For the second time, I went to Electric Beach on Oahu. This time I went on a Sunday, and boy was it crowded! Apparently weekdays are much better.
I was extremely upset to see two random men come along and punch a sea turtle on the back. I have no idea what that was about, but it seemed like some kind of macho thing. I wish people would respect endangered species and keep the required two meters away.
Anyway, as I have said before, Electric Beach is where the heated water from inside the power plant on the shore pours out of big pipes.
Lots of things like to come there. Last time I saw a sting ray. This time, several small green sea turtles.
The coral is small. It’s not like Guam, with huge coral stacks that build reefs that dwarf me. There are mostly rocks, and then some small corals living on them.
Even without big corals, there is no shortage of interesting sea life. There are some very pretty sea urchins that live among the rocks.
If you go to Oahu, take the trip out of Oahu and up the coast. It’s worth it.
Particularly if your goal is to see turtles, Electric Beach is a good spot. I noticed that most of the people on the Great Barrier Reef tour with me were out to see turtles. They really are some of the cutest things in the ocean.
I am still sad about the loss of our resident turtle by my house at Fish Eye, whom we called “Larry.” The other turtles here are great, but they are strangers who come and go. Larry was like a friend who was there every day to go for a swim and play.
This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.
The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.
It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.
The big highlights to note from the trip are:
1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)
I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)
2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)
On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.
3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?
However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.
4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.
If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.
We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.
5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.
However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.
6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.
If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.
As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.
Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.
Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.
Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.
Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.
Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.
And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.
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.