Last day in Sydney. I managed to have lunch with Conor McNeil (Ant PMC chairman) despite the difficulty to reach him as he was moving office. I will be leaving tomorrow morning at 9:20AM and by the magic of time travel (ok, call that international date line ) I will be in Los Angeles 2h20min before my departure. I'm then connecting at 10:27AM to Dallas that I should reach at an ETA of 15:20. If I'm still alive that is, but I think I have seen worth with a Paris-London-Tokyo-Cairns (with a 8h transit in Tokyo) or a Paris-Tokyo-Noumea, so that should be ok. See you in Dallas.
After leaving sheep-land I'm now back in kangaroo-land, in Sydney. I picked up somewhat randomly a backpacker hostel, Glebe Village Backpacker. Originally I wanted to stay around Manly but a hostels I contacted a few days ago were full and I don't mind too much the city for a couple of days. However I plan to move tomorrow to a more luxury hotel as I would not mind some calm and cozy room before spending the next 48h in a plane or in an airport. Good news, the weather is splendid here.
I jumped on the Tilt train in Bundaberg at 5:30AM to go to Brisbane. I woke up at 4AM in case the weather would not have been very cooperative as I had to walk until the train station. We have been having heavy rain during the night so I was just wondering what would be my dressing status after carrying 45kg of gear in such showers. Fortunately the sky was clear and I made it to the station fully dry.
Last day of diving. We have to leave around 9AM back to Bundaberg so we jump in the water around 6AM for the first dive (this is how it should always be). Turtles are everywhere around the boat. When leaving, we were able to see a couple of manta rays again, but sadly none underwater. The return to Bundaberg was made nice by a couple of dolphins that came to follow us and jump around for at least one hour while the boat was running over 10kt !
I proved to be quite unlucky this day. I saw an absolutely massive spotted eagle ray passing by, ready to shoot...aim..change settings...damn, my fingers got messed up and I switch off the camera. #$@%& !!!, time to switch it on again, that's 10 seconds too long to have the camera up and running. The ray is gone. A minute later we meet Diane and Jake and signal them to look around for a ray. After the dive they tell me they saw manta rays here. Zen...breath and relax.
We have been quite lucky with the weather conditions as the sea was pretty calm providing us with a quite relaxing night. Venus II proved to be extremely comfortable assuming you are in the back cabins, but earplugs are still a must-have to decrease the engine noise. Rooms are spacious and so are the bathrooms. Being 8 people on board instead of a maximum of 14 gives us enough space. The dive briefing is once again a shock for me: we are diving using tables and maximum dive time is 40 minutes. Holy crap, you must be joking ?!
I phoned Qantas today to figure out when I could fly to NZ. The saturday flight is full so I'm booked on the next one which is on tuesday. This gives me a couple of day to reach Brisbane. I had to choose a chronophagic activity to spend this time, so I booked on the Salty's liveaboard leaving tomorrow night. I'd be back on friday evening. Got a stand-by rate 30% off.
I arrived in Bundaberg this morning at 9AM after a more or less sleepless night in the train. It looks like in every compartment, a few babies or nasty kids were hired to prevent people sleeping. I'm staying at Salty's rest (A$18.) and I have yet to see someone to figure out the diving around here. The place could not be more different than Airlie Beach as there is nearly no one in the streets and it's extremely quiet.
As I wrote yesterday, Airlie Beach is absolutely superficial and I feel like the main objective is to squeeze money as much as possible from tourists (with success should I say). The city centre is packed with flashy advertisement of all sorts which is far from giving a nice character to this place. Everything here is centered around the Whitsundays, so you have the choice beween sailing, snorkeling and diving. It might be nice, but I would need to stay here for more than a week to investigate what can be done and unfortunately cannot afford to stay that long as I'm running out of time.
I left this morning from Cairns to take the Tilt train to Airlie Beach. The Tilt train has been in service since mid-2003 and offers business class seats. I took it as it was the train leaving today and it allowed me to do some work with the laptop all day since there is a power point available for each seat. It was a minor upgrade cost from the basic Queenslander economy seat and I took a pass to go to Brisbane ($A220). The train however can hardly reach 90km/h except in specific conditions, so it is hardly comparable with the TGV even though it looks visually similar.
I'm just back from a full day of white-water rafting in the Tully river (between Cairns and Townsville) and I'm a bit tired should I say. I did not sleep much last night because of a snorring machine in the dorm that came back around 4AM. A few minutes later, he was snorring as loud as a chainsaw. One of the guy came out of the room just to smash the door as strong as he could to stop this nightmare (killing the loser could have been another solution). It did not disturbed the culprit much... so he went to sleep in the hostel TV room.
Nothing much today but relaxing. In the evening I attended Reef Teach with Susie. Reef Teach is an educational (and entertaining) lecture about the reef eco-system. It is presented by Paddy Colwell in a rather funny way. A bit of Shakesperian drama I would say. It is certainly a must for non-aware diver and snorkeler and it is quite a good thing that this lecture is offered before going out to sea with a liveaboard such as ProDive. After the lecture I asked Paddy about the status of Holmes Reef as I was quite disappointed with the marine life here (as can be read in my liveaboard report) and he told us that it was bleached rather recently (in the last 2 years). A shame that the liveaboard I took is still trying to mislead customers with a reef that nearly died and is in a recovery process.
Check out Jack Johnson, On and On album. It is really nice.
After a calm and quiet night... we ended up starting diving around 8:30AM. Anyone being on a liveaboard will wonder why the heck we start so late when a 'normal' first dive is usually more around dawn than anything else, but I have absolutely no answer except a possible specific desire to waste some precious time which could be also very welcome for surface intervals.
After an endless night fighting against sea sickness, I emerged from the bed around 6AM knowing that it would be finished in about an hour. Oh did you forget, there is a 3h time-difference between Holmes Reef and the land ? oooooh shiiit ! 3 hours more to suffer ! All of us were bitten by this 'bonus' , the office or the crew was far from claiming it anyway... I will have to check on a map if it is really true.
I went to see Kill Bill yesterday. Surprising, as blood is flowing all over the place in a very manga/kung-fu movie like way with what looks like lousy references (That's genius). The script does not kill and is pretty linear (but it's genius). Probably a good part of the budget went on the zillion liters of red liquid they used as blood. By the way, Uma Thurman character was not very affected by the 9/11 regulations as she travels with a samurai sword in business class (ah ok, that's irony, sorry, true that the 747 is flying very strangely ).
That's the question I was asked after chatting for a while with my roommate. Guess what ? I was 1h ahead and I'm in Cairns for more than 24h...oops
Actually I was surprised this morning as most of the shops were closed but thought that as usual they were having a very laid-back way of life. Thank you to the Qantas hostess that gave us the wrong time (ie the same that in Sydney).
I will be able to jump on a liveaboard friday with Coral Sea Diving Company as I could get a stand-by rate. Nearly 50% discount !. A stand-by rate is basically a discounted rate so that they can fill the boat. That's a 4-day liveaboard so I will be back on monday. Cool !
Ah Cairns, at least ! I feel better already and I've been there for a few hours. It's warm and humid, the town is more open and you feel you can breath a little bit. I'm staying at Uptop Downunder and that looks 5-star compared to Sydney. As a bonus, it seems packed with nice-looking girls.
No need to spend more time here. Sydney is nice, but there's not much to do without moving miles away and spend a loadcrap of money in tourist activities here and there or going to the bar (which leads to the same financial problem). Alternatively it is also possible to crawl the bars (even worse) which might be the big time occupation here. I remember my first visit to Sydney in 1996, just 5 minutes after getting out from my hotel (it was about 8AM), the very first thing I saw was a trashed guy getting out from a bar and vomiting in the streets. Welcome to Sydney
I did a walk to Sydney Botanical Garden to end up at the Sydney Opera House when I was given an invitation to enter the Opera House forecourt to see the cast and filmmakers walk the red carpet for the Matrix Revolution Premiere. The crowd was very sparse which is obviouslly why they were giving invitation like sweets on the Sydney Harbour.
Woke up at 4AM this morning to take a taxi to the airport. Incidentally the taxi driver was originally from South Africa and more exactly Durban. He emigrated to Australia last year thinking that SA future was doomed with the ANC party managing to burn what was good in this country. That was interesting to listen to him considering he is from indian descendance and it only give more credits to what a few people told me. All this is pretty sad considering all this country has to offer.
Day-off for this saturday since I'm updating the web site with pictures from the last-week loop in West-Australia. I also updated a bit the archive templates to avoid 5MB pages and rather have a link to individual entries. I also booked my flight to Sydney due for tomorrow at 6:10AM which should bring me to the final destination at 1:20PM.
Yesterday evening I just realized that I was actually supposed to have the car back to Perth...mmm...in fact I probably mixed up the date concerning my planning but anyway. I tried to call back AVIS but was fighting with the phone that kept eating my coins and cutting all my calls so I never could reach AVIS which could have been useful to prevent them for declaring the car stolen and launching a nationwide police research on a French terrorist driving a blue Hyundai Getz.
After a quick and short drive to Cape Le Grand situated about 60km east of Esperance, I rejoined the main (only) highway (road) to Kalgoorlie. A few kilometers later, I amazingly joined Susie, Sarah and Pete on the way to Kalgoorlie. Susie managed to impress me by driving twice over the speed limit in some areas and deciding to overtake a queue of vehicules stopped at the roadwork. The lollipop man handed her the 'stop' sign desperately while I was laughing in my car at the back of the queue.
Esperance is named after a French Naval vessel sheltered from a storm in a bay a few kilometers from the present town. It is also known as the Bay of Isles due to the vast number of small islands offshore and it has absolutely amazing white sand beaches with stunning shades of blue. The downside being that it is incredibly windy with an average of 27km/h a year.
An absolutely stunning dutch-british weather (read rain all over the place) this morning. Plan was somewhat to go to Mount Frankland, but considering the weather the view would have been a stunning 100m-viz at most. I made my way through the forrest made of Karri and Tingle trees to find the Giant Tingle Tree, then stopped at the Valley of the Giants (A$6). The Valley of the Giants is a nice piece of engineering that allow you to walk on the treetops, 40m above the ground. Honestly it is more interesting for the engineering part than the thrills of walking on the treetops as it is not especially dense and the view has nothing extraordinary.
Rainy day. Pretty annoying. After going to Leeuwin lighthouse where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet (about 8km from Augusta), I went back south to visit Jewel Cave (A$15.5) where I was greeted by the guide with a 'Your country is Germany, right?'...errr absolutely not, sorry, it's France.
I decided this morning to join a Whale watch tours with Naturaliste Watchers (A$45) in Dunsborough (between Busselton and Margaret River). Once I arrived in the car park, I was coincidently joined by Karl, the german yoga teacher I met in Bunburry and we all jumped on the boat. We have been able to see a few humbpack whales around Cape Naturaliste, but nothing extraordinary. A couple of tail flapping (I missed all the shots and I will be better off with a 300mm anyway) but nothing really awesome.
Before leaving from Bunbury I went early morning to the Dolphin Discovery Centre, or more exactly the beach facing it. This is the place where dolphins are sometimes coming. I went there to check the water, as you can 'float' (no real swimming authorized) if dolphins are around. But visibility was crap so I was not very tempted to try. That said, the dolphins came a few minutes later (no shots sorry) only for a couple of minutes and then went away.
I'm right now staying in Bunbury which is well known for being able to swim with dolphins when you can do it, that is: not now. Bunburry is located about 200km south of Perth, so as you can see I have been driving a bit since yesterday as I was 250km north . I stopped along the way to Whiteman Park slightly north of Perth to take some pictures of some koalas and was briefed extensively by a cool ranger about Victorian koalas.
I finally took a car at AVIS, a compact Hyundai Getz which is a joy to drive and I have been driving 250km north of Perth to spend the night at a place called Cervantes. Cervantes as you all know, is famous for its pinnacles and ...stromatolites at Lake Thetis. Before you hit Google to figure out what is a stromatolite, it is simply the oldest known fossils and is formed by photosynthesizing microbial communities such as cyanobacterias. This is damn exciting. I know .
I sent back the DS50 to Ikelite this morning via FedEx and hope for a quick repair and as you can see I also uploaded some pics from the liveaboard. I also contacted DEPP to see what's going on about the camera flood claim as there is still no news after a month and I have had no replies to a couple of emails. I had a reply from the CEO as I put him in CC telling me he will look at it first time as he happens to be in the right office today. Good news as every communication with him has always be fruitful but I hate doing that.
I just arrived in Perth this evening after a flawless flight from Denpasar. I had the usual inquisitive/long bag search of the customs in look for any dust I could bring from outer space or cheese from somewhere else (France ?). I have been asked 3 or 4 times between the visa desk and customs if really understood what was written in the customs declaration form or if I had any food. Do you have any food items ? Are you sure ? Are you really sure ? Are you totally sure ?