Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cairns, oh glorious Cairns!

The Cairns Esplanade
We had the pleasure of going to Cairns for vacation last week, our only regret was that we have not gone sooner because we would of already been back, so much to do and see.  We stayed in a beautiful house near Clifton Beach, the house was full of louvered windows that we got to open every night to feel the beach breeze. We could not wait to walk on the beach!  Check out the sign you see when you get to the beach, apparently if the marine stingers or crocs don't get you, the sun will burn you to bits in 6 minutes!
Clifton Beach

The first day was spent in Cairns, we spent the day on the Esplanade and at Muddy's playground, which has to be the best park I have ever seen - the boys wanted to stay for 5 or 6 hours.  After lunch we happened upon a bumper soccer area, this was one of the funniest things I have seen in a while - the boys were in plastic bubbles trying to kick the ball, but mostly knocking each other down. Every time they fell over and could not get up it reminded my of the girl turned blueberry in Willy Wonka. Of course there are no words for the Australian mom who decided to join in wearing a mini skirt, a treat for JD!
1 of the many areas to play

Jake upside down
Day two we took a scenic drive north to Port Douglas, beautiful winding road with coastline on one side and mountains on the other.  Port Douglas is a beautiful beach town and home to Four Mile beach, one of the most famous beaches in the area.  The Sunday markets are huge, full of wonderful things - I bought a glass tray that was a must have.  The beach was beautiful, I think the boys enjoyed playing on the rocks more than anything though.  I thought the "munch buggy" driving around with snacks was hilarious.  We went to the Iron Bar for lunch and got very excited when I saw the Cane Toad Racing sign, only to find out the races are at 8:00 PM - we were ready to add toads to the list of animals we have seen racing!  We then went to the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas, they had a rain-forest, wetland and kangaroo area that you could walk through pretty freely.  Even though we are now experts on Kangaroos and Wallabies, we still enjoyed hand feeding them as they hopped right up to us.  The highlight for me of course was getting to hold a koala, Queensland is the only state in Australia where you are allowed to hold one.  Dillon enjoyed the birds the most, he was whistling to a parrot that appeared to be talking back and following him.  Pretty sure Jake and JD's favorites are the crocodiles.
Four mile beach

"Munch Buggy"

Monday we headed off to Green Island which is on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, the day was beautiful and the waters fairly calm - we spent the 45 minute ride on deck until we hit a wave and the boat dipped, and all four of us were soaked - the boys and I laughed hysterically!  Green Island was wonderful, beautiful crystal clear water with white sand beaches, and being a little off season it was not too crowded.  There were no stingers (jellyfish) this time of year but Jake still opted for the wet suit because of water temps. Dillon loved snorkeling, we ended up getting him a life jacket so he could go out further with JD and see more - Jake, who did not love snorkeling stayed a little closer in. Jake's highlight was the glass bottom boat ride, we saw huge sea turtles, a bull ray and some amazing fish.
Green Island

Tuesday morning we headed back to the water for some fishing, my first time! JD and the boys were very excited.  We did calm water fishing on a small boat on the inter-coastal waters.  Our guide, Tim, took us into some hidden coves to net for bait (shrimp, or prawns as they say here).  I managed to catch 5 fish without ever touching the bait or a fish, I considered this an accomplishment! Both boys caught 4 and JD caught 3, but one of his was the largest catch of the day.

One of the sunken ships we fished near.

Wednesday was one of the best days on the trip, just great family time!  We started with the zoo followed by lunch in Palm Cove (my favorite spot in the area). Palm Cove was perfect, the beaches were gorgeous, the palm trees swaying and there were wonderful bistros and shops all around.  I could of stayed all day but we had to be back at the zoo for the 2:00 croc show, once again (just like Darwin) we were treated to a croc jumping out of the water to snap at a chicken, pretty cool! The rest of the afternoon was spent riding go-carts and mini golf, might I point out that I won the round of mini golf.....  Dinner was at an amazing restaurant called Colonies on the Cove back in Palm Cove, sitting with a view of the ocean and eating an incredible meal was the perfect finish of the day.
The Cassowary bird

Palm Cove

Thursday,  our last full day in Cairns, was spent going to Kuranda, a small village in the rain-forest. We took the scenic railway up, it is about an hour and a half trip - going over bridges, through tunnels and going past the occasional waterfall.  Kuranda itself was mostly a touristy village, full of souvenir shops and cafes.  We went to the butterfly sanctuary in the village which was neat, Jake was a little taken back by the hundreds of butterflies flying around but they must have loved Dillon because he  had them landing on him constantly.  We took the gondola ride down the mountain, this of course it out of my comfort zone (fear of hanging from a wire), JD and the boys loved it and I did enjoy the view! At the end of the gondola ride they snap your picture, what a nice surprise to walk into the building and see a giant picture of JD, the boys and my hair on the TV screen, have I mentioned how humid it is in Cairns?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Let's go camping, it will be fun....

Our camping group at Rainbow Valley.
You may have read my blog post from March 2013, it was then that I went camping for the first time - it was hot and there were so many flies I honestly thought I was not going to make the 2 scheduled nights.  So this time, when I was asked to camp again, I thought about it carefully and decided 1 night, in winter, I can do this - I will be fine.


Well to my surprise, I was fine - I did not die from the cold, there were no flies on my food, had some laughs around the campfire, some good wine - but I still think, camping is not for me.  I have come to the conclusion that it is an amazing amount of work, and while I love being with friends, I am afraid the fun meter and the work meter are seriously out of balance.  You spend two days cooking, shopping, making lists and checking them twice, you load the car (and mind you not 1 inch of leftover space, I thought we might have to tie the boys to the roof!), you drive there, unpack the car, put up the tent and now, hours later you are ready to hike and have fun - oh and did I mention there are still flies in winter, just not in the thousands like summer flies - only a few hundred.
At sunset, thank you Steve for the photo.
We had chosen Rainbow Valley as our camping spot and honestly it is amazing.  I do understand making it a camping trip versus a day trip because watching the sunset against the scenery was incredible.  We enjoyed the walks and the kids loved playing on the rocks.  We had all brought an easy dinner and shared wine with our friends around the campfire, a perfect evening - but did I mention it was winter - the forecast said it would  be 26F - seriously cold.  In preparation I bought a polyester, fake fur, minkie blanket for JD and I to use along with sleeping bags and additional blankets.  I found that as long as I was completely under the blanket, head and all, and pressed right up to JD, I was in no danger of freezing to death - even though we woke up to frost on the top of our blanket.  The boys had swags (canvas bags with a foam mattress) stuffed with sleeping bags and blankets and they said they were freezing.
Our minkie, yes that is leopard print!

The boys swags.
In the morning we spent some time trying to get the fire started, my friend Melissa spent about two hours making a pot of coffee, I gave up and drank a Pepsi, we then had breakfast and began to break down camp and pack up the cars and begin our journey home.  I understand now why the Australians use swags, not tents - you can throw your swag in the car with a little food and sleep anywhere under the stars - I hope JD and the boys enjoy it the next time THEY go camping!
You never know who you will run into.

A Bird in the Hair is worth two in the bush.

The boys and I made a visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park with our friends the Gapinski's, we were trying to take in as much as we could before they were to return to the United States.  Our first stop on this beautiful morning was the bird show - after living here for 2 1/2 years it was our first time seeing it.  Honestly I was amazed, I had no idea birds could be trained this well.  We had numerous species of birds all coming in on cue, hawks were diving for food around us and flying over are heads.  We now perfectly understood why they tell you to remain seated, do not move around - at all - while the show is running.

Our next stop was the nocturnal house, one of my favorite spots at Desert Park.  It is a large building that is very dark inside, stars (lights) on the ceiling and didgeridoo music playing.  There are enclosures for owls, bats, bilbies and numerous other animals, and yes snakes! We were lucky enough to be there at feeding time, so many of the animals that can be difficult to see in the darkness were easily spotted as the trainer brought the food into their habitats, the kids loved it.
Right before the eagle fell off the stand.

We then hurried over to the eagle area for a private encounter, there was a talk and then we got to get up close to a wedge tail eagle.  It was now picture time so the kids step in front of a bird stand and the trainer is going to place the eagle on the stand, but the eagle falls.  Keep in mind the eagle is attached to a strap so the eagle is flapping upside down desperately trying to get to the stand.  While this is happening, the kids are backing away and Cheyenne and I are standing there, cameras ready, but not one picture was snapped - we were in such shock at this scene that neither of us thought to take  a pic, so you will have to take my word for it.

Our last stop at the park was the Aviary, I really wanted Cheyenne to see the black cockatoos - they are magnificent.  I was amazed she had never been in the aviary before on one of her previous visits but then she explained that birds make her "uneasy".  I explained that it is a simple path, trust me, you walk through, you see a black cockatoo - you might even get to see the beautiful orange under his wings - and then you walk out - no big deal.  Reluctantly she agreed so we opened the gate, about half way around I was dive bombed by a small bird that had decided to make a nest in my hair - not sure if it was the blonde highlights or the gray sparkles but even after Dillon shewed him away he came back for more.  All I could do was laugh as Cheyenne and another couple kept their distance while taking hundreds of pictures.  I am not sure Cheyenne will ever go in another aviary!

During the school holidays the boys went back to Desert Park for the Desert Explorer program.  Ten kids to work with the rangers all day helping out with feeding and taking care of the animals, they even got to make the rules announcement at the bird show.  Jake said he liked the mammals day the best, he even asked if we can get a dingo as a pet - not gonna happen!