(warning...grab a cuppa or a cocktail, it's going to be a long one!)
As some of my regular readers know, I love to travel. I've gone into international travel withdrawal over the last couple of years since I lost my 'travelling' job (I was fortunate enough to do a lot of international travel with that job). Well, the hunger was satiated recently (likely only a temporary condition) with a trip to Australia with my hubby. It's a trip that has actually been in the works for several years. Karl and I used to work together and both travelled a lot (mostly separately), so travel for vacation just didn't happen. I really wanted to travel more so we made an agreement that we would travel to the destination of our choosing for our next 'big' birthdays. We were also responsible for saving up our own frequent flyer miles so we could save the flight costs. Cuba was his choice and we went a few years ago (loved it). Australia was my choice. Needless to say, I had to save a bit more and we decided to fly business class for the 14 hour flight so had to save even more! I had several years to save and my credit card puts points into my frequent flyer account so it was no problem when I booked the flights last year (yep, booked them 350 days ahead of time). My birthday isn't until the summer but we decided to go now, during Australian summer.
Background story finished... I've been pondering how talk about the trip. I was reminded of some life lessons in addition to learning some things about Australia and travel. So here's my random list of stuff I learned/was reminded of while I was in Australia.
1. Everything is bigger in Australia (apologies to any Texans reading this)
The butterflies (18 cm wing span), the spiders (the one we saw was about 20 cm), the beaches, the trees (ok, we have big trees here too but when you are in a gondola over the rainforest canopy, those trees seem tall cause it's a long way down), the crocodiles (didn't see any and that's ok because they are rumoured to not be very friendly), the Reef (the Great Barrier Reef is the only living entity on Earth that can be seen FROM SPACE!), the Outback and even the country itself. Australia is no mere island, being the sixth largest country on the planet with an area of about 7.7 million square kilometres. Just to compare, Canada is about 9.1 million square kilometres. Anyway, we saw some butterflies, couple of spiders, a tiny fraction of the amazing reef, a little bit of the rainforest, a handful of beaches and a small section of the East coast of this vast country. When we were in the Daintree Rainforest, this Cairns Birdwing Butterfly (the females can have a wing span of 18 cm) stopped long enough for me to snap a photo. Beautiful... The huge spider we also saw that day? Not so beautiful but really cool... was happy to have the zoom lens...
I know because I did. It's easy enough to say you want to do something but unless you put things in place to do it, you will just talk about it. I do realize somethings are not attainable due to 'life' but it's always good to have goals to work towards.
Ever since I snorkelled over a coral reef off the coast of southern Florida many years ago, I wanted to get to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef. Ideally I wanted to dive on it (as I was supposed to have my diving certification by now!) and we could have done introductory dives, but after talking to friends we decided snorkelling would be just as good. IT.WAS.ABSOLUTELY.AMAZING! We were both just blown away by the array of colours and diversity of life. Big fish, tiny fish, amazing corals and a sea turtle... the only thing we wanted to see but didn't, was a shark. (We did see glimpses of a lemon shark one evening at a ocean side restaurant in Port Douglas.) I had a perma-grin on my face for quite a while... what a rush, what a thrill, permanently etched into my memories. This is on ride back in... guess it's time to find a new #1 for my bucket list. :)
3. I could live somewhere warmer
My favourite temperature is 30 C. It means I can enjoy the sun during the day and sit outside in the evening without a jacket. It rarely reaches that where we live (I'm not complaining, Victoria has the best overall climate in Canada, just not hot enough for me). While we were in Australia, we experienced sun and rain, temperatures from about 19C to 36C (with humidity, felt like 42). As for the rain, I didn't care because the surrounding temperature was still warm. The humidity was not kind to my make up or my kinda wavy/kinda straight straight hair but I largely ignored it because I loved being warm. I could still sit on the beach in my bikini when it was overcast, cause it was hot. The tile floors in our apartment in Cairns (thanks Matt) weren't ice cold when I placed my bare feet on to them in the morning. We sat on the balcony till very late and it was still beautiful out, even with a bit of rain and an ocean breeze. The air conditioning was appreciated while we slept but still, love, love, love being warm. Note to self... figure out how we can move to Australia.
4. It's possible to save money while travelling
Yes, I know, if we were backpacking and staying in hostels, it would be easy. However, we weren't (read: we like our creature comforts), so we had to be a bit more creative.
a) Check out travel credit cards
As I mentioned, we flew over on frequent flyer miles. I was lucky enough to have a bunch from my work travel but also getting points from my credit card helped a lot. In addition, we were able to cover off the cost of our flight from Sydney to Cairns with travel points from Karl's credit card.
b) Know anyone?
We were lucky enough to stay with friends for a couple nights while we were in Sydney (this was an unexpected invitation that turned out really well). Another huge bonus: we had a friend offer up his apartment in Cairns (he was out of town) so that saved us a bunch too.
c) Apartment/self catering
I learned, from our experience in Cairns, if you are going to be in a place for several days, it might be an idea to check out the price of an apartment instead of a hotel room. It might be cheaper and you can make your own meals. Food was expensive so we were lucky enough to save money while we were in Cairns by making a lot of our own meals.
d) Research transportation options
The two 'tours' (snorkelling and rainforest) we went on included a shuttle ride to and from. It still cost us but was cheaper than renting a car or getting a taxi. However, we did rent a car to drive to Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation but it ended up being cheaper than the bus ride/tour and we had more flexibility.
ETA Side note: Some restaurants are "BYO". This means you can take your own wine and just pay a small corkage fee. This is a brilliant idea and we took advantage of it more than once. I'd rather pay $15 for a bottle of wine than $45. Wish we had that in Canada.
I have a few points about this so you may want to refill your glass.
a) We were 'on the ground' in Australia for about 12 days and one thing people said to me before we left was "it's too bad you can't go for longer, it's such a long way". My response was "I've been to Singapore for 2 days, so 12 days will be a luxury!". It was a luxury and really felt so lucky to just be going. It was the longest I have ever spent in one country. In addition, the reality was that Karl has limited vacation time from work, I took unpaid leave from my new job and staying any longer would have been stretching our budget. We did so much in that 12 days - celebrated Australia Day (the day we arrived was Australia Day - awesome to be part of the celebrations), saw a show at the Sydney Opera House, climbed up one of the pylons on the Harbour Bridge, walked on the beach, had an amazing time staying with friends (thanks Alex, Tamlin & Iara!), drank wine on the beach in Cairns, ate Australian mangos and drank Australian coffee on the balcony of our apartment, snorkelled the reef, took a train through/a gondola over/walk in the rainforest, drove to Cape Tribulation, listened to the lorikeets & kookaburras, watched the ibis, drove through the foggy Blue Mountains, went wine tasting in the sunshine in Mudgee, searched for (and found) kangaroos in Booderee National Park (south of Sydney)... we really felt like we had a long, relaxing, full vacation and didn't miss out on anything.
b) Have been thinking about my 'big' birthday for a while now and wondering how I was going to cope with it. I didn't deal well with my 'lead-up' birthday last year (which is unusual, age doesn't usually bother me), for a number of reasons, so am determined to have a good attitude. It's starting with really enjoying this vacation and knowing I am healthy and happy. I hope I don't look my age and I know I don't act it. Karl has been my role model for this as he dealt with his big birthday really well and continues to have a fabulous attitude about his age (again, he doesn't look or act his age). More than once on this trip, I semi-confidently wore a bikini in public so I figure I'm doing ok so far...
c) I went back to work the day after we got back with no signs of jet lag (got home this past Tuesday). I also had some evening events to attend this past week too and everyone asked why I wasn't tired. (Note: the time difference between here and Sydney is 19 hours). Karl and I have a system to combat jet lag. We set our watches to our destination time and sleep/stay awake accordingly. Upon arrival in Sydney/home we did nap a bit but really made an effort to stay awake until our normal bedtime. We were successful in our sleeping schedule adjustments in both directions. Another part of our system is attitude and determination. When we arrived in Sydney, we did not dwell on 'what time it was at home'. On arriving home, we also stayed busy, kept our bodies and minds occupied with other things, fought through small moments of fatigue. I suffered more from sandals & shorts withdrawal that I did from jet lag... hee, hee.
d) Australian Shiraz tastes fabulous, even if you drink it out of tumblers or china cups. :)
The first photo is from the beach across from our place in Cairns (shhhh, we smuggled wine onto the beach). The second is from our last night, at a hotel on the outskirts of Sydney.
6. We need to win the lottery so we can travel more and fly business class :)
As mentioned, we were lucky enough to fly business on our 14 hour flight. We've both done it before (getting periodically upgraded when we were flying for work) and it's just so much for comfortable & quiet and the food is better. Never hurts to dream, right? As far as future travel goes, we've decided to do an international trip every two years. And why not? We have a long list of places to see and we travel well together. :)
Next stop, Thailand and Cambodia.
Hope you survived my ramblings. We took over 500 photos and I've subsampled them down to around 40 and you can see them here. I still may add a few more... it's been a busy week, catching up on things, so haven't had a lot of time.
ETA - If you want to check out a real travel blog, stop by One Giant Step, written (really well) by my good friend Gillian.
Thanks for sticking with this extended post. Hope you enjoyed hearing about the trip! (Just realized how many food and drink pictures I posted. Yes, we do like our food and beverages)