Travelogue Australia 2004


This Travelogue Is Incomplete



8/2/04 – 8/27/04: Australia

            8/2-8/4: Travel

            8/4-8/7: Coffs Harbour

            8/7-8/10: Brisbane

            8/10-8/13: Byron Bay

            8/12-8/16: Moreton Bay Region

            8/16-8/22: Darwin

            8/22-8/27: Sydney



Monday, August 2, 2004


This was the most difficult packing job of my life; I have more luggage than I have ever carried on any trip. I’m carrying two bags, one full of “regular” luggage weighing 65 pounds, the other a dive gear suitcase weighing 69 pounds, plus my carry-on bag. The limit for checked luggage is two bags of 70 pounds each, so I am just under. Packing wise, this trip is so complicated because it is winter in Australia, so I need long sleeve shirts and light sweaters for Coffs Harbour and Sydney, where the temperatures are not likely to get above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But in Darwin (the far north), it is likely to be hot, so I need light weight clothing. After Australia I will be going to Fiji and Tonga where it will be hot during the day, cool at night, and humid. On top of it all, the trip is lasting 6 weeks, covering three countries, and involving a lot of travel, so I have toiletries, sundries, books and guidebooks for all that.


Formerly when going on a dive vacation I used to bring only a partial set of gear, but recently I broke down and bought a complete scuba setup and a special suitcase to carry it all. It’s the extra scuba gear that has really put me over the top weight-wise. I’m also bringing hiking boots and some other hiking gear which I hope to use in Northern Australia and in Fiji. Whew!


I am flew from Denver to Sydney via San Francisco on United, Business class (using United frequent flyer miles to upgrade from coach.) From Sydney I continued directly on to Coffs Harbour on a Qantas Airlines flight. The flight from Denver to San Francisco was pleasant and uneventful, though we were delayed 25 minutes getting off the ground due to lightning.



Tuesday August 3, 2004


Due to crossing the date line, this day did not exist (aka “this page intentionally left blank.”)



Wednesday August 4, 2004


The flight to Sydney was pleasant and uneventful with just a modicum of turbulence. The food was quite good, though the one movie I watched (The Lady Killers) was just OK. One pleasant addition was a slice of sunrise while landing in Sydney.


I had two hours between landing in Sydney and departing for Coffs Harbour, which was a good thing! Passport control was a breeze, but it took a very long time for my bags to come off the plane. An international 747 carries one hell of a lot of bags. The bags started arriving quickly, and then came and came and came. Finally mine showed up. While I was waiting, a quarantine guard with a feisty beagle came by. The guard asked me and a guy next to me to put our backpacks on the floor. Turns out the other guy had a pack full of cheese and salami from somewhere in Europe. That was a no-no. I passed the beagle test without a second sniff.


After finally getting my bags, I embarked on the epic march to the Qantas domestic transfer desk. I hadn’t realized this airport was sooooo big. The agent didn’t bat an eye at my two huge suitcases, checked me in, and directed me through security to a waiting area. From there I boarded a bus to the domestic airport. Then it was back through security again, followed by a medium-length walk from Terminal 1 (where the bus disgorges its passengers) to Terminal 2, where the little QantasLink flights depart. While none of these steps really took all that long, in the end the whole process took about an hour and a half. I had assumed that my two hour layover would leave time for a shower, a shave, a snack and some email, but it was really just enough to make the connection with a margin for safely.


For some unknown reason my flight to Coffs Harbour was a half an hour late getting off the ground. The plane was a small Dash-8 300 commuter turbo-prop plane. It is funny to come from America where all the bankrupt airlines are cutting services right and left to Australia, where they serve a snack on a 50 minute flight. God bless America.


My old friend Jaybe was waiting at the airport to meet. It was terrific seeing him again. We drove to his beautiful beachfront home where I unpacked and showered while he went out to run errands. Later we met his wife Shelly at a local restaurant for delicious laksa (spicy Indonesian coconut-noodle soup.) Mmmmm, mmmmm. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, picking up Jaybe and Shelly’s kids at school, shopping, and checking out the beach. It was about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the sun it felt downright hot.


In order to keep me from falling asleep, Jaybe took me on a hike down the precipitous hill behind his house, down to the beach, and on a long loop back up and around to the house. There was some unnerving bush-whacking involved, but it did serve to wake me up!


After dinner at the house at 8pm I took a 1mg Melatonin pill as my doctor recommended. By 8:30 I was in bed asleep. I slept well and soundly till 6:00am the next morning.



Thursday August 5, 2004


I woke up at about 6:00am to the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise. The whole horizon was orange over a dark blue sea. Thankfully, I felt terrific. My doctor said that a small dose of Melatonin at the correct time would really help with jet-lag, and I believe he is right. The last time I tried Melatonin, I felt like a zombie. Presumably this was because I took too big a dose. Based on what my doctor said, I’m not sure why health food stores sell melatonin in such large doses.


Jaybe and I headed out to a local breakfast place owned by some friends of his. We had a pleasant but unremarkable breakfast, then headed south towards Nambucca Heads. Jaybe had me drive to reacquaint me with driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Nambucca Heads was pleasant. We had some lunch, drove around, looked at some empty beaches, then drove back.


Stopping in at a newsstand I bought a new Dawson’s Guide to Unique Places to Stay.  In the past this guide has proven to be a fabulous listing of B&B’s and boutique hotels.  To my surprise, the current edition appeared to be worthless.  There were no B&B’s listed for Brisbane.  None.  Virtually nothing for Darwin, almost nothing for Sydney.  I started flipping through the guide.  In the past there would have been lots of small listings for lots of places, now there were a small number of large format advertisements.  Dawson’s appears to have fallen off a cliff. Oh well.  [Note: during the course of my trip I continually rechecked the Dawson’s guide and found it to be consistently worthless.  In the end I threw it away.]


A quiet and pleasant day.



Friday August 6, 2004


There was another beautiful sunrise, but it had been very damn cold during the night. There’s nothing quite like traveling from a place where it is the middle of summer to a place where it is dead winter, even if that winter is tropical. I had done the melatonin thing again the night before, but wasn’t able to stay awake past 8:30. I was up this morning before 6am. I felt great, but I also felt the need to move my schedule forward at least an hour or two.


Jaybe, Shelly and I took their kids to school in Woolgoolga (akawoopie”), then had a nice breakfast at a restaurant there. Shelly had to head off to work, so Jaybe and I turned around and drove down to Sawtell. Along the way he took me to a lookout point above Coffs that gave a great view of the whole area. We looked at some beaches and towns, then ate a fairly good lunch at a place called Ooh La La in downtown Sawtell. Jaybe took care of some errands, including picking up lightbulbs at a place that looked exactly like an American Home Depot.


For dinner we took a load of kids to a local chain family pizza and “Italian” food place. The food was terrible, the service was worse, but the kids had a good time.



Saturday August 7, 2004


I had been pretty tired all day yesterday, but today I felt terrific. I managed to stay awake till 9:30pm the prio night, and was up at 5:45 this morning. But I still wanted to push my schedule forward an hour.


It was an uneventful day. At 1pm I headed off to the tiny Coffs Harbour airport for the miniscule Sunshine Coast Airlines flight to Brisbane. They took my huge suitcases without a hitch and without charging me the excess baggage fee. The flight was on a good sized turbo-prop plane. Some folks I spoke to had flown down on Sunshine Coast on their smaller plane, which they said wasn’t big enough to stand up in. That flight they referred to as a “nightmare”, but my flight was fine.


I had a little trouble finding my way to the Avis parking area and ended up at the train station, which was a bit of a pain as I was lugging my two big suitcases. However, once I found Avis they upgraded me to a full size Holden (an Australian car), with a very cool GPS navigation system. It made finding my hotel much easier.


It turns out that it was a very good thing that I had a reservation. There were several conventions in town. The Sheraton was completely full, and they said that all the other hotels were as well. I had my room booked for three nights for free, using Starwood Hotel Points. It was a pretty boring room, but safe, clean, quiet, serviceable, and well located. Not bad considering the price.


By the time I had gotten my car, found the Sheraton, checked in, and gotten settled, it was getting late. I relaxed for a little while, then attempted to make a dinner reservation at one of Brisbane’s top restaurants. First I tried E’CCO, but they were totally full (weeks in advance I am told.) However, Circa (483 Adelaide St, 07-3832-4722), possibly Brisbane’s #2 restaurant, was able to accommodate me “since I was only one person.” Though the concierge suggested that I drive or take a taxi, I went on foot. It was a pleasant 10 minute walk from the Sheraton through cool evening air. I was a bit surprised at how few people were about on a Saturday night.


Circa was attractive, open, and cleanly decorated, with very friendly wait staff. I started with a Twice Baked Blue Cheese Soufflé. It was light, airy, and enjoyable with a great blue-cheese aroma. However, it was a bit small. It was served with wilted greens and terrific slices of pears that had been marinated in something I couldn’t quite place. I mated my dinner with a glass of Leeuwin Vineyards “Siblings” Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend, which was light in color with a fruity bouquet and a crisp, clean taste. My main was a dish presented by a visiting guest chef for the evening. It was sesame, cumin and macadamia nut crusted barramundi (an Australian ocean fish.) Served with artichokes, lettuce, sautéed onions, bacon, and a cheddar chip. It was quite good. For desert I had the cheese plate with a French washed rind cheese and a New Zealand blue which was sweet and excellent. The coffee was superb. All in all the meal was quite good, though the portions (and the wine pour) were a bit small, and the price was a tad high at AU$96 with a tip.


I walked back along the water front, wandering around a bit, surprised to find the streets so empty. Getting back to my hotel I realized I was just one block away from the Palace Backpacker’s hostel, where I had stayed one night some years earlier.



Sunday August 8, 2004


I managed to sleep in till 6:30, then read and wrote for a while. I really did want to push my schedule forward.


I asked the concierge about breakfast in the Fortitude Valley area. Last night they suggested it was too far to walk the 10 minutes to Circa, but today’s concierge recommended that I walk the 15-20 minutes to Fortitude Valley. I asked about parking regulations in Brisbane on a Sunday. He told me that there is no on-street parking anywhere in Brisbane! Of course, that turns out to be ridiculous, as there was plenty of parking and driving would have been a no-brainer. Oh well, it was a pleasant morning, and I got to see more on foot anyway.


There is something sort of “blah” about Australian cities. I’m not sure what it is, but they are just not that visually appealing. Perhaps because they are all so new. There is something generally unexciting about the architecture, the public spaces, and the store fronts. Walking through the CBD (central business district), there is very little that makes one want to stop and take a second look. There is an occasional old building, the odd intriguing shop, and the occasional very odd person, but that is about it.


I walked up the Brunswick Street mall (the heart of Fortitude Valley), settling into a place called FatBoys which was recommended by Lonely Planet. The service was glacial. I ordered eggs over easy - when they arrived it looked like they had been deep fried. The yolks were pale yellow and hard as bricks. I guess it took so long because they had to cook the life out of it. The meal was only just edible, and though I might perhaps be blocking some other experience from my mind, I am pretty sure it was the worst breakfast I have ever had. I’m not sure I could make worse eggs if I tried. After breakfast I walked around the area some more, watching people practicing Tai Chi in the middle of the miniscule Chinatown.


After breakfast I started the downtown walking tour shown in the Lonely Planet guide. There was a nice little Sunday market going on at the Eagle Street Pier. There I picked up a carry-on bag that would help me deal with my luggage on future flights, and a cheap knock-off pair of polarized sunglasses for use whale watching in Tonga. I also bought a cherimoya at a fruit stand, which turned out to be the best cherimoya I have ever had. I passed through ANZAC Square, then continued on to City Hall. I had wanted to go up the tower for a view over the city, but it turns out to be closed on Sundays. The Casino and Conrad Hotel buildings are handsome old edifices housed in the former treasury building and land office building respectively. Worth seeing from the outside, I didn’t bother to go in.


Due to massive reconstruction of the Southbank area, it took quite a detour to get across the Victoria bridge, but I finally managed it. Southbank is a very attractive piece of urban renewal, providing promenades, parks, beaches, and shops for Brisaners to wander around in. It includes the somewhat odd Pauls Breaka Beach, an artificial lagoon situated right next to the river and surrounded by sand hauled in from the coast.


By this point I was super-hungry since I had eaten so little of breakfast. I went in to Café San Marco, one of the riverfront cafes. There is no table service, so I went to the counter to order a minted lamb salad and two sodas. By now I have learned that one soda isn’t going to be enough, and I didn’t want to have to get up during my meal to order another. It was insanely slow. Clearly they forgot about my order or gave it to someone else. In the end the salad was OK.


Properly refueled I continued the walking tour. Brisbane is a very pleasant city with nothing exceptional. It is a very Australian city – it looks and feels Australian. There are lots of cafes and mediocre food; pleasant civic facilities with mostly ignorable architecture; and endless undifferentiated shops that don’t really catch the eye. Over it all fly improbable birds. I must say that it was very nice weather for the dead of winter! Warm but not hot, with a strong sun, and a breeze that occasionally turned into real wind.



City Botanic Gardens. Queensland University of Technology. QUT Museum.


Beat, took taxi back to hotel.


Really tired from walking, and a tiny bit of sunburn. Slept for an hour.


Dinner, not at Luxe (39 James St., Fortitude Valley.) Instead ate at Cru Bar and Cellar (22 James St). Chicken, scallop, onion spring rolls for an appetizer (excellent – flavorful, crunchy, nice ginger sauce.) Main New Zealand Cervena (venison) and New England Wild Boar served on mashed potatoes with cinnamon and allspice spiced red cabbage. Served late – cold. A SA Shiraz. Horrendous service, AU$47.50 with nothing for a tip.


Desert across the street at James Street Bistro (39 James St., 3852-5155.) Outstanding Valhrona chocholate mousse with a layer of coffee granite and a scoop of raisin-Frangelico ice cream. Wow. With fantastic coffee.



Monday August 9, 2004


Brekky in West End at Tempo Café and Bar (181 Boundary Stree, West End, 07-3846-3161.) Very cool area. Muesli and yoghurt trifle with stewed fruits. Nice, but not enough yoghurt. Beautiful coffee, took a photo. Consider: CBD vs neighborhoods, Australia cities vs. beaches, forests, towns.


Mount Coot-tha viewpoint. Good view but not a very interesting view. Drove all around the top of Mount Coot-tha. JC Slaughter Waterfall Track. Nice, no one on the trail, falls not running, birdcalls.


Botanic gardens. Lunch at the Lakeside Gardens Café (07-3870-9506), Tuna sandwich was mostly bread. More Ibis behaving like giant pigeons. Water dragons.

Nice botanic gardens, big but not too big. All the plants well signed, but poor pathway signage. Easy to get turned around/lost.


Paddington. Second lunch at Pandemonium (215 Given Terrace, Paddington, 07-3369-4420). Very funky place with nice couches. Ordered the Spanish Omelet. It was really some kind of frittata. Quite good though. Unbelievably slow.


Back to hotel, nap.


Out to Queen St. Mall. Rush hour, throngs of people rushing about. Unpleasant feeling pace. Mopped up last bits of Lonely Planet walk that I didn’t get to yesterday.


Consider: eat at the Customs House Brasserie (not open for dinner on Monday nights.)


Decided Sushi would go down nicely. Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine recommended Oshin (256 Adelaide St.,) but the concierge suggested the sushi would be better at Sono (Level 1, Tattersall’s Building, Queen Street Mall, 07-3220-1888.) I looked in at Oshin, but they place was quite empty, and continued on to Sono. Sono was much more lively. The sushi was excellent, but gut wrenchingly expensive, so I had just a few pieces and some tea, then drove back to the West End for a more filling meal. The West End wasn’t very happening on a Monday night (no real surpise.) Many of the places that had been open for lunch were closed. I ended up back at Tempo where I had a huge, fabulous pumpkin-coconut soup and odd scallop avocado salad. Great coffee and sticky date pudding with ice cream.



Tuesday August 10, 2004


Up, pack, check out

Back to West End, brekky of “runny eggs” at Espressohead (169 Boundary St., 3844-8324.) Good, but not as good as Tempo.

Drive to Byron Bay

Stupid stop at Tropical Fruit World

Eating macadamia nuts

Arrive in Byron, lunch at Belongil Beachhouse Cafe (formerly Café Swish) on Childe Street. Veggie Stack.

Belongil Beachhouse has only crappy rooms at high prices, and there is a construction site behind it. Sigh.

Drive around looking at B&B’s. Drove up Mellinger St past where Frangiapani B&B used to be. Byron Bay Guest House (70 Kingsley St., 02-6680-8886) expensive for what it was, just OK looking. Pull out Lonely Planet. Went by Bamboo Cottage B&B. Looks great for only AU$80 per night.

Settle in, make reservation for Sea Kayaking and Massage.

Out to bar, Coopers Sparkling beer – not as good as I remembered. Chat with some locals

Awesome ice cream at Bella Rosa (11 Jonson St., 02-6685-8805)

Back to Belongil Beachhouse Café for dinner before my massage, but it is closed!

Really cold out.

Dinner at Red, Hot and Green. Wow. Perch tempura on pawpaw salad.

Massage at Relax Heaven (Childe St., 02-6685-8304.) Very good, and still an excellent value at AU$45/hour.

By 8:30 Byron has rolled up the sidewalks



Wednesday August 11, 2004


Up early, breakfast at The Byronian (under new management.) Muesli with yoghurt. Good, but not enough yoghurt.

Kayaking with Byron Bay Sea Kayaks (, 02-6685-4161.) Fun, but you cant step into the same river twice, eh? My guide says “wow, that was the first time I made it in without capsizing.”

Woman on boogie board in water “waiting for dolphins.”


Lunch at Fish Heads, right on the beach in front of the Beach Hotel. Berenice, the B&B owner’s, favorite restaurant in Byron Bay. Had the mixed grill (swordfish, yellowtail tuna, bugs, prawns.) I felt that the food was definitely good, but also certainly not great. The price was very high. Given the B&B owners praise and the prices, I expected to be knocked off my chair. I have had equal or better seafood many times in many other parts of the world for less money.


Wander around town, look at some of my favorite shops, bought granola and yoghurt at the health food market for tommorow’s breakfast.


I stopped in at Colin Heany glass studio (6 Acacia St, 02-6685-7044, His current works don’t excite me as much as what he was doing when I was here last.


Coffee at Expressohead on Jonson St. Presumably same as in Brisbane. Good coffee. I’m told that it is the best in town, but to my taste it was on a par with all the rest I’ve had.


Return, nap, write.


Dinner at Fresh (7 Jonson St, 02-6685-7810). Crispy Pork on salad. Interesting pork belly slices fried crispy on a bed of lettuce and apple slices. Reading Jaques Pepin’s The Apprentice during dinner. Just at the point where he moves to Paris. When I walked into the bathroom at the restaurant after dinner, for a fleeting moment I had this weird feeling that I was in Paris. Very odd.


More ice cream at Bella Rosa. Coffee is best, choco-mint second, almond third, Tiramisu fourth.



Thursday August 12, 2004


Wow do I hurt. My thighs and right wrist are killing my from yesterday’s kayaking. The motion of twisting an offset paddle is murder on wrists worn by years of typing induced RSI. I had expected my shoulders to hurt – which they didn’t. My quads hurting was a surprise. Ah well, it was a beautiful, clear, sunny but chilly morning. Having real granola and yoghurt for breakfast was definitely nice.


Note: Aussies being stingy with liquids: sauces, beverages, yoghurt vs. American expectations.


Talking with other B&B guests “the bitch is much nicer down here.” Eh? Oh “beach.”


Bamboo Cottage B&B: very nice, pleasant, nice room, nice people, good location, but thin walls. Other guests were quiet, but if they hadn’t been… BYO shampoo, breakfast not included.


Drive to Moreton Bay area. Feel terrible – food poisoning?


Lunch in Coolangatta at the oddly named “Sweet Talk Café.” Lemon-Ginger Wort by Wort Organics.


Info center closed early. Help from nice woman at Backpackers place. Ridiculous drive around looking for a place to stay.

-        Melalenca Cottage

-        Birkdale B&B, 3 Whitehail Ave, Birkdale

-        Waterloo bay hotel, 75 Berrima St, Wynnum


Melalenca Cottage in Lota (46 Villers St., 07-3348-5542)

The loudest quiet neighborhood in the world.



Friday August 13, 2004


Feeling much better, but definitely not perfect. At least it wasn’t the flu!


Huge bruise on my leg – musta gotten it on one of the kayak capsizings.


Breakfast at Pago Pago. Excellent scrambled eggs.


Decide to keep the house for two more days. Just not enough time to go to Noosa or back to Byron, and don’t feel super well.


Lunch at Fish Café Food and Wine Bar (461 The Esplanade, 07-3893-0195) – crumbed whitefish. “Fish and Chips made by Chefs.” Good, not great. Have to pay for “sauce”. Why are Australians so stingy with liquids?


Drive up the South Moreton Bay Tourist Drive. As a tourist, I can honestly say that this is not very interesting. Wynnum, Wynnum Mangrove Boardwalk, up to Redcliffe – some sand on beaches, much more going on, super windy.


Back to house. Not feeling great. Super windy.


Dinner at Sbi Sbi Thai Restaurant (Cambridge Parade) – Moreton Bay Bugs in yellow curry. Probably a bad idea on an upset stomach, but tasted really good. Fortunately, they made it very mild (not surprising.) All the wait staff were white, but they swore that the chefs were Thai.



Saturday August 14, 2004


Woke up this morning feeling improved, but still not 100%. Went back to Pago Pago for breakfast, this time having an omelet. It was properly prepared, but the cheese used made it heavy and greasy – the scrambled eggs were better.


I decided to have a look at more of the Moreton Bay area, this time heading south towards the Redland region on the Tourist Drive. I really flogged this Tourist Drive thing. I checked out every spot on the Tourist Drive map looking for something noteworthy. Every bay was just another bay full of mangrove mud, every town was just another tiny irrelevant suburb. I went by Ormiston to see the Ormiston House, not even knowing what that would be. It turned out that Ormiston is a rather attractive suburb, but Ormiston House is just some old house and is only open to the public about 6 days a year. It would have been nice if the Tourist Drive map had pointed that out. Finally when Victoria Point turned out to be nothing at all, I just packed it in, pointed the car towards Brisbane, and gave up on ever finding anything worthwhile in the Moreton Bay.


About 45 minutes later I pulled into West End for another pleasant lunch at Tempo. Then I cruised over to Southbank and hung out near the artificial beach reading and snoozing on the grass. Finally, I got up and drove over to the New Farm district and New Farm Park.


Wow, what a nice area of town. I sat and watched the sunset over the river. The air was beautiful - perfect sleeping air. As I sat on the stone wall next to the Watt restaurant drinking a latte, a little girl pointed out a possum in the tree over my head. I felt that I could sit there forever watching the river, joggers, and diners. It’s a funny spot, in front of an old power plant that has been converted into a museum and theater complex with the swish Watt restaurant in the bottom. Behind me the old power plant building, in front a pebble walkway then a railing keeping people from the broken concrete docks. Just to my right was a sculpture representing the word “Flood”, embedded in the concrete so that only the top half of each letter was visible – appearing as though there had indeed been a flood. Beyond that was the river, and across the river views of zillion dollar homes.


The floor manager at Watt (119 Lamington St, 07-3358-5464) was so mind-bogglingly friendly I was actually taken aback. I couldn’t decide if he had mistaken me for a famous restaurant critic, or the place was desperate for customers, or he was trying to pick me up. I wasn’t very hungry, so I just ordered a couple of appetizers. One was a sand crab concoction which was (a) absolutely tiny (barely an amuse bouche) and (b) so complex in flavors that it would best be called over-complicated. I’d have to say that it really wasn’t very good. I followed that with a rare-beef salad with “salmon XO sauce”. The flavor was as weird as it sounds, and no, a salmon reduction sauce does not go well on beef. If they had stuck with just the XO sauce it would have been fine. Clearly Watt is a restaurant that just tries way too hard with a chef that has so thoroughly broken the bounds of traditional cuisine that he has broken the food as well.


Though the waiters were unbelievably friendly, the service was horrendous (no surprise, this is Australia, right?) After they delivered my miniscule crab appetizer, they evidently forgot about me. Half an hour later I finally flagged a waiter down. She got the friendly floor manager, and he managed to get my second appetizer to me. Strangly, the waiter that brought me my second course laid it in front of me saying “Here’s your compost heap.” When I gave him a suitably odd look he said “that’s what the wait staff calls it.” Well really. A chef has gone to some effort to create something, and it was beautifully plated. Giving the customer a first impression of it as garbage is definitely a bad idea.


Every time I’ve written about Australia I have harped on and on about the uniformly abysmal service in restaurants. To my amusement, to guys from Adelaide sitting next to me were having a conversation about how much they hate the service in America! “I can’t stand the way they’re constantly checking up on you.” Said the one. “Yes. I wish they would just leave me alone to enjoy my meal and talk with my mates.” Said the other. “And then at the end they expect a tip for bugging you the whole time.” “Yes,” said the first, “if you don’t leave a big enough tip you get a nasty look on the way out!” It just goes to show you!


After dinner I drove back to my “holiday apartment”, an easy ½ hour drive.



Sunday August 15, 2004


Thankfully, I was feeling almost completely better this morning. Just a mild lingering uneasiness in the stomach, nothing I couldn’t handle.


I was pretty hungry when I got out of the house. Though I wanted to head in to town for breakfast, I decided to eat out in Manly, then drive in. This time I checked out Da Vinci Café. As usual I was given a menu and a bottle of ice water almost before my butt hit the chair, but everything after that was in slow motion. The scrambled eggs were very good, but I’m sure I could have gone to the super market, bought eggs, brought them back to the house, and cooked them in the time it took the restaurant to serve me. It was absolutely glacial.


By this point I was convinced that there was no point searching around Moreton Bay anymore. Its just a bunch of old seaside towns turned bedroom-community suburb with an overzealous tourist agency. I headed directly in to town, and back to the park at New Farm. I wandered about the park, walked up and down the riverbank, and took a brief nap on the grass till ants drove me away. It was pleasant, but very windy out.


I made my way back to the “heart” of New Farm (all two blocks of it), checking out restaurants for lunch. A Chinese place caught my eye. Normally when traveling I try to eat almost exclusively local cuisine. However, Australia really doesn’t have an indigenous cuisine to speak of; its basically just an amalgamation of various European and Asian cuisines. I was getting pretty tired of meal after meal of Asian-fusion, so Chinese sounded just right. In I went to Big Fortune Restaurant, where I had shredded beef in Peking sauce. The sauce was heavy on the honey and definitely too sweet. There wasn’t any vinegar or acid flavor to offset and balance the sweetness, leaving the dish heavy and cloying. Oh well.


I found another park (Wilson Outlook Reserve) with a view of the river and Story Bridge. The noise from the bridge traffic was pretty oppressive. Finally, I figured I’d just go to the cool café in Paddington that I’d found a few days earlier. Unfortunately, it turns out that the sports arena is in Paddington, and there was a huge rugby match on. Eventually I made it through the traffic and crowds and got back to Pandemonium Café. Because it was an event day, on street parking in Paddington was limited to 5 minutes! Fortunately, it turns out that Pandemonium has a secret parking lot in back. I hung out on a sofa at the back of the café and read with a cup of tea until they finally shut the place down at 3:00pm


I couldn’t face another restaurant meal. I particularly couldn’t face another restaurant wait. So, while driving back to my holiday apartment I decided I would take advantage of it’s kitchen. I stopped into a Woolworths super market (yes, in Australia Woolworths are grocery stores.) For AU$20 I bought fixings for lamb chops, couscous, and salad, plus breakfast for the next day. Shoulda done that sooner!



Monday August 16, 2004


Flying to Darwin on Qantas airlines from Brisbane airport on a Boeing 737-800. Australia is a big country. From Brisbane, more than half way up the east coast, it is a 4 hour flight to Darwin, the northernmost city in the country. Darwin is a city of 100,000 people, slightly smaller than my home town of Boulder, Colorado. Yet Boulder is just on the outskirts of Denver, a “real” city, whereas Darwin is over seventeen hundred miles from the next city. It is closer to Jakarta than to Sydney. I’d been asking Australians about Darwin. Half said they’d never been there, a quarter said it was beautiful and I’d love it, and another quarter said “why are you going there?” Why was I going there? Because its there.


Darwin is FULL. An hour at the tourist information center at the airport arranging my stay with Hanna, Tourism Top End’s Airport Manager (08-8936-2477). <Note Bill Byrson’s comments about Darwin.> Landed at 1:30, by the time I left the airport it was past 3pm!


Quest Serviced Apartments (55 Cavenagh St., 08-8982-3100.)


Bookseller stays open to sell me a book (so much for Bryson!) But, yes, Darwin rolls up the sidewalks at 5:00.


Dinner at Crustaceans on the Wharf (Stokes Hill Wharf, 08-8981-8658), known locally as “Crusty’s”. Somehow they had lost my reservation, but they were able to seat me anyway. Crusty’s is out on the end of the wharf with a great view of the bay and the sunset. All the tables appear to be outside. The tables and chairs are far from elegant, and are set on a blacktop dock complete with old rail lines. But, they are set with nice linens and plateware. Funny. Service was very prompt and friendly. Quite a surprise for Australia.


The great local specialty is mud crab (akamuddys”) and Crusty’s is the place to get them. It was a foregone conclusion that I would get the mud crab, but I had a moment of pause when I saw the price of AU$55 for them. Equivalent to US$41, that’s more than one would pay for lobster in a fine restaurant in the US. I went for the muddy’s anyway. Ordered the Three Witches Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. It had a very weird, off, corked taste. The waitress replaced it with a Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc, which was OK but not great. The steamed mud crab was almost closer in flavor to Maine lobster than crab. It had a very nice, sweet taste, and was served with a balsamic vinegar dipping sauce that I imagined would be a bad combination but was actually quite nice. The crab was suitably hard to eat.


Dining under the stars at Crusty’s was certainly romantic, but eating a mud crab was messy enough to blow any romantic mood. It would have been nice if the kitchen had done a more thorough job of cracking the claws and arms.


For desert I had an espresso crème brulée, which was very disappointing. The espresso flavor was only in the sugar coating, and the cream had a strange grainy texture. I’m not quite sure how to screw up a crème brulée in quite that way.



Tuesday August 17, 2004


Somehow I slept 10 hours. Wow. Yesterday was a really hard day. There’s really nothing to travel, and yet somehow it is exhausting.


The Quest turned out to be a nice place; quiet room, well appointed, and a great shower.  However, the bed was hard as a brick (sigh.)


I’m getting used to the peculiar beverage which results from putting hot water over these funny packets of powder labeled “coffee” found in every hotel room in Australia. Funny, it reminds me of something. It’s vaguely like very weak coffee, but not quite. Meanwhile, outside the hotels in places people here like to call “cafes”, they serve something called a “long black” which is also kind of like coffee, but again not quite.


Since the Quest couldn’t accommodate me for more than one night, I packed up and moved a few blocks to the Cherry Blossom Motel (108 The Esplanade, 08-8981-6734.)  Based on the description, I was a bit apprehensive, but the place turns out to be OK.  An absolutely-no-frills motel, but clean and safe and very conveniently located.


After moving and checking in, I went for breakfast at a place charmingly named “Ducks Nuts.” (Mitchell St.) I was pleased to see “organic granola” with yoghurt and fruit on the menu.  The “granola” turned out to be just more muesli, but it was still pretty good.  Strangely, the service was great.


I spent a long time wandering around town, buying things in preparation for the next days tour (a towel, water bottles, etc.) and just looking around.  There really isn’t all that much to see.  For lunch, I stopped for a chicken laksa at Rendezvous Café, (32 Smith St. Mall, 08-8981-9231.) The service was so fast it made my American head spin. My soup was delivered before I had settled into my chair. Did someone forget to tell the restaurateurs in Darwin that Australian service is supposed to be terrible?


Later, I took a long, ugly, boring walk to the wharf to have dinner and watch the sun set.  I didn’t realize that there are two wharfs, one for tourists, and one industrial. The walk past the industrial wharf was particularly unpleasant.  I definitely should have taxen a taxi. I finally arrived at Stokes Hill Wharf to watch the sun set… behind the ugly industrial wharf!


For dinner I simply went to a Thai food stall for some Pla Lard Prik (deep fried fish with chili sauce.)  It was OK.



Wednesday August 18, 2004


I was up this morning at 5:45am for the 6:30 tour bus pickup. Ugh. The Cherry Blossom was noisier than I expected due to busses which roll down the esplanade at all hours of the morning, and a vigorous trash pick-up some time before dawn.  Oh well.


Waiting out in front of the Cherry Blossom in the pre-dawn, I enjoyed watching the stars, birds, and joggers on the esplanade, followed by a a very beautiful sunrise.


Finally I was picked up by the Aussie Adventure Tours bus (08-8924-1111).  The drive to Kakadu was long and relatively uninteresting.  After about an hour and a half we stopped for breakfast at the Bark Hut restaurant. Then resumed the drive.


Our first stop within Kakadu was to see aboriginal “rock art” at Ubirr. Getting to the rock painting sites required a bit of a climb. A lot of the older people on the bus really shouldn’t have attempted it. It took a long time for the tour guide to help everyone up and down the stone climb.  The rock paintings were somewhat interesting, though I have never been much taken with aboriginal or folk art.  A simple box lunch of sandwiches was provided at a place called Jabiru.


Though the guide repeatedly pointed out how beautiful the forest was, and described the plant and animal diversity it supported, I have to say that from the road it was really monotonous and uninteresting.  There was some great bird life to be seen from the road, but not much else.


Following, we had a very brief visit to the Bowali visitor’s center, which looked like it would have been quite informative if we had had time to read any of the materials.  We had to rush off from the visitors’ center to make it to “Yellow Water” for a crocodile cruise.  The boat ride was quite nice; we got to see a wide variety of birds and several crocodiles.  It was well worth the time.


That evening the bus dropped us off at Gagudju Cooinda Lodge.  Most of the people on the bus were just there for a day trip, and were returning to Darwin that night.  The lodge was very much like an American KOA with camp sites and some very basic cinder-box rooms. Cooinda Lodge also had some nicer “hotel” rooms.  Those of us staying for the night checked into our rooms – either tents, budget rooms, or hotel rooms depending on which option we had paid for.  My room was adequate, but very small and Spartan.  The common bathrooms were a short walk away, and again very much like an American campground.



Thursday August 19, 2004


It was another early morning, and quite nippy out.  I got up at 6:15am, had a shower, and breakfast at the lodge’s restaurant.


There were only 4 of us for this day’s tour, which involved a 4WD bus.  It was a long drive over a very badly corrugated dirt road. The shaking would knock the hat right off your head.


The first stop was at a waterhole/waterfall at Maguk.  The park service makes sure that there are no salt water crocodiles at Maguk, so it is safe to swim. When we got there, there were already dozens of people swimming.  If there had been croc’s, someone would have been eaten already.  The water was a very pleasant tempterature.  It was a nice swim, but I could have skipped the whole thing.


Following, we drove again down bumpy dirt roads and through deep sand to the very beautiful Sandy Billabong.  There we had another box lunch and watched birds.


Our next stop was the Aboriginal Arts Center, which was excellent and had some great displays.


That nights lodging was in Jabiru at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge. This place was much nicer than Gagudji Cooinda Lodge. The rooms were bigger, and towels and soap were provided. There was also a big swimming pool with an artificial water fall.



Friday August 20, 2004


Pick up in very rugged 4WD bus by Arnhemland Tours.


Arnhemland had attractive, open terrain. More attractive than Kakadu. Tour guide referred to Kakadu forests as monotonous. Definitely agree, however, Arnhemland’s views quickly became equally monotonous.


Arts center – unbelievably boring. Driver says “aboriginal people aren’t aesthetically inclined.” No shit. So why are we supposed to buy their paintings? The emperor has no clothes.


Driver keeps on pointing out irrelevant things like the turn offs to campgrounds and places where there used to be farms. Who cares?


Endless visits to rock art site after rock art site. Long drives over horrendous roads. I want to shout out “daddy, are we there yet?!?” This place is not for the A.D.D. tourist.


Very hot out, dusty, blech.


As we were returning to the Aurora Lodge the driver hands out herb scented frozen towels. They were the best part of the trip!


Showered up at the Aurora Lodge before boarding the bus for the 3 hour drive back to Darwin. Incredibly annoying bus driver telling endless un-funny stories. Dinner at the Bark Hut on the way back. T-Bone steak; actually pretty good.


Finally back to the Cherry Blossom Motel.



Saturday August 21, 2004


Breakfast again at Ducks Nuts.


Bus over to the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Shoulda taken a taxi. Bus took to long for the slight savings. Very nice displays of natural history of the region, and moving Hurricane Tracy display (though not as great as guidebooks would make one believe.) Yet more aboriginal art.


Museum restaurant was full and staff was unpleasant. Information desk told me there was a restaurant across the street at the Ski Club (The Darwin Water Ski Club). Got my free “honorary membership”, a steak sandwich with everything (egg, pineapple, beet, lettuce, cheese.) Sat outside under the palm trees watching the ocean and reading. Much nicer than wasting time at the museum restaurant. Highly recommended.


Walked to the Botanic Gardens. Very small. Trees well signed, but lousy path signage. Finally found the information center, it looked like it was closed, but lo and behold the door was unlocked. Poor information. The only impressive thing about the Botanic Gardens was the Rainforest Gully. Apparently it was a dry grassland 20 years ago and now is a serious rainforest with towering trees. Well done.


Walking back to the city, thinking “wow, I’ve really done Darwin.” Six billion chimpanzees cant be wrong.


Dinner at Dragon Court at the MGM Grand Casino. Stir fried sliced BBQ duck with vegetables. Good, but not great. Not the super-attractive display I was expecting. Sweet Fungus desert – weird, OK not great.



Sunday August 22, 2004


More beakfast of oatmeal with yoghurt at Ducks Nuts.


Pack up, check out.  Hotel told me it was only 20 minutes to the airport on the airport shuttle.  What they didn’t tell me was that the shuttle would drive around Darwin for 30 minutes visiting other hotels before finally heading off.  It was a very good thing that I took the earlier shuttle, as the later shuttle wouldn’t have gotten me there on time.  I really wish I had just taken a taxi.  The extra AU$10 would certainly have been worth it to save the time and peace of mind.


The flight to Sydney on Qantas was uneventful.  This is a big country – almost 5 hours from Darwin to Sydney by air; days by car.


Grace Hotel (77 York St., 02-9272-6888) free for 3 nights using Hilton Honors points.  Very nice hotel, large attractive room, terrific bed.  Superb location.


Dinner at Coast



Monday August 23, 2004


Great bed, great room, great shower

Breakfast at hotel café

Sydney Aquarium


Get together with Jaybe

Hang out around Darling Harbour

Dinner at Doyles with Jaybe – cold entree plate & seafood crepe



Tuesday August 24, 2004


Drop off laundry at Stainless at King St. Wharf (35 Shelly St., 02-9299-0089)

Breakfast at Blackbird café (Cockle Bay Wharf, Darling harbour, 02-9283-7385).  Good eggs.

Wandered around

Lunch at some place on York St.  Good salad, cheap, fast.

Got lost going back to Stainless.  Wasted an hour!

Walked to Rocks

Snack at Courtyard Café (Argyle St.) a nice Parisian café, but chilly out of the sun.

Getting cold


Opera house – 10 minutes before the tour was to start I was the only person signed up.  How could I say no to a private tour.  By the time the tour started there were 10 of us.

The tour of the Sydney Opera House was weird. It’s a very expensive tour, and I think they fell they have to give you your money’s worth.  It’s a full hour tour, but there’s only about ½ hour that’s interesting.  The rest of the time the tour guide regaled us with details about the play that was being performed that night, lists of Australian actors that had performed there (none of which I’d ever heard of,) and, in true Australian form, a free coffee or tea.  If it had been a focused ½ hour, it would have been a smashing tour.  At one hour, I kept on wanting to tell her to just get on with it!


Dinner at Rockpool (107 George St., 02-9252-1888)

Amuse bouche of a single fresh made goats cheese tortellini with soaked raisins and pine nuts dressed with a mild but fragrant extra virgin olive oil.  It was excellent.  The tortellini was perfectly cooked, and the dressing was lovely.


For my main course I had John Dory topped with a crisp Indian bread, served with an Indian inspired cumin/turmeric curry sauce, deep fried shallots, and deep fried “curry leaves”.  It was very good, but not quite up to the level of the price.  I also ordered an arugala, radicchio, and spring greens salad.  Rockpool continues to be a fine, attractive restaurant with excellent service and creative dishes.  However, it is furiously expensive, and not as good as its prices should warrant.  The food was enjoyable, but I was hoping to be “wowed.”


After dinner I stopped by a grocery store to purchase granola and yoghurt so I wouldn’t have to continue eating Australian breakfasts.


Wednesday August 25, 2004


Breakfast in room of yummy granola and yoghurt.


Walk all over Domain and Botanic Gardens.  Walked for hours and hours.

Lunch at café in Botanic Gardens (downstairs). Quiche.  Burping up eggs for the rest of the day.  Ugh.

Dinner at hotel.  Nice light salad.



Thursday August 26, 2004


Another fine breakfast in my room.


Walk to circular quay

Almost missed Manley Ferry

Sit on beach

Lunch at Le Kiosk (Shelly Beach, 02-9977-4122.)  Another knock-down-drag-out meal. Mind bogglingly slow.  So slow that by the time I was done I was hungry again!  AU$35.  Ouch. Puy lentil soup (lentils really from Puy, France?) and goats cheese ravioli. Wasn’t served hot enough, and the dough was too thick.  Why do such simple dishes take so long?  Do Australian chefs not do mis en place?


Walked back to Manley Beach.  Sat on beach

Second lunch at 3 Ducks

Back to Sydney, walk to Hotel

Try to sell books

Dinner at Spice I Am Thai restaurant (90 Wentworth Ave – corner of Elizabeth St. 02-9280-0928.)  Stunningly authentic Thai food.  Ma Khua Phuang in the green curry!  90% of customers were Thai, everyone in the kitchen was Thai.  [Note; walked by the intriguingly named Thainatown – also filled with Thai customers.]


Friday August 27, 2004


Pack up

Taxi to Airport

Fly to Fiji