Day 13 – Wednesday 31st August

02Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today started with a rather rude alarm call at 3:30am! This was because it was our sunrise balloon flight!

We left our hotel at 4:30am bleary-eyed and drove to the pickup point, which was another hotel around 15km away. When we arrived, we signed our lives away by way of disclaimers and were swiftly bundled into a minibus, with round 18 other people. We were told that as the wind conditions were not favourable for a beach flight, we would instead be taking a flight over the mountains further inland. The minibus journey was around 50 minutes with a pee break 30 minutes in.

When we arrived at the balloon launch site at precisely 6am, we saw a couple of wild kanagroos bounding over the adjacent golf course. We lined up next to the still-inflating balloon and waited for the basket to right itself before (very elegantly) climbing in.

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We started talking to the pilot, Nigel, and discovered he is from Bath! (Small world!) how we could have missed that telltale West Country accent, I dont know!

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Once we were all in our correct compartment of the balloon (there were 5 sections, one of which was for the pilot and his multitude of canisters of flamable gas, we all had to practice our landing positions – hang onto the ropes inside bthe basket and lean back. Soon enough we were up, up and away; floating over the Queensland countryside, but able to see the skyline of Brisbane off in the distance. The flight lasted around an hour and we travelled an estimated 13-15km in that time. (Slow progress, as you can see, although still impressive as we were aided only by wind power!)

We came in to land in a paddock with a track running down the middle, and the pilot aimed for the track. Despite my doubts, he hit the track pretty much spot on and we slid to a halt only a few meters past it.

We were then informed (upon gracefully exiting the basket) that we would be heading off for breakfast as soon as the balloon was packed away, so most of the passengers duely helped out folding the balloon, and packing it away in its trailer, before hoisting the basket onto another trailer to be towed away.

We arrived back at the pickup point hotel at exactly 10am (all of that work and travelling back and forth ALL BEFORE 10am!!) and were treated to a champagne breakfast consisting of pretty much everything you could think of, including chinese fish soup(!!)

We finished eating and headed back to our hotel to finish our interupted night’s sleep – waking at 1pm ready for some more adventures, we headed off to Cavill Avenue to board the original, often imitated but never beaten, Aquaduck (Quack, quack!!) This is an amphibious bus that drives down to the boat ramp, sinks down into the estuary and drives around the nearby sights including Sea World and some other rather posh beachside houses belonging to the rich and well-to-do. The tour was made even more enjoyable by the dead-pan humour of the captain, and also the sight of wild dolphins swimming around the Aquaduck for a while before being scared off by a rich person in a yacht.

We arrived back in Cavill Avenue around an hour later and wondered off towards the shopping district. After wondering for a fair while, we came across Gold Coast’s version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – The Odditorium, so we decided to pay it a visit (but all the while hoping not to be mistaken for an exhibit and locked inside!)
It was interesting perusing the medieval torture devices, shrunken heads and manhood pouches on display, as well as measuring up against the tallest man who ever lived, and a copy of Di Vinci’s Last Supper made entirely out of toast. (For real!)

We left the Odditorium feeling rather hungry after a long day, so we found a lovely quiet restaurant nearby and ordered a burger each (Halloumi veggie for her, and a crispy chicken for him) as well as a couple of cocktails – a Pina Colada (served in a coconut) and a Potted Parrot (served in an actual parrot!) both of which were delicious, as were the burgers, although also very large!

After dinner, we wondered back towards the hotel via a few more shops, although tiredness was creeping in, so it wasn’t long before we made our way back to the hotel, and into bed.

Tomorrow is the beginning of our return – the first leg from Gold Coast back to Sydney.

Sadly, this means our holiday is coming to an end, so blogs may not be daily from now on, however we hope to add a further blog on Friday from Sydney Airport on our way home.

Dave & Gem

Day 12 – Tuesday 30th August

Today was Australia Zoo day, and more importantly Koala Cuddle day!

Our cuddles were booked for 13.45, so our plan was to crack on and see everything prior to this in order to commence our 2 hour journey home in good time, once again we were caught out by how much there was to see and do, and still found ourselves there at closing.

Our first animal sighting of the day were the Koalas (aren’t they just the cutest?)

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Followed by the alligators…  Most of these alligators were caught by the late Steve Irwin himself, the oldest Gal there (named Annie I believe) was actually born in the thirties.

And then the Crocs… They were also mostly trapped by Steve, however more for rescue purposes.  In most cases the crocs were venturing too close to human territory and were at risk of being killed or poached so they were caught and brought to live out their days at Australia zoo.  Check out Monty, he is one of the biggest boys at the zoo.

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We saw more kangaroos today too, even a red one and although he is only teenage, he already has his own zookeeper guard as reds can be more aggressive and are certainly stronger!  The grey kangaroos are still happy to be stroked though.

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We enjoyed a walk through the native bird enclosure, among others we spotted laughing Kookaburras and beautiful Lorikeets.

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Australia zoo also has a wide range of native snakes, including the top 4 most venomous in the world!  We also saw wombats, dingoes, cassowary, red pandas and lemurs.

Onto our koala cuddle… It was advertised as ‘an opportunity to have a long cuddle with a koala’ so we weren’t really sure what to expect, we each had about 5 minutes, while a photographer took various shots, and then a second cuddle where we could take our own photos and as much time as we liked, so value for money wise, i would say it was pretty fair.  The Koala we got to hold is called Molly, she is about 4 years old and has had one baby already, she was really good tempered and very patient having to look at the camera for a fair while.

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We wondered around the zoo some more and before we knew it, it was nearly 5pm and closing time. (Some feat as we were planning on leaving just after the koala cuddle at 2pm for the 2 hour drive back to Surfers)

We arrived home around 7pm and nipped out for a Dominoes Pizza takeaway before retiring early for the night. Tomorrow….. it’s the early morning hot air balloon flight!

Until tomorrow…

D&G

Day 11 – Monday 29th August

Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today is a day I have been very much looking forward to – swimming with Dolphins at Sea World, Gold Coast.  We had booked for the 10.45 slot, so checked in with the ‘animal encounters’ team and were instructed to collect our wetsuits and be ready at the meeting point 15 minutes prior to our start time.  We were assigned our appropriate suits by measuring them up against our backs (scientific no?)  After much bending, stretching, contorting and hilarity we were suited up and ready to go.  Once fully laden with goggles and life vests we made our way down to the water, where we were informed that out of a total of 14 people who could have signed up for the 10.45 slot, we were the only 2 that had, meaning we had 2 dolphins and 2 trainers to ourselves, how super lucky!

We descended into the water, which was a fresh 19 degrees and began our experience. Now the dolphin in our pictures and the main one we worked with is a male of about 20, and is called Bala, he was orphaned as a baby and therefore rescued and raised at Sea world. The second dolphin’s name escapes us, but he was only 4 and rescued after becoming trapped and injured by fishing nets, it is still possible to see the scarring on his belly.  Its also worth mentioning that the money we spent on our experience will be reinvested in rescuing more marine animals.  We learnt a whole bunch of things about dolphins including their nature and natural behaviours, and each interesting fact was backed up with a demonstration from Bala.  We spent a short amount of time in waist deep water, and the rest of the time well out of our depth where the dolphins could really show off, and what gorgeous creatures they are.  Overall, for an experience which i thought might be quite fun, albeit a little cheesy, i can genuinely say it was one of the most enjoyable things we have done in Australia.  How handsome is this guy? (the dolphin is pretty cute too hey?)

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We had planned to spend a couple more hours at Sea World before heading on to somewhere else, so we were surprised to still find ourselves there at closing time which is a real testament to how much there was to do.  We caught all three shows; the jet stunt team, sea lion detectives and dolphin affinity, all 3 of which were well worth a watch, and again the animal shows are more about showcasing their natural behaviour than forcing them to act a certain way.  To name a few other things we saw (deep breath everyone) the worlds largest man-made shark habitat, penguins, polar bears, hundreds of species of fish, starfish and sea cucumbers that you can touch (the starfish were deceptively firm and the sea cucumbers as squidgy as expected) and finally, the ray pond…now i’m sure its not just me but these guys really did enjoy being petted, they swim along the edge of the pool flapping themselves out of the water, they really are quite endearing creatures and softer than you might imagine.

All in all we had an amazing time, and have really used today as a yard stick to compare all of our other experiences against.

Day 10 – Sunday 28th August

So today started with an alarm at 3.30am (yes there is a 3.30 in the morning, who knew?) and by 8am – suitcases collected (ours were first and third off the conveyor belt), we were heading on over to the Europcar desk ready to collect our mean machine…

On the road by 8.15 we set off to Byron bay, which is actually in New South Wales, so we flew into Queensland only to drive straight back over the border, only marginally i might add. A lady sat next to us on the plane had recommended we take a look at the lighthouse in Cape Byron, and the walkway behind it that leads to the Easternmost part of Australia, so we parked up, trudged up a small hill and were met by the gorgeous white LIGHTHOUSE. Having been awake for 6 hours at this point we headed straight for the cafe for a quick refuel (on a quick side note, it might be worth telling you that iced coffees are not merely a drink here in Australia, they’re a treat! Like a “well done for doing some great adulting today by ordering a coffee, we’re going to make that extra special by putting a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of whipped cream in there for you!”) Caffeine and sugar fueled we made our way to the lookout, and it was so worth it, we’ve seen some truly gorgeous views in Australia but this one really had me transfixed.  Within mere minutes of gazing out into the Atlantic ocean we began to see splashes of tails and fins, there was sea life every which way we looked.  We could see a mum and baby whale throwing themselves into the water and gorgeous dolphins arching out of the sea.  I cant tell you how long we stood there, maybe minutes, maybe hours it was just the most wonderful thing to see.

Now you’re not going to believe this but we carried our camera all the way up the hill and then down the steps to the lookout before remembering we had removed the batteries before our flight (lithium batteries need to be in hold luggage on flights now) so we weren’t able to take any pictures, i only have one from our phone, please understand that this picture in no way does justice to the gorgeous place that is Cape Byron.

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We then headed down into Byron Bay itself, and would you believe it for the first time this entire trip, we set foot on Australian sand, and beautiful sand it was too!  Another jaw-dropping view where the blue sky seamlessly meets the blue sea.

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We watched the tide roll in for a good hour before venturing in land.  Byron Bay is a vibrant little town (think Glastonbury by the sea) so we spent some time exploring and enjoying all of the unique little shops before stopping for the largest and scrummiest cakes we could find.

Homeward bound we set off to find our hotel.

Day 9 – Saturday 27th August

Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today we have visited the rather beautiful Blue Mountains

It was around a 2 hour drive from “home base” in Dapto up to the first stopping point, which was a view out over the 3 Sisters. You can see why the Aboriginal legend tells of 3 sisters that were turned to stone…

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The Blue Mountains are so-called due to the large number of Eucalyptus trees that grow in the area emitting oil vapour which interacts with the air and dust particles to produce a strange yet beautiful blue haze over the area.

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After spending around an hour soaking in the breathtaking views, we moved onto our next destination, Scenic World.

What an amazing place!

There is an old converted coal train that takes you from the top of the mountain down into the valley below where you can walk around in the untouched rain forest through the trees and see where coal mining took place right up until 1945!  It is still the worlds steepest passenger train to date.

We then tackled the boardwalk, unlike the Illawarra fly through the top of the trees, the boardwalk took us along the bottom, we were a metre or so from the rain-forest floor at most points, making it easy to spot all of the remnants of a functioning mining industry scattered across the forest floor.  We saw, pulleys, cogs, coal buckets, and cable, as if one day the mine stopped and everything just dropped to the forest floor.  Almost everywhere you can spot massive (think the size of a range rover) boulders, these were thrown down the mountains during tectonic plate movement, so coupling that with all of the sprawling vines, massive ferns and the absence of noise pollution for miles, it was easy to imagine oneself in Jurassic times.

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There was then a rather spectacular climb back up to the top in a cable car with amazing views around the Blue Mountains and the rather special Katoomba Falls.

The final mode of transportation around the blue mountains is the Skyway, another large cable car, this one spans across  from one mountain to another and features a glass floor giving us a 360 degree view of the mountains.

After a final coffee stop, we started our journey home ready for our super early trip to the airport the next morning (a 6.40am flight!)

Day 8 – Friday 26th August

So, at 10 o’clock this morning we were supposed to be hanging out of the side of a helicopter in the name of our ‘black ops’ flight, however after a late phone call the evening before informing us of a rotor blade issue we needed to postpone our flight until the afternoon at best case scenario, and if it was not fixed by the end of the day we would embark on a sunset flight instead.  Here’s how our day panned out…

First, a trip to the iconic, and very beautiful Bondi Beach.  Its really hard to explain how breathtaking it is without being there.  There isn’t really anything distinguishable that makes Bondi so iconic, it just is.  We enjoyed a coffee and second breakfast, followed by a walk along the promenade.

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Next, we headed on to somewhere even more instantly recognisable, Luna Park.

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We were really disappointed to miss out on visiting during our 3 day stay in Sydney as it was during the days that the park is closed, so we were super excited to squeeze it in today.  Luna Park was actually a gift to the residents of Sydney thanking them for their patience during the building of the harbour bridge, basically they replaced one noisy occurrence with another.  We didn’t actually go on any rides at Luna Park, it was more about getting to soak in the amazing atmosphere (well that and the gorgeous view of Sydney Harbour from just outside the gates!)

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Finally, it was time for our helicopter flight… unfortunately Blue Sky Helicopters were unable to repair the black ops helicopter in time so we had to settle for a gorgeous sunset flight over one of the most beautiful cities in the world, OK then…

We were in the air for 30 minutes, however it felt like mere moments, and we all could have happily stayed up there for hours.  The height that a helicopter is flown at gives such a unique perspective, low enough to see exact detail, but high enough to really get a feel for the geography of the harbour.  We also got to see our 2 other destinations of the day in aerial view, which really was bizarre.  Full of adrenaline we headed home for a well earned rest, recharging for the following day.

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Over and Out!

Day 7 – Thursday 25th August

Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today was indeed a great day!

We started the day going back to Kiama to see if the Blowhole was working…

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…which it was!  so spectacular was it in action that there was a group of 8 police officers enjoying their fish and chips while enjoying the blowhole in action.

Here it is in all its glory…

After we left Kiama, we headed to Shellharbour Village for a walk along the seafront and lunch at a lovely Thai restaurant called Harbour Thai, fully charged we headed off to the Illawarra Fly which is a treetop walk up to 45 metres above the forest floor.  There were walkways perched on stilts, some suspended by cantilever, and a 106 step spiral staircase taking us high above the treetops, and rewarding us with some really breathtaking views.  It was a fair walk around the treetops and Mr Connah found himself with wobbly knees on more than one occasion!

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On our way out of the Illawarra Fly grounds we then had a really rate spot… a wild Wombat, he is a known resident of the forest but rarely seen so an extra treat to end our day.

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We then returned home for the night, eager to rest up for our next day of adventures.

Until tomorrow, Dave & Gem signing off.

Day 6 – Wednesday 24th August

Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today is the first day this holiday that we have opened the curtains and seen grey skies. 🙁

Any thoughts of visiting Luna Park have, unfortunately, went out of the window.  Plan B was required – which entailed visiting some indoor attractions – the Sydney Sea Life Centre, Madame Tussauds Sydney and Sydney Wildlife Zoo. All of which were brilliant wet weather entertainment (I met Spiderman AND saw a wet koala!).

We headed back to Dapto on the train this evening – hoping to see the beautiful countryside, but instead seeing dark, wet windows all the way home.

Tomorrow is going to be better weather (fingers crossed) – hopefully we can visit a few local attractions before our helicopter flight on Friday.

Signing off…

Dave & Gem

Day 5 – Tuesday 23rd August

Today was the day, our long awaited Bridge Climb… at our allotted time of 10.55 we gingerly walked through the doorway and there was no going back.

Our first task was to sign a disclaimer form (not concerning at all right?), followed by a jumpsuit fitting (we all walked round in a circle being handed our jumpsuits in turn).  After suiting up, we then needed to kit up, starting with our safety belts, then we started clipping on all sorts of things (fleeces, hankies and hats) we were not allowed to have  single loose thing on our persons, so no watches, no hair clips, no nothing)

We took approximately 5000 steps to complete our climb to the top centre of the bridge, across the middle and then back, taking in some of the most beautiful views on the way…

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In search of some much needed energy we found ourselves a picturesque spot in Circular Quay for lunch, over our left shoulder we could see Sydney Opera House and over our right shoulder was the Harbour Bridge.  We really needed that energy kick ready for a massive trek to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Mrs Macquarie was the wife of the governor and liked to look out at the best view in Sydney.  Coincidentally it is the ideal spot to capture the famous view of the Opera House with the bridge in the background.

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After a really long trek back, we arrived at Circular Quay at dusk, just as the enchanting city of Sydney was illuminating itself for the night.

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After a brief rest we dressed ourselves up and headed up a further 8 floors in our hotel to the in house restaurant Altitude for our first ever fine dining experience, enhanced by the huge windows providing us with arguably the best view in Sydney.  Tired from the days excursions, we took ourselves off to bed.

Over and out!

Day 4 – Monday 22nd August

Good evening Wallywatchers!

Today is the day that we leave for Sydney!

We were up reasonably early and on our way for the roughly hour-long drive to Sydney.

When we arrived, the weather was not the greatest, however we were determined to push on.

The Shangri La Hotel is beautiful. A definite 5-star experience. We received a complimentary upgrade to an “Executive Room” overlooking Sydney Opera House – and I pretty much lost Gem to the window seat looking out over the harbour for the whole of the first evening!

After a brief walk around ‘The Rocks’ which is the old and historic part of Sydney, we felt a hankering for some sustenance, and Sydney delivered in the form of Pancakes on the Rocks

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On a considerable sugar high, we spent the afternoon wondering around the shopping areas of Sydney, including the Queen Victoria Building which was amazing, as was The Strand