Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Last days of summer?

Autumn in coming! Ok, it's actually already here. The mornings are getting colder, only 10 degrees in the morning earlier this week! But we are still having some lovely sunny and warm afternoons. We took advantage of what could be our last hot weekend and went to the beach on Saturday with Adam and Charlotte. They took us to Mills Beach on the Mornington Peninsula which was both stunning and empty. It was about an hour drive out of Melbourne, but totally worth it to avoid the crowds in St. Kilda, Elwood or Brighton. 

Mills Beach, Mornington Peninsula
On the way there we introduced them to the Serial podcast, which I mentioned in my last post, and Andy and I are both hooked on. They are also now hooked, to the point where when we arrived we had about 6 minutes left of episode 1 and we had to sit in the car and wait until it was finished before getting out and going to the beach. Podcasts are like my new favourite thing, they are making my commute to work much more interesting!

The beach was great, like I said there were not many people there, and it was lined with those pretty painted beach houses. We saw an older couple outside of theirs, with their table and chairs and newspaper, basically just living the life! A very peaceful and stress free way to pass the afternoon. 

Sunday we woke up and it was absolutely freezing! The temperature said 14, but it was super windy and felt a lot colder. They never give you a "windchill factor" temperature here which I feel is misleading! I trekked out to Flemington Racecourse on public transport (never again! There is no direct train if there is no race on so its a pain to get too) to a Baby and Kids Market. Stalls and stalls of people selling new and used baby and kids clothes, toys, furniture, etc. We have bought nothing for the baby yet so I thought old go along and see what was on offer. Lucky Andy was coaching soccer that morning, as I don't think he would have enjoyed it! It was very packed with parents and kids and prams, but there were some excellent deals. I ended up buying some second hand clothes, all in great condition and at a fraction of what they would cost new. Going there made me think I never want to buy new baby clothes when you can go to things like this and buy them so much cheaper!

Andy spent the day at the Grand Prix, for the 3rd year in a row. This time he splashed out and bought James Boags VIP tickets, a special reserved area on one of the turns, with its own bar and seating. I think he had a pretty good day - although he always says his favourite part is seeing the fighter jets fly overhead. We can see that from our apartment (for free!) so... the point of going to the actual event is beyond me, but I suppose atmosphere and all that has something to do with it! I have zero interest in going, I went once, in our first year here, and that was enough for me.

This is our second last week of term until Easter Holidays, hurray! This term has actually gone by quite quickly, but I am definitely looking forward to the break and our trip to Vietnam!

Monday, 9 March 2015

A Weekend at the Wineries

This weekend was both a bank holiday weekend (Labour Day) AND my birthday. It is so great that my birthday falls on a long weekend here in Australia, and also that it's still pretty much summer. You definitely can't complain when you have a day off work on your birthday!

We basically spent the weekend at a few different wineries. Sunday we travelled to Trofeo Winery in Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula with Laura and Dan. Both of them have been travelling a lot for work lately so it was great to have a catch up with them. Also, they are most likely going to move to Sydney sometime this year for Dan's work which is a bit sad, so we have to spend as much time with them now as we can. 

We arrived and the restaurant was packed, and the hostess pretty much told us that there was no chance of us getting a table that afternoon. She helpfully gave us a map of the wineries and we started calling a few other places to see if there were tables available, figuring they would all be just as busy due to the long weekend. Booking things like restaurants ahead of time was not something we really had to do in London, and I still forget that on weekends you need to do that here. Australians love to plan ahead!

Trofeo Winery

Anyway we had only called one other place when the hostess came back to us and said that actually a few tables had left so she could now squeeze us in. What?! I'm not sure how we she didn't know a few tables were just about to leave... the ex-restaurant worker in me was instantly critical of her hostessing abilities... but anyway we happily sat at our table outdoors overlooking the vineyards. The weather was beautiful, a perfect blue sky and not too hot. The food was pretty good, and we all went for dessert after our main meals. Laura and I ordered a salted caramel chocolate mousse with peanut brittle which was divine but VERY rich and by the end we were both wishing we had shared it instead of getting one each! After lunch we had a little rest on the lawn by the vineyards, digesting our lunch and enjoying the weather.

Today we headed out to the Yarra Valley to the restaurant Tram Trak Winery, Zonzo. This time I was smart and called and booked ahead, and it was a good thing I did as the place was absolutely packed! They were only doing a $45 set menu with Antipasto, salads and pizzas, which were good but I think a little over-priced. Although being at a winery I guess you have to expect a bit more of a mark-up. Downside was I couldn't eat the amazing looking blue cheese and prosciutto on the Antipasto plate... not eating and drinking certain DELICIOUS foods/wine is definitely the biggest downside to pregnancy! (I know, I know, it's a small price to pay. I'm not complaining, but I am looking forward to when I can enjoy these things again!)

Zonzo Restaurant at Tram Trak Winery

Boys discussing boy things (probably football)

Beautiful view at Tram Trak

Andy and the girls!

Mmmmmm Chocolate@

After lunch we headed to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. I'd never been here before and was looking forward to something sweet after our lunch. However it was completely packed, and crawling with kids! Everywhere! I guess it is really the only kid friendly attraction in a wine region, but still, we were a bit overwhelmed. We ventured into the Chocolate shop (forget queueing for ice cream!) and it was HUGE and packed with loads of... well, chocolate. They have massive bowls of white, milk and dark chocolate chips at the front that you can taste for free, so we loaded up on those and then got out of there! To be fair, the chocolate WAS pretty good, but I could not be bothered to pick something out and then wait in a huge line to pay. Also, they sell some of their products at Coles at cheaper prices than at the shop, (one of our friends that was with us is a chocolate buyer for Coles), so it seemed silly to buy it there overpriced. 

Adam on the way home... the wine was pretty good!
Andy and I then had to go home as he coaches soccer on Monday nights now... A bit ridiculous that they still had practice on a long weekend, but whatever. I went home and listened to the first episode of the podcast Serial... wow, I am already totally hooked and can't wait to listen to the rest of the episodes. If you don't already know (as I'm a bit behind on this one, I think it came out in October and has been hugely popular), Serial is a re-investigation of a murder of a high school student that happened in Baltimore in 1999. She was strangled and buried in a shallow grave, and discovered about a month later. Her ex-boyfriend was charged and convicted of the murder, but has always maintained his innocence. The story is told by the journalist investigating the murder 15 years later, and she has doubts about whether or not the ex is the murderer. Anyway, I really enjoyed the first episode and had to stop myself from immediately listening to the next one. I highly recommend, it would be perfect to listen to if you have a long commute to work!

Anyway, a pretty good long birthday weekend... oh and I forgot to mention the best part... that as a present Andy and I will be enjoying a spa day at Weribee Mansion later this month. Can't wait for my pregnancy massage!

Thanks Binns for taking all these great pictures!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Baby News!

So, the big news around here lately is that we are having a baby in July! Exciting (and scary) times. We found out just before my family got here in December, so it was great to be able to tell them all in person. As soon as my parents got home they booked flights back to Melbourne and will be here for the month of August to help out, thank goodness, as I really have no idea what you do with a newborn baby!

The pregnancy has been pretty straightforward so far. I haven't really been sick or had any weird food cravings, just a bit of nausea in the mornings at the start, and of course I am really tired some days. "Exercise" has taken on a different meaning... no more running or cycling at the moment, more walking and yoga. I find I get out of breath a lot quicker these days! It's been a bit up and down when it comes to the medical care we've had here. Our private health insurance does not cover pregnancy, so we are at the mercy of the public system. Having lived in two countries where there is universal health care (Canada and the UK), the whole private/public thing is new to us. We looked into getting private health care briefly, but a friend of ours had her baby through the public system and said it was all fine. Plus, the private health care system is VERY expensive - I think you still end up paying thousands of dollars even though you've been paying a premium for health insurance every month. I don't really get it!

We went to a GP nearby in Prahran when we first found out we were pregnant, back in December. This was the first time either of us has ever visited the doctor. It is SO expensive!! I've had longish appointments, lasting around half an hour or so, and each time the cost is $130! We get back $70 from Medicare (usually the next day, it's pretty quick) but the out of pocket cost is still about $50 each time you visit. We've been less than happy with our GP. She seems a bit... vague. I feel like she doesn't really explain things very clearly to us, or she assumes we know things that we don't, even though she knows this is our first baby. She's also messed up a few things, like not ordered all the right blood tests, and she took ages to do our hospital referral. As a result, we have felt a little bit stressed as we feel like have no idea what is going on! 

Last week though we went to our first hospital appointment and met with a midwife. She was much more helpful and we feel a lot more informed about what is going on and what to do next. Today was our 20 week scan which was exciting. Everything seems fine so far, but we will know more when we go back to the hospital in two weeks time to discuss the most recent blood tests and the scan.

I guess one of the more difficult things is that we don't have many friends with babies here. So we're a bit afraid that we will be isolated from the friends we've made since moving here once the baby is born. I already feel a bit left out at times, as I can't drink and am usually too tired to stay out very late. I have been going to a few meetup sessions with a group of women that I found on the website The group was started a few years ago by a girl in a similar situation to me, she was the first of her friendship group to have a baby and wanted to meet some other "new mums". The group has grown and there are some people who already have small children and others that are pregnant with their first and due in the next couple of months. Lots of them are expats as well, in a similar situation to me. It's been nice to have some people to talk to about all of this, and I think I will meet some other new mums that live around us once the baby is born, through a mother's group.

It's all very exciting but there is a lot to work out! We haven't bought any baby items yet... I am hoping to buy a lot second hand and not get too caught up in buying more than we need. After the scan today we have an idea of the sex... they can't guarantee that it's 100% accurate so we could still be surprised, but I think that happens pretty rarely these days. So now I can start to buy some gender specific clothes and items, hurrah! I am looking forward to that!

We both had the day off from work today for the scan (it was in the middle of the day, and our hospital is at the other end of Melbourne from where we both work) so on the way back we stopped at a random National Trust location that we passed, the Rippon Lea House & Gardens. It's a historic mansion from the 1930's set within 14 acres of gardens and lawns. The weather was gorgeous so we had a nice time walking around and digesting the news from the scan. The gardens feature a windmill, lake, orchard and the world's largest covered fernery, so it was a relaxing place to spend the afternoon. Afterwards we went to get some lunch - Andy requested a pub beer garden as opposed to the usual cafe, so we headed over to College Lawn Bowl on Greville St. in Windsor for some burgers and chips! Back to reality tomorrow...

World's largest covered fernery

Rippon Lea Mansion

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A Long Weekend in Euchca

We spent the last weekend of our summer holidays this year (Australia Day weekend), in a town called Euchca, which is located about 2.5 hours drive from Melbourne on the Murray river. Our friends Adam and Charlotte did an amazing job organizsng a whole weekend  for us and one other couple, Chris and Ness. We rented a 3-bed villa in the town, complete with hot tub, and drove up Friday after work for a long weekend of of fun activities. I knew pretty much nothing about Euchca before going, so had no expectations about what it would be like. I was very pleasantly surprised about how lovely the town was and how many things there were to do. Here are some of the highlights:

Wharf to Winery
Our first activity was a trip down the Murray River in a paddle steamer to Morrison's Winery. The paddle steamers leave from the Port of Euchca, a historic part of the town that transports you back to the 19th century. For $69 we had a relaxing half hour trip down the river, and then a 2 course lunch with a drink at the winery, followed by a wine tasting. The food was very good, and the service was great. Our waiter was especially good, very funny and was able to recommend some things for us to during our stay.  It was a very hot afternoon, and the wine tasting consisted of 9 different wines, so we all had a little nap on the trip back in the paddle steamer. A great way to spend the afternoon!
Historic Port of Euchca

Port of Euchca from the paddle steamer

On the paddle steamer

Andy and Adam steering the paddle steamer

Wine tasting at Morrison's Winery

vineyards at Morrison's Winery

Water Skiing
Water sports are really big in Euchca, so we had a 2.5 hour water skiing lesson with Josh from iwaterski. Josh was pretty funny and a great teacher. Most of us hadn't water skied before, but he got everyone up on their feet at some point. 
Adam getting ready to water ski
Andy wakeboarding

Enjoying the sun on the boat

Ok, so this is an actual thing in Euchca. You grab a lilo and let the current carry you down the river. This was recommended by our server from the winery, and we saw lots of groups of people floating. The more experienced floaters even had Eskies full of beers floating with them! With the temperature reaching nearly 40 degrees, spending a few hours floating down the cool river sounded very appealing! It was very relaxing, we all loved it except for Andy, who was bored after about 10 minutes. As it took us about 2 hours to get to our finish point where we had left one of the cars, this meant we had to endure quite a bit of his moaning about being bored. Perhaps not the best activity for people who don't like to relax!

We ate out twice for brunch and once for dinner. The rest of the time we had BBQs at our villa. Johnny & Lyle's was my favourite brunch place, with excellent coffee that was comparable with anywhere in Melbourne. The Black Pudding was another good brunch option. Our first night we had dinner at The American Hotel, which we were less impressed with in terms of food. However they had a good beer garden and it seemed like the place to be on a Friday night. Perhaps better for drinks and dancing than actual food!

Dinner at the American

All in all a great weekend, thanks mostly for our friend Adam for doing such a great job organising it all. I'd highly recommend this place as a good weekend away from Melbourne in the summer. 

Below is one of Andy's famous videos of our weekend:

*You may have noticed, but yes, loads of these pictures were taken on a selfie stick. Adam bought one for Charlotte for her birthday and we had a lot of fun with this!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Finally fully registered!

After 2 years in Australia, Andy has finally been given full registration from the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), hurray! This has been a long process due to his original teaching qualification from England, a GTP (an 'on the job' qualification, rather than the more traditional route of the PGCE). Luckily, Andy was able to get provisional registration from the VIT, called Permission to Teach, which allowed him to work in a school that could not find a suitable fully registered teacher. He has been working at a Catholic school in west Melbourne since July 2013 with this registration, but would only be able to do that for a maximum of 3 years. 

With this in mind, and knowing that we would have the same difficulties with the GTP and teacher registration when we eventually move to Canada, we decided it would be best if Andy went back to uni to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (Dip Ed). He started this in March 2013, while still working full time as a teacher. Although it was a lot of work for him, in many ways we've been fortunate with how things have worked out. First of all, his programme at Deakin University was a distance education course, meaning most of it was completed in his own time and he only had to go into the university for four 2-week blocks. Secondly, the school he was at supported this and gave him paid time off to attend these weeks at the university. This was also the last year that Deakin was offering the programme, as all teacher education programmes are now 2 years long in Victoria (this one was only 8 months long in total). And Deakin also gave him 'credit for prior learning' based on his GTP, teaching experience, and Masters in Education. (Yes, incredible that he was not able to get full registration here with those qualifications!) In the end he actually only had to complete about two-thirds of the course.

So everything fell into place quite nicely, including our Permanent Residence visas, which came just a few weeks before the uni fees were due. If this hadn't come through in time we would have been stuck paying overseas student fees, which were something like $22,000! Yikes!

Andy finished the course in October last year, and then had to go through a process that all first year teachers here have to do. This involves putting together a portfolio of evidence to demonstrate that you meet the teaching standards, along with an Investigating Student Learning project. As he was working in a school while doing his Dip Ed, he was able to submit this just after finishing his course, instead of waiting another year to do it. This is normally something that the school assess and signs off on, and the VIT don't have much to do with, however of course Andy and his school were audited by the VIT and had to send in all his evidence and his project! So the full registration was delayed while we waited for them to check over his work. Thankfully it was all fine and the registration came through last week. It is such a relief to have this all done and dusted. I don't think Andy will be signing up for any more qualifications or courses anytime soon...

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Port Douglas

We spent 4 days in Port Douglas at the end of my parents' four-week trip to Australia at the beginning of January. They were flying back to Canada from Cairns, however on the advice of a lot of friends we chose to stay here instead of Cairns itself. And boy am I glad we did! I loved Port Douglas. Basically, it looks and feels like you would expect all of Australia to look like -  lush vegetation and beautiful beaches. It is about an hour from Cairns, and we drove here from Airlie Beach (not recommended!)

January is probably not the best time to visit. It's the wet season, and we did have rain while we were there, although it was warm rain, which is a nice change from the cold and windy rain we get here in Melbourne! It is also extremely humid, and so you basically need to be by water too cool yourself off at all times. Unfortunately January is stinger season, so you are limited to a small section of Four Mile Beach that has a net around it for swimming. We had a pool at our apartment so opted to use that instead of going to the beach one day. The upside is that it is not overrun with tourists at this time of year, so there is plenty of accommodation and it was pretty reasonably priced (less than $200 per night for a really nice apartment for six).

The main street has plenty of very good bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from, along with some decent shopping. But the main draws are two beautiful World Heritage sites: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

We did an Outer Great Barrier Reef cruise with a company called Quicksilver. We were on a 45 meter Wavepiercing Catamaran, which has to be one of the biggest boats I've ever seen. They advertise the smoothest ride possible out to the Outer Reef, however we had some quite choppy weather and there were plenty of people looking very green on the way out! My parents, Mike and Ashley decided to do an introductory dive once they got there, and Andy and I opted to go on a helicopter ride as we both have done some diving in the past. The helicopter ride was stunning, however the water was high so it was difficult to see any sea life from above. It was pretty cool, however I'm not sure it was worth the $165 cost!

Learning to Dive
Helicopter ride!

There was an area to snorkel roped off beside the boat. Getting in was pretty crowded; lots of people that didn't seem to know how to swim flapping around everywhere, but once you swam out a bit it was much better. The coral here was pretty spectacular, especially as you swam further out. However there wasn't a lot of fish here, and the water was pretty wavy so I did prefer the snorkeling we did around Haymen Island in the Whitsundays.

Pretty coral
We spent a lazy day around the pool before saying goodbye to Mike, Ashley, mom and dad. Very sad times! However, my mom and dad have already booked flights to come back and visit in August, hooray! (More on that to come!)

Last night together selfie!

Mossman Gorge swimming hole

The last day of the holiday was just Andy and I, and we decided to drive up to the Daintree Rainforest. I don't think Andy could take another day of just laying by the pool. Our first stop was Mossman Gorge, about 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. We actually could have stayed here all day. You get a bus through an indigenous village (or you could walk, but it was extremely hot and humid) to the start of numerous walking tracks and an amazing swimming hole. We didn't stay long as we had already planned to drive further into the Daintree, but this was well worth the stop and I do wish we had brought the others here!

 Leaving Mossman Gorge we headed further north and got the Daintree Ferry to cross over to the Cape Tribulation area. The ferry is not cheap ($23 round trip a pretty short ride) but it is the only way to access this part of the rainforest. Our first stop was to get some lunch at Mason's Cafe. This place was a pretty crappy run down diner, serving all sorts of Australian delicacies such as kangaroo, crocodile and emu burgers. I was not feeling particularly adventurous (partly due to the fact that this place was pretty run down) so stuck to something normal like a BLT. The main reason we stopped here was that this is an amazing swimming hole behind it. This was probably my favourite thing we did on this leg of the trip. The water was clear and cold (again, the heat and humidity was getting unbearable) and there were rope swings into the water. After spending some time here, we drove on to Cape Tribulation and then headed back to Port Douglas for our last night on holiday. There were lots of cool tours advertised for the Daintree, so I think if we went back here we'd check out one of those as you would probably learn a lot about the flora and fauna in the rainforest.

Really??? Ew!!

Cape Tribulation
The next day we flew out of Cairns at 4pm, so we decided to drive into Cairns for the day. What a mistake! Not only was it hotter and more humid than Port Douglas, there was also not much to see or do. We spent sometime in the outdoor lagoon pool on the Esplanade. The facilities around here are great for kids, the most amazing playground nearby and and a safe place to swim, along with toilets and showers which are all free. We stayed for about an hour but it was just too hot! I don't know how people live here in the summer, I was dying to get back to Melbourne weather! (Who would have thought I'd ever say that?) We ended up going to a shopping centre just so we could be in some air conditioning for the afternoon before heading off to the airport. I think we were at the point where we just wanted to get home!

Back in Melbourne we had 2 weeks off until school started, the first of which Andy was ill and spent in bed! We've now been back to reality at work for a week and this holiday seems like such a long time ago now. I loved Port Douglas though and would go back in a heartbeat, however I would probably pick a different time of year next time!

Check out Andy's video of our holiday here:


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Day 2 Sailing and a LONG Drive to Port Douglas

We woke up on the second day of our sailing trip to fluffy white clouds and blue skies, hurray! No more rain! However our joy was somewhat short-lived, as the boat seemed to be infested with March flies. I took my breakfast and tea above deck to try and get away from them but they were just as bad as inside the boat. Breakfast was a less than serene affair, trying to balance my plate of food and swat flies at the same time. The deck of the boat soon looked like a fly cemetery with dead flies everywhere. I could not wait to get the boat moving! A shame as the weather was beautiful, the water was calm, and the view of the surrounding islands beautiful, however I was finding it a challenge to appreciate it all. I know it sounds like I'm complaining too much here about these flies, but they were pretty incessant, constantly buzzing around you and landing on you, and just generally very irritating.

Anyway we finally got going, no sailing again to begin with, heading toward Blue Pearl Bay, on the northern end of Haymen Island to do some snorkelling. Haymen Island has a luxury resort and is apparently where all the rich and famous go when they visit the Whitsundays. Weirdly, the flies were almost non-existent around the island. Our crew speculated that the air is spayed with something to get rid of the flies for the guests staying on Haymen Island. I'm not sure how true that is but it wouldn't be surprising!

In order to get ready to snorkel we had to put on our stinger suits. These look sort of like wetsuits but are not nearly as thick, all lycra with a fleece lining inside. They are to protect you from the deadly Box and Irukandji Jellyfish which are prevalent in the waters around northern Queensland at this time of year. Risk of being stung by a deadly jellyfish aside, the water is absolutely beautiful in the Whitsundays. The temperature is a lovely 28 degrees and so clear you can nearly see the bottom even without your snorkel mask. The coral here is fringing, which means it grows directly from the shore, and the range of fish we saw was amazing. The craziest thing we saw were Mauri Wrasse fish, which were huge, at least a metre long. Andy and I spotted a few and I sort of freaked out and tried to swim away, only to turn around in circles and realize we were surrounded by about 15 of them! Only we weren't really surrounded as they were below us; it's funny how the water doesn't seem that deep when it is so clear.

The rest of the sailing trip was pretty good that day. We had nice weather, stopped at another snorkelling site, and had some pretty epic sailing on the way back to Airlie Beach. The wind was strong and the boat was angled so steeply that as we were sitting on the edge our feet touched the water! Mike and Andy helped to put the sails up again, and I think our captain Mark did something wrong with the position of the boat, as one of the sails was loose and flapping in the wind. A rope at the end hit Sean (crew) on the face and Mike on the back. Sean was not too happy with Mark about that! He had a cut just below his eye that was bleeding and Mike had a pretty nasty bruise on his back. Luckily Mike was not too upset, rather he was very proud of his sailing injury!

All in all I enjoyed the sailing trip, but having bad weather can really put a damper on things. And in the end I was glad we only did one night on the boat instead of two - I'd had enough by the time we got back to Airlie Beach and was happy to be back on land. Recently I read the book Love With A Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. The author is an Australian who initially has a fear of the ocean but decides, after much deliberation, to sail across the Pacific with her Argentinian boyfriend (it's his lifelong dream). After a harrowing crossing of the ocean, they sail to various islands in the Pacific, and live for months on their sailboat. Although you do read about all the horrible bits, it does sound amazing and I remember thinking "maybe I should learn to sail". This trip totally turned me off of this idea, I now have absolutely no desire to ever sail or live on a boat!

Back in Airlie Beach, where we missed the rain and arrived to a double rainbow, we had dinner at Beaches Bar & Grill as they had a $15 dinner and drink deal. We learned here that you get what you pay for in terms of food and weren't very impressed with our meals, but it was pretty cheap and so I guess you can't complain. Mike, Andy and Dad went to go play Big Buck, this arcade game, and Ashley, Mom and I were left alone at our table... but not for long! A rowdy group of boys (ok, men) found their way over to our table. We found out they were on a Stag do, and they absolutely LOVED it when they found out that we were with my mom! They would not leave her alone, everyone in the party wanted to talk to Barb! Needless to say they were pretty embarrassed when our men came back to our table, and hastily left us!

The next day we collected our rental cars from Europcar and commenced the longest drive EVER from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas. When we were planning this trip we looked at various options in terms of transport for this leg of the trip. Flights would have been good, but they were pretty expensive by the time we looked at them, nearly $400 each if I remember correctly. Plus flights would only get us to Cairns, so we still would have had to rent cars or take a bus from Cairns to Port Douglas, and then back again. There is a bus option as well, but we thought that having cars would be a more flexible option. This was still pretty expensive though, renting 2 cars plus petrol for the drive plus the 4 days in Port Douglas ended up costing just under $1200 for the six of us. Still cheaper than flights though, and it meant we had a car the whole time we were in Port Douglas as well. But the drive was pretty long and boring. The only benefit was that I actually drove about half the time, giving me some good left side of the road driving experience, and a bit more confidence to start trying to drive more in Melbourne again. I don't think I've driven at all since last summer, and the more I put it off the more stressed I get about it. 

We made a stop for lunch in Townsville, which is about 4 hours from Airlie Beach. Not much to say about this place except that our lunch was excellent, at a place called The Balcony. I highly recommend the waffles, which came with grilled bananas, honeycomb, ice cream and caramel sauce. They almost made this drive worth it. Almost.

We were actually making pretty good time until we were about 40 minutes from Port Douglas, on Captain Cook highway. It had started raining pretty heavily and was dark out when we started being passed by police cars and ambulances. That could only mean one thing... there was an accident up ahead. A few minutes later we were stopped by police and told we would have to take an alternate route. Captain Cook highway is a one lane coastal road and there are frequent accidents which close down the highway. The detour around is an extra two hour drive. This was pretty demoralizing, as we were all pretty tired at this point and we were so close to Port Douglas! We stopped at a nearby beach cafe which had just stopped serving food (of course!) but they were so nice and offered to make us some chips and wedges anyway. After refuelling on carbs and coffee we headed back to our cars to make the journey. We ended up arriving in Port Douglas after 11pm absolutely exhausted, but delighted with our accommodation, a three bedroom apartment just off the main street. We pretty much went directly to bed, looking forward to waking up and exploring what Port Douglas had to offer.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Airlie Beach & Day 1 Sailing in the Whitsundays

Ok so I've had a nice long break from the blog, owing mainly to my parents, brother Mike and his girlfriend Ashley coming to Australia for a visit. We visited Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne (of course), Apollo Bay, The Whitsunday Islands and Port Douglas over the 4 weeks they were here, and I am going to attempt to write about all these places before we start back at school in less than two weeks. This first post is about Airlie Beach and our first day of a two-day sailing trip through The Whitsundays Islands. The day after New Year's we flew into Proserpine airport from Melbourne and from there got a shuttle bus ($18) to Airlie Beach. Proserpine is probably the best airport to fly into if you are visiting the Whitsundays as it is the closest to Airlie Beach, or you can also fly directly into Hamilton Island, which is the most popular island in terms of resorts etc.

We stayed at Magnums Backpackers in Airlie Beach for the nights before and after our sailing trip. We booked our trip through them which meant we got one night free. I was a bit wary when we first entered Magnums through their huge outdoor bar and entrance to the nightclub (advertising Jelly Wrestling that night) thinking it would be really noisy at night. But, I was pleasantly surprised by this place. The rooms closest to the bar were the dorm rooms, and then the double rooms, where we were staying, were a little further back. They were (crucially at this time of year) air conditioned, and every 3 rooms share a bathroom, which isn't too bad. 

Rum Tasting
After dropping our bags off in our rooms we decided to get dinner, and using my trusty Urban Spoon app, we decided on a place called Fish D'Vine. What a find this place was! I highly recommend it, delicious fish and seafood that you can pick out yourself from the counter, and within the restaurant was a Rum Bar, which boasts 200 different types of rum. My dad, Andy and Mike basically drank rum non-stop this whole trip, so they were in their element here, and we spent the evening tasting different rums.

The view from our room in Magnums - rainy morning!
The next morning we woke to torrential rain - not a great start to our sailing trip! Thankfully it cleared a little by the time we boarded the boat. The forecast had called for non-stop rain for the whole time we were in the Whitsundays, so we were trying not to get too despondent about this, as out on the islands the weather can be very different to on land. The company we booked with were called iSail Whitsundays and we were sailing on the Iceberg, a racing sailboat that raced in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race in the 90s. There were 12 people on the boat, a family from Germany and a couple from Switzerland, plus the two crew, Mark and Sean. 

Day 1 of our trip was less than perfect, to be honest... but this was mainly due to the weather. Although it wasn't constantly raining, we did have periods of rain and it was a bit cold above deck. Once we hit open water the water was pretty choppy and I went below deck for a while to get out of the rain. This was a big mistake as I was then feeling pretty seasick so had to go back up top. After quite a few hours of being on the boat (we weren't able to sail at this point as the winds weren't blowing in the right direction) we had our first stop on Whitsunday Island. I was pretty happy to get off the boat at the point, although that was short lived. As soon as we stepped on the island we were attacked by monster flies... we later found out they are called March flies, and they bite you looking for blood just like a mosquito does. The six of us were the first lot to be dropped off on the island while Mark went back in the speedboat to get the other six from the Iceberg.  We must have looked ridiculous, dancing around trying to swat at the constant flies. Mark and Sean advised us to let them land on us and then whack them, they are pretty stupid and easy to kill once they have landed, although it takes a little time to get used to letting them land on you. I think it would have been nice if the tour company had advised us to bring some bug spray, as we were totally not expecting this!

More rain in the distance

Anyway, we hiked up the island for about 10-15 minutes to Hill Inlet lookout, giving a breathtaking view of Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven Beach is regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world, due to the pristine white sand which is so fine it felt like you were walking on silk. We were dropped off at the beach for 2 hours which normally would have been heaven, if it wasn't windy and raining!! We were pretty much the only people on the whole 7km stretch of beach and had no idea what to do for 2 hours in the rain on the beach! The water was pretty warm at least (28 degrees) so you could still swim, and the rain did stop so we ended up just walking up and down the beach. Its a bit of a disappointment when you visit one of the world's most beautiful beaches and it's raining, but it is the wet season in this part of Australia so we should have been expecting something like this might happen.

The view from Hill Inlet lookout

After Whitehaven beach we headed back to water that was protected from the wind and waves and had dinner on the boat under the stars. We were actually able to sail during this part of the trip, and Mike and Andy got involved in putting up the sails. Dinner was pretty nice, and we were very impressed with the food that Sean made for all our meals on the boat. Nothing fancy, we had Gnocchi and salad, but it was pretty tasty. We did have to be prepared for "Bullet" winds however, these huge gusts of wind that would come out of nowhere through the funnel created by the two islands we were docked in between. We also had a bit of rain in the evening, and would have to race around the boat closing all the hatches so that our beds wouldn't get wet down below. Thankfully though it didn't rain throughout the night, as if we had had to sleep with all the hatches closed I think we would have suffocated down in our tiny cabins all night! I actually had a great sleep that night, which I was totally not expecting, rocked to sleep by the gentle waves and cooled off by the breeze off the sea. 

Captain Andy!
Stay tuned for day 2 of our sailing trip, my mom being hit on by a bunch of guys on a stag do, and our dreadful drive from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas.