Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lord Howe Island

As I mentioned previously we were loathe to leave Sydney and pretty clueless about what to expect of Lord Howe.   Our Quantas flight (LOVE Quantas) was a small prop plane and we had to shuffle the contents of our bags around to get under the 14 kilogram per person checked bag limit.  It turned out not to matter though as they had to take many of the bags off the flight to reduce the weight of the aircraft enough to ensure a safe landing on the short runway in wet conditions.  19 people off the flight didn’t receive their bags and Mark, Peyton and I were among them.   We weren’t sad though as we were provided really nice complimentary bags with T-shirts, shorts and toiletries, as well as a $100 per person credit at the local surf shop (for two days as it turned out because the second day the flight was canceled due to stormy weather.)  We are so terribly sick of each and every clothing item in our possession that new ones (for free no less) made us soooo happy!

The best way to tell you about Lord Howe is that it reminds us (Mark and I anyway) of Fantasy Island – without all the hocus pocus of course.   The island is just 11 kilometers long and about 2 kilometers wide.  There are less than 400 permanent residents and a limit of about the same number of visitors at any one time.  32 kids attend the local elementary school; they wear uniforms to classes but aren’t required to wear shoes.  Every time someone passes you on the road they wave.

Our accommodation turned out to be a great one bedroom duplex with a full kitchen and nice covered deck just 100 yards from a pristine and practically deserted beach.  On our first evening, after visiting the surf shop and local grocery, we had Kraft Macaroni and cheese for dinner – both economical and thrilling as we hadn’t seen any since leaving home in August of last year.

The closest beach to our place was called Old Settlement.  It is known for the turtles that are always there swimming in the shallows. They like to whack your feet with their flippers.

About a 20 minute walk over to the other side of the island is Ned’s beach.  This is the only beach on the island where fishing is illegal.  That’s because the fish are all “tame” as they are used to being hand fed stale bread.  We didn’t find them so terribly tame as, if you weren’t careful, they would mistake your hand for a piece of bread.  But it made for very fun swimming/snorkeling.

About an hour hiking (all up hill) from our little house takes you to Kim’s outlook from which you could see the entire south side of the island – worth the work.

One day we rented bikes, road around the island to the only beach with real waves.   On the way back we watched the plane land.

Another day I took a four hour hike around the island.

Lord Howe is very a beautiful, pristine and well manicured paradise, but there wasn't a whole heck of lot to do there for two whole weeks.  In addition to the limited square footage of the island, it rained/stormed a whole bunch.  We cooked and hiked and swam and worked on our plans to get home.   We also bickered as we suffered from cabin fever.

One storm took out this tree on our road

I know I will look back at this part of the trip and wish we had enjoyed this little piece of heaven on earth more.  You know you have been traveling too long when you fail to truly appreciate paradise.

I'm happy to report however that we have finally booked our tickets home!  In the end we were able to use frequent flyer miles we collected on American Airlines from their partners we flew on our trip.  We will depart out of Santiago, Chile on April 19th and fly to Miami.  From there Mark and Wilder will head to Tennessee to pick up a truck Mark bought (online) and drive it cross country, visiting a few relatives and maybe a college or two on the way home.  Peyton and I will connect through Dallas for a night and then arrive in Phoenix on the 21st, just in time for my niece Lauren's birthday.  Our plan is to stay with my parents there and wait for the boys so that we can all drive into Los Angeles together on or, hopefully before, May 1st.

We have little of our long trip left now - we head next to New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then to Chile and Easter Island for a total of 10 days.  To say we are excited would be a major understatement.  We are all feeling really ready to be home.  9 months, it turns out, is a very long time to be away.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Our flight from Bangkok was on Quantas.  We all laughed when they told us they had upgraded us to "Premium Economy."  We weren't laughing for long though as our big seats and the accompanying perks turned out to be super nice.  Quantas rocks!

1 week was far too short a time in Sydney.  Even with it pouring rain most days, it was a sorely needed boost to our moral.  We had a lovely little apartment with the most amazing view of the harbor, bridge and the famous opera house.  It was a short 10 minute ferry ride to the city center.  Coming from Los Angeles that is really special!

All the pictures in this next section were taken from our window.

Just returning to an English speaking country was a big relief.  Conversely though we found the food prices shocking.  Breakfast for one of bacon and eggs was $20.  As a consequence we mostly self catered and enjoyed that too as it had been a while.  We've discovered our idea of home cooked comfort food is Mexican - and Sydney had the most wonderful ripe Haas avocados - heaven.

The number one thing Peyton was looking forward to of the entire trip was a chance to jump out of an airplane.  Australia allows kids as young as 14 the opportunity to pay $285 for this privilege, whereas in the US it costs more and you must wait until you are 18.   The jump site was Wallangong, a beach community almost two hours south of Sydney.  We ended up making the journey twice as we were rained out the first day, but in the end the kids were thrilled with their jump, proclaiming it less scary and more fun than the South African bungee jump.  Peyton is already asking to go again.

The highlight of my week was a date with Mark to see Olivia Newton John perform with the Sydney orchestra at the Opera House.  It was a total time machine and a really fun iconic experience, all at the same time.

During our week, we also managed to go to church and to the American embassy to get some papers notarized.  We also got out to see famous Bondi beach on our one sunny day.

On our last day we went to the Australian Wildlife Center with the express purpose of seeing Koalas, Kangaroos and all animals Australian.   We arrived late in the afternoon and were uncertain whether or not to fork over the $100 plus dollars to get us all in, especially when we learned they had no Tasmanian Devils in residence (apparently they are endangered and rare now even in captivity.)   We decided to risk it though and ended up thinking the subsequent 2 hours were worth every penny.  We had the place almost to ourselves, and the staff in each area were happy to stand around and talk to us as long as we wanted.  Plus unlike in most traditional zoos, we got to see all of the animals up super close, and often with no glass separating us.  Koalas have to be one of the world’s most adorable creatures.  We were lucky to see three 8-month old babies that had only recently made their debut.

The kangaroos were less cute.  They are very muscle-y, kind of like big, buff and scary rabbits.  Their eyes though looked intelligent and gentle.

There were also all kinds of other native Australian animals, rodents, snakes etc. to look at and learn about, but our favorite was Rex.  Rex is a very large crocodile that floated within inches of our faces in his large pond enclosure.  Rex is very cool looking but apparently not so cool acting as he keeps killing his mates.

When I was planning our trip I was disappointed to have to take Tahiti off our itinerary because of flight constraints.  On the strength on an online recommendation I substituted Lord Howe, a little known island off the coast of Southern Australia.  For some reason I can't remember now, when selecting the flights I decided we should be there for 2 weeks.  It was quite a shock when I got around to planning for this faze of our trip to find that Lord Howe is a very elite destination with no budget accommodations at all.  The cheapest option for 4 people was close to $600 per night.  Since my flights weren't changeable, I had no idea what on earth we were going to do.  Yet again, a kind stranger came to our rescue and offered us a $200 per night spot staying where he houses staff for his hotel and restaurant.  I was so grateful that I asked few questions and have no idea what to expect.  Lord Howe Island, here we come.