Day 45 – The Voyage Home

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I was awake early, so that I was able to catch the 6:38 am train to the Sydney International Airport. It was very warm outside and even with the air conditioning on the train, I never really cooled off until I got to the airport an hour later.

I had to wait at the airport because the Delta Airlines check-in didn’t open up until 8 am, however, I was the first person in line, which, of course, meant that my bag would be at the bottom of the pile in the plane and it would be the last one to be taken off. I was able to breeze through security, have a little breakfast and wait for my gate to open.

Just after 10 am, we started to board and we were on our way, without any delays. The flight was a little bumpy at times, but that might be due to the significant tailwind, which helped us get into Los Angeles at 5:35 am, 30 minutes early. The only problem with this, was that Customs was not yet open, so we had to wait on the plane until 6 am.

When we were finally allowed to leave the plane, clearing customs went very quickly for me, because I had my NEXUS border, crossing card and I was considered a ” Trusted Traveller “. The NEXUS program has worked out very well for me. All I had to do was walk up to one of the kiosks, scan my passport, have my picture taken, scan my fingerprints, answer a few electronic questions to indicate that I wasn’t bringing in any forbidden items into the US and then present the printed card to the security agent at the gate on my way out.

Because I was coming in on an international flight, I also had to pick up my checked baggage, clear the ” baggage check “, check it in again for my flights to Buffalo, walk to the Domestic Terminal, print out my boarding passes and then clear security again. This also went very quickly because I was TSE pre-approved because of my NEXUS card and I was at the gate shortly after 7 am.

I had almost 6 hours before my next flight which was scheduled to leave at 12:50 pm for Minneapolis, where I would catch my flight to Buffalo after a 1 hour lay-over in Minneapolis. I used the time in LA to switch the SIM card in my phone back to my Rogers SIM card so I could check my emails and voicemails. I was immediately informed by several people at home, that a significant winter storm was supposed to hit the Buffalo area at 9 pm, a couple of hours before I was to arrive there. I checked to see if I could get an earlier flight, however, I was on the earliest flight to Buffalo.

My sister was scheduled to pick me up, however, I had a few other people offer to pick me up as well. I would rather stay in Buffalo that risk someone getting injured in an accident, so I suggested to my sister that she could pick me up on Wednesday morning. It wouldn’t be the first time I have spent the night in an airport, but she said it would depend on how bad the weather was when she was ready to leave.

My flight left at 12:50 pm from Los Angeles, as scheduled, and we made good time, so that we arrived early in Minneapolis. The pilot informed us that they had changed our gate, however, when we got there we had to wait 30 minutes to deplane because an international flight was at the gate next to ours and Customs had secured the area for them to deplane. Fortunately, when we were finally allowed to leave the plane, I still had 50 minutes to make it to the other end of the airport to reach the gate for my flight to Buffalo.

I checked Peace Bridge cameras online, at the Canadian border where we would be crossing, to see if there was any snow or a lot of traffic, but everything was clear, so I sent a text to my sister to let her know when the flight was ready to leave. I also told her that she shouldn’t come if the weather was bad. My nephew Herb drove her to the airport to pick me up and they arrived there shortly before I did. As soon as we landed I checked the bridge cameras again and everything was clear. We left the airport shortly after 11 pm and there was a light rain that was starting to freeze.

I realize that probably 70% of the Buffalo Sabre’s hockey fans come from Ontario, however, I never thought about checking to see if there was a game in Buffalo on the night that I was scheduling my flight back home. Well, guess what? The Sabres had a game that night and it was over at the same time that my flight was landing. When we left the Airport, I checked that cameras again and to my surprise the border had two lanes of traffic backed up over the bridge trying to get into Canada. I should have suggested that we go to one of the other bridges, but that’s hindsight. By the way, Conner McDavid, the new hockey sensation, scored 2 goals for Edmonton as they defeated the Sabres 2-1.

We got into the lineup to get across the bridge to Canada, at 11:45 pm and it took us 40 minutes to reach the Customs booth. The traffic was stop-and-go ( mostly stop ), starting from the US side of the bridge and all the way to the Canadian border. Two lanes of traffic filled the bridge and there were only 4 booths open. By the time we reached the Canadian side of the bridge, they closed one of the booths and they were squeezing two rows into one Guess who was in that row?

I must say that Herb did an excellent job of driving. He is very patient and it also helped that he had his 4×4 truck with snow tires on it. When we finally reached the Customs booth, it only took a minute to get through, however, as soon as we got into Canada, the road conditions got worse. The rain had changed to snow and in some cases, packed icy, snow. It was quite slippery and the amount of snow seemed to increase, the closer we got to my house, which is unusual. Herb drove safely and dropped me off at home, just after 1 am. I had experienced a wonderful adventure, but it was also good to be back home, again.

So ends this adventure. No more tenting or intentionally driving on the left side of the road, at least not for a while!

Day 44 – Last Day in Australia

Monday, Feb 29, 2016

I took the downtown train to the wharf and walked around the area to the Sky Harbour Bridge.

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I went up the stairs to the bridge and started walking down the 3 meter ( 10 ft ) wide pathway that crosses the bridge. I climbed the top of the tower on the right and took some pictures of the city in all directions. This is a southward view, back towards the way I came.

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This is a view of the suspension bridge to the north. If you look closely on the right-hand side, you can see people, tethered to a safety cable, who paid A$ 250 for a 3 hour tour to the top of the bridge.

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After reading about the building of the bridge and watching a short video, I proceeded across the bridge to the other north side where I had a small lunch, before returning back to Summer Hill.

Now all that’s left to do, is pack up and get ready for my flight back home tomorrow morning. I will be taking the train from Summer Hill at 7 am and I should arrive at the airport before 8 am. That should give me enough time to catch my flight home.

Summer Hill to Airport

My flight is scheduled to leave Sydney at 11:10 am on Tuesday, which is 8:10 pm on Monday night back home. After a 14 hour flight to Las Angeles,

Sydney to Los Angeles

a 3 hr and 40 min flight to Minneapolis,

LA to MN

a 2 hr and 11 min flight to Buffalo,

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I will arrive at 10:52 pm on Tuesday night, 27 hours after the time I left Sydney. If I am lucky enough to have someone willing to pick me up at the airport, I should make it across the border before midnight. If not, I might have an opportunity to stay in Buffalo for a night!

Day 43 – Sydney Harbour – Manly Beach

Sunday, Feb 28, 2016

After a small breakfast I went to the Haberfield Baptist Church for their 10:30 service. The message was about the ” Parable of the Sower ” and the pastor made an interesting reference about good ( willing ) soil by using the example of Horatio Spafford **, the Chicago lawyer who penned the song, ” It Is Well With My Soul “, after he lost his fortune and his 4 daughters due to a tragic accident. After the service I walked back through Haberfield to get back to my motel.

Haberfield is right next door to Summer Hill and from what I saw, it is nice area, with well-maintained homes and shops, where a lot of the residents are of Italian descent. When I went into one of the Cafes for lunch, I noticed that most of the people in the cafe were speaking Italian. As was to be expected the coffee was very excellent.

After finishing my Cappuccino and a slightly, cold lasagna, I went back to the motel to change before heading to the city center by train and then taking the ferry to Manly Beach, as had been suggested to me. When I got off of the train, I noticed that my OPAL card ( the one I had used to get on the train ) was missing, so I had to get assistance, from one of the agents at the station in order to pick up a new card, add some money to it and then log on to my account and ” block ” the old card. I still need assistance to transfer the money from the old card on to the new one, but that won’t happen until Monday morning when someone will be available to answer my message.

Summer Hill to Manly Beach

I couldn’t believe the crowds of people along the wharf. There is a ferry every half hour to Manly Beach and each one of them can carry 1100 passengers and all them were full. I don’t really care for crowds but I ended up being in the middle of 1100 people trying to get onto the ferry. It was quite an experience.

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From the ferry I was able to get good pictures of the Sydney Sky Harbour Bridge,

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and the Sydney Opera House. If you look closely at the picture you can see that it also has hundreds of people around it.

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When we reached Manly Beach and docked, it was another challenge getting off the boat, with the throng of people.

The wharf has a lot of restaurants, inside and around the building and it opens up to the streets and Manly Beach on the west side.

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I went on the beach walkway and as I turned the corner, I noticed that it kept going, so I kept going. I didn’t realize that there was a walkway from the beach to the ” spit ” until I checked it out on my phone. Apparently the distance to the ” spit ” is 10 km long and I didn’t have proper walking shoes, but my sandals are comfortable, so I decided to go as far as I could.

Manly Beach Walkway

As I walked along the path, I noticed that there were other beaches, some, like this one, that had some large rocks in them, however, there were quite a few people, swimming and playing in the water.

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Four kilometers later, after travelling over several different walkways, rocks and gravel paths, I was at a lookout at the far side of the bay with a view back to the ferry terminal and the beach.

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I could have gone another 6 km to the ” spit ” but it was getting late, so I decided to head back. I retraced my steps and after 7 pm, I was back in Summer Hill. I went to an Italian restaurant, called Andiamo Trattoria and had an excellent, spicy, thin crust pizza. With all of the Italian food I have eaten the last few days, you might say I have been ” Italicized “.

Note: ** For those of you that don’t know the story about Horatio Stafford you can read more about him at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Is_Well_with_My_Soul

Day 42 – Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk

Saturday, Feb 27, 2016

I had decided to go on the Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk to see the beaches and the coastline, while getting some exercise. I had a late breakfast and caught the train to the Town Hall, caught another train to the Bondi Station and then finally took the bus to Bondi Beach.

Marco Polo to Bondi

On the bus I met a fellow from Chile that had emigrated to Australia and a young lady from Mississauga, Ontario that was in Australia for 3 months on a 1 year, temporary, working visa. Each had an interesting story.

The Bondi to Coogee Walk features six beaches and a number of coves and bays.

Bondi to Coogee

I arrived at Bondi Beach and started to walk on the wide path to Coogee Beach. This is a view looking back at the beach as I was heading south on the walk to the other beaches.

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Bondi Beach is a modern and trendy coastal resort, which is very popular. It has a variety of cafes, a beautiful grass area, restaurants and markets which look out over the beach. As you can see, there is a large swimming pool on the beach and the waves frequently crest the sides, causing it to overfill.

The path was very well maintained and in some sections, wide walkways had been built to make it easier for people to walk along the shore.

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I quickly noticed the unique rock along the shores. The rock appeared much harder than the shores along the Great Ocean Road in the southeast, but it had also been shaped by the wind and the waves.”

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I’m not sure if the high waves were caused by the weather disturbance from the cyclone that hit Fiji but I don’t think that the waves are normally as high, as they were during my walk. The life guards were continually asking swimmers to keep closer to shore and within a specific area, because of the wave activity.

One of the beaches I came to was Bronte Beach and is famous for it’s surf, rock pool.

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Clovelly Beach is a small beach that sits on the end of a narrow bay between Bronte Beach to the north and Gordon’s Bay to the south. The entire beach is locked between two rocky ridges that extend like two arms for 300 m seaward of the shoreline. A small pool is located on the southern side and can be seen on the right-hand side of the following picture.

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Coogee Beach is well protected through its formation as a bay. The surrounding coastline is mostly cliffs, decreasing in height down to the beach in the western part of the bay. The beach offers park lands, free BBQ facilities, public amenities as well as many shops and restaurants near the beach.

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I stopped at the Coogee Beach area to have lunch at the ” Black Pony ” before walking to the end of the walkway where it entered the suburban streets. At this point, I had walked about 5 km, so I returned the 5 km to Bondi Beach. I had planned to go for a swim before I went back to the motel but I decided against it when I reached Bondi Beach, late in the afternoon.

I walked back to the bus stop and retraced my steps on the bus and trains to get back to the motel. I took a quick shower and then I went to an Italian restaurant where I had seen a lot of people eating the day before. After I finished my Tortellini, I went to the nearby IGA grocery store and picked up a few items, before returning to the motel.

Tomorrow I have another outing planned for the afternoon.

Day 41 – Cairns to Sydney

Friday, Feb 26, 2016

It was very warm and humid when I got up.

I had a morning flight to Sydney, so I was up at 5:30 am, in order to get to the airport in time for my flight. I checked out of the resort and waited for the shuttle to pick me up. The shuttle was a little late, but the driver was still able to pick up some more passengers and make it to the airport in the morning rush hour, with time to spare. I even had some good luck. During the check-in process, the agent offered me an exit row seat, without any extra cost. This seat had a lot more leg-room, which made the flight much more comfortable.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Sydney 3 hours after takeoff, however, there was also a 1 hour time change and now it is 16 hours later in Sydney than New York time.

I took a cab to the motel and checked in, before going to a cafe for lunch.

The motel is not in the best neighbourhood and it isn’t all that nice, but its clean and it has everything I need. It is also close to a railway station, so I picked up an ” OPAL ” card that allows me to use the rail, bus and ferry transportation, without using cash or buying tickets. All I have to do is keep a balance on the card to pay for the rides.

The OPAL card will come in very hand for the activities I have planned while I am in Sydney.

Day 39 – Daintree Rainforest

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2016

Palm Cove to Daintree

I had organized a full-day rain forest tour, which started at 7:30 am. It was overcast, a little cooler ( 25 C or 77 F ) and less humid in the morning, when I was picked up by the tour van.

As we drove the 60 km to the Daintree Rainforest Park, our guide informed us about the area, its history, the plants, the animals and the people.

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For instance, our guide explained that this time of year is the peak season for the ” stingers “, such as the box jellyfish which is known as the deadliest animal alive, 3 times the venom strength of the deadliest Australian snake, although there are very few deaths attributed to contact with it. That is why they have the stinger nets on the beaches in this area during the warm months. They aren’t required in the winter ( May to September ), when the weather is warm, instead of being hot and currently the water temperature is 32 C ( 90 F ). The jellyfish are ” delicate ” creatures and are usually not swimming around in rough weather, which explains why you don’t see people swimming in the Coral Sea when it is calm. If you are want to swim, the best time is when there are a lot of waves, but you still need to keep inside of the swim nets.

He also showed us the usefulness of many of the plants in the jungle. One unique feature is the barbs on the ” feelers ” that some ferns use to climb up the trees in the forest to get to the upper canopy. These tentacles were used by the aboriginals for hooking something. They would use them to extract something from a burrow or narrow opening, as well as, for fishing.

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In fact, even the bottom of the fronds have large, spiked barbs.

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Our guide was very informative and he made it an interesting day. I, especially, enjoyed being able to see some of the wildlife, without the constraints of the zoo enclosures.

We were very fortunate to see Cassowaries. The Cassowary is a flightless bird that is native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, nearby islands, and northeastern Australia. It is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu and it is on the brink of extinction in Australia.

We saw one Cassowary at the beginning of our tour, just as we were leaving a forest trek and later we saw this one as we were leaving the forest.

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Being hit by cars, is the leading cause of death for the Cassowary in Australia and therefore the government has put up signs, like this one, to get people to slow down.

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I also saw several, very large spiders along the way. These are some of my favourites.

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Our guide pointed out this spider, but I couldn’t see it because of its camouflage, until he pointed it out to me.

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We were also taken on a river cruise and the guide explained the different types of mangroves, their importance and how they function along the river bank to clean the water, secure the banks from erosion and create a habitat for wildlife.

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After we had lunch in the forest, our guide showed us this fellow hanging on to a nearby tree.

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The lizard barely moved the whole time we were there, although he did turn his head a few times to look away from us.

By the late afternoon, we had reached our final destination, Cape Tribulation. During our ride there, our guide explained how Captain Cook ran his ship aground on the reef that connects to the shore at this point and how he was able to free his ship and repair it before continuing his voyage.

I found it to be a very interesting tour and I took some notes so I could explain it, but the best way to find out about this adventure, is to experience it first-hand.

We arrived back at Port Douglas after 5 pm and it took another 45 minutes to get back to the resort, where I tried to assimilate all of the information I had been given.

Tomorrow, I plan to relax before I fly to Sydney for my last 4 days in Australia.