Six weeks in Sydney

After arriving in Sydney, I started to get settled for my time there.  Most of the weekdays were spent at the office, so I won’t bore you with those details, but I did manage to get up to some adventures on the weekend.

Hiking in the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains lie to the west of the city, about a 2 hour ride by train from the central station.  It actually a pretty easy train ride and I ended up going out and back twice in the same weekend.  There are many stations you can get off at and go for a hike; I stopped at Katoomba and Wentworth Falls.

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New Zealand to Australia on a South American Airline.

I arrived back in Auckland mid-day and was once again greeted by my friends parents at the airport and went back out to the Beachlands.  After a quick visit, some puppy cuddles, and dropping my bags, I was back on the ferry to head into the city.  I did some more general site seeing, got my mugs from Starbucks and met up with my friends for a nice dinner at Hector’s.  Hector’s is great because they have a number of veggie and vegan options and promote healthy and sustainable dining practices.  It’s also quite a nice space, being inside the Heritage Hotel.  It wasn’t particularly busy on a Friday night, but it was a great chance to catch up and enjoy some time with my friends.  I caught a late ferry back to the Beachlands and went to bed fairly quickly as my flight was early early early the next morning.

Delicious dinner at Hector’s

As my flight back from Auckland was supposed to be part of my awards ticket, I had to find an alternate flight for the trip back to Sydney.  One of the cheaper options was to fly on LATAM (formerly LAN), a South American airline.  Typically airlines are only allowed to fly to/from the countries they operate in; however, in some instances, they continue their flights on to a 3rd country.  These are called 5th freedom flights and can sometimes be a lot of fun to fly.  I remember getting to fly a big Qantas plane (perhaps even a 747) from San Francisco to Vancouver when they flew SYD-SFO-YVR-SYD.  The bonus of these flights is that while they are relatively short, they are usually on the latest and greatest of the airline’s long haul product.  It’s like taking the airline for a test drive before committing to a 9 hour flight.

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New Zealand… South.

So after my short stop in Auckland it was off to Queenstown!  I actually booked these flights only a few days before since I wasn’t sure what the plan would be until I met up with my company peeps in Sydney.  There wasn’t a whole lot of price variation, so I booked a Jetstar flight on the way down and Air New Zealand on the way back to Auckland.

I would compare my experience with Jetstar to be similar to my flights with Easyjet.  I had to pay extra for a checked bag (since I had so much in my little carry-on it didn’t meet weight restrictions they have in New Zealand and Australia) and a seat, so I chose to buy the “Starter Plus” package which included the checked bag, seat selection, $10 in flight voucher, Qantas points, and no change fees for date, time, and name up to check in.  While those last two weren’t particularly great, I still used the first three!

After a long ride to the airport, I checked in for my morning flight without any major problems and went through security… WITH MY COFFEE!!!!  I was convinced I would have to throw it out, but I guess domestic flights in NZ aren’t that picky!  Hooray!!  I didn’t have all that much time before the flight so I just went to sit at the gate and wait for boarding.

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Journey to Middle Earth

Cairns Airport is fairly small, so there wasn’t a lot to do while waiting to start my trip to Auckland.  I had checked my bag and waited uneventfully in the terminal to board my first flight to Melbourne.  I had fretted over my seat assignment, as I wanted a good view as we left Cairns, hoping to get one last look at the Great Barrier Reef – who knows when I’ll be back again???  I had actually seen a few planes take off, and they zig-zagged as they left, so I decided to stay on the rights side of the plane, which worked okay, and I got the bonus of watching the sunset 🙂

Once again I was super impressed with the service in economy on Qantas.  The flight attendants are nice, you get food and drinks and there’s enough entertainment choices to keep you occupied.  While the seats aren’t spacious, there’s enough room to settle in and get comfortable enough.  The meal on the way to Melbourne was a delicious tofu teriyaki dish and I even got some more small single serve pods of soy milk!  I think Qantas needs to host a class on how to cater vegan meals and invite the North American airlines. Continue reading

The Great Barrier Reef aka Found Nemo!

I know it’s been a while…So I’m going to skip over the two days I spend in Sydney and jump up to my trip to the Great Barrier Reef!

I had gotten a late night flight up to Cairns (pronounced CAHNS or something like that… I still don’t have it right) Thursday on Qantas and was supposed to leave early morning Saturday to head off to Auckland.  But that all ended up changing (more on that later).

The flight itself was great!  Nothing spectacular about the seat, just a regular economy seat, but they do provide headphone as you’re getting on the plane, in case you forgot yours.  I also got a full meal!  I was expecting a little snack, but instead I got a rice and veggie dish, with fruit and a bar/cookie thing for dessert.  All in a handy little Qantas bag.

Flying over Sydney
Meal on Qantas… in economy… on a 2.5 hr flight

They have a decent entertainment system which you have to download on to your own device, but it’s got a few free fun shows on it; I can’t remember if the movies were free as well.  I think they also had a movie playing overhead, but I didn’t end up watching it.  Be sure to download the app prior to getting on the plane as I don’t think you can download it while on-board.

After a quick and uneventful flight, we landed at Cairns fairly late in the evening.  It was after the shuttle from my hostel did its last pick up, so I ended up taking the paid airport shuttle into the “terminal” for $4 and walking to my hostel from there… the other option was to pay $15 for a drop off, but it was only a 10-15 min walk from the “terminal” so I decided to save the money.  The terminal consisted of a typical bus stop at the north side of town, so I’m not sure I’d call it that, but apparently it’s where all the other buses congregate when they’re running during the day.

Welcome to the reef!

After arriving and checking in at my hostel, the Calypso Inn, I was a bit miffed to find out that I was unable to get a towel since they were rentals and locked away during the night shift.  I pointed out that the website said that towels were included and eventually ended up getting on the next morning.  I had gotten a single room since I wanted somewhere I could leave my stuff without worrying too much and didn’t want to disturb anyone with getting up early (My original flight was leaving at 6am…).  It was only slightly more than a dorm room, so it worked out pretty well.  The room was very basic, but had air conditioning, linens, and the bed was decently comfortable.  Don’t really need much more than that.  The downside was that I couldn’t get onto the free wifi network, only the paid network was available since I was too far from the lobby.

After a quick sleep, I was up early to catch the shuttle into town (it’s about a 20 min walk from the “centre” of the city, but the tour I booked included pick up) in order to get my cruise out to the reef.  The shuttle dropped us off at the marina and we were probably about half way through the arrivals.  We were whisked onto the boat and everyone was settled as we got ready to depart.  I was able to confirm my vegan meal for lunch later on in the day and was seated with the other single travelers at a table inside.  This actually worked out well as we all hit it off and ended up hanging out over the next 2 days.

Leaving the mainland behind

I booked the tour with Reef Experience and would definitely recommend them if you’re by yourself or want to try scuba diving.  The first 15 min dive is included in the price as was a lot of fun!  We went to two different reef locations and saw lots of fish, turtles, and sharks (oh my).  The crew was great, the lunch was decent, and the people were a lot of fun.

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After a long, exciting day, we arrived back at the docks and posed for our group picture on the boat!  I really can’t put into words how amazing the reef is, it’s definitely one of those things you just have to do yourself!

Our Group

Our little ragtag group of solo travelers went for some drinks and dinner and hung out that evening.  I didn’t last too long though as it had been a very long and tiring day and eventually made my way back to tuck myself in for the night.

The next morning I woke up early and managed to get a picture of the sunrise over the water with a pretty serious looking line of clouds on their way out to sea.

Sunrise in Cairns

As I had to change my flight, I ended up having a whole 2nd day in Cairns (well, until 2pm anyways) to explore, so once again met up with people from the tour the day before and went wandering around Cairns.  It was a beautiful warm day and perfect for exploring. It was neat to see all the little shops and there was a market where we ran into our photographer from the reef the day before.  We finished up by chilling in the park for a while and then a nice long walk along the boardwalk.  I was not expecting it to be summer there, but really it’s so far north in Australia, that I don’t think it’s ever not summer.

After saying goodbye to my new friends, I went back to check out of my room and catch the hostel shuttle to the airport for the next leg of my adventure.