I am always amazed at people who plan a week long trip to Canada and want to
see Anne’s Green Gabled Cottage, Niagara Falls and Banff, all while travelling on public
transit. I try to suggest a less optimistic travel plan, perhaps taking the time to experience
one area in more depth. While I laugh at others and their plans I admit to doing the exact
same thing with Australia and our two week excursion to the Land of Oz; my research
did confirm what I already knew—Oz is a big place.
We were taking a reposition (fancy term for one-way) cruise from Australia to
Vancouver, and we decided that since we were already heading down under we would
extend the trip by two weeks and see some of the country.
My thoughts were immediately of Ayers Rock—Sandra could not believe I did
not think of the Great Barrier Reef—throw in a visit with my longtime friend Tony in
Wagga Wagga and our days were running short. The rock in the middle of the desert was
moved to the list for next time. We did have the reef, Wagga Wagga, and the gold coast
on the schedule, and since we were landing in Adelaide and departing Sydney they were
a must. Two weeks was gone, way too soon.
We tried to crowd in a few extra things because of the length of this flight and the
feeling we would not be getting back to Australia soon. The distance covered on the trip
had me using a travel agent to book the flights, which I had not done in several years, but
I am claustrophobic and do not do well in the window seat. So I spent the extra money
booking with a professional so that I could have an aisle seat on every flight. As luck
would have it the agency had a new person on the phones and she booked a window seat
for me on every flight including the domestic ones in Australia. To say that caused some
problems would be an understatement. When I got home and called to ask about it, the
reply was, “Oh, I made a mistake on that. I see now that you asked for a non window
seat.” I will leave it at saying that I have not called that office since, and go on to the
positive parts of the trip. There were great people along the way that made things work
and I am thankful for them, not as thankful as Sandra because she tells me it is not a good
experience travelling with me in a window seat.
We landed in Brisbane and lucked in to a great hotel with a window that leaked
and an engineering flaw that caused a flood with every shower, but the location was ideal.
We could walk a block or so to the river taxi, which for a couple of bucks would take us
through the city and included a guided tour.
Our first guide was a dandy. He must have been with the Chamber of Commerce
because the information he provided made the trip worthwhile. Arriving at the destination
was a bonus. The trip took us through the former warehouse district downtown, where
these buildings were being converted to million dollar condos and selling faster than they
could be completed. Our guide had a background in the sugar trade that had required
storehouses, and he took us back in time, a century or so.
One of our first trips was to an amusement park along the river where they were
offering rides at no charge. I was not familiar with the concept but thought it worth a try.
Sandra wanted to see the city from the top of the Ferris wheel—in enclosed capsules. I
was terrified of a claustrophobic attack and what I might feel, but she teased, goaded and
encouraged me into it. It was wonderful, I enjoyed the view so much we did it twice, yes,
I re-entered the capsule and we did it again.
The next day we were off to a Koala Sanctuary, and a whole new set of
experiences; anything involving a koala was new for us. The structure did not measure up
to Disneyland but it was designed well to handle the crowds and things kept moving. We
spent the required time with the other animals and finally got to the stars of the
show—the koalas. A moderate wait in line and with a brief lesson from one of the
attendants you got to hold the little ball of fur. The little guys have a semi-connected
spine so they have to be handled with the greatest of care, not at all like a football though
they are similar in size.
Another surprise, you can take you own pics of the bears (with your travel
companion) at no charge, and yes, you can use your own camera. They do of course offer
the obligatory pic in a folder featuring the logo of the sanctuary at a reasonable price.
Again, surprise at the lack of gouging, which I have come to expect from a tourist
attraction. Is this Oz? Really?
Another day of shopping revealed that Brisbane is extremely hot in January and
hats featuring Australian baseball teams are unavailable. They do however have more
than adequate numbers of places selling beer in shopping malls.
Next it was a short flight northward to the Great Barrier Reef. A friend had
advised us, in order to beat the tourist mob we should stay in Port Douglas instead of at a
major centre. It was great advice and Port Douglas proved an interesting semi-tourist
We spent a day in the local market and, tempting as they were, passed up on
several ‘would like’ purchases; it was early in the trip and we still had the 40 day cruise
home. We did invest heavily in some frozen yogurt which may well be the best in the
world, at least that I have experienced.
We spent the evening in a bar that featured Toad Racing, and found the crowd as
entertaining as the toads.
Cane toads were introduced in Australia to combat an insect problem in sugar
cane. They did their job at the highest level they could attain but the insects still
flourished beyond the potential reach of the toads, so not as effective as first thought.
Cane toads have no predators in Australia so they have multiplied and have now taken
over to become the problem more than the solution. A small number are used as racing
toads in establishments like the one we visited, where patrons bet on which will be the
first to reach the outer edge of the circle when they are placed in the centre. The entire
spectacle takes about three minutes and is much more about the hype than the actual
It was time to see the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on the planet
earth. We boarded the Quicksilver VIII (what happened to the first seven?) and headed
out to sea.
Sandra enjoyed scuba diving and reported it was worth every bit to see the reef up
close; I being a non-swimmer stayed on board. The Quicksilver was equipped with a
semi-submersible, which I thought was a submarine, and upon coaxing agreed to a
voyage. This is not easy for me because of claustrophobia but the attendant assured me I
would be all right; he would allow me to be the last to board and would stay beside me to
talk me through it if I had problems. It was an amazing experience and the sights were
unbelievable. I enjoyed it so much I did it twice and that is no easy task for me with the
fears I battle.
The next day we booked a trip with the world famous Tony’s Rainforest
Adventure and took a boat along a river populated with crocodiles—to an incredible
beach where we were served a lunch that I feared would have us overweight for the
return trip. Sandra tested the beach and experienced a Jelly Fish sting. ‘Not a good thing’,
was the evaluation.
Rain forests take vegetation to a new level not experienced by this Canadian
prairie boy. We think we have an issue with organic matter in crop production; we have
no concept of what grows in these climates and the level of organic matter that builds up
over time. The insects and Eco systems at work are beyond anything I had ever imagined.
The next morning it was off to the airport and a domestic flight to see our friend
Tony in Wagga Wagga (you have met him in last week’s chapter).
Tony and Vickie deposited us in the city of Sydney. After spending a last evening
with them we moved over to the designated hotel where our group would be meeting to
board the cruise. We shared a suite at the hotel with our next-door neighbour; in fact, the
group consisted of four couples from the street where we live at Buffalo Point.
Before we left, we still had a few days to experience Sydney. And what an
experience it was! We happened to arrive at the time of the Australian Open tennis
tournament. I am not a tennis fan so was not aware of the ‘Happy Slam’ as it is known,
and that it is one of the largest sporting events in the Southern Hemisphere attracting
more than 800,000 people. To say that it caused some congestion in the city would be
akin to saying Oz is warm in January.
With our group in place it now became possible if not necessary to split up for at
least part of the day and while the ladies chose to do some shopping, I went off on my
own to find some Australian flavour.
I was fortunate enough to happen upon a sports bar with some real culture: a
workingman’s bar with TVs everywhere—carrying every sport imaginable, and a
bookmaking joint in the back room. The locals were slow to warm up to me, it was
obvious to them I was not from down under; they pointed out that my hat was not the
usual style. I had bought the straw headgear to support Cancer Research at the market in
Port Douglas; it had not yet arrived as a fashion statement in this establishment. This is
why I travel.
We visited the city’s Botanical Garden and this was the first time I enjoyed
photographing the flowers and different trees. Diversity was part of the experience; I had
been to more than a few botanical gardens in the past, but the whole package was just
A harbour tour provided a unique look at the city skyline and I took the obligatory
400 pictures of the Sydney Opera House, the most photographed building in the Southern
The cab ride to the cruise dock was more than we expected, but we got our gear
there and on board the ship.