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Brisbane – Day 2

So today was going to be the penultimate day of our incredible holiday and we wanted to really enjoy it like we had the previous 47 days. Tomorrow (Fri) we start our 26hr journey back to the UK and the wintry weather and we are asking ourselves how are we going to cope with temperatures at least 25c lower than what we’ve been used to in last few weeks!!!

Having taken advantage of going into the city because an early arrival in Brisbane last week it meant we weren’t under less pressure to rush around the place to see as many sights as possible in our short stay over. After brekky in the Boardroom Cafe just around the corner from our hotel we took off on a walking tour that would take us through Queen Street, the main outdoor shopping mall, on to the Southbank and then through the city Botanical Gardens. It was hot and humid so our pace was not quick and we were thankful for areas of shade throughout the walk.

At first glance the Southbank is very similar to London’s with buildings that host concerts etc, places to eat or have coffee and is of course along the bank of a river. But once inside Brisbane’s Southbank it is very very different. There are huge grassed areas and a massive Arbour which gently wound its way through the full length of the Southbank and was covered Bougainvillea’s which were in full bloom.  There is also a beach with a number of swimming pools around it and it was being well used when we were there. We returned in the evening and the place was buzzing with activity with people walking, in bars and cafe’s and the most of the eating places were very busy.

After stopping off for some refreshment we walked back across the river by a foot bridge which is not dissimilar to the Millennium Footbridge across the Thames except it doesn’t bounce!!! This led us through to the Botanical Gardens which is just over 1k long. These gardens have loads of green parkland which were being utilised by lots of different school groups. It was also nice to walk through as we were virtually in the shade of large tall trees. There were many different types of trees and this one opposite looked rather strange with its roots exposed – Brenda advised that at sometime in the past it is likely that the river had been as far up the bank where it stood.

Exiting the Botanical Gardens brought us within a short walk to our hotel where we were glad to be able to go to our room and refresh before our afternoon activities.

Brisbane like most cities has a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus which was excellent value for the $35au it cost us each. The entire tour lasted over 90mins and took us around 19 different attractions where you could get off as well as an excellent informative guide rather than the recorded stuff!! In addition you get unlimited access to the City Cats ferries and these operate until very late. We tend to stay on these bus tours for the entire time and then decide where we want to go back too.

On getting back to our hotel at around 5.30pm we rested up before going out for the evening. We decided to use the City Cat ferry to get us back to the Southbank. It was only a short walk along the riverside walk from our hotel to the Riverside Terminal and this took us past a number of restaurants and bars which were all very busy and the air was littered with the buzz of people chatting and eating – it was quite electrifying! The journey on the ferry gave us the opportunity once again to view this great city from a different perspective and it looked amazing with the different lighting used in the high-rise buildings. Our plan was to eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the river however these were all busy and places were at a premium and in some looked a little cramped. Eventually after meandering through the other Southbank streets and looking at the different menu’s and either finding nothing that tempted us or a particular restaurant was busy we took ourselves off back to the centre of the city to a place we had eaten at when we had visited last week. We had been walking for well over an hour and it was humid evening so were glad of a place to sit down at and where we knew the food and drinks were good.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about how strange it is seeing Christmas decorations up when it is so hot. Here are 2 examples of this in Brisbane.

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Hamilton Island to Brisbane

It was with a sense of reluctance that we had to depart Hamilton Island today but as the saying goes ‘all good things have to come to an end’ and this was that time for us. We’ve had an amazing time at the Beach Club and on the island and whilst it’s always difficult to compare each place that we have visited in our travels not just on this holiday but over a number of years this place has to be in our top 3.

We made use of the last few hours we had in the resort before departing for the airport by packing last evening, having an early breakfast then being on the beach by 9am. It was already hot and the sky was clear of clouds. We so wanted the 2hrs we had left to go really slowly!! Sadly they didn’t so once we had changed into our travelling cloth’s (t-shirt and shorts) it was off with other guests on the short trip to the airport in one of the hotel’s buggies – about 10mins in total. The driver sensed our reluctance in wanting to leave so was in no hurry to get us there which us allowed us a few extra moments to savour the beauty of the island.

Our flight with Virgin  Australia was due to depart for Brisbane at 12.55 and everything looked great as the plane arrived in before it was due. However, there were technical problems with an earlier Virgin flight bound for Sydney and because of this and the offer to some passengers on that flight to change to the Brisbane flight and therefore the need to take their luggage off the Sydney plane and be processed again to give them new labels etc we eventually left 45mins late.

Whilst I have every sympathy for the Sydney bound passengers what was disappointing was the lack of communication for all passengers from the Virgin ground staff about what was happening – I feel a letter of complaint will probably be pinged off to Virgin about this when we return home.

However, the Virgin staff on our aircraft couldn’t have been more helpful in telling us what was going on. The flight was pleasant and visibility was superb most of the way with clear skies. We had a great view of many of the islands that are part of the Whitsundays.

The long and short of all this though was a 1hr late arrival at Brisbane due to having missed the landing slot and air traffic control putting the plane in a holding position for around 20mins. Those of you who have experienced this will know that it’s not much fun going round in circles!!

When I fly I’m always amazed with how the clouds look from above – they always remind me of lots of cotton wool balls of all shapes and sizes! Hopefully the picture opposite taken is a good example of this!

As I mentioned we arrived 1hr late so we were a little concerned that the transport arranged for the transfer to our Brisbane hotel may not be waiting for us. Thankfully it was and the driver couldn’t have been more friendly and understanding of our plight.

The journey into the city centre (about 40mins) was smooth and at one point took us through an underpass (underground) for around 5km. The only other time we have experienced anything similar was in Brussels. We learned later that they are now constructing another one on the opposite side of the river to divert even more traffic away  from the city centre. The UK does have a lot to learn from other countries!

Our hotel is amazing and we have great views overlooking the Brisbane river. We are up on the 20th floor so the views are quite spectacular! Hopefully the picture opposite provides a feeling of this!

The other thing we are really finding quite strange is the city, and of course the whole of the southern hemisphere, are gearing up for Christmas. The current temperature in Brisbane is circa 30c!!

The hotel we are staying at ‘The Stamford Plaza’ has its’ decorations up! The city streets have got the Christmas bunting and lights on display. It does feel really odd that in less than 4 wks they will be celebrating Christmas – in the hot sun!! The pictures below are taken in our hotel.

Hamilton Island – Day 5

Nothing much to blog about today – just another lazy day on the beach with lots of sun though very breezy. This really has been a fabulous few days of relaxation after the last 6 weeks of travelling firstly through North and South Islands of New Zealand in a camper-van followed by a few days with Lynda & Steve Parish in their home in Newcastle NSW then driving up to Brisbane.

We would highly recommend visiting Hamilton Island it has a great ambience and the people working here are so friendly. The scenery is superb and the sand, sea and sun so warm as well. We love this place and would like to return some time in the future.

Our last evening was spent having dinner in the resort/hotel. It was a glorious evening with a moon shining across the bay and the islands across the bay. The food was good the wine and rum excellent. The pictures really sum up our time here. The bar-mans name was – Edward and NZ from Wellington.

Tomorrow we are off to Brisbane for a few days before we commence our travel back home.

Hamilton Island (actually The Barrier Reef) – Day 4

So an early start today with breakfast at 7.15am – that is early for us as it’s generally been around 9am unless we were travelling. Today we were travelling – all the way to the centre of the Barrier Reef to one of the pontoons that’s been erected out in the ocean to provide safe access for visitors to the Reef. What fantastic day it turned out to be.

We set off from Hamilton Marina in a twin hulled motor cruiser – we were told it would take us around 2hrs to get to our destination. It was a fine day with moderate winds however it was rather choppy and it was fun watching people trying to walk as the boat was rolling about quite dramatically at times. After around 90mins we could see the shape of the pontoon on the horizon and by 11.15am we were alongside and ready for 4hrs of discovery and adventure.

Brenda is a certified scuba diver so she took the opportunity to go on dive with 3 other guys and the professional diver. While she was away I spent the time lazing in the sun as well as chatting with other guests and staff. Lunch was outstanding and loads of it – Lots of healthy fresh salads of all sorts and the choice of smoked ham, chicken or prawns. My choice was of course the prawns which were succulent and large. By the time I finished Brenda had returned and full of what she had seen and how she had enjoyed the dive.

Whilst she lunched I took a trip in a small submerged submarine type of craft which went along about 400yds of the reef. It was fascinating listening to the marine biologist as she described the life of coral and about many of the fish that live around it. What is interesting is most of it is brown and nothing like the multi-coloured ones you often see on nature programmes – our guide explained the tricks used by the cameramen to strengthen the colours. However it was still great to get up close to what is a living and organic vegetation and coral which is actually living animals – I found this a little difficult to get my head round that thought!!

On my return to the pontoon I donned my stinger wet suit, fins and face-mask to join Brenda in snorkling amongst the fish and getting a bit closer to the reef. You have to wear the wet suit as there is a risk of  being stung by Irukandji Jellyfish which are commonly found in deep water. If you get stung by one of these transparent jelly fish then you can suffer extreme pain and need to seek urgent medical attention. Earlier in the day I observed one of the crew advising a young man and women who were about to go swimming without the wet suit on to not be foolish and what the consequences were – he won the case.I’ve snorkelled in a few places in my lifetime and this is up amongst the best especially as the water was so warm.

So we boarded our boat for the return journey which was just like the outward journey with lots of rolling etc. The sun was beating down and everyone looked really tired form the activities they had been involved in. It had been a great day and one that will last in our memory for a long time.

We had a great view of the Whitsunday Islands as we journeyed back to Hamilton Island and once we entered these the sea became much calmer.

We got back to our resort around 5.30pm feeling very pleased with what we had been part of but also a little weary.

As previously mentioned our resort is right on Catseye Beach and we have an infinity pool. When we got back from our trip the pool was empty, there was no-one around.

 The water was still, the sun was still shining and the it was just tranquil – and this was the result, lovely and peaceful.

 

Hamilton Island Day 3

Another day mainly lazing and chilling out on the beach though we did venture out down to the marina area at lunchtime. It’s about a 10min walk from our hotel though we did deviate off the main walkway to peruse other hotels/resorts and shops (for Brenda’s benefit of course lol). Brenda also did a bit of kayaking, which she loves, exploring the coral across the bay we are in – me? I just lazed in the sun and took the occasional picture of he 

On Hamilton Island the 2 things which are in plenty these are Cockatoos, who are very noisy and also inquisitive and club cars, virtually the only way to get around the place other than walking.

I have no idea how many club cars there are the island but my guess is it must be well over a thousand – they are everywhere. Every hotel/resort also have their own to transport you to wherever you want to go. At our hotel you just turn up at the reception and someone is always available to take you and will either arrange a pickup time for when you want to return or you can just as the shop, bar, restaurant etc to phone the hotel and they are with you in minutes.

Another interesting arrangement is you can choose to carry no cash or card to pay for whatever you are purchasing whether that be an ice-cream, meal, drinks or gifts – in-fact literally anything. All you do is inform them which hotel/resort you are staying at, prove it by showing them your room key then all you do is sign a receipt for whatever you have purchased and this then gets charged to your personal account. This gets settled at the end of your stay but it does mean you need to keep a running tab though this is available through the TV in your room. Whilst this is a great idea it has it’s risks as when you have cash you can at least monitor what you are spending and if your someone who is carefree you could run up a hefty bill which if you’re not careful could take you over your spending budget.

Each evening there is an opportunity to watch the sun go down over the Whitsunday Islands. There is a great viewing point on One Tree Hill (though I counted many more trees than just the one!!!). Here people gather and socialise and enjoy a sunset cocktail or two and wait for sunset. We were blessed with watching a beautiful sunset with thin clouds infiltrating the rays of the setting sun. It was a glorious event and a reminder that as one day is ending another is beginning in another part of God’s majestic world.

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island is off the coast of Queensland and only a 75 minute flight away. We chose this resort as it provides us with easy access to the Barrier Reef which we will get to take a closer look at during our stay.

Our hotel is truly amazing and the setting idyllic and we have our travel agent at Trailfinders Exeter to thank for his guidance and advice not just for this lace but for the whole of our holiday. For anyone contemplating an extended holiday to a number of places then talk to Trailfinders we have found them excellent throughout the whole process.

So back to our hotel – the resort is called Beach Resort and that’s where it exactly is right on Catseye Beach and we have magnificent views of the ocean and surrounding islands from our terraced room.

We have spent much of our time just relaxing either on the beach or by the poolside which has an infinity pool and is freshwater. There are a number of interesting birds around and we were advised particularly about the cockatoos who are in abundance and given the opportunity would enter your room and have a ‘party’ of the wrong sorts!!!

On Saturday we lazed about on the beach with temperatures around the mid 30’s though with the breeze really didn’t feel that warm. Swimming in the ocean is so lovely as the temperature of the water is like a tepid bath. We did lots of swimming in both the ocean and the pool to keep us cool.

We were pleasantly surprised to witness a wedding on the beach. What a wonderful occasion it must of been and we reflected on the likelihood of such an occasion taking place on the beach in the UK with the certainty of good weather.

Our day concluded with watching the sunset over the Whitsunday Islands. What an awesome experience and once again a reminder of God’s wonderful creation and that as the sun is setting in one continent it is rising in another and so life continues in a similar way. Thank you God for the wonders of your creation and a reminder that your love and grace is universal.

 

Newcastle to Brisbane

Day 1 – after picking up our hire car to set off up the coast with Port Macquarie as our intended stop for that evening. We stopped off at Bulahdelah for a late breakfast before taking the coastal route that took us through such places as Myall Lakes National Park, Pacific Palms, Booti Booti National Park, Foster-Tuncurry, Harrington and Crowdy Head reaching Port Macquarie early afternoon. On the way we saw signposts for Stroud and Gloucester once again reminders of the influence of the early settlers from England.

Port Macquarie was once the place convicts who had reoffended were sent to for hard labour after being sentenced in Sydney. Looking at it today you would have to say it didn’t present as a horrible place to serve out a sentence but of course that was over 190 years ago when that all started. These days it is a holiday focused area and is referred to as the entrance to the sub-tropical coast with its lovely surf beaches and a laid-back coffee culture. It is also home to lots of different species of birds including the pelican.

We had a lazy wander around the town taking in some late sunshine though this was interrupted occasionally with squally showers. Something we hadn’t reckoned on was the number of restaurants and bars that weren’t open on a Monday evening! Thankfully the aptly named Corner Restaurant Cafe was open. This was described in our guide book as a Sydney-ish style cafe!!! The food was excellent with a service to match – it was only spoilt by a large group of noisy americans who had dropped in for coffee. Most of the group were older than us yet the noise they made was annoying and certainly made a dent in what had up till then been a lovely atmosphere!!

Day 2 – After having breakfast back at the Corner Restaurant Cafe (minus the noisy Americans) se set off for Grafton which would be the place for our overnight stay. We followed highway 1 which is known as the Pacific Highway for most of our journey. There were major parts of this key road that are currently being upgraded however our drive was pleasant and not at all like our experience is in the UK with major conjestion. Our lunch was taken at Coffs Harbour which has a relaxed pleasant feel about it. Our guidebook informed us that up until the 1960’s banana growing had been the main employment having first started in the area in the 1880’s. Now of course tourism has taken over as the mainstay of the local economy. After lunch our journey to Grafton took us inland (hinterlands) and through countryside very similar to England with rolling hills and fields full of mainly cattle.

Arriving in Grafton we looked for a place to stay – it was a little more difficult than we thought it would be but we found a lovely motel which was very close to the main city centre. Grafton is known as a regional agricultural centre due to it’s position on the Pacific Highway. We had just missed a showing of the Brazalian Jacaranda which has stunning purple flowers. Apparently the streets are awash during October with these purple flowers so we could could imagine what it must have been like as most of them had died off by the time we arrived.  However we did come across this enormous Fig Tree which was only about 130 years old – not sure that the photograph does justice to it’s enormity or grandeur but you can get an idea of this by looking at the car parked next to it!!

We found the people of Graft Family Hotel which is one of the oldest pubs in the town centre. We had considered staying there when we read about Grafton but opted not too – we were a little disappointed that we didn’t follow through on that as the whole place had a lovely feel about it and all the bedrooms had access to a verandah.

Day 3 – Our initial plan for today was to stay overnight at Byron Bay, however Lynda & Steve had advised us that every year in November thousands of teenagers flock to Surfers Paradise to celebrate the end of their high school education in a month long party. It’s known as Schoolies week and generally if you are not a teenager you should give places like Byron Bay a ‘wide berth’. This very week was the start of schoolies party so we were wary of what we might find in some of the places we planned to visit. However, we found Byron Bay to be a charming place which had a certain buzz about it. Yes there were many young people about but at the time we visited they were heavily out-numbered by young and older adults.

On the way to Byron Bay to passed through more hinterland areas such as Ulmarra where Russell Crowe owns a pub! Maclean is a picturesque little town that takes its Scottish heritage very seriously. As we passed through we noticed that all the lamposts had the tartan of different clans painted on the base. Our journey also took us through the Bundjalung National Park and  Lismore before arriving in Byron Bay just in time for lunch.

After a swift walk around the town centre we set off for Tweed Heads which is very near the border of New South Wales and Queensland. We had noticed how the weather had started to improve and that the sun was more prevalent and the temperature averaging now in the high 20’s and occasionally into the low 30’s. Tweed Heads actually marks the southern most end of the Gold Coast strip and after driving through what was a fairly new suburb we arrived in Coolangatta which was described in our guide book as a laid back seaside resort that has great surfing beaches and a splendid looking esplanade. Our guide book also said that it did not get populated by those who were seeking the party scene. So this seemed an ideal place to stay for the night – now all we had to do was to find a suitable place to stay. And what a place we found – an amazing apartment on the 12th floor with views out of the lounge and bedroom overlooking the beach. The sun was at it’s best and we also managed to get our first swim in the Atlantic Ocean though the surf was rather strong and it tested our swimming skills – but hey it was warm and what we had been looking forward to!

Day 4 – The last leg of our journey up the coast would take us into Brisbane. The drive was motorway all the way which was quite strange having not really done this kind of driving for a number of weeks. We arrived in Brisbane around lunchtime and our first task was to check out the availability of storage at Brisbane Airport for the baggage we didn’t want to take to Hamilton Island. Once this was sorted and our baggage safely locked up in a locker we needed to find ourselves accommodation. We were fortunate to find this easier than we expected at a motel in the district of Hamilton. This was certainly a coup for us as it gave us access to the City Cat which operate on the Brisbane River and was to get us into the heart of Brisbane in around 45mins.

We hadn’t planned this as we will be returning to Brisbane after our stay at Hamilton Island but it turned out to be a fantastic way to see the suburbs of Brisbane and the outstanding properties all along the river shore on both sides. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening wandering around this great city and are certainly looking forward to returning next week