After a good night’s sleep I woke to the sounds of countless birds all around. Β One thing I have loved about Australia are all the “exotic” (different from the US) birds and their unique sounds and this (as you can imagine) was intensified in the rainforest. Β I just laid in my bed and listened to the birds for 10-15 minutes… was a great way to start the day!


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I started my last day at sea with a good breakfast and a cup of coffee on the upper deck looking out over the ocean. Β I “missed” the 6:30 dive again (darn :-), but was planning to do the other 2 dives before lunch and then heading back to Cairns mid-afternoon.

Please don’t leave. Click here to read more…

My day started early (well, early for me), but not as early as it could have.  Breakfast was served at 7:30 so I woke up at 7:27. πŸ™‚   There was an early morning dive at 6:30 (wake time 5:45) but anyone who knows me well would know….”Homie don’t play dat” (ok, who remembers that show?)…..

Before each dive there was a mandatory dive meeting to discuss the geography (we changed reefs twice a day) and go over the diving logistics (see yesterday’s blog).  After breakfast we had 30 minutes before the dive meeting….so I went back to sleep (7:30 is still too early for me).  πŸ™‚

Our dive location for the next 2 dives was Saxon reef (GoogleImages).  My dive buddy for this morning was one of my Belgium friends I met yesterday Stef.  Stef was a certified dive master and had dove many places around Asia and the Middle East.  He was a great guy and a really good diver.

We did two dives at Saxon reef before lunch and then moved to Hastings reef (GoogleImages) for the afternoon and night dives…..

Looking out over the reef is beautiful.  I love how the water breaks over the reef (in the middle of the ocean) and has a greenish turquoise color….

As for the dives, unfortunately the water was kind of cloudy today so the viability was not great.  In spite of that we still had some good dives and saw quite a bit of marine life (NOTE: The camera I had this day did not capture the colors very well.  The reef and fish were much more colorful than what you see in the pictures)….

Here are some pretty cool videos of the marine life….

Sea Turtle Eating Coral
Green Moray Eel
Cool Fish
And this was my favorite…..

Sea Turtle Swimming

After dinner we had another incredible sunset from the back deck of the boat…..

We did another night dive (with the sharks πŸ™‚ and it was really cool seeing all the lights from other divers under the water…..

This was pretty cool…..the divers who were still working on their certifications could not do the night dive so they allowed them to lay on the dive platform with their mask and snorkel and get an up close view of the fish….and the sharks!  A couple came right up to them…..

Once we returned from the dive, put away our diving gear and got cleaned up and changed we sat in the lounge and talked for a while but we were all pretty beat from the long day so we turned in early.

Where Am I

After a restless night of sleep I woke early this morning.  I packed up, ate breakfast and was out front waiting for the dive bus by 7:30.  The bus arrived at 7:45, I climbed aboard and we took off for the dive center.

During the ride to the dive center I met another diver named Ramiro.  Ramiro was from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I immediately began a conversation with him as Argentina, and more specifically Patagonia, is #2 on my bucket-list of travel destinations (#1 is base camp of Mt. Everest).  Ramiro is a corporate lawyer who works for John Deere. He works in M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and said that he travels to the US frequently, usually NYC. Although I would estimate he was only in his late 20’s/early 30’s it sounded like he has had a very successful career.  He was in Australia for only 2 weeks but wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef….so here is was. 
As mentioned in a previous post the dive center I had chosen was Deep Sea Divers Den (see Day 52 post for more information on the dive center and the dive information).  After a short ride we arrived at the dive center (along with 3 other vans with divers) and went inside.   Each person had to sign in, show our dive certification cards and verify our dive package and payment. Once this was complete we loaded back into the vans for a 10 minute drive to the port where we made our way to the high speed “day boat” (Sea Quest) for the 1.5 hour trip out to the reef….

During our ride we broke up into three groups; those previously certified, those getting their certifications and snorkelers.  There were probably 50-60 people on the boat and about 10 certified divers.  The dive team gave us the information for the first dive (site geography, dive rules (time/return bars/etc)), and gave each of us a number.  They then broke us into 2 teams and we chose our dive “buddy” (you never dive alone).

After that we went to the dive deck, grabbed a wet suit, fins, mask and found our dive equipment (based on the number we had been given).  Since I know most people reading this have never dove (dove, dived, have doven πŸ™‚ I’ll take a minute and tell you about the equipment.  The typical dive equipment consists of a tank (duh), a BCD or buoyancy compensator device, a regulator (connects to the tank (stage 1) and delivers air to your mouth (stage 2 – primary & alternate), depth gauge, dive computer, weights, mask and fins…..

We arrived at the first dive site, Norman Reef (GoogleImages), around 10 AM…..

Once we arrived things moved very fast. The certified divers are usually the first to go in so we were in the water in just a couple of minutes.  Now here is where the fun begins…….usually.

Before I continue I need to provide a little background information…..about 2 days before I left for Cairns I started feeling like I might be getting a head cold.  It’s a common diving recommendation that you do not dive if you have a head cold.  This is due to the potential difficulties of equalizing your ears as you decent and ascend.  So this absolutely could not have happened at a worse time since I had already booked, and paid, for 3 days at sea on a dive boat!

So I took a lot of vitamin C, echinacea, garlic, zinc and pretty much anything I could think of to try and keep from getting sick and it definitely helped. By the time I arrived in Cairns I could tell I had a little something but it wasn’t bad. Since I had already paid for the dive trip I decided to go and told myself if I had any issues equalizing my ears I would abort the dive and snorkel instead.

So now, we’re in the water for our first dive and we start down.  I get a few feet down and can’t get my right ear to equalize.  So I come back up and try two more times but still can’t get it.  The other divers in my group descended and were waiting, so rather than hold them up (since it wasn’t looking like I was going to get it) I decided to surface and sit this one out.  In 16 years of diving this was the first time I ever had to sit out a dive.  I was bummed but I didn’t want to push it.  I did some snorkeling and returned to the boat.

The next dive was scheduled an hour later.  I wanted to give it another a try and this time I was able to descend and equalize both ears with no issues…great!  Diving the Great Barrier Reef had always been on my diving bucket-list so I was excited to finally be doing it.  It was a good dive.  The colors of the coral on the reef were amazing and the variety of fish and marine life was equally amazing.

After the dive we had lunch and the folks who were doing the live-a-board (about 10 of us) transferred to a larger boat called the Ocean Quest….

Once we were aboard the Ocean Quest we received an orientation for the boat and were assigned our cabins.  As they were going through the cabin assignments they mistakenly had me and a girl who had also transferred over listed as a couple and assigned to the same room.  They said, “you’re not a couple” and we said, “we just met about 10 minutes ago”.  (ha ha)  So they left me in the first assigned room and moved her to a different room. It actually ended up working out great as I had paid for a double occupancy cabin but, because of their mix up, ended up having a room to myself the first night. πŸ™‚

After checking out the boat I took a nap and got ready for dinner.  During dinner I met a couple of guys from Belgium and started a good conversation.  After dinner we had about an hour to hangout and watch the sunset……

Dive friends from Belgium and Norway

Our last dive of the day was a night dive.  In all my years of diving I had never done a night dive so I was pretty excited.  My excitement increased as I stood on the upper deck at the back of the boat and watched all the fish….and sharks, swimming under the lights around the dive platform (where we dove from)…….(the pictures aren’t the best as it was dark but you can clearly make out the sharks)

The night dive was pretty cool.  Many fish and marine animals are nocturnal so it’s interesting to see the different varieties at night.  Oh, and in case you are wondering the answer is “Yes”…..I do still have all of my appendages.  ha ha

When we returned to the boat we had a visitor who I think was probably a regular on this boat as he/she had no intention of moving and was definitely not afraid of us.  It was funny listening to him/her…..he/she never moved…..

After we got cleaned up and changed my Belgium friends and I sat on the back deck of the boat and continued our conversation from dinner.  We had a great conversation about everything you can imagine (our countries, our families, travel, politics, religion, relationships and on and on).  We ended up talking for almost 3 hours. I know we all wanted to continue the conversation but we reluctantly called it a night around 1 as we had a full day of diving tomorrow….uh, later today.  πŸ™‚

Where Am I

Today was another transition day.  After a week of rest and recovery from my marathon trip around New Zealand I traveled to Cairns Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef and explore the Daintree Rainforest.

So this is what a travel day looks like……
I woke this morning, ate breakfast, got ready, finished packing and walked the 200 yards to catch the 155 bus.  I took the 10 minute ride on the 155 into Mona Vale where I transferred to the L90 for a 55 minute ride to Wynyard Station in CBD Sydney.  From there I got on the airport line train for a 15 minute ride to Sydney international airport.  I checked in at the Virgin Australia kiosk, dropped my checked bag at the desk, made my way through security, grabbed my “second breakfast” (name the movie…this should be easy) and headed to the gate.
The 3 hour flight to Cairns was smooth and I got my first views of the mountains around Cairns during the decent… looked very tropical….

Cairns (pronounced “cans” (the “r” is silent)) is located in the Northern East coast of Australia in the state of Queensland.  It is a popular tourist destination for it’s proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
After we landed I found my bus and made my way to the Travellers Oasis hostel (GoogleWeb) and checked in.  The staff was very friendly and energetic.  They showed me around the facility, gave me all the information I needed for my stay and told me about an Aussie BBQ that their sister hostel Tropic Days has every Monday night.  They said a bus would leave for the BBQ in front of the main building in about an hour which gave me enough time to walk down the street to grab a few things from a grocery.
The BBQ was great with all-you-can-eat kangaroo, crocodile, emu, fish and several salads and side dishes.  All for $14 AUD ($10 USD).  It was also a lot of fun as I had the opportunity to get to know several of the other folks staying at my hostel.  It just so happened that I sat at a table with 3 other Americans (a brother/sister from NY and a girl from Indiana) as well as a couple from Spain and a girl from Australia (Perth). 
After dinner a few of us took the bus to downtown Cairns, walked around the Night Market (GoogleWeb) and finished the night with a drink at the famous (at least around Cairns) Woolshed (Web).  I left the group early and headed back as the bus for the diving boat was picking me up at 7:30 the next morning. 
It was a beautiful night so I decided to walk back.  As I was walked I began searching for my door key.  I looked in my left pocket….no key.  I looked in my right pocket….no key……CRAP…..NO KEY!!!   UGH!  
I remembered reading in the hostel information there was a $20 charge for a lost key.  Ok, no big deal.  However, I also remembered that the office closed at 10 (it was almost midnight at this point) AND the front gate was locked and you needed what to get in….yeah, you guessed it, your door key! Double CRAP!!!
I knew I had it when I left for dinner and then I remembered, while I was at the other hostel I had laid on a hammock for 10 minutes or so after dinner and had felt the key in my pocket and thought to myself, “you better be careful or the key will fall out of your pocket while you are laying here”.  After that I guess most people would have checked for the key when they got up huh?  Yeah, but what “fun” would that be?  πŸ™‚  So, I assumed (hoped…prayed) the hammock was the most likely place to find my wayward key.
But now for the next hurdle….I couldn’t remember the name of the other hostel (yes, it is in fact tough to be me :-).  So I googled Monday night BBQ in Cairns, found the name of the hostel and looked it up on google maps (thank you Lord for smartphones!).  Fortunately it was within walking distance of my place…..unfortunately it was about a mile away.  So, off I went.
After about 20 minutes I managed to find the other hostel, but it also had a fence, and a gate, and of course it was locked and all the lights were out and there was no one around….crap!  Oh well, only one thing to do…..climb over the fence (yeah, this is getting good).  With the luck I was having I halfway expected an alarm, flashing lights, security cameras, guard dogs and a swat team to descend on me before my feet hit the ground.  πŸ™‚  Fortunately, none of that happened.  So I walked through the facility, past a couple of guys sitting at a dark table talking (fortunately they either didn’t see me jump down from the fence or didn’t care), walked back to the hammocks and felt around for me key (I couldn’t see a thing) and……there it was!  (thank you Lord!).  
Fortunately the gate opened from this side so I didn’t have to climb the fence again πŸ™‚ and after a another 20 minute walk I was back in my room and ready for bed….
Where Am I

Today was Easter Sunday.  I woke early, ate breakfast, got ready and headed out….

It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, as I drove the 15 minutes to the C3 church (Web) in Oxford Hills, the church I attended my first 2 weeks in AU.  As I drove I began to think about last Sunday and the great worship I experienced at the Hillsong (Web) church and wishing I would have an opportunity to go again before I left.

When I arrived at the C3 church it was (as I expected) very crowded, so I parked in an overflow lot next to the highway.  Before I got out of the car, just for curiosity, I googled the directions to the Hillsong church.  I thought it would be 15 minutes further than it was from Rick’s but I found that it was about 5 minutes closer than from Ricks.  I knew the last service at the Hillsong church started 1 hour later than the C3 church so I knew I would have time to spare if I wanted to go.  After a couple of moments of deliberation and thinking this might be my last chance to attend Hillsong, I texted Rick (to let him know and make sure he did not need to car) and headed to Baulkham Hills.

Just as I had experienced last week the worship was great.  I also had the opportunity to hear their lead pastor β€ŽBrian Houston this week (he was traveling last week) so that was cool.  He gave a mostly typical Easter message but the way he delivered it was different….. He and a group of folks from the church had just returned (the night before) from a trip to Jerusalem.  While there, he had recorded his message from several of the historic sites around the Holy Land and they showed the recorded message during the service.  He recorded some of the message in The Garden of Gethsemane, some from outside The Garden Tomb, some from a small boat on the Sea of Galilee and some at a point just below the traditional site of Golgotha. It was a interesting way to add modern day tangibility to the 2000 year old Easter story.


It was a great Easter service and I was glad I decided to attend the Hillsong church again.

I spent the afternoon relaxing and hanging out at Rick’s and had a great Easter dinner with my Aussie family….complete with chocolate Easter bunnies from Rick and Linda (I’ve become the “son” they never wanted, ha ha).

Where Am I

It was another good day in Oz…..much the same as the last two….

Once again I spent most of my day sitting on the deck, updating the blog, watching Alaska and the birds and preparing for next week.  With the diving decision made yesterday my attention turned to the #2 reason for traveling to the Cairns area….the Daintree Rainforest.
The Daintree Rainforest (Google, WikiWebImages) is one of the oldest rainforests on the planet and is located about 2 hours north of Cairns.  When I began thinking about diving the GBR and traveling to Cairns I knew I wanted to visit the Daintree and (if possible) stay in the rainforest.  After doing some research I found (what I think is) a couple of cool places to do just that…..but more on that next week.
So Alaska and I had another relaxing day sitting on the deck, updating the blog (me) and keeping an eye on the local bird population (Alaska) πŸ™‚ 
Where Am I

Today was much the same as yesterday. Alaska and I sat on the deck writing blogs, getting information for next week and bird watching….

I did take some time to join Alaska in her bird watching when two parrots or lorikeets landed in the tree just beside the deck.  They stayed there for 10 minutes or so before moving on.  It was pretty cool…. 
In researching dive companies in the Cairns area I found that day trip dives were quite expensive.  I assumed this is due to the distance of the boat ride from Cairns to the reef which is about 1.5 hours each way (in a fast boat).  Pretty much all day trip packages included 3 dives.  Since I was planning to be in the Cairns area for a week so I was planning to dive at least 2 or 3 days.  
As I was looking at different companies I began to look at possibly doing a “liveaboard” trip.  With a liveaboard you travel to the reef on a day boat, do 2 – 3 dives and then transition to another boat that stays at the reef where you “live-a-board” for 2 – 7 (or more) days and do multiple dives each day.  I decided this is what I would do so it became a question of which company and how long.  After reading several reviews and looking at availability (several were already fully booked since it was only a few days away) I decided to go with a company called Deep Sea Divers Den in Cairns (GoogleWebImages) and do 3 days (2 nights).  I went ahead and booked it as there were only a couple of spots left. 
I felt good about having this booked as I have always wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef and that was the #1 reason I was traveling to the Cairns area.
I spent the rest of the day updating the blog with posts as I’ve been behind since New Zealand.
Where Am I

I woke today with no place I had to go and no place I had to be…..and it was pretty cool.  So I took some time to catch up on emails, FB and read some US news…

After breakfast I transitioned to my “office”, aka the deck….
The “office”
Alaska joined me to get some sun and do some bird watching.  We love sitting on the deck together…..

I sat quietly and I worked on my blog while Alaska “policed” the activities of the birds in the area as they flew from tree to tree.  It’s fun to watch how excited she gets when one flies close to the house and it’s also a little nerve-wracking watching her jump up and down and walk along the thin rail. I watched her like a nervous father wondering if she was going to fall.  πŸ™‚  We sat there until after lunch writing (me) and bird watching (Alaska…ok, me too).
Linda and Rick left yesterday for a couple of days and drove to a resort on the coast about 2 hours north and I happily agreed to help out with the “parental duties” in their absence. πŸ™‚  My “duties” for today included driving the girls to/from school/work and making dinner, which I volunteered to do since I was making dinner for myself anyway.  So in the afternoon I drove to the grocery to get everything I needed to make chicken parmigiana and then returned to the deck for me writing (me) and bird watching (Alaska). πŸ™‚
It was only me and their youngest daughter Natasha for dinner (their oldest daughter, Zara, was at work) but I think it turned out well (if I do say so myself :-).  Tasha said she liked it…but she is a very polite girl so ??? (ha ha) 
After dinner I spent some time on the internet looking for dive companies and preparing for next weeks trip to Cairns.

Where Am I

The first week I arrived in Australia I visited Sydney (Day 8) and purchased a multi-pass that included 5 attractions around the Sydney area.  There was so much to see that first day that I only made it to one of the attractions (Sydney Tower) so I planned to return later in my trip.  Well, today was that day…..

I got up, ate breakfast, took a shower, got ready and caught the 10:05 bus near Rick’s house. After transferring to another bus in Mona Vale I was on my way to Sydney.

The skies were blue and the weather was perfect as the bus made its 55 minute track from Mona Vale to Wynyard station in CBD Sydney.  Once I arrived I made my way to the Darling Habour (Day 10 post) area and my first stop the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium where I saw many of the aquatic life native to Australia including: sharks, rays, jellies, clown fish, penguins and Dugongs.  I really liked the Dugongs.  They are like Manatee’s only smaller and unfortunately, like Manatee’s are also endangered. πŸ™

One thing I saw at the aquarium both surprised and saddened me.  However, after the information I saw at the Royal Albatross Center in Dunedin (Day 39 post) I probably should not have been surprised by this….

After the aquarium I grabbed some lunch at a nice outdoor restaurant in Darling Harbour with a great view of the city and the harbour…..

After lunch I walked around the harbour a little before heading to my next destination Wild Life Sydney Zoo.
The zoo, like the aquarium, had many animals native to Australia including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, ekidnas, koalas, flying foxes (bats), reptiles and more.  If you’ve followed the blogs or FB posts you know that I’ve seen all of these in the wild over the past 2 months but it was pretty cool to get the opportunity to see some of them close up….like the koalas…..

I finished the zoo tour and somewhat hesitantly headed to my next and attraction for the day.  I say hesitantly because, although I’ve had opportunities go to these places before it never seemed like a place I would want like or that I had any desire to do.  However, it was included in the package I purchased (at no additional cost) and it was right beside the Wild Life zoo so I figured I would take a few minutes and walk through Madame Tussauds Sydney.  
If you’re not familiar with a Madame Tussauds they have wax figures of famous people.  Some are just ok but some are quite lifelike…..

And of course, like everyone who has ever gone to one of these I had to snap a few selfies of me and “friends” :-)….. 

Ok, so the last one needs a little explanation….you may or may not be familiar with the infamous Johnny Depp Australian dog controversy (I wasn’t until I came here).  Last year while he was in Australia filming the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean, he apparently “smuggled” his 2 toy terriers, Pistol and Boo, into Australia illegally (WebWeb2).  As a “closed” (isolated) country Australia has some pretty strict laws about plants and animals coming into the country and they require them to be quarantined for (I believe) 3-4 months.  Johnny Depp brought the dogs into the country without reporting them and they were spotted in the house where he was living.  The story went global when Australia’s agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce threatened to euthanise Pistol and Boo unless they were taken out of the country (oh my).  In the end a private jet was chattered and the dogs were flown, first class of course, safely back to the US πŸ™‚ but it left some lingering animosity toward Johnny Depp for some Australians. πŸ™‚
So as you can tell from the pictures I actually had a pretty good time in Madame Tussauds. It would be a fun place to go with some family or friends.  So I waved goodbye I left my new friends behind πŸ™‚ and headed to my last destination for the day…..The Chinese Garden of Friendship.
The Chinese Garden of Friendship (GoogleWebWikiImages) is a small walled park near Darling Harbour that is modeled on the typical private gardens of the Ming Dynasty.  It features beautifully created pavilions, exotic plants, ponds, waterfalls and a traditional Chinese teahouse.  It’s kind of like a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city and there are many places to sit and relax.  I enjoyed it quite a bit and I know several of my family and friends who would really enjoy this place as well….

My final plan for the day was to meet two US friends who relocated to Australia 1.5 years ago for work. 
I met Dennis and Susan York several years ago through my good friend and band mate Chris Bird ( some of you probably remember Susan and Dennis from Common Bond shows and events). Chris and Dennis both work for Shoretel and Dennis got the opportunity a couple of years ago to do an assignment in Australia and jumped at it (I don’t blame him).  They live just outside of Sydney in a place called Mosman (GoogleImages).  Mosman just happens to be on the main bus line from Sydney to Mona Vale so it was pretty easy to coordinate.  We met and had a nice dinner at place called Radio Cairo (GoogleWeb, loved this restaurant) and had a great time and a great conversation.  Looking forward to seeing them again before I leave…..
After dinner I grabbed the L90 bus and headed home to Mona Vale after another great day in Oz.
Where Am I

For most of the day today I picked up right where I left off yesterday…..just chillin’.  πŸ™‚  Alaska and I sat up a little “office” on the deck and (I) began working to try and catch up on my blog posts….

While I was sitting there I had a pretty cool little visitor (luckily Alaska had moved inside for awhile)…..

I am definitely going to miss seeing all the “unusual” (for the US) birds and animals around here and the “strange” sounds they make…..

I had told Rick and Linda that I would make dinner for the family tonight so in the afternoon I headed to the grocery to buy the indigence for my “world famous” spaghetti sauce….which a “lucky” few of you have experienced first hand. πŸ™‚  In the place of traditional pasta we used string zucchini which I’ve always wanted to try….it was delicious!  I’m happy to say that dinner went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

After dinner I retired downstairs and watched a movie before calling it at night.

Where Am I

Today was a get “somewhat” back to “normal” day (my “normal” for Australia).  I took care of a few things back in the states during the early morning (before everything closed in the US and everyone went to sleep), ate lunch, did some reading/research for my trip to Cairns next week and took a run.

As I was running I stopped to take a few (more πŸ™‚ pictures of the bay and just happened to catch another rainbow (see below).  I’m thinking maybe this (and NZ) should be called the land of rainbows because I’ve seen so many since I’ve been here….

After my run I came back home and basically chilled for the rest of the day.  I know, it sounds like a really difficult life, and it’s probably not for everyone, but it suits me just fine for now.  πŸ˜‰

Where Am I

It’s Sunday and the only thing I had planned for today was to attend church in the morning and rest and relax around the house in the afternoon. And that’s just what I did….

I got up, made/ate breakfast, took a shower and got ready for church.  I was planning to attend the C3 church and was just about ready to leave when I had a thought…..

One of the things on my Australian “bucket list” was to attend the Hillsong church in Sydney (GoogleWeb).  If you’ve listened to any contemporary Christian music at church or on the radio over the past 15 years chances are pretty good that you’re familiar with at least one or more Hillsong / Hillsong United songs. While the Hillsong church came first (previously known as Hills Christian Life Centre) it’s the music from this church that has really catapulted Hillsong into a global mega-church. Today they have several church “extensions” around Sydney, more in several other cities throughout Australia and several in major cities around the world including New York and Los Angeles. They hold many conferences and concerts around the world every year.  

I’ve been familiar with Hillsong for many years and have played/sung many of their songs so attending the actual church was something I always knew I wanted to do if/when I ever made it to Australia.
So just as I was getting ready to walk out the door to drive to the C3 church I decided to look and see where the Hillsong church was located and what time the service started.  As it turned out the main Hillsong campus in Baulkham Hills is only 40 minutes from Mona Vale….and the last morning service began in 55 minutes. So I decided to head to Hillsong!
It was a pretty easy drive and I arrived with plenty of time to spare.  The campus is in a very nice and modern business park and the buildings pretty much looked like all the other businesses in the area. The parking area was huge and (as expected) there were a lot of people moving in and out from the earlier service and this service.  One thing I noticed, that was pretty cool, as I walked in was that they have their own fleet of buses to transport people around the Sydney area to/from church…..

There was a large patio out front with a coffee bar, food bar and lots of seating.  I walked through the entry hall and into the large auditorium and took a seat.  As with most contemporary churches the service began with worship music….and the worship was amazing!  They only did two songs that I knew but the music was powerful and spirit led……

The lead pastor, Brian Houston, was traveling so one of the student ministry pastors taught today. The service was really good and I was sooo glad I was led to come here this morning.

After the service I met a guy from the US who recently moved to Australia to attend school.  He started going to the Hillsong church in Los Angeles and was now attending and volunteering here. We had a nice conversation and in the mean time the parking area cleared a bit. πŸ™‚

I took my time going back home and, as planned, spent the rest of the afternoon/evening resting and relaxing around the house.  It was just what I needed after almost 3 weeks of “running” around New Zealand.  πŸ™‚

Where Am I

While I was in New Zealand Rick told me that he and the family would be going out of town the weekend I returned.  They were traveling about 6 hours south to attend a birthday celebration for a lifelong friend so I tried not to take it personally that they left the day after I returned :-)…..

I woke early on Saturday to tell goodbye….and went back to bed. When I woke again I made breakfast and started the first of 3 loads of laundry.  I hung around the house doing a few odds and ends until the last load of wash finished so I could get it all hung outside to dry. While I waited I made a quick lunch and once I hung the last load I headed out to Palm Beach. 
Palm Beach (GoogleWikiImages) is the most northern of the “northern beaches” of Sydney and is about a 25 minute drive from Mona Vale.  It sits on a peninsula between Broken Bay and the Tasman (South) Sea and there is a lighthouse on the hill at the end of the peninsula with a stunning view. I had wanted to come here since the first week I arrived but couldn’t work it into my schedule so I was excited to see it.
When I arrived at Palm Beach I purchased a 2 hour parking pass and headed for the beach.  The weather was perfect, the beach was beautiful, the water was warm and the waves were big.  Believe it or not this was actually the first time, after being in AU for a 1.5 months, that I actually got into the ocean (more than just wading).  I stayed in for probably 30-40 minutes until I was beaten into submission.  πŸ™‚  Then I got out and just relaxed on the beach and watched the surfers for a while.

After I left the beach I decided to walk up to the lighthouse.  The path to the lighthouse begins on the beach on the bay side.  The beach on this side is much smaller and the water is much calmer, but it’s still very pretty…..

The hike to the lighthouse is short but steep.  As you start up you get a great view of the bay and once you get closer to the top you get an excellent view of the narrow, and quite beautiful, peninsula….

The view at the top of the Tasman Sea and Broken Bay are really beautiful….

After a while I returned to the car and drove back to Mona Vale where I stopped at the grocery, picked up some food and made a nice “surf & turf” for dinner…..

It was another really good day….and all within 30 minutes of Mona Vale. Yeah, Rick and his family live in a pretty great area. πŸ™‚

Where Am I

Today began very early (for me anyway).  I woke up at 6, made and ate breakfast and finished packing the clothes that were still drying when I went to bed 5 1/2 hours earlier.  When I checked in last night they said that passengers with checked luggage needed to be at the airport 90 minutes before boarding and no checked luggage 60 minutes before boarding.  I was a little surprised by this since it was an international flight and I had luggage to check (I expected 2 hours) but it said 90 minutes, so there you go.

Rick came downstairs and I told him 90 minutes and he said we would leave at 7:15 to give ourselves some extra time.  My flight was at 10:15 and the drive to the airport is usually 1 – 1:15 so leaving at 7:15 gave us an hour and a half.  Good deal.

We got on the road and everything was going well for about 10 minutes. Then we came to a 4 lane road with traffic as far as you could see and Rick said, “Ok, so it’s going to be one of those days”. Long story short, we arrived at the departures terminal at 9:15!  Rick did the best he could but there was absolutely no where to go so it took almost 2 hours to get there! When we passed the 90 minute before boarding mark I thought, “ok, my bag may not arrive with me but I can just get it later”.  Now, when we passed the 60 minute before boarding mark I thought, “ok, not only is my bag not going to make, I’m not going to make it”.

So Rick pulled up and we said our goodbyes and thank you (I huge thank you to Rick for driving me!!!) and I started running.  Of course the Emirates check-in counter was at the other end so I was hurdling little old ladies and children and doing spin moves around old men with walkers and families pushing strollers.  I turned the corner at the Emirates desk and they were removing the temporary posts for the lane markers and closing everything up and my heart sank.  There was one lady standing at a counter with probably 15 check-in stations (all vacant) so I ran to her.  She asked if I was on this flight, what my last name was and if I had checked in on-line. I said yes and asked if I could still check in.  She said we were seconds away from closing, but we can check you in.

If I had been 60 seconds later she would have been gone and I would not have made the flight!  Ok, even for me this is getting CRAZY! (reference the other what, 5 times this exact thing has happened on this trip…the latest being the ferry to Bruny Island).  So she hurriedly checked me in and took my bag.  Ok, first step complete, but for any of you who fly through major airports you know I am far from out of the woods (especially for an international flight).

So next I run the 3 miles (what it seems like) to stand in the customs line (or queue as they call it in AU).  No normally this moves pretty fast for US citizens (and some other countries) in AU due to the electronic facial recognition they use; however, today they were having issues with the system and for those unfortunate enough to get a machine that was having issues (me of course) they put us into another line for manual processing.  Are you freakin’ kidding me!!!! πŸ™‚

So I finally made it through customs and then proceeded to the security line.  Fortunately that did not take too long and I was once again hurdling small children and farm animals (ha ha, just wanted to see if you were paying attention) as I ran the 15 miles (again, what it seemed like) to the gate.  And of course, the gates went from 1 – 63 and my flight was at….anyone….anyone….wrong, it was not 63 but you were close….it was at gate 61!

So I finally made it to my gate about 5 minutes before they started boarding…yay!

As for the flight, it was really good.  In spite of the fact that someone (who wasn’t even sitting in my isle) brought a backpack the size of a small car (seriously) and took up all the overhead storage.  Why do they allow people to bring carry-ons the size of a hot water tank….seriously, why?  Oh well.  It was a very smooth flight, the food was good and I had just enough time (2:30 hours) to watch a movie.  All in all a pretty good way to spend an afternoon. πŸ™‚

We landed on time and deplaned fairly quickly….Welcome to New Zealand!  I have to say this was kind of funny to me…..I walked off the plane and through the tunnel and when I looked out at New Zealand through the first window I came to I saw 3 US Air Force planes…..

Along side our Emirates 777….

So I proceeded to customs and while they had the facial recognition systems for AU and NZ citizens all other counties had to go through the manual line.  πŸ™  That took a while.  After that I proceeded to the next line, the declaration line.  Those who travel internationally know this but over the past 10-15 years many countries have become very concerned (as well they should be) with what potential bio hazards travelers may unknowingly (or knowingly) be bringing into their country.  So in most countries you cannot bring any fresh or unprocessed produce, meats, grains, nuts, etc. and they are very interested where you’ve been and if you’ve come in contact with any farm animals or even the ground where farm animals or wild animals (have you hiked in the wilderness) live.

So the customs and declaration lines are pretty common.  But I did have something today that I have not seen before.  There was a third line where you had to wait and have all of your luggage x-rayed. Now, this of course is standard before you board a flight.  But I have never had my luggage x-rayed after I’ve flown and arrived at my destination.  Apparently they do it to look for any food items that you may have in your luggage that you did not claim.  They, they’re pretty serious about keeping out food born insects and diseases.

So I finally made it through the NZ airport gauntlet, got some New Zealand dollars and found my bus to get to my room for the night.  After about a 50 minute bus ride and a 10 minute walk I arrived at my room for the night.  After greeting my host and getting a tour of the place I walked to a Mexican restaurant and had some dinner.  And as luck would have it this just happened to be “open mic” comedy night at Alvarados Mexican Cantina. So I sat, ate my dinner and listened to some (mostly) bad jokes.  ha ha  It’s funny because, while they do speak “English” here some of their accents are so thick and with their local saying I can’t understand some of them.  But regardless it was still a good time and I enjoyed listening to all the references to the US and the jokes about American politics….one candidate in particular but I won’t say who (I’m sure you can guess).  πŸ™‚

And for those keeping track I am now 18 hours ahead of US EST (it was 16 in Sydney).

Where Am I

Today was strictly a “prepare to leave….again” day. And as usual, I was stressing…again.  πŸ™‚  It’s funny because I was thinking today, as I was running around crazy, “why am I stressing…I should have this down by now” and then the thought hit me….I just returned from a 12 day trip and after 2 days I’m leaving for an 18 day trip and all while I am on a 3 month trip. If I was “at home” I would certainly stress over any of these trips singularly.  So, I cut myself a break (just a little one) and went on with my preparation….while continuing to run around crazy. ha ha

I spent the day doing laundry, made a trip into Mona Vale to replace my phone cover (which took a little tumble on the top of Cradle Mountain (Day 19)) and picked up some snacks for the flight tomorrow. When I returned to Rick’s I hung out my last load of laundry, ate lunch, took a short nap and then took a run to reduce some stress.  Like my last run I ran in the Bayview area and just as before it was beautiful….

After my run I came back, had a great dinner of zucchini spaghetti and had a very nice conversation with Linda and showed her pictures of the snow in PA and Jack….lots of pictures of Jack.  πŸ™‚

The rest of the evening consisted of packing and booking a place in Christchurch for tomorrow night. I set me alarm for 6:00 (anyone who knows me knows how much I love getting up this early….NOT!) and went to bed around 12:30.

Where Am I

Today and tomorrow are basically rest/preparation days for my upcoming trip to New Zealand.  Of course, I’m not exactly sure how rest and preparation are going to harmonize in just 2 days but I plan to give them both my best effort.  πŸ™‚
This morning I again attended the C3 church in Oxford Hills (Web Page).  Their pastor, Phil Pringle, gave a great message based on Romans 8;1 about forgiveness and being free from condemnation.  I really liked one of his quotes today regarding condemnation for past sins, “Jesus said, I didn’t come to rub it in, I came to rub it out”.  This resonated with me because I’ve had challenges with this in my life and others in the past. He’s a very energetic person and clearly passionate about what he does.  It seems to be a great church and I’m glad it’s only 15 minutes from where I am staying in Mona Vale.
After church I stopped at the Warriewood shopping center to get a few things and spent the afternoon having lunch, a short nap and beginning to prepare for my next trip.  Rick and Linda prepared a great dinner after which Rick, Josh and I went to a local brewery in Mona Vale for a drink.  When we pulled up I could hear a band playing.  When I got out I realized they were playing blues and I got very excited!  They were good and I thanked Rick for bringing me here.  As we were standing at the bar getting ready to order the band stopped playing and said, “Thank you very much for coming out this evening”.  I looked at the bar tender and said, “Did they just finish” and he said “yes”.  I was soooo disappointed!  Oh well, timing is in fact everything. πŸ™‚
So we ordered some craft beer and sat at a nice outdoor table.  It was a perfect evening to sit outside and we had a good conversation….mostly about the micro brew industry in the US and AU and how they produce different beers. As I looked around I saw a sign that I thought was kind of interesting….
I thought it was interesting that it said they use, “Fresh live yeast flown in from the USA”.  Rick said the US is considered the pinnacle for craft beers so having the yeast flown in from the US is a big deal.  Ah, the things we take for granted living in the US.  πŸ™‚  Anyway, the beer was very good.  So if you ever find yourself in Mona Vale Australia looking for a good craft beer I would highly recommend the Modus Operandi Brewing Company (GoogleWeb Page).  There’s a really cool video on their web page about the owners and operators.  My friends and family in NC should especially watch the video and listen closely to the second guy who speaks.  It’s true, it IS a small world after all. πŸ™‚
We only stayed there for 30 minutes or so as we had to get back to the house for Josh birthday celebration day 2.  I was told that big birthdays (like turning 21) get celebrated at least 2 or 3 days. So last night was the presents and tonight was the cake.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the cake (maybe Rick can send me one) but I’ll just say it was very good and everyone enjoyed celebrating Josh’s birthday, again.  πŸ™‚
Where Am I

Today was another transition day as I traveled back to Rick’s place in Mona Vale.  I started the day with another huge, delicious breakfast from my host in Hobart Sommai.  I have to admit, I’m really going to miss her delicious breakfasts and Hobart as I really like this town.  I hope I can come back someday.

After breakfast I showered, packed up, took one last look at Hobart from the deck, said thank you and goodbye to Sommai, and waved at the wallabies along the gravel road πŸ™‚ on my way out.

In my Day 3 post I talked about how I like to have a plan and how I am challenging myself to be a little more spontaneous on this trip.  Well, part of the down side of not planning is you sometimes end up far from where you ultimately need or have to be….which can be a good thing at times I suppose. πŸ™‚ Anyway, how this applies today is that instead flying from the Hobart airport which is 15 minutes away, my flight is out of Launceston which is 2:30 hours away.  Fortunately however I “planned” for this (I just couldn’t help myself πŸ™‚ and gave myself time for the drive.  So off I went to Launceston.

The drive to Launceston from Hobart was pretty uneventful.  Most of it consisted of open fields on rolling hills and a lot of sheep….Tasmania has a LOT of sheep. πŸ™‚  One cool thing I saw was a small lake just covered with black swans.  I’ve seen quite a few black swans over the past 2 weeks but nothing close to this many at one place.  Unfortunately I was driving by at 110….km not mph :-), so I was not able to get a picture. You’ll just have to take my word that they were pretty and it was cool.

One thing that is definitely not cool is the price of petro (gas).  They measure by the liter and for those who may not know there are 3.7854 (to be exact) liters in a US gallon.  I’ve paid as little as $.98/liter ($3.71/gallon) and as much as (on Bruny Island) $1.51/liter ($5.72/gallon).  Most everything I’ve seen in Australia is more expensive than the US but, as I mentioned in a previous blog, with the current USD <-> AUD exchange rate of 1.40 most things have worked out to be just a little higher than US cost.  Bottom line, it’s a very good time for US citizens to travel to Australia, and New Zealand is even better (USD <-> AUD exchange rate = 1.52).

After stopping for lunch and to fill the rental car…..$1.19/liter = $.85/liter with the exchange rate.  So 3.7854 x $.85 = $3.22/gallon, I arrived at the Launceston airport on time.

The flight from Launceston to Sydney was about 1:30 hours.  It was funny that the same ocean crossing that took 11 hours on the ferry a week before only took 25 minutes in the air :-)….

The north coast of Tasmania, AU
The south coast of Victoria, AU

It was a very smooth flight and the skies where mostly clear so I was able to get some really good pictures flying into Sydney….

Once we landed I took the train from the airport to CBD (central business district) where I caught the L90 bus to Mona Vale. About 2 hours after we landed Rick (the ultimate host) picked me up in Mona Vale and I made it back in time to have a wonderful dinner with Rick, Linda and the kids and afterwards we celebrated Josh’s 21 birthday!

It’s an exciting time for Josh as he just turned 21, he will be graduating college in a few months and he just found his first apartment with some friends (mates) and will be moving out in a month or so. So as you can see from the picture there was a definite “set up your first place” theme with the gifts. It was a good night and I really appreciated being able to share this special time with them!  Congratulations Josh!

Where Am I

My day began with a huge, delicious breakfast prepared by my host Sommai. I ate quickly, jumped in the car and headed South to catch the ferry for Bruny Island (more below).  I had read it was about a 45 minute drive but had been told you can make it in 35.  I left a little before 9 so I assumed I probably would not make the 9:30 ferry but would have to wait for the 10.  However, I arrived at the entrance at 9:27 and they were just getting ready to start loading the ferry…score (or so I thought).

When I pulled up to purchase my ticket I found out they do not take credit cards (they take “tab” cards but I don’t think the US has that yet) and I did not have enough cash….ugh!  But the lady at the booth said, “there is an ATM about 100 yards ahead….you can pull down there, get the money, run it back to me, and they you may be able to catch the ferry”.  So I quickly pulled forward, got the money from the ATM, ran back to the booth (the lady was nice enough to meet me halfway :-), got my ticket, ran back to my car and pulled up just as the closed the gate behind me (this is like what, they 3rd time this has happened on this trip so far? ha ha).  So now I’m safely on the ferry heading to Bruny Island….

Bruny Island (GoogleImagesWeb Page) is an island off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania….or as Rick’s son Josh said, “so you went to an island, off of an island (Tasmania), off of an island nation (Australia)”….yeah, that’s it. πŸ™‚  According to Wiki,  “Geologically, Bruny Island is actually two land masses – North Bruny and South Bruny – that are joined by a long, narrow sandy isthmus” (isthmus = “a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land”).  My first stop after reaching Bruny Island was the lookout at the “Neck” (the isthmus).  It was very beautiful and VERY windy.  Seriously, we’re talking tropical storm winds here….crazy windy.  But the view from the top of the dunes was well worth it…..

While I was standing at the top looking around I asked a young couple if they would take my picture.  As soon as I spoke they asked where I was from, as they could tell I was from the US :-), and we started talking.  His name was Tenzin and he was from Salt Lake City.  Her name was Aranya and she was from London. They had met while studying in NY and were both doing exchange studies in Melbourne.  After a few minutes they asked if I could give them a ride to the next small town beyond the Neck (Lunawanna).  I said sure.  I asked where they were headed and they said they were not sure.  They confessed that they hadn’t really planned the day very well and thought they would just walk around or bike around Bruny Island. The problem with that is that Bruny Island is over 100 km long (a little over 60 miles)….as Homer Simpson would say….D’oh! They had actually done pretty well to this point as they had taken a bus from Hobart, came across on the ferry without a car and a “nice older lady” had picked them up at the ferry and brought them to the Neck.  So I said, “I’m heading to the lighthouse at the southern tip and then working my way back up through the island and planning to catch the 6 PM ferry back….you’re welcome to ride along if you like”.  They were elated.  So off we went.  πŸ™‚

As we began to drive south a very cool rainbow appeared just above the ocean….

So as we began talking and getting to know each other we drove no more than probably 8 miles or so and saw another girl standing at the side of the road and looking for a ride. I stopped and she asked if we could take her to her job about 5 miles down the road.  I said, “sure, we’re heading that way and I still have one seat left” :-).  So I came to Bruny Island alone and within 15 minutes I had a carload. ha ha  These are exactly the kind of spontaneous things that happen when you travel (fellow travelers know what I mean) that I LOVE!  Like the overnight train I took from Vienna to Zurich one time with 6 people (from 5 different countries) crowded into a small room about 3 times the size of a toilet stall….it was awesome!

So our newest “carmates” name was Sophie and we could tell, before she told us, that she was from France.  She said she had been working at a winery on Bruny Island for the past 2 months. She said she was leaving in a few weeks to travel to Cairns (I will also be in Cairns around the end of March to dive the Great Barrier Reef).  We all asked her questions about Bruny and her experiences there. She said she loved it and had made some good friends.  It only took about 7 minutes for us to arrive at the winery where Sophie got out, thanked us for the fire and invited us to stop in later if we had time and do some wine tasting.  I told her we just might and headed south once again.

On our way to the lighthouse we passed a small bay where the water was just an amazing (#1) shade of green….

After about 15 more minutes of driving we topped a little hill and got our first look at the Cape Bruny Lighthouse.  All 3 of us literally said in unison, “WOW”.  The whole area was just unbelievably beautiful. We immediately stopped and started taking pictures….

The Cape Bruny Lighthouse (GoogleWiki) was first placed into service in 1838 making it the second oldest extant lighthouse tower in Australia.  It was a beautiful site perched on the hill and glistening in the sun.

We drove up to the parking area and I took a few minutes to tour the small “museum” which used to be the light keepers residence.

This was kind of cool….the couple who signed the visitors book just before was from Knoxville, TN.  πŸ™‚
The view from the hilltop was stunning (a new adjective to add to the list :-)….

And it was really cool to me (a guy from the northern hemisphere) to stand there and look out over the Southern Ocean and know that the next piece of land was Antarctica. There is just something that is really cool about that to me.  I would love to go to Antarctica…but that will have to be another trip. πŸ™‚

As some of you know I checked in on FB while standing beside the lighthouse (for some reason the best reception I had all day was at the point) and said that may have been my most southern point on this trip.  I said may because I was thinking that New Zealand was more south but I didn’t know which was closer to Antarctica. So that night I checked and the southern tip of New Zealand is further South; however, because of the shape of Antarctica the southern point of Tasmania is actually closer to Antarctica than New Zealand.  So there is your geography lesson for today. πŸ™‚

After a long visit we left the lighthouse and headed to a place I saw on the map called “Price’s Lookout” (of course I had to go there :-).  Price’s Lookout looks out over Cloudy Bay (Wiki).  Cloudy Bay is a large bay with big waves crashing over a long, gradual sloped beach.  Standing at the point and looking out at it I immediately thought, “this looks like a great place to surf” (admitting that I know nothing about surfing, :-).  Well, as it turns out each year Cloudy Bay plays host to the ‘Bruny Island Surf Classic’ – a Tasmanian surfing championship held on the island.  So I guess you don’t have to be a surfer to know good surfing areas when you see them.  πŸ™‚  Looking out over the waves I couldn’t help but to think of my good friend Rob and his brother Jim..the only “surfer dudes” I know.  πŸ™‚

Bruny Island
After a little hiking at cloudy bay we stopped back at the Bruny Island Premium Winery (Web Page), which is Australia’s most southern winery, and did some wine tasting.  They had a very nice Sauvignon Blanc but being more of a red drinker I liked the 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve.  So I bought a bottle for Rick and Linda…I hope they like it too.

We said hello to Sophie and then left the winery and started driving back to the northern part of the island.  We drove back across the “Neck” and stopped to see if maybe any penguins had come out (they frequent this area) but unfortunately they had not.  They normally come out later in the day/evening and since the last ferry leaves at 7:15, unless you’re spending the night on the island (which we were not) you may not see them.  But it was worth stopping for.  We did see an echidna from the road but he disappeared into some thick brush before we could get his picture.

After touring the northern beaches we started to make our way back to the ferry.  In speaking with Tenzin and Aranya earlier in the day I found out that they were flying back to Melbourne later this evening from Hobart.  They were planning to take the bus back to Hobart.  I told them that I have to drive straight through Hobart to get back to the place I was staying so I would be more than happy to take them back to their place.  Once again they were very excited and appreciative.

As we sat and waited for the next ferry we saw a black with white spots eastern quoll (Google) (see blog post from Day walk across the street in front of us.  We got out and tried to get a picture but it hid and we did not see it again. It was kind of funny because there was an Australian couple who had also seen it and were looking for it and they had no idea what it was.  I told them, “it’s and eastern quoll” and they were like, “how did you know that….we’re from Australia and we didn’t know what it was”.  I had seen them at the Devil habitat that I visit on Day 22 – Convicts and Devils.  Here are a couple of pictures I took that day….

We loaded the ferry and during the trip we took a couple of pictures to remember our day together…

Tenzin (left) & Aranya (right)

We drove back to Hobart, I dropped them off at their place and I headed back to my place to get cleaned up.  On my drive back to Hobart (from the place I was staying in the mountains) I saw well over 75 wallabies on the short 1 mile gravel road including one open field that had at least 50. It was really cool and I took it all in knowing that I would not see this again once I returned to Sydney.  I went back into Hobart and had another nice dinner (Thai) and listened to some more great music from a male/female duet.

Where Am I

My day began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by my host Sommai and some great conversation with her and the couple from Melbourne.  From the front deck Sommai has a great view of Hobart (see below).  After breakfast I spent some time catching up on yesterday blog (Convicts and Devils) and deciding on how to spend the day. My intention for the day was to travel to Bruny Island (more on that tomorrow) but I decided that it would be better to do that with an earlier start tomorrow.

So with the first decision of the day completed (what not to do) I turned my thoughts to what I would do for the day and quickly decided that I would do some things in and around Hobart and my first destination…the top of Mt. Wellington (another mountain top…surprise! :-). So I packed up and headed out.

Mt. Wellington (Google.Images) is a 4000’+ mountain just outside of Hobart. I’m not sure if there are trails to hike to the top but given the time I had I chose to drive to the top.  The steepness, distance and number of very sharp turns reminded me of the drive up Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs (for my CO friends). The drive from Hobart to the top took about 30 minutes.  About halfway up I realized that I had not come prepared for this.  Since I had been moving from place to place almost everyday I was used to having all of my stuff in the car with me. However, since I was staying in the same place for 3 nights in Hobart I had unloaded everything…including my fleese and rain jacket….and this proved to be a mistake for today. In center city Hobart it was mostly sunny and around 70 degrees.  Another very nice day. However, at the top of Mt. Wellington it was rainy, cloudy and around 48! So as i climbed out of my car in my short sleeve t-shirt and shorts I got a few funny looks from the other folks running around in their arctic parkas and rain suits (ha ha).  Oh well, what are you gonna do?

So I ran down to the observation platform and snapped off about 10 pictures. Luckily there was an observation building about 100′ from the deck so I went in to try and get the feeling back in my fingers and toes (ha ha).  While sheltering from the rain and cold I took the time to read the history of the mountain.  It was pretty interesting. Just after I finished reading the information there was a break in the rain so I ran back down to the platform, quickly snapped off some more pictures, ran back to my car and started the decent back into Hobart.
When I got back to Hobart I stopped for a quick lunch and then headed over to the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) (GoogleWeb Page).  MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia.  Now I have to admit that I prefer modern or traditional art to contemporary art; however, I can appreciate some contemporary art and did not want to miss this opportunity to see this collection. It was an interesting collection in a very interesting building. It’s 4 stories and you actually come in at the top which is ground level.  You then proceed down a spiral walkway to the bottom floor and make your way back to the top with different sections dedicated to different collections.  I enjoyed my time at MONA and I’m very glad it was on “the list”. πŸ™‚ 
After that I ran back by my place to change and then headed into Hobart. I spent some time walking around the business district and harbor area and made my way to an area called Salamanca (Google) where I had a very nice seafood dinner of salmon, scallops, prawns and a fish called blue-eye. I had never had blue-eye but it was delicious!. Salamanca is an area kind of like Manayunk (for my Philly friends) with nice restaurants, shops and pubs but it is famous for the market held each Saturday. S After dinner I checked out 3 of the pubs that each had acoustic music and decided on one called Jack Greene’s.  The guy playing there was good and played a good mix of music. I sat for about an hour and then decided it was time to call it a night and drove back to the place I’ve been staying.
I don’t think I’ve told you about the place I am staying in Hobart have I?  It’s a very nice private home on 40 acres of wooded land in the mountains just outside of Hobart called the Currawong Guesthouse (Web Page).  Currawong is the name of the species of birds found through Australia (it was actually the type of bird that I posted on Day 18)  My host is a wonderful Taiwanese woman named Sommai. She and her husband purchased the property and built the house 14 years ago with a plan to one day create a 5 Star “Eco-resort”.  Unfortunately her husband died of cancer 2 years ago; however, she decided to honor him by keeping the dream alive and is actively working to secure the investment money to break ground by next Jan.  She told me all about her plans and showed me the architectural drawings, financial proposal she created and a couple of articles that have been written about her and the land. 
The drawings look amazing πŸ™‚ and I am so excited to follow her progress.  She was a fantastic host and I am fully confident that she will be successful. She invited us (me and the other couple) to come back and stay with her as special guests (those who stay with her now) when the resort is complete.  I look forward to staying with her again someday.   
So back to the drive home….to get to Currawong you drive about a mile on a gravel road back into the mountains.  During my 1 mile drive back to the house this evening I counted 14 wallabies, and I’m sure there were many more that I did not see. Although it’s clear that they have a population issue (like deer in PA) I still find this very cool. πŸ™‚  I ended the evening as the day began looking out at Hobart from the front deck….

Where Am I

My day began in the small village of Swansea (Google) located across the Great Oyster Bay from Freycinet National Park (day 21 blog).  After breakfast I headed south along the coast heading toward Port Arthur on the Tasmanian Peninsula (Wiki).  During breakfast my host mentioned a “short cut” through the mountains…..

….but she said it’s not always well maintained so she could not speak to the condition of the road or whether it was even passable without a 4 wheel drive (which I do not have). Of course I didn’t hear anything she said after “mountains” so away I went. πŸ™‚
It was very remote, with of course no cell coverage and I only passed 2 cars (4 wheel drives) in the 25 miles or so between the highways, but I was really cool getting off the beaten path and seeing some country that few get to see.  The only time I got a little concerned was when I came to this after about 15 miles…..
Fortunately there was a temporary bridge a little further down so I was able to continue and after 25 more minutes or so I was back on the highway and on to Port Arthur.
The next stop was a place called Tessellated Pavement near Eaglehawk Neck.  The Tessellated Pavement (WikiImages) is a very interesting nature rock formation that looks like individual blocks or pavers.  

As I walked along and looked at each “individual” block I couldn’t help but think that millennium before EP Henry came along God was already using “pavers” in His creation.  πŸ™‚
After stopping in Port Arthur for a quick lunch I dropped by the most famous site in the area called Port Arthur Historic Site (GoogleWeb Site).  

This site was built in 1830 as a prison to house many of the worst convicts that were transported to Australia from the UK.  It was chosen because of it’s remote location and was considered inescapable. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do the tour so I looked around, read the information and moved on.  
From there I continued on a loop toward White Beach and Nubeena through Koonya and back to Eaglehawk Neck.  I made several stops along the way to view beautiful beaches and small village harbors…

On the way back to Eaglehawk Neck I stopped at a place call the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo (Web Site).  After getting grief from not yet having seen a Tasmanian Devil and giving up on seeing them in the wild I decided to stop and check it out.  It was a nice little “unzoo” and I watched the devil feeding (they are nasty little devils when it comes to food…hence the name :-). I would definitely have preferred to see them in the wild but this was nice and informative and part of the money goes to their preservation which I like to support as they are getting more and more rare with the devil cancer killing large numbers. Anyway, although they can be nasty little creatures I think they are cute in their own way….


I left the Unzoo in a pouring rain and then briefly stopped at the Tasman Arch, The Devil’s Kitchen and The Blowhole (Tasman Peninsula).  They were each pretty cool in their own way….

I then drove for about an hour to just outside of Hobart where I will be staying for the next 3 nights. When I arrived my host Sommai made an awesome dinner for me and the young couple from Melbourne who were also staying.  We had a wonderful conversation over dinner and it turns out that he is a professional musician (guitar).  Pretty cool huh?

Where Am I

Ok, I know you’re getting tired of hearing it so I’ll say today was a day that starts with and “A” ends with a “g” and has a place you can get lost in the middle. πŸ™‚  It began with a 2 hour drive from Launceston (where I stayed with a great host in a great little place) to Freycinet National Park (link) in Southeastern Tasmania.

Even though I arrived at the park later than expected (what’s new huh) I was still planning to do the longest hike they have over 3 mountains becuase….well, becuase it’s there. πŸ™‚  So I grabbed a trail map and hit the trail.  Before I even started up the first mountain I saw my first walibee for the day (pictures below) so I knew it was going to be a good day.  The first part was a good climb up to the Wineglass Bay overlook.  This was my first view of arguably the most famous beach in Tasmania and I have to say it didn’t disappoint….

I took a few minutes to take it all in, checked my map and was back on the trail. I knew covering the ground I had to cover to complete this hike (before dark) was going to be a challenge and I therefore needed to keep moving and moving fast.
The next part took me down a pretty steep trail (no where close to Cradle Mtn.) and straight into Wineglass Bay.  After a while I passed a trail sign and knew I was getting close when all of the sudden the trail just opened up to this massive bay with white sand as far as you could see and cyrstal clear water pounding the sand.  Even being a “mountain guy” I was totally blown away by the beauty of it…..

I immediately knew I had no choice but to take off my hiking boots and socks and feel the sand, and waves, on my feet…it was just too inviting. I found a place to lay my stuff but before I could take my boots off I saw a waliabee to my left.  I walked over and took a some pictures and videos as I watched him peacefully move about…just 25′ from the waves coming to shore.  It was so cool.

Once I turned my attention back to the ocean I took off my boots and socks and headed for the water.  At first it seemed a little cold but after a few seconds I realized it was not too cold at all.  I started walking down the beach and the next thing I knew I was 1/2 mile or more from where I had started…and there was still a long way to go on this beach.  I turned around, walked back, grabbed my stuff and copped a squat on a huge rock to eat some lunch. And while I was sitting there something interesting happened…and a few of you (who know me well) may be proud of me for this. πŸ™‚  I started debating with myself as to whether I should continue with my original plans or just hang out here for a while and chill.  Now anyone who knows me (well) knows what I would almost always do in this situation.  Here was the conversation going on in my mind)…
So one side of me (probably the analytical left brain πŸ™‚ said, “I have a plan. There is a great trail to hike and 2 more mountains (did you hear me say mountains!) to hike.  Of course you have to keep going!” But the other side of me said, “Look in front of you. You’re going to have to basically run for the next 5 hours to complete that hike….or, you could sit here for an hour or two and just enjoy watching and listening to the waves come to shore and relax”. “RELAX…WHAT?  There is a trail right over there and I can see the 2 mountains from here.  Relax!  Are you out of your mind…mind? 
So which side won you ask…..well to make a long story short, my name is Stephen Price and I am a recovering hikaholic. πŸ™‚  I sat on the rock, ate my lunch and relaxed.  And after a while I got up and walked to another rock further down…and I sat, and I relaxed.  And I ended up spending almost 2 hours sitting and relaxing as the waves came to shore and the wind blew and it was great! Hmmm, maybe I’m on to something here….nah! ha ha
Knowing I still had a 2 hour walk to get back and it was already 4:30, I took some more pictures (it was all so beautiful that I took a ton of pictures…you can see them on the “View Photos” link when I load them later today), packed up and took off to Hazard Beach.
Hazard Beach is about a 25 minute walk from Wineglass Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula. Hazard Beach is very beautiful (see photos below) but different than Wineglass. Hazard Beach is long but not curved and the beach is more gradually sloped so the waves are not a big.  But it was very beautiful and peaceful….

The return trail actually follows Hazard Beach for about 20 minutes and once again I could not resist the urge to take off my boots and socks so I did. At the end of the beach trail I put my boots back on and headed back into the woods. Although the sign said it was a 2 hour walk to the parking area I figured it would take about 1:15.  Along the way I saw 2 more wallabies and stopped to take some more pictures and videos.
I made it back to my car in 1:15 as expected, took off my boots, put on my flip flops or thongs as they call them here πŸ™‚ and, thinking my adventures were over for the day, began my 45 minute drive to where I was staying for the night. But as I started out of the park I saw a sign for the Cape Tourville Lighthouse to the right.  It didn’t say how far but I figured I’d check it out if it was close (it was already 6:30) so I took the right turn.  I never saw a sign saying how far it was but I could see on my GPS I was only half way after 5 minutes or so. Not really wanting to spend too much time on this I almost turned around (I pulled into a lot) but decided to keep going….and boy am I glad I did.  
When I finally arrived at the lighthouse you could not see it from the parking area.  I got out and followed the signs and walked for 5 minutes or so and I was thinking, “I don’t have time for this” when all of the sudden I walked around a tree and BAM, there was the ocean about 200′ below and you could see the mountains and the bay inlet to Wineglass and it was amazing (you know I couldn’t go a whole day without saying it :-). For the second time today I was totally blown away.  To make it even better they had constructed a wooden walkway that extended out over the rock cliff so you were had a completely unimpeded view of the ocean…and straight down as well….

I walked about the corner and it just seemed to keep getting better.  I read all of the signs and they were very informative about the area (you can see the signs on the View Photos link on the right).  When I came to the last viewing area the one of the signs pointed out 2 small islands just off the coast.  It said that, for some unknown reason, these tiny islands have the largest concentration of bird species (proportionately) of any island in Tasmania where they breed during certain times of the year. From where I was standing I could not see any birds but I was quite far away. Fortunately they had a pair of those mounted binoculars and when I looked through them I could clearly see penguins on 2 of the 3 islands…and that was cool!  I tried to get some pictures from my phone looking through the binoculars and they actually turned out fairly well….
I stood and looked at the birds and penguins for a few more minutes and then backtracked to the car because I just didn’t want to leave this place.  I thanked God for His creation, for sharing it with me and for not allowing me to turn around earlier.  πŸ™‚  I LOVED this place.  I stood for 10 minutes or longer just staring out at the sea and watching the interesting wave patterns and I saw a dolphin swimming way down below. It was a magical site and a perfect way to end another great day….but wait there’s more (and if you buy now we’ll through in a second set of crap that you don’t need! ha ha).  As I was driving back to the main road I saw another walibee so I took more pictures. πŸ™‚
All in all it was another great day in the land of Oz.

Ok, so I wasn’t actually “lounging” in Launceston, I just thought that sounded good :-), but it was a somewhat intentional “rest” day between hiking Cradle Mountain National Park (the past two days) and hiking Freycinet National Park (the next two days). Yes, contrary to popular belief even I have my limits. ha ha

It actually worked out well as the day began cloudy with a lite rain. So I spent the morning writing yesterdays blog, communicating with a few folks, doing some laundry and chatting with my Airbnb host Philippa over a cup of coffee.  As anyone who travels knows a big part of the experience is meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds and sharing conversations with them.  We talked about Launceston, our dogs and her cats, her children, her brother who is a professional musician (guitar) in Hobart, her upcoming trip to the Blue Mountains (day 11) and a few other things before she had to leave for work. She left me with everything I needed to head out to Launceston, which I did after I finished hanging out my laundry (it had cleared and was sunny at this point).

I drove into city center Launceston (GoogleImages) and just spent some time driving and walking around and checking things out. It’s a nice town and it was fun just to street “hike”. Launceston is the home of Boags brewery (Google).  I considered a tour but knew I wouldn’t have time so I headed to the Launceston Cataract Gorge park (WikiGoogleImages).  It’s a river gorge that was formed by the South Esk River, the longest river in Tasmania.  The interesting thing about this park is that it is just a couple of minutes from the center of the city so it’s a mix of natural rugged beauty with the river, rock covered cliffs and trees and urban dwelling with a community swimming pool, hiking/running trails and a chairlift (don’t know what’s up with that).

As I walked the trails on my “day of rest” I was passed by several runners and I just couldn’t resist.  I hadn’t planned to run but I did have my running shoes so….off I went.  πŸ™‚  I did a short run and crossed a bridge to the other side of the gorge.  This was the steeper side so I decided to hike to the high ridge to get a better view of the gorge from above (pics above).

So after a pretty good day of “lounging” around Launceston I checked out some local restaurants on Google and decided on a place called The Jailhouse Grill where I had a delicious cajun salmon with (of course) a Boag’s draught.  πŸ™‚

As I read the menu I came across one dish that made me think of my hunter friends/family Toby Wyatt, Steve Allen and Josh Henson.  Here’s a dish for you to make….although you’ll have to go further than eastern NC, SC or GA to hunt one of the ingredients :-)……

Where Am I

Hello everyone.  Before I get started on today’s adventure I just wanted to take a moment and say how very much I am appreciating all of the blog & FB comments, emails, texts and FB messages I have been receiving from so many.  It’s so cool (in today’s world) to be able to stay so connected with everyone back home.  It is really encouraging to me to hear so many say how much you are enjoying the blog, pictures and videos and to receive the encouragement to keep them coming.  As I’ve said before, my main purpose in doing this blog was to have my friends and family share in my adventures and based on the feedback I’ve received so far it seems to be successful. So thank you all for coming along and sharing this adventure with me and for adding to this awesome experience!

I got up early today as I was anxious to hit the trail. The weather forecast was supposed to be sunny, but as we all know you can’t always trust the forecast so I have to say I breathed a big sigh of relief when I walked outside and saw nothing but clear blue skies….YES!  What a difference 24 can make in the weather huh?  So I knew immediately we were heading to the Cradle Mountain summit.

I ate breakfast, loaded up and drove the 20 minutes to the Dove Lake (Google) parking area. Dove Lake is beautiful (Images) and even though I had taken several pictures here yesterday I just had to take some with the sun shining…..

From there I stuck out on the Dove Lake Circuit heading to a steep connecting trail called the Lake Wilks Track.  They have signs like this on 3 of the steepest tracks (what we would call trails) in the area…..all of which I just had to do of course (please don’t tell my mother, ha ha)….

As I climbed the steepest part of this track I could not help but to recall a hiking trip me and my friend Walt Fromm took to the Adirondack mountains in upstate NY a few years ago.  I was thinking how the state of NY could learn a few things from Australia about how to help people climb sheer rock faces (Walt knows what I am talking about) as they install anchored chains so you can pull yourself along…..

I made it to the top and connected to the Face Track which (as the name implies) traverses the face of Cradle Mountain.  After about 25 more minutes I connected to the Summit Track, took a hard left and started straight up.  The first 1/2 mile or so was basically just a steep trail straight up the side of the mountain.  This was just a prelude for what was to come….

After about 1/2 mile the “trail” turned to the right and we started to climb over gigantic boulders. It was steep but we were moving across the mountain (vs. straight) up and heading around to the other side…..

Once we got around to the backside it got really fun as we turned straight up!  At this point we were literally rock climbing, only without the “safety” of ropes.  πŸ™‚  It was at this point that I came upon two couples.  From what I could tell they were not together….other than suffering through the climb together. πŸ™‚  For those who rock climb or hike you know there is no way to capture the steepness of a mountain with picture. It’s one of those things in life that you just have to experience for yourself (I’m sure some are thinking, “uh, no I don’t”, ha ha) but I took a couple of pictures along the way to try and capture the moment…

Trail “markers”

Fortunately most hikers are not like Philly drivers so they don’t have a problem letting faster hikers pass (my friends in Philly know what I’m talking about, ha ha).  So after about 15 more minutes of intense rock climbing I finally made the plateau and was thrilled to see that I had the whole place to myself! I walked for about 2 minutes to the summit and was absolutely blown away by the view! WOW!!!!  Absolutely one of the best summit views I have ever experienced.  No clouds or haze whatsoever.  Everything was clear as far as my eyes could see in every direction.  I just stood in amazement for 3 minutes and thanked God for such a magnificent creation and for allowing me to experience it. And then I whipped out the iPhone and started snapping away.  And although I fully know that pictures could never fully capture what I was looking at some of them were still pretty amazing….

After taking a ton of pictures and a video (all of which can be viewed by clicking “View Photos” on the right), I found a nice spot to have some lunch and enjoy the scenery.  After having the place to myself for about 20 minutes one of the other couples joined me at the top.  But I never saw the other couple at the top.  My Airbnb host last night congratulated me for the summit and said that most people do not make it to the top so I guess the other couple must have turned back short of the summit.

After about an hour at the top I finally forced myself to leave.  I didn’t want to leave the top because it was so beautiful but I knew I had a 2:30 hour hike to get back to the car and then a 2 hour drive to Launceston where I was staying the night.  So reluctantly I started back and as expected the decent was every bit as challenging (in some ways more) than the ascent.  I made it back down the Face Track in about 35 minutes, took at right and headed to Hansons Peak.  From there it was a very steep decent to the Dove Lake Circuit track and back to the parking area.

On the hike out I briefly stopped at the Hanson Peak hut and saw these two quotes written on the walls and thought they were cool….and true….

And even though I had already taken over 50 pictures I could not help but to capture a few more before leaving this beautiful area….

So goodbye to Cradle Mountain National Park.  If you’re ever in Australia and have time this is a must see!

Where Is Stephen

When I last left off I was sitting at a cafe’ in the Melbourne port waiting to catch the ferry for Tasmania.  I’m happy to say that I made the ferry on time (those who know me well know that is an accomplishment in itself πŸ™‚ and I made it to Tasmania with no issues…so welcome to Tasmania!
Before we jump into Saturday let’s finish Friday night on the ferry. I’ve taken several cruises and a few ferry’s in my travels so I knew what to expect. The first 2 hours were smooth sailing with cell coverage…it took 2 hours to leave Melbourne harbor. πŸ™‚ I had a very nice dinner in the restaurant and just sat, sipped my mini-bottle of Shariz and enjoyed the view.  But once we hit the open ocean…well, the boat stared rockin’ (literally). πŸ™‚ I don’t know what the seas were (height) but we were pitching and rolling nicely.  It made for some good times watching everyone “try” and walk around (including me) but hey, it’s all part of the fun of traveling. πŸ™‚
After dinner I relaxed in one of the lounges where they had a lady playing guitar and singing a wide variety of music.  She was good and I couldn’t help but to think of my good friend Candy Creamer. Candy, if you ever get tired of teaching I’m sure you can move to Melbourne and make a good living playing the rear lounge on the Spirit of Tasmania. πŸ™‚ I turned in around 11:30 and rolled back and forth in my bunk with the pitch of the boat (I’m not kidding) for a few minutes before falling asleep.
The ferry ride from Melbourne to Devonport Tasmania takes about 11 hours and arrives in Devonport at 6:00 AM. For those who may not have experienced an overnight ferry or train (done that a few times in Europe) they start the day very early by making a “loud” announcement 45 minutes before the arrival. They are on a strict schedule and therefore need to get everyone off ASAP after they arrive. 15 minutes before the announcement one of my suite mates (who I never met) got up, showered and left. Then right on schedule, at 5:45 AM (those who know me know I don’t do well with anything before 8) they made a 10 minute announcement about unloading the cars, unloading passengers, what you can and cannot bring into Tasmania, blah, blah, blah.  I of course rolled over and went back to sleep for another 30 minutes. πŸ™‚ 
So to make a long story short (well, I guess it’s too late for that huh :-), I got up, showered, deboarded, got my rental car, spent 30 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the NAV/media system (seriously), got brekkie (what Aussians call breakfast) at McDonald (along with 3/4 of the other people I came across with), stopped at Woolworths (remember from an earlier post that is a grocery in Oz) to get some snacks for hiking and food for dinner (more on that later), stopped at McDonald’s again for a second cup of coffee (Australian’s actually prefer McDonalds coffee to Starbucks) and finally got on the road for Cradle Mountain National Park. Whew, what a morning. πŸ™‚
The drive to Cradle Mountain was only about 1:30 hours. It was a nice drive and I learned that the people in this area apparently take pride in having creative mailboxes. πŸ™‚  I saw something else on my drive that was interesting… cousin Megan had asked for a picture of a Tasmanian Devil and unbelievably I actually spotted one on my first morning in Tasmania….
All kidding aside, i may have mentioned this before but unfortunately the Tasmanian devil population in Tasmania is decreasing at a rapid rate due to a mouth cancer epidemic. They have no idea what is causing it and (currently) no cure for it.  So they are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild. πŸ™
I arrived at the park and very anxious to hike I paid my entry fee and jumped on the shuttle to Dove Lake (GoogleImages). On the ride up I read the map and selected my hike for the day.  I decided not to do the Cradle mountain summit today as it was very cloudy, cold and misting most of the day (my Scottish ancestors would call it, “A fine soft day”) and the mountain was covered with clouds all day….so I’ll do it tomorrow.
Today’s hike was great!  I started with a very challenging trail called the Marions Lookout Link Track. It is the most direct route to Marions Lookoutbut it is steep enough in several places that they have installed a chain to pull yourself up (Walt Fromm, NY state could learn a few things from Australia :-). I made it from the shuttle stop to the top in around 35 minutes and the view was awesome…

After that I continued on to the Kitchen hut at the base of Cradle mountain and turned right and continued on to Crater Lake overlook where I stopped to have lunch. From this point you are basically looking straight down on Crater Lake and it is beautiful…

While I sat eating my lunch and enjoying the view (and trying to stay warm) I had a new friend join me.  Turns out that he, like me, really likes peanuts….

After “we” finished “our” lunch one of us flew away and the other continued the hike (I won’t spoil the ending by telling which one did what πŸ™‚   Ok, it was me who continued the hike (I never was good at keeping secrets, just kidding).  Although most of it from this point was downhill I still had several miles to go.  I passed 3 or 4 more very beautiful lakes and walked through an area that looked like a tropical forest where the birds were chirping away….

Shortly after that I entered a large field and could see the shuttle stop far in the distance. I thought my day’s “adventure” was over but God decided to save the best for last. As I was walking through the field I came across a man taking a picture of something that I could not see.  As I came closer I realized it was a wombat (GoogleImages)! It was very cool. If you do not know a wombat basically looks like a giant groundhog (to me anyway) but much cuter in the face.

I began speaking with the man and it turns out that many wombats frequent this field about this time of day to graze. So we walked slowly looking for more.  As we walked we talked about travels. He is from Canada, is retired and he and his wife basically spend Oct.- Mar traveling every year to get away from the Canadian winters.  I told him about my situation and he said that he did the exact thing back in his career. He took a 9 month severance package and traveled, rather than going straight to another job.  He said it was one of the best things he ever did and it worked out great for him. He encouraged me to continue to pursue this “dream” and trust that things will work out (hmmm, I’ve heard that before).  We only spoke for 10 minutes or so and then went our on ways but needless to say it was a pretty cool conversation.

So while I was walking along several more wombats came to the field and began grazing and I managed to get some really cool pics and videos…

I spent about 30 minutes watching them and then walked to the shuttle stop. Again, I thought my adventure was over for the day, but I was wrong again because during the shuttle ride we saw two Wallabies (a smaller version of the kangaroo, Images) and an Echidna (Wiki,Images).  These were the first Wallabies and Echidna I have seen on my journey….

As I was trying to get a picture of this little guy he all of the sudden just dropped down and rolled over and started scratching.  Unfortunately it happened so quickly that I was not able to get the beginning but it was so funny (you’ll hear everyone on the bus laughing in the beginning).  You can also hear the very Australian bus driver speaking in the video…G’Day Mate! πŸ™‚

Day 18 - Cradle Mtn day 1
When we arrived back at the visitor center I drove 100 meters to the Discovery camp grounds and checked into the “bunkhouse” for the evening.  For $33 AUD ($25 USD) you get a bed in a 4 person shared room and access to a kitchen for cooking (hence the dinner food referenced earlier).  After finding my room I cooked/ate dinner and had some great conversations with an older gentleman from England, a young girl from Germany and a young guy from Brisbon AU who has been in the Cradle Mtn. area for almost a month.

All-in-all I think my first day in Tasmania was a roaring success!  Tomorrow we climb to the summit!

Where Am I

My day began as many of them begin now by having breakfast with my Airbnb host. This time it was a very nice lady named Rosemary who lives in Port Melbourne.  As I ate my breakfast of muesli and coffee Rosemary went out of her way to make sure I had everything I needed for my day in Melbourne….

I had to take my rental car back so she made sure I had the directions.  She gave me a tram pass and made sure I knew how to use it and where to catch the closest tram from the rental car agency.  She gave me a map of Melbourne and showed me where I should get off the tram and what I should see in my brief time in Melbourne.  Armed with everything, I finished yesterdays blog and headed out into the city.
My first stop was in center city Melbourne.  Like all other big cities on a Friday morning there was a lot of hustle and bustle and a lot of energy.  I made my way up and down the streets just checking things out for a while and stopped to have some lunch (sushi!).  After lunch I headed for an area called Federation Square.  This is the area in Melbourne on the riverfront that hosts a lot concerns and events.  It’s also the area that has the sports complexes including the arenas where they host the Australian Open tennis tournament each Jan. Personally I’m not a huge tennis fan but I could not pass up the opportunity to stop and take some pictures for my tennis loving friends like Candy, Cathy and Michelle.  

After that I took a long walk through the  royal botanical gardens (Google).  They were really nice with a large variety of plants from all over the world.  I walked around the area some more and came across the Shrine of Remembrance (Google).  This monument was built as a memorial to the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I and is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war.  I was impressive and very nicely done.

The top of the memorial was a great place to snap some photos of downtown Melbourne….

And that was my whirlwind tour of Melbourne. I am now sitting at an outdoor cafe at the Melbourne harbor having a Carlton Draught and using the cafe’s wi-fi to post this blog before boarding the ferry for the overnight trip to Tasmania….

I have heard and read that they will not allow you to board if you are not on at least 45 minutes before they sail.  It’s now 55 minutes before we sail so I guess I better say good bye for now.  See you in Tasmania!

Where Am I

Today began early as I was anxious to tour everything the Great Ocean Road had to offer.  I started by sipping my coffee in the sitting room at the b&b where I stayed the night.  This was my view to begin the morning…..

After my coffee I packed up and drove about 10 minutes to Apollo Bay to find some breakfast.  Apollo Bay (GoogleWeb) is a nice little town with several cafe’s and shops and (I believe) the largest town on the Great Ocean Road.  I had a nice breakfast at an outdoor cafe and had a good chat with a very friendly, and funny, Australian “bloke” sitting at the next table.

After breakfast I backtracked (which I normally hate) to Kennett River.  Kennett River is known as one of the best (if not the best) places in all of Australia to see koala’s in the wild.  It was just luck (or maybe a little help from above πŸ™‚ that I just happened to stay 15 minutes from Kennett River the night before.

As I mentioned in my FB post yesterday (for those on FB), even before I left the US people were asking me for pictures of koalas. I had been told and read seeing them in the wild was getting more and more difficult as the particular eucalyptus trees they feed on are dying off for some unknown reason.  So after doing some research I learned that Kennett River was the place to go.

I had also read that the best way to see them was to get out of the car and hike the road into the mountain and knowing how much I love to hike….no problem. πŸ™‚  So I took off up the Gray River road not knowing what to expect. For the first 1/2 mile I saw only a couple. Then in the next 2.5 km (1.5 miles) or so I counted 24 more!!!  I was soooo excited!  I even saw two trees that had two of them….which I witnessed was not always good (check out the video on the “View Photos” link to the right). Anyway, it was so very cool!

I was amazed at how high some of them were.  Most were sleeping as the the eucalyptus leaves they feed on offer very little nutritional value so they conserve energy by sleeping up to 20 hours a day (sounds like a few people I know, ha ha….just kidding).  Mostly they lay in the forks of the big trees with their arms wrapped around the trunk but some of them where way up in the small branches…sleeping.  I read that they do something fall from the trees and after having seen them in the wild I can easily see why.

Here is a very small sampling of what I saw today. You can see many more by clicking the “View Photos” link on the right.  I don’t know how the formatting will work with theses as picture formatting on Blogger is quirky at best.  We’ll give it a try and see what happens.

I spent roughly 2.5 hours just hiking in the forest with my head straight up in the tree tops and I honestly could have stayed there all day.   The only regret I had from the day was that I didn’t have a better camera.  Most of them were so high in the trees that it was difficult to photograph them.  If I would have had a good camera with a telephoto lens I could have taken some unbelievable pictures.

I also took some pretty dramatic videos (yes, even of creatures that barely move πŸ™‚ but videos take much longer to format and insert and now that I’m traveling everyday I barely find time for this.  You can view all videos by clicking the “View Photos” link on the right.

When I was finally able to pull myself away I turned my attention to the beautiful cliffs, beaches and ocean that was right in front of me….

I headed south on The Great Ocean Road passing the place I stayed last night and Apollo Bay on my way to Otway National Park (Google), The 12 Apostles (Google), The Arch (Google), London Bridge (Google) and several other places….

I drove from Kennett River to Port Campbell.  From their I turned inland and did the 2:45 drive to Melbourne where I stayed for the evening.

Where Am I

So today was a transitional day and I spent most of it in a car on the M31. I began my day in Albury with a nice breakfast with my Airbnb host Brian.  I briefly met his wife Sally the night before but she had already left for work by the time I woke.

After breakfast I spent some time booking my flight to New Zealand and taking care of some other travel “business” (I like my new line of “business”, ha ha), then it was off on the open road.

Sadly there was not too much to report from today.  The drive, although a bit long (close to 6 hours) was pleasant.  The last 1.5 hours was definitely the best as i traveled the Great Ocean Road from Geelong to Sugarloaf (my destination for the evening).  Unfortunately I arrived in the area after dark so I did not get the fantastic views that this road offers; however, because it was night and there are very few idiots (seriously) who travel this crazy, winding road after dark I pretty much had the road to myself.  So it was time for Stephen to “play”.

Being from the mountains and having grown up with crazy, winding roads I LOVE to drive them.  Of course the only small potential downside was the 300′ cliffs the plunge straight into the Southern Ocean…but that’s all part of the challenge.  πŸ™‚  This drive reminded a lot of driving Hwy. 1 in Northern California.

Anyway, long story short I arrived at my room around 10 PM safe and sound.

Where Am I

Ok, so I’m fairly confident that at least some of you (especially those of you in the US NE) are getting a little tired (ok maybe a lot πŸ™‚ of hearing me say how amazing it is here (in the 80 degree weather) but I’m really having a hard time thinking of other superlatives to describe it….so maybe you can help by leaving your “superlatives suggestions” in the comment section.  πŸ™‚

Today I planned to drive from Canberra to the Mount Kosciuszko National Park and hike the highest peak in Australia….Mount Kosciuszko.  The Airbnb couple of stayed with in Canberra told me about a great 21k (13 miles) loop hike to the top and I was really looking forward to it.  Unfortunately I had to take care of a few things before I left so my day began a little slower than I wanted and I didn’t end up arriving at the park until after 1.  As a result, I didn’t get to take the longer hike but took a shorter, but still totally awesome, 7.5 mile hike to the top.

The mountains around Kosciuszko reminded me of the mountains in the Scottish Highlands (for those who have traveled to Scotland or have watched Braveheart).  Most of the Kosciuszko area is above treeline, very rocky but extremely beautiful….

It took about an hour and twenty minutes to hike to the top.  Along the way I met arguably one of the most amazing (wow, I do use that work a lot huh? πŸ™‚ and interesting people I have ever met….a girl named Nuran.  She is from Australia and has worked for the Red Cross doing natural and man made (wars) disaster relief for 16 years.  She recently returned from a long term deployment in Nepal where she had been since last years devastating earthquake.  In her time with the Red Cross she has served in places like Haiti, Mogadishu, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Iraq.  She leaves in a few weeks to go back to Afghanistan and expects to be called to Siriya in a few months.  Through her time in all of these remote places she has had many illnesses like Malaria and Dengue fever (among others) and has worked in multiple war zones. Through it all she has managed to maintain a positive attitude and not to become cynical, hard hearted or numb to the pain and suffering of those in need.

Of course the obvious question (to most I think) is, why does she do it?  Her response was short and confident….I go to serve the victims of these tragedies because they need help.  She said, “many times my being there can make the difference between someone living and dying”……WOW!  I asked her how she felt when she went to these places, was she scared or nervous and she said not really, she focuses on the people she is serving and does not think about all the other things.

We spent almost 5 hours hiking and talking about her experiences and life in general and I at the end I found myself wishing the mountain had been taller so we could have spent more time talking.  I always say that there are no coincidences when it comes to God.  I firmly believe that He places people and circumstances in our lives at the right time, with the right things we need to hear, say or experience and I firmly believe he did that yesterday.  Maybe for me….maybe for Nuran….maybe for both….but certainly for a reason….definitely for a reason.

When we reached the top it was cold!  Of course, not Philly in Feb cold :-), but it was in the mid 40’s with a strong wind that probably made it feel like the mid 30’s.  But man-oh-man was it breathtakingly beautiful!

Having “conquered” the summit there was one last thing that I needed to accomplish.  My Airbnb hosts from Monday told me that no visit to Kosciuszko would be complete without a stop at Australia’s highest toilet (Web Page).  So, as they say, “While in Rome”. πŸ™‚

I left Kosciuszko and began my 3:30 hour drive to Albury where I would be staying for the night. As I drove out of the park just before dusk I was keeping a sharp eye for Kangaroos as I had been told they are bad to run in front of cars at this time of day (like deer in PA).  Also, I had not yet seen a Kangaroo on my journey….but that would change soon.

I rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of one off in the bush.  About 200 yards further there was a gravel road that led to a camping area.  I took the road hoping there were other Kangaroos in the area. I drove for about 500 yards and saw 4 more grazing in a field.  I was very excited.  I tried to take a some pictures but the sun was shining right in my eyes and the pictures would not take.  So I drove about 200 more yards just to see if there were any more and “BAM”, I come to a field with at least 100 grazing and hopping around.  I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.  It was sooooo cool!

I spent the next 30 or 40 minutes taking pictures and videos and just watching them, watching me. πŸ™‚ Here are a few but I took a lot more pictures and videos that you can see by clicking on the “View Photos” links to the right. I got some great pictures and videos as they came really close to the car (about 4′ away).  A couple of my favorites were the pictures of the mothers with their Joey’s in their pouches (see below), the two videos of them “boxing” (fighting I suppose) and the video when they all started running across the road all around me.  At first I didn’t know why but then I saw 6 Emu’s running across the field (you can briefly see them at 21 seconds on the video).  I tried to catch them to take some pics and videos but they were so fast that they were gone before I could get to them.

I finished the day/night with a 3 hour, white knuckle (watching out for kangaroos) to Albury.  Again, I know you’re probably getting tired of hearing this but this day seriously may have been the most amazing day yet of a completely amazing trip.  More to come as I head to the Great Ocean Road tomorrow.

Where Am I

My morning started out crazy as I was rushing around like a madman packing, eating breakfast, showering and running out the door to make the bus to manly where I had a rental car reserved.  I’m happy to say that the bus ride went off without a hitch and I was at the rental car agency in less than an hour.  After signing the form and initially in the 27 places I was told to initial (come on man….it’s 2016 and we’re still going through this antiquated process to rent a car?!?!

So after spending 5 minutes trying to figure out why my iPhone wouldn’t pair with the Bluetooth system in the car (oh the things we spend our time on nowadays :-), I left the parking lot for my journey south.  
As I wrote on FB today, it’s been a few years since I’ve driven on the right side of the car and the left side of the road (Guy DeBellis I’m sure you remember our first day in Scotland…I can’t recall has our travel ban to Scotland been lifted yet :-), but it came back to me quickly. The only thing that kept getting me was I kept turning on the windshield wipers when I want to do a right/left turn signal because they’re reversed from the US (different sides of the steering column).

 Anyway, I had a good drive down from Manly to Canberra and arrived around 3:30.  I headed straight for the Parliament building as I knew it would be closing soon.  Walking around the Australian capital building was really cool.  The government was not in session so the public pretty much had free reign in the place.  Going up on the “roof” was very cool.  I say “roof” because it’s covered with grass on both sides and basically blends into the hillside….

As mentioned above, since the legislation was not in session I was able to walk into both the House and the Senate chambers and take pictures in both…
House of Representatives 
Senate Chambers

It was also pretty cool to see one of the original copies of the Magna Carta at this building. A guide told us that it was purchased in the early 1950’s and brought to Australia.  I’ve also seen the one in the National Archives in Washington many years ago. I believe our guide today said there are only four known copies in existence today….I’ve now seen two.  πŸ™‚

After leaving the Parliament building I drove about 15 minutes to a place called Mount Ainslie. On Mt Ainslie you can view most of the city of Canberra and get a good, birds eye view, of the geometric design/layout of the city…..

After that I drove about 20 minutes outside of town to Queanbeyan (GoogleWiki) where I was staying for the evening at the home of a very nice young couple.  After a great dinner at a nice place called the Royal Hotel (Google)….
I spent some time speaking with Carlie and Ricky.  A few years ago they took a whole year and traveled around the world (totally cool).  They’ve also both spent quite a bit of time traveling in the US.  They are into the outdoors (yeah baby) and gave me some great advise for my hike tomorrow….uh, later today now (I gotta go to sleep).  They’re a really nice young couple and I only wish I had more time to spend getting to know them more.  Oh well, maybe next trip.  πŸ˜‰
Where Am I
* Remember you can see many more pictures by clicking the “View Photos” links on the right. *

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I began my day by attending the church service at C3 (C3 Church C3 Facebook) in Oxford Falls again.  Their regular pastor spoke this week about the 2016 vision for the church.  He referenced one of my favorite passages from Philippians 3:12-14 and used it to support the idea of focusing on the “one” top priority thing in 2016.  I really appreciated the service again this week and really like this church.  If you’re ever in the Sydney area I highly recommend it.

After church I ran a few errands as I needed to pick up a few things in preparation for “hitting the road” tomorrow and returned home for lunch.  I spent some time researching places to stay on Airbnb and basically trying to figure out where I was going.  πŸ™‚

Later in the day, after it cooled down a little (it was 88 today), I took a run from Rick’s house, beside Winnererremy Bay (Google Maps) up to Church Point (Google Maps, Images).  I had a great run. The bay is beautiful and there are some really nice houses, and boats, in this area….

And I couldn’t resist this one because the little boy playing in the water with his dad was just too cute. πŸ™‚  His bleach blond hair reminded me of my cousins little boy Brantley Stephenson.

Toward the end of my run I stopped at a park bench, in a park by the water just to sit and take it all in. In a few minutes I was joined by a man named Jerry and his black American Lab Jed.  We sat and talked about dogs in general and what great dogs Labs are as Jerry and Jed played with his tennis ball.  We talked about traveling and he told me about his trip through the US many years ago (Jerry, not Jed :-).  When I mentioned I was heading to Tasmania next week he told me his son (James) works at the Hobart Yacht Club and said I should stop by and ask him if he knows Jerry and Jed.  πŸ™‚ We sat and talked for probably 20 minutes and had a great conversation. Before I left I asked if I could get a picture of him and Jed and he happily agreed….

Jerry and Jed

Once I returned to Rick’s we had a wonderful dinner of salmon, veggies and salad and Linda pointed out a king parrot in a tree just off their deck (see below).  I have not yet gotten used to seeing parrots and cockatoos flying around in the wild but I saw several cockatoos during my run and another parrot this after noon.

And of course Alaska (the cat) saw the parrot too and wanted to eat him….uh,check him out…..

Where Am I

Today (Saturday) Rick and I visited an area called The Blue Mountains National Park.  After taking his oldest daughter (Zara) to her job and Woolworth’s and his wife Linda to her office, we were on the road.

Blue Mountain National Park (GoogleImagesWiki) is an area about 2 hours West of Sydney.  This is where many people from the Sydney area go for mountain activities (hiking, mtn biking, rock climbing, snow skiing, etc.).  The area reminded me of a smaller Grand Canyon but much more dense with trees…mostly eucalyptus.  Although the mountains are not significantly high (highest peak is 1,215 meters (3,986 ft)) the park is quite beautiful with its dramatic landscape with many cliffs and a few waterfalls…

The best way to see the most of the Blue Mountain area in a short day hike is to go to a place called Scenic World (Web Site).  Scenic World is kind of like doing the “touristy” things at Niagara Falls. It has a gondola (with a glass bottom) that takes you for a short ride across the valley and “The steepest incline railway in the world”…..

We rode the train down to the valley and I have to admit that it was pretty cool.  I don’t know of any way to capture the steepness of something on film but it was incredibly steep….over 50% incline.  And for those of us who ski steep slopes (Rob & Kusha), you know how steep that is.

Once we were in the valley we began a 6 km (I think) that culminates with a climb up the Giant Stairway (Giant Stairway) which I think is basically the equivalent of climbing a 70 story building.  We purposefully chose to go this direction just to do the Giant Stairway and it did not disappoint. Rick and I managed to do it with only a couple of brief stops to catch our breath but it was very challenging.

The highlight of the Scenic World area is a series of steep cliffs called The Three Sisters (The Three SistersImages).

We finished the hike with a couple of mile walk along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk (Cliff Walk) where we stopped often to take in the great scenery and snap a few selfies….

Rick was a great sport but by the end of the hike I kind of get the feeling that he may have been getting a little tired of all the selfies (ha ha) …..

We finished out day in the Blue Mountains with a ride back across the valley on the tram.  I tried to get a picture of the waterfall through the glass bottom but it didn’t really go that well….aside from the kids foot that turned out great. :-)…..

 All in all it was a great day with great weather and a great friend.  What more could you ask for?

Where Am I

My plans for today were to do a few things on-line in the morning, have some lunch, take the bus to visit the Barrenjoy Lighthouse and beach at Palm Beach (GoogleImagesWeb Site) and then have dinner with the family in Sydney.  My plans went well up until…..

I spent over an hour on chat with Verizon support because I can’t access my account or email on my laptop.  UGH!  Not the way I wanted to spend my morning.  After an hour of getting no where I just stopped trying. But by this time it was already 1 PM.
So I had a quick lunch and started checking the bus schedule for Palm Beach.  However, after checking the schedule I was surprised to find that it takes over an hour to get to Palm Beach from Mona Vale (I expected 30 minutes or so) and unfortunately the next bus close to me didn’t leave until just after 2.  Knowing that I had to be back by 5 to get ready for dinner in the city I (sadly) had to postpone my trip to Palm Beach for another day.  πŸ™  Oh well, off we go to Sydney!
So Rick and Linda’s idea for Friday night (which is normally homemade pizza night, yum) was to go to Darling Harbour (GoogleImagesWeb Site) and have Thai.  After they would show me around the Darling Harbour area.  I was very excited about this because I had heard about Darling Harbour and was looking forward to a trip to the city at night.
Dinner was fantastic (love me some Thai!) and I love to eat outside and the Darling Harbour area is perfect for that…..

Just beside our restaurant they were showing the movie “Midnight in Paris” in a grassy area in the middle of the courtyard.  I love things like this so that was really cool…

Darling Harbour is just a couple of blocks from the Chinatown area of Sydney so they are celebrating the Chinese New Year (the year of the monkey) throughout the park area with traditional music, dance, costumes and food.  It was a lot of fun walking around and just checking things out….

After this we walked all the way around the harbour area crossing over the Pyrmont Bridge. The whole Darling Harbour area is just beautiful at night with lots of restaurants and shops and the lights shining off of the water (be sure and check out all of the pictures by clicking the links on the right).  There were people out on the harbour in paddle boats (which was pretty cool) paddling next to multi-million dollar yachts :-)…..

The whole Darling Harbour area was really cool and absolutely beautiful at night. Strolling through the harbour after a great Thai meal, the Chinese New Year celebrations and all the fun conversations made for a wonderful night.  Thank you Rick and Linda for this great idea and for including me!

Where Am I

Hello my friends and family. After having a full, long day traipsing around Sydney on day 8 I decided that Day 9 would be pretty mellow. It’s the “calm before the storm” as I prepare to leave on my next adventure on Monday (more on that later) so this post will be rather light.

I spent the morning doing laundry and researching future travel plans. Earlier in the week I learned that it’s customary for each member of the Elliott household to take his or her turn making dinner for the family and well, tonight that honor fell to me.  πŸ™‚  So I took the afternoon to venture into town, shop a few markets and decide what “delicacy” I wanted to create for my Aussie family.  πŸ™‚  I decided the main course would be a roasted pork loin with a raspberry balsamic glaze (yummy) along with my usual grilled zucchini, roasted brussel sprouts and a tossed green salad.  We added some grilled chicken at the last minute just in case anyone did not want pork (which did not happen)…..


They have a fantastic setup with their “outdoor” grill located on the large, beautiful deck (just remembered that I owe you pictures of their home….I will remedy that in a future post). I told Rick and Linda that if I had this setup and this great “always warm” weather (temps in the 60s in the “winter”) I would never cook inside.  πŸ™‚

My only concern with dinner was that I sometimes tend to cook too much.  Well, I’m happy to say that dinner was a hit as there were 4 small pieces of zucchini left and that was all.  Everyone enjoyed it.  Yay!

After washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen Rick and spent some time discussing my travel plans (more on that later) to get his input and as always he had some great suggestions. After I made some tasty chai, did some more reading and fell asleep with my laptop in my lap (which I guess is an appropriate place for a “lap”top to be :-).

In lieu of the “Where Am I” here is some information on the town where Rick’s family live and where I am staying….enjoy.


Mona Vale Beach

Mona Vale Google

Today I traveled to downtown Sydney.  It’s about a 1.5 hour trip from where I am staying on the bus and ferry. You can take the bus all the way into Sydney and the time is about the same but the ferry drops you off right between the Opera House and The Rocks and the ride across the harbor (on a gorgeous day) is truly amazing.

My day began with a another bus “adventure” but this one was totally on me.  Let’s just say you don’t want to be reading a text as your bus passes the stop where you’ve been sitting and waiting for 15 minutes….D’OH!  Luckily at 9 AM on a weekday there’s another bus every 15 minutes or so… no harm no foul.  
So I catch the next bus and settle in for my 1 hour ride to Manly Wharf to catch the ferry.  Now, the bus was “supposed” to arrive at 11:05 and the ferry didn’t leave until 11:15….perfect right?  Well, perfect until the bus gets to the wharf 9 minutes late (11:14)!!!  So as soon as the doors open I jump from the bus and run full out do to and through the wharf.  I swipe my transit pass (thank you Rick) run up the gang plank and on to the ferry and they literally close the gates behind me.  Shew, that was close.  
So we leave the port and I walk out on the bow.  Heading out into that harbor in the beautiful sunny 80 degree weather was just amazing and the anticipation of knowing that the Opera House, Harbor Bridge and Sydney skyline was up ahead around the corner made it very exciting.  The ride across the harbor from Manly is beautiful….

Once I arrived at the harbor I had to walk about 10 blocks to the Sydney Tower (Sydney Tower) for a 1 PM “SkyWalk” reservation.  I know this is an extremely “touristy” thing to do but I wanted to see the views.  Sydney Tower is Sydney’s tallest structure and the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere.  There is an indoor observation deck and an outdoor observation deck.  The outdoor deck is 268m (879′) high and the indoor is a short distance below that. They call the outdoor deck the “SkyWalk”.  They make you put all of your positions into a locker (no phone or camera for pictures) and make you wear a blue “jump suit” (which is a really bad name for something you have to put on just before you go out to an 879′ high outdoor observation deck). πŸ™‚ Once in your blue suit you have to go through a metal detector (you go through another before you come up) to make sure you’re not smuggling anything in.  They say this is to protect the people below from any falling debris, but I think it really to sale pictures…and it works!  πŸ™‚

Once we were outside, it was quite windy but very beautiful, The guide showed us around and described what we were seeing and then took us to a glass bottom sections and told us (among other things) to jump up and down.  Then he took a series of group and individual pictures….

Once we were back inside I took quite a few pictures of the harbor and buildings below.  Here are a couple.  Remember you can see all travel photos by clicking on the “View Photos” links on the right.

Once I finished at the top I descended to the 5th floor and ate lunch.  After lunch I walked through Hyde Park and passed St. Mary’s Cathedral on my way to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (Mrs Macquarie’s Chair) and the Royal Botanic Gardens (Royal Brotanic Gardens.  The views along the harbor shore were very beautiful and I stood and watched a cruise ship leave the port.

I began to walk toward the Opera House and noticed a man looking up in a tree and taking pictures. When I got closer I realized there was a wild Sulphur-crested cockatoo perched in one tree and a wild  King Parrot in another tree.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo
King Parrot lower center of photo

A few feet beyond the birds I found something under a shade tree….ME!  I love to lay under shade trees in the cool breeze (must be a left over from growing up on a farm) and this was just too inviting. So I took a little cat nap on the grass in the Botanic Gardens right in the middle of Sydney.  It was sooo relaxing.

After my nap and a nice stroll through the gardens I finally made it to the Opera House.  The Sydney Opera House is probably one of the most recognizable structures in the world.  Well I can tell you, it’s every bit as impressive close up.  It’s just really a beautiful set of buildings in an extremely beautiful location.  What more is there to say?

I spent quite a bit of time hangin’ out around the Opera House because it’s really a pretty cool area with lots of activity.  Once I left I walked over the The Rocks (The Rocks,Wiki) and found a place to have dinner.  It was an interesting place called Phillip’s Foote where you cook your own meet on one of two flame grills. My steak was excellent….my compliments to the chef!  πŸ™‚

There were actually many other small things that I did in Sydney today but I think this is enough.  I will definitely be going back at least once (probably more) because I really love it and I have passes to the zoo, the aquarium and a couple of other places that were included with my SkyWalk tickets.  Oh, that’s another GREAT thing about being in AU right now….the exchange rate is fantastic for the US dollar. $

Ok, so for today’s “Where Am I” I have two.  And if you actually read everything in the blog above these should both be simple…..

Where Am I

I originally planned to travel down to Sydney today but instead decided to stay close to home and do some laundry, go to the grocery, pay some bills, relax and plan my trip for tomorrow.  So that’s just what I did. πŸ™‚

So in the absence of any sight-seeing/travel information to post today I thought I would take an opportunity to post some general Australian information that I have seen or heard over the past week. Some of this I knew prior to coming to AU but some of it may be new to you…as it was to me.

So you probably remember the Foster’s “How to Speak Australian” commercials in the US….well, here’s a few sayings I’ve heard over the past few days:
Boot = Car Trunk (as in “Put the shopping bags in the boot”)
Chemist = Pharmacy
Rubbish Bin = Garbage Can
Sunnies = Sunglasses
Thongs = Flip-flops (all together different meaning in the US, ha ha)
Trolley = Shopping cart
Oz = What Australian’s call Australia
Also, Here are a couple of interesting things….in Oz Burger King restaurants are called Hungry Jack’s (Hungry Jack’sWiki).  This is due to the name Burger King already being trademarked when the Burger King franchise came to AU.   
And for those who remember the old Woolworths five-and-dime in the US, well Woolworths in AU is a Supermarket chain (completely different store) and they call it “Woolie’s”.  πŸ™‚ 
Lastly, you know in the US if you get into an accident you take your car to a body shop?  Well in AU you take it to a “Smash” shop,,,,
These are just a few of the things that I seen/heard over the past week that I thought I would share….I’m sure there will be more.  πŸ™‚
So we’re off to Sydney tomorrow.  Be sure to tune in to see how it goes.

Today was a bit weird but kind of fun.  It was Monday morning.  So I woke up, made breakfast and a cup of coffee and sat down to watch the Super Bowl….wait….what? πŸ™‚  Due to the time difference (and the international date line) Super Bowl “Sunday” happened at 10:30 AM on Monday morning here.  I felt a bit like I was watching Wimbledon from London (for those who don’t know it happens early AM in the US).  It was a bit weird but I was just happy that a major AU network was carrying the game.

Unfortunately, my team lost (hey I’m from North Carolina, who do you think I’m going to pull for).  I’ll be honest that it was somewhat bitter/sweet as I happy to see Peyton Manning go out on top (maybe?), but was sad to see Carolina’s season end on a down note since they had such a great season.  Oh well, that’s why they play the game.

Now my next two sports challenges while here are the Daytona 500 and March Madness.  I told my mother (before I left) that as far as US sports go I could not have come at a worse time.  But it’s summer in AU now so it was the best time to be here.  Hopefully I can find the race on the internet….of course it will be at 5AM :-).  

So I watched the Super Bowl and checked the local bus schedule to figure out my route, connections and times to get to/from the local shopping center.  Me being me (the trying to reform over planner) I came up with 3 alternate times for both going and returning and sent them all to my phone so i would have all I need to assure a “smooth” trip….or so I thought.

I made it to the local bus stop and had a very nice chat with a little old lady (literally, she was about 4.8′) who gave me some “tips” for navigating the regional buses.  Right on schedule our bus rounded the corner and started up the street.  Then, for some unknown reason, it stopped about 200 yards short of the stop and just sat there for about 7 minutes.  Hmmm, this is odd I thought and immediately knew that all of my planning just went out the window as I would never make my connecting bus now….and I did not.  But no biggie, I got off at my connection spot and just waited for the next one. 

Now I had been told that, if you want to get off the bus just push the red buttons that are located throughout the bus.  So when I got close to the shopping center I pushed the red button, the “Bus Stopping” light came on but the bus just kept going….and going….and going.  The bus finally stopped about 1/2 mile past my desired stop and a flood of school children began rushing on.  I felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream in a flooded river.  πŸ™‚ 20 minutes later I was at the shopping center (“mall”).  

The local shopping mall is much smaller than most US malls.  Many of the shops and services are still located in the “downtown” area which I personally think is very cool. So after 1.5 hours of shopping I check my bus schedule and head out to the stop.  After about 10 minutes my bus arrives and I make it to my connection stop right on time.  Now here is where it gets “fun”.  When I get off the bus I double check the schedule posted at the stop just to make certain I am at the right stop for my desired bus.  According to both the on-line schedule and the schedule posted at the stop my bus should arrive at 6:13.  So I’m standing at my stop and at exactly 6:12 I see my bus top the hill in the distance.  I’m feeling pretty good at this point.  As it get’s closer I’m not sure if it’s going to stop so I began to wave.  It get’s closer….and closer….and VROOM it blows by me at 50 and never slows down.  I’m like, “what the heck”.  I double check the schedule and verify that it was “supposed” to stop. Well crap.  Ok, no problem I’ll just wait for the next one.  I check the schedule…I look and find out that the next bus (to my desired destination) does not come for another 1:30 HOURS!  UGH!!!!  

So with no real choice, I strike off on foot.  I check every bus stop I pass but they all say the same.  So long story short, about 40 minutes later I arrive home covered with sweat but none the worse for the wear.  When I walk in the door I get a big cheer from Linda (Rick’s wife) and his two daughters Zara and Natasha. Apparently they were a little concerned about me thinking perhaps I had been eaten by an AU land shark :-).  I love my AU family. πŸ™‚

So what do I after a 40 minute urban hike….go for a run of course.  πŸ™‚  I’m still learning the area so Linda suggested I run down to the beach and provide directions.  This was a fantastic idea.  As many of you know, I’m not a “huge” fan of the beach….well mostly the baking sun, so my favorite time to be at the beach is around sundown.  How amazingly beautiful it was to run along the beach and watch the surfers along the way…..

Cruise ship leaving Sydney harbor

* Click on photos to enlarge. View all travel photos by clicking the “View Photos” link on the right. 

Reluctantly I finished my run on the beach and ran to the downtown area.  I stopped and picked up some Sushi and ran back to the house.  After dinner I chatted with Rick for a while talking about my trip into Sydney later this week and my future travel plans. He suggested I visit Canberra, the capital of Australia, on my way to Melbourne and we discussed my “Southern” Australian travels.  Lots to see and do and I hope you can join me for all of it… stick around.  πŸ™‚

Where Am I

It’s Sunday in Australia and my day began much as it does in the US.  I woke up, made breakfast and went to church.  I attended a fantastic church called C3 (C3 Church C3 Facebook) in Oxford Falls. The worship was contemporary with a band whose energy, passion and seamless, flowing and engaging worship reminded me of the old COS evening service days with Gregg Hytha (those of you from COS know what I mean).  It was great!

They had a guest speaker from the UK named Paul Scanlon (Paul Scanlon) who was amazing. I always say there are no coincidences when it comes to God as He orchestrates all things and the message Paul delivered on Sunday was so spot-on for what I needed to hear.  The service was 2 hours but it seamed like 15 minutes.  I hope my travels allow me to return to this church again.

After lunch Rick and I loaded up and headed South along the A8 through the beach communities of Narrabeen, Collaroy, Dee Why and Manly.  It reminded me of driving through beach communities of Florida or Southern California with surf shops and people carrying their gear to/from the beach.  
In Collaroy we went through the neighborhood where Rick grew up.  He showed me the house he grew up in, the park where he had his first job and the areas where he used to play.  It was really cool to see this.  In Dee Why Rick showed me the apartment that he and Linda lived when they first married and the beach park they frequented during their first 2 years. 
Each of beaches we passed were beautiful but the one in Dee Why really stood out to me….
In Manly we visited the North Head Sanctuary (North Head) which is part of the Sydney Harbor National Park. This is a high point with cliffs on all sides that offers amazing views of the Pacific ocean, Sydney Harbor and downtown Sydney.  We took a short walk on the Fairfax walking track (Fairfax Walk, Fairfax Loop) and took some great pictures at the Fairfax Lookout (Fairfax Lookout)….
Busy day in Sydney harbor
View from Fairfax lookout

*Remember you can click on any photo for a larger view and you can see more photos by clicking the “View Photos” links on the right.
Our final stop was the Manly Wharf as Rick wanted to show me where I could catch the ferry to downtown Sydney.  At this point we had logged many miles and were getting quite weary from our travels so we stopped “somewhere” (see “Where am I” below) to refresh and quince our thirst.  πŸ™‚  
After that we returned home, stopping to pick up Zara from work, spent some time relaxing in the spa with Linda and Josh and had another wonderful dinner.  
All in all another great day, with great weather, great friends and beautiful scenery.  
Where Am I

Today began with a great breakfast with Rick at an outdoor cafe in Mona Vale.  It was a perfect day to sit outside and enjoy the weather with blue skies and temps in the upper 70s.  Mona Vale is where Rick and his family live and is close to where Rick grew up.  Mona Vale is a suburb of Sydney located about 17 miles north of downtown Sydney.

Click to Enlarge

It is a cool little “village” that has all kinds of shops and restaurants as well as personal services like doctors, barbers, banks and a supermarket. And perhaps best of all, “downtown” Mona Vale is about 500 yards from the ocean (more on that later).  Here’s a wiki link with more information on Mona Vale if you’re interested: Mona Vale, NSW

After breakfast we came back and picked up his youngest daughter Natasha and went to buy shoes for school (the shop was closed on Thursday) and a new guitar! That was of course a lot of fun for me as I sat and played some high dollar Martin acoustics πŸ™‚ as they worked with the sales clerk to pick out a good starter guitar. With a starter guitar in her hand and very expensive Martin’s in my head πŸ™‚ we took her back to the house (she was anxious to play her new guitar) and headed to the beach!

As mentioned above it was about a 5 minute drive to the local beach (Mona Vale Beach & Basin Beach).   This was my first experience with an Aussie beach and it did not disappoint. It was beautiful with the large sand beach area, big waves with white capped breakers and cliffs of ancient volcanic rock: Basin Beach

They also have a “Rockpool” (see below) at Basin Beach.  Rick said these are very common around Australia.  It’s basically a man made swimming pool built on rock at the edge of the ocean.  It is filled by the ocean during high tide and provides a “pool” for people to swim without getting pounded by the waves in the ocean.


For more pictures click the links under the “View Photos” on the right side of the page. 

After some time at the beach we headed to the supermarket to pick up some things (yes Bill Reichard more food πŸ™‚ and then back to the house where we relaxed on the deck with his wife Linda, had a drink and a great conversation.

As for the evening, Rick and Linda had dinner plans so Josh (Rick’s son), Natasha and I order Thai (yummy) and enjoyed our time talking about everything from the craziness of their cat (check out the video in yesterday’s blog) to the craziness of American politics. πŸ™‚

So armed with the information provided above today’s “Where am I” should be cinch.

Where Am I

Ok, So I began my Day 1 blog with, “those of you who know me well will certainly not be surprised by anything I’m about to tell you”.  Well, today’s blog begins with….those of you who know me well WILL certainly be surprised by what I’m about to tell you….

…..I traveled 31 hours to the other side of the world for a 3 month trip with no plan what-so-ever! I can hear you know saying, “What? Stephen with no plan?  Get ready for Rapture” :-).  I’m sure Guy Debellis and Heather Topaz will have a hard time accepting this but it’s true.  I decided I would try and exercise my “go with the flow” muscle a little on this trip.  Thus far it’s been going pretty well…but I’m starting to get a little stressed that I do not have a plan! ha ha
So anyway, today (well, technically yesterday now) was a planned “planning” day. I have to book some flights to get to at least 3 of the areas in and around AU that I want to visit so a little planning at this point is a necessity.   
Aside from trip/flight planning most of today was spent making enhancements to my blog page for all of my loyal followers (ha ha) to enjoy and adding a Flickr folder where I plan to post all of the travel pics.  Note: You can now subscribe to my blog page to receive email notifications when a new post is posted. 
Later in the day I went for my first run on Australian soil, had “pizza night” with my Australian “family” (thank you Rick and Linda) and finished the night working with Tasha (Rick’s youngest daughter) on her guitar practice and singing/playing a few songs with her.  So while not necessarily “adventurous” it was another great day is Oz (this is what they call Australia…not sure why other than it’s just easier to say than Australia :-).  
I don’t have a “Where Am I” for today so I’ll leave you with a picture and a funny video of Rick’s Maine Coon long haired cat named Alaska….  
They have no idea why she does this but she does it a couple of times a day and it is so funny to watch…. 
Alaska the Main Coon cat.
P.S. Please don’t tell Jack (my dog) that I am living with a cat for three months.  πŸ˜‰

After 31 hours of travel (door to door), 21 hours in the air and 10,100 miles I arrived in Australia on time Thursday morning. The flights were good except for some pretty good turbulence for a couple of hours while flying over the equator and Fiji.  Customs was a breeze thanks to ePassport and electronic facial recognition (bypassed a very long line), I got my bag and met my great friend Rick Elliott who had just arrived (perfect timing).  We threw my bag in the car and were off to deal with rush hour traffic.

I was very tired having slept only 4 hours in the past 56, so no sight seeing today (the weather was quite bad as well with rain and fog) but Rick did point out a few things as we drove back to his house. When we arrived back at his place I took a short nap while Rick did some work.  After that we picked up his youngest daughter Natasha from her singing lesson and took her to her first guitar lesson (yay!). We stayed during her first lesson and it was so cool.  With her music and performing arts background she picked up everything the instructor said very quickly and I couldn’t help to think of Candy Creamer as I watched her guitar teacher begin teaching.  He had her playing and singing in no time…..she has a great voice.
After that we came back and had a delicious dinner that Rick prepared on the grill on his beautiful deck….

After dinner Rick, his wife Linda, Natasha and I went out to do a little shopping.  Tasha was looking for school shoes and I was looking for some breakfast groceries.  We came home, made some hot tea and Rick’s other children, Josh and Zara, joined us as we watched a recent episode of Modern Family where they visited Australia.  It was funny and provided a few ideas for things to see and do.
As I mentioned above, we didn’t get to do any sight seeing today but I did manage to take one photo from the car to use in today’s “Where is Stephen”…..
                                                   Where Am I?
Oh, so what’s up with today’s title you ask….I’m sure many of you know that crossing the international date line is kind of like traveling through the Twilight Zone.  We left LA at 10 PM on Tuesday. We arrived in Australia 15 hours later and it was 8 AM on Thursday!  So my Wednesday only lasted for roughly 8 hours from midnight to the international data line.  πŸ™‚
Here’s a pretty cool link that explains more about this if you are interested:  The International Date Line, Explained