An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 30 & 31

Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7

This morning we checked out of our hotel and were transported to the Cairns Airport for our flight to Sydney.

Our flight was delayed so by the time we arrived in Sydney it was late afternoon. Below are views of the Reef as we flew over the water on our way to Sydney.

We spent the night at a hotel right by the airport. It was time to say goodbye to our group. We all had various flight times and some were extending their trip in Sydney.

Our flight was 11:00 AM Saturday morning. We were up early and walked to the airport to check in. Covid-19 was now becoming a worldwide pandemic so we didn’t know what to expect when we landed in Los Angeles.

Sydney Airport

Our flight to Los Angeles departed close to on time. We were glad of this because our connection from LA to Columbus was a little over two hours and we would need to clear customs. A big help was our Global Entry!

Several hours into our flight!

When we landed in LA we were expecting to have our temperature taken or some sort of Covid-19 screening but the only thing we were asked was if we had been to Asia within the last 14 days. We were lucky since we had such a short time frame to catch our flight home!

After being gone for a month, the “Welcome to the United States of America” sign was a greeting that we were thrilled to see! Our trip to New Zealand and Australia was incredible but as the saying goes “there’s no place like home”!

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 29

Thursday, March 5

Our day began with a lecture from a local expert who talked to us about the Wet Tropical Rainforests of North Queensland.

After the lecture we traveled with our expert, Russell, to the town of Kuranda. It is a mountain village near Cairns. It is surrounded by the world’s oldest living tropical rainforest. We enjoyed walking around the town and had lunch at Frogs Restaurant.

We took the Skyrail to Caravonica but first we stopped at the Rainforest Interpretive Station. We followed along the forest trail to see different trees, vines, lianas and ferns.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was quite a way to see the oldest living tropical rainforest! The Skyrail crosses the McAlister Range, through the Barron Gorge National Park. There were 4 of us in a gondola. Our one way ride took about an hour and a half. This Daintree rainforest and its ancient ferns, emerald green vines and lush canopy provided inspiration for the movie Avatar!

After our gondola ride over the rainforest we visited the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park to learn all about the lifestyle of the northern coastal Aboriginal Australian peoples.

After the program, we had the opportunity to throw a spear and try our luck at boomerangs. Dave was able to get his boomerang to return!

It was another full day of exploring and learning! We loved every minute! This evening was our farewell dinner to Australia and our group got together before dinner to have a memories and shared highlights of our 29 days together! Each of us shared our highlights!

After our farewell dinner, we all needed to pack for our flight tomorrow back to Sydney!

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 28

Wednesday, March 4

We were anticipating today and hoping that the weather would cooperate because we were going on a full day cruise on the Great Barrier Reef! We were going to have the opportunity to snorkel among the coral reef and the marine life around the area.

The weather was perfect! We boarded our boat with our sunscreen applied and cameras ready! At 8:30 AM we departed for Michaelmas Cay. This Cay is a National Park and a protected sanctuary for migratory seabirds. It is located on the western tip of Michaelmas Reef. The entire Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage area and part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is also one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

It was a relaxing ride to Michaelmas Cay. When we got close the crew gave a safety demonstration, reef brief and snorkeling demonstration. We got fitted with our snorkeling masks, fins, life jackets and wet suits that had mittens to protect our hands and hoods to protect our heads.

When we arrived at Michaelmas Cay the crew did a fish feeding demonstration. We saw some really large fish!

Our group ate lunch and had a Semi-submersible tour with our guide. He pointed out the various fish that we saw and the many types of coral. The pictures that we took in the semi-submersible don’t show the beautiful colors of the fish and the coral.

We took the beach buggy shuttle to get to the island where we put on our life jackets, masks and fins and then began our snorkeling around the reef.

We spent the entire time that we had to snorkel around the area. It was magnificent!

Our boat returned to Cairns late afternoon. By the time we showered from our day spent at the Reef it was time for dinner.

Near our hotel there was a large number of flying-foxes. We saw them hanging in mass in many of the trees. At sunset, they fly away to go eat.

We walked along the Esplanade and didn’t have a restaurant in mind. We decided we would eat at a place that looked good to us as we explored the area.

After dinner, we were still floating from our day snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef! It was a day to remember.

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 27

Tuesday, March 3

Our day started with a visit to Kata Tjuta or also called the Olgas. It is a group of large rock formations that look like domes. This formation isn’t far from Uluru. Kata Tjuta also is sacred to the local Aboriginal Anangu people who lived here form over 22,000 years.

Kata Tjuta in the distance
A portion of Kata Tjuta

We walked along the Dune path. It’s an easy walk to the lookout of the grassy hills and valleys that surround Kata Tjuta’s domes.

We also did the Walpa Gorge walk. It was a rocky track that rises to a small track. It is a natural creek that carves between the two tallest domes of Kata Tjuta. You walk through the rugged walls of the gorge. The scenery was breathtaking.

After our morning at Kata Tjuta, our motorcoach took us to the Ayers Rock Airport for our flight to Cairns!

Our flight from Uluru to Cairns.

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 26

Monday, March 2

This morning we have a long motorcoach ride to Uluru! It was a great opportunity to really get a grasp for how vast and unpopulated the Red Centre of the Northern Territory or Outback as it’s commonly called.

Mid-morning we had a stop at a typical Outback roadhouse which means it is a roadside service station. You can purchase food, drinks, use the restroom, and/or purchase gasoline.

Roadhouse Stop

Our lunch stop was at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Culture Centre. We had time to visit the galleries but no photos were allowed. They are Aboriginal owned and operated. The profits from these galleries are used back in the local community. They focus on selling traditional wooden carvings, paintings, and jewelry.

Uluru was our next stop. We toured Uluru by motorcoach and had a walking tour. It is a sacred Aboriginal site so there were places around the rock where tourists and photos were not allowed. Our guide explained the significance of the rock to the Aboriginal people. These natives inhabited this area centuries before the Europeans invaded in the 1800s. The local tribe is the Anangu. They believe that the landscape was formed during the “Dreaming”. The “Dreaming” refers to when the land and the people were created by the ancestor spirits. Ceremonies are still held in some of Uluru’s sacred caves around its base.

We checked into our hotel and later this evening we traveled to Uluru for the sunset over the rock. Unfortunately for us, it was cloudy so the rock did not “glow” or change colors as they say from a vibrant orange to a deep red. We still enjoyed just sitting and viewing the monolith! We also had champagne and snacks. Unfortunately you had to dodge the many black flies.

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 25

Sunday, March 1

Our day began at the Alice Springs Desert Park and it was a good thing because it was hot and the black flies were relentless! We all wore our fly nets to keep them out of our eyes, ears, and our mouths. Here we experienced the Australian desert and the life that can be found in this climate.

We explored the landscapes, both desert, woodlands, animals that live there, and the Nocturnal House with animals that once were in abundance across the desert. We spent the morning here.

The obnoxious black flies and our fly nets!

After lunch we stopped at Simpson’s Gap. The Gap is located in the Western MacDonnell Ranges and we saw the permanent waterhole that is there. It is quite spectacular to see this water between the Simpson Range!

This afternoon we went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). It is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical services in the world. We saw the aircraft and the technology that are used to deliver medical services in the vast distances of central Australia! The RFDS was founded in 1928. The service provides medical care and 24-hour emergency service to people that covers over 3 million square miles! Wow! We’re very fortunate where we live that we have care so close to us.

Our dinner this evening was quite entertaining. We went to the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and enjoyed a delicious BBQ meal. We were entertained by Barry Skipsey with his bush music and some of his own original work!

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 24

Saturday, February 29

This morning we left for the Melbourne Airport for our flight to Alice Springs via Adelaide! Alice Springs is located in the center of Australia. Alice Springs is considered to be the gateway to the Red Centre. The Red Centre is considered the interior desert region. As we flew from Adelaide to Alice Springs we noticed a big shift in the land composition.

After arriving at our hotel and checking in and having some lunch we departed for the School of the Air. It was a fascinating to see how the children are educated in the Outback. The School of the Air was founded in 1951 as a radio network for two-way teaching and learning broadcasts. Today the learning is taught using the internet. When we visited we watched part of a math lesson being taught.

The students live in remote areas of the Outback. They have their course materials mailed to them and most of the students return their work using the postal service. Some work gets a quicker response due to the internet. Their e learning is very similar to what most of the world used when Covid-19 closed schools and resorted to online learning.

On our way back from the School of the Air, we drove through the town of Alice Springs.

Later we had a lecture by our Alice Springs site coordinator on the Aboriginal Culture and Heritage.

After our lecture we left for dinner where an Aboriginal caterer and businesswoman introduced us to native Aboriginal bush foods. She told us about their traditional use and explained how she uses them in contemporary cuisine. After her demonstration, she let us sample the various aboriginal dips and sauces she made. Then dinner was served family style using the traditional Aboriginal flavors. Everything was delicious!

After dinner we walked away from the building and its lights for a southern hemisphere sky astronomy lesson. Our astronomer, Andrew Fitzgerald, presented information on the night sky and pointed out some constellations and planets that were visible.

The moon!

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 23

Friday, February 28

A local art historian gave us a lecture on Australian art.

Our lecture with Dr. Ruth Pullin

After the lecture was finished, Dr. Pullin lead our walking tour to the art museum with a walk through the State Library Victoria!

When we left the library, our next stop was the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Federation Square.

The National Gallery Victoria is the oldest and most visited art gallery in Australia. It was founded in 1861 and exhibits more than 70,000 works and admission is free. It was wonderful to have our own personal guide as we explored the museum. As Dr. Pullin talked to us about various works, other people not in our group joined in to listen to her expertise!

We had the afternoon free to explore on our own! Some sites around Melbourne as we walked around the town.

Our day ended when we went to a speakeasy restaurant called Father’s Office for dinner. It was a fun place!

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 22

Thursday, February 27

This morning began with a lecture by our Melbourne Site Coordinator about Contemporary Australia.

We then walked through parts of Melbourne and then took a tram to Queen Victoria Market. On our way we went through the Block Arcade and the Royal Arcade which are famous boutique shopping centers.

Queen Victoria Market was busy as we strolled through. The market has been around for over 100 years. It is the largest of Melbourne’s many markets from the 1800s. Some people stayed for lunch.

We chose to walk back and stopped in the Melbourne Central shopping mall and also got a bite to eat. In the mall was a free library. In the Little Library you could sit in there and read, borrow a book or bring in a book to share.

As we were walking we also passed by the State Library Victoria. We didn’t stop and go through it but we enjoyed watching the school children sitting out in front and the pigeons! Tomorrow we would visit this beautiful library.

This afternoon we left on our motorcoach for Phillip Island where we will see the Blue Penguins. It was several hours to get there. We stopped part way at Maru Fauna Park, used the restrooms and walked through to see the animals.

Our next stop was for dinner at Mario’s Bayside Bistro in San Remo, a family business.

When we arrived at Phillip Island, we were met by a guide who gave us a tour around the Little Blue Penguin habitat and the water.

When it was time for the Little Blue penguins to come ashore from the ocean and parade past us, we were in a viewing stand. This kept us from bothering the penguins as they waddled ashore. No photography was allowed so that the penguin’s eyes would not be hurt by the flash or the camera sensors trying to focus. We were fortunate that there were many penguins parading by us to reach their burrows and they were chattering away. It was our evening highlight!

Some of the members of our group were not looking forward to the long drive to see some penguins come up out of the ocean but they changed their mind after witnessing this phenomenon of nature!

Below is a picture of a postcard we purchased and it is of a few of the Blue Penguins coming out of the ocean!

Postcard picture purchased at the Phillip Island Visitor Center.

An Odyssey Down Under: Australia and New Zealand Day 21

Wednesday, February 26

We left Sydney and flew to Melbourne this morning.

In the air, leaving Sydney

Our site coordinator for Melbourne, Australia. The motorcoach took us through part of the city as we left the airport on our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens for lunch.

On our ride we saw many of the Olympic Park Venues.

The Royal Botanic Gardens was where we stopped for lunch and then walked around the gardens. It was founded in 1846 and encompasses 94 acres.

Some of the flowers in the gardens.

The Shrine of Remembrance was our next stop. It is a war memorial in Melbourne and honors all Australian men and women who have served in any war. Once a year on November 11th and 11 AM which is Remembrance Day, a ray of sunlight shines through an aperture in the roof to light up the word “love” on the marble stone in the center that says “Greater Love Hath No Man”.

We went up the Eureka Skydeck. We rode an elevator to the 88th floor for 360˚ views of Melbourne.

After dinner we decided to walk around and visited Melbourne Chinatown. We saw many Chinese restaurants, businesses, places of worship, and cultural venues. In front of one of the stores we stopped and watched a woman making dumplings! They looked delicious!