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Australia Continued - Excursions

Australia Continued - Excursions
Koala Bear - Featherdale Wildlife Park
Koala Bear - Featherdale Wildlife Park

June 2007 - Excursion time!  Our group more than quadrupled in size as we met up with the other volunteer teams at the Wake Up! Sydney hostel downtown. I had never stayed in a hostel before and had no idea what to expect. The modern decor played to the younger clientele while music videos danced on the surrounding TVs.  My room consisted of three bunk beds... and no bathroom.  We instead had to walk down the hall to a public bathroom and shower area.


Sydney

Our first day was a free day. So, what did I do? Shopping! Oh, the shopping... I passed mall after mall from downtown to the ocean. 

Bypassing the aquarium, which seemed to be everyone else's top spot, I instead went into every store I could, hunting 'Made in Australia' souvenirs; harder than it sounds. My day ended at the pier where I snapped a couple blurry photos of the Sydney Opera House - I blame the camera not the user!
Sydney Opera House
Blurry Opera House

Side note: Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way; as proven by a city bus almost hitting the couple crossing the street in front of me. The guy smacked the side of the bus a few times and the driver retaliated by laying on his horn.
That night I spent time meeting new friends in the lounge/kitchen area and watching movies.  Several of my group went out drinking, maybe having too much fun... The next morning the guy (yes, our room was co-ed) still asleep on the top bunk across from me had a bit of an accident.  As the rest of us started to pack, we heard the sound of running water. We searched and found a steady stream of pee pouring into a puddle on the empty bunk below him. Ah, memories!

Featherdale Wildlife Park
Featherdale Wildlife Park
Featherdale Wildlife Park

A chartered coach sat on the curb awaiting our group. Once everyone had piled on the bus (the stragglers being the most hungover), we ventured back to familiar territory; a sightseeing tour of the Blue Mountains... Yay? I had just spent two weeks sightseeing and hiking the Blue Mountains. Anyway, I decided to walk around Katoomba and got the top of my ear pierced - my souvenir.  
Kangaroos roaming around Featherdale Wildlife Park.
Kangaroos roaming around the park.

Back on the bus we headed on our way toward Byron Bay, but first, a pit-stop at the Featherdale Wildlife Park.  As we walked past several varieties of caged birds, we came into an area where kangaroos roamed free - that was pretty cool! They were very curious about us. One insisted on being my friend and continued to try and take my jacket.  

Kangaroo trying to take my jacket.
Kangaroo trying to take my jacket.

The farther along we went, the more a pattern emerged - albino kangaroo, albino wallaby, albino peacock, etc.  
albino peacock
Albino Peacock

Albino Kangaroos
Albino Kangaroos

Albino Wallaby
Albino Wallaby

Byron Bay
iron musicians at our hostel
Our Hostel

Byron Bay, in my opinion, is the epitome of a laid-back surfer town. Instead of beachy tourist stores, there were local artisan shops - and women dressed as fairies who didn't shave...

Our next hostel greeted us with a band of iron musicians. Unlike Wake Up!, it resembled a motel, complete with beach towels hung out to dry over the entire second floor railing.

Forgoing paying for surf lessons (I didn't have that much money left over as it was), I decided to hike to the lighthouse - Australia's eastern most point. Why not? The trek was along the beach, and I could watch the migrating whales. As I peered from the bottom of the lighthouse into the water, I stared, almost in horror, as the surfers below disregarded the jagged rocks surrounding them.
Surfers at Byron Bay
Surfers at Byron Bay

Fraser Island
fraser island maheno shipwreck
Maheno Shipwreck - Fraser Island

Back on the bus we headed for the barge to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Australia has a lot of 'Only' and 'Most in the world's. Our group separated into several 4x4 vehicles for a tour driving along part of the 75 mile beach. My SUV's Aussie driver served as our guide and pointed out the rainbow cliffs (we couldn't figure out where they got 'rainbow' from; I hate feeling so ignorant) until we pulled up to the Maheno shipwreck; a beached 400 ft long, steel-hulled ocean liner.  Although afraid of tetanus from the pile of rust, we ventured closer. Our guides stated that it had been used as target practice by the military, but there were too many rust holes to spot any real bullet holes.

Next, we headed for a dip in the Champagne Pool, the only part of the entire Fraser Island beach we were allowed to swim in because of a shark infestation. Its rock barrier kept us safe while waves splashed over onto us.
Fraser Island Champagne Pool
Champagne Pool - Fraser Island

Dried up and back in the vehicles, our next stop was Indian Head. I craned my neck to look straight up the steep rock face.  Well then, let's go! We hiked along a grass path to the top of the cliff and looked cautiously over the edge... Sharks circled in the clear blue water below. At a closer look down, we also pinpointed several dropped cameras resting on rock ledges just out of reach. Be careful!  
indian head cliff fraser island
Indian Head Cliff

Back down at the beach we had apparently attracted some visitors; two dingoes were scampering around.  They had beautiful golden fur with a black patch and... jewelry? Each of them had a tag in one ear - apparently they need to be tracked.
Fraser Island Dingo
Fraser Island Dingo

This time, our hostel's rooms were spread out like cabins, with one convenience store next to the large cafeteria where we gathered for dinner.  After dinner, our leader had us pick one person from each of our groups to participate in what she called a 'Tim Tam Slam'. A Tim Tam is a chocolate covered wafer cookie, or biscuit, shaped as a rectangle. We all cheered on our teammates as they bit two corners (diagonally) off of their cookie, ran across the room to use it like a straw to suck up all the milk from their glass, eat the cookie, and then run back to start. My group didn't win, but it was fun to watch.

Cairns
community pool cairns
Cairns - Community Pool

Our last hostel was Gilligan's in the heart of Cairns; another modern building tailored toward the younger traveler. Covering most of the ground floor, besides the small lobby, was a large bar and an outside pool, complete with a sandy beach surround. 

After quickly dropping off our bags in our rooms, we loaded back on the bus and headed a ways away to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.  Musicians performed in native costume with didgeridoos and later instructors in similar garb taught us how to throw a boomerang and use an atlatl to fling a spear.
Sidenote: I won a boomerang for knowing what an atlatl was! It's the tool used to thrust the spear. Thank you anthropology classes!
That afternoon, back in Cairns, we met at 'Reef Teach' to learn how we could lessen our footprint and respect the aquatic life when visiting the Great Barrier Reef the next day. Refreshments were served and I tasted Milo for the first time, a chocolaty drink that I was not fond of - it did NOT taste like hot chocolate, as the lady suggested.

For dinner, my group decided to go out, just us, as a last goodbye before our trip was over; we had all grown so close and weren't ready to go home.  Our first stop was to a second floor Mexican restaurant.  The sign read 'Wait to be seated', but the staff continued to pass us by. Finally, we stopped a waiter and asked for a table. He begrudgingly walked us out onto the balcony and asked us for our drink order - we all said water. After about 20 minutes of looking over the menu, watching him touch tables around us, and still no water, we waved him back. He stated no separate checks and walked away.  Of course, we got up and left.  Instead we settled on a fancy restaurant where I ordered crocodile sausage! A much better choice. :)

On The Water

The staff of our chartered boat (yacht?) welcomed us aboard early the next morning for our long voyage out to the Great Barrier Reef. Taking turns in teams, a small group at a time, we jumped off the back of the boat and snorkeled around the reef.  It was difficult to see anything; the water was a bit choppy and stirred up the sand, but I was able to make out a giant blue clam and several blue starfish.  
snorkeling the great barrier reef
Snorkel Selfie

A couple hours later we stopped at a sand bar; some people laid out, while others, including myself, tried again to see some of the exotic marine life.  As I was admiring a school of silvery fish, I noticed something slithering along the bottom - a black and white eel!  It turned and lunged at me, so I quickly took a picture before swimming away... Just ignore me!
black and white eel great barrier reef
EEEELLLLL!!!!!

A glass bottom boat arrived to take us around the reef, but it wasn't any better. Not only were one of the glass bottom panels filled with water, but it was still to cloudy to see anything vividly.

The waves grew worse as we tried to make our way back to shore; the trip took twice as long as before.  When we finally touched land, no one wanted to make the trek back to the hostel, but somehow we did it.  Passing by the park with the public pool, someone asked why there were no beaches in Cairns, to which our guide explained: because of the sharks. How many times had I heard warnings about sharks this trip?
blue pacific ocean
So blue...

On our last full day in Australia, it rained, but luckily we were going to be in the water anyway, so we soldiered on. White water rafting in grade III and IV rapids along the Tully River was amazing! The surrounding rain forest towered over us as we swerved through the rocks.  We stopped once to climb a slippery, slender monolith and jump into the icy water; yeah, worth it!  The raft company had prepared a lunch for us down river, and as we arrived, our guide purposely flipped us!
white water rafting tully river
White Water Rafting
tully river rapids
Rapids - Tully River

Goodbye

It was a long sad goodbye dinner as we shared photos and stories before boarding our planes the next morning for home. I had amazing experiences and hope to go back soon for new ones all these years later!
qantas to lax
Qantas - Home

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