Travel Diary: Brisbane to Canberra (Part 1)

For most of October 2022, we were traveling in Australia and New Zealand: two countries that have long lingered on our bucket lists. While traveling I kept notes on my iPhone and Mac. The following four blog posts are slightly edited versions of my notes. I cleaned up my phrasing and inserted appropriate pictures but mostly left things intact. Click on any of the images to jump to my photo gallery for this trip.

Day 1 Oct 7, 2022 Qantas Flight 56, iPhone

I am currently sitting on Qantas Flight 56 on the way to Brisbane from LAX writing this on my iPhone. I have 9400 kilometers and 11 hours and 28 minutes to go. Six months ago, I got up one morning to find that Mali had booked us on a twelve-day cruise from Sydney Australia around New Zealand and back. Australia and New Zealand have been on our bucket lists for years so I agreed and we started planning this trip.

My first act was to buy a good 24-70 f2.8 Nikon lens. It’s already my favorite walking-around lens; I’ve shot hundreds of images with it. My photographic touring style is to shoot, shoot, and shoot, and then post-process later. For this once-in-a-lifetime trip, I decided to hell with scrimping on lenses and get something I wouldn’t hesitate to use.

My second act was to get a good pair of portable binoculars. I settled on 8×42 Maven hunting binoculars after reading how well-regarded they are by amateur astronomers. 42 millimeters is not a lot but stars are pinpoint across the field of view and I see about the same number of objects as my larger 10×50. Not bad for little binoculars.

My third act: I added two more Internet security cameras to monitor the house during the month we will be away. I also procured a safety deposit box and stored some valuable bling, our Canadian passports — we’re traveling as Americans — and two USB disc drives containing full backups of all the pictures, blog posts, book drafts, and software I’ve created in the last twenty years. If the house burns down my bits will survive.

Mali planned in her way by booking us into a few good hotels, upgrading our cruise ship cabin to a veranda room, and not even entertaining my plans to camp out under the stars at Uluru. We’re staying in the pricey Desert Garden Inn instead.

In the last few days, we ticked off our remaining trip preparation chores and this morning I thought we were ready as our cab pulled up in front of our house at 5:00 am. The cab ride to the Boise airport was smooth. After tipping the driver we got in line at Alaska airlines, had our passports scanned, got our boarding passes, and then joined the already long TSA security line.

TSA security theater is my least favorite part of flying and I loathe the other parts. Mali went through the X-ray baggage and Millimeter-Wave body scanners first, then I followed. Big mistake! I had to unpack my Mac, stash my watch, wedding ring, and other alarm-tripping items to go through. The X-ray baggage scan went well, but I was flagged for a pat down by the Millimeter-Wave. It was probably the two thousand US dollars, in Benjamins, I had stashed in my pick-pocket proof cargo pants. While I was being patted down, I lost sight of the Mac. I thought someone had walked off with it while I was being frisked. I panicked and foolishly put down my passport and boarding pass while I ran around looking for the Mac. One of the screeners found the Mac, but then my passport and boarding pass disappeared. It had been recycled in the plastic X-ray trays. I went into a full, “I can’t believe this,” panic. The TSA staff had to look at their security cameras to track down the tray containing my passport and boarding pass. For about five minutes I thought we were going to miss our flight and pooch our trip. I was incredibly relieved when the TSA found my stuff. Have you ever been incredibly relieved by the TSA?

Well, we made the flight and we’re now 8252 kilometers from the Brisbane airport with 10 more hours to go. The Pacific Ocean is big.

Day 2 Oct 9, 2022 Cystalbrook Vincent Hotel, Brisbane, Mac

I haven’t missed a day. When you cross the International Date Line from the East you jump forward a day. Our flight chased the sun across the Pacific making Day 1 a very long day. We arrived without fuss at the Brisbane Airport just before 6 pm local time and quickly went through customs. Australian customs are highly automated. You run your passport through a scanner. Answer a few kiosk questions, mostly about farm animals — have you been buggering livestock in the last week? — sit for a facial scan and then — “welcome to Australia.” We didn’t check any bags which may turn out to be a mistake for such a long trip but I’ve spent way too much time tracking down lost bags over the years. If we have to visit the odd laundromat while traveling so be it. Laundromats are surprisingly social. I’ve had many pleasant chats with strangers while waiting for dryers but I’ve never had a pleasant experience recovering lost airline luggage.

After exiting customs, we hopped a cab from the airport to the Crystalbrook Vincent Hotel. The hotel is right under the Story Bridge in downtown Brisbane. We were zonked from our butt-numbing 16 hours of flying so we went straight to bed around 8 pm local time and slept until 6 am. I slept well but Mali, as usual, had a fitful night. She doesn’t sleep well most nights and disturbances to her routines don’t help.

Our hotel window only opened a bit but I managed to squeeze my iPhone through the gap to get this shot of the Story Bridge. Shots that put your camera and you at risk are often the most interesting.

The next morning, the 9th, we got up and had breakfast in the hotel. It was my first sampling of Australian hammy bread. This is a great combination of bread and ham. It’s like bacon lovers set up a national research project to improve on perfection and, against all odds, succeeded! Mali turned her nose down. She’s not a bacon fan. It’s a lamentable holdover from her Iranian childhood. The one unambiguously good thing you say about sky-fairy prohibitions against eating pork is that it leaves more bacon and hammy bread for the rest of us. After eating hammy bread, we set off along the Brisbane Riverwalk towards the City Botanic Garden.

Downtown Brisbane is lovely in the spring. This is a very lively city. People were out walking, jogging, and biking. The parks and streets were full and everyone looked — content. The locals know they have a good thing going here. We made our way to the Botanic Garden where we enjoyed reading botanical labels on the trees, many of which were new to us. We huddled under a thick tree during a brief downpour, and then made our way to a currency exchange. Mali had a particular exchange in mind but we couldn’t find it and settled for one that didn’t offer the rate she had in mind. We exchanged a hundred US and then went to Avis to arrange a car rental.

Me at the entrance of Brisbane’s City Botanic Gardens. This is typical urban touring attire. When visiting new cities, we walk, and walk, and walk. It’s the best way to absorb new locales. Of course, lots of walking requires flexible attire, hence the jacket tied around my waist, the single-camera bag, and, of course, the Tilly Hat. “Tilly Guys”, yeah we exist, from all over this planet have commented on my Tilly. Tilly Men understand: others think we are all off, which we are.

Cars are hard to rent right now. The post-COVID world is making up for two years of idiotic lockdowns and other ineffective measures by traveling like mad. We couldn’t rent a Melbourne-bound car for Tuesday but lucked out for Wednesday. This delay forced another night in Brisbane. We tried to extend our stay at the Crystalbrook but had to move over to the downtown Holiday Inn Express. No matter! We’re golfing the Australian part of our trip — playing the ball wherever it lands.

The rest of our first day was spent walking on the Story Bridge and checking out the Felons Brewery just down the block. I sampled some Felon’s beer, paying for it with my Canadian Visa; most businesses are discouraging cash. Our day ended with gelato cones, unusual for my foodie wife, in the hotel lobby.

Day 3 Oct 10, 2022 Crystalbrook Vincent Hotel, Brisbane, iPhone

We were up at 5:30 am and left the hotel shortly after 7:00 am for breakfast. We were delayed by a video call from Mali’s niece Manus. Manus lives in Brisbane but she’s currently in London England. Manus was feeling bad about missing us and called to suggest places to visit in Brisbane.

We ate breakfast at Gigi’s just down the River Walk from the Cystalbrook. We both had Shakshuka. It wasn’t what Mali was expecting. She’s a hard person to feed.

After breakfast, we walked along the river path to New Farm Park. At New Farm, we had coffee and almond croissants. Again, the croissants were not Mali-approved. One highlight we found trees filled with beautiful little raucous parrots.

After croissants, Mali wanted to ride the bus back towards Queen Street but currently, the buses are no longer letting potential passengers pay with either cash or credit. It’s another stupid COVID precaution that has probably not prevented a single infection. The lady at the croissant place said you could buy bus tickets by walking three minutes away from New Farm Park and taking a left. We walked for more than three minutes and ended up in a small mall: the New Farm Market where Mali looked at shoes.

Giving up on finding a place selling bus tickets we ran into three Aussies that offered to drive us to either the nearest City Hopper dock or South Bank. It was very nice of them to give a lift to total strangers. We went to the nearest City Hopper dock which unfortunately was closed. We walked to the next dock and caught the boat to South Bank.

At South Bank, we ate Wagyu Burgers. I liked mine but the sauce was too sweet for Mali: again, hard to feed.

After our burgers, I made a wrong turn and headed away from Queen Street. We crossed the pedestrian bridge that connects to QUT and then walked back to Queen Street on the other side of the Brisbane River.

It was a lot of walking but we eventually, at 3:00 pm, found a currency exchange, Oz Money, that offered a decent rate. We changed seven hundred US and walked down Queen Street back to the Cystalbrook where we are, right now as I peck this out on my iPhone, resting with our feet up in bed. We’re old people after all. Tomorrow, we move over to the Holiday Inn Express Central for our last night in Brisbane.

Day 4,5 Oct 11,12 2022 Charlesworth Bay Resort, Coffs Harbour, iPhone

I missed a day and it was a good one. Yesterday, day 4, we changed hotels. We had to move to the Central Holiday Inn Express for one night. We were waiting for a car rental. It’s hard and expensive to rent cars in Australia right now. We lucked out with the hotel change and managed to check in early which left us plenty of time to ride the bus out to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to see Australia’s cuddliest animal.

The koalas did not disappoint.

There were dozens of koalas, some with baby joeys on their backs, we watched as they were fed and even posed with one. In addition to koalas, the sanctuary had kangaroos, emus, dingoes, crocodiles, and a host of lizards and snakes. I was surprised at how calm the kangaroos were. People were feeding them and they didn’t mind being petted. Mali petted a kangaroo and held a koala. I declined. I don’t approve of stressing animals but I appreciate how posing with koalas raises funds for the sanctuary.

The only live Kangaroos we saw in Australia were in zoos and animal sanctuaries. We saw lots of dead roos on the road. The carcasses are about the size of small North American deer. And just like North American venison is on the menu, Kangaroo meat is available in the markets and on the highways.

Today, day 5, was the most stressful day so far. This morning we exchanged another thousand US and rented a car. Starting at 11 am I drove out of the center of Brisbane on the wrong side of the road in a Toyota Corolla hybrid. I opted for the full insurance package as I sincerely doubt our US car insurance would work here and I didn’t feel entirely confident I would return the vehicle in one piece. Barring accidents we’re dropping the car at the Melbourne airport.

Switching roadsides is stressful but GPS greatly helps. Without the GPS lady, who has a cute Australian accent, it would have been a chore getting out of Brisbane. Once we were on the M3 it wasn’t so bad. By the time we got to Byron Bay, I was getting the hang of mirror-image driving.

At Byron Bay, we had lunch and visited the lighthouse. Most lighthouses are scenic but this one is especially so. As a plus Cape Byron is the most easterly point on the Australian continent. Good been there done that material! After the lighthouse, we got back on the M1 to drive to Port Macquarie. We didn’t get that far and stopped at Coffs Harbour. We didn’t have a hotel or motel booked and everything was full. Mali managed to get us into the Charlesworth Bay Resort using booking.com while we were eating in an Indian restaurant. It was a hassle finding our room (it’s was like an Airbnb) but the fellow renting rooms met us and let us in. You need to book beforehand and you need an Internet connection to do it.

Postscript:

  1. When traveling in the US Mali spends an inordinate amount of time on her phone looking for motels and restaurants. We didn’t upgrade our Verizon plan before heading to Australia and New Zealand, opting instead to use public Wi-Fi and VPN. This generally worked out in the big Australian and New Zealand cities. Most stores, coffee shops, libraries, and museums have excellent free Wi-Fi but when we were on the road, we were offline. I didn’t mind but it crimped Mali’s style.

Day 6 Oct 13, 2022 Holiday Inn Express, Newcastle, Mac

Today we drove from Coffs Harbour to a Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle making a few side trips to Gladstone and Crescent Head. It was only 400 kilometers but it felt much longer. New roads and new situations always feel longer. Crescent Head was well worth the detour from A1. Crescent Head is a surfers’ reserve. I was unaware that surf and surfers needed to be “reserved” but apparently, they do. My second day of mirror-image driving felt almost normal. I am still accidentally hitting the left switch for the goddamn blinkers. The left switch works on Mercedes but is exactly the opposite for Toyotas. It took me months to switch from our old Toyota to “Chunky”, our Mercedes, and now I have to undo all that conditioning, plus deal with cars on the other side of the road. On a plus note Australians, at least the ones on the east coast, are well-behaved drivers. I don’t see a lot of speeders or US-style roadside dumb-assery. I was also pleasantly surprised with my first gas station experience. In the US and Canada, you have to pay before gassing up. When I was growing up you could fill up and then pay but around the 1970s too many dipshits started driving away without paying. So now we all have to pay first! Here in Australia, they still let drivers fill up and pay. Woo freaking who! Aussies are more honest than Americans. They’re also whiter. While waiting in the gas line I noticed that every single driver in front of me was a white guy. Many had young-guy beards. A similar gas line in the States wouldn’t be all white guys and the cashier might even be hiding behind bullet-proof glass. Diversity has not improved the gas station experience.

Day 7,8,9 Oct 14,15,16 Mantra Albury Hotel, Albury, iPhone

Not keeping up. We drove from Newcastle to Canberra and stayed with Mali’s cousin on Masson Street, Turner ACT.

We arrived late afternoon on the 14th. The next day we toured Canberra. Saw Ainsley’s Mountain Lookout, the Australian Parliament, the National Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, Telstra Tower, and the Arboretum where I climbed Dairy Farmers Hill and scanned the springtime landscape.

Canberra is very green in the spring. This scan over the arboretum towards the city gives a pretty good sense of the land. My shadow is in the lower center of the image. It’s not an accident. I had to move up and down the hill to cast just the right shadow.

The next day we stopped at the old bus station market before heading to Melbourne on M31.

We stayed the night at Albury in the Mantra Albury Hotel.

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