Porcupyn's Blog

June 6, 2017

Wet in Cairns

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:30 am

The next morning, our first full day in Australia, it was raining by the time we stepped out, right about six am packing everything back into the car. We were not planning to return to that Airnb, instead driving straight to Kuranda from the wharf. Though the wharf was not too far, our unfamiliarity with the roads coupled with rain and the left-side driving resulted in us taking more time than necessary to get there. When we got there and parked in the closest public parking spot which is located under Shangri-La hotel (the name of which I’ve forgotten and need to google).

After all the hurrying around, we were very early here (better that than late for sure!), so we got to cool our heals and worry about the rainy weather. I had emailed Compass Cruises a while back to find out what the chances of cancellation were and had been informed that the weather was usually good that time of the year and we should not have any issues. WRONG!

By the time the check-in time for the cruise neared, we walked out to the wharf to the area where we were supposed to board the boat. The walkway was a bit slick with the rain – luckily, none of us had a fall. Right around 7:45 or so, the folks started letting us board. And immediately they warned us that the seas were a bit rough that day (30 knots they said, I believe) and if we wished, they would be willing to rebook us for a future trip. We obviously were S.O.L.; however there were a couple of passengers who took them up on their offer. Had I known what was in store for us, I might have cancelled as well (or maybe not, as we were not going to get our money back anyway!).

The plan was to have coffee/tea before the boat left, then the crew would prepare lunch that we would have on the way out once we were docked. We would be taken to two different barrier reef sites to snorkel (Baab, Katya, and I planned to do this activity) and scuba dive (those who wanted to do this were not permitted to fly within 24 hours – so we had not purchased this option).

When the boat got underway, it was a very friendly and festive atmosphere in spite of the gloomy weather. The clouds were hanging so low that we could barely see the mountains surrounding Cairns. The sheltered harbour area was also seeing some wave action, though nothing to be worried about. The crew informed us that we might be better off if we took some motion-sickness tablets that they could sell to us. Just like most of the passengers, we declined to do so (how naive!!).

Fifteen minutes into the trip, it was obvious that the boomnetting was not going to happen. The boat was lurching up and down with the waves. We were all staggering around like drunk sailors. However, with a hint of the sun and beautiful scenery all around us, it was fun to stand out on the open deck.

Half an hour in, passengers started to experience the seasickness. Crew started passing around barf bags. I was still a brave “not out” batsman and was so proud of my seaworthiness. Fifteen minutes later, my cookie crumbled. I felt a really weird feeling in the stomach and burp – out it came. I put my barf bag to good use.

Soon after this, we anchored at the first spot. By this time, the lack of sunshine and the winds that were gusting around made us all cold. The crew informed us that it was time for us to get into our snorkeling (or Scuba) gear to go out and jump off the boat. They were even handing out swim noodles [in hindsight, I don’t remember if there were any kids on the boat other than ours. Most other passengers were staying in Cairns for a few days at least, not just the one like us] to help us with the rough weather. Though the crew said that getting in the water would help tide over the seasickness, I had to sadly decline – I was in no position to go swimming, clean bowled by the weather now! Katya was not interested either. So, Baab was our sole representative in the water.

After a few minutes anchored at this first site, I staggered out to the deck and emptied out once again – this time onto the sea. Guess what? That was a good decision, as I got to see fish, small and large, competing with one another to lap up the past contents of my stomach!!

Once I came back in, I must’ve appeared very sick indeed. I lurched to an empty seat and set my butt down. I barely got up for the rest of the trip. Baab declined to snorkel at the second snorkelling site as well.

By the time we got back to the wharf, it was about five pm. We felt sorry for the crew who had to slug it out in the bad weather and because we could not enjoy the trip as much as they would’ve wanted us to.

Now, one of the reasons we had planned to visit Cairns first was so that I could get used to driving on the left side of the road in a smaller less-trafficked community before venturing to drive in the Melbourne area and on the Great Ocean Road. Thankfully, though I was still a bit woozy from the seasickness, the drive to Kuranda from Cairns was exactly what I needed to get my bearings straight. The road was nice and scenic and there were not a whole lot of cars that time of the day, even though it was the rush hour there as well. A few kilometers from Cairns, the road to Kuranda left the main north south highway and started climbing into the mountains. This was good for me because a) the speed limits were lower and b) there was only one lane per direction.

By the time we got to our destination (thanks to Baab’s smartphone which he had stored the Kuranda map on), night had descended upon us though it was still only around 6:30 pm. Steve’s Airbnb – the Grand Barron Lodge – in Kuranda was like heaven when compared to the one we had stayed the previous night. Steve himself, an expat from the US, was a great host who was really helpful to us that evening – and the next morning as well. His dog Frankie was so adorable. Katya and Baab enjoyed playing with her, as did I. If there is one thing I miss the most about Australia, it is staying at Steve’s place.


At entrance to Marlin Wharf


Our boat - Compass Cruise


The choppy churny sea

Choppy seas and low clouds


Checking into Cairns

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 8:12 am

We had pre-purchased two window seats one per kid guessing/hoping that the airlines would seat the adults next to the kids; in addition, we had paid extra for 40 kg of luggage. The nice thing about JetStar is that the weight is not per piece, but by total luggage. So, we were able to check in Mrs. Porcupyn’s carry-on bag as well, to reduce stress to her bum ankle). Navigating the JetStar check-in area was a breeze, as was finding our departure gate in the relatively small Sydney domestic terminal. Instead of the normal jetways though, there were ramps – one in the front and one in the back – for the two entrances to the plane. Though it was a pain, somehow Mrs. Porcupyn managed to negotiate the steps and get on board the plane. Thankfully, the flight was pretty sparse and we were able to get three windows among us which was more than sufficient as everyone was wanting to get some rest on the flight.

If my memory serves me right, we left Sydney at about 2:30 pm and landed in Cairns at about 6 pm. It being winter in the southern hemisphere, though we could see the sunset as our JetStar plane was in the initial phase of descent while approaching the Cairns Airport to land, it was already dark once we were on the ground.

The plan for Cairns was to stay at two different Airbnbs – for the first night, a location that was very close to the wharf because we were slated to be leaving at 7:30 am to the Great Barrier Reef the next morning and, for the second night, one located farther from Cairns in a place called Kuranda which looked really really promising per the photos.

But before that, we had to get our rental car which we had reserved with Sixt Car Rentals. In all our hurry, we had never gotten a chance to purchase a local SIM card – but when we did purchase one upon landing in Cairns, it did not work with any of the three smartphones we had (later, we learned that our phones were probably still locked!). Not finding a counter for the rental agency in the terminal, I started to panic (OK, just a little bit!). Fortunately, the staff at the information booth were very helpful and allowed me to use their phone to make a phone call. We learned that we had to walk a little bit outside the terminal to get to the pick-up spot.

Soon, a pick-up vehicle stopped by. However, it said East Coast Car Rentals not Sixt. The driver assured me that they were one and the same. I was a bit apprehensive at this point, especially because I had seen lower prices for East Coast than for Sixt online while making our reservation, but had consciously avoided them because of their bad reviews. However, our driver was a pretty friendly guy and got us to the CBD location in about fifteen minutes. Per my understanding of the Cairns area map, at this point, I figured that our Airbnb for the night was about 15-minute walk (not on an injured ankle!) away, and the wharf – from there – was about 20-30 minutes as well.

But anyway, we got the car – a comfortable white Camry – and set off to find the Airbnb place. It took some searching and some backtracking, but we finally got there and were able to get inside even though the gate was locked thanks to other Airbnbers who were returning just then. That was fortunate as we did not have a working phone and – like we learned quickly – Australia shuts down for the night much earlier than the USA does.

While it was not really great accommodation, we were aware that Airbnbs are a hit-or-miss and we had been batting pretty good with them up until that point. So, we were not too upset. I did manage to get out and walk to the closest grocery store that was slated to close in 30 minutes to get something to eat as we had not had anything since lunch. Fortunately for me, though it was drizzling at this point, the rain did not really pick up.

But the next morning, we were not as lucky.

Sydney and travel to Cairns

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:35 am

Upon landing in Sydney, I was a bit apprehensive:

– this was the first time I had gotten an Australian visa, and it was an online process with no way of independent verification other than an email that said that our request for a visa had been approved (i.e., no stamping on the passport); so, I was unsure of what we would do if we ran into any issues
– I had read and watched a few episodes of the Australian border agents in customs and immigration. Those were a bit scary, especially their looking into luggage for “contraband” article such as forbidden food products. Though I had done my homework well, there is always that anxiety until you pass the checkpoint!
– my friend was supposed to be picking us up at the airport to take us to his house for the day, and we didn’t really have a means to communicate with him, to let him know if we had arrived, whether we were getting delayed, etc.

Be that as it may, I knew that we could cross our bridges only when we got to them!

First up was the visa: I had all the passports with me, and the family lined up with me as well. The friendly agent asked me about the purpose and duration of our trip, scanned my passport, kept it aside, then scanned Mrs. Porcupyn’s and gave it back to me. This process repeated with kids’ passports, i.e., I got them back. She then re-scanned my passport, pressing it harder. No dice. Tried again moving it a bit to the edge of the machine. Still nothing doing. I wondered what could be going on. She then said that the rest of the family could go past, but that I needed to come with her for an additional procedure. After telling family to go to the luggage area, I meekly followed the agent to the holding area. She told me to wait a bit and went somewhere – with my passport. A few minutes later, she came back with another agent, who asked me a few questions about our trip as well. She told me to wait there as well, and then went back inside with my passport. After a few minutes, she came back and said that I was good to go. Apparently what was happening was that my passport had the information scrolling over to a new line because of my rather long name (not Porcupyn!). So, it was not being properly scanned by their machines. I am assuming that she had to manually enter the information for it to process properly.

Next was the luggage: by the time I was sanctioned into Australia, family had collected the bags; however, there was a long line for bags to be checked. Though we didn’t have any goods that we thought would be prohibited, we didn’t want to take the chance of getting in trouble. So, we decided to go in the longer line where the officials check everything themselves regardless. And so it was that we had dogs sniffing our bags. That was kinda interesting. For one of the passengers a few people ahead of us, the dog sniffed the bag and just sat down right next to the bag. That passenger had some ‘splaining to do. Fortunately for him (or her, I forget if it was a he or a she), the explanation was a valid one and accepted. We passed without any incident. However, by now, it had been over an hour since we reached the customs area.

And so I was getting really worried about meeting our friend. Thankfully, as soon as we exited the baggage claim area, we saw him waiting for us. It was such a relief as I didn’t know what we would’ve done by ourselves. One thing is for sure – we probably would not have left the airport area, as our flight to Cairns was to leave in about seven hours or so.

Within a few minutes, we were all loaded up into his car; my jaw already dropping when I heard how much the parking costs were (though he refused to let me pay for it!), and in about half an hour, we were at his home by the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, during the migration season, they can see whales on the way north (or south, depending on the time of the year). After showering, we decided to walk off our jetlag by taking a stroll up to the beach.

Here, I need to mention that we were presented with the greatest weather ever – clear skies, temperature in the mid to upper 60s (that would be in the upper teens in degrees Celsius) and low humidity. We were already envious of our friends 🙂 [though we did learn later that we apparently did get the best of the Sydney weather – the day that we were returning to the USA, it was overcast and apparently rained the rest of the day as well as the next day]

At this point, Mrs. Porcupyn twisted her ankle at a portion of the sidewalk that was just a bit abnornally higher than the grass next to it. Though it was not serious (we did not know how bad it was then), she decided to opt out of walking down to the beach. So, it was just Baab, Katya, me, friend and his two kids who walked down. Later, we had a yummy breakfast spread that our hostess had prepared, after which we went on a ride to North Sydney, which was my friend’s favourite spot of the city.

It was a great feeling to drive on the Sydney Harbour Bridge right by the Opera House. We then parked on the other side of the bridge and walked down to Luna Park to take in the sights of the city from that side. Mrs. Porcupyn did not get to walk a lot, but she managed to take in the sights regardless.

After spending some time in this area, we got back in the car, went past The Spit, and the quaint suburb of Manly (there is more to come about Manly later), up to a spot called the Park Hill (according to Brother Google, it is technically Sydney Harbour National Park), a location that gives a great view of the Sydney CBD (which is how Australians/Indians refer to the downtown) and the ferries criss-crossing the bay. The weather being nice, we sat down in a grassy area for some time and took in the sights, the sun and the breeze. Winter in Sydney is not too bad, though it is quite Down Under!!

By this time, we needed to return, as our hostess had planned for us to have lunch before getting dropped off at the Sydney domestic airport. We had a great lunch, then were back in the airport to resume our journey to Cairns, where we planned to do boomnetting (a first for us, as we had never heard of anything like this before) with Compass Cruises.


The Infamous Sidewalk




Sydney Opera House

Random photo - Sydney CBD

Random photo – Sydney CBD


Red Bus


Luna Park


Carnival Cruiseship


Sydney CBD


Sydney Opera House from across the bay


Bride getting ready


Opera House (not so white)


Park Hill entrance sign


Hornby Lighthouse from Sydney National Park


Sydney CBD from Sydney National Park

A Sydney Ferry Boat - as seen from North Head, Sydney (Manly area)

A Sydney Ferry Boat – as seen from North Head, Sydney (Manly area)


Park Hill


Quaint pedestrian warning sign in Manly

Sydney Domestic Airport - walking towards gate

Sydney Domestic Airport – walking towards gate



Waiting for our JetStar flight to Cairns

Waiting for our JetStar flight to Cairns

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