|Pretty much ALL of Europe doesn't even fill Oz up...|
Granted, 98% of Australia's land mass (verily all but the fringes along the eastern and southeastern edges) is... utterly deserted.
Still, I only had but 20-some days to explore the entire continent - I mean, try traversing the U.S. coast from say... New York to D.C. to Florida, to Texas, to California, to Seattle - oh and, toss in a quick trip to the Grand Canyon while you're at it - all in but 21 days. Needless to say, not gonna happen. So the best I could do with Oz on this trip, was make a bitty dent and hit a smattering of highlights.
Oz included: 6 nights (broken up) in Sydney, and 14 toddlin' no less than 1,200+ miles up the coast to Hervey Bay (via hop on/off Greyhound bus), plus the crème de la crème: 2 nights under the ancient eyes of the majestic Uluru in Australia's Outback (a.k.a. the truly freekin' middle of NOWHERE!)
The Details and Rubles: Firstly, an 8 hour bus from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City (less than 10 bucks) on 28 October. Dinner w/ my good chum Hang, and overnight at my favorite little Saigon hotel (Tyna, $12).
|"Kinetic Rain" computerized sculpture at Changi|
Still, Changi is so chock-full of freebies to do whilst in transit, the hours flew by as I A. found a geocache in the airport's "Butterfly Garden", B. took a (free!) 2 hour "Singapore at Night" bus tour, C. snapped pics of the wondrous "Kinetic Rain" sculpture in Terminal 1, and D. E. and F. dozed comfortably in the nifty "Snooze Lounge".
|Changi, I HEART you!|
Given the breathtaking spendiness of Australia (especially whence dropping in after a year in cheapo Asia), I opted to save a few pennies by couchsurfing. And oh my - the CS folks I met in Oz turned out to be the most wonderful part of my entire trip!
The plan was to arrive in Sydney, overnight in a hostel to get my bearings, then couchsurf for 2 nights before jumping on a hop on/off Greyhound bus ($220) and make my way slowly up the coast to Port Macquarie, Byron Bay, Noosa, and Hervey Bay. Then fly back to Sydney (JetAir $150) to catch my Virgin Air (no less than 500 smackers rt. for the 3 hr. flight) to Uluru/Ayers Rock. And finally a couple more nights in Sydney before heading back to Singapore (where I couchsurfed a night w/ a most extraordinary lass) and then back to HCMC on 22 November (Thanksgiving in the U.S.) and bus the next day back to Dalat.
Note: Transportation ALONE for this little adventure teeters at more than $1,400! So much for saving a bundle on the < $300 Scoot Air sale that spawned it all, but oh well.
In any case... Far too many details to peck the entire odyssey chronologically, so better I just share a few of the high/low-lights:
Furthermore, I must say - though I tried my level best to catch each and every word on the first go, and always asked exceedingly politely for a repeat and/or a spelling - in general, many of the Aussies seemed quite brusque and impatient, and I often felt far more a "foreigner" in Oz - than I do in VIETNAM!
When I finally found my way to the right bus stop (about 7pm) I politely asked one of the Aussie's waiting, if I needed exact change for the bus, and if so, how much might the fare be? The lass replied, "Oh - it's after 6pm, so you need to buy a ticket in advance for this bus." "Oh dear" says I, "Where might I get a ticket, please?" "Just down the street there at the convenience store." says she. So off I skip to purchase the bus ticket (hoping I don't miss the bus in the meantime). But before I'd taken two steps, a most kindly (likewise lass "of a certain age") stops me and hands me a "pensioner" bus ticket (worth AU$3.20) - "Here" says she, "Welcome to Australia!" Now I ask ya - how nice 'n Oz-friendly is that?
And while we're on the subject of Sydney - two points:
In a word: EXCELLENT! Bounce is ever so conveniently located (right across the street from the Central train station, and within walking distance of most all the Sydney sights), ultra clean and amazingly quiet. The staff too, most friendly and helpful.
|We spotted no less than a DOZEN whales and whalettes swimming south...|
2. Volunteer gig monitoring whales - Surprisingly, given the near GRAND I spent on Uluru, not to mention $300+ for a single DAY trip to Lady Elliott Island (more on these to come) - one of the BEST and most memorable experiences I had in Australia was a pure freebie. A fabulously sunny afternoon monitoring the migration of whales off the coast of Sydney - as a volunteer (ConservationVolunteers.com.au). A most fascinating afternoon, peering through binoculars perched on the most stunning wind-swept cliffs overlooking the Pacific - catching glimpses of gray whales (and their babies) breaching, spouting, and making their merry way steadily south. So fun, and I learned a lot. Plus I honestly felt I'd contributed a smidge to the scientific research on these magnificent creatures of the sea.
|Cute, cuddly, koala (and btw, they are NOT "bears")|
Reuniting with dear Flora of course was just the BEST! It was she who first couchsurfed with ME in SEATTLE - no fewer than FOUR years ago! She is such a delight, and we kept in touch all these years. So of course I was THRILLED to be able to turn the "couch" (tables?) and stay with her in the most beautiful seaside town of Port Macquarie. We had such fun - she took me to a most remarkable "Koala Hospital" so that I could see my first cuddly koala. Leisurely breakfasts on the patio overlooking the Pacific (in the top floor PENTHOUSE where she was housesitting!), "tea-tasting" at a most charming tea shop in Port Macquarie, a delightful local play, and THE most delectable "New Zealand" lamb dinner (Flora's a Kiwi by birth, but has long lived in Oz.)
|Good grief - did I just upload a pic|
of myself in a WETSUIT?
And Jill and Alex - a most friendly family in Mulumbimby (their son is a fellow geocacher!) that instantly made me feel like a member of the family. And when I happened to mention that I'd "love to see a kangaroo", we forthwith all piled into the car (along with their 4 yr. old grandson) and headed for the only "sure thing" kangaroo-wise: the nearby "Macadamia Circus" (a.k.a. uh, the local kid's PETTING ZOO!) A bit pathetic I know, but their grandson loved it, and - on the chance that I'd not happen to see one in the wild in my days to come at Uluru, etc. - at LEAST I could safely say I'd seen a KANGAROO in Australia!
Which nicely segues into...
|WILD kangaroos, people - WILD!|
|Singapore's legendary "Chili Crab" (and it surely was DEElish!)|
Seriously. (As abundantly evidenced here) Couchsurfing is just the BEST, and I honestly can't recommend it more highly. Yes, I saved a bundle of dough on accommodations, but faaaar more importantly, I met a most wonderful bunch of new friends, and learned lots more about Australia and its customs, culture, etc. than I'd ever have at any hotel.
O.k. now, best I wrap this up with but a couple more thumbs-up/down (along with the usual sample of stray pics) - and save the frosting on the Oz-cake (the magnificent ULURU!) for a separate post.
|Lady Elliott Island - the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef|
Still, I'd read that there was a wee island (Lady Elliott) at the southernmost end of the GBR that was reachable by air from Hervey Bay. So... long story short, I threw all fiscal prudence to the wind and... booked a single day trip out to Lady Elliott Island to see just what all the GBR fuss was about. I mean, what's a lass to do? There I am (likely the only time in my life) but a 20 minute plane ride away from snorkeling the great, the GREAT, the G.R.E.A.T.E.S.T. mind you - barrier reef on the PLANET! I'll tell ya what a girl's to do...
Proffer the Plastic: 320 bucks for a DAY TRIP!
|Yup, nice enough. But I've seen better.|
The island was EXQUISITE. Unbelievably pristine and idyllic (not to mention tiny - the runway ran the full diameter of it, yet the plane barely had 50 ft. left when we rolled in to a stop upon landing!)
And yes, the corals of the GBR were MAGNIFICENT. H-U-G-E! Deeeeeep canyons of coral to swim through. Larger than anywhere else I've snorkeled or SCUBA dived.
And oh my YESSSSSSS...
I SWAM WITH A SEA TURTLE! Right there, I could TOUCH the SHELL! It was truly amazing!
But the fish? Schools of color to dazzle the eye and blow the mind? Sharks? Stingrays? Ummm, not so much. Maybe it's 'cuz I've spent so much time snorkeling Belize's reef (but a fraction in length to the GBR, but apparently the longest LIVING reef in the world). Indeed, I've even SCUBA dived the "Blue Hole" in Belize - 160 foot down, thankyouverymuch. And I must say - comparatively, I've seen MANY more fish, more diverse, more colorful - in Belize, than I witnessed on that spendy day trip to the "Great" Barrier Reef.
YMMV, but I'm just sayin'...
Still, that turtle was A.MAZE.ING. And (almost) worth the 3 c-notes I spent to swim for 15 minutes with it.
O.k. enough here already (surely some kind of tome-post record, no?) Uluru (which truly was aSTOUNDing!!!) shall have to wait for a future post. My poor fingers are pretty much whipped here, so I'll just plop a few more pics and call this good.
|The icon of Oz (Sydney Opera House)|
|The jacaranda trees were all in bloom in Sydney|
|A most welcome bit of news on November 6th (and it wasn't the Vegemite that made me smile)|
|Requisite TL toes in situ - on the LEFT bank of the Pacific rather than the right...|
|Sunrise Beach, Noosa (on the Sunshine Coast)|
|Seriously. A "punnet" people? A PUNNET?? I mean, what is THAT? A diminutive PUN???|
|The TravelnLass does Singapore (on a 2 hour freebie tour to while-away a 12 hour layover)|
* btw, I was WRONG in my last post (Wordless Wednesday: Uluru...) to say that Oz is larger than the U.S. and all of Europe COMBINED. Sorry, what was I thinking? It's AFRICA that's so HUGE. Still, Australia's no lightweight in the land-mass department, and I managed to explore but a smidge of it.