Ay caramba! from Messina dessert bar

Ay caramba! from Messina dessert bar

Liking: We had Jane, John and Hannah short to visit which was great. We had lots of adventures, and played lots of board games ūüôā We also went on a sailing trip with Andrew on the Harbour. It was a really good day out, with a bit of added drama when the rudder broke right off the boat on the way back! We floated for a while, and had to be towed back to the mooring by the marine rescue people!

Disliking: It’s pretty hot now. I still hate the feel of sun cream. Our place gets way more sun than our last one, so it gets pretty warm inside. We’ll be investing soon in a good fan for the bedroom to help us sleep at night. I got a basic one for free from the basement, but it has no timer so we have to have it on all night.

Watching:¬†We saw the Imitation Game at the Moonlight outdoor cinema which was really good. The film was very engaging and Benedict Cumberbatch played Turing really well. We went for the Gold Grass bean bag seats this time, which were super comfy and watched the bats flying around, including getting involved in the film! We’re also going to watch some 20:20 cricket, which apparently is more entertaining and faster than normal cricket.

Playing: We’ve played a lot of games with the Shorts. Ticket to Ride was a popular one, and we also went through Smallworld, Agricola, Loot Letter, Munchkin and Monopoly Draw.

Reading: On holiday in New Zealand I read Gone Girl. I’ve not seen the film yet but the book was very good. There were big plot developments in most of the chapters which kept you guessing and interested right the way¬†through. I really enjoyed it although was a bit let down at the end.

Consuming: We’ve eaten a lot of yummy stuff recently, including: dinner at the O Bar with some great views, cheese in the Hunter Valley, cheese picnics at the outdoor cinema and new years, pavlova Jane made, macaroons Hannah made, burgers from the new place The Burger Project, dessert from the Messina Desert Bar (see above) and dumplings from Din Tai Fung.

Buying:¬†After stealing the idea from some friends, we’ve invested in some very light, very compact camping chairs and tables. They’ll be really good for camping without taking up too much space and if we go to outdoor stuff over the summer.

Thinking about: My new job. I wasn’t really enjoying my last role, so I’ve got a new job starting late January. Fingers crossed it works out well! ūüôā

Visiting: After New Zealand, over the Christmas break we took our visitors to Watsons Bay in Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains. More about that soon.

Missing: The Shorts now they’ve gone! Marmite supplies are restricted now though, so we won’t be missing that too much for a while.

Looking forward to: We’ve just booked a trip down to¬†Melbourne¬†in March to watch the Grand Prix which should be fun.

 

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Matt is lucky to work on Garden Island, which is just to the east of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, with some pretty cool views. The land is owned by the Navy, and for a long time they have sold cheap tickets to employees, their friends and family to go and watch the New Year fireworks from there. Last year we missed it becasue we were in Tasmania, so we were keen to go this year.

We got a bit nervous as they announced the tickets quite late this year, but it all worked out in the end and we got 5 – for me, Matt, his parents and his sister Hannah who were visiting over New Year. Gates opened from 3pm and we arrived about 4.30pm. Across Sydney for NYE there are a lot of free venues, but they close when they get to capacity, so you have to get there very early to get a good spot, and they don’t let you take alcohol. We read some stories about people who had camped out for days before to get the best views. There are also a lot of places which put on events and sell tickets, a lot of which are around the $400+ mark!

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Because the island is a Naval base there were some rules about going on (closed shoes, no gazebos or big umbrellas, no fireworks of your own and only a ‘moderate’ amount of alcohol!) A lot of these seemed to be ignored! We realised when we got there we were a bit unprepared compared to most other people. Lots of them were wheeling in trolleys crammed with chairs, radios and giant wheelie eskies and cool bags full of cold drinks. We did have some picnic blankets, a small cool bag, picnic (largely cheese based) and of course some card games to pass the time¬†(Loot Letter, Monopoly Draw and Get Bit). If we get to go again i’ll definitely be packing some chairs and an umbrella for some shade when the suns up! I also left my tripod behind, which was clearly a mistake – most of my pictures were quite blurry!

Our NYE spot

Our NYE spot

We got a prime spot looking at the Opera House and the bridge, just one row back from the people who got there when the site opened. They only sell a set number of tickets and it was quieter than I expected, which was really good. It filled up more as the afternoon went on, so it was good to get there when we did. There were some food, so of course we had an ice cream.

Throughout the afternoon there were a few bits of entertainment including a couple of flying displays and a fire boat shooting out a giant water cannon. Once it got darker they had a light parade of boats, where they were all lit up with fairy lights and looked very cool sailing around.

Flying display

Flying display

Each year they have an early fireworks display at 9pm. The idea of this is its for families,so people with kids can watch it still and then take them home to bed. This display itself was 8 minutes and was really good, so after that I was looking forward to the midnight ones even more. They also had an ‘inspire moment’ at 10.30pm, which was a short firework display. After that there was quite a gap till the midnight fireworks, so we played some more games under the handy flood lights.

Illuminated boat

Illuminated boat

The midnight fireworks were amazing. I managed to get a spot at the front, which was great for the pictures. Annoyingly becasue I didn’t have my tripod a lot of them were blurry or quite grainy becasue of the high ISO, but I’ve learnt my lesson now! The volume of fireworks was massive, and watching the choreography (is that the right word for fireworks?) where they set them off from on top of the opera house and bridge, mirroring their shapes was really good. Seeing the reflections over the water was great too. Towards the end of the display they set a lot of fireworks down from the base of the bridge which made it looks like a waterfall – it looked very cool and very pretty.

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Once the fireworks were over getting back wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. It was busy, but not stupidly so. We were held for a while inside the station because of overcrowding on the platform, but only a couple of minutes. We go on a train fine, and changed train fine. At some of the stations there were a very large amount of people trying to get on because of some earlier problems involving a fire alarm and station closure, but luckily we escaped those.

It was a great day and evening and we were really lucky to be able to get cheap tickets to see the fireworks from such a good spot ūüôā

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

 

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation

After the Great Barrier Reef, we headed up to north to stay in Port Douglas for a few nights. We rented 2 apartments between us, right by the beach and with an outdoor pool which we got good use out of.

The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world (135 million years!), and we were keen to explore it. After enjoying the tour we did at Uluru earlier in the year, and having had some recommendation from others we booked onto a day tour with Billy Tea Safaris. See¬†here. We got picked up from our apartment, and drove for about an hour, hearing stories about the local area, the sugar cane plantations and flooding from our knowledgeable guide, ‘Uncle’ Nev.

Our first stop was to have some local Daintree tea, and hop on a cruise along the Daintree River for an hour, trying to spot crocodiles. Unfortunately because of the hot weather they all seemed to be hiding, so the only one we saw was the one the guide was handling at the start. Still it was nice being on the river, having a close up look at the mangroves and learning about the area.

After that we stopped at a very scenic lookout with views down the valley, and went on for a short walk in the rainforest, looking at some cycads (tall ferms) which were hundreds of years old. From there we went on to an animal rescue centre where we got to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies. Nev cooked us up a very tasty BBQ with some locally reared, grass-fed steaks.

Me feeding the rescue kangaroo

Me feeding the rescue kangaroo

 

Next up we drove along the 4WD Bloomfield Track, which goes up north to Cape York. It takes days to drive up there and there are basically no shops or other towns on the way. It really have us a good feeling for how remote that bit of Australia is. After a while we stopped and took a refreshing swim in a pool with some fish. Just downstream was a warning sign about crocodiles, but apparently they don’t come up as far as where we were swimming. I kept my eyes peeled just in case!

CrocSign

Beware, Crocodiles!

After surviving the swim, we had some more tea, fruit damper bread with golden syrup from the local sugar cane¬†and a selection of about 7 different local tropical fruits. I can’t remember the names of all of them, but it included jackfruit, soursop (like a lemon), black sapote and chocolate pudding fruit – which really did taste like chocolate pudding.

Bushfruit

Rainforest fruit

After heading back down the 4WD track we stopped for a walk at¬†Cape Tribulation, the beach where ‘the rainforest meets the reef’. It was really¬†very pretty, but¬†you’re advised not to go in the sea because sometimes there are crocodiles. We took a walk along the beach, keeping a respectable distance from the water! On the beach there were loads of tiny balls of¬†sand, made¬†by little crabs. You couldn’t help treading on the balls,¬†which made me feel bad. I have no idea why the crabs make them, but they were all over the beach in Port Douglas too. For the last stop we went to the¬†Daintree Ice Cream Co, for ice creams made of local tropical fruits – yum!

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

The next day we went for a hot and humid walk around Mossman Gorge and the surrounding rainforest. The gorge is pretty big, with lots of large boulders. The water was quite low as it was summer time, but in the wet season it must be pretty powerful. We spotted a water dragon hanging about on a tree, and lots of bright orange butterflies.

Water Dragon in Mossman Gorge

Water Dragon in Mossman Gorge

After the hot rainforest we went to chill out on the beach. While James, Laura and Tom dug a big deep hole (because that’s what you do on the beach), Matt, Monika and I went for a swim in the sea. We went for the part where the net was – to avoid the jellyfish and possible crocodiles! We checked the sign, and in the sea it was 29 degrees! Getting in, it was the only time very I haven’t even felt a tiny bit cold in the sea. It actually felt like it had been warmed up, which was very very strange – but nice!

PortDouglas

 

The next day we had to go back to Sydney and leave all our Horsham friends behind ūüôĀ It was an excellent trip, and lots of fun. Come back soon guys!

 

 

Turtle

Turtle

After Cairns, we went on a 3 day, 2 night live aboard cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef with a company called Reef Encounter. Considering the price of hotels, for about $600 each including all our meals and the boat trips it was a pretty good deal.

First up we hopped on the day boat at 7.30am for an 8am departure, and relaxed while they cooked us bacon and egg rolls on the BBQ on the top deck!

Blue Sea Star

Blue Sea Star

The day boat took us out to the bigger boat, plus a load of people just doing a day trip. While we made the trip we watched Cairns disappear into the distance, and went to a presentation¬†by the on-board Marine Biologist about all the different fish in the reef. She explained that none of the reef sharks would eat us, or even try and nibble us! Apparently they’re less dangerous to people than the average dog.

Maori Wrasse

Maori Wrasse

About 10am we got transferred across to the main boat, had a safety talk, got shown to our rooms and went right out for our first snorkel at Saxon Reef. The other reefs we went to were Norman Reef, Norman Playground (near Norman Reef) and Hastings Reef.

Matt-fish

Matt-fish

When we first got in the water it was in a pretty deep area, obviously becasue they had to anchor the boat. But after just a short swim we were surrounded by masses of coral beds. They were really quite close to the surface, some of them in the shallow bits only about a 1-1.5 meters below so you had to be careful not to hit them.

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

The types of fish we saw included Parrot Fish, which were my favourite becasue they were really bright and great blue and purple colours.They eat the coral, so when you are near them you can hear them crunching off bits of rock.

Other fish we saw included: unicorn fish; seal faced puffer fish; angel fish; cardinal fish; clown (nemo) fish; groupers; surgeon fish (Dory); trigger fish; Mauri wrasse and sun fish. We also saw some long-thin fish which i’m not sure what they were!

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

I’ve seen the reef on TV and in books, but I really was amazed by how many different fish there were in any one place, and the diversity of the different types of fish too. On TV I always cynically assume they show the best bits, but the amount of fish around was really amazing, and they were so many different colours. They were lots of different kinds of coral to and anemones, again with lots of different colours.

In some places there were lots of dead bits, which was sad. It was all grey and just looked like lots of stick shaped bits of stone. We asked on the boat about it and they explained most of this was cyclone damage from storms. Because the reef is so close to the surface it can get damaged easily when the big storms come through.

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

I was swimming in my long rash vest. Although getting it felt a bit cool, the water was pretty warm and unusually I wasn’t cold. Annoyingly, about half way in to our first swim our underwater camera died! Despite a lot of attempts to revive it it just got worse so we had to give up on it! They had some on the boat you could hire, so we did that and kept on snapping away.

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

On our second swim we saw a turtle and followed it for a long time which was brilliant. They’re so beautiful to look at and graceful with their swimming. I saw turtles two more times, and each time followed them around for ages. You have to be careful not to swim on top of them, becasue they need to come up for air every so often, and if you’re above them they get scared and won’t do it. I saw them do this twice and dive back down again which was really cool. Before¬†we went, my aim was to see a turtle, and swimming with them was definitely my favourite bit of the reef trip. It was even better than I imagined.

White-tipped Reef Shark

White-tipped Reef Shark

On the morning sessions and the last ones of the day we also saw grey-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks. They were a close second to the turtles, and really cool to watch slinking around looking for food. Swimming with them messed with my brain as it has totally been programmed to think sharks are bad and will eat you. We swam with two at a time at one point. I enjoyed swimming with them a lot, but my brain kept telling me I shouldn’t be doing it as they’d spot me and have me for dinner! Luckily the Marine Biologist was right and none of us got even the slightest bit nibbled!

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

At night we saw a LOT of sharks circling around the boat. Apparently the pipes leak a bit, so they are attracted to the boat becasue they smell the food. Watching them circling and seeing their fins above the water was pretty cool. I certainly didn’t fancy swimming with 7-8 of them at once!

Sharks!

Sharks!

Matt and James did a night dive with them! The boat we were on was one of only a few where you can do a night dive if you’re not a certified diver becasue they have a special licence. You have to do a day trial dive first, which Matt did. At night there are lots more predators about, including the sharks and trevalli, plus turtles sleeping in caves and hidey holes. The night divers had torches to see, which you could watch from the surface – it looked fairly surreal.

Orange Sea Star

Orange Sea Star

The days were jam packed full which was really good, with a nice balance of time to relax, play games, sun bathe, drink tea or recover. The schedule was roughly:

6.30 – Morning snorkel / dive

7.30 – Breakfast then boat moves

8.30 – Snorkel / dive

10.30 – Snorkel / dive including new people

12.00 – Lunch

13.30 – Snorkel / dive then move boat

15.30 – Snorkel / dive

18:00 – Dinner

19:00  РNight dive

20:00 – Dessert (yum!)

 

Giant clam

Giant clam

I got up for the early session on our first morning and we saw a turtle and shark so it was well worth it! There were less other people about which was nice, and it was a good way to start the day and wake up my stomach ready for a nice big breakfast. On the second day we were at a reef I had already swam at twice and where we were staying until after the 8.30am session so I had a lie in instead!

On the first night we had a really good view of the stars and even saw a shooting star so close and bright it looked like a fire-work.

Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish

The rooms were reasonably spacious considering we were on a boat, and the dining room / lounge was nice and big for games. The meals were really good, including a breakfast fry up, fresh pastries and full cooked lunch which was very welcome after lots of swimming! The desserts were good, especially the ice cream bar one, and there was lots of tea, coffee and Milo to help yourself too whenever the boat wasn’t moving. We took along snacks in-case we were under-fed, but definitely didn’t need any of them! (Well, apart from some chocolate Freddo frogs!)

Turtle!

Turtle!