Sunday, February 17, 2013

Trip to Australia

Earlier this year I went with my parents to visit Australia.  As many of you know, my brother married a woman from Tasmania so we went there to visit some of her family and then went over to Port Macquarie, NSW on the mainland (mid north coast).  I was gone for about seventeen days and it was one of the better trips of my life.  Australia is awesome.  Sure, it takes a long ass time to get there, but it's definitely worth it.  The people there are awesome - kind and laid back with a great sense of humor.  I don't think I had a bad meal there and we ate a bit randomly.  Australia also has some unique wildlife and plants - 80% of which are found nowhere else.

I was there for a long ass time and saw less than one millionth of the places to go so I'll definitely have to go back.

January 16
My trip got off to an ignominious start since Albany got two inches of snow the morning I started my vacation.  Now, you'd think a northern city like Albany could handle a small amount of snow and you'd be mostly correct.  I boarded my flight on time, but sat on the plane for more than an hour while they de-iced it and then waited longer for a knucklehead to shovel the snow from around the plane's tires.  Of course, we landed in Dulles ten minutes after my flight to LAX was supposed to take off.  There were a few of us going to LAX on the Albany flight so they held it for fifteen minutes which means we missed it by five minutes.  Awesome.  I was booked on to the next flight which ate all about an hour of my margin in LAX before my flight to Sydney.

Fortunately, my flight to LAX landed ten minutes early and I was able to hustle over to the Virgin Australia counter where they allowed me to get on the flight.  I got through security and was on the plane a full ten minutes before it was scheduled to leave.  Phew.  Missing it would've meant a huge hassle.

The plane ride was long and boring.  I tried to sleep, but had trouble.  There was an old lady in the aisle seat who couldn't get up so I had to climb over her when I wanted to use the toilet.  Super sweet.  At least the food was pretty good.

January 18
Yeah, I lost a day traveling and due to the time change.  Weird eh?  We landed in Sydney at early o'clock and went through customs without any trouble.  We spent roughly two hours in the airport before our flight to Launceston, Tasmania.  I spent this time trying hard not to fall asleep because the secret to avoiding jet-lag is to get on local time as quickly as possible.

The flight to Launceston was mostly empty, but I was seated next to two hotties and I spent the short flight trying not to fall asleep and trying not to get caught looking at their impressive racks.  There was some good scenery out the window as well.

Some of my SiL's family met us at the airport and helped us drive into town.  It took a while to organize the caravan and to make sure my dad knew what to do driving on the left side of the road.  We checked in to our bed and breakfast.  My dad and I walked to the grocery store to get some food and then we relaxed until mid-afternoon when we went over to my SiL's maternal grandmother's house for "tea."  Now "tea" in Australia can mean many different things like just tea or tea with food or food, but I never got my decoder ring to work.  There we met up with the rest of my SiL's family.  I had met most at my brother's wedding, but it was good to see them again.

We ate and drank and then went back.  I think I hit the hay at 8PM and got a reasonable amount of sleep.

January 19
My dad, my SiL's step-dad and I walked over to Cataract Gorge and hiked one of the loops there.  It's right in the center of Launceston and offers some awesome views of the Tamar River and surroundings.  It was good to get out and get some work in since I had spent most of the previous two days cooped up in airplanes.

After we got back, I got cleaned up and then we walked a few blocks to Beer Fest.  There I had wallaby and a mess of local beer and cider.  I always thought of Australians as heavy beer drinkers, but the ones in Tasmania mainly drank cider and mixed drinks.  I was with my SiL's half-sister, her husband and their friends so it was good to be in some younger company.  We listened to music and drank.

January 20
My family plus my SiL's family possed up and visited a raspberry farm, a dairy and a chocolate factory.  What's strange is you weren't allowed to see much and it was Sunday so the chocolate factory was idle.  I did eat some tasty food.  I normally avoid dairy, but am less strict when I'm out and about.  It's a good thing because Tasmania cheese is really fookin' tasty.  I also experienced scallop pie for the first time.

I drove in Australia for the first time and it wasn't too bad.  They have a lot of signs reminding you which side to be on and traffic coming the other direction definitely reminds you.  The only difficulty is in locating controls in the car (all backwards) and in properly tracking in your lane.

That afternoon we had a barbecue at my SiL's mother's house.  It's up in the hills and is well laid out with a great garden.  It was summer in Australia so lots of stuff was growing.  We grilled up a lot of different kinds of meat and fish, but I was forced to over cook the fish because some people don't appreciate non-dry wish.  Heh.  The food was great and drank some more cider.  I really developed a taste for pear cider there.

January 21
On Monday, we possed up again to drive east to the coast near Wineglass Bay.  My dad, my SiL's half-sister, her husband and I hiked around and we got a couple of chances to get in the ocean.  The water was reasonably warm, but the sand was fairly coarse.  On that hike, I got within a foot of a wallaby eating someone's sandwich and also got a rare glimpse of the douchebag tourist.  This dude and his hoochie practically walked right into the wallaby and were dressed as if they were out clubbing.

In one of the towns where we stopped for a snack, they had bricks commemorating the first convicts.  The bricks gave names, the crime committed and the length of the sentence.  When you think of the convicts sent to Australia, you'd assume violent criminals, but most of the bricks were for people caught stealing two rabbits or a pocket watch or something equally minor.  It seems England was determined to thin out its growing under-class and thought Australia was a good place to send them.  Since these criminals earned jack diddly, they couldn't afford passage back when their sentence was up.

January 22
My parents requested a down day, but my SiL's half-sister cut my hair that morning and I walked with her around town while she priced out iPhone 4s for her mom's birthday present.  My SiL's half-sister is wicked cool (and wicked hot, but she's married) and is my kind of people.  She doesn't take any crap, but is really nice which I guess describes most Australians.

My dad and I walked around the river a bit, but there wasn't much to see and it wasn't as green as indicated.

January 23
My family and I drove over to visit my SiL's father who is a bit of a loner.  He's a little weird at first, but opens up pretty quickly and is cool.  I definitely see where my SiL got some of her sense of humor.

We had a late breakfast and then hit the road to go into the Cradle Mountain area.  We didn't have time to go up to the summit, but my dad, my SiL's father and I hiked up to Marion's Lookout.  It was fairly steep and had chains to hold on to.  I beat them up there by a good fifteen minutes, but we had enough time to do the loop.

We drove back to Launceston, got cleaned up and then went over to my SiL's paternal grandmother's place for dinner which was tasty.  We got a sense of Launceston's middle class as well.

January 24
My dad and I hiked the longer loop in Cataract Gorge and then we all went out for dinner to say our goodbyes.

January 25
My family and I flew from Launceston to Sydney.  We then drove about 200 miles to Port Macquarie which is still in NSW, but close to the border with Queensland.  The scenery was good, but it took a long ass time to get out of Sydney because it's about the size of LA and a lot of people were headed out of town for the holiday weekend.

January 26
Australia Day.  It felt more like Memorial Day than the Fourth of July even though it celebrates when the convicts first landed.  The aboriginals call it "Invasion Day" and I don't blame them.

We were close to the beach so my dad and I walked around for a bit.

January 27
It started pouring because a tropical storm or cyclone or something (Oswald?) was off-shore.  Since we were on vacation, we toughed it out and went to the koala hospital which was awesome.  I mean, it's not awesome the koalas were hurt enough to be there, but it was cool to get pretty close to them.  They're pretty weird looking, but well-adapted to Australia.

The next stop was a littoral rainforest.  We walked along the boardwalk and I learned all about eucalpyts and strangler figs and the weird things which grow in Australia.  The walk was fairly short, but was invigorating since it was warm and raining.

We then went to a lighthouse down the coast, but didn't stay long because of the weather.  It was really fookin' windy as well.

January 28
On Monday, it was pouring buckets again, but we were determined to get out and about.  We drove out to see some waterfalls, but were only able to get close to one because of trees downed across the roads. 

My dad and I hiked down to the waterfall through the forest.  We were warned at our lunch time spot about leeches, but thought nothing of them because they usually only get you when you're in a lake or something.  Because of the rain, the falls were overflowing so it was definitely worth getting soaked.

We de-leeched on the way back which was a new experience for me.  The suckers have a strong grip so you need to dessicate them with salt.  I'll now pack salt with me any time I go camping or hiking because those guys are jerks.

Even though I hiked in shorts and my dad in pants, he got attacked more.

January 29
It finally stopped raining.  I guess Port Macquarie got 400mm of rain in three days which is something like 14 inches which is a buttload.  My dad and I took advantage of the weather to do most of the coastal walk which is close to 11 miles.  We saw goannas, birds and brush turkeys.  We also saw a lot of the ocean, but we couldn't go in because the storm filled the coastal waters with silt and funk.

January 30
We drove up North Brother to check out the view and then hit a winery for a reason which escapes me.

January 31
On our last full day in Port Macquarie, we drove up to Southwest Rocks which is an awesome place.  There are cool rocks and nice beaches up there.  I was stupid and didn't bring my swim trunks so I didn't get in the ocean.

February 1
We drove back to Sydney and spent the night at a hotel near the airport.

February 2
We left Sydney and I got to have two Saturdays because of the time change.  Due to an unfavorable flight schedule, I had a fourteen hour layover in LAX.  I could've gotten an earlier flight, but I wasn't sure I could clear customs in time to catch it.  Of course, I got through customs in less than thirty minutes.  I tried to get on the flight, but it was full.  I know people in LA, but they were either busy or out of town.  Oh well, I survived and took the red-eye to Chicago.  I was smart and had upgraded to first class when I bought the ticket.  Well, we were on a 777 which has three classes so I initially had a business class line-flat seat, but was upgraded all the way to first class because two brothers wanted to sit next to each other.  A red-eye isn't the best opportunity to live up "international" first class, but I actually was able to sleep for a couple of hours.

I brought back a bunch of Tim Tams for colleagues so I indicated I brought back food from Australia on my customs form.  The customs guy asked what I brought and when I replied, "Cookies," he just said "Tim Tams."  It was funny because it wasn't a question; he knew exactly what kind of cookies people would bring back.

February 3
I got back to Albany mid-morning and was awake enough to catch the Super Bowl.

Out-of-order picture vomit can be found here.  My photography skills are still a work in progress, but I tried to capture the natural beauty found there.  I can't emphasize how much fun I had and how much I'd like to go back.  My SiL's family is awesome.

My memory isn't good enough to remember everything so I think I'll take notes next time.

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