Day One. Our first day in Australia was wonderful. We were a little tired, considering our 6:30 a.m. arrival and 25 hours of traveling, but the cool fresh air and scenery kept us going. The skies were blue and the temperature was in the mid-70s, with some wind in the afternoon. After a 35-minute cab ride from the airport that we shared with our friends, Bob and Susan, we checked into the Sheraton on the Park. The hotel was a beautiful five-star facility adjacent to Hyde Park, we assume named after London's popular Hyde Park. Our room was very nice, complete with heavy terry cloth bath robs, ironing board, and fax machine.
We started the day with a walk down to the wharf area where we caught a ferry boat ride to Manly Beach. The 30-minute ride in the bay took us along several miles of Sydney's coast line, beginning with a spectacular view of Sydney's famous clam shell Opera House. Manly is a resort town filled with small shops and restaurants. We had lunch and then walked along the ocean side beach, watching surfers, sun bathers, and crashing water. From there we decided to walk the trek from Manly to North Head. We expected a 20-minute walk that turned into a more than one-hour mostly uphill walk. We were rewarded with a breath-taking panoramic view of a rugged cliff and crashing waters on one side, a crystal clear view of the Tasman Sea in the middle, and a view of Sydney on the other side.
We caught a ride back to Manly from a retired army guy who manages a military museum in the area. We stopped to use the phone to check on the bus schedule or call a cab, and that's when he offered us the ride. With a quickly forming blister on one of Diane's feet, we couldn't refuse. After a quick snack, we caught the next ferry back to Sydney. Immediately, we walked to the Sydney Opera House. The architecture of this place is stunning. And its as impressive close up as it is from a distance. We checked out the schedule of events, hoping that we could take in a play or musical event. Unfortunately, our timing wasn't so good. The only item on the list that remotely interested us was the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, but it didn't begin until Thursday and we had to leave Sydney Wednesday morning.
We took a train from the wharf area back to Hyde Park, walked around a bit more, and then headed to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner. The hotel's concierge helped us make a reservation at the Revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. The hotel staff were exceptional helpful. The concierge insisted that we get a window table and surprised us with complimentary champagne when we were seated. Nice touch! The view was incredible. Imagine sitting at a table with nothing but 80 stories of air between you and the ground. We were looking down at sky scraper roof tops. Luckily, we arrived well before dark, so we snapped a couple of pictures. During the 2.5-hour dinner, we revolved 1.5 times, so we got to see all of Sydney from 800 feet. After a very short walk back to the hotel, we turned in and slept for 9.5 hours, almost non-stop.
Day Two. Day two was as good as day one. We were more rested and more realistic with what we could accomplish in one day. The day started out with picture perfect blue skies and short sleeve shirt temperatures. We began with a short stroll through Hyde Park, which led to the Royal Botanical Gardens. We walked through it until we came to the bay where we could see the Opera House and the massive Harbor Bridge. We followed the shore line – perhaps one and one-half miles – which led to the Opera House. Our plan was to hop on the trackless train that carried visitors through the interior of the gardens, past ponds and countless clusters of trees and flowering plants. It was early spring in Australia, so many of the flowers had not yet blossomed. One area featured more than 140 different species of palm trees, many more than 100 years old.
After a roundtrip ride back to the Opera House on the trackless train, we put our somewhat rested legs back to work. We followed the water along the harbor to a popular area called The Rocks. Not sure why they call it The Rocks – we didn't see a single rock. The area has many restaurants, which was good because it was approaching 12:30 p.m. and we were starved. Lunch was surprisingly inexpensive, the same as the day before, although we more than made up for it at dinner both nights. Lunch was in the US$6.50 range (for both of us), but dinner came to about $60 both nights. It was fairly high-end dining, so I'm sure we could have done it for much less.
We ate lunch near the water with a view of the bay with boats coming and going. Still a beautiful day, although a little cool in the shade, so we sat in the sun. The Rocks also features some of the most interesting shops in Sydney, we were told, so we had to visit a few of them. They sold lots of hand-crafted stuff, originating from the Aborigines, such as boomerangs and the long tube-style horns. Also, they had lots of leather goods, kangaroo hides, and t-shirts. After dropping a few Australian dollars, we headed south toward the monorail system. We caught it near our hotel and took it to Darling Harbor, a harbor that gave you a totally different feel and view of Sydney. We didn't spend a lot of time there because we needed to return to the hotel, shower, and meet some friends for dinner. No time to rest and relax.
At 5:30, we met Bob and Susan, and Cheryl, and later with Brad. Brad and Cheryl are business acquaintances of Bob's from past trips. We ate at a nice restaurant in North Sydney, which is across the Harbor Bridge. Brad brought two bottles of wine, which is something that is customary in Australia. The meal was excellent, including Bob's kangaroo steak. Each of us sampled it. We returned back to the room at about 10:30 p.m., packed up our stuff in preparation for our morning departure, and was in bed by around 11:00.
Day Three. Day three was a "moving" day. We checked out of the Sheraton in Sydney and took a cab to the airport. From there we boarded a Qantas flight to Cairns (pronounced Cans, as in a can of beans), located in northern Queensland, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The tail-end of the 2.5 hour flight gave us some spectacular views of the coastline and beaches north of Cairns. We took a cab to the Marlin Waters on Palm Cove, which is about 20 kilometers north of Cairns. The Marlin Waters is a small, low-key condo facility that is nice, although nothing like the Sheraton. We had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and spacious living room with a walk-out balcony, overlooking the beach and ocean. There were many very big Melaleuca trees around the condo and beach, many more than 200 years old, so we had plenty of shade.
After unpacking and walking around a bit, we put on the swimming suits and walked about 20-30 steps to the beach. I went swimming, both in the ocean and in the pool; Diane stayed dry. After making a reservation for the following day's safari through the rainforest and outback, we went to a nearby restaurant for pizza. Both of us were really tired, so we turned in early.
Day Four. On day four, we toured Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. The 14-passenger four wheel drive vehicle picked us up at 7:45 a.m. from the Marlin Waters on Palm Cove. There were 10 altogether in our group, including the driver named Goetz (pronounced guts). Goetz, probably in his early 30s, wore a microphone headset so he could talk to us along the way. He personalized his comments by calling our names and asking us questions, probably so we'd listen. Goetz was well educated and knew a lot about trees, plants, and animals of the rainforest. We could tell that he liked to talk and tell stories, maybe a little too much.
Our first stop was at a crocodile farm. Some of the salt water crocs were huge. The fresh water crocs were much smaller, which is typical, we were told. They also had on display many snakes and other reptiles, as well as kangaroos and koalas. After only about 20 minutes at the farm, we headed north to Port Douglas where we picked up a young couple, the final two in our group. Port Douglas is a beautiful resort town, located about one hour north of Palm Cove.
Our next stop was to board a river boat that took us down the Daintree River about three miles. We saw colorful birds, a tree frog, and two small crocodiles along the river bank. The crocs were cool! The next stop was lunch, but first we swam in a fresh water pool fed by a mountain stream. The water was crystal clear, but quite cool. Lunch included your choice of grilled fish or steak, along with fresh fruits, juices, and wine.
After lunch, we went to Tribulation Beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand and very warm water. After that, we went on a guided nature walk through the rainforest. We saw really interesting vines, fern trees, and very old and tall trees that created a canopy over the top of us. We also saw a foot-long lizard-type reptile on a tree branch. Don't recall the name of it.
Next was a rather lengthy and bumpy ride to Mossman Gorge. This was the most impressive part of the trip. We hiked to a clear and colorful fresh water pool, and then upstream to a swinging suspension bridge. The rushing water, rocks, and lush green surroundings of the tropical rainforest were beautiful. We wanted to stay for a couple of hours, but couldn't. After a soft drink and snack, we boarded the four-wheel drive once again, this time to return back to Palm Cove.
When we were exiting the vehicle and saying our goodbyes to our Australian and New Zealand friends, Goetz said that he was sorry that we didn't see any kangaroos. He mentioned that they would usually see many just up ahead, not far from where we were staying. So we got back on and asked him to drop us off and we'd walk back. We saw about a dozen of them and got fairly close. Technically, they are called wallabies, but they looked like kangaroos to us, and they are a part of the kangaroo family. It was fun to watch them hop around. When we returned to the Marlin Waters, Bruce (the owner) explained that he sees kangaroos next door in the vacant lot about every evening just before dark. So the next night, we watched for them, but didn’t see any.
Day Five. Day five was a very easy and relaxing day. We chose not to go to Kuranda. Originally, we were planning to take a train through the rainforest to Kuranda, a village that attracts a lot of tourists, and then return by skyrail (cable car). Instead, we got up before 6:00 a.m. to see the colorful sunrise as we walked along the beach from Palm Cove to Trinity Beach It was a LONG walk, maybe three to four miles, but refreshing. Trinity is a town with many residents, cars, etc. The beach was nice, but not nearly as quaint and low key as Palm Cove. After the two hour walk, we rewarded ourselves with a cup of coffee and tea and toast at a small outside cafe on the beach. We returned to Palm Cove on an area bus.
We laid around the condo for a couple of hours, then walked to the fishing peer. After shooting a couple of pictures, we walked back to the tiny village area of Palm Cove. The walk along the beach front in Palm Cove was really nice, much nicer than Trinity Beach. We visited a few little shops, bought a t-shirt, and stopped at an outside cafe area for a milk shake.
That evening, we had dinner at one of the nicest local hotels within walking distance. We had a buffet which included countless hot and cold dishes, and custom stir fry cooked to perfection in a wok. The meal was wonderfully done. Prior to dinner, I wanted to take another look at the kangaroos, so I hiked up the street about four blocks to see them. It was a little dark to see them well, and apparently they heard me coming because they were further away when I got there. Still I could see them reasonably well through my 10x pocket binoculars. I counted 10 of them. The day before, Goetz told us that there were 18 million people in Australia and four times that many kangaroos. They've become somewhat of a problem for farmers because they eat the grass reserved for their sheep and other livestock. So, unfortunately, they have to shoot many of them. We turned in fairly early in preparation for the big dive trip.
Day Six. We checked out of the Marlin Waters on Palm Cove and caught a cab to the Outrigger Hotel in Cairns, about 20 minutes away. This was the meeting place for the big dive trip. It was also our hotel for the final two nights. We met Noel Frost of Queensland Manufacturing Institute (QMI), Ted Theocheung of Hewlett-Packard, and Bob and Susan Neel. The six of us made up the group.
We took a large boat from Cairns to the outer reef. After about one hour on the boat, we stopped at Fitzroy Island and were given about an hour to explore the tropical island. The final leg of the boat ride was as rough as the first. Several people got sick, although none from our group. One lady filled up three barf bags. When we arrived to the outer reef, we docked at a permanently moored pontoon. This was were we boarded a small boat that took us to our dive boat, also referred to as the Floating Hotel, an old boat owned and operated by Cairns Dive Center. The 90' catamaran could accommodate 39 divers and 11 crew. We were close to full capacity.
After a series of briefings, we were shown to our dive gear and cabins. Diane and I shared a small unit with bunk beds. We were introduced to the boat's food at lunch, which started with an absolutely awful cup of soup. After the second meal, we were certain that the cook was given a dishonorable discharge from the army for his dreadful cooking. It’s amazing what you’ll eat when you're hungry. We didn't go to the Great Barrier Reef for fine dining, or for luxurious sleeping accommodations, thank God. This was a dive trip, so we were after good diving, and that's exactly what we got. The diving was the best that I've ever experienced. The coral formations and the amount of coral were absolutely staggering. And I've never seen so many fish in my life. Many were more than two feet in length with dazzling colors. We dove with sea turtles, a bull ray, sting ray, and countless other tropical fish. Some of the clams, sea cucumbers, brain coral were the biggest and most impressive that I've seen anywhere.
The first of three dives was in the early afternoon. We dove at a site called Moore Reef. For our second and third dives, and for the overnight stay, the boat was moved to a new site called Briggs Reef. We dove the Wall of Death for the second dive, which was an incredible wall of coral and sea life. Diane snorkeled with a guy from Belgium who chose to sit out his second dive. They had a good time. The third dive was a night dive – my first. We were a little surprised that Cairns Dive Center didn't require that dive masters go with us. Noel, an experienced diver, dove with me, and Bob and Ted dove together. The only rules were that we shouldn't stay down for longer than about 30 minutes and not go deeper than 10 meters (about 30 feet). Noel and I chose to dive the Wall of Death again for this dive because we were familiar with it. The dive wasn't nearly as spooky as I thought it would be. The flashlights (torches, as they called them) lit up the water pretty well. Even when you shut them off, you could make out the underwater terrain pretty well. We had a half moon and clear skies, which helped. As soon as we got down to the bottom, three large orange colored fish, 20+ inches in length, began to swim with us. The longer we dove, the more friendly they got. A couple of times, they bumped into our faces. We later found out that bright light at night temporary blinds smaller fish, giving these larger fish a chance to easily feast on them.
The evening concluded with a couple of beers from the small bar in the boat. We turned in before 10:00 p.m., knowing that the first dive was very early in the morning, before breakfast.
Day Seven. We slept reasonably well, considering the constant rocking of the boat. Both of us woke up a few times in the night. Noel couldn't sleep, so he got up and sat on the top deck. He said he slept only two hours. I was told that the first dive was at 6:00 a.m., so I was up before 5:45. I saw only one other person up at this absurd hour, but most divers eventually got up and did the first dive. It was at 6:30, not 6:00, so I could have slept another 30 minutes.
The first two dives were at Briggs Reef. We chose to dive the Wall of Death again for both of them. This is an incredible dive. Visibility for most of the dives were in the 40-60 feet range, although at times, you could see 80-100 feet. The water got stirred up a bit from the winds and waves and all the divers. For the final dive, we returned to Moore Reef, but the visibility dropped to under 40 feet. The water was still warm and the fish were plentiful. Diane snorkeled with a guy from the former East Germany. After the final dive, the five of us divers snorkeled around a small reef. Diane had already returned and was tired, so she did not join us, but she should have. The clarity of the water and the brilliant colors of the coral and fish near the surface made us question whether the last dive was as good as the snorkeling.
We packed up our stuff and headed back to Cairns, arriving at around 5:00 p.m. We were asked to attend a conference reception that began at 6:00 p.m., so we had to hustle. All of us were very tired, so we didn't stay late, nor did we go out for a fancy meal. We slept good that night.
Day Eight. This was the "business" part of the trip. Prior to lunch, I gave a 45-minute presentation to more than 100 people from academia, industry, and government. We experienced some minor difficulties with the PowerPoint setup, but all in all, it went fine. While I attended the conference, Diane shopped in Cairns.
We met back at the room at around 5:30 p.m., showered, and headed back to the Reef Casino Hotel (conference site) for a reception sponsored by 3D Systems. We met up with some of our Australian friends, indulged in some fine Australian beer and wine, and then went to dinner. We had a wonderful time with Noel and others. Before going to dinner, our plan was to turn in early, given our very early morning flight, but that didn't happen. We didn’t hit the bed until 12:30 a.m., and we were up again by 4:30 a.m. so that we could catch a cab to the airport.
Day Nine. We caught our Qantas flight from Cairns to Sydney, and then United flights from Sydney to San Francisco, then to Denver, and then on to Fort Collins. Got home at about 2:00 p.m. Although tired, we reflected on our eight days in Australia. Would we return? Absolutely! When? As soon as possible? Why? To dive more of the Great Barrier Reef and to see other parts of the country. I made a promise that I would visit QMI in Brisbane (the sponsor of my travel), so now we have to return.
— Terry Wohlers
Copyright 1997 by Terry T. Wohlers