Aussie Adventure – Day 3 & Day 4

January 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm (Uncategorized)

We woke up at 11:30 Monday morning feeling refreshed and relaxed after a full 12 hours of sleep – fantastic!  After talking with Tony about our options we decided to make our way into downtown Sydney and do a little sightseeing.  He offered to drive us to the Beecroft train station, and from there we could take the train right into the centre of the city. 

We caught the train just before 1:30 and arrived at City Hall about half an hour later.  Our first stop was the Powerhouse Museum, (http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/) who were featuring a special exhibition on Star Wars.  Anyone who knows Dave knows he is the ultimate Star Wars fan boy, so he literally salivated at the opportunity to take in original models and costumes from the movies.  Although entrance was a little steep ($24 each), the exhibit itself was well worth the cost.  They had dozens of models of different space ships and machines, the Death Star, and one of the original land cruisers that Luke used.  They also had a great display of costumes for all the big characters like Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader, Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Yoda and even Luke’s prosthetic hand.  Dave videotaped pretty much every square inch of the place, so if he ever has a moment of withdrawl he can peruse at his leisure 🙂

dave-and-darth1

leia-r2d2-and-c3po

lukes-hand

It was already around mid-afternoon when we left, and it was a scorcher – temperatures were easily into the high 30’s.  We grabbed a couple of drinks from McDonald’s and meandered up Tumbalong Park – a long, narrow stretch of greenery that runs from the museum right into Darling Harbour.  I actually walked in this fountain!

spiral-fountain1

 The Darling Harbour area itself is beautiful – it’s a pedestrian-only zone filled with fantastic restaurants on both sides of the water.  Here’s a nice panoramic shot of the one side:

darling-harbour

We walked up one side and checked out the many restaurants to scope out a couple of good options for dinner.  Then we crossed over to Cockle Bay via a huge footpath and made our way to the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World.  There was a great package deal to visit both venues, plus the Sydney Tower, all for one low, low price, so we fulfilled our tourist duty and hopped on board. 

We went into the Wildlife World first (http://www.sydneywildlifeworld.com.au/)  – this place was really cool!  It had a huge butterfly enclosure as soon as you walk in, plus all kinds of creepy crawlies like spiders, snakes and desert bugs of many varieties.  We found a hilarious sign on the mezzanine area right above the crocodile pit – it read “DO NOT ENTER – if the fall doesn’t kill you the crocodile will”.  Ha!  Love that Australian sense of humour. 

do-not-enter-sign-sydney-aquarium

On the rooftop there was a koala habitat, and for a small fee you could pay to have your picture taken with one of these adorable creatures.  Did you know that koalas have two thumbs??  I certainly didn’t.  We decided to forgo the expensive picture and took some videos of our own, then headed through the kangaroo compound.  We watched as a mother and baby ate some fruit, and took some great shots of a couple of lazy males sprawled out in front of the floor to ceiling windows. 

lisa-chillin-with-the-kangaroos

Next we walked down the street about 100 feet to the Sydney Aquarium (http://www.sydneyaquarium.com.au/default.asp).  This place was pretty spectacular too – one of my all-time favourite animals is the manatee, or dugong, and the Aquarium was hosting a special exhibit of these amazing creatures. 

By far the two best parts of the Aquarium were the underwater exhibits, where we were able to walk underneath a huge glass dome as sea life floated by.  The first one was filled with enormous manta rays, a wide variety of very scary-looking sharks, and fish that looked more like dinner for the sharks than anything else.  The second pool was dedicated to two orphaned manatees named Pig and Wuru just lounging around, swimming contentedly.  They have the most gentle-looking faces I’ve ever seen.  We actually caught one as he swam up to some lettuce on the floor of the pool, and got to watch him eat for a few minutes.  Did you also know that the closest relative to the manatee is the elephant??  Well, I’m just full of fascinating information, aren’t I? 

By then it was definitely time for dinner, so we headed back outside to make our final decision for the evening’s cuisine.  The problem definitely wasn’t lack of choice!  There were a ton of really fancy, upscale restaurants that served things like kangaroo and $45 steaks, but we weren’t really looking to blow that much of our budget on the first night out. 

We walked around both sides of the Harbour and finally settled on a little place called Harbourfront Pie.  The restaurant is known for their wide variety of meat pies, but Dave and I both skipped on those and decided to order a fantastic sweet chili chicken dish.  Another reason we chose Harbourfront Pie was that it was next to a bar that was broadcasting NFL football, so Dave chose a table with a clear line of sight to one of the outdoor televisions.  How romantic, eh?  In all honesty, I probably watched as much of the game as he did, so after dinner we headed over to the bar, called the Watershed, and had a couple of drinks while enjoying some good ol’ American football. 

We decided to head back to the Norman’s at about 10:30, so we made our way back to the train station and back into Beecroft somewhere just after 11:00.  I was absolutely exhausted, so I hit the hay as soon as we got home.  Another great day in Oz!

The next morning we decided to make a few calls to check out the availability of the two activities we wanted to book during the week – scuba diving and canyoning.  The New Year’s holiday put a bit of a wrench in our plans, as many places were closed both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but we found a place called Plunge Diving (http://www.plungediving.com.au/) that had spots open for scuba diving that afternoon, so we booked ourselves in for a 3:00 lesson.  Most places require you take a four week certification course, and Plunge was one of only two companies in Sydney that offered a “try scuba diving for a day” option. 

Since we had about 5 hours to kill, Julia and Dan offered to take us shopping at Castle Towers mall where they had – get ready for it – TARGET!!!  All who know me know of my obsession with Target.  I think it’s the greatest store ever.  They have good clothes, great shoes, bags & accessories, plus a huge cosmetics section and tons of amazing food.  It’s like Walmart, with a little more social conscience.  I don’t feel like I’m starving a poor Taiwanese family by shopping there, which is something I can’t say Walmart.  Anyway, I bought some new clothes, stocked up on some of my beauty favourites, and in general just danced and skipped through the aisles like a giddy school girl.  Then Julia and I picked up some surprisingly great mall sushi, and Dan and Dave grabbed burgers from a popular take-out place called Oporto’s. 

Back at the Norman’s Dave and I changed into our swimming suits and got our gear ready for scuba diving.  Tony drove us out to a little place called Mosman and into Chowder Bay, where we’d be doing our dive.  The view descending into the bay area was fantastic – it reminded me a lot of California or Italy, with lots of red-roofed houses dotting the cliffs.  We arrived about half an hour early, so Tony dropped us off and we headed down to the beach to soak up some sun before our lesson.  At 3:00 we met up with our instructor, Adam, who gave us a brief overview of the scuba diving basics.  There was only Dave and I in the class, so we definitely got a lot of personal attention 🙂

Next it was time to suit up with all the essential gear, and let me tell you, there’s a lot of gear.  Putting on the wetsuit was a major obstacle in itself – it was like trying to squeeze myself into a squishy plastic tube that was two sizes too small.  Then we put on water booties, plus a huge oxygen tank and all the gadgets, whoozits and whatsits that keep us alive underwater.

Then we grabbed fins and masks, and headed down to the beach.  We started off wading in to our waists and just trying some simple underwater commands like “equalize the pressure in your ears”, or “clear your mask of water”, which went well enough.  My only problem was that I couldn’t stay grounded because the weight of the oxygen tank kept throwing off my equilibrium and I would drift off to one side.  Adam actually had to add extra weight to my weight belt so I could sink to the bottom and stay down there.  We were then joined by a novice teacher named Matt, and we practiced a few emergency procedures like sharing oxygen, and how to safely submerge and surface in deeper water. 

Then came the real test – swimming around and using all the equipment while slowly moving deeper and deeper into the water.  This proved rather difficult for me, although I’m a really good swimmer.  I had a really hard time figuring out how to find a happy medium between sinking to the very bottom, and floating up on the surface, and spent quite a bit of time going up and down, up and down.  Then I had issues with the pressure buildup in my ears from submerging into deeper water.  I’ve swam in deep water before, but I’ve never felt pain like that – it was absolutely excruciating.  Every time we’d try to go deeper, I’d have to motion to Matt to surface more because the pain was so intense.  I did manage to see a few fish, and a couple of jellyfish, but soon after Matt said it would be better not to push it and just call it a day. 

I was definitely disappointed that my scuba diving experience ended so quickly, but Dave didn’t have nearly as many issues as I did.  He was able to go out much deeper with Adam and saw sea horses, lots of fish, jellyfish, and even sting rays.  After removing the sausage casings from our bodies and dumping the 1,000 pounds of gear, we went back down to the beach and did some relaxing in the late afternoon sun.  

Julia and Dan picked us up at around 5:30, and we stopped in at the Australian version of the LCBO called Dan Murphy’s, except Dan (the store, not Julia’s boyfriend) specializes in all things wine, especially Australian wine.  They had literally about a dozen long aisles full of every kind of wine you could ever imagine – it was a beautiful sight.  Julia and I perused the champagne section and picked out a couple of bottles for New Year’s Eve, while Dave and Dan had some fun in the beer aisle.  They actually had bottles of Delirium Tremens, a beer from the Delirium bar in Brussels, our favourite bar of all time.  We also scouted out the Woolworth’s next door and grabbed a few Aussie confections – Tim Tam’s, Milo chocolate bars, and a variety of spicy sauces for Dave. 

Back at the Norman’s we had another great dinner feast of barbequed steak and chicken, plus a great grilled vegetable salad and fresh bread, then more of the delicious mango sorbet for dessert.  I honestly think I could eat like that for the rest of my life and feel extremely satisfied and content.  After dinner we rocked out to some Guitar Hero on the Wii, and then headed off to bed.  It was becoming all too easy to fall in love with Australia, even after only being there for three days!

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