Sat April 25 – Beautiful Moorea, Dodgy Weather

Moorea is an incredibly scenic island.  It is volcanic in origin, so there are very steep and jagged cliffs and mountains covering most of the island.  They jut up dramatically into the sky and are covered with lush green vegetation, including some very interesting trees that we’ve never seen before – with very wide and lacy foliage.  The palm trees here are also unlike any I’ve seen before.  They are incredibly tall and thin, very straight trunks, with all their leaves centered at the top.  So you can look completely through a field of tall thin trunks but if you were to look down on it, it would seem to be dense vegetation.

The scenery is most reminiscent of Hawaii, Kaui in particular, but much smaller in scale, and perhaps with fewer flowering trees and bushes.

There is a weather system going through right now – I’m suspicious it followed us from Hamilton Island, because it is the same unusually windy weather!  Made it difficult to do too much today so we decided to rent a car in the afternoon and drive around the island.

There is only one road on the island, and it follows the coast exactly all the way round – it takes two hours to drive whole thing. The interior mountain scenery is dramatic and very lush.  And the beaches around the coastline are very pretty.  It seems that all the residents live along the coastline with the north/east sides of the island containing most of the population (and tourist activity) and the south/west sides much more isolated and undeveloped.

There is a coral reef that completely surrounds the island, which leads to calm and very turquoise waters all the way round.  There is not much surfing here unless you can get out beyond the reef.  It is amazing some of the little shacks that people live in, that are about 5 ft. from the water’s edge, so we assume no-one is worried about tsunamis or other large wave action!

There is a fruit juice factory but not much other industry that we could see, other than a variety of small businesses looking for tourist trade.

We are very comfortable in our ocean-top bungalow, despite the strong winds. It’s such a gorgeous long view to sit and look at, and then it’s so much fun to just walk out the patio doors onto to the deck and jump into the ocean! It’s nicely located so we can pretend we are somewhere completely isolated until we walk out the back door towards the resort to avail ourselves of the facilities (and food!)

PS – adding a note a couple of days later, because I forgot to mention that the hotel presented a Polynesian Feast this night, with a seafood buffet, Polynesian music and Polynesian dancing!  All outside on the beach.  The buffet was very extensive with all sorts of seafood including sushi and sashimi.  The music was basically ukulele and drums with traditional songs in the Polynesian language.  The dancing was actually really amazing.  It is absolutely gender specific, with the women doing very sensuous movements of hips and arms and the men doing very assertive masculine stamping of feet and taking up of space.  To see them together really highlights the different bodily structures of men and women! They finished off with their famous fire dancing which was also very visually arresting.  Fun evening.


A Few Lingering Thoughts on Australia

  • It is definitely a continent, not a country. It is huge.  Five weeks were not remotely adequate to see it, and I don’t think even twenty-five weeks would be enough.  Our time here felt like a bit of a whirlwind, trying to get to too many different places in too short a time.
  • That being said, I really wish we could have seen more!
    • Perth and environs, including Margaret River and the Pinnacles
    • The Gold Coast
    • Lots of other places that we heard about or just passed through briefly, including Broome, Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane.
  • Much like Canada, the different provinces (or territories, as they’re called here) are very unique and can experience quite different vegetation, scenery and climate at the same time of year.
  • Generally though, the climate is much more temperate, without the extremes of the Canadian winter.
  • People’s accents also vary quite a bit – they are all basically Australian but some pronunciations are harder to understand, probably similar to the way our Newfie accents sound compared to central Ontario. Peter found some people almost impossible to understand (like Josh, our kayak guide.)
  • They use some unusual words which are probably derived from English slang, but which we don’t ever hear at home.  The only example I can think of at this moment is “swimmers” for bathing suits! But we often heard or read things like that in marketing literature and from tour guides.
  • I think Australia has done a better job of recognizing and integrating the Aboriginal legacy.  I know they have the same history of attempting to eradicate the original culture that we have in Canada but there is more evidence here of current attempts to explain and promote the Aboriginal history and traditions.
  • Given the Australian dollar is basically on par with the Canadian dollar, we found all areas were more expensive than what we would pay at home for comparable lodging and restaurant meals.  However goods in stores (groceries, clothes, etc) were usually less expensive for equivalent value.
  • Australia is high on everyone’s travel bucket list (like ours!) so there are generally a lot of tourists. Fortunately we didn’t experience the same omnipresent tourists as we did in New Zealand but we strongly suspect that is because we were travelling off-season when the northern part of the continent is still quite hot and recovering from the rainy season.  Downside of that of course is that the infrastructure (and tourist services) were not fully up to speed for us.  It was a trade-off we were both prepared to make!
  • My favourite spots in Australia were Sydney, the Bungles and Hamilton Island.
  • Peter’s favourite spots:  Tasman Peninsula, Litchfield Park and the Bungles.

Moorea, Tahiti – and it’s still Fri April 24th!

I should really should have included Tahiti in the title of this blog, but it kind of ruins the flow so I left it off! But now I feel guilty about that since we are definitely, happily, here in Moorea, a small island about 25km away from Tahiti.

And we sure got a lot done on this day.

We left Brisbane at 8:00am, flew to Auckland where we sat in the airport for 4 hours, then flew for 5 hours from Auckland to Papeete, Tahiti.  We slept and breakfasted for about 10 hours at our hotel in Papeete, then took a ferry from Papeete to Moorea, checked into our resort and our AWESOME bungalow, swam in the ocean two or three times, wandered around for a couple of hours, did computer stuff for a couple of hours, went for a nice dinner, and we are now back in the room and it is still only 8:15pm. (If only I could have accomplished this much in 12 hours when I was working.)

We started at 8:00am today about 14 hours ahead of Toronto time.  And now we are 6 hours behind Toronto time.  This international Date Line thing is just way too hard to figure out – even my Dad has volunteered he doesn’t quite get it. To me, it just illustrates how arbitrary our definitions of time actually are, but we all adhere to them rigidly and so they work.

Meanwhile, we have this awesome over-water bungalow where our deck is actually out over the ocean, with steps down into the water, or we can just dive right in.  We can sit in our living room, or out on the deck, listening to the surf on the reef out front, and enjoying the wonderful sea breezes. Tonight we treaded water in front for about 15 minutes watching the sun set over the ocean.  And it looks like we can actually snorkel right off the deck –  we saw 5-10 very colourful types of fish in just a short time. The bellman who brought us here with our luggage mentioned that we might want to snorkel here but we really thought he was exaggerating!  Guess not.

I’ve had two worries about our stay in Moorea.  The first was that I’d be so ready to get home that I would be frustrated being stuck here for 6 days.  Well, that’s not going to happen!

The second was that our stay on Hamilton Island was so awesome, I worried Moorea would be a letdown. Again, not going to happen.  The two stays will be so completely different that a comparison is not even possible, and it will be very easy to give them both 10 out of 10!

Truthfully, my body and brain are really starting to complain about all the travelling and time changes over the past 8 weeks so I’m hoping I can get in some good seaside R&R while we’re here.  But what a challenge it will be to fit all of tomorrow into only 24 hours…

IMG_3528[1]  Peter taking in the view from our seaside deck!


Fri April 24 – The Lost Monday Returns

Disguised as Friday….

We fly from Brisbane at 8:00am today and spend about 12 hours in total travelling (including a layover in Auckland) and we arrive in Papeete,Tahiti this same morning at 1:00am.  It’s a brain teaser trying to wrap my head around it!  Will have to see if we can feel it or if it’s purely and completely theoretical.

We are flying Air Emirates to Auckland and Peter is very excited about flying on an Airbus 360 which I gather is very big – more precisely, it’s the world’s largest passenger plane.  So that should be an experience.

Will be back in touch after we’ve boated from Papeete to Moorea where we’re staying for 6 nights.  Our mobile Wifi device will no longer work there but our resort apparently has Wifi everywhere so hopefully I’ll be able to post while we’re there.

Thurs April 23 – On to Brisbane

Spent the last morning on Hamo having breakfast by the Marina (unfortunately the worst Eggs Benedict I have ever had!) and then roaming around the island on our golf cart! Gorgeous day but still very windy. The skipper on our Wednesday cruise said Friday and Saturday were going to be perfect weather again so I wonder if the wind was due to the same weather system that hit Sydney so hard (thanks to Elizabeth and David – both in Canada – for letting me know there’d been a storm down there!)

In the afternoon, we flew to Brisbane where we start the long trek home tomorrow – via Tahiti!

Wed April 22nd – Life’s A Beach

Today we took a full day cruise to Whitsunday Island, the largest of the Whitsunday island chain, where the world-renowned Whitehaven Beach is located.  Pirates of the Caribbean and Fools Gold are among the movies that have been shot there.

The sky was a clear vivid blue, which was good news for our tour.  Unfortunately it was also extremely (unusually) windy, which presented a few challenges.

Due to the high winds, the skipper had to alter the usual course – he told us there were 3-4 meter waves on the normal route so he was taking a back route where the waves would only be about 1 meter!   As it turned out, it wasn’t quite as rough as he’d predicted even though at least half of us passengers had followed advice to take anti-nausea medicine!

It took about an hour to get us to Whitehaven Beach which is 7 km of the whitest sand you’ll ever see, and only accessible by water or air (there were actually several sea-planes and helicopters arriving at various times!)  We were dropped off at the northern end of the beach where we then got into a small motorboat-dinghy which took us down the full length of Whitehaven (seemed to go on forever!) and over to Chalkies Beach on Haselwood Island, a much more isolated and less-visited island.

This is normally a superb snorkeling spot but today the water was very murky due to the wind and waves and most of us on the tour opted to sit out the snorkeling.  This was quite a disappointment so I was glad we had the earlier snorkeling tour which was so much more successful.

We hung out there for about an hour and then got into the dinghy and headed back to Whitsunday Island, to Hills Inlet.  This is a 4 km estuary-like bay which develops extremely interesting patterns as the tide goes out and Peter has been dying to photograph it.  We hiked up for the views which were absolutely stunning and had lunch there.

Then back into the dinghy and we headed over to Whitehaven Beach for the rest of the afternoon.

It’s hard to describe how beautiful the beach is.  The sand is very very fine (apparently they used sand from this very place to build the Hubble telescope!, took out about 3 tons of it – although Peter isn’t buying that story!)  There are competing theories about why the sand is so fine and so white… ancient particles of bedrock, ancient volcanic ash, tide patterns, etc. But there is no clear explanation for why it is only found in this specific Whitsunday Island and surrounds.

Peter had a bit of a rough time on the beach because he went off hiking and got lost, and thought his watch had stopped!  So he literally ran about 3 km back to the beach to make sure he didn’t miss the boat home!  Neither of us knows what they would have done if he didn’t return on time, but fortunately he was back with 10 minutes to spare so we’ll never know now!  And even more fortunately, he didn’t give himself a heart attack running with a 20 lb camera backpack in the heat!

Apart from that minor trauma, it was a nice relaxing way to spend our last day in the Great Barrier Reef.  And we had THE most spectacular sunset to cap it all off.

Chalky Beach  Chalkies Beach, by Peter

Hill Inlet4 copy  Hills Inlet, by Peter

IMG_3481  Whitehaven Beach, by Sue (as if you wouldn’t guess that!)

Last Sunset  Our last GBR sunset, by Peter

Tues April 21st – Hanging in Hamo (as the kids call Hamilton Island)

Spent today pretty quietly (in more ways than one!)  Got in a nice (quiet) 7km hike this morning to/from a lovely little beach called “Escape Beach” for pretty obvious reasons – it was completely secluded and inaccessible except by foot. Unfortunately, we didn’t prepare to spend any time there so we headed back pretty much as soon as we arrived. Poor planning skills on “our” part because it would have been a spectacular picnic location!

Our complex has an absolutely beautiful infinity pool (supposed to be the nicest one on the island) and we finally spent some time there this afternoon.

We had planned to go out for dinner at one of the classy restaurants by the marina but we should have taken the advice to make reservations more seriously.  By the time I started calling around, they were all completely booked until 9:00pm (too late for us oldsters!) so instead we had another BBQ (lamb this time) on our balcony and suffered through another gorgeous sunset – probably a better view than from a restaurant and probably ¼ the cost!  Win-win all round.

Tomorrow we have a full-day boating tour so got to get to bed early in preparation!  This life is not too hard to take at all, too bad we only have one more day here.

IMG_3443  View from the deck of the infinity pool.

IMG_3446  Panorama view of the pool – the deck is actually curved that much, it isn’t my panorama skills that make it look wonky!

IMG_3452  Peter plays with my camera.

IMG_3463  Tonight’s sunset, complete with new moon and an unidentified planet.

Mon April 20th – Swimming with the fishies!

Another WOW day.

We were worried all morning because it was pretty cloudy and we really wanted sun for our afternoon snorkeling outing.  We got lucky and the sun shone brightly almost the whole time.

It took us over an hour to get to the north end of Hook Island on a big and comfortable catamaran.  A very pleasant ride through the Whitsunday Islands which are so picturesque – all green cliffs and little sandy alcove beaches.

But the best time of all was when we spent an hour snorkeling on the soft coral reef around the island.  The water was 27C and the air temperature was 28C.

And the fish!  We have never ever seen so many different and such brightly-coloured species.  All around us and often close enough to touch.  And sometimes, we were actually swimming in a school of them, and I had several swim right up close to my face with some serious eye contact!

The variety of fish was much greater than we’ve ever seen in other areas of the world, and everyone on the tour seemed to feel the same way.

I only wish I’d had an underwater camera.  I concentrated so hard for the first 15 minutes or so, trying to remember each one but after a while, I just lost count.

And the coral was equally spectacular.  All different shapes and sizes, and some that was absolutely fluorescent in colour.

The tour we were on gave us great equipment, so the mask and snorkel worked as they were supposed to.  We were all dressed in black lycra stinger suits in case of “stinger” jellyfish so that also helped keep us warm.  I lasted almost a whole hour without cooling too much, which is an all-time record for me.

We got back just as sunset was dying and Peter bbq’d some amazing steaks for dinner. For once, he wouldn’t dare ask for fish!

Sun April 19 – An Awesome Kayaking Day

Boy, did we get lucky.  We turned up for our Adventure Kayak Tour, with low expectations with respect to how much kayaking we’d actually be able to do.  As I kept reminding Peter, you’ve got to follow the leader, and pace yourself with the weakest person on the team.

But we turned up at 8:30 and found that we were the only two people booked on that tour! And that our young guide, Josh, was only too happy to take us out into the open water.

So we actually got in some real sea kayaking – working with the tides and the winds, and a few times doing a really hard paddle against both the tides and the winds at the same time!  It was SO fun. But the crazy and inconsistent tide patterns and winds and especially the different combinations make it pretty clear why you can’t go anywhere by yourself in a kayak here.

We stopped partway at a little island (uninhabited like all of them except Hamilton) with a beach the locals call “Beautiful Beach.”  It was completely isolated except that at one end we noticed this nice beach umbrella along with two full-length padded cushions, each with a pair of neatly rolled, matching towels on them.  Very strange – all it needed was a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket to be a Bachelor/Bachelorette final date location!

Turns out Hamilton Island has a very ritzy resort on it called Qualia – the kind of place famous people go and, in fact, Oprah rented the whole resort a few years ago – and Qualia cleans up the cushions and puts fresh towels there every morning, just in case some guest suddenly decides he/she wants some private time somewhere! So they send out a motor boat twice a day just to keep it all ready!  Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous.  (And I was bummed cause Josh wouldn’t let me lie on the cushions or use the towels…)

Anyway, famous people aside, it was an awesome outing with some hard kayaking and some nice waves to play with.  An absolute gift, and one of my favourite moments on the whole trip so far!

We then spent the afternoon relaxing at the apartment and before dinner, we hiked up to Passage Peak which is the highest point on the island.  It was a lovely hike, the sun was low so it was mostly shaded and the views at the top were worth the hike up.

We rushed back to the apartment, trying to get here before the sun set but opened the door on our amazing view just as the sun dropped below the horizon.  It was actually very colourful for a while which went very nicely with my glass of wine!

It was definitely a more active day than we’ve had for a while and we should both sleep well tonight!  (Btw, I enjoyed Messenger-ing with Rog while we were having dinner – crazy guy was up at 4:30am TO time to go out for some fresh air!)

2222270Z-HEDKD6A150419WA~HE51092222270ZRU  Fighting the winds!

2256284Z-HEDKD6A150419FA~HE51092256284ZZD  “Beautiful Beach”

2254283Z-HEDKD6A150419HA~HE51092254283ZTW  Wondering if I’m going to get a proposal…

2232280Z-HEDKD6A150419MA~HE51092232280ZFI  With our crazy guide Josh.  You can see how Silverback Peter is resisting the moment (which tells you all you need to know about the relationship between Josh and Peter!).

2325288Z-HEDKD6A150419UA~HE51092325288ZHK  A little synchronicity goes a long way!

_DSC2338  View from Passage Peak (Peter thinks this is a terrible shot, but I insisted on using it because it really shows how long the view was – plus I actually just really like the shot!)

Sunest HI 2 copy  Tonight’s sunset (by Peter.)