
open to sell me a book (so much for Bryson!) But, yes,
Crustaceans on the Wharf (
The great local
specialty is mud crab (aka “muddys”)
and Crusty’s is the
place to get them. It was a foregone conclusion that I would get the mud crab,
but I had a moment of pause when I saw the price of AU$55 for them. Equivalent
to US$41, that’s more than one would pay for lobster
in a fine restaurant in the
Dining under the stars at Crusty’s was certainly romantic, but eating a mud crab was messy enough to blow any romantic mood. It would have been nice if the kitchen had done a more thorough job of cracking the claws and arms.
For desert I had an espresso crème brulée, which was very disappointing. The espresso flavor was only in the sugar coating, and the cream had a strange grainy texture. I’m not quite sure how to screw up a crème brulée in quite that way.
Tuesday August 17, 2004
Somehow I slept 10 hours. Wow. Yesterday was a really hard day. There’s really nothing to travel, and yet somehow it is exhausting.
The Quest turned out to be a nice place; quiet room, well appointed, and a great shower. However, the bed was hard as a brick (sigh.)
I’m getting used to the peculiar beverage which results from putting hot water over these funny packets of powder labeled “coffee” found in every hotel room in Australia. Funny, it reminds me of something. It’s vaguely like very weak coffee, but not quite. Meanwhile, outside the hotels in places people here like to call “cafes”, they serve something called a “long black” which is also kind of like coffee, but again not quite.
Since the Quest couldn’t accommodate me for more than one night, I packed up and moved a few blocks to the Cherry Blossom Motel (108 The Esplanade, 08-8981-6734.) Based on the description, I was a bit apprehensive, but the place turns out to be OK. An absolutely-no-frills motel, but clean and safe and very conveniently located.
After moving and
checking in, I went for breakfast at a place charmingly named “Ducks Nuts.” (
I spent a long time
wandering around town, buying things in preparation for the next days tour (a
towel, water bottles, etc.) and just looking around. There really isn’t all that much to see. For lunch, I stopped for a chicken laksa at Rendezvous Café, (
Later, I took a long,
ugly, boring walk to the wharf to have dinner and watch the sun set. I didn’t realize that there are two wharfs, one
for tourists, and one industrial. The walk past the industrial wharf was
particularly unpleasant. I definitely
should have taxen a taxi. I finally arrived at
For dinner I simply went to a Thai food stall for some Pla Lard Prik (deep fried fish with chili sauce.) It was OK.
Wednesday August 18, 2004
I was up this morning at 5:45am for the 6:30 tour bus pickup. Ugh. The Cherry Blossom was noisier than I expected due to busses which roll down the esplanade at all hours of the morning, and a vigorous trash pick-up some time before dawn. Oh well.
Waiting out in front of the Cherry Blossom in the pre-dawn, I enjoyed watching the stars, birds, and joggers on the esplanade, followed by a a very beautiful sunrise.
Finally I was picked up by the Aussie Adventure Tours bus (08-8924-1111). The drive to Kakadu was long and relatively uninteresting. After about an hour and a half we stopped for breakfast at the Bark Hut restaurant. Then resumed the drive.
Our first stop within Kakadu was to see aboriginal “rock art” at Ubirr. Getting to the rock painting sites required a bit of a climb. A lot of the older people on the bus really shouldn’t have attempted it. It took a long time for the tour guide to help everyone up and down the stone climb. The rock paintings were somewhat interesting, though I have never been much taken with aboriginal or folk art. A simple box lunch of sandwiches was provided at a place called Jabiru.
Though the guide repeatedly pointed out how beautiful the forest was, and described the plant and animal diversity it supported, I have to say that from the road it was really monotonous and uninteresting. There was some great bird life to be seen from the road, but not much else.
Following, we had a very brief visit to the Bowali visitor’s center, which looked like it would have been quite informative if we had had time to read any of the materials. We had to rush off from the visitors’ center to make it to “Yellow Water” for a crocodile cruise. The boat ride was quite nice; we got to see a wide variety of birds and several crocodiles. It was well worth the time.
That evening the
bus dropped us off at Gagudju Cooinda
Lodge. Most of the people on the bus
were just there for a day trip, and were returning to
Thursday August 19, 2004
It was another early morning, and quite nippy out. I got up at 6:15am, had a shower, and breakfast at the lodge’s restaurant.
There were only 4 of us for this day’s tour, which involved a 4WD bus. It was a long drive over a very badly corrugated dirt road. The shaking would knock the hat right off your head.
The first stop was at a waterhole/waterfall at Maguk. The park service makes sure that there are no salt water crocodiles at Maguk, so it is safe to swim. When we got there, there were already dozens of people swimming. If there had been croc’s, someone would have been eaten already. The water was a very pleasant tempterature. It was a nice swim, but I could have skipped the whole thing.
Following, we drove again down bumpy dirt roads and through deep sand to the very beautiful Sandy Billabong. There we had another box lunch and watched birds.
Our next stop was
That nights lodging was in Jabiru at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge. This place was much nicer than Gagudji Cooinda Lodge. The rooms were bigger, and towels and soap were provided. There was also a big swimming pool with an artificial water fall.
Friday August 20, 2004
Pick up in very rugged 4WD bus by Arnhemland Tours.
Arnhemland had attractive, open terrain. More attractive than Kakadu. Tour guide referred to Kakadu forests as monotonous. Definitely agree, however, Arnhemland’s views quickly became equally monotonous.
Arts center – unbelievably boring. Driver says “aboriginal people aren’t aesthetically inclined.” No shit. So why are we supposed to buy their paintings? The emperor has no clothes.
Driver keeps on pointing out irrelevant things like the turn offs to campgrounds and places where there used to be farms. Who cares?
Endless visits to rock art site after rock art site. Long drives over horrendous roads. I want to shout out “daddy, are we there yet?!?” This place is not for the A.D.D. tourist.
Very hot out, dusty, blech.
As we were returning to the Aurora Lodge the driver hands out herb scented frozen towels. They were the best part of the trip!
up at the Aurora Lodge before boarding the bus for the 3 hour drive back to
Finally back to the Cherry Blossom Motel.
Saturday August 21, 2004
Breakfast again at Ducks Nuts.
over to the Museum & Art Gallery of the
Museum restaurant was full and staff was unpleasant. Information desk told me there was a restaurant across the street at the Ski Club (The Darwin Water Ski Club). Got my free “honorary membership”, a steak sandwich with everything (egg, pineapple, beet, lettuce, cheese.) Sat outside under the palm trees watching the ocean and reading. Much nicer than wasting time at the museum restaurant. Highly recommended.
Walked to the Botanic Gardens. Very small. Trees well signed, but lousy path signage. Finally found the information center, it looked like it was closed, but lo and behold the door was unlocked. Poor information. The only impressive thing about the Botanic Gardens was the Rainforest Gully. Apparently it was a dry grassland 20 years ago and now is a serious rainforest with towering trees. Well done.
back to the city, thinking “wow, I’ve really done
Sunday August 22, 2004
More beakfast of oatmeal with yoghurt at Ducks Nuts.
Pack up, check
out. Hotel told me it was only 20
minutes to the airport on the airport shuttle.
What they didn’t tell me was that the shuttle would drive around
The flight to
Dinner at Coast
Monday August 23, 2004
Great bed, great room, great shower
Breakfast at hotel café
Get together with Jaybe
Hang out around
Dinner at Doyles with Jaybe – cold entree plate & seafood crepe
Tuesday August 24, 2004
Drop off laundry at
Stainless at King St. Wharf (
at Blackbird café (
at some place on
Got lost going back to Stainless. Wasted an hour!
Walked to Rocks
Snack at Courtyard
Opera house – 10 minutes before the tour was to start I was the only person signed up. How could I say no to a private tour. By the time the tour started there were 10 of us.
The tour of the Sydney Opera House was weird. It’s a very expensive tour, and I think they fell they have to give you your money’s worth. It’s a full hour tour, but there’s only about ½ hour that’s interesting. The rest of the time the tour guide regaled us with details about the play that was being performed that night, lists of Australian actors that had performed there (none of which I’d ever heard of,) and, in true Australian form, a free coffee or tea. If it had been a focused ½ hour, it would have been a smashing tour. At one hour, I kept on wanting to tell her to just get on with it!
Dinner at Rockpool (
Amuse bouche of a single fresh made goats cheese tortellini with soaked raisins and pine nuts dressed with a mild but fragrant extra virgin olive oil. It was excellent. The tortellini was perfectly cooked, and the dressing was lovely.
For my main course I had John Dory topped with a crisp Indian bread, served with an Indian inspired cumin/turmeric curry sauce, deep fried shallots, and deep fried “curry leaves”. It was very good, but not quite up to the level of the price. I also ordered an arugala, radicchio, and spring greens salad. Rockpool continues to be a fine, attractive restaurant with excellent service and creative dishes. However, it is furiously expensive, and not as good as its prices should warrant. The food was enjoyable, but I was hoping to be “wowed.”
After dinner I stopped by a grocery store to purchase granola and yoghurt so I wouldn’t have to continue eating Australian breakfasts.
Wednesday August 25, 2004
Breakfast in room of yummy granola and yoghurt.
Walk all over Domain and Botanic Gardens. Walked for hours and hours.
Lunch at café in Botanic Gardens (downstairs). Quiche. Burping up eggs for the rest of the day. Ugh.
Dinner at hotel. Nice light salad.
Thursday August 26, 2004
Another fine breakfast in my room.
Walk to circular quay
Almost missed Manley Ferry
Sit on beach
Lunch at Le Kiosk
(Shelly Beach, 02-9977-4122.) Another knock-down-drag-out meal. Mind
bogglingly slow. So slow that by
the time I was done I was hungry again! AU$35. Ouch. Puy lentil soup (lentils really from
Second lunch at 3 Ducks
Try to sell books
at Spice I Am Thai restaurant (
Friday August 27, 2004
Taxi to Airport