G’Day Mates – Greetings from Down Under! First of all, you should know that people in Australia really do say “G’Day” all the time (it’s not just a made-up phrase for Crocodile Dundee). Our arrival in Sydney marked the start of a 6-week stint in Australia, so we will divide the blog into a few sections to keep the entries manageable. Clearly we are playing a bit of catch up here, as the Christmas holidays are upon us now, but Blair’s blog mantra has conveniently become “better late than never.” Here we go with the first installment, our two weeks with “Mumsy and Pops” Linen in Sydney and the Whitsunday Islands.
What an adjustment we had to make, going from the Mala Mala Safari Lodge airstrip to a striking view of the Sydney Opera House, all within the span of less than 24 hours.
Arriving in Sydney, our travel weariness evaporated at the sight of Mumsy waiting for us in the hotel lobby. It was a reunion of squeals and shrieks from the girls, and Blair and Jeff had to patiently wait their turn for hugs and kisses as Mumsy struggled not to get bowled over by her ecstatic granddaughters. I think it’s safe to say that we were all in need of a visit from loved ones back home, and Mumsy and Pops’ two weeks with us were the perfect remedy for some homesickness and travel fatigue after almost three months on the road. We spent a few days in Sydney at the start of our time together, exploring the Harbor by foot and by ferry and relaxing in the comforts of our hotel. We didn’t get too adventurous because we will spend another three weeks in and around Sydney later in the trip. We mostly talked and talked and talked with Mumsy and Pops, and then talked some more, catching up about life on the road and life back home! We suffered terrible jet lag as well with the 9 hour time difference between Johannesburg and Sydney, so the days and hours kind of blurred together in a hazy fog of sleep deprivation and happy re-connecting.
The real adventure began when we flew together north to Hayman Island, which is part of the Whitsunday Islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia. We spent Thanksgiving week here, exploring the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. We found ourselves in a tropical paradise where rainbow colored fish and sea turtles graced the waters and wallabies (small kangaroos) and exotic parrots delighted us on land. We all agreed that Hayman Island felt like the movie set from Jurassic Park with white sand beaches banked by a mountainous tangle of vines and unfamiliar trees that were resounding with noises we had never heard before. When the giant fruit bats started flying around our heads at dusk, we were ready for the raptors to make their appearance as well!
Our week at Hayman was filled with pool-side relaxation and off-shore snorkeling excursions to the incredible reefs around the island. Whether enjoying the hot tropical sun or the warm afternoon rains, much of our time was spent in and around water. The underwater cameras we bought in Cape Town came in very handy!
We could snorkel right off of our beach, and see rays, sea turtles and lots of small fish, but the best snorkeling took place at the reefs we accessed by motor boat.
When snorkeling, we had to don one-piece lycra suits to protect us from stinging jelly fish and coral. We had a good time taking embarrassing photos of one another in these outfits.
We were awed by the bright, multi-colored displays of coral and the swarms of beautiful fish. We tried diligently to capture some good images but many came out blurry – we need to practice some more with underwater photography!
Schuyler and Jeff went on a longer, full-day excursion to a distant reef with the hope of seeing a shark and some bigger fish… Success!
Another exciting moment during our stay on Hayman involved some views from the sky, when Pops invited any brave souls to join him on a helicopter flight over the Whitsunday Islands. Jeff and Schuyler were the only takers, and according to all three it was a thrilling and stunning ride.
SCHUYLER: The helicopter ride was so fun! It was so smooth (not like our plane to Mala Mala, ha ha) and I loved the way we turned all the way sideways. Heart island was so beautiful, although it is much smaller than it appears to be!
While on Hayman, we celebrated our first major holiday outside the U.S. As we sat down to our untraditional Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel restaurant we felt a long way from home. Instead of a crackling fire, streaming football games on the T.V., and plates filled to the brim with turkey and stuffing, we gorged on seafood and pasta dishes wearing sundresses and flip flops. But we had more to feel thankful for than ever, and basked in the joy of sharing the holiday with Mumsy and Pops which was as close to being at home as we could get. We reflected together on the joys (and pains) of three months abroad, the gift of travel that we have been given, and the gift of family and friends that we appreciate in a whole new way. It was a Thanksgiving to remember and to cherish for years to come. We think Zoe said it best….
ZOE: When I gave thanks at our Thanksgiving dinner, this is the toast I made: “I feel so thankful tonight for my amazing grandparents who traveled across the world to spend this week with us and to treat us to such an amazing time in the Whitsundays. I’m also thankful for my two sisters who are so helpful to me on long travel days, and they play with me and help me a lot if I’m feeling sad. And I’m also thankful for my parents who have brought us around the world and are helping us experience all of these magical things. After being in places with lots of poverty and seeing the different ways people in the world live, I feel extremely grateful for what we have and I am just looking at this dinner table and I feel so blessed and so lucky that we have all of this, and I hope that all of you feel the same way!”
Departing from Hayman, Pops headed across the globe to New Jersey, while Mumsy continued on with us for some time in Melbourne, a beautiful eastern coastal city further south from Sydney. It was hard to give Pops one last big hug that would have to last us until sometime in the early spring when he promised to find us again, wherever we may be! Happy to have Mumsy still with us, we said goodbye to the tropical paradise of the Great Barrier Reef and headed off to explore the city of Melbourne. See you there!