Sleeping at the Great Barrier Reef

by Petra Bucheli

Saturday / Sunday 5th / 6th May 2012

On Friday we flew from Sydney to Hamilton Island. The tourism is booming on this island since a few years and there are some very expensive hotels to stay. We just stayed shortly and walked to the tourist center and enjoyed the lunch. Then we went with the ferry to the mainland. In Airlie Beach we let us drive to the hotel and then went to fetch the vouchers for the different tours we booked. Airlie Beach is an ideal spot to discover the Whitsunday region and the many tours which can be made here. The quite small center is full of travel agencies. We wonder how so many may survive here. I was already in 2007 here an I liked the region. And so I suggested to Konrad to stay a few days here.

On Saturday morning we were picked up in the hotel already at 7 o'clock and brought to one of the many harbors. By ship we passed the many islands of the Whitsundays and we drove to the open sea. The catamaran was rocking heavily as it did not have a big draft. Thanks to my medication I could stand the torture, but Konrad who normally does not suffer seasickness had problems. After an hour we got close to the reef and the waves got closer. At the reef the waves were gone.

Arrived on the Hardy Reef we were shown the room for the night. Up to six guests can stay overnight on the pontoon. We changed cloth and went to the first snorkeling tour. They had quite many diving googles, even corrected ones. Konrad rented one, else he would not have seen very much.

After Konrad checked how that works with the snorkel we enjoyed three times the underwater world. In our two-day package there was also a led snorkeling tour. A group of four was brought by a small boat to another part of the reef. From there we slowly swam back to the pontoon and Erin, the biologist explained the underwater world. It was very interesting, beside different fishes and corals we also saw a turtle. It did not let itself be disturbed from its lunch. It was shortly before full moon and thus the low tide was rather strong. Suddenly the reef was looking out of the water.

Shortly after 2pm the ship went and only very few people stayed back on the pontoon. Some of them went by helicopter back to the mainland. Two couples arrived in the late afternoon by helicopter and went snorkeling. We went by boat to the waterfalls. Right, there are waterfalls in the sea! The reef forms a lagoon and the water level was higher inside and flew like rapids over the reef. At the second, a bit bigger waterfall we surfed a bit on the waves. As we had sufficient fuel we went further to the sand beach. In the middle of the reef there is a sandy strip which looks like a beach. We could not get onto it, as it is too far in the reef. We enjoyed the view of the different colored corals and once we saw a clown fish, better known as Nemo!

Back at the pontoon the moon was raising and the sun setting. It was very beautiful. Below the stars we got a very rich dinner and we enjoyed the evening atmosphere. As they had some lights outside, we even could see the fishes in the chamber below the water. There was also a fish which was three meters ten years ago. We guess it grew a bit since then.

After a restful night the alarm clock went off at 5:15 as we wanted to welcome the sun. First we saw the moon disappear slowly into the sea. On the other horizon it got lighter and lighter and very slowly we saw the sun and its first rays. After a cozy breakfast we jumped into the water. I thought it will be cold, but it was pleasantly warm. We snorkeled four times until the ship came. The most beautiful is it when we were out alone.

On the way back the ship was rocking quite strong and Konrad stayed outside. As I had a seat below the air conditioning I endured the trip without problems. We came back to Airlie Beach with many nice memories.

Visiting again the Blue Mountains

by Petra Bucheli

Saturday 28th April, 2012

In November 2007 I visited the Blue Mountains National Park for the first time. Then all was dry and no waterfalls to see. Dominik and Konrad visited the park a few weeks ago. As everybody liked it, we went there again. Our first destination was Katoomba. Here we first bought a nice pick-nick. Then we went to the start of the hike. Along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk we walked at the top of the cliffs to the Katoomba Falls. For me the landscape looks quite different as I remember it then thanks to all the water everything looks much greener. A bit after the waterfall we had to leave the track then it was closed. So we had to follow the road until we could descend a few stairs to the Lady Darley Lookout. From here the track was open again. We continued to Echo Point and I realized that from here you may see the rock formation Three Sisters. A lot of tourists were here and wanted to enjoy the view. After we made a few pictures we descended to the Three Sisters. A wide path and a few chairs led down. Also here a few tourists were fighting with the stairs, but so bad it could not be yet. There are another 800 steps you can go down to the bottom track. As it was already noon we took a break at about two third of the stairs. We enjoyed the pick-nick on a bench and refreshed of the exertion. With new strength we continued descending, but the path does not lead to the very bottom of the valley. In the shadow if the many eucalyptus trees we walked towards the Scenic Railways Station. There we continued to explore the boardwalk through the trees and saw some birds we have not seen yet. One behaved very strange: it whistled and then twitched like it had been hit by electricity.

Here once coal was mined and now a few figures are showing how it was done. Then once again we realized that the Australians do not dispose old stuff. They put a sign, call it historical and make it to tourist attraction. Also a possibility and here they have sufficient space to do so. To get back to the car we had three options: walk up the stairs step by step, take a steep cable car or go by gondola. We chose option 2 and took the cable car. It was only late afternoon and Konrad would have liked to have a look over the countryside. So we drove to Mt. Wilson. As we learnt this is the name of a village and not of a mountain. The village was on the top, but it was surrounded by trees so we did not get a proper view over the valley. On the way back we discovered a road sign to a lookout. After a short hike we could look far over a valley of the Blue Mountain National Park. We saw also the sunset, but a bit hidden by clouds. In the dark we drove back to Sydney. I could drive the last kilometers as Konrad usually in the evening gets tired earlier than I. To finish the day I drove over the Harbour Bridge with its eight lanes. After I was glad to get out of the center as it is demanding to watch so much traffic.

From Manly to North Head

by Petra Bucheli

Wednesday 25th April, 2012

Today was ANZAC Day. On this holiday the Australians and the Kiwis remember the servicemen which lost their lives in the battle of Gallipoli in Turkey in the first world war. Early in the morning there is a parade in Sydney with the Australian army. I preferred to sleep a bit longer and to do something after lunch. Together with Konrad and Dominik I went to Manly. To get there we took the ferry connecting this quarter with the city center. First the path led us along the coast to Shelly Beach. Then we went uphill to a former army camp and after to the Sydney Harbour National Park. On this cliff path we had sometimes view to the sea. At North Head we could watch the sea and the other parts of the city on the other side of the Fjord. Back we took a more direct way. Back in Manly Dominik and Konrad went t-shirt shopping in the souvenir shops. As it got already dark at 6pm, we could see the lights of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on the way back to the center. It is fascinating that there are that many areas of green around the center of Sydney.

Sunday walk in the Botanic Garden

by Petra Bucheli

Sunday 22nd April, 2012

A bit before noon Konrad and I went to the city. Here are the Royal Botanic Gardens next to the many skyscrapers and historical buildings.

1788 there was the first farm in Australia on the park area. They constructed much even thou the land was not very fertile. Unfortunately the park degenerated during first world war and no new plants were collected. Only years later the park got improved. Today it offers a very good collection of Australian and tropical plants. Together with Konrad we made a long walk through the park. We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and watched the plants which were still blooming. For starch ourselves we left the park shortly and had lunch with view to the Opera House. After we surrounded the opera, but unfortunately the main stairs are currently redone. Back in the park we were looking for flying foxes, a kind of bats. A colony of flying foxes lives in the park and hangs in the trees during the day. It took quite a while until we found them. After a break in the park café we would have liked to further explore the park, but it started to rain. So we went home with the train.

Arrival in Hong Kong

by Petra Bucheli

Wednesday 20th June, 2012

At the end of our stay in Australia Konrad was pat down to check for liquids! Good luck he did not have a flask. With frosty temperatures we entered the plane after 9 hours we reached Hong Kong. The airport of Hong Kong is very big and we had to walk much. At the end of a escalator was a thermal camera and if spots a body which is too warm, they will take the temperature with the fever thermometer.

After a long queue at the immigration we got our passport stamped and are now allowed to stay for 90 days in Hong Kong. With the train we went from the island with the airport to Hong Kong Island. We found our hotel fast then it is directly in the center. As I opened the door of our room I realized why the hotel is called Mini Hotel. Not the hotel is small, but the rooms. But it is perfectly and very functionally equipped. In the early evening we wanted to go to the Peak. We were not the only ones who wanted to go with the “tramway” to the top. A funicular goes step up and the upper station is at 400 m altitude. There is a huge tourist trap with many shops. As we entered the funicular we could already see a black cloud and when we were on the top it was already covered. Wafts of mist passed and it felt subtropical. The bad weather limited the sight, but we could still see the lights of the skyscrapers. On the way back we experienced how the people entered the funicular in near panic to get a seat. We were polite and did not push, but were also the only one doing so.