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I have found Paradise!

Please forward my mail to Hayman Island, Australia

sunny 28 °C

7:00 am
Saturday, 17 October 2009
Hayman Island Resort
Hayman Island, Australia

I can’t help myself, I have to rub a little salt in your cold, rainy wounds. I am sitting at the salt water pool at the Hayman Island Resort on Hayman Island, Australia. The sun is shining, the birds are doing bird noises, and the air temperature is probably already 75 degrees. I have a view of the Pacific Ocean and free wireless internet. I am truly in Paradise!

Rather than write two separate updates for Thursday and Friday, I will bless you with one combined update for both days, that way I can get on to the serious business of vacating properly.

If you cast your mind back to Wednesday evening (or roll your scrollbar down) we were at Uluru/Ayers Rock that night, and I was doing my mistress of the suds watch over the laundry. So we woke up Thursday morning still in Uluru (no magical transporters on this trip), with more Uluru viewing on the agenda, followed by a flight to Cairns. After a lovely breakfast (all the breakfasts are lovely here…heck, all the meals are lovely. Thankfully my traveling pants have a drawstring waist), we loaded up the bus and headed out to view Kata Tjuta, otherwise known as the Olgas. It is the other rock formation in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (duh!). Rather than being a monolith like Uluru, it is considered a composite rock formation, with 36 domes making up the formation. In fact, Kata Tjuta means “many heads” in the Aboriginal language. It is a sacred initiation site to the Aborigines, so they tell no stories of its “dreaming” or creation, to white people. The highest dome within the formation is Mt. Olga, at approximately 550 m high.

We left Kata Tjuta and drove back to Uluru, which, let’s face it, is the star attraction of the place. Poor Kata Tjuta is sort of like Uluru’s slightly famous sidekick (I am striving for a metaphoric pair here, people, but the grey matter is not engaging this morning--insert your favorite duo.) We drove around the entire base of Uluru, approximately 22 km. We popped off the bus at one point and visited the Montitjulu Watering Hole, which is a pool of surface water that accumulates from the tiny bit of runoff from the face of Uluru. In a little sheltered overhang near the watering hole, Brian, our bus driver, showed us some Aboriginal caving paintings. The Aborigines painted their artworks on the cave with ochre paints, rather than chipping them into the rock, because they used them like an early version of Mapquest: this set of paintings represented directions on how to get to Alice Springs, including information about water and food stops along the way. If a water hole dried up, they simply didn’t repaint that hole back on the map to notify others that it was no longer available. Smart, hunh? We also got our picture made standing on a little piece of Uluru, so now I can say I have climbed Uluru (sort of. Actually, the Aborigines ask that people respect their wishes and not climb the rock. They don’t forbid climbing yet, though.) After Montitjulu, it was on the Aboriginal Cultural Center, where I am not embarrassed to say that I powered through on my way to the potty and the gift shop. You know I do love me a good gift shop!

Here’s a little heads-up for you should you decide you ever want to go to the Australian Outback: there are flies EVERYWHERE. Thousands of the little buggers, and they are f’ing annoying. For that reason you might see me styling an ever-so-attractive fly net in several pictures. You can’t stand to be without it. And apparently we’re here during the not-so-bad part of the season. As it gets more toward summer (December/January here) you simply have to wear the nets or they’ll fly up your nose and in your ears. Good timing on our part, then, to visit in October.

We got out of the flies back at Sails in the Dessert, where we had another lovely lunch (I tried panne cotta…yummy, but not unlike flan or crème caramel, in case you are ever presented with the opportunity). I did a little more (okay, a LOT more) retail therapy in the hotel gift shop: I bought a watercolor painting of Uluru from a watercolor artist named Brian Dobson. He’s the artist-in-residence at the hotel gallery. It’s being shipped back home--it was already framed and I didn’t want to take a chance on anything unfortunate happening to it. Plus, suitcase space is at quite the premium. I might truly have to throw away socks and underwear on this trip!

Back to the airport for our flight to Cairns. This was actually a helpful flight, because the Uluru airport actually weighed our luggage and we’re still under the limit. Yeay! Aside from the fact that QANTAS somehow transposed two of the couples on the trip and I had to trade identities with one of the ladies in our group, once again QANTAS ruled supreme. I am getting quite adept at working their gate boarding procedures, so I was the first one on the plane once again. Heh heh heh! It was about a three hour flight to Cairns, which is on the coast, so we were fed a free dinner (none of this buy-on-board crap) of pasta with some sort of beef ragout on it. There were mushrooms in it, but I assiduously avoided them.

We landed in Cairns about 6:15 or so, then schlepped to the Shangri-La Hotel, from which we would depart the next morning at 6:30, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for site-seeing in Cairns. David and I walked down the Esplanade and to the Night Markets. As near as I can tell, it’s basically Myrtle Beach with an Australian accent. Lots of T-shirt and souvenir shops, (No “Wangs”, though!) ice cream stands, restaurants, and the like. It seems to be populated with surfers and college students backpacking the world in an effort to “find” themselves. I found ‘em: they’re in Cairns, Australia and based on the smell, they’re smoking a lot of weed. We did partake of a few souvenirs and some gelato at the Night Market. I had Tim-Tam gelato, and it was delicious!

Pardon us while we interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a breakfast break…we will resume our programming shortly.

Okay,so the break included breakfast, a garden tour led by the island’s horticulturalist, and some retail therapy (I bought a lovely teal blue one-piece swimsuit at the hotel boutique that was on sale 50% off and it was the only one in my size…it was meant to be mine. I also got an equally lovely multi-colored sarong and a sarong-tying lesson from the store clerk!), but I’m back poolside, ready to tell you all about our trip from Cairns to Hayman Island, as well as our some-what ill-fated sea kayaking expedition (think S.S. Minnow).

We flew from Cairns to Hamilton Island, which is a much larger airport than you would imagine. It was a turbo-prop plane, and there was initially some fracas among the oldsters because, due to the plane’s size, you were only allowed one checked bag. Any in excess of one would be checked standby and might not arrive until the next day. Fortunately for the saintly Lisa, our tour director, the plane was not full and everyone’s bags came immediately. A crisis averted. (Personally, I read and believed the rule that you could only bring one bag, so I didn’t have an issue. Perhaps they should do the same.) Once again, I managed to smoke the rest of the group and get on the plane first, and once again QANTAS served a lovely breakfast: a scone, dried apricots, and orange juice, all in a tidy little expanded polystyrene case.

We landed at Hamilton Island and immediately boarded the Sun Goddess, a luxury catamaran, for the hour or so ride to Hayman Island. And when I say luxury, think mimosas and canapés on boarding. And once again, the oldsters were freely availing themselves thereof. We arrived at the resort, and were immediately met by a tram to take us from the dock to the hotel, whereupon we had an orientation. Yes, this resort is so chic-chic that you get an orientation!!! All I can say is, I think we have arrived. It is absolutely stunning here. The water is incredibly clear and blue, with palm trees everywhere. Hayman Island is part of a group of barrier islands called the WhitSunday Islands. It belongs to the state of Queensland, but is leased to the resort, which is currently the only thing on the island. They are, however, beginning to build some luxury vacation home here, and if I had a spare $4 million, I might consider buying one!

On the ferry ride to the island, David and I decided that we would go sea kayaking. I have sea kayaked once before, up in Bar Harbor, Maine, and thought it would be fun. Sea kayaks are two-person affairs, and unlike the one person river kayaks that we are more accustomed to, they are very stable and you are not strapped into the thing. Consequently, you do not have to be able to self-rescue, which is where, if you get turned upside down, you roll the kayak back upright with your abdominal muscles. This is significant to my story, so keep it in mind. Lunch was provided as part of the trip, so we popped to the café to grab a bite before our kayak excursion. We had an hour, so I thought we had plenty of time. Serious misconception on my part. The kayak excursion was scheduled to start at 1:30, and we didn’t get our food until about 1:10. Knowing my intolerance for tardiness (it is a character flaw, you know), you can imagine the height of the wall I was climbing at the time. We inhaled our lunch, and made it to the pickup spot about 1:28, which is my definition of being late. This did not put me in the best emotional state for the subsequent voyage of the Minnow.

We met our guide, Rama, and the other couple who would be kayaking with us, Beth and Mark, picked out snorkeling gear, then hit the water. We were to kayak around one side of the bay here, then over to a beach for some snorkeling before heading back in. Everything was going reasonably well until we got hung up on a patch of coral. I was trying to back paddle to get us off and David was trying to paddle on one side to effect a similar result when it happened: we dumped the kayak and into the drink we went! We were not in mortal jeopardy because we were, of course, wearing life jackets. We were also, however, wearing clothes over our swimsuits, hats, and sunglasses, so picture going into the ocean fully clothed! Our guide quickly came to our rescue and righted the overturned kayak, but then the poor little lad instructed me to “climb back on in.” Yeah, right. It is for this exact same reason that, when I white-water raft, I keep my ass in the raft: I’m not strong enough to pull myself back in if I can’t get my legs back under me. It wasn’t pretty, sports fans! Poor little Rama had to physically drag me back into the kayak by the life jacket! If someone had had a video camera handy, I’m sure the footage of me beaching my fat ass on that kayak like a whale would be a guaranteed $10,000 winner. Poor Beth and Mark: I’m sure it was at this point that they thought, “Dear Heaven, what have we signed on for?” To add insult to injury, all the towels for snorkeling were stored in the hatch of our kayak, which leaked.

Fortunately, the rest of the trip was significantly less eventful. We made it to the beach with no problems, and even saw three sea turtles and a reef shark for our trouble. Snorkeling from the beach was spectacular: I saw a striped fish that looked like an angel fish, some white fish, and a fish that was purple, pink, orange and green--stunning! Rama said it might be a parrotfish. I also saw a tremendous amount of different types of coral, including brain coral and wavy looking stuff. It was so surreal: I’m used to seeing mostly simulated coral at the aquarium. To look at it and know that it’s all real is mind-bending. The only problem was I thought the water was a little cold, even though the sun was very hot. Afterward I went to the boutique and bought a “rashie”, which is basically a swimsuit T-shirt, to keep from getting cooked tomorrow at the reef. And I can still move my arms this morning, so it wasn’t a total failure.

We made it back to the marina without further incident (Thank God!), then went to wash up before dinner. Last night’s feast was an all-you-could-eat seafood buffet, and it definitely wasn’t Shoney’s, that’s for sure. Shrimp, or prawns as they are called here, smoked salmon, steaks, lobsters, crabs, mussels, oysters, fish curry, salmon and potatoes, veggies, fruit…that buffet just went on and on, and we won’t even go into the desserts. Have mercy! Y’all, it was so fancy there was even an ice sculpture! The only drawback was that the prawns still had their heads on them. I just couldn’t look them in the eye and eat them, so they got a reprieve!

Today, we are power vacating. Somebody’s got to take the vacation, and it might as well be us! The garden walk I mentioned was lovely, but the coolest thing happened at breakfast. Cockatoos are native to the island, and they are apparently a bit of a nuisance, and they certainly were at breakfast. I saw one grab an entire piece of toast of somebody’s plate, but the funniest thing was the one that grabbed an empty jelly packet, flew up onto the top of an umbrella, and proceeded to lick the jelly out! The garden tour guide told us they are very smart and love sweets, and that he’d witnessed one OPEN a can of Coke to get a drink! I also saw the two swans that live here on the island: Dame Elizabeth and Agro. Apparently their mates have each died, and because swans mate for life, they won’t have anything to do with each other! I guess they need better matchmakers!

Australia observations for the day:
Ketchup = tomato sauce
Cantalope = rock melon
I have yet to find oatmeal for breakfast anywhere.
Scrambled eggs are served VERY runny (yuck).
The electrical outlets all have little switches on them that you have to flip on before your stuff will work.

The rest of today’s agenda is pretty much ABSOLUTELY SQUAT!! The sun is hot, the drinks are cold, and the living is easy. Tomorrow it’s off to the Reef, so I’ll be sure to tell you all about that!

G’day!

Posted by hidburch 21:04 Archived in Australia

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