Australia 2018

So it’s been a year since our three-week Australia trip and I’ve been sitting on the trip report for a long while, hoping to carve out the time to write it but inevitably being distracted by something shiny each time. But a year is a year…and that’s too long.

Our trip would start on July 20th, 2018 out of Charlotte, NC. As anyone that has been halfway around the world knows, it’s a bit of a trip. Our itinerary took us from Charlotte to Los Angeles. We departed CLT at 5PM, arriving in LAX at 8PM local time. A three hour layover would give us an opportunity to grab some food before boarding an American Airlines Boeing 787 at 11:15PM, flying for about 15 hours through all the next day, losing a day through some magical crossing of the international date line, and arriving in Sydney at sunup, 7:15AM July 22. Apparently July 21 got put in escrow and we got that day back on the way home. Don’t ask me. It makes my head to hurt to think about it.

Across the desert southwest of the United States on the way to LAX…

I will say, the Boeing 787 was immensely comfortable. We had bulkhead seats, which was great since we could put our carry-on bags in front of us after takeoff. Kai spent much of the flight sleeping, playing Breath of the Wild on his Switch, and we were fed really good food throughout the flight. It really was a pleasant flight…

None of us had crossed the equator…so that was cool…

First look at Australia looming out the port windows…

The Cutest Boy Ever! (Sorry…he is…!). On the terminal transfer bus to the domestic terminal. Despite having flown from CLT-LAX-SYD, we had one more domestic flight on Virgin Australia from Sydney to Hervey Bay…arriving at noon to complete our epic journey.

Virgin Australia was very pleasant…departing over Sydney, you’ll notice some iconic sights below in Sydney Harbor…

On the visual approach to Hervey Bay. I believe it is an uncontrolled airport.

Hervey Bay is 600 miles up the east coast of Australia. Though we were sort of expecting it, the distances in Australia are just mind-boggling…

Finally, after a day and a half of traveling, we settled in to the Pier Resort for three days to sort of recover and start to take it in. I’ll go ahead and mention it now - we traveled to Australia in July - their winter and it was gorgeous. Every picture you see below will have a painfully blue sky. It never rained, and 90% of the time it was just clear skies and temperatures in the 70s to 80.

Our condo in Hervey Bay…

The Head of Planning and Logistics - my beautiful wife Marisa…

The Little Bear - Kai was eight years old last year during our trip. A wonderful world traveler. I think we only had one real dust-up during the trip. We found a nearby restaurant and enjoyed some wine and pizza…

Then we walked around Hervey Bay to stretch our legs. And discovered a wonderful Australian thing…drive through liquor stores! Right on Australia. This was right about when I realized we were really going to like this place.

Walking along the breakwater…

The Urangan Pier, stretching 2,848’ into Hervey Bay…

The next day (or the next?) we took an awesome tour to Fraser Island, a huge barrier island just east of Hervey Bay…

Boarding the ferry for the short trip to Fraser Island…

Once on Fraser Island, we boarded a really cool four-wheel drive bus with the coolest tour guide that gave a non-stop stream of supremely interesting facts about Australia, Fraser Island, the wildlife, fauna, and geology of the terrain we were crossing. It was fascinating.

Some of the awesome White Birch trees. There are all kinds of trees on Fraser Island that were very attractive to early settlers…

This beautiful, cool running stream ran through the area. Crystal clear water and according to our guide I think it was a spiritually important place for the native women…

Our awesome guide…and Kai really did take it all in…

Our first dingo sighting…!

On the bus we headed out of the forest after a few hours and headed down the beach to see some other sites. The bus was really a nice way to travel…

Residents from the mainland apparently come in these caravans of vehicles and just park on the beach and camp. Again, this was another one of those moments were I realized that Australia is full of “my people”. This looked like exactly the kind of stuff we’d do…

Kai riding shotgun…

Wreck of the SS Maheno, shipwrecked in a cyclone in 1935…

A fleet of planes were offering rides right off the beach. We passed that up to enjoy the rest of the bus tour…

Another stop had us wading through a stream. I tried to push from my mind all the stories of the venomous snakes and sea creatures and drop bears (cough). All went well and we didn’t step on any Fire Flatfish Poison Dart Skippers (that really isn’t a creature…but it might as well be…)

Spot the dingo!

To a northern-hemisphere resident…every sighting was something new…

We stopped at the incredible Lake McKenzie, a “perched lake” that sits 330’ above sea level, but some weird sand lens under it keeps the water in it. The bottom and beaches consist of perfect silica sand. The water is crystal clear but cold-ish…

The guide told us we could clean jewelry and teeth…so…of course…

A kookaburra! Yes! He was scouting out the picnic area…

Late in the afternoon it was time to head back to the ferry. There I realized that Australia has rednecks too. This family were feeding a dingo and many, many people were yelling at them to stop…and there was a very real feeling that the dog might bite their little kid. I thought we’d get to see a genuine “The dingo ate my baby” moment…

Back in Hervey Bay. We took a very pleasant stroll to the end of the pier, encountering a few people that we really enjoyed chatting with. It was fantastic to meet people and hear their views on our government (LOL) and everyone was super friendly and just awesome.

The next item on the itinerary the following day was a whale watching tour…

Mornings had a chill to them…particularly on a swift moving boat. Kai warming up with some hot cocoa…

The boat took us along the coast of Fraser Island - you can see that fine silica sand makes up much of the base of the island…

Hard to put into words how awesome it was seeing Humpback whales up close and personal. It almost makes you want to cry it is so awesome. They are so majestic, curious, and just a wonder of nature.

We spent half a day out on the whale tour and had a great time. The following day we grabbed a cab back to Hervey Bay airport. We had the coolest cab driver who asked if we had some extra time to kill (we did) and he asked if we had seen any kangaroos yet. Having only been on the coast and Fraser Island, we had not seen any. The next week I’d have my fill of kangaroos, but it was nice to get the sighting out of the way early in the trip. He took us to a field near the airport and we saw a dozen or so…

Next up we boarded a Cessna Caravan for what will probably remain a top life adventure - a week out on the beautiful Lady Elliot Island eco-resort on the south end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Our pilot (left) was clearly in training by the right-seater. I kept my mouth shut and just took it all in…nobody really wants to know another pilot is sitting behind you…

The pier at Hervey Bay as we departed for the 85 mile or so flight north to Lady Elliot island…

Just like FSX!

The views of Lady Elliot on approach are just jaw dropping. I can’t tell you how excited we were…!

Our approach was perhaps a touch high and fast…we touched down at the midpoint of the crushed coral and grass strip and the right seat pilot ordered a go around. So we got some additional pictures of the island on the second circuit. I loved it. The other passengers…maybe not so much.

The eco-Lodge is pretty austere, but better than some cabins we’ve stayed in. Totally adequate, no air-conditioning (it wasn’t necessary for July), no TV (yay) and a combination of solar arrays and generators provide power.

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The food at the resort consisted of lunch menu items that were delicious, buffet food that was OK, and drinks that were great. We had thought to bring along some wine, so we weren’t suffering by any means…

The view out the front of our cabin…

After dropping our bags we were taken to an orientation at the main restaurant/bar area. I think my jaw dropped when I looked out over the lagoon reef and saw some enormous humpbacks absolutely hauling ass just outside the reef. I mean…they were like freight trains, spouting and just mad-dashing it to wherever they were headed (Hervey Bay!)…

The island has two distinct sides. The lagoon side is a sheltered reef that fills with water on the flood tide, and then drops to knee deep on the ebb tide. This is fantastic because it allows for shallow water snorkeling for part of the day, and awesome tide-pool wading for the other portion of the day…

A moray eel (Grey or Mottled perhaps?)…

On the other side of the island is more reef, but it is deeper and exposed to the ocean currents. There is also a lighthouse…

I never got tired of watching the Caravans and Twin Otters taking off and landing. The runway bisects the island and you have to keep an eye out for the lights that warn to stay off the runway since it is the main crossing point from one side of the island to the other…

Each night some of the staff and many of the guests would gather on the west side of the island to watch the spectacular sunsets and have a beverage…

The next day we walked around the entire island (it only takes 30 minutes or so) and proceeded to get our wetsuits in order. Breakfast was always a highlight for me…peaceful, cool, and quiet…

In July, the water is quite cool on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. We are used to the very warm waters of the Caribbean, so the cool water was a bit of a shock to us. Marisa and I were cold, but not freezing, and we wore 3mm short suits to ward off the cold. Kai, with far less body fat, was a trooper and would stay in for 30 minutes at time or so…but his teeth were chattering by the end of each session. Fortunately the brilliant sun and cloudless skies warmed him up after just a few minutes out of the water each time.

Water quality and visibility was exceptional. The quantity, quality, and health of the corals were unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It was fantastic.

Every so often you’d come across a sea turtle or reef shark…

I was so proud of Kai for staying in the water with us even though we knew he was cold. He really enjoyed all the fish and coral…and was quite good at spotting all kinds of creatures. He is a very good swimmer and (unfortunately perhaps) fearless to boot…

After a bit of time in the lagoon, we walked across the island to the west side and the deeper water there…

The deeper ocean side was just a huge expanse of beautiful and healthy coral. This is the side that the divers tend to stay on. We ventured out to 25’ to 30’ water while they would obviously go deeper…

Every so often, lumbering out of the dark blue, the flapping wings of enormous manta rays would come into view. They were so incredible…

So many fish…

My buddy and I just past the put-in for the drift snorkel. The baskets are there to put your water shoes in - highly recommended to wear them because of the deadly cone snail shells and the even deadlier Stone Fish (apparently the deadliest fish in the world…awesome!)…

Taking a dip in the pool to rinse off and warm up…

Lunch beverages…

The next day we took a really fun trip on the pontoon boat. We saw some whales and the operator tried to get us in position to jump in and swim around them, but the humpbacks proved to be elusive…

We had a very strong desire to keep Kai close. Australia is not the Caribbean. The sharks in Australia are…well…pretty famously large and toothy. I don’t think we’ve ever felt uneasy in the Caribbean, but in Australia the type of sharks does enter your mind…

Kai diving down to look at several very large mantas…

On the skids of the dive boat…

Me diving a bit deeper to get some photos of a wreck and some mantas…

The pontoon excursion was fun…and the guides were great and so enthusiastic about their jobs on Lady Elliot island…

It was hard to keep Marisa and I out of the water and we spent as much time as we could either in the lagoon or the west side reef…

Carefully wading out to the put in on the west side reef…

The west side drift snorkel changed depending on the current at the time. Generally you would put in on one end and drift with the current down to the take-out on the end of the beach. From there you’d either walk back to the eco-resort side of the island, or walk back up the beach to rinse and repeat…

At the end of the runway after doing a drift snorkel…

Kai using his camera to take some underwater photos in the lagoon at low tide…

The night skies in Australia were stunning. So little pollution…and Lady Elliot also benefited from very little light pollution. Obviously, we saw constellations we had never seen before. It was really cool to see the Southern Cross that is so often referenced in books. The moon through my Nikon P900 lens…

Another evening on the west side beach. The resort staff would often get off duty in the late afternoon and they’d take advantage and go snorkeling, paddleboarding, or kayaking…

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Warms my heart to see Kai’s interest in nature and photography…lining up for the shot…

The lagoon was endlessly fascinating at low tide…

And every sunset on the west side was spectacular…

The difference between the low-tide lagoon and the high-tide lagoon was really cool to see…

Marisa taking a shot of a shark…

Checking out his images…

The underwater colors were stunning…

Peacock flounder…

Jacques would be proud…

A more traditional stingray buried in the sand…

Mommy keeping the boy close and trying to keep him warm (at least psychologically…)

The waters around the island are just filled with everything you’d see in a book about coral reefs…it is all stunning…

A squadron of curious squid…

This octopus was awesome. The way his limbs worked independently to reach into holes in the reef to seek out food and the way his colors changed to match whatever he was on was amazing…

Conch shell…

I can’t remember what this was…but it was wild as it swam through the upper water column…

I swam out to one of the deeper water mooring buoys. Spooky dark out there and a lot of current…

So much coral…

Snorkeled until the light gave out…

Hot mama…!

The west side reef was also the scene of some amazing whale watching. One evening we were there and about 8 or 10 whales came right up to the reef. You could feel the deep bass of their breathing and they put on a spectacular show of fin flipping, tail slapping, and breaching. It was awesome.

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Every so often you’d be snorkeling along and a huge dark shape would start to materialize out of the gloom…always a bit startling if you didn’t catch it until it was upon you…

A really cool Spotted Wobbegong shark that Marisa and Kai…well…spotted!

Coral heart…at least it isn’t a cone shell…

A nice Picasso Triggerfish…

I tried not to worry about that boy…LOL…what can you do?

Anything venomous in here??

Outside of our little eco-lodge unit…

Kai earned several smoothies…

More creatures…

Whales breaching just outside the lagoon reef…

On one of the paths through the trees…lots of birds to see…!

Twin Otter…!

Burgers, beers, fries, and chicken…

After a week in paradise, it was time to board our flight back to Hervey Bay. Our visit to Lady Elliot Island was truly a trip of a lifetime. What a jewel.

Since Kai was such a good spirit with the cold water and endless snorkeling, Marisa had planned a nice little treat for him up in Airlie Beach. Upon our return to Hervey Bay, we rented a car, and set off for Airlie Beach.

Now is when we got a dose of the reality of car travel in Australia. Did I mention the country (errr…continent!) is huge? Because it’s huge. What looks like a little jaunt up the coast from Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach was 10 hour drive!

As the sun began to set in the afternoon after a few hours on the road, the night terrors of Australia began to emerge from the grasslands paralleling the road. Murderous kamikaze kangaroos were everywhere. The main north/south highway (A1) is nice, but is mostly two-lane with enormous trucks with lots of lights barreling toward you. All the while the beady little eyes of the murder-Roos are bouncing around the periphery of your vision…and you never know when one is going to hop out in front of you. Kangaroos are not small creatures. Hitting one at 120kph would make a mess of a rental car. It was very, very stressful driving.

We passed through Rockhampton and Mackay all in the middle of the night…so I’m sure they were very nice. I can’t remember exactly when we made it to our resort at the BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday / Airlie Beach. This was the treat for Kai…a kids type resort with lots for him to do. He quickly ginned up a friendship with some Australian and English boys…

We unwound too…spent some time at the pool and enjoyed watching Kai have the time of his life…

We took part of one day to do a short day hike up into Conway National Park…

It climbs steeply into the hills above Airlie Beach…

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One of the days in Airlie Beach we headed downtown and a big festival was going on…Kai decided to get one of those murder-hoppers painted on his face. I still see them in my nightmares.

Some cool cars were on display…

It was genuinely hot in Airlie Beach…

After a couple days of splashing around the BIG4 resort, we put our rental car in the BIG4 storage lot for a few days to head out on our next adventure - a three night cruise through the Whitsundays on the tall ship Solway Lass.

At the marina for the evening check-in…

Our bunks for the next three nights…

One of the crew giving updates on the map for all the passengers to see. We motored throughout the night to our first anchorage in the Whitsundays…

The bar…

Rise and shine…

Kai fell in immediately with a pair of girls on holiday from the UK…playing Jenga on a swaying ship with the ship’s bosun Joel…

The bartender and all around awesome guy Taj playing the guitar with Kai…

At one of our stops Taj takes a leap from the rigging…

The scrum for food each meal was hilarious. This is not a knock, but an observation, that Europeans (of which nearly all of the passengers were) will absolutely clamor for food and wipe out the offerings without a glance at who else might be left in line. We saw it time and again. It was bizarre. Nevertheless, the food was good, there just rarely was enough of it for the last people queuing up…

The magnificent Solway Lass seen from shore when we were put onto Whitsunday Island to hike to Hill Inlet…

Whitehaven Beach is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life…

The sand is fine silica similar to what is found on Fraser Island…Taj pitched in to help the kids build a sand castle…

While we were ashore, the Solway Lass motored around the island to meet us in Tongue Bay…

Kai and his friends back aboard the Solway Lass…

This must have been a nice excursion from Airlie Beach - a helicopter ride to your own private beach…

Getting ready to hop in the water on another stop. The several snorkeling stops we made along the Whitsundays were not all that great actually. The coral wasn’t very nice nor was the visibility. Of course, we’d just come from probably some of the world’s best snorkeling at Lady Elliot Island, so our rating scale range had shifted significantly upwards!

Tiley was the chef and did a fantastic job of putting together huge meals in a very confined galley…

Kai could often be found in the salon (we bought him a guitar after this trip!)…

A stunning sea eagle…

One of Kai’s friends showing off her sketches…

Througout the trip we would stop for snorkeling and other watersports. Kai loved the rope swing off the yardarm. Whales would occasionally make appearances and the scenery was beautiful…

We took an interesting hike one day - were led astray by Taj our hiking navigator and ended up trekking all the way across an island and back instead of just a short hike up to a lookout.

I asked for and received permission from the Captain to fly my Mavic drone, which provided some stunning footage and photos of our trip. I was careful to fly immediately away from the ship and asked the other passengers if they were OK with me filming. Everyone was super enthused about it and curious as to how it worked. I had quiet props installed and the drone is remarkably quiet. It was nerve wracking to be flying my brand new $1200 drone over such wide expanses of water.

The next day were were put aboard Black Island to allow the crew to clean and prepare the ship for end of the cruise. It was a great place to look for shells…

Everyone was given the opportunity to man the helm…

It was a great trip with a fantastic crew.

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Coming back into port we had a celebrity sighting - the Steve Irwin was moored just off Airlie Beach. Regardless of your opinion on the Sea Shepherds, their boat has a cool name and a cool paint scheme…

We said goodbye to all our new friends we had met on the Solway Lass…always strange to make friends like that and then say goodbye to them forever in such a short span.

Back in Airlie Beach we returned to our vehicle and set out for another long drive further north up the coast to Kewarra on the north side of Cairns. An eight hour drive through the night brought us to the Kewarra Beach Resort & Spa…a gorgeous property that we probably didn’t really have the time to fully appreciate…

The drive was similar to the previous one - long, dark, and with the ever present threat of kangaroos. Now I know why most of the cars and trucks in Australia have brush guards mounted on the front of their vehicles.

We took a drive up to the Daintree Rainforest and walked along the high and low platforms learning all about the huge variety of trees and creatures within…

Then it was out to the really awesome Cape Tribulation…

With all the crocodile warnings…you don’t go in the water here, and you use caution even at the edges…

He’s still taking pictures…just like his Daddy…

Hiking up a portion of the trail - we didn’t have a lot of time to spend on trails unfortunately…

The next day we took the Skyrail out of Cairns to Kuranda. This is a neat little package that takes you up the Skyrail, and then back down via a really cool train. Kuranda is home of the Djabugay people and features a ton of local artist’s work. It is definitely a touristy loop, but interesting nonetheless.

Woke up to have breakfast with a wallaby…

The views from the Skyrail are very impressive…and it is a cool engineering feat as well…

Downtown Kuranda Village…

That’s a big burger!

The bat sanctuary was closed for some maintenance…but I did manage to get a picture through the fence…

On one of the hiking trails that crisscross Kuranda…

At the end of the afternoon we went down to the Kuranda Railway Station…

The train tracks hug the side of the mountains and the route is another engineering marvel…

Sugarcane fields outside of Cairns…

Weary from all the traveling, we do some minimal exploring around our resort…

Crocodile warning signs are everywhere…

No crocs in the pools though…

No swimming here though…crocs are seen on the beaches, in the lagoons, in the surf, and have attacked swimmers…

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Our last day in Cairns we headed to the airport and took a several hour flight back south to Sydney on Qantas - a really nice trip and we had a great experience on both domestic flights we took.

Unfortunately, a controlled burn was taking place in Sydney, resulting in some hazy photos…but it was still cool to see things like the Sydney Opera House that we’ve always seen in books and photos…

The harbor is an absolute zoo of activity…

Stopping for lunch while walking around Sydney…

The following day, August 11, after three weeks in Australia, we boarded our American Airlines flight back to LAX at 10:15AM. We connected through LAX and through the magic of the international date line, arrived back in CLT at 7PM on the same day we left Sydney even though we traveled for like 28 hours.

So there you have it. It was an epic trip. I can’t thank my wife enough for putting in all the work of planning the itinerary, making arrangements, and researching all the places we went. Kai had a fantastic time and hopefully we provided some early childhood memories that he will take with him.

With regards to Australia - both of us agreed that we could easily move there. Without exception, everyone we ran into was so kind and helpful. I know we were probably lucky in that regard, but the Australians we met really put their best foot forward. Other than the fact that we both really love our jobs - I could see us packing up and moving if the country would have us (I’m not sure how that works).

The size of the country is simply jaw dropping…and we only skipped up the east coast a bit, missed a lot, and never ventured inland. You could spend decades and never take it all in. We can’t wait to return.

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Additional “trailer” for what will become our home movie…

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Sounds like a really nice trip, and your photos of the (dreaded) Australian wildlife are great!

Speechless. Those are some great shots and video. :+1:

…a bit more genteel than crossing the equator on an aircraft carrier (CVN-74)…:slightly_smiling_face:

Wow!! What a great trip you all had! :smile:

EDIT: Is it just me or does anybody else want @BeachAV8R to adopt them before his next family vacation? :grin:

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I considered donning one of my wife’s dresses, grabbing a fork from the galley, and walking up and down the aisle spraying club soda on everyone…but I think it was like 2AM and everyone was asleep. Might have caused a diversion to Fiji or something… :thinking:

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So…
Did Marisa ever wear a bikini or swimsuit, during the vacation?
Just asking for a friend, who’s doing some statistical studies on southern hemisphere vacations.
Please document with pictures. :bikini: :one_piece_swimsuit:

:wink:

Seriously, though… Looks like an above average vacation…! :palm_tree: :sun_with_face: :kangaroo: :koala:

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Winter in Australia man…we had to dress warmly…(cute picture…but don’t let him fool you…he is a murder-hopper too…)

image

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I see you did enjoy some paragliding.

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The only appropriate response to that is to punch the kangaroo in the face…(don’t worry…they always deserve it…)

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Huh?

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The moment later, not shown on film, the pissed off Kangaroo uses it’s feet to dismember the guy.

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You had the perfect holiday @BeachAV8R - its also a great place to live.

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