Posts tagged: Australia

Australia: Cairns & Outer Great Barrier Reef

By , February 14, 2011 4:00 am
In The GBR For New Years

In The GBR For New Years

“Guess who’s back, back again?” To celebrate New Years, we head out to Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Our friend, Zhi, who we visited while in Sydney, joins us.

There is not much charm to downtown Cairns with a few bars and restaurants. After setting our resolutions for 2011 over dinner, we join the crowd in the Esplanade for fireworks. At the stroke of midnight, we cheer with our Champagne-filled McDonald’s paper cups and end the night with a group hug.

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Fireworks On The Esplanade

Fireworks On The Esplanade

Early next morning, we board The Encounter for a 2-day/1-night trip to explore the Outer GBR. We are told that the deadly jellyfishes are mating so it is best to wear a wetsuit. Zhi tries diving for the first time and loves it. MuiMui sticks to snorkeling and I decide to do an advanced diving course.

Onboard The Encounter

Onboard The Encounter

Boris Snorkeling In The GBR

Boris Snorkeling In The GBR

Millions Of Small Fishes

Millions Of Small Fishes

Live Coral & Fishes Everywhere

Live Coral & Fishes Everywhere

On the first day, we visit Norman Fingers and Norman Playground. Snorkeling is pretty awesome as we are right above the colorful coral reef. But diving is even better. During my deep dive, I see a family of 7 lionfishes and a sting ray over 3 meters wide.

Underwater Landscape

Underwater Landscape

Feels Like Swimming Through A Colorful Screensaver

Feels Like Swimming Through A Colorful Screensaver

Beautiful Lionfish But Dangerous

Beautiful Lionfish But Dangerous

Clownfish AKA Nemo

Clownfish AKA Nemo

On the second day, while diving at Saxon Turtle Bombie, I observe a baby shark, sea turtles, and barracudas. MuiMui has a blast chasing a turtle and it doesn’t mind as she touches its shell. Zhi accidently touches a poisonous soft coral and as he comes out of the water, it looks like a sea monster attacked his knee.

Live Coral

Live Coral

Giant Sea Anemone

Giant Sea Anemone

Enormous Clam

Enormous Clam

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

Zhi's Coral Attack

Zhi's Coral Attack

At nightfall, the divers onboard start getting excited for their next dive while someone outside on the boat screams “Shark!” A few black-tipped sharks are hanging around the boat because the light helps them hunt easier. I start to feel a chill in my body, but it is quickly overpowered by the excitement. We are given flashlights and a short briefing: Large Trevally fishes are going to follow you because your light makes it easy for them to spot small fishes. We know it is fun to see them hunt, but please try not to get more than two fishes killed.

I am the first one to jump in the water and there are about 10 or more sharks less than one meter away from me. The fear gets to me again so I shine the flashlight on me to make sure the sharks don’t mistake me for a turtle or a big tuna fish. When I reach the bottom of the ocean and look back up, I can see all the sharks circling the boat.

While back on the boat and telling the non-divers about my night dive, we suddenly see a flying fish jumping out of the water and then 50 sharks rushing in its direction. If one shark had mistaken me for a fish, it would have been the end for me.

After a total of 6 dives, I am exhausted and join MuiMui for one last snorkel. While trying to get a good picture of a Nemo (Anemone fish), MuiMui points between my legs. A leopard shark swims right by us and it looks mean.

Snorkeling Right Above The Coral

Snorkeling Right Above The Coral

Coral Sea

Coral Sea

Leopard Shark

Leopard Shark

While our boat trip was pretty pricey, it was totally worth it. We learn there is an option where you can work onboard (cleaning, etc) in trade for free diving, lodging, and food. This is a great option for backpackers or anyone on a tight budget but eager to see the GBR.

For our last day, we rent a car to visit Port Douglas. It is a small little beach town, but we can only swim in one area with nets because of the deadly jellyfishes and the salt caimans. During our drive back, we spot a few Wallabies in an open grass field so we pull over to take photos. There are hundreds of them hanging out, eating grass, or boxing each other.

Wallabies

Wallabies

Boxing Each Other

Boxing Each Other

Thanks again Zhi for joining us; we had a memorable start for the New Year. You will now be known for surviving a sea monster attack.

Port Douglas

Port Douglas

Beware Of Deadly Jellyfishes

Beware Of Deadly Jellyfishes

Little Holes On The Beach

Little Holes On The Beach

Coral Arch In The GBR

Coral Arch In The GBR

Orangespine Unicornfish

Orangespine Unicornfish

Coral Rabbitfish

Coral Rabbitfish

Don't Bother Me

Don't Bother Me

Blue Lined Surgeonfish

Blue Lined Surgeonfish

Zebra Fish

Zebra Fish

Interesting Coral

Interesting Coral

Puffer Fish

Puffer Fish

Blue Green Damselfish

Blue Green Damselfish

Yellow Mask Angelfish

Yellow Mask Angelfish

White-Tipped Reef Shark

White-Tipped Reef Shark

Giant Clam

Giant Clam

Down Under With Divemaster

Down Under With Divemaster

Boris Going Down

Boris Going Down

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

Wrasse Fish

Wrasse Fish

Nudibranch Sea Slug

Nudibranch Sea Slug

Spotted Sweetlips Fish

Spotted Sweetlips Fish

Prickly Red Sea Cucumber

Prickly Red Sea Cucumber

Our Buddy, Zhi

Our Buddy, Zhi

What We Paid: AUD USD Euro
– Virgin Blue Flight From Brisbane To Cairns 234/pp 234.50 173
– 2 day/1 night onboard the Encounter for a trip out to the Outer GBR 300/snorkeling 410/diving 301 / 411 222 / 304
– Private room with own bath at the Best Western in Cairns [AC, clean, up to 3 ppl per room, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, book online for better rate and when they say they’re full] 89/room 89 66
– Private double with shared bath at NJoy Hostel in Cairns [fan, basic, pool, 10-15 min walk to Esplanade, free early morning transfer to airport, recommend only if on tight budget or if everything else is sold out] 50/room 50 37
– Underwater camera rental 33/day 33 24.50
– Average Breakfast 7.50/pp 7.50 5.50
– Average Lunch 15/pp 15 11
– Average Dinner 25/pp 25 18.50

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Australia: Brisbane

By , February 9, 2011 11:50 pm
Our Friends From Brisbane

Our Friends From Brisbane

We join our good friends Uyen and Leon in Brisbane for the holidays.  We had met them when we were all living in San Francisco.  With our arrival into Queensland comes constant downpour.  This is a great excuse to remain indoors and relax during our stay.

For a short while, we forget we are still on our travels.  Helping out with their home renovations, playing with their one-year old son, and enjoying at least two bottles of wine every night makes us feel back at home.  We apologize for the lack of pictures during this stop of our trip.

MuiMui Playing With Lil' Santa

MuiMui Playing With Lil' Santa

One night, we are in the mood for singing. Not having a karaoke machine on us, we decide to get creative.  With the help of YouTube on their large television screen and using remote controls as microphones, we sing all night.  We call it ghetto karaoke, but don’t diss it until you try it.

On Christmas day, we join their families for a festive dinner.  For starters, there are unlimited trays of oysters.  Being a big fan of oysters, I enjoy this new holiday tradition.  After seafood, I continue eating large quantities of Vietnamese food.  It is all super yummy.

Wishing You All A Happy Holiday

Wishing You All A Happy Holiday

Our friends are determined to get us out of the house against our will.  When the rain seems to subside, we take a drive out to the Gold Coast.  Still having no luck with the weather, it is more like the grey coast.  What gets Boris to finally pull out his camera is the Gold Coast Meter Maids.

A Gold Coast Meter Maid Up Close

A Gold Coast Meter Maid Up Close

We do a short hike in one of the National Parks.  It feels great to be on our feet again.  There are a few times our friend, Uyen, tries to lead us off the path but with our good orientation, she is unable to fool us.

Uyen The Karaoke Superstar

Uyen The Karaoke Superstar

We Made It

We Made It

It feels really nice to have quality time to catch up with our old pals.  Thank you Uyen, Leon, and Caellum for inviting us to your home, especially for the holidays.

Shortly after leaving Brisbane, we learn about the horrific Queensland flooding. Our hearts go out to all those families that are impacted.

Cutie Pie

Cutie Pie

Good Ol' Steak

Good Ol' Steak

Everything Tastes Great With Bacon

Everything Tastes Great With Bacon

What We Paid: AUD USD Euro
– Jetstar Flight from Melbourne To Brisbane 176/pp 176.50 128

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Australia: Mel-bun

By , February 8, 2011 12:45 am
Federation Square

Federation Square

We heard Melbourne is more like San Francisco out of all Australian cities so we cannot deny it a visit. As we walk around downtown, it feels much more mellow than the super active city of Sydney. I enjoy the extreme contrast between the old and new buildings. Even more, I admire the bold risks taken in the modern buildings like SBS Studios and RMIT.

Funky RMIT Building

Funky RMIT Building

St Paul's Anglican Cathedral & SBS Studios

St Paul's Anglican Cathedral & SBS Studios

Modern and Wooden ... We Like

Modern and Wooden ... We Like

As we leave downtown, the area around the Olympic Park seems newer and there is more open space. We have a pleasant stroll in the botanical garden, admiring the various trees and plants. As we make our way out of the park, there is mob of runners who just got out of work and are going for their daily run. Once we escape the mass, we then make way for the bicyclers who keep on coming.

Pond Inside Botanical Garden

Pond Inside Botanical Garden

Boris Munching A Massive Leaf

Boris Munching A Massive Leaf

Pretty Flowers

Pretty Flowers

With a high reputation for wonderful food, we expand our budget for fine eats. However with so many choices, we consult a food guide at the bookstore for some help. We want to try Yu-U for Japanese food but after spending some time finding the place (an unmarked black door), we are turned away as they were fully booked for two days. As we are still determined to have Japanese food, we run into a cute place called Hako. The dishes are very tiny, but very tasty. With a little lemon juice, avocado, and shiso leaf added to the crabmeat, it makes a big difference in taste.

Crab Appetizer @ Hako

Crab Appetizer @ Hako

Udon Soup @ Hako

Udon Soup @ Hako

On our second night, we head to MoVida for tapas. Around this area are many cool alleyways filled graffiti art that help brighten up the rather dull alleys. At first glance, I wouldn’t think to find so many fine eateries and bars here. We even find ACDC Lane. The location of MoVida is great and the atmosphere reminds us a little of SF, but as much as we want to like this place, none of the dishes we try agree with our palette.

Graffiti Art Across From MoVida

Graffiti Art Across From MoVida

Scallop With Meat @ MoVida

Scallop With Meat @ MoVida

Anchovies With Smoked Strawberry Ice Cream @ MoVida

Anchovies With Smoked Strawberry Ice Cream @ MoVida

We even find time to squeeze in a little holiday shopping. Just as impressive as the modern architecture in the city is the inside of the shopping malls. At one mall, we are served a glass of free bubbly white wine. Then we find an adorable indoor lawn to relax on.

Melbourne Central Shopping Centre

Melbourne Central Shopping Centre

Indoor Lawn

Indoor Lawn

Amazing Skylight

Amazing Skylight

Overall, we find Melbourne to be a young hip city that is best explored when not on a budget.

Inside St Paul's Anglican Cathedral

Inside St Paul's Anglican Cathedral

Royal Exhibition Building

Royal Exhibition Building

Small Parks In Downtown

Small Parks In Downtown

ACDC Lane

ACDC Lane

Anyone Up For A Game Of Chess?

Anyone Up For A Game Of Chess?

Nice Touch To Downtown Condos/Hotel

Nice Touch To Downtown Condos/Hotel

Welcome To Chinatown

Welcome To Chinatown

Victorian Terrace Houses

Victorian Terrace Houses

Flat White @ Gridlock Coffee

Flat White @ Gridlock Coffee

Me & Frenchie & Zoom

Me & Frenchie & Zoom

Pukeko

Pukeko

Lovely Wild Flowers

Lovely Wild Flowers

What We Paid: AUD USD Euro
– Flight On Jetstar From Sydney To Melbourne 92/pp one-way 92.50 67.75
– Skybus From Melbourne Airport To City 16/pp 16 11.80
– Room At Formule 1 Hotel [clean and great location; book online for discount] 69/room 69 51
– Dinner at Hako 42/pp 42 31
– Dinner at MoVida 35/pp 35 25.75
– Pho Lunch 12/pp 12 9
– Coffee at Gridlock 3.20/pp 3.20 2.40
– Firefly Express Bus From City To Avalon Airport 20/pp 20 14.75

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Australia: Sydney

By , February 3, 2011 4:29 pm
View From The Royal Botanical Garden

View From The Royal Botanical Garden

We couldn’t get any luckier with our timing into Sydney. Our awesome buddy, Zhi, who we know from San Francisco, just moved into a pretty phat place. Every day, it was just a short walk to Darling Harbour. [Zhi, if you are reading this, did we tell you how awesome you are.] While it is known to be a touristy area, it feels wonderful to walk through there. The city did a really great job designing the area with lots of interesting fountains, wide walkways, restaurants, bars, shopping mall, tourist attractions, and the overall modern architecture of the buildings. I liked coming here to enjoy my daily cup of Joe.

Great Place To Enjoy A Cup Of Morning Coffee

Great Place To Enjoy A Cup Of Morning Coffee

Kids Playing In The Fountain

Kids Playing In The Fountain

Amex Building Reflection

Amex Building Reflection

While we didn’t plan this either, U2 was in town. We just couldn’t say no to that so with last minute tickets, we were jamming to Jay-Z and singing with U2 LIVE! It was a really great show and nice to be in an open stadium with fresh air.

As we roamed the city, everything about it was beautiful. The botanical garden puts all other gardens to shame. We saw so many interesting plants and flowers, but what topped our visit were the hundreds of huge fruit bats in the trees. They made so much noise and with so many above our heads, it was kind of scary.

Fruit Bats

Fruit Bats

Ibis

Ibis

Heart Shaped Flowers

Heart Shaped Flowers

I have seen many pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but being there was definitely better. The city is very well laid out and everything, including the bridge, Opera House, parks, were all where they are supposed to be; it all just made sense. As we were walking through the park, there was a wedding taking place, people exercising, and others enjoying the views. After work one day, our buddy took us out for drinks at the Opera Bar and it was packed with professionals all dressed to impress. It was a great place for happy hour and to watch the sunset.

View From Opera Bar

View From Opera Bar

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

Sunset

Sunset

In the east part of the city called Surry Hills, we went out for drinks and had delicious Thai food. The Winery is a neat wine bar with funky decor, but what I liked most was that we were able to hear each other talk. This doesn’t happen at many of the other bars. While there is so much to love about Sydney, the only thing I did not enjoy so much was the young party scene.

The Night Scene @ The Winery

The Night Scene @ The Winery

Overall, the restaurants in Sydney were yummy. Since I love my Asian food, we explored Chinatown a few times. I like it when I can have my classic Chinese dishes just the way they are supposed to be prepared. Just don’t have high expectations of the service at any of the restaurants in the city. As people in the food industry are well paid in Australia, tip is not expected and I felt service was somewhat degraded compared to what I’m used to. However, if you are under 30 and need a job or just a change, Australia gives one-year working visas and their minimum wage is $15 an hour. I’m not making this up.

Food For One @ Hurricane's Grill & Bar

Food For One @ Hurricane's Grill & Bar

Chinese Congee With Pork & Thousand Year Old Egg

Chinese Congee With Pork & Thousand Year Old Egg

Also a short walk from Zhi’s house is the Pyrmont Fish Market. To my surprise, I was expecting something bigger for Sydney. It was simple but filled with lots of great seafood. We went there for breakfast and had oysters and fish. This was also where I discovered these cute white flowers called Bouvardia. Brides, I think these would look great in a bouquet.

Sydney Fish Market

Sydney Fish Market

Bouvardia Flowers

Bouvardia Flowers

One of Boris’ old buddies from France, Alexis, has also been living in Sydney for a few years now. We joined him for a French gathering over a game of Pétanque, which is much like Bocce Ball. Afterwards, the boys played catch-up at a bar while stuffing their faces with some good old saucisson and Pastis.

Boris Playing Pétanque

Boris Playing Pétanque

Alexis Plays To Win

Alexis Plays To Win

Just as popular as the Sydney Opera House is Bondi Beach. It’s located 30 minutes by public transportation, right out of the city. What a great deal for city and beach lovers; you don’t have to choose. As we strolled along the strip of beaches, each beach had a different vibe but they were all beautiful. When you didn’t like one beach, just walk over to the other one. What I most adored was how there were public infinity pools at most of beaches. Did I mention they were free?

Walk Along Bondi Beach

Walk Along Bondi Beach

Cliff Views

Cliff Views

Lorikeet Parrots Along Our Walk

Lorikeet Parrots Along Our Walk

One thing I took notice of and definitely Boris was the amount of clothing, or should I say lack of, the females had on. We are talking about working professionals showing a whole lot of skin at the office. By the end of the week, there was very little of it left. So boys in the Silicon Valley, why live where the ratio is 1 female for every 15 males when in Sydney, it is the opposite! I mention this with no disrespect of course.

When there was no more to expect from such a wonderful place, the city was hosting their annual Christmas in the Park, also free. The place was full to capacity when we arrived. There were lots of children and families enjoying the live music, Christmas Carols, and dancing. Then Josh Groban came on stage and made me melt with that talented voice of his.

Carols In The Domain

Carols In The Domain

The Crew

The Crew

Josh Groban Doing His Thing

Josh Groban Doing His Thing

Thanks Zhi for a wonderful time in Sydney. We still are having withdrawals.

Thanks Alexis for meeting up with us. It was great to see you again.

Inside Victoria Gallery

Inside Victoria Gallery

Xmas Tree With Swarovski Crystals

Xmas Tree With Swarovski Crystals

Mini Sydney

Mini Sydney

Flower @ Botanical Garden

Flower @ Botanical Garden

Soft Velvet Flowers

Soft Velvet Flowers

What We Paid: AUD USD Euro
– Skybus from airport to city [45 mins] 16/pp 16 11.60
– Groceries 25/pp per meal 25 18
– Average Lunch 15/pp 15 11
– Average Dinner 20/pp 20 14.50
– Cheap Seats For U2 Concert 45/pp 45 33

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

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