Of all the things I saw and did in Australia, the two best things were the Great Barrier Reef and the Butterfly Garden.
My YouTube Channel has the best of the Great Barrier Reef stuff, because video comes out better than pictures in water full of sediment.
However, the pictures from the butterfly garden are better than the video, so I wanted to do an entire post just to show off the butterfly pictures.
The butterfly garden in Kuranda has a building full of caterpillars, so you can see what the juvenile butterflies look like.
The main building is the garden, which is full of all kinds of amazing flowers and water features.
Now, I know butterflies are not everyone’s thing. I am sure most people would have been more excited by the markets and the shopping opportunities.
However, I like watching butterflies. You can just sit down and watch them flutter around. If you hold very still, one might even land on you.
When I traveled with the Renaissance Festival (way back in my early twenties) there was a butterfly garden at one of the fairs in Texas. I used to love to sit in there and watch the butterflies.
If I ever have a back yard again, I hope to fill it with flowers so I can attract butterflies to my yard. Of course, I won’t catch them and pin them under glass like the gift shop, because that is horrifying.
I spent about a week in Sydney while I was in Australia.
I stayed in the Railway Station YHA, which I definitely recommend. It was cheap, clean, and nice.
Some of that time was just for sight-seeing. Some of that time was to visit my fabulous friend Shari, who flew up from Melbourne to see me.
Sydney was harder to get around than I expected, since the buses do not have posted routes inside them and they don’t announce stops. Getting around South Korea was actually easier since the stops were announced, and the routes were posted on bus stops and inside buses.
I did like the train system though. That was quick and efficient, and the stops are announced on the trains.
I did all the usual stuff, like visiting the shops in The Rocks and going to the Sydney Aquarium. It was lots of fun.
I also saw all the famous sights, like the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.
Of course I love plants as much as I love fish (which is a lot.) So, the very best part was the Royal Botanical Gardens.
I tried the Big Bus Tour since a roommate at the hostel gave me her ticket for her second day. It was actually really awesome to just sit for a day and listen to the headphones talk about the history of Sydney, but it’s better to use the train to get to the tourist spots.
I tried all kinds of food. Some of the best Chinese dumplings I have ever had, avocado toast, and some German pastries to name a few. There are some very good restaurants in Sydney.
I loved Sydney. The mix of old and new is very cool. You’ll see a Cathedral from colonial days next to a brand new building; all glass and plants.
Plus, I met a lot of cool people. An Egyptian immigrant named Sayeed helped me when I was lost. A French girl on vacation gave me advice on things she liked to see. And several ozzies took the time to sit down with me and tell me about their country and what it is like to live there.
We have talked about moving to another country when Rich gets out of the military. We have thought a lot about Canada, Mexico, France, and Thailand. But honestly, Australia was the best I have seen so far. I think it’s at the top of the list now.
I took a tour of the blue mountains through a company called Barefoot Down under. I chose them specifically because the flier claimed that only a “moderate” level of fitness was required (while other tours said the hiking was “hard” or “difficult.”)
As a cancer survivor with a heart condition, I struggle. I mean, I am not unfit. I run three times a week at the gym and I swim nearly every day. I can and have hiked all day. In fact, just last year I did the 888 stairs to the top of Ulsan-Bawi in Seoraksan.
That said, I can’t go at break-neck speeds. I can’t run up and down trails. I do need to hike slowly. And that is why I chose the tour group that said the difficulty was only moderate.
Unfortunately, the tour group leader decided that running was the only way to hike.
Honestly, it would have been fine if we got to Wenworth Falls recreation area, and then he pointed out the easy trail to me to get to the falls. It was short, and I saw children and old people on it. After all, I had disclosed that I had a heart condition, and if he was planning on running wildly down the trails, then he should have let me do my own thing and given me a time to meet back up with the group.
However, he didn’t.
He took me into the jungle and then told me the path he was taking to the falls would be “too hard for me” and to “just sit at the trail fork.” I sat. And sat. And sat. He never came back for me and the group did not return. I ended up deciding to hike back out on my own, and I sure am lucky I did! The tour guide had decided to take everyone out going a different way, and I would have missed them all and got left in the forest by myself.
To add insult to injury, he had his wife e-mail me to say “You have wondered off. Please return to the tour or you will be left behind.” When I got back to the city and had wifi, I checked it and when I saw that i was livid. He told me to stay behind, and then planned to say I wandered off and it was my own fault.
Luckily, I decided to hike out on my own.
However, I couldn’t very well yell at him in front of everyone when I re-joined the group (and boy did he look surprised to see me.) After all, one of the other girls on the tour told me that he had pretended to try to come and find me (which I know he didn’t, because I did not move.) Ergo, he played it up for them so that he could make sure it looked like my fault.
I took the high road and tried to act cheerful for the rest of the day. We went to a restaurant with overpriced kangaroo burgers, a street full of graffiti, and an overlook to take pictures. However, the whole time I was thinking about how the guide had tried to leave me in the woods because I confessed to having a heart condition and he wanted to run all day.
The thing that gets me is this: He could have just said “This hike is rated difficult” on the flier. If he had done so, I never would have gone on the tour. I wouldn’t have paid a bunch of money to see Wentworth Falls (which I never got to see.) I would have looked for another tour, or taken a bus up to the park and hiked at my own pace like my friends did when they went to the Blue Mountains.
So basically, the tour flier is misleading. It is not “moderate” in difficulty. It is “hard.” That is something they should change immediately. I have no idea how Wenworth Falls looks, and I spent about an hour in the woods reading my book instead of finding out because the tour guide told me that I was “breathing too hard” as he was literally running up a hill and I tried to follow, and so he told me that I should “wait here until the group returns.” I was pretty disappointed.
On the upside, we did come across Chris Darwin (the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin) completely by chance. So, I got to meet him. At least that was something.
The first place I stayed was the YHA Hostel in Bondi Beach. It’s a little out-of-the-way (as in, not on the main strip in front of the beach.) However, I actually enjoyed that a lot because we could hear the ocean instead of the people partying late into the night. It’s a run-down sort of hostel where everyone is on beach time (as in, not in a hurry,) but I like that as well.
It was a short walk down to Bondi Beach if you went one way, and a short walk down to Bronte Beach if you went the other. Both are beautiful, but Bondi Beach is certainly the more crowded of the two.
The best part was taking the coastal walk along the cliff-sides and seeing all the fabulous views. You can walk through Waverly Cemetery as part of the coastal walk as well, and that is a beautiful place full of old gravestones from early colonial days.
I walked all the way to Clovelly Bay, since I planned to snorkel there. It is a significant distance and there is a lot of up and down-hill, so I recommend a moderate fitness level or a bus pass so you don’t have to get back the same way if it’s too much for you.
Still, you can’t beat the views of the coast in the Sydney area! The sandstone cliffs are striking, and the little beaches inside coves are full of cheerful families and surfers. It’s really a delightful walk.
As you know, I recently visited Australia. I already posted pictures of my snorkel adventures on the Great Barrier Reef, but I also snorkeled in Clovelly Bay, Sydney.
It was freezing cold (to someone who lives on Guam) but I saw my first groupers outside of an aquarium, and that was magical.
I highly recommend that anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps and snorkel any of the Sydney stops from Manly Beach to Clovelly Bay to get a wet suit. I should have, but it was the middle of the summer in Australia and I thought it would be really hot.
Turns out, that is not how Australia works. Water coming up from South America is cold year round. Now I know.
At any rate, it was my first time snorkeling or diving outside a tropical environment since childhood. Instead of coral, there are plants and something that looks an awful lot like moss.
That was quite different. Most of the fish were less colorful, which I expected. However, some were surprising colorful for living in cold water.
I hadn’t snorkeled in a cold environment since my trip to Catalina Bay in Middle School. I remember the huge kelp forests, and how the little orange Garibaldi fish and bright purple star fish really stuck out in the sea of greens. This felt very similar to that.
The Reef actually has more bleaching than Guam. If I had to guess, I would say that the shallower water must be the reason (shallow water heats up faster.) Guam is next to the Marianas Trench, so I imagine the overall water temperature in our region might be colder, even though we are on the equator.
You might think it is the types of coral, but it’s definitely not. Nearly all the corals I saw on the Great Barrier Reef were the same as the corals in Guam. There were only a few differences.
Some of the fish I saw on the reef were bigger, which I would guess is because I was snorkeling in deeper water there than what I usually would (since I get better pictures in shallow water.)
There were some huge parrot fish, as well as some large cod and sea bass. I saw a few sharks as well. In Guam I usually see black-tipped reef sharks, but on the reef I saw white-tipped reef sharks. So, that was new.
It was jellyfish season, and I definitely didn’t know that when I booked the trip! We had to wear stinger suits the whole time.
I have actually never seen so many jellyfish in one place. However, the stinger suits protected us, and no one got stung except the guy who took his hood off.
My YouTube Channel has lots of footage of the Reef and all the cool things we saw. I definitely recommend taking a look, if you like the under water world.
The tour guides told me that the best time to see the reef is in August. That is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, so I would have thought it would be stormy then.
However, they say the summer is far more stormy, and the good visibility is definitely in August.
So if you go to The Great Barrier Reef, I can recommend Carins Dive Center (who I went through) and their boat The Kangaroo Explorer (which I did the live abroad package on for three days and two nights.) But I can’t recommend going in January, because it was stormy and it was also jellyfish season.
Note: Click the links in this post to see the videos on my YouTube Channel.