Thursday, November 29, 2007


Every now and then we have to leave the country and re-enter, so a few weeks ago we spent a long weekend in Vanuatu. The country is an archipelago of 80+ islands and just gained it’s independence in 1980 (prior to that it was jointly governed by Britain and France). We stayed on the main island of Efate at a resort called Le Lagon.

For some unknown reason, we were upgraded to an ocean front room. Across from our patio were stairs leading right into the water. From the beach chairs outside our door, we saw a wedding at the waters edge. The site was perfect, so the wedding pictures must be gorgeous. I’m guessing Vanuatu (or at least our resort) is a big wedding destination since we saw at least 2 wedding parties on each of the weekend nights we were there.

This was a vacation to relax. The weather was hot and sunny and everyday we did nothing but eat, sleep and chase SPie around the 4 swimming pools at the resort.

Right outside our room:

The wedding (view from our patio):

These wood carvings were very cool. I think the base was part of a tree stump:


Starfish in the Lagoon:

View of our room from above:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And The Winner Is...

Kevin Rudd for Australia’s Prime Minister.

Natalie Gauci for Australian Idol.

This was a big election weekend; Saturday was the Government election and Sunday was the Idol finale.

Fun Facts about the Australian Government:

  1. It’s compulsory for eligible citizens to vote. Failure to vote results in a fine.

  2. Australia uses a Preferential Voting System. If you don’t know (as I didn’t), preferential voting is when you rank candidates in order of preference. If your first choice is knocked out of the race, your vote goes towards your second choice. This continues until the winner is determined.

  3. Australia is a parliamentary style of government. The citizen’s vote the candidates to Parliament, then the government votes for the Prime Minister.

  4. There is a political party called “What Women Want”. I have no idea if they have anyone in political office, but the name cracks me up.

  5. An election for Prime Minister must be held at least every 3 years.

  6. The former Prime Minister, John Howard, was the PM for 11 years (the 2nd longest serving PM in Australia). He was head of the Liberal Party and ran under the Coalition, which is a joining of the Liberal and National Parties.

  7. Kevin Rudd is part of the Labour Party.

  8. Rudd’s major agenda items are:
    1. Ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The papers like to point out this will leave the US as the only major industrialized nation not to do so.

    2. Withdraw 550 Australian troops from Iraq.

    3. Put more money into education.

    4. Remove the workplace agreements.

  9. (Legal) Betting on the election paid AU$3.70 for a $1 bet that Howard would be re-elected.

  10. During campaigning, a news story broke that while in the US, Kevin Rudd got drunk and visited a strip club in NYC. Campaign analysts have said this story actually helped Rudd and made him seem more approachable and more like the “common man”. I think it's pathetic that this came out as a news story and even worse that it helped his campaign.

Fun Facts about Natalie Gauci:

  1. Her 26th birthday is tomorrow (Nov 26th). A recording contract is an amazing birthday present!

  2. She’s from Melbourne.

  3. She used to sing with a Jazz group.

  4. She plays piano and writes her own songs.

  5. The winner’s single is titled Here I Am and is available as a download now. It will be in stores on Wednesday (Nov 28th).

  6. The Winners Journey album and DVD will be in Australian stores on December 8th.

  7. Natalie starts the Australian Idol Tour on January 2nd.

  8. (Legal) Betting paid AU$2.35 for a $1 bet on Natalie versus AU$1.57 for a $1 bet on her competition, Matt Corby.

  9. She was my personal favorite from the first episode. (What can I say… when you don’t have cable, there isn’t much TV to watch.)

  10. The judges had negative things to say about her wardrobe choices and I agree with some of their comments. I hope Sony gets her a good stylist.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gold Coast

A couple of weeks ago we spent a long weekend at Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast. I found it tacky and noisy. After I returned from my trip, my Australian boss said it reminds him of the really touristy areas of Florida. Personally, I think it’s worse.

I might have a better impression of Surfer’s Paradise if we had stayed in a nicer place. Our hotel was a dump. Wouldn't you know this is the first trip that I booked through a travel agent and pre-paid for. If we hadn’t prepaid for the room, I would have checked out and moved further up the coast. The unit was a “serviced” apartment, but there was no “service” at all. The place was in desperate need of a renovation to pull it out of the 70’s and the amenities were horrible. The room came with two bath towels and a bath mat. I asked for a third towel for SPie as well as hand towels and washcloths. They said there would be a charge for a third bath towel and if I wanted hand towels and washcloths I should have brought them from home. (Nice customer service!) We were getting low on toilet paper, so I asked the desk if we could get another roll. They wouldn’t give it to me; however if I wanted to purchase more, it would be $1.15/roll! The receptionist kept telling me “that’s how all serviced apartments work”. We stayed at serviced apartments in Cairns and in New Zealand and never had any problems. We had all the towels and free toilet paper that we needed!

There are a lot of theme parks in the Gold Coast. We went to Dreamworld because it has Wiggles World and a Nick Central for SPie’s age group. She went on most of the age appropriate rides, but we skipped a few because the lines were so long. SPie’s favorite ride was the train that goes around the park. We went on that twice. I find it amazing how much she loves anything that goes; cars, boats, trains, and especially helicopters.

Dreamworld advertises the “largest interactive tiger facility outside the United States”, so I had big expectations for Tiger Island. There are 2 tiger shows a day. We missed one show and left the other because the crowds were too big to see anything (it's a bad design for viewing). We did see the tigers, but it wasn’t as exciting as I expected. Overall, Dreamworld was ok, but for the money spent ($$$), it was disappointing.

The next day we drove to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. This was worth the trip. The zoo is huge and the animals seem to have plenty of room to move around. As you might expect, there were a lot of crocodiles and alligators. We even saw a baby croc (8 weeks old). Most of the animals were awake and active, especially the tigers. There were 2 tigers in the enclosure play-fighting with each other. They were in and out of the water, running around the enclosure, roaring, and swatting at each other. That was very cool to see. This zoo is also the first place that I've seen a Tasmanian Devil on the move (at the other zoos the devils were sleeping).

After the zoo, we drove to see the Big Pineapple. I first heard about the “big” sculptures when I read Bill Bryson’s book In a Sunburned Country. From what I’ve read, there are random large sculptures throughout Australia and the Big Pineapple is one of them. So far, the Big Pineapple is the only one we’ve seen. This link to Wikipedia has a list of the other Big Things in Australia and elsewhere.

The Zoo and the Pineapple are North of the Gold Cost in the Sunshine Coast. From the little bit that we saw, it seems like a much nicer area. If you ever visit, stay on the Sunshine Coast and make a day trip or a single overnight to Surfer’s Paradise. Unless you’re in your early 20’s, I don’t see a need to spend too much time on the Gold Coast.

8 week old crocodile:

Tasmanian Devil:


Tigers Playing:

The Big Pineapple:

P.S. Since I originally wrote this post, it's been school holidays. Apparently Surfer's Paradise is "the" destination for drunken students (which doesn't surprise me at all). The last report I saw had 128 students arrested in Surfer's Paradise.

Overzealous Photography

I think I’m getting out of control with the pictures. Last weekend we went to the Australia Zoo (more about that later). As soon as we turned into the parking lot, SPie was sick. We immediately pulled over and took her and the car seat out of the car. When I opened the diaper bag to find something to clean her up with, I saw the camera and decided to stop and take a picture of her! It only took a second, I didn’t ask her to pose, she wasn’t crying or hurt or in any danger, her Dad was taking care of her and I did clean her up right after, but still, I cannot believe I did that! So, since I have this picture, I might as well share it, right?? (Poor SPie!)

By the way, she was fine the rest of the day and enjoyed the zoo. We think she might have been a little motion sick.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Classic Ending

Horse racing is very popular in Australia and today was one of the big races, the Melbourne Cup. The Sydney area horse racing industry was crushed this year due to a horse flu that caused most of the horses to be quarantined for the season. However, Sydneysiders were still excited about the Cup and the race received all day media coverage, a parade, fireworks and various events throughout the city.

My company rented a tent in the Domain and we all went and had lunch and drinks in the park. It was very civilized with men in suits and black tie and women in heels and hats with feathers! There was a fashion contest (all the big races seem to have them), but it was raining, so it didn’t receive too much attention. Who wants to strut their stuff on a wet runway!

As the race started, there was a downpour so everyone huddled under the tent to watch the broadcast on the large outdoor screen. As the horses were in the last 100 meters, the live feed went down and we missed the finish!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Wash Out

The bad thing about our car share it that you can only cancel a reservation 48 hours in advance. On Tuesday we booked the car for Saturday and planned to drive up to the Blue Mountains and look around. On Thursday night we saw the weather was going to be rainy and wanted to cancel the car, but it was too late. Saturday morning it was cloudy in Sydney, but not actually raining, so we decided to keep with our plan.

We stopped at a Burger King for lunch on the way. I let SPie go on the hamster maze and she decided to go all the way to the top. There was a little helicopter up there and she LOVES helicopters. For about 30 minutes we couldn't get her to come down. I'm not sure if she was afraid to climb down (at one point she yelled out "Mommy, where are you?") or if she just wanted to play. In the end, I had to climb into the silly thing and bring her down. In hindsight, we should have called it quits then, but we continued on.

As soon as we hit the Blue Mountains region we were in the fog (really we were in the actual clouds). Since we had driven so far, we went to a lookout in Wentworth Falls and confirmed there was too much cloud cover to see anything. We turned around and headed for home!

This is the hamster maze. That bubble at the very top is the helicopter that SPie was in. The only way up is through the "bubble arms" on the side - which I did climb in... ugh...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cubby House Weekend

The weekend of September 28th was a long weekend in Sydney, so we went on a trip. We stayed at a great farm-stay called the Cubby House about 3 ½ hours outside of Sydney. The views of the Capertee Valley and the mountains were amazing. On Saturday we went to the Jenolan Caves, Sunday we went to the Western Australia Zoo in Dubbo and on Monday we stopped at the Zig Zag Railway on the way home.

(Pictures are at the bottom!)

The Cubby House

I would call the Cubby House a mountain retreat. It’s at the end of a long country road with no visible neighbors (accept the owner’s house) and has really amazing views. The official website for the property is here, but this site has better pictures.

We arrived at the Cubby House late Friday night. With 2 kms to go before arriving at the cabin, we had to go through a closed gate. I’ve learned that the gate is to keep the cows from straying off the property and is common on farms. Being from the developed suburbs, I’ve never had to get out my car and open a gate to continue down a road. At 11:00 pm, in a strange and dark place with no cell phone coverage I was a little nervous about this. I kept thinking we were at the wrong property and some farmer was going to come after us with a shotgun or that this was a scam to lure “city folk” to the country and make stew out of them!

All my worrying was put aside when we saw the place lit up for our arrival. Even late at night we could see the gorgeous views. To give you some idea of what we were looking at, the Capertee Valley is said to be the second largest valley in the world; the Grand Canyon is the first. In addition to the great view out on the land, the night sky was amazing all weekend. The first night gave us a large, bright, almost full moon and the second night the sky was full of stars. The owners were telling us they have regular guests that bring their telescopes to check out the stars.

Our last day of our visit, the owners drove us around for a tour of the 1030 acre property. Yes, I did say 1,030 acres. The owners have 2 young children and SPie had fun running around the sheep pen with them. She also had a great time chasing the chickens into their enclosure. Another thing I learned is that chickens are nervous little things and don’t like to be chased. (I’m learning so much here!) One highlight of the tour was viewing a large stone that has naturally formed in the shape of a face. It’s similar to the “Old Man on The Mountain” that was in New Hampshire. They showed us another rock that was supposed to look like a teapot, but I couldn’t see it. The face was much better. The owners obviously love the land and enjoy having visitors. If we had more time here, we would definitely stay again.

Jenolan Caves

In true Australian style, the limestone caves are linked to convicts. The story is that a farmer discovered the caves when he went looking for a cattle thief who was known to have used the caves as a hideout.

The caves cover a large area and are deep underground. I don’t think it would be possible to visit all of them in one weekend. We toured two of the caves including one with a “cathedral” area where concerts and weddings are held. We actually saw a bride heading to the cave for her wedding. The cave also had a water pool and various cool “stalactite formations” (Don’t ask me what it means…you’ll have to look it up like I did.) We took some pictures, but the images don’t capture the reality. You’ll just have to visit the caves yourself.

Western Plains Zoo

The locals call this the Dubbo Zoo because it’s in the town of Dubbo; about 5-6 hours drive from Sydney. The admission tickets are good for two days, so you could make a weekend trip of the zoo and the few other sites nearby.

The zoo is built with an open range design that is meant to create the impression of being in the wild with the animals. Instead of the animals living in walled enclosures and viewed through cages, they are roaming in the grasslands and water habitats and are separated from the public and from each other by moats and other non-obtrusive methods. We did see a lot of fencing separating the tigers from each other. I’m ok with that.

The layout follows a 7 km loop with walking trails in the middle and is designed for visitors to drive or ride bikes between the exhibits. Bicycles and golf carts are available for rental, but the families in the know have a better plan; arrive early, park for free along the road across the street from the zoo, take your own bike in, pack lunch in a cooler pulled behind the bike. It is a great way to see a zoo.

SPie touched a tortoise and enjoyed looking at the animals, but I think she loved watching the bicycles and visiting the playground even more.

Zig Zag Railway

The Zig Zag Railway is a coal burning steam train that follows a section of the original path of the railway built in 1869. The purpose for the railway was to bring the produce from the Blue Mountain areas to Sydney. To make the trip down the steep mountains, the tracks were laid in the shape of a “Z” with reversing stations at various points.

Sherp was talking with one of the train employees and they let him move the track for our train!

Moving the train track:

The cows in the road - the one's we closed the gate for!

View of Capertee Valley from our farm stay

Sunrise at the Farm Stay:

Rock Face at the Farm Stay:

The tiger at Dubbo Zoo:

Patting the tortise:

A rhino doing what everything in nature does (aaahhh)"

Inside the caves - looks like jellyfish!