Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Vegas, Baby!

As soon as we arrived in LAX, we promptly went out and did the American thing - we went out and promptly hired a minivan! Child 1 thought he'd died and gone to heaven!! LAX wasn't the place where we were staying back, though. We we driving down to Vegas, Baby!
The drive to Vegas. We could get used to those open roads

Yup. Roller Coaster. In the middle of nowhere. Just because!
The afternoon we'd arrived, we decided to hit the strip - but not before Child 1 and the husband decided when in Vegas, they needed to check out a shooting range. With real guns. Not just tiny, fit-in-your-holster kinds either. The Mother-of-all-hell-I'm-Rambo kinds.
This was at a petrol station. Where you could buy a gun to go with your coffee. 
yup. These ones. With your choice of targets.
Pic Courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

No really. You can pick and choose. I chose... to stay at home.
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

Vegas was unabashedly loud, bright and commercial, and I loved it!
oversized everything. Including Christmas baubles.

...through the looking glass. 
The walk along the strip was predictably neck-craning and mouth-gawping and we were happy just soaking it all in. 
The funkiest coffee shop ever!
The only thing we did go to, was the New York, New York coaster. By we, of course, I mean Child 1 and the husband. Me? I was roaming the arcade with Child 2, while she was busy playing arcade games to collect more useless trinkets. 

This was clearly a favourite with the kids. Child 1 totally loves the music too. 
We're starting a band. We'll call it 'the Wannabes'. 
The next day was for the kids - of all ages. we spent the day at Circus Circus, and boy was it fun! From roller coasters to LaserTag to 4D movies... there was much to see and do. 
mad coaster fun.
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

we're going to beat you hollow at Laser Tag!
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

Apparently this little froggie didn't jump high enough for my little monkey.
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy
That evening was my pick of activity,and I wanted to catch a show- and I was spoilt for choice. I chose Cirque Du Soliel's longest running show- Mystère. It was definitely the highlight of the Vegas trip for me.

Every minute of the Cirque show was entertaining with clowns having us in splits to trapeze artists having us gasping to entertaining acrobats and a spectacular sound and light show. There were several times during the show when I made a mental note to myself to get the soundtrack on my phone. it was fabulous. 

what an unforgettable experience
Surprisingly I wasn't to keen on doing the one thing Vegas was famous for - the Casinos. Of course, the kids were allowed within 15 feet of the tables, but I wasn't that keen to visit them either. The blinking lights and noises just made it annoying and head-ache inducing.
That didn't stop us from hitting the bar though. Several times.
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy

Child 1's dream drum kit
Pic courtesy: Arun Kumar Krishnamurthy
We would return to Vegas shortly, but tomorrow, we were off to the Grand Canyon. A rather long-ish drive, but a trip we couldn't not do, having come this far. 
Oh we were most definitely in Trump's America

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sydney - Leg Two (the short haul)

The second leg of our Sydney tour was all about the beach. We even booked at the Bondi YHA instead of The Rocks so we could be close to the beach.
some rather colourful murals at the YHA
We woke up early to catch the sunrise and avoid 'extreme UV' on the beach that was being promised after 10 in the morning.
The walk to Bondi from our Hostel

... and some er... interesting outfits

This cute little sculpture along the way

A pool with a view

beautiful Bondi
The kids went absolutely nuts at the beach, hopping in and out of the water and basically wallowing in the sand.
Me, I was constantly amazed by the sheer number of people swimming, surfing, jogging, yoga-ing and being supremely fit. Made you want to jump up and join the gym the next day, out of unmitigated shame.
see what I mean?
more surfers

...and some more surfers
By half nine, however, the sun got a bit too harsh and we dragged two very reluctant kids to do other activities. After a shower, we made out way to the Chinese Garden of Friendship - a tranquil oasis of green near the Diamond Harbour. The kids burnt off the excess energy with a clue map for locating the 12 signs of the Zodiac as we walk through the garden.

And I loved finding real dragons as opposed to the imaginary ones.

Lunch was at a Thai place that we discovered via Groupon - Plern Thai. Interesting decor and the food wasn't half bad either.

We made our way to Bondi again after the sun got a bit less harsh, and it was still delightful.

My little beach bums

After sunset we did the short walk from Bondi to Bryant Park along the shoreline. An absolute delight, I regretted not having done this during daylight.
an Aussie Christmas tree at the airport. We love giant Christmas Trees

Yup. Almost picked up these postcards.
Tomorrow begins our long-ish trip. First, back to Auckland and then to Los Angeles...this time, fingers crossed, our entertainment system should work. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

Cairns. Now, if we thought Sydney was hot, Cairns (pronounced like a Texan saying 'Cans' with a blocked nose) was practically sizzling. We'd tried, in this trip, as much as possible, to book our stays near the city centres so we could minimise travel times. Cairns Central had a distinctly laid back, younger, student-town feel about it.
Even the bicycle stands are quite pretty

love this colourful sit-out
They look even better all lit up in the night
We didn't do much on the day we landed - we needed to reserve our energies for the next day. We were off to Daintree to check out the rain forests. Daintree is a full day affair from Cairns. We decided to visit Daintree with a company called Trek North and our Driver/ Guide/Chef all rolled into one was a brilliant chappie called Joe.
We made a stop at Port Douglas before we set off to explore the rainforests. Our first stop once in Daintree was for tea/ Coffee before we set off on the Daintree river cruise. Thanks to the full moon (the Super moon, to be precise), the river was pretty swollen and we warned not to expect any crock sightings (although we were assured that the river was teeming with them). However we lucked out, and we not only spotted a large one almost as soon as we set off, but also a really little one hanging on to a flimsy branch.
short sighting of a rather large female
Rather long sighting of a tiny little one hanging on for dear life

The hour -long cruise was quite informative, with our guide (not Joe, another chap, this one) telling us all about the diverse ecosystem, the mangroves, the croc and the flora and fauna around the river system.
Mangroves along the bank
All too soon, our hour was up and we were across the river, with Joe awaiting or arrival, so we could continue on.
We made small pitstops along the way for Cassowary signs,
 the Alexander Range Lookout,
however our main trip was to the Cape Tribulation forest walk. Along the walk, we spotted some interesting flora - the bossy baby's snagged her thumb in a wait-a-while, we spotted python basking in the sun and a bearded dragon waiting for his prey.
Beautiful patterns in nature

He didn't like that we interrupted his sun -bathing
The bearded dragon
We broke for lunch at the Daintree Entomological Museum - Its the largest collection of insects on Australia (and frankly creeped me out), but the grounds were lovely.
...this mask make entirely of insects. *shudder*
Joe had set up a barbecue (with vegetarian options for us lot) near a lovely spot which had a cold brook running alongside. while some of us were happy just to dip our feet in the water as fishes pecked at our toes, others (namely the kids and the baa-lamb) decided to do the proper thing and just swim around for a bit.
little fishes trying to give me a pedicure

and a cooling dunk for the more enthusiastic tourists

Our return saw us stop at the top of Cape Tribulation and make our way down to the beach (but not quite to the water) at the Coral Sea. Beautiful, quiet, calm and serene...

...filled with signs like these:

Well. We'd spotted a few Jackfruit trees on our way in, so while we travelled back out, Joe decided to stop at the place. These guys make ice creams from whatever fruit ripens and falls on that day.
What? I said it was good. Didn't say it was cheap. 
 I though the Aussie plum with Yellow Sapota combination was fabulous - tanginess of the Plum nicely balanced out by the sweetness of the Sapota. The Wattleseed tasted oddly like coffee flavour, and although the coconut wasn't bad, it wasn't a patch on the Tender Coconut ice cream from Natural's.
we all played a game of spot-the-spider withthis one...
I loved this visit, but I was really looking forward to our day tomorrow. Tomorrow, we were off we were about to visit the Great Barrier Reef (*fair warning: I have NO pictures of my deep-sea adventures. taking the camera aboard was NOT an option)!
The boat we'd booked ourselves on was a small, privately owned Pearl Lugger called the Falla. She's captained by the most entertaining Captain Doug and him and his crew are the most fabulous group of people you could ever ask for. You can see that they genuinely cared for the Reef and the marine life and they were really careful about making sure all of us had a healthy respect for the sea.
the crew of the Falla
Unfortunately, the supermoon was causing all sorts of problems when it came to snorkelling on the first site.
hello, supermoon
 The Currents we simply too strong and we were soon called in to set sail for calmer waters. We got to Apollo Reef where the currents were much more manageable. Child 1 and Child 2 who were rearing to go, jumped off to snorkel. (well, Child 1, actually. Captain Doug took Child 2 out on a glass-bottomed boat so she could view the reefs and fisheis. Lots of fishies.)I can't even begin to describe how beautiful the place was. Along with the usual culprits- the colourful clownfish, angel fish and other coral inhabitants, Child 1 and I followed a Giant Sea Turtle along the coral reefs. Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, a black-tipped shark swam really quickly under me and the Sea Turtle and quietly made its way into the murky depths. I was just sitting down for lunch on the boat (it was supposed to be on a sandbank, but hello, Supermoon, Goodbye, sandbank), on a total high from the turtle and shark spotting when Ranui (one of Doug's crew and a diver) said I needed to suit up for my first ever scuba dive.
Looking slightly worried as Ranui instructs me
 It sounded a bit complex at first, with the signs and the regulator and the ear popping and air levelling, but once we were in the water, it all seemed really easy (it was that or Ranui was a really good teacher). And then, there we were, exploring the reef, up close. Ranui made sure we were really careful so we didn't damage the reef with our fins and diving equipment, but we got close enough to really look at her beauty up close. From the soft corals, to the antlers to the glowing neon corals. We spotted a huge sea-cucumber, which shot out its tentacles to grab food just as we were passing, a giant clam, almost as huge as me and tiny invertebrates moving over the sea bed.
Then, a couple of somersaults in mid-sea and our dive was over far too quickly.
Much easier once we were in the water
The return trip proved to be quite and adventure by itself. A bit too adventurous for my liking. I had to put my head between my knees and doze off for fear of being sea-sick. The kids absolutely loved the rocking ride we were having. They were having the time of their lives. We did, however, lose the following to the sea: One of the baa-lamb's watershoes, child 2's sun glasses, baa-lamb's sungalsses, and very nearly Child 1.

 The next day was all about leisure and a walk down the waterfront promenade brought out the pelicans. good thing!

I love the flower in her hair
bird on a wire
The city also has the esplanade lagoon, which is absolutely fabulous for a good soak, especially towards the evening.

To top it all, you'd be in prime position to witness the bat- exodus as the night falls from the nearby Banyan trees. That sight is something else entirely.
The bats erupt in huge groups and this continues for a good 15 minutes
The evening is also when the street art and signage really come alive.
The beautiful coastline
With so much to see and do, and not entirely unpleasant weather, I can easily see myself settling into happy retirement at a place like this, living out the rest of my life as a beach bum. Now, if only I could convince the baa-lamb that heat is a good thing...