Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Sunday, September 25, 2016

River Fire – and On the Buses

No, let us assure you that Brisbane has not burnt to the ground.  River Fire was the name of the fireworks spectacular, set up on pontoons on the Brisbane River, which we watched from our 22nd floor dining room last night.  Thousands of people had staked their claims to a good spot on the river bank during the day, taking the families, supplies, seats and blankets along to watch this annual event.  It started off with four rather noisy Army helicopters,  making their distinctive sound as they flew along the river and over the heads of the crowds.  Not to be outdone, two jets then streaked up and down the river, putting on a great show.  Much too fast to get caught on our cameras, of course.  Then the sun started to sink in the west, and the countdown to 7.00pm began.  Then over the course of 30 minutes, 11,000kgs of fireworks went up in smoke.

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View from our window, with a glimpse of the Wheel of Brisbane

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It went off with a bang

The next morning we purchased tickets for the Brisbane Explorer bus.  And yes, they had concession prices for a couple of oldies like us – at a saving of $10 each it was well worth asking the question.  To make things even better, our tickets took us on two different  tours around the city.  We love this sort of tour, the commentary points out all sorts of interesting sights and buildings, and gives us a good overview of the city.

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The Brisbane Explorer

We did the Brisbane City Tour first, and drove past little old buildings, churches and government buildings from the early days, side by side with big brassy sky-scrapers – with plenty more under construction, we noticed.  We drove down a narrow street covered over in canopies.  Not as sun protection, we were informed, but because the glass windows keep falling out from the tall building at an alarming rate.  Talk about putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff – why don’t the powers-that-be do something about the defective building?  And do those people sitting below sipping their coffees know of the danger ready to rain down on them?

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Canopies to protect the public from falling windows

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Giant Morton Bay Fig Trees in the city centre

The Windmill Tower was built of sandstone by convicts in 1828, and was the first industrial building in Brisbane.  The windmill blades have long gone, but in their day they were not moved by wind, but by the hard labour of the convicts.

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The Windmill Tower

We just loved the elegant Regatta Hotel with it’s beautiful iron lace verandas.  This heritage listed building now houses cafes, restaurants and bars, and gives rest to back packers.  And Koala House is one of the few two story buildings left in the city.

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Regatta Hotel and Koala House

We stopped at the lookout stop above the Kangaroo Point cliffs which had amazing views over the river and city buildings.

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View from Kangaroo Point cliffs

Our first tour finished and we had a quick lunch at one of the many Food Halls scattered around the CBD.  Robin chose Kentucky Fried and a Coke, and I very bravely tried something different, Saigon Lemongrass Chicken and Noodles, washed down with a glass of Lychee juice.  Very tasty, and we finished in time to board the next bus tour, this one took us up the 800ft Mount Coot-tha.  It used to be known as One Tree Hill, but reverted to the original name of Coot-tha, which means “place of the honey bees”.

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There was a stop of 10 minutes here, which gave us just enough time to scurry up to the lookout which was packed with visitors, take a few photos, and get back to the bus before it departed.  A helpful young tourist took our photo for us.

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View from Mount Coot-tha lookout

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On Mount Coot-tha, with Brisbane in the background.

It was another lovely day out sight seeing – wonder what we will get up to tomorrow?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bustling Brisbane

Brisbane – what a busy, bustling city it certainly is.  We arrived last night, after a 3 1/2 hour flight from Darwin. The plane was full – those in the first class seats had room to spread out, while the rest of us in cattle class were packed in tight. 

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Our plane to Brisbane

On disembarking, we collected our cases and went to get our hire car.  What a comedy of errors that turned our to be.  According to our information we had been booked through Hertz.  Not so – they didn’t have our booking.  Perhaps we were mistaken, and it should have been Avis?  No again.  So the staff on the downstairs desks sent us upstairs to the main offices, so up we went on the escalators, tiredly towing our cases behind up.

The young woman on the upstairs counter at Hertz was very helpful, and when we carefully inspected the voucher in our little hot hands it had the name 'Sixt', who we had never heard of.  She kindly contacted them for us and showed us where to wait for a minibus to take us out to their office which was some distance from the airport.  'Sixt' had a record of our booking but insisted that we had not paid in advance so we had to pay another AUD$380.62 before we could get the car. And we had to renegotiate our drop off time, pay extra to drop the car off at an adjacent business, and then for a shuttle to take us to our early morning flight.   Needless to say, Robin has sent a rather strongly worded email to our travel consultant, and we will be looking for a reimbursment of these extra costs on our return home.  And you really don’t want to know the trouble we had trying to find our way into a strange city in the dark, even with the help of a GPS.  We were definitely not Happy Campers at all.
 
But today’s another day, and after a good night’s sleep, things are better.  Our apartment in the central city is rather swish, and we have a rather nice dining area surrounded by glass on three sides.  It’s a bit like dining up in the clouds.

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We are on the 22nd floor

Our adventure today started with a walk down through the busy Queen Street Mall.  It was full of music and buskers, and crowded with people walking by, or just sitting and enjoying the music.  We continued on our way and walked over the Victoria Bridge across the Brisbane River to Southbank.

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On the way to Victoria Bridge

A large fireworks display was planned for the evening, and many people had already secured their places on the riverbank, setting out their blankets, camping chairs, and chilly bins full of food.  Our goal was to go for a ride on the City Hopper, the free inner city ferry.  And there it was, coming towards us.

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The City Hopper Red Ferry

The free red ferry criss-crosses the river from Victoria Bridge, around Kangaroo Point and all the way up-river to Sydney Street.  Crowds of people got on and off at each stop, and we sat in the back and enjoyed the journey.   The journey took us past some very expensive real estate, lots of rather posh waterside restaurants, a museum, and a hospital, and under several bridges.

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On the Brisbane River

Oh yes, we remember that bridge we just passed under.  It’s the one we drove over by mistake when we took the wrong lane in the dark while trying to find our apartment block.  “Do a U turn”, the GPS repeated, time and again, hardly an option while driving on a busy bridge, is it? 

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The little red ferry took us back to where we wanted to go, and instead of climbing up a whole lot of steep steps, we boarded the glass fronted lift which whisked us up to the street in no time at all.

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A trip in the lift saves our tired legs

That was certainly a fun day, chugging about on the river.  We are not returning in the evening to join the crowds and see the fireworks, and hopefully will be able to catch a glimpse of all the excitement from our 22nd story window which looks down onto the river.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Last Day at the Top End

Today is our last full day at the “Top End”, what Aussies call the Northern Territory.  It’s hot and humid here, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees lately - a bit too hot for a couple of Kiwis.  And there are just two seasons here, the Wet and the Dry, so we’ve been told.

So what should we do on our last day in Darwin, we wondered?  There was plenty to choose from, and we were quite keen to join a coach tour and see the WW11 sites when Darwin was bombed.  Then there was the Hop-on, Hop-off bus that travels around the city.  But after a mammoth 14 hours on the coach the previous day when we visited Kakadu National Park, we were all coached out.  So we started the morning quite calmly, with a leisurely cooked breakfast at the hotel’s Tree Top Restaurant.  And because we had booked the previous night, we got the Early Bird booking special with $6 off each.

Next we had to attend to some laundry duties – after all, just because we are on holiday, the washing still needs to be done.  We had used the washing machine the previous evening, but then found that another guest had used all four of the driers at once for her large load, and they wouldn’t be free for another hour.  There was no way we were going to hang about all hours of the night.  So morning time was drying time.

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My laundry assistant

We got chatting to another couple also attending to their laundry, who told us they were having a tenting holiday for 6 months.  Every now and then they spend a night or two at a motel or hotel for a bit of R&R.  They were going home soon to buy themselves a new caravan, and continue on their travels around Australia.  Robin had a great time chatting to the husband about the differences of caravans, tow cars, and roads between Oz and NZ.

In the end we decided to just have a lazy day at the hotel, it really was too hot to do much else.  We spent the afternoon frolicking in the pool.  OK, not exactly frolicking, just sitting in the water cooling off.  Then relaxing on the deck chairs, sipping on cool drinks.  This is the life!

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We spent the afternoon in the pool area

Nice and refreshed, we are now looking forward to having dinner at the Darwin RSL tonight.  We've checked it out, and it’s close enough to walk to from our hotel.  Then tomorrow, we are on the move again, and flying to Brisbane.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kakadu National Park

This is a place we had read about so it was a must see on this trip.  Mind you, covering an area of 20,000km, we could only see a fraction of it.  Kakadu National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural beauty and as a living cultural landscape.  The Aboriginal people have inhabited Kakadu continuously for more than 50,000 years, tracing back in time to before the last ice age.

Our coach driver picked us up at 6.10am, so it was another early morning start.  First stop was at the Bark Hut,  a cafĂ©, bar, petrol station, motor camp combination type of business.  We enjoyed a little something to fill the gap for our missed breakfast.

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First stop on our trip

Our driver Michael carried two large containers of water and happily filled up passengers water bottles at each stop.  We were reminded to keep drinking water all day – it was so hot and muggy that most of it evaporated away.

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Our friendly coach driver

Our trip was the Yellow Water Billabong Cruise, and we walked a short way to board one of the boats, and were soon on our way, gliding slowly across the water. 

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On the Yellow Water Billabong

It was so lovely and peaceful, calm water surrounded by trees, reeds, and water meadows.
 
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But in the water lurked danger.  It wasn’t too long till we spotted the first crocodile, and she wasn’t at all happy with us venturing into her territory.  Up she swam, and bang, gave the boat a good wallop with her tail!

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First sighting of a croc

There were birds everywhere, in the shallows, up in trees, and further away in the water meadows.  We spotted Magpie and Pigmy geese, and a whole lot of cute little Whistling ducks.

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Geese and Whistling ducks

The boats gently nudged up to the side of the billabong as the guide pointed out one bird after another.  There were rafts of beautiful pink lotus lilies at the waters edge, their large leaves waving slowly in the warm breeze.

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Hello to you, Jabaroo

Our sharp eyed guide spotted a tiny Azure kingfisher in the fork of a tree, and guided the boat in closer so we could get a good look.  The front and back views look quite different, so we were thrilled when he turned around to show off the lovely colours.

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Azure kingfisher

On our way back to the dock, another large croc came into view, making quite a splash.  He was eating a poor little turtle for his dinner, and soon swallowed it all down.  Then the croc just cruised along, giving us the evil eye, to let us know that he is the one in charge here.

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Just finished a turtle dinner

We stopped at a local hotel for a nice refreshing lunch, cold meat and salads, just what we needed on such a hot sticky day.  Then it was time to refill our water bottles, and climb back on-board for a further look around the area.

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The distances are vast in this part of the world, and it was a long trip back to Darwin from Kakadu,  taking 2 1/2 hours.  The sunset was full of lovely colour, starting off moody pink, and fading to a yellow/orange as we got closer to the city.

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Colours in the twilight

It was another lovely day in paradise, we just loved the tiny part of Kakadu which we were taken to see.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pulling into Darwin

Our last day on the Ghan was just as delightful as the rest of the trip.  Our cabin was 5 cars away from the lounge and restaurant car, we found out.  So we explained to the booking officer about my accident and asked if we could possibly be allocated a cabin closer to the facilities.  Sadly, nothing closer was available.  But once the trip was underway, we were told that another couple would change cabins with us.  Their sofa seat faced backwards which they didn’t care for, and was two carriages closer to the lounge, while ours faced forwards.  So a quick change was made, all concerned were thanked profusely, and all parties were happy.  And I had less distance to clomp and stumble awkwardly down the train.

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The lounge area

More unusual items were offered in the restaurant, and we tasted crocodile sausage for breakfast, buffalo curry for lunch, lemon myrtle cheesecake for dessert, all new flavours for us.
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Another tasty meal in the restaurant car

The landscape changed considerably, and we noticed termite mounds dotted around, little ones, and giant sized.  They were everywhere.  We also spotted wild brumbies, and white Brahman cattle.

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Termite mounds everywhere

An announcement over the train loud speaker had everyone lined up at the windows, cameras in hand, as we crossed over the Adelaide River.  And alongside was the original train bridge spanning the river.


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Adelaide River

We were getting closer and we could see the rather hazy Darwin skyline.  Almost there now.

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Almost at Darwin

The Ghan pulled into Darwin station, and we stepped outside.  Whew – we could tell that we are now in the tropics – it was just like stepping into a sauna.  We gathered up our bags, found the correct coach to take us into the city, and Darwin, we have arrived.

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The hard working engines on our train

We are staying in Darwin for three nights.  Thank goodness our room has air conditioning!

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What’s next?  A trip to Kakadu National Park tomorrow.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Goodbye Alice and Hello Katherine

It was time to wave goodbye to Alice and re-board the Ghan for the second part of our rail trip.  Once again, Robin drew the short straw and got to sleep in the top bunk.  He had a moment of panic during the night when he pushed the emergency button while turning over in the confined space.  Oh dear – when would the staff member arrive to start banging on the door.  Luckily there was another button for false alarms so the crisis was averted.

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Goodbye to Alice

Then it was hello to Katherine for our Off Train Excursion at 9.00am.  There were several trips on offer, and we chose to do the Nitmiluk Gorge Rock Art Cruise.  This trip had the least amount of walking involved, we were told, all the better for my painful knee.

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Hello to Katherine

It was a fairly short walk down to board one of the several boats and we were soon gliding gently through the gorge.

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Our Captain

Katherine Gorge is part of the Nitmiluk National Park, and is made up of 13 sandstone gorges, carved over 23 million years by the Katherine River.

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Views of Katherine Gorge

Fresh water crocodile make these waters their home, although they kept themselves well out of our sight.  The females crawl up the sandy banks to lay their eggs, and unlike the salties, do not guard their eggs at all.

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Occasionally Salt Water crocodiles enter the gorge during times of flooding, and the rangers set traps for these monsters and then relocate them. 

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Trap for salt water crocodiles

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The rock art dates back 40,000 years

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Coming back aboard after viewing rock art

Our guide told us about the traditional uses of many of the plants growing in the gorge, from medicine, cooking, and use as fire sticks, while the other boats gently glided along ahead of us.

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We didn’t glimpse a crocodile, but this little cormorant was quite happy to pose for us.

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It was a lovely peaceful trip, gliding gently along, as we were told tales of the area and the local people.