Sunday, May 28, 2006

Onwards to the Sunshine Coast and the Whitsunday Islands, here I come!

May 28th. Yet another early morning as my bus leaves at 7:20am for Airlie Beach; the next stop on my Ozzie adventures... this is a mere 10 hour journey - reminded me of my South America days except the bus drivers here are slightly more involved with their passengers behaviour! No feet allowed up on the seat, no lying across two seats even if there is no one else there (and if you do, he gets on the microphone and calls you out in front of everyone!), no eating, no drinking any milk products and only liquids from a bottle, not a can, you must stay in your assigned seat ... hmmmn slightly more rules oriented than in SA... love the fact their uniforms are shirt, tie, and the teeny tiniest wee shorts you can imagine, with long woolly socks up to their knees.. anyway i digress!

Arrived into Airlie Beach around 5:30pm. Went to my hostel - was booked into Koala Den by my travel agent - hmmn bit of a dump with the grumpiest folks working the front desk! Airlie is a funny wee town; population is around 3,000, but a ton of folks use this place as the gateway for boat tours to the Whitsunday Islands. Had to confirm my booking for tomorrow - it poured down here today - hope the weather gets ALOT better on this trip as i don't fancy sitting on a boat for three days getting drenched - yuk! Back at the hostel I met two lovely Scottish girls from Galashiels so we had a spot of dinner together then off to pack a small bag for the next three days! Still raining .....not a good sign!

March 29th. Up early again 7:15am to check out and head down to the boat. It's called "The Providence" and definitely reminds me of a baby pirate ship (as Gemma one of my new shipmates described it!). Technically its a classic tall ship rigger(I think..) and our crew are Gareth the captain (and as we would find out later, also the owner!) and Darren, who does pretty much everything else!!! He sails, cooks, takes us snorkeling, slags us off - you name it, he does it! The good thing about this ship is that you get a chance to actually learn a wee bit of sailing, and boy did Darren put us through our paces! Once we were all on board we did the usual introductions - funnily enough, another brillo gang. How lucky am i that this keeps happening! There was Jay from New York, Mike from Liverpool (the posh part thank you very much - more on him later - he is absolutely HILARIOUS!), Steve from Birmingham, Lucy from Leicester, An and Az from London, Edward from Paris and Gemma from Northern Ireland. Oh yes and Luke, from Canada who was officially a volunteer on the ship, so he got a free trip in exchange for helping with dinner, general cleaning etc. He had never done this before but just showed up at the jetty asking if anyone needed help - not a bad way to stretch out your trip, see new stuff and not have to pay for it!

And so to a little bit about the Whitsundays for you folks out there! In 1770, this network of ethereal islands snagged its first tourist when Captain Cook stumbled across its beautiful path..he called it the "epitomy of paradise"; not a bad name actually as it really is gorgeous! The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands which are mostly uninhabitated and fall within the perameters of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage site. All but four of these islands are either predominantly or completely set up as national parks. Two that we would be visiting are Hook Island, the second largest of the Whitsundays at 53 sq km, with the largest island that bears the groups name, Whitsunday Island itself, coming in at a hefty 109 sq km! On its southeast coast, 6km long Whitehaven Beach is the longest and finest beach, some say in all of Oz, others say in the world! So that in a nutshell is what I'm going to be doing for the next 3 days; sailing, snorkeling and generally hanging around in the sun and sand of these beautiful islands!

Off we set on a bit of a grey day - we were all hoping the gorgeous blue skies would arrive soon! And lucky for us that's exactly what happened. As i mentioned earlier, part of the thing about this trip is that you get to help sail the boat, so right away Darren had us all pitching in, pulling the ropes for the "peak" and the "throat" - some of us being "tailors" gathering the rope in - all technical terms for different parts of the ship. Our first day we sailed from about 9ish till 12:30, up over South Molle island. Had a great lunch here (courtesy of Darren and Luke) then we headed off to a fabulous area between Hook and Whitsunday islands, an amazing place called Coral Gardens, where the corals were so beautiful, really exotic looking but also some that looked like parts of the moon or people's brains (seriously) - crazy stuff and so many colours! Purples, bright greens, pinks, mad! Gareth said where we would snorkel tomorrow would be even more amazing; this time for the types of fish we would see. So def. looking forward to that!

After snorkeling we sailed to our evening resting spot - in Tongue Bay. Had a great BBQ dinner (yup there's a huge BBQ attached to the side of the boat -amazing eh!). After dinner, we sat around chatting.. great time had by all..
then most of us decided to sleep outside under the stars... 'cos it was such a gorgeous evening. The stars were amazing (we all tried to see the Milky Way, Southern Cross - only seen in the southern hemisphere no surprise and is on the Australian flag!) and the sky just looked so twinkly.. this trip was def heading up to be one of the highlights of my time in Oz! A great first day on the boat!

Tues May 30th. Another gorgeous day with blue, blue skies above - yah! We got up early to try and see the sunrise but as the sun was hidden behind the hills we didn't quite manage it! Oh well. Had breakfast then we headed off early (while the tide was still out) to see Whitehaven beach in all its glory (and to try and get there before the crowds, cos this is one of the most popular areas of the Whitsundays!). Wow - absolutely incredible - I'm not really a huge beach fan but this place was just gorgeous.. so huge and vast (that's why we had to get here while the tide was out cos its all covered over later in the day). It is so white - 98% silica and is so fine you can use it to clean your jewellery - we tried it, it really works! absolutely breathtaking! Played footie with Mike for a while (my newly adoptive son - loved this guy - a nut case and fun fun fun - AND is willing to wear a Celtic top cos his pals in Coatbridge gave it to him, even tho' he's a Rangers fan!). Back to the boat around 10:30am (yup its still early folks!) and we headed off to Mantaray Bay for more snorkeling. Fantastic -there was this MASSIVE fish there (and i mean giant), apparantly its a Mari Wasse if you want to look it up. This one is a firm fave on the boat scene, so much so he is called Elvis - after his sneering blue upper lip.. he scared me to death! Some people patted it but i didnt get quite that close! Saw so many different types of fish here ... loved it! Back on board after we said goodbye to Lucy, Steve and Jay who were heading home a day earlier than us - bummer as we had such a good group!

The rest of us sailed on to Blue Pearl Bay - a gorgeous spot where we anchored. Darren took us over to the beach to enjoy the sunset and it really was beautiful! Mike decided to get friendly with the scabbiest wee possum you have ever seen - yuk! After we had all chilled out here, Darren came back to get us and we ate dinner under the stars again.. tonight we slept indoors as it was a little chillier. Check out our berths! More like a coffin but i have to say pretty comfy! Mike had us all in stitches with his renditions of "Donkey... get in ma' belly" and "hey Gepetto, I'm a real, live boy" in his fab falsetto voice. He should DEF become a comedian - we were all cracking up and he was the best entertainment ever! What a star - and only 19 too.. told us some of his funny travel stories which i wont go into here... too funny. Loves his mammy, the Wirral and wants to be a Marine.. what a lovely boy!

May 31st (my daddy's birthday!). Another early morning (6:15am this time!).. not helped by Mike waking us all up with renditions of "Luke - I am your father" from Star Wars - very good i have to say! After breakfast we went snorkeling in Blue Pearl Bay - fantastic coral and fish here! We saw the massive Mari Wrasse Elvis fish again - or at least someone in that family (seriously this thing is over 4ft long, well, at least i think so!).. and so many others; from yellow tails, parrot fish, red emperors, humbugs, and so many more. I'm in danger of becoming a fish geek in trying to remember all the different types we saw. Needless to say, they were all gorgeous!

Back on board then off to Langford Island for a beautiful walk on a sandbar. Perfect day - clear blue skies and so so hot, just had to jump in the water.. yes, throwing caution to the wind and not having our stinger suits (which we typically wear when snorkeling cos there are potentially lotsa jellyfish in the water at this time of the year!). After we had lunch on board, we all hiked up the sails and headed for home, well, Airlie beach to be exact. It was so lovely to be away from everything for the last few days - so quiet and peaceful.. well, apart from Mike! Funniest thing happened - as you know, we all took shots at hoisting the sails when Darren asked. So this last time I said i'd do the "tongue" sail.. only thing was as i was huffing and puffing pulling it up (its pretty heavy this one compared to the "peak" sail) Mike kept making me laugh and shouting "get your back into it, donkey" in his fake Shrek voice.. which of course made me convulse in laughter (ok maybe you had to be there!) and therefore, not be pulling as i should. Darren got mad at Mike and shouted (we don't think he was joking!) "Hey, this is serious business, matey!" Mike and I couldn't control ourselves from giggling like school kids.. but deep down Mike was dreadfully upset (right Mike!). Hahahaha. Later on after Edward got a shot at sailing the boat from the Captain's wheel, I knew Mike really wanted to try it (check out how well he did!). So I mouthed to Darren "ask Mike if he wants a go". He, of course, pretended not to understand me then when he did, he said "you ask him". Boys huh! So then finally he said very sarcastically "does anyone else want to sail the ship!" and of course Mike jumped at the chance...hilarious really! Then of course he decided he needed a real sailors name - Capt. Gepetto or Capt. Donkey......anyway we all had such a laugh .. and very sad to say goodbye to "The Providence".. A huge compliment from Capn' Gareth - said it was one of the most relaxing sails he had done in years so thanked all of us!

Everyone was meeting for drinks later that night but i had to head off for my overnight bus to Hervey Bay to begin my next three day trip tomorrow morning to Fraser Island. Yup - no rest for the wicked I have to say... and yup, another 10 hour bus journey for me! Thoroughly enjoyed Whitsunday Islands trip - gorgeous time!!!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Time to visit one of the worlds natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef!

May 26th....As you know, I am headed off for Cairns, on the northwest corner of Queensland today to begin my adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Got talking to an Indian boy called Bon on the plane; an aspiring rapper who was moving to Minneapolis to be with some of his family next year who are living there; primarily to kick start his rap career! Interesting stuff!

Arrived in Cairns - and it's wayyyyyyy hotter than Melbourne, I have to say! Not too sure about this town; very resorty and lots of very young British girls here wearing not much more than their teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikinis! (clearly I am insanely jealous that they are a) young and b) skinny.... i answer yes to those charges.... but anyway, moving on!!!) Cairns has a population of 99,000 and it seems that almost everyone here is a tourist; I've hardly heard an Australian accent yet! Makes sense tho' as we are all here for the same reason - to see one of the natural wonders of the world - the Great Barrier Reef that I've heard so much about...

OK OK - I know you are dying to hear all the vital stats on this natural phenomenon so here goes! The reef is larger than the Great Wall of China, and the ONLY living thing visible from space. It is officially one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Technically what you see is a conglomoration of colourful coral that stretches along the Queensland seaboard; it is the planets biggest reef system, where 2,600 separate reefs form an outer ribbon parrallel to the coast...

So at a glance, here are the vitals:
Length: 2000km
Width: 80km
Total size: over 345,000sq km
Age: estimated at between 600,000 and 18 million yrs (yes, that's quite a range, don't ya think!)

So i pottered downtown and as i knew i had 9 days in which i needed to accomplish seeing the Reef itself, Whitsunday islands and of course Fraser Island, i decided to book all three trips at once to see if i could squeeze everything in! After my organizing i thought it was time to try one of Australia's traditional snack foods.. or breakfast foods, depending on who you speak to - a meat pie! Steak and chilli pie no less from Meldrums (great pie company here in Oz!).. phew, it nearly blew my head off but was very tasty! Headed back to the hostel and chatted to my dorm mates for a while.. amazing how many Korean travelers carry these slimline laptops with them and watch movies all the time in their dorms.. a good idea i suppose, but i'd hate to carry a laptop along with everything else i have!

May 27th. Today's the day folks! Up early as usual - bus pick is 7am to get us down to the port and onto "The Osprey"; my boat for the day! Quite big with over 150 close friends on board, but the crew were great! Really funny group! Met Fabio Mancini from Torontino, Italy. What a character - we had a great chat! Also a lovely older couple from Perth, who were here on holiday.. were very worried to hear i was traveling alone, and kept telling me to "have a great time but to be sure to be very careful, you can't trust anyone these days" - nice of them to worry, even tho' im closer to their age than most travelers here, teehee! The boat stopped near Saxon island, where we had our first snorkel on the reef. Absolutely stunning - the water was soooo clear and shallow - i was a nervous wreck in case i stood on the coral - a big no-no of course!
The fish were just incredible; the most amazing psychedelic patterend fish i have ever seen, tons of vivid colours, oh yes and quite exciting, i saw a reef shark just hanging back watching all the action, as we all puttered around!

Then it was back on board and we had lunch then stopped at Hastings (all the islands around here are named after English battles from way back for some reason..).
Finally i gave in to Jared, one of the crew who was organizing the helicopter trips off of the boat.. so you could really see the reef in all its glory! Ended up with a fantastic 15 minute ride around the reef with Steve, our copter pilot (funny guy who wanted some of my reef shots cos he thought they were pretty good - not bad eh!). I asked him if he could do a 360 for us (haha) he said sure, but it would be the last one we do! But he did take some pretty steep corners for us - loved the helicopter ride. You really can't see the magnitude of the reef unless you are above it!

Snorkeled again later that afternoon then on the way home had a great chat to an Australian-Italian family who lived just outside of Cairns... good fun but sometimes you realise either a) you are really PC these days and/or b) some Australians really do say exactly what they think about things/people etc. It can definitely be an eye opener but we had a great laugh about it....The crew had to keep counting us everytime we came back from snorkeling or diving; reason being? Does anyone remember a film called "Open Waters" based on a true story of a few years ago (that happened in Cairns i think) where two people who had been diving came up and their boat had left them one raised the alarm till the next day for some bizarre reason, and their bodies were never found, just their dive gear..... Yikes - can't even imagine that happening!!!

So back to shore and went for a wee beer with Mr Fabio; we had a lovely talk about his life, his loves, his new career...phew, then i was knackered and had to head back to pack for my next Queensland adventure - the Whitsunday Islands! Thoroughly enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef - it really is an incredible natural beauty. Did quiz the captain of the boat on how long he thought it would last with all of us tourists coming to see and swim in it... hmmn, he didnt seem too worried about it so it would be interesting to come back in 10 or 20 years and see if it is all still there!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

And it's off to Melbourne - cultural capital of Australia... sorry, Sydney but that's what the guide books say!

May 23rd. Up early to catch my flight to Melbourne this morning. Really excited to meet up with my good friend, Sara (who also happens to be my ex-client, working for Emirates in Dubai!). Just so happened she was home in Melbourne while i was doing my whistlestop tour so we managed to "clear our schedules" ..haha.. and get together! The lovely girl picked me up from the airport (and yes, more comments from airport staff about the giant bag....used to it now!). We headed back to Pascoe Vale, a suburb of Melbourne to meet Sara's family - her twin sister Josephine, husband Jo and gorgeous children, Vivien, Victoria, Amelia and Jacob. So good of them to put me up while I'm in Melbourne but as I quickly found out - Melbournians, and especially Lebanese-Melbournians are incredibly warm, kind people who will go out of their way for you - and constantly ask you if you are hungry and need to eat!!! Talk about a great welcome - the children all gave "auntie Sara's friend" lots of hugs as soon as I arrived - how lucky am I!

Off downtown for lunch then Sara whizzed me around, showing me some of the sights. After that we went to the trendy Dog Cafe to meet a good friend of hers, Melo (hope spelling is right, Melo?) and just hung out and had a great chat!
Now for a little highlight on Melbourne. With a population of 3.1 million, the people who live here are fiercely passionate about their state - Victoria. Although it is Australia's smallest, it is crammed full of sights and activities, with a beautiful coastline (the famous Ocean Road - oops didnt quite manage that!), incredible wineries (which we would be checking out tomorrow in the Yarra Valley) and of course tons of sport! You have to cheer for St. Kildas when it comes to Aussie rules!

There is always something to celebrate here with festivals for film and the arts, horse racing (the famous Melbourne Cup), and of course food! Food is really big (a good reason for me to move here of course!) - boasting the largest people to restaurant ratio in the world - 7 people for each restaurant (I think that's right?). Half the population here were born overseas, with waves of immigrants bringing significant cultural influences (from Europe, Asia, and more recently the Middle East) making the city's multi-cultural make-up an integral part of its richness and variety! Did you know Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Greece!

So after heading home to say hi again, we were off to meet friends of Sara's for dinner! Lovely group of folks and great chat! Then it was down town for some drinkie poos at Cookie and then the Supper Club - two very trendy bars here in town! Have to say Melbourne really is a very hip city - so many trendy bars, clubs and the shopping... Chapel Street seems to go on for miles and miles and each shop is a boutique - no chains here. The clothes are just fab - had to forcibly stay away from here or my "little flexible credit card friend" would get into some serious trouble! But a wonderful first day here in Melbourne - definitely have a good vibe about this city!

May 24th. We had decided as we only had limited time, what would be the best thing to do and so, a wine tour was born! Picked up Melo in Fitzroy, another trendy area of town.. and we headed out around 9ish to the Yarra Valley!

After a lovely breakfast in a funky wee town close by (thank goodness all three of us love our food!), we checked out a fab little teashop with over 200 types of tea to choose from! Wild place. Then it was straight into wine world! This particular area is covered in neat, furrowed rows of grapevines from over 40 vineyards that dominate the Yarra Valley. We visited the De Bortoli winerey - it was absolutely amazing..Seriously, thank goodness Sara was our designated driver (love her!) 'cos Melo and I got to try about 20 different wines.. and this is before lunch (ok we did try some lovely cheeses beforehand but still!). Sara and I just had a giggle at the description of this particular cheese! After a fab time here, we headed out to another winery, "Yering Station" for a delicious late lunch at Sweet Water Cafe! Yup, more eating!!!

Back to Melbourne, then we were heading out to an 80's evening which one of Sara's friends was hosting to sell "nostalgic CD's for charity! Had quite the giggle here, and "boogeying" on down was exactly how any dancing here should be described! Met tons of Sara's friends, including Mary B. (my other client/friend Laura's sister in law and a brilliant girl!), and Angie, who has the same birthday as me - just a year apart! How about that! Also met her friend Nabil, a lovely guy who ended up giving us a whirlwind tour of the city at night - from Federation Square, St Pauls Cathedral, Flinders St Station, Queen Victoria market, Chinatown, Parliament House, Govt. House, the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, phew and finally - the very impressive and completely huge Casino complex, which is the 2nd biggest in the world! Seriously - i had whiplash at the end of this night - but it was incredible and the city really did look gorgeous at night!!

May 25th. Up earlyish today as Sara had to meet some folks in town. Still managed to find time to potter around the gigantic outlet mall around the corner from her.. again with the fab clothes. I look like such a disaster - seriously i wouldnt be seen dead looking the way i do right now if I was back in the "real world", but as a traveler, there are only so many clothes and shoes one can carry around (even with my giant bag!)..and its def easier when you are not in cities to blend in a bit more! Due to my complete ineptitude, I am in Melbourne one night longer than Sara, as she has to fly back to Dubai. Remember that amazing Lebanese hospitality i talked about earlier? Well, her lovely family said no probs, here's a key, so feel free to stay another night! Unbelievable - i did feel a tad embarrassed but they were so kind about it! So Sara and i went into town and we said our fond farewells.. and guess what, yup! I got all emotional again! What is wrong with me! Sara has been such a doll.. can't thank her enough for showing me such a great time here!

I had organized to meet Mark and Jean, friends of the family, this afternoon, so popped over to Federation Square (do you like that, sounds like i know my way around already... dont worry, its all a ruse, i got lost again!) and had coffee at the Blue Train Cafe with them. Lovely to catch up as they have just moved to Melbourne after sailing around the world - now that is exotic! After that I was joining Mary and Anna, to watch the Australia - Greece friendly in the Square later that night, with about 10,000 close friends... hilarious. Now, I had bought an Australia top earlier in Manly, primarily cos i was cold one day (yes, it does get chilly in Sydney in winter!). So I had it on and def. got a few loud "Go Greece" comments as I waited to meet up with Mary! But what a laugh during the game - flares going off, people singing the Australian and Greek national anthems - the crowd was great and it was very much a friendly event.. afterwards we went to a great Greek restaurant for souvlaki and of course the whole place, full of Greeks wearing the country's blue and white, turned to look at this one person sauntering in, with a yellow and green top on - hmmn not the best choice maybe when im hanging out with Greek Aussies.... but seriously, all harmless! A brilliant night - thanks very much Mary and Anna!!! Oh yes and cant forget that we stopped off at the AC/DC pub (that's what its called folks!) for a wee after dinner drinkie and who did we bump into but Cathy Freeman, the Olympic track star.. not bad eh!!!

May 26th. Now this is hospitality! Jo and Joe wouldnt let me get a taxi to the airport this morning - had to leave the house at 5am... and Joe drove me!!! Can't thank everyone in Melbourne enough for such a brilliant time - too short of course but def. a fab city with amazing people, and I will have to come back again one day and see everything i missed! But for now, its off to Queensland on the next part of my whistlestop tour of Oz!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fan-TASSIE-tastic time in Tasmania with new found and fabulous friends!

May 18th. OK then.. and now for the next part of my Australian experience, I'm off to the beautiful island of Tasmania. Arrived in the capital Hobart, around 11ish. Perfect timing to get to my hostel - Allports in North Hobart, throw my bags down and get out and explore as I usually do. So what happened this time? Oh yes, I went for a wee afternoon nap.. sorry to disappoint you folks, but I am officially admitting defeat.. and the fact that I'm an old fart!

BUT once I had my 2 hour power nap, I was raring to go and explore Hobart! And what a surprise! Not sure what I expected but it's a really cool, hip place.... funky restaurants as far as the eye can see, with everything from Indonesian, Mexican, Turkish, Moroccan, Indian, Thai and of course tons of seafood restaurants including one called FISH 329 (that I checked out later for dinner - fantastic! All of these restaurants wouldn't look out of place in New York or London, never mind in the main street of a sometimes forgotten island off the coast of Oz (no offence, Tasmania, I personally don't think you should ever be forgotten!!)

So now for a little info on Tasmania. Affectionately dubbed "Tassie" by most Australians.. this island state is home to some of the country's most mind-bending coastal and inland wilderness regions, with a quarter of it filled with wildlife national parks; many of them designated World Heritage sites.. seriously, everywhere is so quaint and beautiful; even tiny wee towns in the middle of nowhere.. very little tackiness to be seen I have to say! The island was originally known as Van Diemans Land until 1856 when its name changed to Tasmania. Then in 1901 with the federation of the states it became an official part of the country of Australia. From Cradle Mountain to Wineglass Bay, from the capital, Hobart to the Nut (a huge flat-topped circular headland that dominates the historic town of Stanley) it's true what they say - the friendliest people really ARE here in Tassie. Hobart itself has a population of about 128,000; it is backed by towering Mt. Wellington (1,270m high), and is quite different from the rest of Tasmania, with its modern city vibe! Did you know there was a Cadbury's chocolate factory here - now how on earth did I miss that? Too busy with the outdoorsy and culture part.. but missing chocolate - not like me!

May 19th. So got up this morning and took the advice of Murray, a lovely boy working in the hostel, to do a day trip to beautiful Wineglass Bay (perfect curve of white sand, crystal clear sea and blue skies, that was voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world by Frommers in 2006!). It was either that or Port Arthur, another key tourist attraction here in Tassie that was used to house over 12,000 convicts in the 1800's.... oh, well you can't do everything!. So I picked up the bus at 8:30am and off we went. Quite a long trip but so worth it! Wineglass Bay is part of the Freycinet National Park and we visited it after checking out Coles Bay, a small township dominated by awesome 300m high pink granite rocks called the Hazards! Had a lovely time with our wee group, Pepe from Italy, Ajantha from Sri Lanka, 2 girls from Japan and of course Leigh, our 105 year old but very cute guide who had been doing this for approx. 80 yrs and loved it!! (ok slight exaggeration here!). On our hike to the lookout point, we found a very funky, hand made wooden chair - funny place to leave it?....and once we arrived, the view was certainly worth it! On the way back down, i saw my first kangaroo - well, officially it was a wallaby although Leigh says technically they are all the same species just different varieties (everyone else I've spoken to disagrees but hey, he was the guide that day!). Back to the hostel and packed up my stuff as I was meeting my new friend Mardy tomorrow at 10:30am - in case we missed each other, I had said I would have the overbearingly giant green backpack so she couldn't miss me!
Have I told you about my connection with Mardy yet? Well, I met two lovely boys in Mendoza - Brett and Dave - from Tassie, and they said, "Stef, if you ever go to Australia, you have to go to Tassie and we will hook you up with some of our friends." Very nice of them i thought. So Mardy and I started emailing and one thing led to another and then I was meeting her... outside Target no less.. how exciting! I knew as soon as we said "Hi!" that we would get on great! One of her daughters, Adelyn, was there too, and we stayed to watch a Highland pipe band for a bit (which Mardy told me she put on for my arrival - a nice touch i thought - teeehee!).

So my wonderful tour of Tassie with my personal tour guides began....first stop, Mount Wellington - freezing but beautiful views of Hobart and beyond.. but definitely brrrr... as you can see from the pic. After having lovely tea and pastries with Mardy's sister Sara, we headed off to pick up her other daughter, Holly then drive the 2 hours back to Penguin (brilliant name eh!) where they live. They were in Hobart for Holly's football as she is in the State team - and pretty darn good! Our trip back was fab - lotsa chats and popped into some gorgeous wee towns (some of which were built by convicts!) - Ross, (famous for its bridge and sheep museum), Oatlands and Campbelltown. As we arrived home, we saw a beautiful sunset! Headed off to a bonfire party then back to the house for the night! Can't believe quite how lovely these girls are considering I'm a complete stranger. They are so incredibly warm and friendly and treated me like one of the family - can't say enough good things about these wonderful people!

May 21st. Up today - busy schedule (as always eh!). The girls had football (Holly is Adelyn's coach!) so Mardy dropped me off in Penguin to potter. Hilarious - I decided to check out the local Anglican church (hey, it was Sunday folks ...and i couldn't find the Catholic church!).. Hmmmn, couldn't really leave as when i entered they rushed to give me a seat and I realised of the 8 people in church, no-one (and i mean no-one) was under 80! Betty at the organ with her fingerless gloves was def. off-key today and Ruth (the organizer at the back) kept tutting about the extra verses she was playing! Everyone shook hands with me and welcomed me into the church, also got an invite for tea and pancakes could tell they thought they had some fresh blood so i made a quick exit! Checked out the famous Penguin market - pretty impressive with tons of organic products! What are the chances .. ran into a girl from Ohio (selling elephant pastry ears - big in that state apparantly!) and a lady from Lurgan, Northern Ireland who knew my friend Deirdre's dad - both married to Tassie men! Small, small world! Had a coffee and rhubarb cake (yum) while waiting for the gang... and then we were off again. Visited Boat Harbour (where Brett lives), Stanley and the Nut, and Elliot where I met Mardy's mum and dad (lovely people)! On the way home met Mardy's son, Dylan.. what a lovely family... and all so incredibly sociable. Very impressive Mardy!

May 22nd. My last day with the girls.. bummer! Where has the time gone in Tassie? Another incredibly lovely day... blue skies, blinding sunshine, and NO rain (yah - this is a big deal as most Aussie's don't visit here due to the stinky weather!). Out the door by 8am, and we were off, for the "piece de resistance" - Cradle Mountain! Pic of me with the Caterpiller hat in honour of Dave and Brett (they work there!) with dramatic peaks, deep gorges, sublime lakes and wild moorlands... this is the place to go to be at one with nature! Unfortunately we didn't have time in the day to hike to the top of Cradle (1,545m) but we did go pretty high, past Dove Lake, to Marion's Lookout (where views of Cradle were gorgeous!). The girls were so excited as they had only seen snow once or twice before... check out the action shot of Adelyn throwing a snowball at us! Here is where the infamous "Crunchie vs Violet Crumble" taste test took place - to the curious stares of other hikers! These two chocolate products are quite similar in texture and overall look, with Crunchie being the far superior tasting product! BUT speak to most Aussie's and they prefer the VC - a poor rip off in my opinion!! So of course we put it to the test! And Crunchie won hands down - we had such a laugh ....blindfolded and munching away, people thought we were mad! Headed down via Crater Lake and Wombat Pool! The views were stunning! Had lunch at the Cradle Cafe then started heading for Launceston, where i would pick up the bus to take me back to Hobart for the night (I leave tomorrow for Melbourne early in the am!). Can't believe we all only met 2 days ago - we have literally laughed non-stop since I met these fab girls! One last stop (after seeing Sheffield, the town of murals...) was the Raspberry Cafe! Fab place where everything is rasberry based - and this brownie was so good! Seriously - the girls even bought me raspberry scented aromatherapy socks - that smelled deeeelicious! Then off to the bus station - where no surprise, I got all emotional saying goodbye! The amazing people i meet on my travels.....have a great fondness for Tassie after this trip - the scenery is amazing, but the people just blow you away!!! Lots of love and thanks to all of you - Mardy, Holly and Adelyn - for everything! And remember you must come visit Boston when i get back! Final nail on the head about Tassie being so great. The bus driver - when i told him where my hostel was - said, "dont worry love, its not directly on the route and its too far for you to walk"... so he drove me there, out of his way, after he had finished work! I mean really - how nice can you get! As the website says "Tasmania.. Island of Rejuvenation" and i feel quite that way after this fabulous trip! Thanks for everything Tassie!