Photo: Round mushroom in the Daintree Rain Forest
I followed the yellow brick road to OZ…and finally – I learned why Australia is called Oz. I was expecting some witty reason – something about Dorthy losing Toto and being raised by kangaroos- but unfortunately – it was quite simple. It’s simply a short way to say Australia. One syllable is easier than 3 I guess. However – I asked the locals why they didn’t simply spell it ‘Aus’ instead of ‘Oz’ – they said it’s more recognizable as ‘Oz’ and easier to pronounce (a.k.a better marketing). So – this is how I made my entry into Oz…asking stupid questions to locals.
This is the leg of my around the world journey that I choose to dub “Familiar Faces and Places” (kind of sounds like a Garth Brookes song). In Australia – I met my great girlfriend and frequent travel partner, Angie. For those of you who have followed my travels before – you’ll recognize her from my Italy, France, and Costa Rica photos…and many drunken nights in NYC. The whole time I’ve been in Australia it’s felt like a 2 week vacation as opposed to small part of my trip around the world. I feel like I will be heading home to NYC shortly with my new stash of shopping purchases and a few bottles of wine. I think this is due to the fact that normally when I travel with Angie – it’s for 2 weeks, we eat well, live well, party well, and shop…that’s the norm when I’m with her. So my brain has immediately switched into that mode. The only downside to this is that my travel budget isn’t the same as it used to be when Angie and I normally travel…but the value of having a familiar face with me during my travels – outweighs the cost!
The other familiarity to this part of the trip is that I’ve actually been here in Australia before. This is one of only two places on my big, worldly itinerary that I’m going back to (the other being Italy). I really came back here because the last time I was here 5 years ago I was only able to see one part of Australia…Queensland. I wanted to see the great cities of Australia this time – plus – Angie had never been – so it seemed like a logical place to spend 2 weeks.
I left New Zealand early to fly to Sydney and meet Angie who was flying in from San Francisco. Miraculously we did meet up at our domestic gates just as planned. It was as if I had a muzzle on for the last 2 months – we had so much to talk about – I think I talked her ear off. It was a bit of a strange feeling getting back into my old life routine. We flew directly to Cairnes (in Queensland) and took a shuttle to Port Douglas where we were staying for the next 4 nights. Yup, that’s right – I was going to stay in the same room for 4 nights in a row…wooohoooo!! For the last 3 weeks in New Zealand I have stayed in a new location/hostel/lodge every night. The opportunity to actually unpack my suitcase and see what was on the bottom of it was like heaven to me! I had only been wearing those things that bubbled to the top…I was quite sick of them by now! We were staying at an apartment – so we got settled in and went to the grocery store to get breakfast food and fish for dinner. We had a great little night in our apartment, cooked dinner, rented a movie, and continued to catch up. Finally – I felt like I had a home again for a short moment! It even had a washer and dryer in our apartment…no more washing my panties in the sink – I was back in civilization!
I was also back in the warm weather…this was also a welcome site! The first day we decided to go to the beach and simply relax and work on our tans…or for me – work on my sunburn. I went out and bought the thickest SPF30 I could find – but still got burnt. While we were making our way through town – we heard the rumor that a Hollywood movie was being shot in Port Douglas…the town was all abuzz. This was a small town…maybe 1000 people living there total – then an influx of tourists makes it about 2500 people I suppose. The small town had turned into Hollywood though…it was pretty exciting. The movie was called Fool’s Gold and I’m not sure when it is coming out…but it stars Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Needless to say – Angie and I were hunting for Matthew the whole time we were there. We came up with things that we would go up and say to him if we met him in a bar…the standard comment was ‘nice abs’ – however I wanted to go with ‘nice knees’…I figured something as absurd as that he would actually remember. Alas…I was never able to use that opening line though as we never saw him! Probably a blessing!
Photo: Mr. Fluffy lecturing us
After our beach day, we decided to go to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a tour on a dive boat (with about 50 other people – it was a big boat!), took our motion sickness pills, dawned our bikinis and off we went! The advantage to taking one of these large tour boats out to the reef is that they are fast…they get you far out on the reef in a matter of hours. While we motored out to the far reaches of the reef – our Snorkel Guide – Mr. Fluffy (no – I’m not joking) – gave us a refresher course on snorkeling and educated us on the marine biology of the Reef. Honestly – it was the most thorough snorkeling ‘lesson’ I’ve ever had. My normal experience is – “pick out a mask and some fins in that bucket over there and jump in…good luck.” However Mr. Fluffy was really an expert…we learned about getting the right equipment that fit, how to snorkel the correct way, how to see sharks, etc…really amazing. We had a total of 3 snorkeling stops and each one was really beautiful. The fish were amazing and the coral was colorful. The highlight though was the last stop where Mr. Fluffy went down deep and woke up a couple of sleeping sharks…normally I would not stick around to see groggy sharks – especially if they were anything like me when I woke up…BITCHY. However, Mr. Fluffy assured us it would be ok and they would take no interest in us…so I trusted him. The sharks were big…probably about 5 feet – pretty spectacular to have them swimming about 10 feet away from us, it makes your heart stop! We also saw giant barracudas – however they seemed to have no interest in us whatsoever – thank goodness. One last thing – I believe that it’s too bad that Jack Palance (Mr. Ripley’s Believe it or Not) passed away recently as he should have come out and met Mr. Fluffy. The man could hold his breath longer than anyone I’ve ever seen. Honestly – it was like for 4 minutes. I think he was part fish – or at the very least he had to have gills. He definitely could have given David Blaine a run for his money – maybe I should have told him to come to NYC/Lincoln Center and live in a tank for a week.
The last day we were in Port Douglas we went on a day tour Cape Tribulation, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Daintree River. When I was here 5 years ago – I actually went and camped in the Daintree Rainforest for a night – it was a terrifying night for me then as we didn’t even have tents – only a hammock that we tied between a couple of trees – I just prayed all night that a snake wasn’t going to slither down the tree and into my sleeping bag cocoon. So – I was happy to simply go on a walking tour of the rainforest this time around! Our guide Grant was great – he took us to the Cape where we got Kayaks and did a little kayaking, then we went for picnic lunch in the rainforest and visited a swimming hole to cool off. During our rainforest walk – Grant explained to us the ‘Battle for Light’. No – this isn’t a new Star Wars prequel/sequel – this was the battle that every plant/tree/fruit goes through in the rainforest to get above the tree canopy and to the sunlight to be ‘king of the jungle’. The vines were amazing – you could follow them up trees and you knew they had been around for hundreds of years. We also saw a tree that was the same design as Angie’s bikini she was wearing…once you look at all of the pictures you’ll see what I mean.
We saw the rainforest wild life – dragons, and ants…but no cassowary’s (Patty – you are probably the only person who knows what a cassowary is – the rest of you will need to google that). Finally we hopped on an electric river boat and did a river safari of sorts…we were hunting for crocs…and we weren’t disappointed. Sure enough – Scarface made an appearance – and we followed it through the river as far as we could…it was pretty cool to see him swim on the surface.
Photo: Me practicing how I would fight off Scarface
We left Port Douglas without Mathew McConaughey – but at least we had good tans. Well – Angie had a good tan…I had my normal red, German glow. We were headed for the city now…Melbourne!