Thursday, July 19, 2012

Winter Holiday Trip (Part 4 of 4)

Our last day of vacation was one of my favorites.  Papa Echo had been told to 'make sure you drive up through the tablelands'.  We had seen little brochures about things to do on this drive so we stopped at a store for lunch items and headed out for yet another drive.  We showed the kidlets a brochure with "The Crystal Caves" shown and one of the kidlets (I won't say which one...) said it looked like it was just a rock store. We conceded that yes it was probably just a store.

The kids were less than enthused.  Big sigh...  we pulled the 'parent card' and said we were going anyway.

The drive was lovely and we came into the little town called Atherton.  The kids knew there was no reason to complain, we were going to go to the rock shop.  And frankly?  They always enjoy themselves once we go in.  The shop looked like any other rock shop.  Lots and lots of pretty stones...  geodes to crack open...  jewelry that I like but won't spend money on...  same old, same old shop.  As we were looking around, I knew that the 'crystal caves portion' was in the basement and I thought that I would just send Papa Echo in with the kids and I would wait upstairs. (I wanted to save the $25 adult admission price.)  But, as we went towards the back of the store, I saw that it wasn't just a boring stairwell going downstairs.   It was decorated to look like an actual cave. I was intrigued and decided to pay the money and take a look.

We were given hard hats with lamps to wear and told to enjoy and touch everything and take lots of pictures.   As we walked down the winding walkway into a man made cave with real gemstones placed in the faux rock wall, we realized we were seeing something incredible.  The kids were THRILLED!!  You felt like you were discovering these gems for the first time and the kids were encouraged to touch all the beautiful rocks.  The cave system was HUGE with over 600 crystal formations.

Towards the end of the tour, we came upon "The Empress of Uruguay" which is the worlds' biggest amethyst geode.
 Impressive, right?

So, here's the thing.  Finding amazing wonderful things to do in the middle of nowhere is happening all the time here.  We looked at and touched the world's largest amethyst geode in a tiny town 1-2 hours west of a smallish tourist town called Cairns. And the only way we knew about it was from little blips in some of the tourist pamphlets.  If this attraction was in the U.S.,  it would be located in a big city and admission would be higher.  Nobody would be able to touch the geode and to get your picture by it would be extra.  This entire cave was designed just as well if not better than anything I've seen at Disneyland.  And for anyone that knows me, knows that 'that' statement is saying a lot. 

The kids admitted that they were glad we went for the drive.  We ate a picnic lunch (in the car because it was starting to rain) and went to find some waterfalls.

We found our way back to Cairns with plenty of time to catch our flight back home to Brisbane.  I'm so glad that we chose to drive north and fly south.  It was a wonderful adventure to drive but flying home was a good way to end the vacation.

And speaking of flying?  Does anyone remember what it was like flying in the states before 9-11?  Because if you don't, come to Australia.  When we got to the airport, the kids were getting nervous and worrying about what was in their carry on bags (like lotion bottles and a lack of ziploc bags).  We told the kids that they didn't need to worry about that.  They also didn't need to take off their shoes.  And, if for some reason they set off the metal detector, they wouldn't get an invasive pat-down.  They would just go back, take off their belt and try again.

It made me get a little teary because I know that the security system in the states will NEVER go back.  And it makes me sad because we have lost so many rights because of the TSA and I don't think we are any safer.  It's really sad.

I'll get off my soap box now.  Thank you Australia for reminding me of what once was.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Winter Holiday Trip (Part 3 of 4)

 On our way from Airlie Beach to Cairns, we stopped at an old Quarantine Station and WWII post.  It was a chance to learn a little history and more importantly (for the kids) play on the beach.

We were walking back to our car, just visiting and laughing and suddenly Papa Echo stops.  He turns to the kids and says, "I don't want to hear any commentary on what you are going to see in the next five seconds. We will talk about it later."  Turns out we walked upon somebody sun bathing in the buff.  Luckily for us, he had put a washcloth over himself.  When we were no longer within hearing range, we had a lengthy discussion on the differences between the states and Europe when it comes to bodies and what is considered appropriate beach clothing.

 Finally we made it to Cairns.  The next day we went on a Skyrail journey over the top of a rainforest to a town called Kuranda.  After looking around town, we took a Train back to Cairns.


 Along the skyrail journey, there were stops where we could get off and walk along paths to a waterfall. 

 I just love all the greenery here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Winter Holiday Trip (Part 2 of 4)

We made it to Airlie Beach and our day cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Papa Echo found us a really nice hotel.
Here I am updating my facebook post from our balcony.

The following morning we were up bright and early for our cruise.  You know the boat ride will be rough when the crew begs everyone to take 'motion sickness pills' before they even get on the boat.
We followed their advice.

 We are ready for the cruise to begin!!

 Don't we look calm and happy?  This is before the boat began to move.

Just before we left for the three hour trip out to Hardy Reef on FantaSea, the captain said that the waves were high and that hopefully we could make it there.  After an hour and a half of bumpy waves and people getting sick all around us, the captain turned the boat around and our reef tour was called off for the day.  Our kids were so sad until we told them that we would reschedule instead of getting a refund.  Sometimes it's good to not have a strict schedule while on vacation. 

The next day we were back on the boat.  We had all taken our motion sickness pills, ate a light breakfast and were prepared for another bumpy ride.  Our second day our family made it without anyone getting sick.  The other passengers were not as fortunate.  A three hour boat ride is a LONG time.
 Passing by one of the many islands on our way to Hardy Reef.

 Here's a little section of where we were snorkeling and scuba diving.

I have never been snorkeling before so I was pretty nervous. (In fact, I haven't gone into the ocean once since we've been here...  until this trip...) I've also been really nervous about all the jelly fish.  We picked this time of year to go specifically because it's NOT stinger season.  (We still wore the stinger suits.)  And these jellyfish don't just sting and hurt...  these are the ones that will kill you.  There are signs all over the beaches warning about jellyfish.  Big sigh...  Let's just say I was nervous.
But the kids weren't nervous at all, so I kept quiet and just tried to keep up with them.

Jonathan wanted to go scuba diving, but he needed to be 12 years old to do that.  So he and I went snorkeling and went on the special tour with the marine biologist.  The tour guide pointed out so many things to see.  It was hard to catch everything he was talking about because of the amount of animals that were there.  It was a magical experience to see the huge amounts of fish.  After about an hour we were pretty cold (it's winter here) and so we got out to warm up and went on the glass bottom boat ride.
Jonathan and I snorkeling.
Do you like our 'teletubby looking' stinger suits under the wetsuits?  The stinger suits cover everything but the face.

Papa Echo and the girls took the quick scuba class for beginners and went scuba diving for the first time ever.  They LOVED it!! The girls are looking forward to going again.

Papa Echo



 It was wonderful and I'm so glad we were able to mark this off our bucket list.

In the captain's chair.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Winter Holiday Trip (Part 1 of 4)

For the Winter Holidays we decided to head north and explore another part of Australia.  Cairns (pronounced like 'cans') was our final destination, but after seeing how long it would take to drive there we decided to rent a car, drive, and then fly home.  It was a VERY wise decision.  While it was a beautiful drive and we enjoyed stopping along the way to see different things, it was very, very long.

First stop the Tropic of Capricorn
 Papa Echo is trying to explain the sundial and why it's here at this particular spot.

Next stop was Capricorn Caves
The kids and Papa Echo loved it.

 And then we saw The Big Mango

A busload of Aussie's asked Alyssa to take their picture.  After she was done, they wished us all a Happy Fourth of July.

And we had many, many rest stops to get out and stretch on our long journey north.

And then we finally arrived at Arlie Beach and our Great Barrier Reef portion of the trip. Yippee!!!
(to be cont.)