Friday, August 14, 2009


We turned down an offer to go ‘roo hunting in the outback, danced our butts off in the streets of Brisbane, and watched the sunset behind the Opera House and more on our trip to the land down under.

Our vacation to Brisbane, Australia wasn’t actually a vacation - Peace Corps flew Brett for medical reasons, everything turned out fine so we ended up with more free time than we thought we’d have. The place Peace Corps put us up at while medical evaluations were done was pretty nice - hot shower, access to a full kitchen and satellite TV, and a nice room at the hospital lodge. The funny thing was that it kinda felt like a retirement home - all the people we saw were older, they had a “night out” dinner option, and a puzzle area in the hallway! But it worked good for us, and was close to a train station into the main part of the city. We bought a week long train pass which worked out great, we could use it on trains, buses or the water ferries on the river. The weather was really nice almost the whole time we were in Australia - sunny blue skies, where it felt hot in the sun but cold in the shade or if there was a breeze. You can really see why they call Queensland the Sunshine State. And it just rained part of one day in Sydney.

Most of the time, about a week and a half, we spent in Brisbane. I’ve been there before when I studied for a semester on the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane, I think it’s one of my favorite cities and Brett really liked it too. It didn’t seem like it had changed a whole lot since I’d been there years ago. I like it so much because it’s just set up really well - good transportation with trains going out along the coasts and all over town, buses, and new really nice river ferries that are all easy to use, lots of parks and gardens throughout the city with walking/running trails and swimming pools/lagoons, a main pedestrian street, lots of good restaurant areas, and the architecture and city just look nice and it’s clean. From what I’ve seen it seems like there are a lot of young families and college students/backpackers in Brisbane.
We did a lot of sightseeing in Brisbane. We went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and walked around with kangaroos and fed them, you can get right next to them and pet them. Some of them had little joeys in their pouches, with just the little feet sticking out. Brett got to hold a koala for the first time for a photo session they do (photo above) - I’d already done it before. They’re one of my favorite animals, they look really cute in real life and are so lazy and sleepy all the time and curl up in balls in the trees. Their fur is more coarse than you’d think, and they do have really big claws. All the koalas there are kept in open cages - just areas blocked in with fake trees and eucalyptus leaves so you can get really close to them. We also went to Mt. Coot-tha, a hill that overlooks the entire city from a distance. And they had a temporary DaVinci display we got to see, showing examples of all his inventions, and we went through the free science museum all in the south bank area. South Bank in Brisbane was one of our favorite areas there - it's a big park along the riverfront with lots of little cafes, a swimming lagoon and sandy beach area, and close to lots of restaurants, we spent a lot of time there. On weekends there was a big art/street fair there. Across the bridge from South Bank there are botanical gardens we also explored on our last day there. And Queen Street is the main shopping street in Brisbane with lots of malls, stores and restaurants, and street musicians. There was also a film festival going on in that pedestrian mall while we were there. We found a cheap Internet place, a Target and grocery store- all the necessities on Queen Street. And since it had been quite awhile, we went to a movie at a mall near our lodge, the new Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies”. It was nice to see a movie in the theaters again with popcorn, and not on our little laptop. Some of our favorite restaurants there were Beastie Burgers in South Bank, and Sitar (indian curry) in Fortitude Valley. I also had a lot of lattes and Brett had a lot of fruit smoothies, we don't get those in Ha'apai!

Another highlight in Brisbane was the “Dancing in the Streets” festival that happened to be going on the last weekend we were there. It was really fun, lots of people turned up for it at South Bank. They had six stages along South Bank with different types of dancing - disco, African, Salsa, Bolly-wood (Indian), hip-hop, club moves, and more. There were professional dancers at each stage, they’d do their moves and then show the crowd how to do a simple dance in that style. So it was funny to see all sorts of people in the crowd doing disco moves or African drum dancing. Brett and I ended up learning four different dances - salsa, bolly-wood, African, and a disco routine to “dancing queen”.

We also had some time to get out of Brisbane to Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast for a day trip, and to Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast for one night. In Surfer's Paradise we hung around the main shopping/restaurant street and spent some time on the beach watching groups of people learning to surf. It's a very touristy town, well known for it's long stretch of beach and nightlife. And of course we had to get to the Sunshine Coast, where I spent a semester of college. It had changed a lot since I'd been there. We took the train up, about an hour and a half, and stayed at a little motel on the river area in Mooloolaba. We spent time on the beach, since we saw a lot of people swimming we decided to swim a bit too, but found out the water was icy freezing cold compared to Tonga! So we just hung out on the beach and walked around the shopping area and the wharf, it's a cute little beach town. And they have "singing sands" there, when you dig your feet into the sand on the beach it makes a high pitched kind of noise. While we were there we took a bus up to my old college campus - the University of the Sunshine Coast. It had changed a lot - there was a huge new building and a big bus transit station instead of the little wood hut we had. It was cool to see again and for Brett to see it, he had said he'd come visit me when I was there and he finally made it there.

The night we spent in Mooloolaba we had kebabs for dinner then went to Omally's Pub where we used to go when I lived there. On the way in we started talking to a couple of Australian guys who were very excited to meet Americans, and after awhile they invited us to go 'roo hunting (yes, kangaroo) with them in the outback the next day. They were very serious too, it would've been quite the experience but we'd already planned to be back in Brisbane the next day for the dance festival.
The last three nights of our trip we spent in Sydney - Peace Corps would've flown us back a few days early since they couldn't do anything more with medical, but we decided to stay and take a few days of vacation in Sydney before returning. We found a good last-minute deal on a hotel right downtown near the Rocks area, and were able to walk everywhere from there. It was a lot more walking than Brisbane, and a lot of Sydney is on hills. It also felt like there were a lot more business professional people all dressed up, not as many families or college students. So we felt a little out of place in our casual clothes downtown. The first night we didn't get in until later, and went and walked down by the harbour bridge and opera house all lit up at night. The second day we did a lot of sightseeing - the main shopping street, Pitt Street, the free art museum in the park, and the botanical gardens with a view of the harbour bridge and opera house at sunset, and had a lasagna dinner at Darling Harbour with a nice view of downtown. Our last full day in Sydney was mostly shopping, getting groceries and things we can't get in Tonga. We also went to the barracks/history museum, and had burgers for dinner down by the harbour bridge. It was nice in both towns since I'd been there before I remembered some of the area and what sights to see. Overall we both liked the Brisbane area better than Sydney - the city itself is pretty and set up nice and is close to both the sunshine and gold coasts.
We flew back to Tonga last night, the flight into the main island here is always pretty turbulent, maybe something to do with the way the winds come through here or something. The wing on our side of the plane was turned way up, we thought we were still circling high above the island, then all of a sudden lights started appearing right next to the wing and we were on the ground, almost landing at a tilt! But we're back now, hopefully heading home to Ha'apai tomorrow.

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