FNQ: Day 6: Saturday 29 April 2006

29 04 2006

ANOTHER rest day – gee, I could get used to this!

Today we had one activity planned – Dave wanted to try the cable water skiing so he did that and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, though he was a bit sore afterwards… He probably won't be able to walk tomorrow!

I had a call from the Kuranda Skytrain people and we can't do the train part tomorrow, only the Skyrail as the landslide that has kept the train out of action is still not repaired. At least that saves us $80! So we'll go up to Kuranda and back on the Skyrail.

Today the weather was quite good – and the sea was relatively calm in contrast to how it's been all week. Hopefully it will remain calm for our trip to the reef on Monday.

This afternoon we ventured down to the Surf Lifesaving Club for a bite to eat and to play some more pool. I headed back to the villa at 3:30 as I needed to rehearse my presentation for the conference next week. Also, I have to drive to the airport later on to pick up my sister, her husband, and their little boy – they fly in from Perth for a week (I think).

Update: Picked up the family from the airport in their little car. The brake light continued to go on and off without any logical reason, then when we were heading back to Palm Cove, the horn sounded intermittently. So something's not right with the electrical system in that car. My sister and brother-in-law have just purchased another holiday unit in Palm Cove – this time at the Angsana Spa Resort. It's a penthouse unit, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (3 bed/1 bath upstairs), full kitchen, dining, living etc. And it's VERY nice. Overlooks the ocean across the pool through the palm trees though we couldn't see it as it was dark! They walked me back to where we're staying, then I went out to get pizza. It had been very humid all afternoon – and I soon found out just how humid it was! I got quite wet going down to the pizza place only to find they'd closed the kitchen. Then Jeff went down to the Surf Club to get some beers, and got SOAKED. I think they call this level of humidity "torrential rain"… We eventually got pizzas from Il Forno Italian restaurant – they were good too – and watched some of the West Coast Eagles vs Brisbane football game on TV (the Eagles won).

FNQ: Day 5: Friday 28 April 2006

29 04 2006

Another rest day. The intention was to go to an outer reef on the Great Barrier Reef today, but the weather was 'iffy'. Heavy rain overnight, very cloudy, and the waves were pounding a little too loud on the shore. So I called and postponed the trip until Monday – again, dependent on the weather. We've purchased Dramamine in case it's a bit rough on the boat going out and back, so that's not a problem. However, thick cloudy skies mean that the sun doesn't shine into the water as well, which means you can't see the fish and the coral as clearly.

Instead we decided to try the cable water skiing as Dave wanted to give that a go. Unfortunately, they were putting new equipment into the water when we arrived, and the 10-15 minutes wait grew to well over 30 mins before we decided to come back either later in the day or tomorrow.

Quick change of plans, and off we went south of Cairns to Innisfail. We'd visited Innisfail the last time we were here and it's a very typical Australian country town. However, 5 weeks ago it was in the direct path of Cyclone Larry (a category 5 cyclone/hurricane/typhoon), so suffered a lot of infrastructure damage, though – fortunately – no loss of life.

While there's a bit of an ethical question for me about being a tourist in a town damaged by such a tragedy, the other side says that the town needs all the support it can get, and if that means turning up and purchasing some local goods and services, that has to help the economy in a very small way.

The damage to houses, trees, and plantations (esp. bananas) is pretty extensive. Many houses and businesses still have tarps covering some or all of their rooves, and road crews were visible cleaning up vegetation and damaged roads. Evidence of flooding could be seen at all river crossings too. However, the town of Innisfail was bustling with people and most businesses were open.

In the spirit of consistency, my husband and I had steak sandwiches for lunch (Dave had a Hawaiian burger) at a little take-out cafe in the main street of town (Pete's??). Excellent tucker! And cheap too – $6 each for the steak sandwiches and they were laden with goodies!

After our large lunches we wandered down to the river foreshore at the end of the main street, and saw up close the damage that a cyclone can do. Three HUGE trees in the park were just ripped out of the ground. Clean-up crews have removed all the branches that were hanging over the path and over the boats moored there, but the bases of the trees and their root systems were still exposed. The power of a wind to do that to a tree is hard to comprehend. Strangely, many rooves of businesses lining the foreshore were still intact – I'd have thought that a wind that could rip a massive tree out of the ground would have had no trouble ripping sheets of iron off a roof across the road.

River foreshore at Innisfail

We drove back to Palm Cove, dropping Dave off at the aboriginal theatre (Tjupakai?) near the Kuranda Skyrail while we got some groceries and refuelled 'the tomato'.

Dinner tonight was a stir-fried chicken with fresh ginger (from Innisfail) and chili, salad, and a multi-grain bread also from Innisfail. We may not have contributed much, but we did throw a few dollars into Innisfail's economy.


Restaurant pricing: Australia

28 04 2006

I've said my piece about pricing in the US, but there's an area of pricing in Australian restaurants that both annoys me and pleases me.

When you eat in most Australian restaurants or cafes the price you pay for your meal is what's on the menu – as is what you get. If you want anything extra than what's described (e.g. a salad, vegies, bread, soup, etc.) you usually pay extra for those items. This is great if you just want that meal – if you don't want salad with your meal, then you don't pay for it. So it very much works on the 'user pays' principle, unlike the US where MANY meals come with soup or salad and other bits and pieces as standard. For those of us brought up on the "clean your plate – think of the starving [Indians/Biafrans/whatever]" the whole shebang provided in US restaurants is a trap as you tend to eat WAY more than you intended.

But the down side to the 'user pays for any extras' principle in Australia is that you can end up paying way more for your meal for items that cost the restaurant very little to produce, such as a plain garden salad. We got caught last night – Dave asked for bread and butter. Surprisingly for this restaurant, he got 2 slices of white bread such as you'd use for breakfast toast! We all expected some crusty bread, such as that I had for the Bruschetta. When we paid the bill, the restaurant had charged us $1.90 for the pathetic bread and butter – hell, you can buy the whole sliced loaf in the supermarket for that!

The other thing that got us was the credit card charge – which none of us had seen detailed on the blackboard menu outside, or the actual menu. It was 5% of the bill – and, in my opinion, is an absolute rip-off as the credit card providers only charge vendors between 1 and 3% (vendors are now allowed to pass on this charge). That means we were paying between 2 and 4% extra just because we chose to use a credit card. Well, hello! We chose to use a credit card because we DON'T walk around with that much cash on us all the time, and because we want an accurate reckoning and evidence of expenditure. That meant that we paid an extra $7 on this bill.

However, I do feel sorry for the very young girl who finalised our bill. She apologised most profusely for this charge – numerous times. As we left the restaurant my husband asked if we'd seen the manager walk past. We hadn't – he said that the manager looked daggers at the girl when she heard her apologise to us for the credit card charge. So no doubt the girl is in for it and will be told in no uncertain terms that she should never do that again. Poor kid.

FNQ: Day 4: Thursday 27 April 2006

28 04 2006

A rest day today. We got up late, lolled around for a while, Dave went shopping for tourist souvenirs and gifts (yes, Stevie, stuff for you too!), then we drove in to Cairns to take a walk around there and have some lunch.

Lunch was at the Rattle & Hum bar and grill down on the esplanade; Dave and I shared a wood-fired Peppered Chicken pizza and my husband had ANOTHER steak sandwich! Maybe he's going to write a book on "Steak Sandwiches of the World", starting with those in FNQ…

We played some pool for a while, then headed back to Palm Cove for a swim in a different sort of pool (swimming in the ocean across the road is out of the question – the water is brown and murky, the waves are fairly high, but most importantly, the deadly stingers are still around). The pool is slightly heated so swimming is very pleasant, and the hot tub was nice and warm. Well, what we were doing wasn't exactly swimming! That's way too athletic… mostly we lolled around floating on our backs watching the fruit bats in the palm trees above.

Those fruit bats are really cool. When they fly across the sky they just look like the Batman logo. I'd estimate their wing span at about 12 or 15 inches across, so they're not small. One was so protective of the fruit and flowers it was eating that it literally batted a bird out of the way. Too funny!

Fruit bat looking like Batman!

After an hour or so getting all prune-like in the pool and hot tub,we wandered down the street to the Apres Beach Cafe for dinner. Dave ordered Mango Daiquiris for me and him, while the hubby had a Kilkenny. Those Mango Daiquiris were VERY nice. I ate lighter tonight with some Bruschetta and a Chicken Caesar Salad; Dave had Creamy Garlic Prawns, and hubby had a Jungle Chicken and Coconut Curry. The meal wasn't cheap and the service was lacking a bit, but it was a good feed.

An early night as we have to leave for Cairns at 7:30am tomorrow if we do the Reef tour – the weather first thing tomorrow will dictate whether we go or not.


FNQ: Day 3: Wednesday 26 April 2006

26 04 2006

Another 'tourist' day today, but by the end we were about 'touristed out' for a while!

After booking activities for Friday (Outer Reef trip) and Sunday (Kuranda skytrain and skyrail), we got back into our little tomato-red car (Hyundai Getz) and headed north. The destination: Cape Tribulation, the farthest north you can go on paved road on the eastern coast of Australia. The aim was to head north without stopping along the way and do the stops on the way back. So that's what we did.

The weather was quite nice – cloudy but fine, with moderate winds… a beautiful day for driving in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Some of the sights along the way: rainforest almost falling into the edge of the ocean, sugar cane plantations, "beware of crocodile" signs, Mossman Gorge, the World-Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest.

To keep our stomachs in the state to which they've become accustomed, we stopped for lunch at the general store at Myall Creek – and what a lunch! Dave and I had the superb $10.50 fish and chips (the fish was Red Emperor, no less), and Jeff had the $10.00 steak sandwich (made with rib-eye steak [aka Scotch Fillet]). Great food, great value! Then we stopped for ice-cream at the Daintree Ice-Cream Factory. They only do four flavours at a time, in the one cup. And today's flavours were: banana, raspberry, wattleseed, and soursop. While we were having our ice-creams, lots of fabulous butterflies were flitting between the trees and bushes. Big blue Ulysses, gorgeous lime green ones, and other really large multi-coloured butterflies.

Port Douglas was the last stop and there we ended up at the Iron Bar to play pool and for the guys to have a couple of beers (cider in Dave's case).


FNQ: Day 2: Tuesday April 25

26 04 2006

We decided to 'do' the Cairns Tropical Zoo today, then meander up in to the Atherton Tablelands in the afternoon. As it was Anzac Day, most retail places were closed, but the Zoo was open and we expected a pub or two to be open after 1pm so we hoped to have a late lunch at one of them.

The highlight of the Cairns Tropical Zoo was the free flight bird show. We needed to sit in the shade and where we sat was just the BEST. Two of the birds (a red-tailed black cockatoo and a barn owl) had their flight paths directly over our heads… close enough to touch us with the downward beat of their wings. Amazing.

Other zoo highlights were the crocodiles – man, are some of those guys HUGE! – and the koalas. I think it's the first time I've touched a koala and the fur is amazingly soft. One of the koalas hung asleep in a branch looking like he'd had about 5 or 6 Jack Daniels and cokes too many (he's the one on the right in the pics below). Too funny.

As far as zoos go, this one was quite small, but came with a hefty entry fee of $28 per adult. I'm not sure it was worth that, but it was a pretty neat zoo nonetheless.

Koala at Cairns Tropical Zoo Too many Jack and cokes?

We finished at the zoo about noon, then drove south of Cairns to near Gordonvale where we turned inland towards Atherton. Going up and over the Great Dividing Range is pretty hair-raising. The road is narrow and winding, and the drops off the side are deadly. The views are fantastic, but some of those bends were a little stomach-churning for me (I was in the back, so that didn't help).

We decided to stop for lunch at the Peeramon Hotel just off the main road. We'd been there before and had a great steak snadwich, and as this is an OLD Queensland pub (built in 1908 and full of character – and characters!) we thought it would appeal to Dave. However it was a bit of a disappointment as there was no lunch on today and the place was looking quite tired and jaded after sustaining some significant structural damage from Cyclone Larry only 5 weeks ago. So the guys had a beer each and played (badly!) one game of pool, then we went back to the Lake Eachem Roadhouse and had lunch. Dave reckons the hamburger he had was the best he's EVER had, anywhere. That was probably because it was home-made, not like the burgers in the US which are all pre-packaged reconstituted cardboard (in my not so humble opinion!). We had steak burgers and they were great too. Good old Aussie burgers – beetroot and all!

After lunch we continued on to Atherton looking for somewhere that sold ice-cream, but Atherton was basically closed. However, on the road to Mareeba we came across a roadside market at Tolga that sold locally made ice-cream. It was delicious. I had 2 scoops – one of banana/coconut, the other of macadamia nut/caramel. The lady in the store talked to us about the various fruits they had and mentioned something none of us had ever heard of – dragonfruit (aka 'pitaya' from Central and South America). They made a sweet chili sauce from it and Dave was totally hooked!

We bypassed Mareeba and headed back towards Cairns via Kuranda. Another very winding road with sensational views of the coast at various points. Well 'do' Kuranda later in the week.

In honour of Anzac Day I cooked kangaroo fillet steaks tonight for dinner with chili sausages and a plain salad. We were going to have a BBQ but it was pretty dark, so I cooked inside. The kangaroo was delicious – it had marinaded in chili and Cajun spices and olive oil all day! We had Wild Lime dressing on the salad, and that was delicious too – wild limes are an indigenous food, and I'm not sure they are actually from the cirtrus family, but they have the same tang.

All in all, a satisfying day… even if our stomachs were groaning a little under all that lovely food!

FNQ: Day 1: Monday 24 April

25 04 2006

My American friend and colleague, Dave, was on the same flights as us from LA to Sydney to Cairns, and is spending a week with us in Palm Cove before we all head to Cairns for the next conference. Palm Cove is about 25kms north of Cairns and we're staying in a holiday villa right on the esplanade, overlooking the beach through the large melaleucas and palm trees.

FNQ (Far North Queensland) has had a LOT of rain in the 5 weeks since Cyclone Larry went through, according to the locals, and today (Monday) was one of the first fine days they had. Of course, you get rain in a tropical rainforest… that's to be expected (as is the humidity), but I hope we get some more fine days so Dave can enjoy this little part of the world in the sunshine.

So far we haven't made any plans for the week – we'll do that tomorrow. Today was all about arriving in Cairns from the US, getting the shuttle to Palm Cove, checking in, unpacking, renting a car to get us around, and doing some grocery shopping before the shops closed because tomorrow (Tuesday) is Anzac Day and almost everything will be closed, either for the whole day or until at least noon. And going for a dip in the pool and watching the fruit bats in the palm trees and flying overhead!

As the day drew to a close and we sat out facing the ocean with a red wine for me and beers for the guys, we wondered what the rich people were doing!

Elapsed time

25 04 2006

I figured I went almost 45 hours without sleep (except for a few very short cat naps on the long flight from the USA to Australia):

  • Chicago: getting up to departing: 10 hours
  • Chicago to LA: 5 hours
  • Waiting for next flight at LAX: 4 hours
  • LAX to Sydney: 14 hours
  • Waiting for next flight at Sydney: 2 hours
  • Sydney to Cairns: 3 hours
  • Staying awake until 7:30pm in Cairns: 6.5 hours

I think the only thing that kept me from being totally ragged was the shower I had at LAX and the one again in Sydney. There's just something about a shower that recharges the batteries. These days it's about the only benefit I get from being in the Qantas Club. Sure, there's the snack food (and I must say Qantas beats the American Airlines' Admiral's Club hands down on that score), and the free drinks, but it's the showers that really do it for me!

Mmm… flying…

22 04 2006

I’m not really looking forward to today. We’re currently in Chicago and fly to Los Angeles later this afternoon (4+ hour flight), then we have a 5 hour wait at LAX before the 14+ hour flight to Sydney. Once we arrive in Sydney we have another 2+ hour wait before the 3+ flight to Cairns. I figure that from getting up in Chicago this morning to arriving in Palm Cove, Queensland it will be about 35 hours elapsed time. And with my history of not sleeping on planes, that could be 35 hours without sleep…

However, I’ve now got my talking book MP3s on my player so I hope the 14 hour battery life lives up to expectations! If nothing else, I’ll get some books ‘read’ while on the flights. I’ve also got a real book to read and some Sudoku puzzles, and a Kafka short story, and then there’s the movies on Qantas.

Our friend Dave is on the same flights from LA to Cairns, though I have no idea if we’re sitting near him or not. He sleeps anyway – takes those little pills (the ones that don’t work for me) and zonks out for the duration. Lucky man.

At least we can do the airport ‘hang around’ time in the Qantas and American Airlines lounges. I’ve heard that the Qantas Club lounge at LAX has been upgraded – not before time; it was awful. I’ll find out this evening…

Update: We were in Terminal 4 at LAX and you share the lounge with American Airlines, so it was large and spacious and much better than the little hole they put you into in the Tom Bradley Terminal. I cat napped on the plane and as the overhead light was dazzling in the darkened capsule of the plane, I listened to about 12 chapters of a Bill Bryson book.

Springtime in Michigan

22 04 2006

April is one of those months. In Australia, it is autumn and the weather can be absolutely beautiful or pretty miserable. In the US, it is springtime and the same can be said about the weather.

We arrived in Chicago on the night of April 13 to a city that had just experienced 80F weather, so the night was warm and balmy. No need for the polar fleece jackets at all. The weather report for later that night was thunderstorms and pretty gloomy weather. April 14 (Good Friday) dawned fine and sunny – blue skies, little or no cloud – and with no evidence of the thunderstorms predicted the night before.

We had picked up the rental car the night before (another Chrysler 300 from Thrifty… with the extra charges) and stayed overnight at an Extended Stay America hotel (always good value for money) close to O'Hare Airport.

The drive to Manistee was expected to take 4-5 hours, but Chicago is one of those cities where there's ALWAYS construction happening on the freeways, and so it was that day. By the time we got to Michigan City in Indiana it was nearly lunchtime, so we stopped for a bite to eat and asked some local police the best way to get to Manistee from there without going on the Interstate (I didn't have a map this time).

After a bum steer from the local cops, we finally stopped and bought a map from a gas station and got on the right road heading north instead of due east as the cops had told us!

It was a pretty drive and a beautiful sunny day, and we arrived in Manistee around 5:30pm local time. We went straight to my cousin Shelley's kitchenwares shop (The Ideal Kitchen, River St, Manistee, MI), which she'd opened only three days before. The shop is fabulous and she's carrying an extensive range of good quality items. Tim (Shelley's husband) was there and the twins arrived soon after. Lots of hugs, laughs, and chatter.

We checked in to the local Microtel Inn and Suites and dropped off our stuff before heading over to their house for dinner (home-made hamburgers done on the char grill outside – yum!) and lots more talking.

The Tim Tams went down a treat. I don't know what it is about Tim Tams, but everyone in the US who's ever tried one loves them! We taught them how to bite off the ends and use a Tim Tam as a straw. Tim used his as a 'straw' to suck through some whiskey, Shelley sucked up a chocolate liqueur (Temptation?) through hers, while the girls sucked milk through their Tim Tams. Too funny!

Next day we took a long drive through upstate Michigan, driving from Manistee up Highway 131 Petoskey and then on to Mackinaw City and the Mackinac Bridge. Again, the weather was superb. Everything is starting to green up – the buds are appearing on the trees, the grass by the side of the road is already green, and some flowers are blooming – daffodils mainly.

I thought I'd be a bit scared going over the Mackinac bridge as it's very high and about 5 miles long, separating Lake Michigan from Lake Huron and the main part of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula. But it was fine. The bridge has a low gradient to its peak and is not scary at all. Then again, it was a fine, sunny day with light winds. I don't know whether I'd feel the same in a raging blizzard…

We intended having a bite to eat in St Ignace (pron. St Ignus), but it was closed! A 70F day, fine, sunny, warm… and almost everything was closed. The locals weren't too friendly either. I stopped in one general store type place and asked if they had fudge (the girls had recommended we get some). "Noop" was the only response. When I asked about pasties (recommended by Tim), the answer was also "Noop". That was it. No suggestion on where I might get some, no "can I help you with anything else?", just "noop".

So we turned around and went back to Mackinaw City (6 miles away across the bridge) which was open. We found a pastie shop and had a pastie with taco sauce and sour cream. Very big, but nice. Origins are the Cornish Pasties brought across by the miners who worked the copper and iron mines close by. As far as we could tell, pasties just aren't available anywhere else in the US. These were nice – very meaty.

We headed back to Manistee via Petoskey and then Highways 72 and 22 following the shores of Lake Michigan down the west side of the Michigan peninsula. The road only touches the shoreline in very few places, so we were mostly travelling through farmlands and woods. Very pretty, helped by the fact that it was a GORGEOUS day for a drive.

Saturday night dinner at Tim and Shelley's was chicken in a crock pot. Delicious. The girls paraded their prom dresses (the prom is next Saturday and they graduate in May; they're both off to College in Grand Valley (?) in the fall – one to study Business, the other Education).

We spent Sunday morning at Tim and Shelley's. Again, the weather was gorgeous and we sat out on the back deck in the sun for quite a while. Easter Sunday lunch was 'big-ass ham' with all the trimmings – and it was delicious. Shelley's a great cook and her plans to run cooking classes in the store are a good idea.

All too soon our time with this lovely family was over and we headed south on Highways 55, 115, 10, and 127 to central Michigan to stay with Shelley's Mum and Dad (and my aunt and uncle) – Lois and Harold – for the remainder of the week.


For the entire week the weather has been fantastic – blue sunny skies, with hardly a cloud. The days with Harold and Lois have morphed into a bit of a blur. Lots of talk, laughs, terrific meals, and cards… Euchre and a new game called "Jokers and Marbles". The girls against the boys – and by Wednesday night the scores were 5 to the girls and 2 to the boys.

On Tuesday night, Brian (cousin) and Cathy came by and lots more talk and laughs, especially some of their stories about the Caribbean cruise they all went on a few weeks ago to celebrate Harold and Lois' 50th Wedding Anniversary (which was actually last year). And on Wednesday night Bruce (cousin) and Nancy and Brian and Cathy came over. Liz (Brian and Cathy's daughter) stopped by as well. We watched the DVD from the cruise and saw Harold getting his "Mr Sexy Legs" award!

On Wednesday we drove to a mall close to Lansing (Meridien Mall) and did some last shopping as we leave the US on Saturday. It was such a warm and beautiful day that we stopped by an ice-cream stand and had some HUGE ice-creams – Traverse City Cherry Fudge hand-dip for me, and Blueberry soft serve for my LP.

I'm writing this on Thursday morning (April 20) and the weather today is also expected to be fine, warm (75F) and sunny, and looking out the window across the farm right now, that seems to be a very accurate prediction.

Update: Thursday we went to Owosso for some groceries and a late lunch of ribs at Eddie O'Flynn's! Mmmm… Then to Joanne and Bubba's on Lake Victoria for raspberry pie and some card games. No wonder so many Americans are big… all that food! It all tasted wonderful, but the serves were so big. I ate my four very large ribs, then left the pork tenderloin and whole chicken breast and took them in a 'doggy bag'. Way too much food.

BBQ Sampler at Eddie O'Flynn's

Friday was our last day with family. We left just after noon and headed to Chicago, stopping in Portage, MI for last minute shopping at Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. We arrived in Chicago around 5:30pm so with the stop it was about a 5 hour drive. The weather reamined gorgeous and the construction areas on the interstates weren't too problematic.

We had dinner at Chilis after checking in to the Extended Stay America near O'Hare Airport. Unlike previous trips to the US this was the first and only time we had Chilis – usually we eat there quite often.