Robyn was kind enough to lend us her car during our stay, so we were able to drive to the Australia Zoo, about an hour North of Brisbane. This was the first time that Dom had to drive a manual car on the left side. All went well and we arrived at the zoo just in time for opening.
Dom thought that since he had already taken Jen to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, we wouldn't have to the Australia Zoo.. but he was mistaken! Jen insisted he specifically visit the Australia Zoo. Shortly after arriving and seeing the animals, he understood why.
A few days before our visit, we had tried to book a red panda encounter online, but everything was fully booked for weeks. Robyn recommended we check with Customer Service as soon as we arrive in case there were any cancellations or openings available, so that was our first order of business.
Lucky for us, they had space for 3, for the Cheetah photo session. This wasn't even an option on the website, so it was a pleasant surprise and we booked it. We ended up being the only 2 people at the encounter with Lawrence, the cheetah, so we got to pet and spend extra time with him (and Jen was able to ask the keepers a million questions).
Our second order of business (after booking the Cheetah session) was to buy some "Roo Food" to go feed the wallabies and kangaroos before all of the other visitors arrived there. This was so much fun - you enter the huge enclosure with all the cute wallabies and grey kangaroos, crouch down to hold out some food, and let them approach you. They even let you pet them and they are so cute and soft!! Later we found a second enclosure with Red Kangaroos, so we had more feeding and petting time with them.
We also got to pet koalas! Again, you walk through their enclosure where you can see lots of koalas up close - there are no barriers, so you can walk right up to the trees that they are sleeping in. There is also always one koala with a keeper, that is available for you to walk up to and pet, while the other ones are having a rest.
Before coming to the zoo, we had asked Robyn if she had binoculars for us to borrow and she was confused why we wanted them, but gave them to us anyways. During our visit we understood that unlike at the Calgary and Taronga Zoos where the animals are so far away, here, you don't need binoculars at all. The enclosures are designed in a way that you have such a unique opportunity to get really close and personal with the animals here.
At the koala nursery, you can see mamma koalas with their super cute babies. This enclosure had walls to keep visitors from getting too close, but you can still get a really good view of the babies. We went multiple times and on one occasion, the babies were awake and moving around to eat.
Our last close encounter was with the lemurs. Here you cross over to Bindi's Island where the lemurs run around freely walk amongst the visitors and even through the playground for kids. The island is quite big so at first we didn't see anything and thought we were in the wrong place, but eventually a bunch of lemurs decided to jump down from the trees to come check us out.
After that, we roamed the zoo randomly but made sure to stop and catch the tiger and crocodile shows.
Every animal enclosure has "rest areas" where the animals can rest and hide away from visitors, if they aren't feeling very social. We got really lucky with our visit because almost all of the animals were outside and active. We got some great views of:
rhinos, meerkats, and giraffes
cassowaries, dingos, tasmanian devils, sea otters, water dragons, and more!
We finally had to leave the zoo because it was closing.. we were one of the last cars in the parking lot.
We both had an absolute blast! The great thing with the Australia Zoo is that they mainly only have rescued animals, so there's less variety but the enclosures are very well designed. Most of their proceeds go toward helping the injured animals brought to their animal hospital, taking really good care of the animal in the zoo, and educating humans to help keep wild animals healthy and safe in their natural environments.
We decided to fly up to Brisbane to visit our Auzzy friends for a couple of weeks.
We stayed with Robyn and Feesh at the Tropical Resort. We spent most of the time going for walks around their neighbourhood, lounging by the pool, doing some research to plan the next parts of our trip, and meeting up with friends at the weekend get-togethers that Robyn had planned. We didn't realise that it had been 8 years since we were last here, so it was really awesome to see everyone again!
We also made some new friends, named Mike and Marg, who came to visit us each morning. They are Australian Magpies, but their singing is so much more beautiful than the magpies we have back home. Check out the video of Mike serenading Dom:
One night we decided to teach Robyn and Fish how to roll Sushi. We weren't able to find any sushi mats at the local shops so we had to make our own using bamboo skewers and duct tape. It worked out surprisingly well and they were both expert sushi chefs by the end :)
We lucked out as there happened to be a lunar eclipse while we were in Brisbane and the skies were somewhat clear. It was partly cloudy, but there were enough clear gaps to see the eclipse progress. We attempted to take pictures with our iPhones but it didn't work so well. Tanya and Csaba live a bit South of Brisbane and they have a telescope, so they were able to take these awesome pictures:
Tanya and Csaba were also kind enough to host us for an evening at their new home in Burleigh. We stroll the beach, checked out the town, and of course, Jen got lots of much needed puppy play time with Iggy and Crosby!
Lots of love and thanks to Robyn and Fish for letting us crash at their place yet again. It was so awesome to catch up and spend time with everyone after 8 years. Hopefully it won't be such a long time until we see them all again :)
The Blue Mountains are located around 100km West of Sydney, 2 hours (~$15cad/person, return) by train. They are named that way because of the blue haze that is formed from eucalyptus oil in the air.
We arrived at Leura station at around 11:00am, grabbed a coffee, and walked 25 minutes to the trail. Just before reaching our destination, we were greeted by what we thought were some local "pigeons", but turned out to be really noisy cockatoos. We were amazed to see how common these birds are around the Sydney area.
We first headed West along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to see Katoomba Falls and some viewpoints along Scenic World's Scenic Skyway.
Then we backtracked and walked further Eastbound, stopping at the Three Sister viewpoint for some lunch.
After lunch we continued East along the trail to catch the train back from Katoomba Station.
On this section, we encountered a few areas where the trail was closed due to damage from the heavy rains and floods over the past few years. We had to detour off of the path and back on the road a few times along the way, but still had some great views.
We took the train back at 16:00, stopped for some yummy Thai food for dinner, and then took it easy for the rest of the night.
We went to the Taronga Zoo which is located across the Sydney harbour.
To get there, you have to ferry across to the island (~$13aud/person, return). To get around Sydney, we had originally purchased Opal Cards with a minimum $20aud balance, but later discovered that you can easily tap on/off with normal credit cards and still get the same discounts/benefits of using the Opal Card. Fortunately this ferry ride helped use up most of our remaining balance so we switched over to using credit cards after t
The Taronga Zoo starts at the top of a hill where you get a beautiful view of Sydney.
The Zoo's main path then winds down the hill toward the exit at the bottom, with lots of different animals to see along the way.
We caught the seal show
and learned that lemurs leap and meerkats stay busy, by scanning QR codes 😂
We got to see Quokkas, but they weren't as happy and smiley looking as the ones doing selfies on Rottnest Island.
Our most memorable experience was when we visited the tigers. We found out that one of the tigers was agitated and he started growling as we approached his enclosure area. We were asked to let him be, so we visited the tigers in the other enclosure. A few minutes later, some other tourists passed in front of the agitated tiger so he charged and roared at them. Even though we weren't there, the sound was so loud, it made us jump and really gave us the shivers!
Bondi beach is one of the most iconic and popular beaches in Australia. Lucky for us, it is also very close and accessible from Sydney using the local train and bus (for about $7aud/person, return). We found out that there was a nice 6km coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Congee Beach, so we decided to hop on the the train from Kings Cross to Bondi Junction, to check it out.
Since it was a weekend, we thought there might be more people on the beach than usual, but we really underestimated how busy the bus from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach would be. To skip the giant line-up, decided to take a different bus that dropped us off at Tamarama Beach instead, since it was a fairly short walk away.
We walked up the coastal trail to first do some people watching at Bondi beach, and then backtracked to Tamarama again before continuing down to Coogee Beach. It was a perfect sunny day, but we were shocked at how packed and crowded the coastal beach walk was!
We eventually figured out that it was because there was a free international art exhibition that weekend, called Sculpture By The Sea.
So, our "short" daytrip took a lot longer than we were expecting, but we lucked out overall because we really enjoyed seeing all of the art pieces along the way - they made the coastal walk so much more interesting!
After 29 days, we finally arrived in Sydney, Australia. While having our last buffet breakfast, we enjoyed a 5-star view of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House, before lining up to disembark the boat.
In Sydney, we spent 2 days exploring the city proper and 3 days doing day trips around.
Sydney is a beautiful city with so many things to see while walking around: The Opera House and Darling Harbour, China Town, The Royal Botanical Garden and all the roads and neighbourhoods in between.
One funny thing that happened was that when we were in Calgary booking our hotel for Sydney, we forgot about the date differences between Australia and Canada so we accidentally booked our stay at East Sydney Hotel for 1 day too early!
The hotel wasn't able to shift our stay by 1 day because they were full on the last day so we ended up booking 2 additional nights at Maze Backpackers. This worked out nicely because when we checked out, the hostel receptionist gave us a great tip:
"If you have a lot of time before your flight, you can take the train from Sydney Central Station to Mascot Station - the station just before the airport. From there, it’s just a 1.5km walk to the airport domestic terminal, and the fare only costs $2.65 instead of $18 because you don’t have to pay the airport surcharge”
So that’s what we did.. sidewalks, crosswalks, and flat all the way! Getting really great travel tips, is one of the awesome benefits that we've noticed about staying at hostels instead of hotels!
We decided to join Jen’s parents on a 29 day cruise on Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas, from
Vancouv er to Sydney, Australia.
Here are the stops that we did along the way:
First Leg (8 nights)
- Vancouver, Canada
- Seattle, USA
- 5 sea days
- Maui, USA (2 days)
- Honolulu, USA
Second Leg (20 nights)
- Honolulu, USA
- 5 sea days - crossed the equator
- Moorea, French Polynesia (2 days)
- Papeete, French Polynesia
- 5 sea days - crossed the international dateline
- Napier, New Zealand
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Picton, New Zealand
- 2 sea days
- Sydney, Australia
If you have never sailed over the Equator before, you are known as a Pollywog. Between Hawaii and French Polynesia, we crossed the equator and the cruise director performed an Equatorial baptism ceremony. They poured some of Neptune's cold water from the Northern Hemisphere, and then hot water from the Southern Hemisphere, onto each Pollywog's head. I guess we are now considered Shellbacks and even have some nice certificates to prove it 😂
"Equatorial baptism is an initiation ritual sometimes performed as a ship crosses the Equator, involving water baptism of passengers or crew who have never crossed the Equator before. The ceremony is sometimes explained as being an initiation into the court of King Neptune. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed Shellbacks. Those who have not crossed are nicknamed Pollywogs."
Between French Polynesia and New Zealand, we crossed the international dateline. For us, Saturday Oct. 22, 2022 was completely lost - it is an entire day in our lives that just never existed. We went to bed on Friday Oct. 21st, and when we woke up the next morning, it was Sunday Oct 23rd 😃!
We enjoy sailing with Royal Caribbean because they have so many activities available to keep us occupied, particularly on the big Quantum or Oasis class boats. Here are some of our highlights:
Picton was the last of our New Zealand stops.
Since Jen and her parents were still in quarantine, Dom decided to go on a 12km round-trip hike out to "The Snout", to explore the peninsula.
As the boat departed Picton through the Marlborough Sounds, we saw some really great views of the coast.
Our stop in Wellington was rainy and cold. Jen and her parents were sick, so Dom was the only one allowed to disembark.
He took it easy and visited the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, the City Gallery, and wandered along the main streets.
The Te Papa museum had a few interesting exhibits including a section on the First World War Gallipoli Campaign, with giant wax statues that were incredibly realistic!
The City Gallery wasn't particularly interesting, however there was one interesting exhibit where you could watch "2001 Odyssey" and the "Thriller" music video with all of the people removed from the footage, because the artist wanted to explore the backgrounds of videos without the distraction of the people them 🤷♂️.