Day 19 – Cairns intro – Fri 4 July 2008

Loadsa birds at Cains Esplanade

Loadsa birds at Cains Esplanade

After a swim in the Lakes Resort pool we head into Cairns City for a look around. We walk down to the Esplanade and see the Lagoon pool. We are questioning why they have the swimming pool beside the sea when a local advises us it is so that people can swim safe from ‘stinger’ (the local term for Jelly Fish). A closer look of the “beach”, which looks more like mud flats, shows more serious concern. As well as the sign to indicate the danger of stingers ……. And sharks in the water there is an add-on that advises that crocodiles have been seen in the water!!. A swimming pool makes perfect sense. On return to the hotel I book a trip to Kuranda for tomorrow. We will be picked up at 7.15am. Yet another early start!

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Day 18 – Sydney to Cairns – 3rd July

Bláithin under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bláithín under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Time to pack up and move again. This is where we should have been flying to Darwin but because the travel agent hadn’t confirmed the tours we had planned for Darwin all tours .. and all accommodation was unavailable. There was a formula race car rally on in Darwin which is apparently extremely popular. I learned about it when the travel agency told me that I would have to stay in 2 different hotels at either end of the tour (the tour included two nights safari camping). When I went enquiring about hotels I was immediately advised by one of the hotels I got in touch with that the rally was on from 4 to 6th July and that both accommodation and tours would be completely booked around that time. I wasn’t concerned because I thought the travel agent had confirmed the tour, so I reckoned that maybe we could just stay outside Darwin after the tour. When I went to pay for the holiday Austravel advised that they hadn’t confirmed the tour and that it was fully booked. They offered us some alternatives, all dearer than we wanted and none ideal for what we had wanted. I tried some other tour operators. www.topendescapes.com.au was very helpful. They were able to get us a good tour, but because of the V8 all hotels in Darwin were insisting on a minimum 4 night stay. We only needed one night. At this late stage all accommodation outside Darwin was also fully booked. Reluctantly…. And at a cost of €300 we cancelled our flights to Darwin and booked to go from Sydney straight to Cairns.

We had suspected that we were been taken the long way around on the way from Sydney airport to our hotel, but had it confirmed on the way back. The taxi fare to the airport was only $30, compared to $60 dollars on the way into Sydney. Because it is a domestic flight the customs was uneventful for a change. Although I was selected for a random check for explosives at Sydney Airport, it took less than a minute to clear me and my bag.

Tropical North Queensland

Tropical North Queensland

The flight is just under four hours, short compared to our other flights, but still pretty long for a domestic flight on the same land mass. No choice of films on this flight. The film was “21”. It is about college students who are trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently take millions in winnings at Vegas casinos.

We take a taxi from the airport and take what turns out to be a 5 minute drive to our hotel. The Lakes Resort & Spa. We have a 2 bedroom apartment here for 3 nights. The accommodation is fine. It has a large living room, a dining table in the well-stocked kitchen, laundry room and 2 reasonably sized bedrooms. The complex is well laid out with 2 swimming pools, a bar and 2 restaurants. We ate in the Rambutan Bistro on the first night. It is a bit pricey but we had our first taste of Kangaroo here. It was nice, but I think I prefer beef steak. Internet prices here were the worst we came across, working out at $2aus for 15 minutes. The big down side though was that it was so far from town.

Day 17 – Finally the fat lady sings – 2 July

Íde writing … 

de Burca girls at the Opera House

de Burca girls at the Opera House

We have seen Sydney Opera House from the water.  We hoped to be able to see the inside for a performance. I had tried to get tickets for “My Fair Lady” playing at the Opera House, but it is completely booked out until August.   So we get a taxi to the Opera House and book a one hour tour.  It gives a good insight into the history and the politics of the building, but I have to admit that while the outside of the building is spectacular I am very unimpressed with the inside.  Even the main Opera theatre, which is being set-up for ‘My Fair Lady’ is quite small and has none of the architectural features to compare with theatres in Dublin or around Europe that I have been too.

 

 

 

Day 15 – IMAX & aquarium – Monday 30th June

Íde writing here…

Sydney aquarium

Sydney aquarium

I’ve been eyeing the aquarium since we arrived. I think aquariums can be a bit ‘hit and miss’ depending on whether the concentration is on the business element or the educations end of the spectrum. This looked to me like it would be educational and so I tagged it as one of the things I wanted to see.

On the way to the Aquarium we stop off to have a look at the IMAX Cinema. Boasting the world’s largest cinema screen, up to eight storeys high, it is ten times larger than a traditional cinema screen. It was showing a number of 3D movies. Wildlife Africa 3D was the next movie on, so we decided to go see that, just to see the screen. The screen is impressive, but the film isn’t up to much.

Onwards to the Aquarium. It is very well laid out and gives a great opportunity for the non-swimmer in the group (i.e. ME!) to see sharks, sting-ray and the coral reef up close without having to get wet.

After the Aquarium we start looking around for somewhere to eat. I remember a Greek restaurant we passed on our first day in Sydney, but none of us remember where it was. While we are strolling back towards the hotel, we find the Greek restaurant called Medusa. The food was delicious and this was probably the best meal we had in Sydney.

Day 14 – Yet another shopping day – Sunday 29th June

We had been told that the best market in Sydney was the Paddy Markets, which run from Thursday to Sunday in Market City. Knowing this was the last chance we would have to get there (it being Sunday and we are leaving on Thursday) the girls and I head off at about 11am, arranging to meet Pádraig for lunch at 1.30pm. I reckoned 2 and a half hours would be plenty of time – WRONG!. The market is an eclectic mix of clothes, electrical goods, food, souvenirs etc. Some stalls have set prices and will not budge on that others will haggle on price. Aisling got the best bargain of the day – hair extensions that match her hair exactly (very difficult with our hair colouring). The price started at $50AUS, she got them for $20.

We meet Pádraig in Chinatown at 1.30pm and although there are Chinese restaurants everywhere, we head to McDonalds for a quick bite because we know there is still more shopping to be done at the markets.  We have only made our way through a couple of aisles in the first 2.5 hours and it closes at 6pm so we go back at about 3pm stroll around for another hour before we decide to take some time to look at the factory outlets upstairs in Market City. We give up on that after about 30 minutes and head back down to get some last minute bargains in the market.  We are still buying stuff while the stallholders are packing up.

Sydney Bridge Climb according to Aisling

This next contribution is by guest correspondent Aisling. If you want to see her extraordinary lotus position walk from last year in Fuerteventura, simply click below…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj46OI3POpc

Ok.. so emm.. yeh.. Heya =] lol

I dno why I have to do this considering it’s my dad’s blog. Lol

We did loads today though… My mam, sister and I got up early to go shopping to get me new shoes cos all I had was dolly shoes and heels which aren’t very suitable for the bridge climb I was gonna be doing a few hours later.. But of course when you actually want to go shopping and aren’t being told “well come back some other time” all the shops disappear. Lol.. I think we took a wrong turn or something cause it took us ages to find a shop… but when we eventually did (yeah… we only went into one shop) i got Blue keds which i actually like =]. I didn’t really get a proper chance to look around the shop cause my mam was worried we wouldn’t get back on time for the climb. So she bought them for me and we went back to the hotel got my dad and got a taxi to the bridge climb place.

Aisidebooboo, PdeB & TheBla about to ascend the Sydney Coathanger

Aisidebooboo, PdeB & TheBla about to ascend the Sydney Coathanger

We all had to introduce ourselves and such and then we got into out uber sexy outfits for the climb lol. We weren’t allowed have anything loose on us and were sent through metal detectors and met up with our instructor guy Vic. He was a ledge. And liked my shoes 😛 they matched the streaks on our outfits. Lol. And he complimented my and Blá’s sunnies (which were attached to our outfits along with loadsa stuff that Vic helped us put on lol).

I was expecting to be really nervous beforehand but i actually wasn’t. We started off on the lower part of the bridge (which was still very high lol) where we could wave at people haha.. Oh and there were literally thousands of stairs involved in this. The part where my dad and I got a little nervous was at a part of the bridge that people don’t normally go on but we had to because part of the bridge was being repainted but we were literally being held up by a few wires… it was all shaky and very see through.. we could see what would happen if we fell. Yeah so we were on that for like five minutes and then we went up loadsa ladders and came up between lanes 6 and 7 on the Sydney Harbour Bridge..!! that was mad.. Blá was scared at that point though… me and my dad were joking around saying it was like Fairview bridge where I hung around when I was young waiting for a double decker bus to go by and shake the old rusty bridge lol.. I suppose it was kinda like that only ten million times higher lol.

All along the way Vic was telling us loadsa stories like how they found a trolley of empty beer cans at the top of the bridge haha.. Or all the famous people that have done the bridge climb.. or the 100 years young lady who had done the climb and when she finished announced that now all she needed was a toy boy lol.. Bacially it was all just amazing.. and my dad was happy to hear he had burned 2 pints of beer during that walk lol.

Some cross dressing fools who thought this would be funny.

Some cross dressing fools who thought this would be funny.

Then we went and grabbed a taxi and met up with my mam at Star City, got a quick dinner and went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Best show of all time. It was just. Woow. Except there was this woman in front of us whose son was sitting upfront with his friends and whenever any actor came near them she shouted “watch out James..!” and of course at the interval went over and fixed his shirt. That added amusement for us but poor james..! lol .. I had my lil stupid moment at it too where i turned and was about to say to her “wouldn’t you hate to go see this with your parents..?” baha. Also. All gay guys are hot. End of Lol..

My dad pointed out that the bands lead guitarist looked like Blaithín’s boyfriend so I think we should all encourage him to wear spandex and a corset with loadsa straps too yeh..? After that we went to play pool and my waving at randomers backfired when they went up to their room and changed (into the same shirts :P) and came into the bar we were in. Lol but we weren’t with them for long cause my mam thought they were gamblers.. lol

Day 12 & 13

Íde here still writing while the others are scuba diving on the reef…

Day 12 – Friday 27th June

As an educator, I tried to tell them that Cpt. Cook's Endevour was not a pirate ship. But then I confessed that he did actally steal a whole continent.

As an educator, I tried to tell them that Cpt. Cook's Endevour was not a pirate ship. But then I confessed that he did actally steal a whole continent.

So, after a good night’s sleep we head down for a walk around Darling Harbour. We have to make our way to Star City Coach Terminal to book our first Diamond Pass tour. This is at the very end of the Harbour which is a good stroll away, but also gives us a good idea of some places we might be interested in seeing more of another day. Grayline tours are closed by the time we get to it, but the brochures are available outside and that has a 24hour booking phone number. We strolled around Star City which is a major complex housing a casino, hotel, top class restaurant (way above our budget) and theatre. The Phantom of the Opera and the Rocky Horror show are on at the moment. The girls are interested in seeing both, but if they have to make a choice it would be the Rocky Horror Show. We then wander back to the hotel and book in for the Sydney Highlights tour for tomorrow.

Day 13 – Saturday 28th June

Daughter & Mother @ Sydey Opera House

Daughter & Mother @ Sydey Opera House

We have a bit of a lie in before wandering down to the Aquarium Pier for the afternoon tour. The tour starts with a buffet lunch on board the Majestic cruise ship. Great selection of food and unless you are a very fussy eater you won’t go hungry. There is a recorded commentary on the boat explaining all the sites we are seeing, which includes sailing under Sydney Harbour bridge – where you can wave at all the little people who have climbed to the top. Padraig and the girls plan to do this climb later in the week.

The boat stops off at Circular Quay to take some commuter passengers back to Darling Harbour. We stay on board and disembark at Darling Harbour for the bus trip to Arabanoo Lookout and the coast drive to Manly Beach. This drive has spectacular views which accounts for the high price of property in the area. Think Sydney Parade in Dun Laoghaire and you’ll get the idea. The commentary on the bus is done by the bus driver, so is much more personal and easy to listen to than the recorded one on the boat. We stop at Manly Beach for 45 mins. It is impressive, but I think we have been a little spoiled with the beaches in LA and Hawaii and so we don’t stay by the beach for long. Instead we walk through the Arts and Crafts markets and wander back to the bus.

The tour was great overall, because it gives a good overview of Sydney from land and sea. 

Sydney Pink Light hassle

This is still Íde writing as that hubbie of mine is still scuba  diving…

de Burca clan at the Sydney Olympics sculpture

On arrival in Sydney we are again prepared for the customs controls.  What Padraig didn’t say about the apple incident in LA airport, is that I was the one who completed the custom declaration form so I would have been the one fined if they had decided to take it further. So this time I got everyone to complete their own form. 

Now anyone interested in watching “Border Patrol” will know that the Aussies take their customs clearance very seriously.  You are required to declare food (including apples), all medicines (prescription and non prescription), as well as any wooden items. The form advises, ‘if in doubt – declare’.

I had hard boiled sweets (always carry them on flights to stop ears popping).  Blaithín has purchased a small wooden key ring and I am carrying a chemist in my suitcase (antihistamine tablets and cream, antiseptic cream, headache tablets, travel sickness tablets.  We also have more serious steroid cream (for Blaithín’s foot problem). I take no chances and so declare all of it.  I help Blaithín fill in her form (again, declaring the key ring and medicine) and I leave Pádraig to complete his own and Aisling’s, both of which have no declaration. The customs officials aren’t nearly as stroppy as they appear on TV, they are actually very helpful and friendly.  They query what exactly I am declaring and assure me that there is no problem with any of the items.  We still have to go through the declaration channel where they have to x-ray the goods.  Pádraig and Aisling come with us so that we can stay together.  Luckily, just as we are getting to the security screening Aisling realised that the handle of her hair brush is made of wood.  There is a bit of confusion when both Aisling and Bláithín put their hand bags (both green) through at the same time.  The security guard advises his colleague there is a wooden item in the green bag.  We couldn’t figure out whether they were querying the key ring in Blaithín’s bag or the hairbrush in Aisling’s bag. We are advised that they have already cleared Bláithín’s key ring because I had informed them that it was there.  I hadn’t realised that they had listened that intently to the details I had given them.  However, the hairbrush is cleared for travel.

Then we get to Pádraig.  Now, remember he is just tagging along to keep us company.  His bag is queried. He is asked about a wooden mask he has in his bag.  WHAT!! I’m ready to kill him. All the lectures, all the hassle in LA – has he learned nothing??

Blaithín tries to help, by explaining that the only wood we have is her key ring and the hairbrush.  I can see the security official getting annoyed.  “We know about those already” “we are querying the mask in this case”.  I quietly advise Bláithín to leave the discussion to Pádraig and the guard.  Pádraig tells the guard he does not have a wooden mask.  I know he doesn’t, but I’m really curious as to what wooden item he has that he has forgotten about. The guard lightly checks the bag.  She checks with her colleague “are you sure it’s this case”? Reply “yes, that case, I can see a mask”. Pádraig again says he doesn’t have a wooden mask and that he does not think he has any wood in the case. Luckily for him, he is right (not just because of customs but because I would have killed him later). The security officer must have seen our confusion because she asks him if he has any wet clothing in the bag. When he replies yes he has, she immediately closes the case, explaining that wet towels show up on screen as organic matter and can sometimes be mistaken for wooden masks.  I find this very amusing because I realise that what has shown up is his swimming trucks and towel which probably has Hawaiian sand all over it. It is far more likely to have insects in among it than a key ring purchased in the souvenir shop.

Pádraig & Aisling in Douglas Habour

Pádraig & Aisling in Darling Habour

Anyway, we get through with little enough time lost and head for the taxi rank to get us to the Quality Cambridge Hotel.  As I said earlier, this is the only accommodation that I left with the travel agents to book.  We are checked into 2 hotel rooms on the second floor. The small rooms open to the hotel pool enclosed by a glass roof for extra echo effect.  Think of the noise levels inside any swimming pool and imagine sleeping next to it.  I’m not pleased about this.  I am a very light sleeper and I know that I won’t be getting any lie in if there is anyone using the pool in the mornings.  I am just speculating on this when a major rumpus starts up outside.

What sounded like an army of kids, but turned out to be only 3 or 4 where raving about how cool it was that they had a pool.  I decide to take action and go to reception to ask if there are any rooms away from the pool area available.  While waiting to discuss the situation, I realise the full extent of the problem. A group of about 50 teenagers have been booked in for a youth conference: y’know – World Youth Day, Catholic Church an’ all that.  Some of them have rooms right next to mine. The youth leader is querying why they have 2 beds less than they should in some of the rooms.  Now, having worked as a youth leader I fully understand what is going down here.  Gangs of kids, away from home, enjoying their freedom.  But now I’m not a youth leader, I’m on holiday and want to enjoy my stay which will hopefully include some sleep.

I am advised that this is the accommodation booked by my travel agent and if I have a complaint I should take it up with them.  I can have an upgrade to a premium room on the upper floors at a cost of $40 AUS per room per night. I asked how much notice was necessary to cancel my booking and am again advised that I would have to cancel through the travel agency. Most website bookings will allow a cancellation with 24 hour notice so you could leave after one night.  At this point they offer to reduce the cost of the premium rooms to $20 per room per night.  I told them I’d think about this and went back to the room to talk to Pádraig about it.  I was only back in the room about 2 minutes before the kids outside made the decision for me. My route back to reception is blocked by the hotel manager and the youth leader as they haul a table through the hallway (to make room for the extra beds needed in the room).  The youth leader apologises for delaying me, but I was happy.  I realise that the hotel manager is going to see the pillow fight I have just passed on my way and I am aware that they need at least 2 more beds. They can have ours!!

I wait at reception until the hotel manager returns from furniture removal journeys.  I point out that now that she has seen the situation around the pool area she couldn’t possible be asking guests to sleep there. She agrees and offers a complementary upgrade.  For information the rooms aren’t much different.  They are slightly bigger and have LCD TV, but only the noise aspect of the economy rooms maker it worth the extra costs.  On giving us a free upgrade she changed our full breakfast which was included in the price we paid for the Economy room to a continental breakfast.  We are not big breakfast eaters, so I didn’t take issue with it, but it was a bit sly.  Full breakfast costs $18.75 AUS, around $11 per person so if the 4 of us had bought full breakfasts it would be the same price as the upgrades.

The other issue with this hotel involves the price of Internet access.  It is available at 3 computers in the lobby, but at a cost of $5.00 AUS for 30 minutes.  We ask about wireless internet and are informed that it is available in the lobby.  But it turns out that it costs the same as using their computers.  MAD.

Bottom line? I will not be recommending this hotel to anyone.