Thursday, April 27, 2017

Back to AU

Having spent our week in New Zealand, and a lovely week it was, we were ready to return to Australia and get on with seeing more of the continent.  We flew from Auckland to Brisbane and picked up our rental car.  It turned out to be a nice new Toyota Camry - all of 1400 km on the odometer.  Actually a very nice car but the first I remember renting in another country with an automatic transmission.  THAT caused me problems that I really never expected.  Driving on the left hand side of the road means that your left hand is used for shifting if you have a manual transmission.  If you hiave an automatic it leaves your left hand alone to get into trouble.  In my case I kept trying to turn on the turn signals with my left hand as I do in the states.  Except that the wand on that side of the steering column was the windshield wipers.  Grrr!  I must have hit the wipers 20 times when I wanted to signal a turn.  Double Grrrr!  What an idiot.  In fact I didn't realize what was causing my problem until my wife pointed it out after we got rid of the car.  Oh well.

We pretty much picked up the car and left town thinking we'd take a few days driving up the coast then dropping the car in Cairns where we could visit the Great Barrier Reef.  Sounds like a plan, huh.  Well, you know what happens to plans....   We stopped the first night in a place called Mooloolaba.  It was a nice little town, well not so small, but nice.  Nice enough we stayed a couple nights rather than the one we'd planned on originally.
We were walking along this path next to the beach looking for a specific restaurant.  Tough life, huh.  It's pretty late in the Aussie summer so while there were people on the beach it wasn't really crowded.  Then you turn the other way, towards the land and it looks a little different.
There are a whole bunch of homes and hotels over there!  Not that it's a bad thing but it is sure different from the deserted beach idea.  We finally found the restaurant and had a lovely lunch.  Granted it was $100 AUD (about $75 US) but it was really great.  We were more than thirsty after our hike to find this place and the waiter brought us THREE bottles of water in addition to the usual food and wine.  You can be sure his tip was substantial. 

This was the first time we've ever stayed in a self- catering apartment hotel.  What it means is that we had a one bedroom apartment with no room service.  When we leave they come in and clean it but otherwise it's up to us.  It worked really well because we like the convience of being able to eat 'at home' if we want.  We had a regular fridge to keep wine and water and even food.  There was a washer and dryer so we could do laundry.  Pretty cool.  We found others like this place later in our travels in Australia.  It's unusual for us but it worked out really well.

In Mooloolaba I did see something I've never seen before.  It was in the marina near the boat ramp.
It's a great idea making sure that people know if their GPS is working or not but I've never seen anything like it.  Good on the Aussies!

Anyway the next day we drove another 60 or 70 miles up the coast to Bargara, Queensland.  My wife is a Trip Advisor junkie and she found us another self-catering place on the beach so what's not to like?  That's the place where I took the photos I posted while we were gone:  nice blue sky one day and clouds and rain the next.  Cyclone Debbie was coming ashore in Australia and she was one big mean gal. 

We lived in Florida quite a while and know better than to fool with hurricanes.  Just because the cyclone is turning in the opposite direction doesn't mean it's any 'nicer' so we took the hint and decided to return to Brisbane rather than continue up the coast.  It was now that we discovered something that really could have been nasty.  We arranged our car rental via National but they use a local company, Redspot, to actually supply the car.  It turns out that the paperwork we had from National showed us picking up the car in Brisbane and returning it in Cairns.  The paperwork from Redspot showed us returning the car to Brisbane!  Can you imagine the hassle if we'd continued on to Cairns?  What a screwup.  We are just glad we didn't end up in Cairns with a car that was supposed to be in Brisbane!

Well, then there was the 'other thing'.  You have to remember that I'm 68 years old and it's 20 years since I had a police traffic stop.  One of our 'traditions' is that whe we stop and park our trailer, which we consider our home away from home, we have a glass of wine. It's just a celebration of the safe landing.  We almost always have the makings of our dinner so we won't be driving.. SO, we had a glass of wine when we landed in Bargara.  And then figured out we had nothing to eat so we headed back up the road to the grocery store.  Except that there was a policeman in the middle of the road doing a random traffic stop!  Well, his first question is 'Have you been drinking"  Well,, what could I say?  Duh, I had a glass of wine about 10 minutes ago officer.  He had me blow into his machine and just told me to get out of there..  I am sure I was legal but I guess it was a learning experience.   

So we ended our six day car rental in Brisbane. Turns out it's a nice city and we had a nice time  but it sure could have been nasty!  We stayed in the Next hotel on the riverside and it turned out to be a great choice.  We could see this great spot from which to view the city and wanted to get up there.  It turned out to be farther than we thought and pretty steep but we made it! 
Did I stay steep? The stairs downhill where steep as well.
I'm not sure if we would have gone up all the stairs but we were happy enough to go back down them!  Other than the hills, Brisbane was lovely.  Which brings up a rather interesting subject. My wife has a Fitbit.  When we are home we are in the 5-6,000 step category; when we are traveling it's not unusual for us to to 10,000 steps and that was happening here.  It isn't something we plan, it just happens.  I guess it is a result of being in a new place.  Who knows? 

We did want a nice steak dinner so we went to a highly rated local place the Breakfast Creek Hotel which is actually a restaurant.  There are two choices:  pick out a steak and they cook it for you and deliver it to your table in the bar or go into the restaurant and have servers and stuff.  We preffered the latter.  So they seat us and have to move us immediately because the lighting isn't working.  Honestly, we hadn't been there long enough to notice but it was nice. Then we ordered:  my wife a bone in rib-eye; myself a filet.  Well, the rib-eye was horribly overcooked and when my wife sent she was told it was perfectly cooked.  My filet was supposed to be med-rare and I didn't bother to send it back.  It was about an inch thick on one side and an inch and a half on the other. How the hell are you supposed to cook something like that the same throughout?  Really?  Well, our recomendation is to skip the Breakfast Creek Hotel unless you don't give a damn about your dinner. 

There was one place we ate that was king of interesting in one of the malls.  When you go in you get a "credit card" so whenever you order something it gets charged to your card. My wife only had a salad; I had a pizza and got us a bottle of wine so when we left we presented our two cards and were given a bill for the total.  Pretty cool but definitly different!

One thing we were happy to find was this monument to the US Navy's operations in the Pacific back in the WWII days.  It's always nice to remember what we've helped make possible in the world.

The next morning we took a boat trip to the first ever Koala Scantuary.  Well at least it was ok.  We took a boat ride back up the river to get to the place.  They had a narration about things along the river that was really pretty cool.  Finally we get to this place:  lots of only in Australia critters but a couple of hours was more than enoughl  So then we go back down the river and hop off.  Back to current day Brisbane.  More next time, take care!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Having visited Tasmania and really loving the place it was time to move on.  Even with scenery like this we had to go.
I'm not quite sure where the idea came from to visit Tasmania first and then New Zealand but that was our plan.  In hindsight maybe doing NZ first would have made more sense but now we had to make our way to New Zealand.  You might think that would be an easy thing but actually it's reasonably difficult.  In the end we spent the better part of a day flying from Hobart to Sydney then Sydney to Wellington. 

We had heard that due to seismic activity that transport on the South Island was difficult so decided to limit our visit to the North Island.  It was a shame since I know the South Island is supposed to be spectacular but we were still limited by time as well.  I'd heard about the scenic train that runs between Wellington and Auckland and we were able to get tickets on the day after we arrived in Wellington.  The train runs north on one day then the next day it returns to the south so we had to leave on the day after we'd arrived.

The train has four carriages and a viewing carriage that has no seats or windows, the better for taking photos.  I spent a fair amount of time out there!  LOL  The North Island has quite a bit of farming in addition to lovely mountains and valleys.  I won't admit to how many photos of cows, sheep and horses I took!

I must admit that I wasn't the only one back in the viewing car.  At one point the train track actually goes around in a huge circle crossing the track again in a tunnel under it all to try and get down a mountain.  It brought out the photographers for sure.
The downside for the train is that it is a 12 hour trip and that's if you get off on time.  We were about half an hour late getting started so we were on the train from shortly after 07:00 and arrived in Auckland after 19:00.  The station in Auckland is pretty much a joke.  I'd read about it but hadn't really believed that it could be that lousy.  I was wrong.

There was a bus to take you downtown but it was full in an instant and our hotel wasn't downtown anyway.  There were a few cabs but there was a huge queue for them so we decided to walk.  We weren't out of the parking lot when a couple of guys who had been working on the train stopped us.  We explained we were going to walk to our hotel but they insisted on taking us in their car and boy were they lifesavers.  Our hotel was in a suburb called Parnell which is probably 3 miles from downtown and all uphill.  It would have taken a long while to walk not to mention we'd probably have gotten lost.  Thank you, Mark and friend from NZ Rail!

The next day we started exploring Auckland.  It is a beautiful city but you've got to like hills.  We ended up walking down to the city then taking the bus up the hill when we were tired in the evening.  That was a cool deal.  Of course we headed for the water first thing.
The waterfront is protected from intruders by this huge old fence.  It was painted to within an inch of it's life too.  It was definitely red.  Behind the fence were the wharfs.
This ship was visiting the first day we arrived.  The next day there was a different cruise liner in the same place.  Off to the right was a car carrier and, again, the next day there was a different car carrier.  The port is just crazy busy. 

One of the things I really love is the mix of old and new buildings.  These fantastic new creations are just across the street from a beautiful old building.  I thought it was just great. 

I didn't mention the reason for being in a hotel in the suburbs:  cost.  When we were looking we were seeing typical prices of $400 a night in downtown.  I know the NZ dollar is less than the US but still that was over our willingness to spend.  Even so we were in the $150 range.  An advantage of the suburb was that there were some really excellent restaurants around so that was enjoyable.
There was also the view from our little balcony.  It was nice at sunset with two chairs and a small table and a bottle of New Zealand wine.  Soon enough though we needed to leave New Zealand and return to Australia to continue our explorations.  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 17, 2017

OK, I'm back....

My last post was a first for me; I posted while we were away on one of our trips.  In this case, we were on the eastern coast of Australia just before Cyclone Debbie came along to kick some ass.  It was definitely a case of good plans gone bad.  But let me start from the beginning.

We flew out of Las Vegas to Los Angeles then on to Sydney.  Needless to say, it makes for a long day!  Well, since you cross the international date line, it's more like two days.  We left Vegas at 18:00 on Tuesday the 14th and arrived at our hotel in Hobart, Tasmania on Thursday the 16th.  Hmmm.  The LA to Sydney flight arrived fairly early in the morning so rather than trying to find something to do while we were all jet-lagged we figured we could fly down to Hobart and arrive at a more normal time in the early afternoon.  So that's what we did and it really did work quite well.

We really enjoyed our time in Tasmania.  We mostly stayed in Hobart.  It is a small city (in the 150K people range) but has a waterfront and a nice downtown area.  We did a lot of walking!  Of course you have to visit MONA - The Museum of Old and New Art so we signed up for the boat trip.  You can get to the museum via car or bus or via their own ferry; we love the water so the ferry was obviously the thing.  On the ferry you can go 'normal' or 'posh'; we went for 'posh' which basically means you get a glass of wine and some little nibble while on the boat.  The museum itself was interesting and it did have both old and new art work.  Some was mildly titilating but overall it was really quite interesting.  We enjoyed it a great deal.  The guy behind it, David Walsh, has a sense of humor that is also on display.  It makes the museum more of an experience than a conventional museum.  I'd like to be able to go back more often. There is a winery on the same property as the museum and we toured it as well.  It is the Moorilla winery.  Though it is small it seemed to be a very high-end operation and I understand the wine is well thought of.

One of the things I most liked about Hobart was the continued use of older buildings.  Everywhere we went there were old buildings still being used.  I'm sure the interiors were completely revamped but it was pretty cool seeing '1896' or 'Hobart Gas Company' inscribed in the stone.  We also managed a walk though a park where there was a tree planted for every man killed in World War I.  We may do things like that in this country but I haven't come across them.  There was also a small group of trees planted by the crew of the USS Enterprise when they visited Hobart in 1976!  I'm not sure why that affected me but it did.  Of course I consider New Zealand an ally of the U.S. in general terms.  I guess this just made it a little more specific.

Just one of the older buildings. For all I know it is still used by the Marine Board!

A map of the trees planted in honor of soldiers lost in WWI.  As trees die via storms or whatever they are replaced with new ones.  

Next we will move on to visit New Zealand then return to Australia for more fun and frolics.  Thanks for stopping by!