Sunday, November 5, 2017

August 2017 Australian Family Trip

Melbourne - Uluru - Cairns - Cradle Mountain
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Tuesday 15 August
After an interesting beginning (delayed flight from JFK to LAX resulting in a missed connection to MEL, change to LAX to Brisbane to MEL) we arrived in Melbourne Thursday morning, 11:30am, only 4 hours late. Ultimately, it meant we arrived at the same time as my dad who was flying in from Perth, so we met him at luggage and brought him into the city with us. Gen had cleared the day in preparation for our arrival and was there to greet us with a sparkling house and her usual generosity. Dad is staying 15 mins away in a big old house (The Toorak Manor) and Charles shuttled him back and forth.
Dad had inadvertently left one of his bags, the one containing those special things he had brought for me from Perth, at the luggage carousel. Charles drove him back to the airport calling Qantas luggage on the way to claim the bag. Luckily it was there and they arrived back at Gen’s very happy.

Thursday-Sunday 17-20 August
The next few days were purely family days, walks to the local park, a trip to Bounce with the kids, relaxing at Gens, and a lovely dinner at Lisa’s Port Melbourne home (which made quite the impression on our boys. Her husband Graham has an impressive eclectic art collection and gave the boys a ride in his Ferrari). Yesterday, mum visited for a while and stayed for a family meal.

Monday 21 August
Today we are driving down to The Great Ocean Road. The weather started out as dismal, but the car was cozy, and the music of angels (Brahms choral music) quietly added to the awe and beauty of Australian landscape opening before our eyes at every turn in the road. Dad is with us. Max slept and Riley read. This is a rare moment creating memories for us and the boys to treasure.
Riley entertained us with his Aussie accent which is very good. As we neared the ocean the sky cleared somewhat and the yellow brilliance of the blooming wattle trees against the green of the fields was on display. When we got out of the car at the first stopping point (the Gibson Steps) it was windy and cold. We bundled up and walked the 100 meters down the path to see the stunning view of the blue blue ocean crashing with white foam against the yellow limestone cliffs and promontories. How gorgeous!
We saw London Bridge which fell in the 1990s and several arches which hadn’t fallen. The limestone columns are called the 12 Apostles but there aren’t 12 anymore. New ones are being cut and others are collapsing. Riley and Charles hiked to a series of blowholes which are about 500 meters inland from the shore. They hopped the fence and walked closer to the edge of them -- not very smart -- but they got some good photos and video. We drove back to Gen’s and made in time for another delicious dinner. Tomorrow we fly out early to Uluru.

Tuesday 22 August
We rose early, wheeled our bags out to the car, had a quick brekkie, bid Gen and the kids a temporary farewell, and headed for Tullamarine airport. Our 3hr flight to Uluru arrived early on the Yulara airport tarmac. We hired a car and drove directly to Uluru National Park.
We arrived at the base of Uluru to find the climb closed due to high wind at the summit so transitioned to plan B. The walk around the base which took approximately a 2 ½ hours was a fun but rather hot and windless! As luck would have it, when we approached the end of the circumlocution hike, the climb was open. Although tired, we were eager to climb so we refilled our water bottles and Plan A was set in motion. Both plans were accomplished in 1 day. Not bad at all.
Charles and I are perhaps not the spritely mountain goats we were 20 yrs ago, (perhaps I should only be speaking for myself. I made it ¾ of the way there, whereas Charles made it all the way to the summit with the boys). I never would have dreamed in a thousand years that we would be climbing the rock again in this lifetime, let alone with 2 magnificent boys. It was a true challenge and privilege. Moments we can only cherish and be eternally grateful for.
Riles and Max scaled the rock in record time, but not without making sure their parents were Aok the whole way up AND down. We were supposed to be taking care of them, but quickly it's becoming apparent that they are assuming the role of caretakers and protectors. They are fast becoming fine young men, thoughtful, sensitive and genuine (true blue, through and through), we couldn't be more proud.
The climb took roughly 2 hours, with a few pit stops along the way. I stopped to meditate at MY summit, and the boys went on to theirs. Charles misstepped on the way back from the summit and toppled over. He twisted his ankle pretty badly and skinned his knee. Luckily they were still out of my sight otherwise I would have flipped out! When they arrived back at MY summit Charles was limping and bleeding. He put on a good show that everything was ok but his ankle swelled up like a cantaloupe by the time we arrived back at the hotel.
The subject of discussion on the descent revolved around whether we found the ascent or descent more challenging. We all had slightly different views, Riles found the ascent more challenging, Max, the descent, Charles the ascent and I thought both were difficult.  
It was a tired, elated family to arrive back in the car that afternoon. We wove our way out of the National Park and toward our hotel (The Pioneer Outback Lodge), checked in, found food in the only supermarket in town (tucked away in the funny little town and by no means easy to spot), bought muffins, water, energy bars, and various supplies, headed for the hotel, gobbled down meatless burgers (bought by mistake!), and cheesy cheesy pizza, then flopped into bed, lights out, eyes closed, deep in slumber by 9pm. 4 tired puppies indeed.

Wednesday 23 August
Having completed 2 of the chosen walks yesterday, we dragged ourselves out of bed, (Charles had gotten up early and watch the sunrise from a viewing point near the hotel) somewhat replenished and VERY sore. We headed for Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) to walk the “Valley of The Winds” (roughly 5 km). 2 ½ hours later we had completed the spectacular trail which had us oohing and ahhing at the bold contrasts in color, (bright blue of the sky, laced with mackerel clouds, deep oranges and reds in the rocky landscape and olive greens of the Eucalyptus trees.) There was natural beauty around every twist and turn. Simply gorgeous.
The Valley of The Winds kept us interested and challenged without totally overtaxing our very tired legs. It also provided a plethora of opportunities for excellent pictures and videos. The cleverly positioned pit stops providing drinking water were very welcome along the way and the weather was extremely kind.
Our final destination presented a comparatively easy walk through a very impressive Gorge, with the added bonus of befriending Logan, a young boy age 7 from Wangaratta. He adopted us for the journey (he was way in front of his parents) and we had a good Aussie chat pertaining to everything from the boots he was wearing to the place he lived. Riley had been using the name “Wangaratta” in his Aussie monologues so it was serendipitous that this boy lived there. What are the odds of making friends with a young boy from Wangaratta at Uluru?
Charles and Max took the opportunity to refresh themselves in the pool when we arrived back that afternoon. And refreshed is putting it mildly. The temperature wasn't all that warm, probably about 65°! Riles and I opted for the room and legs up, devices on. We viewed the setting sun at 6:30, dined on outback burgers (with meat and the rest -- egg, pineapple, beetroot, a true Aussie burger). Back at the hotel we played a game of pool, attempted to view The Milky Way a 9pm (not visible due to cloud cover), and tucked ourselves in at 9:30pm.

Thursday 24 August
Charles woke us early for the sunrise on Uluru and The Olgas in the distance. Gorgeous, peaceful, with pretty pinks and blues. We checked out early (around 8) and headed for what we hoped would be another climb to the summit of Uluru. Alas, it was again closed due to windy conditions at the summit. We can't pretend to have been a touch disappointed but also filled with a sense of gratitude at having had the good fortune of climbing it the first day. Here, in the middle of Australia, you are at the mercy of the winds and the weather. And, as a gentleman, who had climbed the rock with us the first day had pointed out “you've got to take advantage of the moment, as you never know when the climb might be open next.”
With hours to fill in, we meandered around the base, took a 2km walk to the Cultural Center, purchase a real Aussie Pastie, a Mars Bar, some pressies for Amy and Natalie, admired the Indigenous art, headed back to the car, and on to the airport.  Goodbye Uluru. Hello Cairns.
Our flight from Uluru to Cairns took 3hrs. It was smooth and had us arriving 15 mins ahead of schedule. We exchanged our “wee car” for a slightly bigger one Truly, WEE 243 was our car’s license plate number and it was way too small for the 4 of us and had passers-by literally giggling at our not so lucky rental. We headed for Trinity Beach just as the sun was going down. Charles navigated the left side of the road with great aplomb. We really were just following our noses with a tiny bit of help from Google maps. We stopped for groceries and supplies at a huge shopping complex bookmarked by Woollies at one end, Coles at the other. Our main mission was to purchase washing powder and a chickie for Riles. Both were most difficult to acquire, for different reasons. The last of the chickie was gone from the spit (the new ones not ready for another hour), and the washing detergent we almost forgot to buy. A last minute duck back into Woollies and a quick stop at Dan Murphy’s for beer and wine, and we were heading north in direction of our apartment.
A 10-minute drive took us into the gated driveway and to the teenie #15 car space. We lugged our MANY bags (luckily there was an elevator) to the 4th floor and into our extremely palatial Belleview apartment. What a Belle view it had. The boy's excitement upon opening the door and exploring the rooms was priceless. They thought they had struck Aussie gold.
The huge spacious apartment had an ocean-facing bedroom with ensuite bathroom and enormous jacuzzi, a huge living area with full kitchen, two more bedrooms, another bathroom, and the crucial laundry with washer and dryer. It really did seem like gold after our very long travel day. We gobbled down our chicken, the scrumptious sushi, chocolate, and magnums, and began to settle in. Charles made headway with the wash (and boy were our clothes dirty), the boys showered and we all crashed into bed around 10:30 exhausted.

Friday 25 August
We woke up this morning to the sound of waves breaking, a gentle breeze, and warm sunlight creeping in through the cracks in the blinds, needless to say, we were very pleased that we had no place to go. Today was a rest day. A swim in the pool, a soak in the jacuzzi, and a stroll along the beach was all the energy we could muster. Tomorrow we will be up bright and early for our drive to Cairns pier and our boat excursion to the reef.

Saturday 26 August   Snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef
What greater thing can a person do when visiting the Northern coast of Australia than take a day trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth, The Great Barrier Reef. Today we did just that, and not surprisingly, had the time of our lives. We rose early, and by 6:45am we were on our way into Cairns, boarding the Seacrest and heading out of the bay around 8am. The sea was calm, the sky was blue and the temperature perfect. Our crew of 7 were young, informative, and enthusiastic (clearly, they love what they do). Most importantly, they were reassuring. We were treated to tea and muffins then fitted with wetsuits, goggles, and flippers. Jana, our German crew member, gave us an idea of how the day would run.
Our first stop was (Michaelmas Cay). A little tidbit of information, we discovered that a Cay is different from an island. An island is made up of sand and vegetation, whereas a Cay is composed of Parrotfish poo formed over time on top of the coral. Amazingly, this was something Charles knew but did not tell the boys for fear that they wouldn’t want to walk on the sandbar made from fish poo.
At the end of the day, we all agreed this was our snorkeling place of preference. We were taken to the Cay in a glass bottom boat where we donned flippers and demisted goggles, and then, when comfortable, navigated past the baby sharks (harmless as puppies) out to explore the reef with our snorkeling guide. After an hour or so we were back on board the SeaCrest and on our way to Hayman Reef. We had lunch on board and were amused by a Brit who removed wet electronic car keys from his swimming trunks (oops) then accidentally dropped his silverware into the ocean. The crew gave a presentation on the reef so the time passed very quickly.
Upon arrival at Hayman Reef, we were given another quick safety briefing and got back in our wetsuits. This time we had to launch off the back of the boat, in contrast to the Cay and the waves were bigger and ocean deeper. It was a little more disconcerting so Max and I decided to give this snorkel a miss whilst Charles and Riles headed out to the reef with our guide. While they were snorkeling Max and I took the glass-bottomed boat tour. We saw lots of enormous clams, giant fish and a great deal of coral, ranging from antler coral (which grows the fastest but is the most fragile), to brain coral, plate coral, and various other types, obviously named for the shapes and likeness. The homeward bound journey was pretty rocky due to a change of tide and winds, There were a few seasick passengers including the luckless Brit.
We were pretty tired when we arrived back at the apartment. Charles had excelled in his planning of our spectacular day. He had achieved his goal and couldn't be happier with the result. The general consensus for dinner was for a quick burger meal. The conveniently situated Hungry Jacks on the drive north towards Trinity Beach provide the necessary requirement. We left without ketchup so had to make a whirl around the roundabout back to the Hungry Jacks and the drive-thru to the surprise of the clerk.

Sunday 27 August
We had a lazy start to the day. It was definitely well earned. There was no reason to rush out of bed. Instead, we had the luxury of sleeping in, watching the sun rise slowly on the horizon, enjoying coffee and muffins on the balcony and time to reflect on our trip thus far. The general consensus, AWESOME.
After tossing around a few ideas, we decided on a visit to Hartley’s Croc Farm, about a 30-minute drive north toward Port Douglas. We spent a full day with enormous (and I mean, enormous) crocs, cute koalas, wallabies, and cassowaries. The highlight of the day was definitely the crocodile feeding and the “Croc Attack Show”. For the boys, it was especially fun to hear the true blue Aussie accent and good ‘ole Aussie lingo.
Back at the apartment, we spent time swimming, resting and regrouping. The time has come to pack our bags and sadly bid farewell to this beautiful part of the world. Tomorrow we head for yet another, equally beautiful and wildly diverse part of Australia -- Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

Monday 28 August  Travel Day --destination -- Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.
We were in the car and on our way by 8am and motoring south towards the Cairns airport. After delivering the rental car we checked our bags, went through security and waited for our flight. We had to stop in Melbourne and change planes. Max was delighted that we were on a propeller plane to Launceston. That was a short flight but was delayed which unfortunately got us in just at sunset. Charles was hoping to have daylight for the 2-hour drive to Cradle Mountain but that didn’t happen.
The evening before Charles had written out specific directions (the roads don’t have numbers only names, and the names change along the way!) and had sent them to my phone. I acted as navigator as we twisted and turned our way higher and higher. Luckily it was just above freezing so we didn’t have any ice problems. We did see quite a few wallabies hopping about, however.
We arrived at the Cradle Mountain Lodge about 7pm, got our cabin and unpacked. There was a lovely fireplace in the room that made it very cozy. The rooms only sleep 3 so we got a rollaway for Riley. (The deal had already been made.) The rollaway support was hammock-like so we put the mattress on the floor and put the frame in the hallway. We all were very comfortable, if cozy.

Tuesday 29 August   Charles Birthday
We woke early, gobbled down a huge delicious buffet breakfast (eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread, pastries, muesli, yogurt, juice, pancakes, fruit, tea, and coffee)  Charles surreptitiously made several sandwiches and snagged some fruit and other goodies for our hike that day. Proteined up and ready to go, we jumped in the car and headed for Dove Lake parking lot. We had to pass through a gate which allowed only a certain number of cars in at a time. Luckily we were early and got right in. What we hadn’t done was by a park pass at the headquarters both because we didn’t know we had too and we didn’t see the headquarters because it was dark when we came in the night before. So we just took a punt. We parked in the lot right in front of a sign that said, “Display Your Park Pass”.
We got our gear on and headed down some stairs, across a wooden bridge and up along the east side of the Dove Lake circuit (Truganini Track). The path was sometimes a rocky trail and other times a wooden walkway to protect the foliage. There were many magical rainbows all along the way. They were so close, vivid and bright that we had to stop often to wonder at them. We followed the trail to the southern end of the lake then turned further south and up through the magical Ballroom Forest. This “rainforest (Riley said technically it was NOT a rain forest) was right out of the film Lord of the Rings. It
was dense with moss-covered trees, giant ferns and strange looking plants growing out of stark jutting rocks. As we were on the leeward side of the mountain and walking up we got warm very quickly. Charles took off his jacket and sweater and just wore his rain jacket for the rest of the hike. We passed Lake Wilks and kept ascending on the trail which wasn't without chains. The climb did raise my level of anxiety just a touch, but once past the chains, I was fine.
The weather had altered again (it changed about every 15 minutes or 100 meters of altitude) and it was now snowing. We were walking through icy slush. The track was snow covered and challenging in places, but nothing we couldn't handle, we are hiking pros after all. We had a fun snowball fight (Charles said he'd never had a snowball fight on his birthday before!) and got a bit wet breaking through the ice and stepping into the deep slush. A Canadian and Dutch couple came up behind us so we knew we were not the only crazies out. However, they had no idea where they were! We led them to the junction of the Summit trail
At a junction, we flirted with the idea of veering left and climbing to the summit of Cradle Mountain, but given the weather and the 3 feet of snow cover, we decided to continue straight ahead. We came to another junction which had a sign pointing south saying “Overland Trail”. This was the trail we needed to take back to the car park but it was pointing in the opposite direction of the car park. We discussed with the other couple which way to proceed and after much indecision, Charles took off heading north and we followed.  We walked past the “kitchen hut” (a rest spot) along the Overland Trail, navigating 6-foot drifts of snow, ever-changing weather conditions (pockets of wind, heavy snow, light snow, and sleet) to Marion's Lookout. At the lookout, we got an amazing view of the area with all of its lakes and jagged rocky scenery. There was still the occasional snow shower to obscure our vision but it was gorgeous. We deliberated upon which route to take home, the one with chains or the one without. We took the alternative route back to Dove Lake (a small battle of wills, 3 boys to 1 girl, with mom winning the battle) then onward passing Wombat Pool, and Lila Lake and finally back to the car park (16km and 4 hours later).
We returned to the cabin around 4pm and chilled for a couple of hours before heading to the restaurant for Charles’ birthday dinner. The restaurant was pretty swish as was the food. I think Charles would have been happy with anything. This birthday was particularly special for him. He had planned such an adventurous vibrant dynamic vacation with his family and it's obvious he has achieved and accomplished everything he set out to do. I awe at how much energy and enthusiasm he has for life. On the way to dinner, we saw quite a few wombats feeding in a large open field. They were fat and happy. There were also many wallabies hopping about.

Wednesday 30 August   Half day at Cradle Mountain and flight to Melbourne
After another sumptuous breakfast, we drove back to Cradle Mountain car park. We still hadn’t gotten a park pass (no ticket the day before!) but today Charles left a note on the dashboard saying that we promised to buy a pass on the way out of the park. That seemed to work fine as we didn’t get a citation and bought the pass later.
At Riley's suggestion, we decided to take the track to Hanson’s Peak for a magnificent view. We actually had blue sky for short periods and the boys were happy to have climbed to a summit. It may not have been the Cradle Mountain summit,  but it was very majestic. The weather was still changeable but it was less moist so no rainbows. On the way back, Max slipped and bruised his thigh, luckily no broken bones. And so, we were in the car and on the road again, heading to Launceston airport.
Charles hired yet another car in Melbourne and in no time at all, we were on our way to Gen’s. She had prepared a tasty pasta meal for us upon arrival (she truly is the most generous of sisters). Then it was early to bed.

Thursday 31 August
Free day. Relaxing at Gens. A little time with mum to help her pack for her trip.

Friday 1 September  Day at the Australian Ballet Centre
This morning we went to St Kilda in hopes of walking around my old apartment. But the code to the gate had been changed, so we settled for a quick squizzy from the outside then took a walk down Acland St to Luna Park and The Palais Theatre. Next stop was 2 Kavanagh St and The Australian Ballet. Lynne McDougal met us at the front desk. And we made our way through the corridors, watching a little of the end of class, chatting to people in the cafeteria, Olivia Bell, Fiona Tonkin, David McAllister, Liz Toohey, Val ( my dresser), David Hallberg, and Gillian Murphy who were guesting with the AB.
After an hour or so Fiona took us over to the theatre where we watched a stage call of Christopher Wheeldon's Alice, then into the city in search of the perfect stuffed koala for Riles to give Natalie and a few souvenir tea-towels. We took the boys through the decorative Block Arcade, then a walk around the Tan before going back to the theatre for the 6pm performance of Symphony in C and a few other short works. Max was impressed with the company, we all were. At the interval and at the end of the show we went backstage. It was fun to walk the same hallways I had traversed, time and again in my ballet career, a trip down memory lane and an opportunity to share a little of it with the boys.

Saturday 2 September
Another restful day. Lisa popped over for an impromptu coffee, I went to mum's to spend some time with her, the boys enjoyed Bounce one more time, then a tasty Thai meal, family photos and an early evening.

Sunday 3 September  Homeward Bound
We were up at 6am, in the car at 7, and boarding the Qantas A380 direct from Melbourne to LA. What an amazing few weeks we have had. Perfect planning from Charles in every way. We have spent time with family and friends, hiked, climbed, and snorkeled, in some of the most gorgeous places in Australia. The boys have been such excellent travelers and Charles an excellent tour guide, leader, father, and husband. We are a fortunate family indeed. I hope there are many more family experiences for us to share in the future.

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