Thursday, October 4, 2012

Australia/New Zealand Trip days 3-5

Day 3:
Our third day began bright & early as we got picked up by a 12 passenger van to take us on our Hunter Valley wine tour.  On this tour, we went to five different wineries in the Hunter Valley, and we sampled several of the different kinds of wine. Our tour group was a small one, consisting of a couple from Scotland, two guys from Ireland, a newly married couple from Texas, and our Aussie guide. It was a great group dynamic & we had a great time learning about & sampling the Australian wines. Our favorite winery was our last stop of the day: Blueberry Hill. This vineyard was a small, privately owned one, with an elderly gentleman running and operating it.  You could only buy his wine at his cellar door--it's not for sale in stores. Blueberry Hill's claim to fame was their 55 year old Merlot vines which produced a distinctively rich red wine.  In 2006, this small vineyard won best Merlot in the WORLD. After tasting it, Kyle and I bought a bottle of it from him to enjoy on our last night in AU. Kyle & I were also impressed with the atmosphere at Blueberry Hill because we had just come from Tempus Two, a large, commercialized vineyard, that produces large amounts of wine and sells them to stores around the world--including our shop on post in Korea. Blueberry Hill, though, blew us away by the sheer simplicity and beauty of the location.

After we got back from daylong wine tasting excursion, we ventured out for some dinner in Sydney, and then walked around to see what the nightlife was like. It was a Friday night, so it was hopping!

Day 4:
Today was our last morning in Sydney before our 3pm flight up to Cairns. We decided to spend the morning back at the harbor for one last breakfast overlooking the view. After walking around the Opera House for the last time, we made our way back to our hotel to pack up our things and get on the road. We jumped on the train to head back to the airport, where they were making announcements that there had been a fatality on the track and that anyone trying to get to the airport had to get off the line and take a bus a few blocks away. Thankfully, we had headed toward the airport early enough that we didn't have to stress this setback. After we got off the train and headed for the bus, we realized that there were about 150-200 people also waiting for the same bus. After waiting for 20 minutes or so with still no bus in sight, we grabbed a taxi, and made our way to the airport so that we didn't risk missing our flight. We shared a cab with a guy from France and another guy from Australia, who were both trying to get to the airport, as well.

Our flight was pretty uneventful, other than the fact that I had a few hours to start working on blogging our vacation memories. I feel like this is a great way to share these stories with close friends and family back home, as well as it’s a great way to preserve these memories for ourselves. At the end of a long vacation (two weeks is long for us…we’re used to four-day-weekend-European-style-vacays), it’s easy to forget the “little” things that happen and make impressions on you, so that’s the main motive behind this blog.

Day 5:
It’s time to board the liveaboard!!! We had a VERY early 5:50am pick-up from our hotel, to take us to the dive shop to get fitted for our gear before boarding our ship. Once we boarded, we met the other people who would be diving/snorkeling with us. There were about 32 people on the ship, so it wasn’t a huge group, which was nice. There was only one other couple from the US, and they were from Boston. The majority of the others onboard were from various countries in Europe, and there were a few Australians, as well.
We knew going into this trip that liveaboards were for “hardcore divers” but we didn’t realize just how true this statement was until after the first day was complete. In a nutshell this was our first day: eat breakfast while the boat drove two hours out to a good reef diving spot; dive #1; eat lunch; dive #2; drink coffee & eat cake snack; dive #3; eat dinner; night-dive (first ever for Kyle and I!!!!); exhausted – sleep. Seriously: eat, sleep, dive, period.

The diving around the reef is STUNNING. The colors are vibrant, even though they don’t show up the best in our photos – I guess that’s what you get when you only spend a couple hundred dollars on a diving camera, versus some of the $1,000+ cameras out there for diving.
We saw several huge sea turtles, a honeycomb monoray eel (leopard printed!!! so cool!!), barracuda, ginormous groupers, a plethora of other fish/clams/sea-life, and two lion-fish on our very first night-dive…so exciting!

The reef is great to dive around because first of all, it is HUGE; it’s amazing to us that we are on a boat full of other divers, but yet on some of our dives, Kyle and I haven’t come across ANYONE at all because this place is so large and spread out. The water is Bahama-blue and crystal clear, and entices you to jump right in. It’s a great time of year to be here because it’s warm outside, sunny, and the water is the perfect temperature!

Our first night dive experience was a really cool one. Neither of us had ever been diving at night before, so to say we were both a little nervous is an understatement. I was terrified and made up a hand signal with Kyle to signal that “I hate this…go back to the boat” if necessary. Thankfully, I didn't have to use this signal, but better safe than sorry. I didn't want to get 18 meters under the water to have a panic attack because of the creepy darkness surrounding me. We had “torches” as our Aussie dive guide kept calling them, which amounted to nothing more than an underwater flashlight. We ended up really enjoying the night dive, and it wasn't as scary as we had first thought it might be. 

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