Category Archives: Australia

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Heading for heights

Friday 27th February – Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb and Blue Mountains

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb was one of our key activities while in Sydney. We had been considering different times we could do it, with day/twilight/night options being available, but in the end based on the time needed to complete the climb and not wanting to risk a flight delay (they seem to be common for us) meaning a missed climb we opted to do this on our final day. Part of this was based on a good weather forecast. We were pleased that when we woke up we could see blue sky in patches of the sky amongst clouds. Our luck seemed to be headed back to its cyclone attracting ways though as when we left our hotel the rain was pouring down. By the time we arrived at Bridge Climb HQ we were once again soaked so much so that we were handed towels as we arrived. We wondered whether our climb would go ahead but apparently they climb come rain or shine so we were headed up onto the bridge.

Getting ready for the climb is quite an effort, you need to remove all lose items and put on a special jumpsuit that everything you take on the climb can be attached to. The reason for this is that you are climbing over an 8 lane highway so dropping anything would not be a good plan. One thing they gave us as we prepared was a set of waterproof pants (Vicki – trousers, not the underneath kind) and rain jacket. Shame we didn’t have these on our walk to the climb.

When we were pretty much set to go we were introduced to our climb guide. We were surprised to see this was our cheerful French guide from the Opera House tour. Apparently she does both types of tour and by co-incidence we have had her twice.We were quite happy with this as she is very knowledgeable and quite amusing although it is often laughing at her daft sayings and how she says them rather than her jokes.

The climb starts under the bridge roadway, passes to the upper level on a series of ladders and then crosses the main arch of the bridge. We walked halfway (to the top of the arch), across the arch, and then returned back down the same way but on the opposite arch of the bridge. As the worlds largest single arch bridge this is quite a climb. You are clipped on to a safety rail attached to a belt harness at all times. This means you feel quite safe all the time. Vicki wasn’t keen on the ladders or when crossing flooring you could see through however we had no issues at all on top of the bridge. I think this is partly due to the view you experience which is nothing short of spectacular.

Although we had seen the bridge, Opera House and harbour from a number of angles already, seeing it from the top of the bridge was by far the best view. Looking down across the many coves of the vast harbour you really appreciate how big and sprawling Sydney is. As far as you could see there were different parts of the city yet it is mixed seamlessly with green parks, forests and the cliffs and coves. We could have spent a lot longer admiring the view and while we had a lot of time in between photo stops we would happily have stood up there all day. You may ask why we would want to do this in the pouring rain? Well, what happened in the end was that it turning into a bright sunny day while we were getting ready. The contrast between the weather when we went in to the bridge climb centre and when we actually started the climb was huge. We couldn’t have had better weather for the climb in the end. This was a real treat before leaving Sydney and well worth doing.

Blue mountains

Picking up a hire car we headed out of Sydney towards the Blue Mountains. Unsure exactly where to visit our first stop was the information hut at Glenbrook. Here a very helpful man recommended his favourite lookouts along our route. Our key sights would be Wentworth Falls, Katoomba and Blackheath.

Our first stop at Wentworth falls had been described by the info man as being 50m from car park to falls. This wasn’t quite right as it was actually 50m to a viewpoint where you could just about see the falls round a corner and in the distance. This wasn’t good enough for us so we selected a trail and headed down to see more. The blue mountain lookouts are typically at the top of cliffs overlooking the rolling canopy of the forest below that fill the valleys. The contrast between the sandstone and mountain cliffs and verdant (Vicki’s word) green forest is quite remarkable and something we have not seen anything like before. Our trails led us down the cliffs to the middle of the falls. We could see water cascading down to us before a vertical plummet to the valley below. We then followed an undercliff walkway where you walk beneath an overhang along the side of the valley before returning to the top.

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Our next stop was the Three Sisters, the jewel in the crown of the Blue Mountain sights. These are three big peaks set away from the other rocks. This viewpoint has many more commercial opportunitues, and a lot more tourists were milling around, despite the fact it was now getting close to 6pm. However the views were stunning.

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Keen to escape the hoards, we took a walk down the ‘Giant Staircase’ to a little bridge at the base of the Three Sisters. These steps are very steep and I’m not sure whether it was worse going down or coming back up!

Viewpoints viewed we headed for our accommodation in the town of Katoomba. The owner seemed surprised when we expressed a desire to take a dip in the outdoor pool. However, on learning that we were English, all she said was ‘well that explains it’. Dinner was at a deserted (but very tasty) Thai restaurant in the very picturesque town of Leura just down the road. Despite there being lots of tourist accommodation in the area, it all seemed very quiet, and we wondered whether the hoards of tourists turn up for the views during the day and then are back in Sydney in time for dinner? This seemed a shame as there is a lot to see, and it was nice to be able to do a few of the walks without worrying too much about the time.

Saturday 28th February

Our primary reason for visiting the Blue Mountains over the weekend was so that we could tick off another parkrun. We opted for Lawson which is a new one at only 8 weeks old. Arriving 30 minutes early we weren’t sure we were in the right place as nobody else was around. It turned out that we were but fortunately we were only off by 500m so as everyone else arrived we were able to follow them to the start. As a new parkrun they weren’t used to tourists here. Nobody even registered what Vicki’s 100 shirt meant.

The course is a challenging one – all on really rocky terrain and generally always going up or down, including one monster hill in the middle. I’m sure it was a really pretty course, but I (Vicki) seemed to spend the majority of the time looking at my feet to avoid face planting, and so didn’t really get a chance to look!

Whilst it was nice to chat to the ED afterwards, we found it less sociable than others we have done, in the sense that there was no coffee / breakfast afterwards, and very little hanging about before everyone headed home. This time however, that was probably better for us in that it gave us chance to get back to Katoomba and shower before another day of view spotting.

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Today’s first activity was ‘Scenic World’ which is basically many ways of seeing the same bit of forest in exchange for varying amounts of money. We weren’t sure about the idea but had been told there was a nice walk near there, and the world’s steepest funicular railway, and so we decided to give it a go. We arrived about 10am luckily just before a few big tourist groups and discovered that it was possible to just pay for the parts of the attraction that you wanted rather than having to buy an all inclusive ticket, which made us happy as we only actually wanted to use their railway one way to avoid climbing back up a big hill!

We went for a walk, and again came across some spectacular views. At the end of our walk we were for the first time close to the bottom of the valley, whereas previously we had always been high up in the canopy. We also discovered that ‘The Boardwalk’ – a nice wooden walkway around the forest made by the people of Scenic World is free to enter, and so we spent a few minutes looking around this, and learning the mining history of the area. Rich misread the sign and was disappointed to find there was no hat making available. Turns out it said “miners hut” not “milners hut”.

All the time we were on the boardwalk, we could shouts and screams of tourists. It turns out that these were from the funicular. As mentioned before, this is the steepest railway in the world, at 52 degrees, and travels at 14km an hour. In the carriage there are three seat positions to improve your experience ranging from ‘laid back’ to ‘cliffhanger’. No need to guess which Rich chose. I will admit that I whimpered slightly going up the hill (as you are facing down the cliff) but it was still a much better proposition than climbing up the hill!

After a quick bite to eat (which we shared with a lizard) and a walk to another set of falls, it was time to head back into the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

We had booked to stay in a hotel near the airport as our flight was early the next day and it had parking, or so we thought. Only when we arrived at the soul-less hovel that is the Ibis Budget did we discover that all of the parking had been pimped out to non-hotel guests for (we assume) more money. We were not impressed, but after a bit of faffing about what to do with the car, got on with our evening of sightseeing – first Bondi and then Coogee.

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Bondi was great. I had been expected to be disappointed, as Graham had said that he wasn’t that impressed, but I really liked it, and would happily have spent more time there (Rich: Shame I forgot my trunks, would have been good to have an evening swim). However, the AUD7.50 an hour parking charge (we parked a few streets away for free in the end) meant that we decided to head to another area, Coogee, for dinner. This was another lovely seaside resort and the bar that sorted us out with dinner, part of the Coogee Bay hotel, was one in which both Rich and I could have got seriously settled.

But alas, all too soon, it was time to return the car early to the airport, walk back to the hotel and prepare for the next stage of the adventure – New Zealand!

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A bridge and an opera house…must be Sydney

Wednesday 25th February – Opera House

Given our luck so far with transport, we were fully expecting this flight to be delayed, and so it was a pleasant surprise to be in our hotel room in central Sydney a little after 3pm, with plenty of time to go off and explore before meeting Graham, Vicki and their families for dinner.

John and Lauren had very kindly bought us a tour of the opera house for Christmas and we were lucky enough to be able to get a spot on the 4.30 tour. After a quick lunch pit stop where we amused ourselves by watching the police fining people for jay walking. We had been wondering about crossing roads while is Oz as the lights seem to take an age. It seems that it is a better idea to wait based on the number of people that the police stopped. We aren’t sure if they were actually fined but they were at least warned which we would rather avoid either way.

A walk down Sydney’s main shopping street took us to the two big sights straight away. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are both highly visible from circular key. We were told that we would be drawn straight here when we arrived in Sydney and everyone was quite right.

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Our tour of the Opera house was a great introduction to Sydney. Not only did our French tour guide, Celine, tell us about the Opera House but she also gave us a brief history of Sydney. The tour showed us inside the Opera House which is equally as impressive as the outside that we got the chance to get up close to and see the architect’s vision and understand the reasoning behind. Understanding the history behind the Opera house somehow makes seeing the iconic sight even more impressive.

Post Opera house we headed for the Opera bar. After the obligatory facebook post our running club friend KevF recommended the exact bar we were sitting in at the time. Clearly we both have good taste or the combined view of the Opera House and bridge are irresistible to all tourists.

Refreshed from our drink we headed to the Rocks. We immediately fell for this area. Wandering the different levels of streets is a delight and we would have happily stayed in the area sampling the bars and restaurants for many evenings. Sadly we had other plans so couldn’t even stay for one. We wandered up to the observatory to view the city from high and then headed down to meet, Graham, Vicki and families at the harbour on their return from a Manly visit. An evening in a bar catching up about our respective travels (and encounters with cyclones) through Australia was a welcome flashback to the wedding back in Melbourne. Only a few days ago it seemed much longer by this point.

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Thursday 26th February – Sydney’s Neighbourhoods

When in a new city there is something we are always on the look out for, where to run! Like in Melbourne we opted for the domain and botanic gardens. Sydney is surprisingly small so no sooner than we had set off, crossed Hyde Park and explored the gardens than we found ourselves at the harbour looking back at the Opera House once again. It seemed we had only run 2 miles and Sydney is a much more compact city than we expected. What we thought would be a long run turned out to be a comfortable 4miles which when taking in obligatory stops for photos, really didn’t take too long at all. We were back having breakfast by the hotel pool in no time.

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Our afternoon had been set aside for exploring some of the different neighbourhoods that make up Sydney. First stop was Darling harbour. We weren’t too impressed by this as it is really just a modern complex/exhibition centre. We tried to find the monorail but it turns our that was removed 2 years ago (so much for our up to date DK guidebook!). The highlight of this walk was the dim sum we had on our way back to the hotel. We could have skipped the walk really though as the dim sum was only next door.

Our next trip out was more successful. We were very proud of ourselves on the way out as we managed to secure bus tickets and get the bus straight to our required destination. Having not used the Sydney transport system other than for the very straight forward trip from the airport we were pleased with ourselves that this went smoothly. Having take the bus was a good plan as we found ourselves walking for the next few hours. We visited Paddington, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Potts Point. Our long meander was broken up by a refreshment stop for ice cream but otherwise was a long walk through varied neighbourhoods. We went from up market terraces to the seedier areas then back to luxurious bay side living. Our walk gave a good view of what Sydney has to offer which is very different to what you find if only exploring the CBD (Central Business District).

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Our day ended back in Darlinghurst (we walked back) where we met Graham, Vicki and parents once again. Once we had navigated them away from the gaudy area around Taylor Square (the gay district) to somewhere we could enjoy a more sedate evening we enjoyed tapas/pizza and a few drinks. Once again it was good to catch up with everyone. Vicki and Graham’s parents are quite different but all very good company.

Our brief stop in Sydney gave us a small insight into the city. Although we would get to see a bit more in the morning and before our flight we were already comparing the city to what we thought of Melbourne. Both are great cities and we think we would happily spend time in either. Melbourne was a real melting pot of styles and cultures where we thought that Sydney had more of its own unique character. Sydney felt a bit more like a distinct place with its own personality whereas Melbourne was an all welcoming blend. Given the choice I think both of us would take Sydney over the Melbourne as a place to live (as much as you can judge these things in a few days) but given the chance you wouldn’t say no to either. I don’t think a trip to Australia would be complete without visiting both.

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Whitsaturday to Whittuesday in the Whitsundays

We were in the Whitsundays for a few days. The Whitsundays are an archipelago made up of 74 islands off the cost of Queensland. We had moved further north away from the bad weather into the sun.

Saturday 21st February – Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach was so pleased to see us arrive that they arranged a fireworks display for us. Our hotel was right next to the lagoon so we headed straight for a dip before the show. The lagoon is provided because despite the name the beaches in Airlie beach aren’t that great. Instead they have a large swimming pool that is open to everyone throughout the day. We had post swim fish and chips on the edge of the lagoon while watching the fireworks. The fireworks were very early, only 30mins after sunset but from our vantage with our backs to the recently set sun they were still a good display.

As it was Saturday night and we didn’t need to be up especially early on Sunday we took the opportunity to head out on the town. Airlie Beach is a big backpacker area with several large sprawling hostels and many bars to accompany them. The bars all had big outdoor areas with bands playing and were full of a mix of backpackers and stag-do / hen-do weekend away style party goers. The evening was very warm and in the outdoor bars we were sweating away and in need of refreshment. Perhaps a little too much refreshment later (for Rich mainly) and somehow we ended up on the fringe of a wet t-shirt competition being held in the bar. At this point we decided we should leave the backpackers to it so headed to bed.

Sunday 22nd February – Whitehaven beach

After a morning including a run (a very hot and muggy run!), a swim and doing our laundry, we headed for an afternoon trip to Whitehaven beach. This is the star beach of the Whitsundays as it has very fine soft sand and sweeps around a wide bay. The trip out also gave us chance to cruise through the Whitsunday islands themselves as we were staying on the mainland so had not yet seen them.

As the water around Whitehaven beach is a common place to find jellyfish we donned some very attractive stinger suits and headed for a dip. The advantage of the suits was that we wouldn’t get stung or burnt but we did feel a bit daft wearing them. Better safe than sorry in any case. After the swim we lay on the beach enjoying the sun that was a welcome change from our recent weather.

Our evening was to be a quiet one due to an early start the next morning. We found a restaurant that provided kangaroo and crocodile so decided to sample these to get the taste of Australia. The kangaroo was a bit chewy but a tasty gamey meat. Crocodile was our preference and was like a tougher tuna steak. Both well worth sampling as was the steak we tried. We went to bed full of BBQ and feeling a bit more Australian.

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Monday 23rd & Tuesday 24th February – Great Barrier Reef

Our early start was for another trip, this time an overnight on the Great Barrier Reef. We are going to create a dedicated post for this trip so look out for that appearing soon.

On our return from the reef we wanted to enjoy our final night in Airlie Beach. We made the most of it by once again doing some laundry and having a run/swim. Doing an evening run this time was much more agreeable. When we ran the other morning Rich was struggling from the off and ended up walking considerable amounts of the 3 miles (Vicki – Rich blames the weather, I think it was all the beers!). This time round we found the gentle sea breeze cooling enough to do our 3 miles at a steady pace. We also enjoyed the route a lot more heading down a bicentenary boardwalk along the coast. We passed through a couple of marinas and parks in the dusk light. Vicki nearly jumped in the sea though when we encountered a rather large bat leaving its tree.

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As we geared up to leave Airlie beach Vicki would quite happily have stayed longer. She was quite content with the relaxing by the lagoon and running along the coast. Our stay here seemed to be over very quickly as we had been busy with trips. It is always good to have a few relaxing days however we had to get back to the cities for more Aussie exploration.

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A hire car? We need a canoe!

Friday 20th February – Noosa to Brisbane (Vicki)

Well, as the various posts have mentioned, cyclone Marcia seems destined to make our time in QLD a little damp. Nowhere was this more evident than during our drive down from Noosa to Brisbane.

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We had been due to go to Australia zoo on the way down, but it was closed due to flooding. We then decided to go to Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary, just south of Brisbane, but the weather was so appalling that driving any further than necessary just seemed ridiculous.

We did manage to fit in a quick game of glow in the dark, wild west themed mini-golf on the way down – although several diversions were required due to roads being closed due to flooding.

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I was definitely breathing a sigh of relief when we made it to the hotel – I would have been quite happy just to hole up in the hotel and hibernate for the rest of the day. However, we were only due to have a day in Brisbane so felt that we should at least see a little bit of the city. To be honest, the rain pretty much tempered everything. I am sure it is lovely in the sun, but it is hard to appreciate Botanical Gardens with rain dripping off your nose.

Our original aim in Brisbane was to run a parkrun and then get an overnight train up to the Whitsundays, but due to Marcia, all parkruns in QLD were cancelled, and as we found out during the day, so was our train. After a frantic half hour trying to sort out alternative transport up to Airlie Beach, we headed to the South Bank to at least have a look at the parkrun course. Mercifully it had stopped raining so we were at least able to appreciate the city by night. There is a big wheel and a mini rainforest, and a lovely peace pagoda just next to the river, as well as a great tapas restaurant (thanks for the recommendation Graham) where we were able to regroup.

After dinner, we headed up to the ‘west end’ to a couple of craft beer bars, and could have got very settled if it wasn’t for the 6.30 alarm call the next day, which would hopefully mean that we would be in the Whitsundays by lunchtime….

Saturday 21st February – Brisbane Airport (Rich)

…unless our plane is struck by lightning and forced to turn back. What are the chances of that happening though? Oh…

With our current luck I can’t see you being surprised that this has happened. We are in the airport waiting for a new plane that is due to take us up to Proserpine. It is a bit concerning that a fire alarm keeps going off on the other side of the airport and rain continues to pour outside. Evacuation would be a very unwelcome diversion at this time.

Our theory is that bad things happen in Brisbane (delayed getting here, cyclone, cancellations, lightning strikes). Once we are out all will be well. As such I figured I would mention this now so we can forget all about it when we are on the beach this afternoon. Let’s just not think about our return journey to Sydney transferring through Brisbane.

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D.I.N.G.O!

D.I.N.G.O!

D.I.N.G.O…

…Dingo was his name-o!

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Due to cyclone updates we are slightly out of sync. Here is what we wrote before it got really wet…

Wednesday 18th February – Hervey Bay & Fraser Island

Yesterday morning we woke early again for a trip over to Fraser Island. This was quite an ask following the long and late drive the night before. The weather wasn’t tempting us out either as it was wet and windy. It really didn’t seem the ideal day to be going to visit Fraser Island, the worlds largest sand island and a UNESCO world heritage sight….

Here are a few of the things we saw:

  • Rain forest. Second of the trip after seeing this on the Great Ocean Road too. This one was unique thought as it is a rain forest grown on sand. Some lovely creeks snaked through and our guide Steve (not a cat) was extremely knowledgeable about the trees and plants that it contained.
  • Sand tracks. Serious 4WD territory on the island. Good job we didn’t try and take our little red hyundai over. It wouldn’t have made it off the ferry. The bus we were on was quite a machine and handled the terrain with ease.
  • 75 mile beach. Wow. That is a long beach isn’t it. It is also a public highway which Steve (guide, not the cat) seemed to enjoy zooming along.
  • Dingo! Hence the post name. The dingo came out to say hi. We also saw a sea snake that Steve (guide, still not a cat) brushed (as in, with a broom) off the beach/road back into the sea. I kept a safe distance and let Vicki take the photos. I am not a snake fan.
  • Mckenzie lake. We got there just in time for our only rainstorm of the day. Fortunately we were already in swim gear so frantically stuffed our other clothes into the dry bag and dived in. Very refreshing and warmer in that out due to the rain storm. We had a lovely 50mins swimming around and admiring the wonderful setting of the lake. This is one of the main draws for a lot of the visitors to Fraser Island and it finished the day well. The rain shower was very short (about a minute) and it warmed up nicely for when we had to get out.

Another special treat for the day was a scenic flight over Fraser Island. We did  this when offered on a whim as we thought it would be a good way to see the extent of the island. We were glad we did the flight which although short gave a new vantage onto the island that we would have missed otherwise. The length of the beach, inland lakes nestled in the rain forest and sand dunes sweeping over the forest could only really be appreciated from above.

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Overall the trip was well worth doing. Although as a day trip we saw just a snapshot of the island and had to cram a lot in it was worth it. It would have been good to be more independent as waiting for others on a trip and sitting around with strangers at lunch is a bit of a drag however for a day, getting our own 4WD or private tour just wasn’t practical. In weather terms we were actually quite lucky. Although it wasn’t gloriously sunny it was clear and the rain held off. Apparently we were just in time too. A day later and the cyclone would have ruined our trip. More on that later.

Our evening involved a whistlestop tour of Hervey Bay where we were staying including seeing many fruit bats, shopping in Woolworths (a supermarket over here) then takeaway pizza. We then had a very early night (in bed at 8:30pm) as we were exhausted from the last few days.

Thursday 19th February – Travel to Noosa

So it seems we are in Queensland at the same time as Cyclone Marcia. Bad planning that. She is due to make land tomorrow in Hervey Bay so we headed off pronto. There was no escaping her preceding storm though so today has been wet. Rain all day. Actually, it did stop for a few minutes at lunch. So rain nearly all day. The rain after lunch more than made up for the slight break though as it has been torrential!

What to do in the rain then? Well we planned to head to Noosa to go to the beach so we carried on with that plan. It was about 2.5 hours drive over all with two stops planned on the way. These were in pretty much the only significant towns on route. Australia does contain a whole lot of nothing!

First stop was Maryborough a heritage town. Lots of interesting buildings. Good to see ye olde Australia. Also many Queenslander style houses. These are raised up to avoid floods (possibly needed in the next few days) and verandas to keep cool on in the heat (probably not this week). We also saw a kangaroo on the way out of town…another Australia site ticked off. Second town was Gympie. In Maryborough we saw a bakehouse and decided pies were in order for lunch. While Gympie doesn’t offer much more than a funny name we did find great pies.

On to Noosa for the afternoon. Staying in the Noosa Sun Motel which is perfect for us even if false advertising as there is no sun here. Nice big room with kitchenette. We chilled out for a bit with a bit of TV and then braved the rain again. In Noosa we wanted to sea the National Park. Rain wasn’t going to stop this so on went running kit and we headed out for 4 miles along the coast.

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The forest and rocky coast combined with beaches were well worth seeing even if being battered by the storm rather than bathed in sunshine (Sunshine Coast by name only today). We were far from alone in the rain. There were hundreds of surfers. They were running along with us to get to the best launch spots and would then dive in and tackle the violent surf. It was great to watch but we had no intention to partake. Although very wet it is still warm so we were happy to stand watching. We even had a swim in the pool when we got back to the motel since we were wet anyway!

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Not sure what is in store for tomorrow. Australia zoo may not be a good idea so we may head straight to Brisbane. Will have to see what Marcia has planned for tomorrow!

Washout

Cyclone arrived but not where we are. We did however get rain. So much rain.

Australia Zoo closed because of flooding.

Couldn’t get to other zoo because roads were flooding and closing fast.

Brisbane sightseeing done in the rain so not much covered.

Parkrun cancelled throughout Queensland.

Train on from Brisbane cancelled.

Overall a bit of a washout.

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Fear not though. We have regrouped and tomorrow morning we fly on to the Whitsundays a day early where it is sunny and hot. For now we have booze and tapas.

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Cyclone Marcia

It seems we find ourselves in Queensland at the same time as a cyclone. We are on the coast at the moment but away from where it should touch down tomorrow morning. Despite this we are still getting a battering from wind and rain. As I write this I can hear the rain beating against the roof and the windows are rattling from the wind. Tomorrow morning, provided all is clear we will be heading down to Brisbane which is further from the centre of the storm. We will keep you posted with details.

In blog news, you have just received two Melbourne updates as we have been without a reliable internet connection to make posts until now. We have another post about our time so far in Queensland however I will leave that to post another day as there is enough to read already on the site.

Goodbye for now from stormy Queensland.

R&V

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Wedding #1 – Graham & Vicki

Monday 16th February – Wedding #1 – Rich

The day of the first wedding we are travelling for has arrived! This will be the big day for Graham and Vicki. It will be held at St Kilda pier where we have already been to see the penguins.

As the wedding was at 6pm we still had a lot of time for activities. We started the day with a run through Melbourne. We passed through the centre and headed to the Kings Domain park and botanical gardens on the far side of the city from where we were staying. The parks are circled by a famous running track called the Tan (at least famous in the running community). A number of our running friends had already recommended this to us. We weren’t going to break any of the records posted at the start of the course however enjoyed the run and saw a lot of other Melbournites out being active.

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Post run was time for breakfast. We joined the bride and groom plus best man Dave (yes, David Robinson from Singapore yet again) for a hearty “monster sandwich” breakfast in the centre of Melbourne. Fully fuelled we left the wedding party to their preparations and went for a wander around. We had been recommended to do the Immigration Museum but as it was such a lovely day we decided against this (we did get as far as putting our heads through the door). Instead we walked back through Fitzroy Gardens where we had been on Saturday. This time we circled the parliament district first and headed for the MCG (cricket ground). Passing through the tennis arenas we returned to the park we ran round the morning before arriving at the Southbank via the Remembrance Shrine. The walk covered a few areas we had been to before but nicely linked everything together. It was such a nice day that it was well worth doing even with a few repeats. Our final stop for the day was a tour of the docklands close to our hotel before getting ready for the wedding…

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The wedding was an intimate and relaxed one. Although a late start kept the groom waiting (traffic issues!) everything went without issue. We really enjoyed ourselves. There was good food, good drink and good company. We had a great time getting to know Graham and Vicki’s families. This was evidenced as we were still out at 3am back in the casino for a few drinks and a flutter for a few people. The bride and groom even came out on top with an early win on blackjack.

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Tuesday 17th February – Goodbye Melbourne – Vicki

The morning dawned way too soon after we headed to bed, and we were certainly a bit bleary eyed as we boarded the bus to the airport. Our mood wasn’t improved when we arrived at the airport and checked in our luggage only to realise to our flight was delayed by 6 hours and now was departing at 6pm rather than 12pm….

After a quick rant at the airline staff (note to readers – never travel Tiger Air) we hightailed it back to Melbourne for brunch with the Graham, Vicki and Dave, who were also feeling less than sparkly. A big brunch sorted us out, and we spent a very chilled out day mooching around Melbourne, before heading back to the airport in time for our flight. Much of the time was spent near to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. This area had what we expected the docklands would have the day before. Lots of shops, bars and restaurants made it a place we could easily pass some time and recover.

A straightforward flight later and we were on our way up to Hervey Bay in a little bright red car. I’m sure during the day it would be a lovely drive, but in the dark, it is 3.5 hours of fairly tedious straight roads. The delay on the flight was far from ideal and meant a relaxed journey with an evening to settle in on the coast became a tiresome slog. Eventually however we made it to our home for the next 2 days, a caravan park in Torquay, just a few minutes from the coast. Not that we would be spending much time in it – come 7.30 the next day we were due to be on a coach, heading for a trip to Fraser Island. It’s all go!

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Manchester in the sun

Friday 13th February – Melbourne arrival – Vicki

We are in Melbourne for Graham (Rich’s school friend) and Vicki’s (not me) wedding on Monday and are all staying in the same hotel. We arrived in the centre of Melbourne around 9am on Friday morning, and were just in time to catch the groom (wearing the world’s brightest shorts) before he headed out to check final arrangements with the venue.

Once we were free of bags, the first stop was breakfast, in a nice little cafe on the central shopping street, only a short tram ride from the hotel. One of the great things about Melbourne is that all of the trams in the CBD are free – you can just hop on and off, and you only pay if you go outside the CBD. It would be great if TFL did that in London, but I can’t see it happening somehow!

Refreshed and revived we then started exploring Melbourne, starting with a few of the shopping arcades, which are basically similar to the Burlington in London – snazzily decorated with lots of cute little shops and quirky features – one  had a Gog and Magog clock…not entirely sure why, but there we go.

It was now getting pretty toasty and by the time we had wandered round the Queen Victoria Market, a huge fruit and / veg /deli / bit of everything market we were ready to find a pub. The pub we chose (or to be honest, the only one we could see) was part of a backpacker hostel, and wasn’t the nicest place. However, it did give us a chance to sit down and cool off and plan the rest of the day. [Rich: I thought it was fine and had some charm.] We opted for a picnic lunch from the market and sat in a lovely park, before catching a tram back to the hotel for a well deserved (and much needed) nap.

Waking up a couple of hours later, we were very confused….it appeared to be raining. Not just a few spots either but proper British torrential rain. This was not part of the plan – we came to Australia expecting sunshine and so hadn’t packed a brolly. However, not to be deterred, we joined the wedding party for dinner a few streets away. By the time we left the restaurant a few hours later, we had just about dried off and decided to head to a casino for a nightcap.

Australia’s casinos (as explained by Bill Bryson) are a huge deal. Just the one casino in Melbourne generates 15% of all of Victoria’s tax revenue. And heading in there, we could well believe it – it was huge! Bars, restaurants, hotels, all in one place. To be honest, the gambling seemed kind of secondary, most people seemed to be just there to have a drink – a very different atmosphere to other casinos we’ve been in (Macau, for example). There were also many different non-Casino options. The Crown is a $1billion entertainment complex with food options, a cinema, three hotels and much more. It is vast!

After one drink we were ready to hit the hay especially given the fact that we were due to be running at 8am the following morning….

Saturday 14th February – Albert Melbourne parkrun – Rich

It never rains at 9am on parkrunday. Especially being in Australia of course this must be doubly true and it wouldn’t rain on us. Well it didn’t rain at 9am on this Saturday either. Sadly parkrun here starts at 8am and it was raining. Although by the time the run started it was only a light drizzle and we finished in the dry. Sadly we chose to get to the parkrun on foot. This started ok as it wasn’t raining too hard. Halfway there we once again got torrential rain though so when we arrived we were soaked.

Despite the rain it was well worth the trip. The parkrun (Rich’s 146th parkrun and 64th different event and Vicki’s 124th at 56 events) is a lap around the lake in Albert park in the south of Melbourne. F1 fans will know this park as the site of the Australian GP. There were some bits of the GP course already setup but fortunately nothing in the way of the run. It was a hard run dodging puddles and what became a steamy heat part way round. Vicki did a good time of 24:28 which considering our wet run down then warmth later on, coming in as 4th lady was a great achievement. Rich also ran.

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At the parkrun we chatted to a few people, mainly expat Brits. We weren’t the only visitors, we were mentioned at the start as visiting from Kingston however there were also visitors from Bushy Park. Strangely it was a lady we had met before as we have mutual running friends (Jenny & Andrew Melbourne – will the co-incidences ever end?). As we ran home after we passed by the designated breakfast cafe and were invited in by someone whose brother was from Surbiton. It really is a small world. parkrun followed by breakfast is always a great way to start your weekend even when on holiday.

After a break to refresh we headed out for the afternoon to explore some different Melbourne neighbourhoods. We found these to be varied and each distinctly charming. Fitzroy Gardens were a delight. Nearby to the MCG we saw a lot of people walking through these to head to the cricket (Aus vs Eng) however we gave that a miss. The Fitzroy area itself is a trendy area with a real hipster feel. Not necessarily our scene but good to wander and we found a really good pub for refreshment. Finally Lygon street is the Italian area where we settled in for a pizza and watched people pass us by.

Our evening was spent sitting on St Kilda pier. This is where the wedding would be in 2 days time. We went for a sneak peek due to the presence of penguins. While we went far too early and ended up sitting for quite a while we did get to watch the sunset over the city while we read our guidebook. Eventually we realised that penguins weren’t going to arrive on the beach in a hurry but we did get to see some sitting on the rocks waiting for their parents to return. Overall quite a while spent waiting unnecessarily but worth it to see the penguins.

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We completed the day back in the city with a stroll though the Chinese New Year market on the Southbank. Tired out after another long day we returned headed to bed ready for another early start.

Sunday 15th February – Great Ocean Road – Vicki

Day 3 in Melbourne saw us up bright and early for a trip along the Great Ocean Road. We had considered hiring a car and doing it ourselves, but time constraints and the dodgy weather the previous day meant that we figured the best option was to let someone do the driving for us while we took it easy and admired the views.

At 6.45am we were sitting on a minibus on our way to pick up some other day trippers. Luckily as the first pickup we got the best seats, right behind the driver, whose name was Wookie (apparently he looks like the Star Wars character, I couldn’t see it though). The prime seats really made the trip as we could chat with Wookie and had a great view.

The aim of the day was to get to see the ‘12 apostles’. In truth there aren’t actually 12, and were named that just to get more people to visit them. Regardless of the number, in the end we enjoyed Lock Ard gorge just a few miles on from the aposltes a lot more. This was because it wasn’t so busy, and you could actually get down onto the beach rather than just standing at the top of the cliffs. At the apostles you had to shuffle round with a large crowd of day trippers who all arrived at the same time.

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Rather than list all the sights, I’ll just set out a few thoughts:

1. Koalas are very cute (we saw three at a stop along the way), although like pandas, something of an evolutionary dead end.

2. The views from the road are amazing, although most of the main view points are crowded with tourists trying (and failing) to park their camper vans. (John and Lauren – we saw plenty of wicked vans, although none as bad as yours)

3. People, people everywhere – the main sites are ridiculously busy as many of the tour groups arrive at the same time as they are all following the same route. It would be good to be able to time it so you could actually spend some time looking at the views rather than just battling your way through the other tourists.

4.  I dread to think how many photos get taken on the road each day. I know it is a bit rich of us to complain about people taking photos, but we really noticed the number of selfie sticks on this trip. One person in our group must of taken literally hundreds of selfies during the day, each one preceded by excessive preening, and each one with the exact same ‘selfie face’. The poor koalas that we went to see were also victims of this, with the telescopic handles of the sticks allowing extreme close-ups of their furry features.

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Despite all of the people and the selfie-taking, it was a really good day. Wookie was a great guide (full of useless facts) and not having to drive meant that we could both relax and look at the scenery.

After a quick change at the hotel, we joined the groom and his family for dinner and another trip to the Casino and its sports bar. This time the bar was overrun with cricket fans, with India playing Pakistan. However, within seconds of India taking the required wicket, the place had emptied out, leaving just a few bemused drinkers finishing off their pints. Very strange.

Post naming – Rich

We weren’t originally sure what to call this post. Vicki was going to go with “Trams and penguins” but as I control the website I have changed this to “Manchester in the sun”. The reason for this is that Melbourne really reminds me of Manchester but with added sunshine. Maybe it is the trams, maybe it is the size of the city or maybe it is the atmosphere, I am not sure. In any case we both really like the city and agree it feels very familiar. Our first impression of Australia is that is is very like home but with some aspects of American added on the top. I am sure more impressions will follow.