Down Under disappointments

June 8, 2007 - Sydney, Australia

Note: We are not able to upload video at this time. We will upload the Australia videos with the next journal entry.

Sydney

We got off to a bad start in Sydney. Since we arrived late we decided to crash at the airport. Not the best night sleep we have had. We tried watching a $3 Bangkok boot-leg DVD of Blood Diamond which crapped out after the first hour. I should have been wary when the top 1/2 of the DVD (side with the label) just fell off. We realized we lost our Canon compact digital camera that we use for video and underwater stills. Thankfully we did not lose any photos. We probably dropped it in the taxi in Singapore. Our second casualty of the trip; my flooded underwater flash being the first. I had a protected photo on the camera of my contact information including email address but I have not been contacted yet. It would be impossible for someone to use the camera and not see the contact information photo.

[Terry: Before leaving Singapore, Mark and I laughed about an email I received. One of my friends said she was tired of reading about how much fun we are having and nothing new was happening in her life other than working and more working. We joked that maybe we should write about all the negative things on one of the journal entries like the time these baby spiders were all over our hostel floor and crawling on our bags when we woke the next morning. Well, we got our wish. Thanks Erin! String of bad luck like losing the camera, and some misses on excursions in Australia; everything except for the BridgeClimb. The good news is... I found Mark to be quite calm in crisis situations and quite charming in trying to focus on the positive. When Doug talked Mark into getting the DSLR camera (although he didn’t need much convincing) he mentioned that taking the second camera as a back up is a good idea “just incase you lose one of the cameras.” Thanks Doug!]

After walking around the city for a few hours we had a good first impression. It reminded me a bit of New York with the mix of people, mix of old and new building with very different architectures. The fun part for me is the accents. I felt like I was in a Crocodile Dundee movie. Right! Crikey! G’Day, Fare enough, No worries mate! But Sydney had also turned out to be more expensive than we thought and is the first country to break our original budget. We didn’t have much luck finding any great local food either. Still searching for that first great experience, we decided to treat ourselves to a steak diner. But in the end our 60 US$ diner -- the most expensive dinner of the trip to date -- was extremely mediocre. Good coffee too seemed non-existent. And the strangest part, what Terry might say was “the best part”, Starbucks is the cheap coffee in town (A$3), cheaper than the horrible tea-bag coffee on the plane we had to pay for.

[Terry: We really were impressed with the city and as usual with the other cool cities we have visited, we talked about being able to live in Sydney as well. It’s just that the food was so expensive (10 US$ per person per meal) and we had a hard time adjusting from spending $3 total for a meal in some of the Asian countries.]

Although we arrived in Sydney with no plans or reservations, the visitors desk was very helpful and after chatting for 30 minutes we had filled our first 2 days with the “top” attractions Sydney has to offer. Our first day sightseeing in Sydney was extremely disappointing. We visited the Sydney Aquarium highly recommended as the #1 attraction in Sydney and the Sydney Tower including the “OzTrek”. All very lame. At the end of the night we felt we sold-out by choosing the typical tourist attractions and we paid for it. Terry said we just had a few misses.

Things picked up the next day. We started the day at the Power House museum. Although I only saw about 1/3 of the museum, I feel I covered the most interesting exhibit; EcoLogic which is a full-on depressing view of how we are destroying the planet and using all of its resources at an alarming rate. The carbon foot print analysis exhibition calculated that nine planet Earths would be needed if everyone on the planet was to live my life style. The BridgeClimb, where you climb to the top of the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, was the reason we decided to spend a few nights in Sydney. My friends Steve and Jennie had done the BridgeClimb a few years back and said it was fantastic. I turned out to be one of the best excursions we have had on the trip so far. We did the twilight climb which starts just before sunset and ends after dark. So it combines beautiful sunset views with amazing night views of the Sydney Opera house, the harbor, and the rest of the skyline. For anyone going to Sydney this is a must-do! Do the climb, try not to eat too much, then get out of Sydney!

After our visit to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, we had a couple more days in Sydney. We planned to make the most of it and walk through the parks, botanical gardens, and to the opera house. It was only fitting that it rained non-stop. I refused to be bullied by the weather and went out in the rain visiting Cathedral Square. In the square a watched a chess game played on an over-sized board in the pouring rain. I continued on to St. Mary’s cathedral and the Fine Arts Gallery of New South Wales. Then I returned to the same guys still playing the same game. And what a great game it was!

Daintree rainforest

Cairns is a 2.5 hour flight north of Sydney. We planed a few days in Cairns to see the Daintree rain forest before boarding the SpoilSport (more on that later). Cairns itself served its purpose as a place to make our reservations for New Zealand and as a place to replace our lost camera and flooded strobe. Nothing else. We hired a car and drove up to Cape Tribulation. Driving through the Daintree rain forest at night was a real treat. The following day, in Cape Trib, we walked through the rain forest and did a night trek that night. The next morning Terry and I had an early morning stroll by ourselves through the rain forest before heading back to Cairns. We never saw the dangerous Cassowary. Actually, the coolest thing we saw was the furry possum-looking creature that jumped out in front of our rental car, and as a result was hit and probably killed, during our drive through the Daintree at night. If the plush toy at the airport is any indication, I think it may have been a wambat.

[Terry: I must have dozed off on our drive up to Daintree and woke up to Mark swerving the car in complete darkness to avoid hitting the many frogs on the road. He was wide awake and kept exclaiming that the we are entering the “maaaaaagical forrrrrrest!” Then when something cute and fury gets confused by the headlights, he doesn’t even bother slowing down the car. He insists that this animal was on a suicide mission and hopped in front of the car and he just didn’t have time to react. I think it might have been a baby kangaroo :( or a koala... Joanne, I am just kidding, so don’t start crying. We had not yet seen a kangaroo, but Mark bought a Indiana Jones hat (kangaroo leather) that covers his face and neck better than the one he had. It is collapsible, waterproof, and he looks quite dashing!]

Great Barrier Reef

So for the first week we had one really good experience to speak of. But, we had one more trick up our sleeve... World class diving! We have been told to skip the GBR and do Fiji instead. The inner reef, especially further south is over-dived. But the Coral Sea outside the GBR has some pristine diving to offer since it only sees 3 dive boats a week. The Mike Ball SpoilSport liveaboard does a few dives at Ribbon Reef on the GBR before continuing to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. This trip was a 3 dive day/4 night liveaboard. The Mike Ball boats (only this one left now) have had a very good reputation so naturally we were very excited.

We coudn’t help but compare the SpoilSport with our previous liveaboard, the N. Sulawesi Aggressor. The SpoilSport, the boat itself, was not nearly as nice as the Aggressor. Where the Aggressor had wood, the SpoilSport had aluminum and our cabin carpet was damp and salty from the previous cruise. The food was hit and miss on a meal-to-meal basis but overall not as good as the food on the Aggressor. The fresh-baked cookies and other snacks we were now accustom to in between dives were replaced with Doritos. On the plus side, we did get to try Kangaroo steak. Part of the problem could be that there were 26 divers on this boat compared to the 10 we had for Indonesia. Except for a couple of crew members that we liked, the crew too did not measure up to the crew of the N. Sulawesi Aggressor.

That leaves the diving, and the diving itself was pretty damn good. And we had picture postcard weather for the entire trip! We dove Cod Hole (GBR, Ribbon Reef #10) where we saw Giant Potato Cods. We dove shear walls that dropped off to the Ocean floor at 3000 feet! Swimming through a school of hundreds of Big-Eyed Trevally was awesome. We followed a Clown Triggerfish very close up; one of my favorites. Never been able to get that close before. Terry and I had a private encounter with a Manta Ray. We were at 20 feet and just about finished an unguided dive -- we had about 1000 psi left of air -- when Terry spotted the Manta approaching us from the distance. It came within about 20 feet of us. We followed it down to 70 feet when we decided we needed to leave for the surface. But the real highlight was the shark feed. We sat in an underwater natural-made amphitheater at about 50 feet. A garbage can filled with tuna heads was fixed to a coral head and opened. At least 30 sharks attacked the fish heads in a feeding frenzy just 20 feet away. The sharks we saw on a typical dive were wimpy little white-tip reef sharks. I wouldn’t be too worried about losing much more than the nail on my little finger from an “attack”. “One false move”, I warn them telepathically staring into their cold eyes, “and I will be eating your fin (soup) for dinner”. And that seems to help (help me at least). But the sharks on the feed were the bigger and beefier Grey Reef Sharks. See the video.

I am trying my best to readapt to reef diving after being spoiled with such exciting muck diving. Underwater photography has not been without challenges. I had small housing leaks and fogging on a couple of dives. On others I was experimenting with white-balancing for videos and available light photos which I still need a lot of work with (as you can see from the photos). Since the trip was only 3 days, after visiting Cod Hole and Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea, the boat returned overnight to Lizard Island and we flew back to Cairns over the GBR in a Cesna Caravan special low-altitude flight the morning after our last dive (about 14 hours). The views of the reef were absolutely spectacular. However, like the Grand Canyon it is difficult to capture its essence in a photo.

[Terry: Mark was having a major withdrawal from the muck diving in Indonesia. All the subjects in Indonesia such as nudibranchs do not move so are easier to photograph. Muck diving is more like a treasure hunt where the alien looking creatures hide and we try to find it and then blind them by using flash photography. No wonder they don’t move around too much. They can’t! I personally love the more colorful reef diving with visibility of 90 feet plus. Kevin and Stacy from Kauai told us that if we are diving in Fiji, there is no need to dive the GBR, but it was one of the locations Mark always wanted to dive and “cross off his list”. GBR is comparable to Bali and Kona diving in my opinion.

The coolest part for me was our encounter with a manta ray. Mark found a nudibranch and was busy photographing it; whenever he is busy with his camera, I always get a little anxious and look around... I guess to see if any sharks are near us. Supposedly, sharks are not big fans of the flash. I am not a big fan of sharks. Anyway, I was looking around hovering near Mark when I see something gigantic in the distance. My heart skips a beat when I see the creature’s big white wings flapping towards us. I started shaking my shaker to get Mark’s attention and the next thing I remember is just swimming with the Manta. He swam near us and didn’t seem to mind us being close by. We sadly said good bye to the manta because we were low on air. I have seen a manta before, but I was sitting down in a group. It was awesome to see it just swimming about with just the two of us!

The shark feeding was better than I expected. I was anxious not because I haven’t seen a shark before, but I kept seeing these sharks in our dives when I was least expecting it. And it would sometimes swim towards us! I don’t like sharks following behind us. Anyway, Mark and I were the last ones to dive into the shark feeding site because my tank had a leak and the crew had to fill a new tank and change it out. When we dropped to about 30 feet, the sharks were circling below us already. Once we got settled into our spot, I began to relax a little. Mark told me to control my breathing (we have extensive underwater communication now) so my bubbles don’t interfere with his photos :) It was comforting to realize that sharks indeed were more interested in the frozen tuna then us live divers.

Oh, did I mention that our liveaboard had a photo contest? There were 26 passengers, each were allowed to enter 3 photos. Mark won first place!!! His photo beat out ever popular photos of a manta ray (2nd place) and the sharks feed (3rd place). The winning photo was of course of his new beloved nudibranch.]

Pictures

Don't fear sharks
Opera House 1
Market
Opera House 2
 
 

2 Comments

June 11, 2007
Hey guys,

Hello from Bangkok, where we're experiencing the reverse, budget-wise, of what you experienced with Australia. Thank God.

It was great to meet fellow globe-trotters: we're definitely going to study your itinerary as we plan for SE Asia.

We have to put in our vote for the BridgeClimb too. We did it in the middle of the big storm there - worst in 30+ years - and had the added drama of 40 mph winds. Great fun.

By the way, I (John) had the absolute best coffee of my life at a little place called "Barista" at Bondi Beach in Sydney - it's hard to believe that anyone could be disappointed with the coffee options in that part of town, anyway. I guess it just goes to show you just need to know where to go! :)

Have fun, travel safe, keep in touch.
Anne:
June 11, 2007
Those nudibranches are amazing. I'd never even heard of them! Loced the frogfish too. I am really enjoying your journals and photos. what a great trip you are having. We miss your smiling faces here on Kauai. Just got back from Chalottes ville Va, where daughter Heather was Guenevere in Community theatre production of Camelot. Had great fun with her and hubby Richard and twin daughters. They arrive here for a visit on the 21st. We go to Vocano House and Waikaloa for 5 days, then back here and oldest daughter and her family arrive July 4th, just in time for my annual party with front row seats from my balcony for the fireworks. I will have full house til the 12 of July.
When are you heading back our way?. Was it in August sometime?. If you need the apartment for a bit that looks doable. Aloha Anne
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