East Coast

After an afternoon wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, we drove to a national park for a night of camping near a waterfall.  We were on our way to visit yet another gracious host, Jon’s father’s cousin, or “Sledge.”  Sledge is an American who moved to Australia in the 70s, landing near Nimbin, a quirky town known for being very liberal.  Sledge and his beautiful partner, Danielle, live in a home completely off the grid and independent of local electricity, plumbing, water, etc.  Pretty amazing!  They live in a gorgeous jungle with beautiful trees and animals (and sometimes bugs!) all around them.  We also got to visit Sledge’s son, Sebastian, his partner Ruby, and their children who live on the property.

Sledge and Danielle took us all around the area, to Byron Bay, beautiful beaches, forests, and a hike to the “pinnacle,” overlooking a crater’s valley in a national park.  When we visited Nimbin, the nearby town, we were amused to be welcomed with open arms, as we’re from Colorado, the first U.S. state to completely legalize marijuana.   Sledge and Danielle were wonderful hosts, and we loved staying on their farm and enjoying their beautiful area!

When we left the Sledge farm, we drove to an animal sanctuary where Jen got to HOLD A KOALA (THIS IS NOT A JOKE) and we both got to pet Koalas.  It was touristy but cool nonetheless.  At a nearby beach, Jon took advantage of the beginner waves and had fun surfing for a couple hours.   We then drove through Surfer’s Paradise and skipped Brisbane and the G20 (sadly we weren’t invited), and stopped in Noosa.

Noosa was the most beautiful beach we saw on the coast.  We even saw a wild koala on a tree in a walk in the Noosa Headlands National Park.

Next, we joined a two night sailing tour out of the Whitsunday Islands.   We got to participate in the sailing, snorkel on the end of the Great Barrier Reef (including seeing another huge turtle!), and visit the gorgeous Whitehaven Beach, with the most pure sand in the world.  However, due to lack of internet and time limitations, we did not fully vet the tours or find out the details of our boat.  It turned out that there were about 28 people (by people I mean young backpackers) all sleeping bunk style in a large dorm in the bottom of the sailboat.   Overall, the sailing trip was amazing, but the sleep was lacking.

The Whitsundays were a great first taste of the Great Barrier Reef.   We were excited to head north and get to the heart of the reef, in Cairns (post on this soon to come).

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Great Friends, Cities & Ocean Roads

We flew into Melbourne and immediately hopped in our two day rental to head along “The Great Ocean Drive.”   It’s a windy, scenic road that passes along small coastal towns, including some world famous surf spots known for consistently big, predictable waves – it was fun to check out the towns and watch impressive surfers.    We drove along for about five hours, soaking up the coastal town charm, then hit the big draw to the area:  the Twelve Apostles.   It was gorgeous.   After a night in one of the small towns near there, we headed back, this time opting for a more inland route, going through a National Park of dense, beautiful rain forest.   It was Jon’s birthday, so we celebrated with a nice lunch and beers from our first micro-brewery in a long time.   The area is known as the best mountain biking in SE Australia, but unfortunately we did not have the time…  surfing and biking will have to wait until further up the East Coast.

After returning our car downtown, we were lucky to stay with our unbelievable our new friends Jon and Poppy in Melbourne.  After having met us on a boat trip in Vietnam, they welcomed us into their home for three days!  (Probably against their better judgement.)  They were such incredible hosts: they took us to great restaurants and bars in their area, St Kilda, one of the hippest areas of Melbourne; they lent us their bikes so we could ride along the beaches from their house to downtown Melbourne; they even drove us 1 hour to drop us off at our airport!   We loved Melbourne, found the city very liveable, and especially loved spending time with Jon and Poppy.  They are such great friends, we hope that we can host them in Colorado!

We got off the plane in Sydney and we were welcomed at arrivals by Karina, Jen’s good friend and roommate from University, along with her husband, Tony.   They were also incredible hosts.   Taking us shopping for much-needed errands, having “Sunday family fun day” in downtown Sydney, giving up their room so we could sleep soundly.  Best of all, we got to know Gabriella,  affectionately known as “Baby G”.   She is adorable, and we had a blast hanging out and getting to know her.   Sydney was great, the harbor and surrounding towns and beaches are fantastic.  Overall we loved our time in Sydney, most of all being able to slow-down a bit and hang out with Karina, Tony and Baby G.

From Sydney we rented a car and begun our 14-day road trip up the East Coast, with our final stop Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  Our first stop was the Hunter Valley, two hours from Sydney, an area similar to Napa Valley, known for its wines and vineyards.  We had a nice day tasting wine and relaxing.

Next post:  up the East Coast of Australia!

Bali and the Gilis

Arriving in Bali, instantly you can feel a laid back island vibe,  much more so than Java.   Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and it’s a great place to spend a few days.   It has a lot of yoga, total well-being type places, vegetarian and all-natural food galore, a lot of western influence in its shops and restaurants, but still brimming with Balinese culture.   We were lucky enough to be there for the end of one of their bi-annual festival, tied to the predominantly Hindi religion (vs. Java, which is mostly Muslim).

From Ubud we headed to Legian, which is on the same stretch of 15km sand between Kuta (BIG party scene, overrun with young Australians) and Seminyak (quiet, expensive resort filled).   We cashed-in Marriott points to stay at a really nice hotel and could celebrate Jen’s birthday in style.   Thanks to her special day, we were upgraded to a private “plunge pool” suite.

Our lost stop in Indonesia was a five-night stay in the Gili islands, a set of three islands off the coast of Lombok.   As you can see by the pictures, we were obsessed with the crystal clear, warm, turquoise water.   It was gorgeous.   We snorkeled every day.   Reefs were really cool, lots of fish, starfish, corral, two SEA SNAKES and a dozen or so turtles, a few of which we swam with for up to 10 minutes!   Beautiful undersea wildlife and sunsets made this one of our favorite spots of the trip.

 

Java and Borneo

We flew to Jakarta and used some hotel points at the Marriott.  We were confused to arrive to metal detectors and bomb dogs at the hotel.  Apparently the Marriott in Jakarta was a victim of terrorist bombing in 2009.  Jon visited a few sites in town while Jen relaxed.

We flew to Borneo (Indonesian Island of Kalimintan) via Tragana Airlines – known for being late and at times taking off early!  We were a few hours late, but we made it into the jungle in Tanjung Puting National Park in our klotok, a boat that glides through the jungle in Indonesia.  We had the boat to ourselves, as well as a captain, assistant, cook, and guide!  We visited orangutans at a rehabilitation center in the jungle.  At one point, a mama orangutan grabbed our guide’s arm, hoping for food!  We also saw proboscis monkeys and a gibbon!  It was truly awe inspiring to see the giant mammals move about the trees and feed.

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We headed to Yogjakarta to visit two ancient temples:  Prambanan, Southeast Asia’s largest Hindu temple, and Bodobudur, a huge Buddhist temple, both built in the 9th century.

We had planned to visit a Volcano, but fate struck, with a nasty case of conjunctivitis.  (We believe picked up from a fellow traveler in Myanmar.)  We named it EYE-bola, and we had to visit an Indonesian eye doctor and cancel the trip.  We opted to fly to BALI instead!