Eat, drink and be happy !
With the first year of our time in Korea running out and still with 3 weeks left on my vacation account, it was time to take a long vacation. Korea being relatively close to Australia (in distance only!) we thought that this was a perfect time to go and see some old friends down under. So we left Peo in the hands of a friend and flew to Perth via Singapore. Australia might be closer to Korea than to Sweden and Denmark, but it still took us 22 hours to get there, so we were pretty bleary-eyed when my friend Liza picked us up from Perth airport. Liza and Brad got married two weeks earlier, so they still had the house full of overseas visitors. Even so, they took time off to show us around Fremantle - a quaint little harbor town close to where they live.
After two days we flew on to Brisbane where we picked up our rental car and drove 1 hour south to Surfers Paradise, to spend some time with my old friends and bosses from Malawi, Bennie and Dianne and their kids Joshua and Bella. It was good to see them again after almost 8 years and with all of our lives well and truly changed. B&D have given up diving and are now working as a IT-supporter and nurse. Funnily enough, their kids have turned out as true copies of the dogs they used to have in Malawi ... mentally, that is ! B&D had taken a day off work to show us around and with the Easter holidays starting, Bennie and I even had time to go 9 holes on the golf course. I was looking forward to playing with the kangaroos but I had to make do with Bennie !
Easter Saturday we drove on to Tyree, stopping in at Byron Bay. Without knowing it we had dropped down in the biggest festival of the year in Byron Bay - the Blues Fest. All we got out of it was a traffic jam though. We stopped at the beach and had a little walk around. Byron Bay is famous for the surfing and the hippie atmosphere - so very different from Surfers Paradise, which is basically a mini-Miami. Byron Bay is beautiful and from the little we saw, much nicer than the high-rise beaches a little further north. A little outside Tyree more longtime friends were waiting for us. I first met Morgan and Pip in Turkey in 1994 and they have since been to visit us in Denmark, so it was with great anticipation that we parked our car in their jungle hide-away by the Manning River. They own a beautiful piece of land with a house, right at the edge of the state forest. Here I got a chance to play around on Morgans offroad motorbike. I even came off it when I started sliding backwards on a steep hill (too steep, it turned out !) The ground was too slippery for the bike to make it to the top, so I slided all the way back down again and landed in the creek at the bottom ! Morgan had a good laugh on my account !
Tuesday Morgan and me went diving while Pip, Megghan and Paula went for a walk on a small educational original forest trail. Morgan and me drove 1½ hours to South West Rocks early in the morning and were rewarded with some excellent diving. There were only the two of us and a guide on the dive, so we felt very spoiled. First dive was full of sharks, rays and other wonderful creatures. We swam with a shoal of 40-50 grey nurse sharks, which is the biggest number of sharks I have seen on one place ever. They were pretty relaxed and posed nicely for my pictures and video ! Second dive was through Fish Rock Cave, a 125m long cave through Fish Rock Island. You go in on one side and swim out on the other side of the island. The cave was full of big lobsters, but even so it was not enough to beat the thrill of our first dive. Only later did I find out that Fish Rock Island rates as one of the best dives in Australia - I just happened to come across it.
After 4 great days with Pip and Morgan it was time to get on the move again. We drove down to Sydney, stopping off for lunch and dolphins on the beach in Tea Gardens. In Sydney we hooked up with Martin and Nicole - two of Paula's first friends when she moved to Copenhagen. They now live in Sydney and are expecting their first child. Sydney treated us well .. we walked our shoes thin, but spent a really nice time sightseeing the Botanical Garden, the Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Manly Beach and Darling Harbor.
A few days later we flew back to Perth where we spent a day with Liza and Brad before flying up to Coral Bay, a small settlement by Ningaloo reef 1100km north of Perth. The "settlement" consists of two caravan parks, a hotel, a backpacker and a "shopping mall". The government does not allow any permanent houses, so everybody working in Coral bay (app. 200 people) have to live in campers or tents ! Needless to say, this is a great place to kick back and relax. It is also a great place to swim with whale sharks, which was the reason for our trip there. We arrived a little early on the season, so we were just hoping for the best when we paid 370 dollars for a daytrip ! As it turned out we were not disappointed. After spending 4 hour looking for a whale shark we finally spotted a small one (a spotter plane spotted it - not us). We all jumped in and were able to swim with the shark for a minute before it dived down. As the wind was picking up and we were a long way from home, the captain suggested that we should return to Coral Bay. Us customers were a little disappointed by this very short encounter, so he decided to wait around a few more minutes, to see if we would get another chance. All of a sudden he shouted "GO GO GO!!!". This time a big shark (8m) was right below us and this one was in no hurry to leave us. The regulations say that swimmers have to stay min. 3m away from the shark, but what happens when the shark starts chasing you and you can't get away quick enough ? Well, Rob with his 5-year old daughter under his arm had to reach out and push himself away from the shark to avoid kicking it in it's mouth ! (whale sharks normally only eat plankton). Even though we probably spent 5-7 minutes with this shark, it all went very quick. Everybody were swimming back and forth trying to get out of the way. The behavior of this shark is very unusual and we feel very lucky to have observed it, even if it was a little worrying at times !
Next day we booked a manta tour, still high from the whale shark tour. The day was a little overcast, so the spotter plane could not find any mantas. Luckily we didn't need the spotter plane but were able to find two by our own. The visibility was pretty poor but at least we could swim with them several times. From the boat we also spotted dugongs, turtles and a tiger shark.
The good thing about Ningaloo reef compared to the Great Barrier reef is that it is possible to snorkel over the reef from the beach. So when we didn't go on day tours we could be found snorkeling down by the beach. One day we went out for a drive in the dunes with some friends we had met. The scenery is amazing ... a little like the west coast of Denmark, but on a grander scale and with kangaroos !
We left Coral Bay in the middle of a tropical storm. A couple of friends left for Perth by car a few hours earlier. They made it home after 45 hours on the road ! They got trapped between two flooded roads, so we consider ourselves lucky to have spent only 27 hours traveling ! Still, it was worth the long trip, as we really really enjoyed our time in Australia. Thanks to all our friends there who made us feel at home and to the friends we made along the way.
Below you can see more photos from our trip.