American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Kuranda and Tjapukai Aboriginal Center

So, today is a fun adventure through the rainforest. We'll start by taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway up to Kuranda Village, then take the Skyrail back to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Center.

Kuranda Scenic Railway
Kuranda Scenic Railway map


RRR is an adventure seeker.
Share:

Monday, June 12, 2006

Daintree Tour

We walked around the city of Cairns today, but the big activity of the day was an animal spotting tour in the Daintree rainforest that started in the late afternoon and ran into the night so that that we would get a chance to see diurnal and nocturnal animals.
A list of what we saw & what we could have seen

Advertisement

Flying foxes

Share:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

It's our first morning in Cairns, and we woke up a little early, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant (the first reasonably priced breakfast we've had this trip). Then waited for our tour bus to take us to the wharf. We were on our way, and very close to the boat when we had to stop and watch a triathlon go by. We were trying to make a right across the intersection and the cops were in no mood to let us go. If there weren't bikes coming straight at us, there was traffic passing across in front of us.

So when we finally arrived to the Quicksilver Tour desk, they pointed us to the boat , we boarded, and were under way. The weather started getting rough. Our diving ship was tossed. Over half the passengers got sick. We didn't. The 1.5 hour trip out was really choppy,  and there was little to be seen out the windows besides wash and spray.

We had full wetsuits (with hoods and mittens) but the water was too warm for me to use them. We stepped over the side and descended the line to the sandy sea floor. We saw a stingray straight off, and all sorts of fish and coral all around us. We went down to around 15m, exploring all the colorful sea life. It's really hard to describe it all, so we bought the DVD video that our tour had, even if it was kind of annoying to have the photographer bumping into us as she scurried around getting pictures. I thought I was going to run low of air...Queensland requires 50 bars (1/4 tank). Saw a big barracuda right at the end of the dive. The boat was rolling around quite a bit, so the ladder was a challenge. Kacey hurt her finger, I hurt my toe.

We found Nemo
Share:

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Alice Springs to Cairns

Slept in, at "brekky" at McDonald's, then a few hours at the Alice Springs Desert Park. Lots of pretty birds singing. Woodland and desert habitats. Since there were no fences, we were able to get really close to a red kangaroo who hopped away.We saw emus, owls, and falcons as well. A bunch of lizards and rodents too. I highly recommend stopping here if your schedule allows.
Alice Springs Desert Park Map


Advertisement



Share:

Friday, June 09, 2006

Driving through the Outback to Alice Springs

Didn't shower...it was too cold. We had breakfast at the lodge. It was way overpriced for the quality of the meal. In our car and driving around 0900. The late start was recommended by a local because the sun rises in the direction we'd drive and we wouldn't be able to see anything. We thought he meant scenery, but we learned that he meant kangaroos.

Now, we were maybe 20-30 minutes into the drive when I thought I saw my first kangaroo in the wild. It was over the berm beside the road, laying in the shade. I said "I think I saw one that we sleeping." Shortly after that, we passed another kangaroo that looked like it was sleeping on the shoulder of the road...until we passed it and saw that it had actually been struck by a vehicle. So, more than likely, that first one I saw was less likely to be sleeping than it was to be roadkill.

We saw over three dozen of Australia's symbolic animals scattered across the highway, decaying and being eaten by birds. Apparently, the road is warm at night and the 'roos sleep there but "road trains" (three-trailer semis) hit them. We also saw a sign that identified a floodway which someone had modified to a more appropriate "bloodway" sign. There was nowhere safe to pull over and take a picture of it, so you'll just have to imagine it.

It's about four hours between Uluru and Alice Springs. We drove through a gap in the McDonnell range and there was Alice Springs, population 200k, 25% aboriginal. The Todd river was bone dry, but it floods at times. We had lunch at the Royal Australian Flying Doctor cafe before getting out and exploring the city. ANZAC hill on the north side of town has a great view of the area, including the mountains to the south. The town is dry and dusty, kinda dirty too. Still, it seemed very nice.


Share:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sunset on Uluru

Uluru at sunset
Today we're headed into the Australian Outback. We woke up early (0630) and left the hotel, headed to the airport in a cab. We got there, checked in, and went to confirm our tour at Uluru. It was harder than necessary because it took some effort to figure out the phones. We tried to add our frequent flier number to our tickets at the gate, but the guy behind the counter gave a very unmotivated excuse as to why he couldn't do what every other gate attendant has been able to do for us. We boarded and before we pushed away from the gate, a hydraulic leak forced us to deplane--we were now about 45 minutes behind schedule and called the tour place to cancel our plans because the plane would be arriving too late.

We got $15 to use at the food court, but before we could buy anything, they announced that they would be re-boarding our flight. I got a Whopper combo from Hungry Jack's...better known elsewhere as Burger King. Kacey tried to get served at a cafe/bistro, but the two people "working" there were incompetent in meeting their customer's needs and showed no cooperation in helping us meet our flight. We did meet our flight, and the pilot said they added more fuel to fly faster and make up time. We could see Uluru (also known as Ayer's Rock or "the Pebble") from the air just before we landed.
Share:

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Out and about in Sydney



For our first morning in Sydney, we slept in a little, then had breakfast in the hotel after finding nothing suitable nearby. We found Kacey a lovely opal pendant necklace made from five opals in the Southern Cross constellation.
We dropped the necklace back at the hotel and then headed back out. We walked down George Street to Circular Quay (pronounced "key").

The Captain Cook Cruises Harbour Explorer took us across to Watson's Bay, where we hiked a path to a lighthouse (Hornsby?), which overlooks the Pacific.


Advertisement

Had the misfortune of getting stuck in a downpour on our way back, took shelter in a garage and wondered why the sky was sunny and blue but it was still raining. We had fish and chips at a/the only place nearby, Doyle's on the Beach.
Share:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Zealand to Australia

Today is mostly travel from New Zealand to Australia. We had breakfast at the hotel before catching a ride to Queenstown Airport. Quite breathtaking scenery, mountains and all. Connected in Christchurch, then flew to Sydney.

Advertisement



Share:

Milford Sound

We woke up at 0600, had breakfast at the hotel and got on the tour bus to Milford Sound. Our driver was one of the Men of Rohan (LOTR) and talked much of the way (at least four hours) about the area. We were in a 4-coach convoy of Japanese tourists who swarmed like locust at each stop and constantly got in the way of our pictures. Huge mountains disappeared into the water on our cruise to the Tasman Sea. The cold wind blew, but the skies were blue all day--a first for the trip. Even so, in one tunnel we drove through, the bus hit icicles!
The Sound also had lots of waterfalls and some fur seals on the rocks. The scale of the mountains defies comprehension, some 2,000 meters nearly vertical up from the sea floor. There were rainbows in the waterfall mist and the water was a rich blue.

Related Links:
Share:

Monday, June 05, 2006

Onward to Queenstown!

We finished off most of our food for breakfast since we wouldn't be able to take it on the plane to Australia in a few days. Walked around Franz Joseph in the dark looking for the bus stop. Not hard to find in a two-block town. We got on and rode for almost the entire day, making stops at Fox Glacier, Thunder Creek Falls, a fruit farm, and a salmon farm for lunch.

The stops were necessary to stretch our legs and clear the stench of the foulest man on the trip. The mus smelled of body odor and cigarettes, and each time we got back on it smelled like aerosol spray. We arrived in Queenstown around 1600 along with a nasty rain. Rode the gondola up to a very windy top of a mountain for the sunset and we floated back down through a dark forest of fairytale quality. Dinner at Speights Ale House before retiring for the day. Oh, and it snowed today.

Related Links:
Share:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Franz Joseph Glacier

After sleeping in a half-hour past our 0700 alarm, we got ready and made breakfast and lunch before heading over to the glacier guide office. They gave us rubber boots, crampons, ice axe, and waterproof clothing. There were about 10-12 people in our group; some from the US, Australia, Netherlands, and Brasil. We set off in a bus to the beginning of the park. The gorge used to be much deeper, but in the last few decades has filled in 10-15 meters from glacial movement. They say it moves up to 1.5m a day receding and growing, but always moving. The gray riverbed ended with more signs saying "Do Not Continue," which we blew right by.

Our guide Goose (a Kiwi) handed us off to Eian (Welsh) who led us up the steepest commercially guided glacier. Right about when we hit the ice, it started raining. On either side of the glacier, there were waterfalls from the rain forest run-off. They get an insane amount of rain here, like 40 meters or something like that. The water was running down the ice face and path, melting the ice steps that our guides carved for us. Water-filled holes seemed bottomless. The crevasses were deep and wide, a few had hand-ropes along the path and a 20m drop on the other side. My gloves were dripping water and the 5 layers I had on were barely keeping me warm in the downpour. We had lunch on a flat spot on the glacier, wind blowing cold rain down from higher in the mountains. The two girls from Brasil told the guide they couldn't continue (horribly under-dressed). So Goose came up to take them back to base. Kacey and I looked at the relentless rain, our soggy "waterproof" gear, and the thought of three more hours of this...and joined the girls on the trip back to base camp.

It kept pouring well past 2100, so we know we did the right thing. There was at least one helicopter evacuation today--we saw it happen on our way down. My clothes were soaked though the top tow layers and 75% of the next. I was 'under armour'ed up, which helped a lot (long and short shirt, boxers, leggings). We did laundry mostly to dry everything out. My courier bag's seen better days, as I can see light through it now. We had another dinner at the Blue Ice Cafe. The glacier ice was very hard, blue and marbled at times...very cool scalloped wavy areas all along the path.

Related Links:
Share:

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Trans-Alpine Express

Alarms went off at 0600 and we were good to go at 0650. We walked around the corner to the free shuttle bus stop for the train, and waited for the 0720 bus until 0748. Turns out that the bus broke down and they had to send a mini-bus to get us and the four others there. The minibus had shaggy seats, like carpet. Checked into the train, put our bags in the luggage car and found our seats.

This is Kacey's first train ride. Very scenic: mountains, fog, rivers, sheep. One tunnel we went through had an unusual ventilation system: close the tunnel doors and suck out the exhaust with a fan. So there really would be no light at the end of the tunnel if they forgot to open back up. Our train ride ended in Greymouth at 1230. We dashed over to McDonalds and back to the train/bus station to load our bags on a bus to Franz Joseph Glacier at 1330. We stopped in Hokitika, one of the main sites for NZ jade (Poutoma), got some gifts, saw a teapot collection, then back on the bus.

We could see the glaciers well before we got into town, and the clear, blue streams that we crossed over on our way were part of much larger rocky gray river beds. Our room is on the downtown block of this three-block town. We went around the corner to buy lunch for tomorrow's trip and then gift shop and dinner. Venison with a nice Syrah. We were back in the room in time for the evening movie, "Mona Lisa Smile." I was surprised that I was able to rewatch it. Our clothes and food are laid out for tomorrow's tour start at a relaxed 0900.

Related Links:
Share:

Friday, June 02, 2006

The drive to Christchurch

We departed Motueka at 0800 and the sun was rising over the empty tidal flats. Not entirely empty, as there were dozens of artistic rock formations (a peace sign, happy face, lots of words) carefully arranged in the sand and mud. It would be most interesting to see them mid-tide, rocks poking through the surface of the water. The 4 C chill this morning has left a silvery frost on the dark green hill that is slowly vanishing in the rays of brilliant golden sunshine. Passed through a McDonald's drive through, felt weird using the right window as we drove through.

We drove through Marlbourough country, full of vineyards. South of Blenheim, we came to a single lane, 500 foot long bridge with a wooden floor and train tracks for a roof. We were on the yielding side, so we had to wait for a long enough break and hope for the best. Lunch was at a nice place on the shore, had a very spicy Tandoori Chicken on filo dough. We stopped to take loads of photos of seals sunbathing on the rocks. We drove on to Christchurch, watching the gas gauge keep dropping. Since we paid for a full tank, we had no intention of putting more cash into the car. We turned it in to Hertz with under 10 liters in the tank.

Our hostel, Charlie B's Backpackers, gave us a room with a floor-shared restroom/shower across the hall...slightly inconvenient. Shopped a bit before the stores closed, then hopped onto the city trolley and viewed the city lit up at night. Ended up eating at a restaurant by the river and drinking maybe a bottle and a half of wine between us before walking the town a little more before turning in fat and happy. We have to wake up early to make the trans-alpine train.

Related Links:
Share:

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Didn't bother showering today, since we're going kayaking first thing. We drove up to Marahau and were the only two on the tour, so they gave us single kayaks instead of a double (which is probably best, because doubles limit the individual freedom that we're both looking for). All decked out in farmer johns, sprayskirts, and a rainbow brite striped thermal shirt, we hopped into a trailer--pulled by a tractor. That tractor failed to start, so they towed the tractor-trailer boat-trailer with another tractor and chains. Nice.

The tractor #1 finally started and we used it to get to the launch point. The bay is broad and wide, but very shallow as we glide over the emerald green, clear water and watch the sunshine dance on the sand below. We travelled up the coast and into a lagoon that was filling with the rising tide, and we stopped to have a spot of tea and cake. The water crept over the dry sand like wet fingers grasping for more. From the lagoon beach, we crossed the swells to visit two islands, where we saw a seal sunbathing. The names of the local areas were given by an unimaginative Frenchman--Grand Beach, Anchorage, etc. We paddled back around 1300 for lunch and I was very sore for the effort. A quick shower and change before munching a bag lunch before we took a motorboat tour of the whole national wildlife preserve, where we saw a dozen seals hanging out on another island.

The boat dropped us off for a 30 minute hike around the outcropping--very cool plants and lighting. Got back in the boat and headed to the launch point. I think I like the quiet kayak experience more than cutting through each buffeting wave. The boat was met in the middle of the formerly full bay by a tractor-trailor half-submerged with the boat trailer in tow. There were huge sandy areas now and they were growing fast. They use the tractors to go very far into the ocean, but it's not very deep out there. Dinner was at "Hot Mama's" in town, then we packed to leave.

Related Links:
Share:

Featured Post

End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

Honest Post Reports