Thursday, June 16, 2016

Down Unda: Gold Coast Days 5 & 6

Day 5 of our epic Australian adventure took us from Sydney to Brisbane, well the Gold Coast, actually, but we spent the morning flying into Brisbane and then picking up a rental car and driving an hour south to check in at the Surfer's Paradise Marriott Hotel.  All of the Marriotts that we stayed in in Australia were amazing, but the Surfer's Paradise Marriott wins FOR. SURE.  It was unbelievable.  Our room had an amazing view of the city, which is built upon canals weaving up and down streets, and right on the beach.  And the rooms, food, and accommodations were awesome.  But, the best part of the hotel was the pool!  It was actually made up of a few pools, one of which was salt water with a man-made beach.  And in the pool was reef with hundreds of fish that you could swim with and snorkel!  It was really unbelievable.  We could have spent a week at this hotel and been perfectly happy not ever leaving!  But, we didn't have that luxury since we were there for only a couple of days and we had all of the Gold Coast to explore!  We compromised though, and after getting settled in our hotel, we decided to just hang out and swim at the hotel for the rest of the day.

We couldn't leave the Gold Coast without dedicating a day to its beautiful beaches.  We had really high hopes of visiting a few different beaches, but in the end, we decided to just hit up Burleigh Heads Beach and make a day of it.  Burleigh Heads is gorgeous!!!  There's a national park right on the beach, and they've got some great hiking trails and beautiful rocks and cliffs to explore.  We didn't hike, but we stopped and took photos and enjoyed the views.  They also had a really fun playground right by the beach that our kids had fun playing on while Bennett took a nap on the grass.  Once he woke up, we set up camp on the beach and had a blast playing in the sand and the waves (which were HUGE btw).  

After we had our fill of swimming and playing, we grabbed delicious tacos and gelato on the cute beachy-town streets of Burleigh Heads and then headed back to our hotel.

We let our kids swim in the pool while I got to meet up with a very dear friend, Emma Eriksson!  Emma, her sister, and her dad were baptized while I was serving in Nerang in the Gold Coast 12 years ago!  It was so, so, so wonderful to be able to sit and talk and catch up with her!  She is an amazing girl and is very dear to my heart.

Then, after Emma left and we ate and rested a bit, I got to see more dear friends!  Rachel and Kurei Smith, their kids, and Kurei's parents (who were all in Nerang ward when I served there) came to the hotel and we were able to visit while all of our kids swam together.  It was such a fun reunion!  Rachel and I had a special bond when I was a missionary and it was so good to reconnect with her.  

The Gold Coast is such an amazing place, with people there that I love!  Next time we will stay longer!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Down Unda: Sydney Days 2 & 3

On day 3 in Sydney, we decided to take a tour bus out to the Blue Mountains.  We used the company, Oz Trails, and they were awesome.  Our driver was extremely knowledgable about the landscape, history, including all of the Aboriginal history and lore, and he also taught us survival and medicinal, and apothecary tips using the local shrubs, trees and foliage.  And the Blue Mountains are so, so, so breathtakingly gorgeous! 

We stopped to check out an ancient Aboriginal carving of a kangaroo:

And continued on to a little hike or "bush walk" to a lookout point over Wentworth Falls.  

This is the hollow tree that a didgeridoo is made of. 

After Wentworth Falls, we got back on our bus and went over to Scenic World to see the famous 3 Sisters rock formation and more of the scenery within the Blue Mountains.  We took the Skyway, Australia's highest cable car, the Cableway, walked through the forest on their Walkway, and then took the Railway, which is the steepest in the world!  And it was steep!  Our kids were practically crying they were so scared!  It was awesome.

We took a ferry cruise home after a full day of visiting the Blue Mountains.  It was a perfect day of beautiful sights and fun bush walks.  I'm really glad we decided to go and see them.  

Day 4 in Sydney was city time!  We spent the entire day just doing more sightseeing within the city.  We started out by walking down to the Sydney Opera House and checking the place out.

After the Opera House, we meandered our way through the Royal Botanic Garden and let the kids run around, roll down hills, and smell the flowers.  The gardens, right on the water in the middle of the city, are beautiful.  Sydney really is one of the most scenic and beautiful cities in the world!

After exploring the gardens, we walked over to the Sydney Tower Eye, the tall tower that looms over the city.  Along the way we had fun window shopping and checking out local street festivals and the city crowds.

Now, we've been to a lot of tall towers in our travels, but for whatever reason, our kids LOVED the Tower Eye.  Actually, I think I know the reason:  their 5 minute 4D movie about Sydney that everyone watches before taking the elevator up to the observation deck level!  Our kids wanted to go back just to see the movie again!  So funny.  And, then after checking out the views from the top, we splurged and bought the cheesy green screen photos because they were just too funny!

We finished out our day by heading over to Luna Park, a 1930s style amusement park.  It was a fun atmosphere, but unfortunately our kids couldn't go on very many of the rides.  But we had a fun time nonetheless!

We love Sydney!  We had such a great time exploring and we'd love to go back again!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Down Unda: Sydney Days 1 & 2

In March we did something that I've been wanting to do for 12 years!  We visited Australia!!!  Ever since coming home from my mission in June of 2004, I've wanted to go back and visit, and to take my family with me!  Being here in Japan has opened up so many traveling opportunities for us, and Australia was one of them.  It is so much more affordable to fly to Australia from Japan than from the states, so we figured that if we didn't go now, who knows when we ever would.  And because the prices are so much less flying from Tokyo, we figured out that we could fly all 5 of us (well, we went 2 weeks before Bennett's second birthday, so technically we only had to pay for 4 tickets ;)) for the same price as if only Peter and I were to go from the states.  So, in short, it was too sweet of a deal to pass up!  And even better . . . once we arrived in Japan and conceived of this plan to visit my old mission country, we began accumulating Marriott points on our credit card so that we would have enough built up to pay for all of our lodging!  Mission accomplished!  By March we had enough points to stay at Marriotts in Sydney and in Brisbane for 8 nights for free!  The hotels were unbelievable--they were in beautiful and ideal locations.  It was absolutely perfect.

The flight from Tokyo to Sydney is LONG.  About 9.5 hours.  We took a redeye (with 3 kids--super fun btw) and arrived very early the next morning.  Even though the flight would be rough, we thought it would be worth it to have a full day ahead of us that wasn't eaten up by traveling.  Which turned out to be true, for the most part.  We dropped our bags off at the beautiful Pier One Sydney Harbour Marriott, which is essentially right beneath the Harbour Bridge!  The back of the hotel is on the water and it was gorgeous.  

After walking around the Harbour a bit, we were starving, so we decided to pop into a burger place that looked pretty good.  And, I don't want to brag or anything, but we happened to pick the best burger joint ever!!!  Seriously, it was amazing!  The place was called Ribs and Burgers and it was at The Rocks right by the Harbour.  Peter and I each had "the burger with the lot", which in my opinion, is the only way to eat a burger when in Australia!  The burger came loaded with beets, a fried egg, bacon, cheese, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and pickles!  Soooooo delicious.  This is the food I have been missing since my mission!

After eating lunch, we opted to take a red, double decker Hop On Hop Off Bus.  This was a great way to see the city, especially since we didn't have a car and there aren't really any trains.  Sydney is so beautiful and there is so much to see, but let me tell you, sitting in the hot sun on top of a bus the day after taking a 9 hour redeye flight with kids can make you quite sleepy!  Hahaha, we may have struggled to stay awake, and more than a few us dozed off for a bit as well.  Needless to say, we didn't "hop off" as often as we'd planned on doing!  But, it was great nonetheless and we took it over to Darling Harbour, which is a really cool area and has a super fun playground and water/splash pad area for kids.  It was the perfect way to end a hot day of sightseeing.  Well, the playground plus the yummy ice cream bars and Aussie treats and drinks that we snacked on of course!

At the end of the day, we strolled back past the Sydney Opera House to our hotel exhausted, and ready for sleep.

Day 2 in Sydney we woke up and check out of our hotel and had a taxi drive us about a mile over to the Sydney Harbour Marriott where we checked in to stay the rest of our time while in Sydney.  Overlooking Circular Quay, this hotel was incredible!  We had a great view of the Harbour and of the Opera House from our window.  Gorgeous.  

After checking out our new room, we loaded up and headed out to catch the ferry to take us across the bay to Manly.  

We had a fabulous day in Manly!  We rented bikes, one with a half-wheeler attached for Will and one with a trailer attached for Bennett and Clara.  Then we took off to explore!  And, let me tell you, with 3 kids under 6, biking is so, so, so much better than walking!  We rode over to Manly Beach and to the cliffs on the far end to explore "the wormhole".  This was the perfect, short hike to do before soaking up the sun and playing in the water.

We hopped back on our bikes and found a little beach cafe after climbing on the rocks and through the wormhole.  We ate delicious fish 'n chips, my very, very favorite Aussie meal, and then rode over to Shelly Beach to camp out for the rest of the afternoon.  

Our day in Manly was absolutely perfect!!!