And so it begins – Journey to the far side of the world   4 comments

The Plan

For the past few years since the kids had been really small we’ve been taking our holidays in the UK and France. We’ve had some amazing times and fantastic adventures but they aren’t weren’t exactly exotic. I’d been thinking for a few years to take the family on a “special” holiday, a once in a lifetime trip to use the popular term. Somewhere a long way from the UK that the kids would hopefully remember for the rest of their lives. Somewhere we could see places and have experiences we couldn’t get in our European backyard. Most importantly a trip that would please everyone. For me, and most probably TBF and TJS that would involve the outdoors and mountains or trekking. That’s not TJF’s bag though so I needed something else.

We thought of the Western US, (California, Utah, Arizona) but that would have involved a lot of travel and still a little too much in the way of walking for TJF. Hawaii was a popular idea with its beaches and volcanoes but I wasn’t sure about the many inter-island flights we’d need. We all love beaches and swimming and in particular snorkelling and as me and TJS had been to the Maldives we thought that would be ideal. Trouble is the best time to go is in the Winter and we’d have to take the kids out of school for a week – not ideal. What we needed was somewhere with a similar exotic feel that we could visit in the Summer and still get decent weather.

I’d not considered Australia due the simple and rather dimly incorrect idea that in their winter the weather was cool and wet. When my thoughts drifted away from the Maldives to somewhere else we could go snorkelling on a coral reef the obvious place is the Great Barrier Reef. Imagine my surprise when a little research revealed that winter is the ideal time to visit Queensland. The summer is hot and oppressively humid with lots of rain and tropical storms. The winter is warm, clear and much drier. A little more research showed that the Great Barrier Reef is but one part of the huge array of natural wonders that coastal Queensland offers. I did have a foolish idea that we could see several parts of Australia in one trip but one look at the image below reminds that Australia is HUGE – I had no idea until I saw this graphic on a postcard while we were there just how huge and how much it dwarfs France for example.

australia-europe1

Once that idea was ditched, we settled on a trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

As a Contractor I have the major disadvantage that I don’t get paid when I’m on holiday. Consequently when costing up a trip I have to factor in my lost earnings while I’m away. The main advantage is of course that I can take as much time off as I like between contracts, something you can never do as a permanent employee, restricted as you are to an annual leave entitlements. May as well take a whole month off and be damned. With that in mind I took the obvious (possibly foolhardy decision) that life is too short and you only get one shot at it. Enjoy the world while you can. No point working hard if you can’t enjoy the rewards. Etc etc. This was the mantra I repeated to myself as my finger hovered over the “buy” button on the airline website when the flights came out. TBF looked pensive as I asked her “shall we do this”. While she paused and considered I clicked. We were going to Australia, no turning back now! 🙂

The next realisation was that even in 4 weeks we could not fit in everything that Queensland had to offer. I didn’t want to spend the whole holiday dashing from place to place without ever having chance to savour each place at least to some small degree. We pondered over the options and made some good and some tough choices. Being the Project Manager that I am, I took on the whole trip myself and over the following 12 months researched and booked all the hotels and trips that – I hoped – would make it something really special

I’ve always wanted to use my blog not only as my personal life diary but also as a resource tool for anyone else who might find the details helpful. The posts that will follow will therefore have some practical details within and links to the various places we stayed and visited. I’ll stop short of a “review” style post as I’ll be putting that stuff up on Trip Advisor (that’s what its for!) and linking back to those if anyone is interested. Hopefully the collection of posts will both inspire someone to follow in our footsteps and help them plan it if they do. I’ll also put up a post at the end with my overall thoughts on the trip and Queensland as a family holiday destination (although I think that will become obvious!), practicalities of how I organised things and how everything turned out – what a 4 week road trip in Australia is like.

The Journey

So after 18 months of planning, research bookings and anticipation we were ready for the off. A Friday evening drive to Heathrow and an overnight at the satisfactory – that’s the best I can manage – Sheraton Skyline Hotel (review here). Nice enough hotel but considering how much it cost it was far from ideal. I chose it as it had onsite parking but that was full so I had to move the car to a deserted and frankly seedy looking car park down the road. I spent the next 4 weeks hoping it would still be there, in one piece when I got back (it was). Their definition of a “family room” was also interesting. Two double beds is not what I call a family room. Still, it was a nice room and we were only in it for 10 hours so we put up with it. I wouldn’t go back though.

I remember when I was young, taking a flight and going to the airport was an adventure. It was as much a part of the holiday as the holiday itself. Nowadays the whole thought of an airport visit especially a large one fills me with deep depression. Slowly but surely they have surgically extracted every last ounce of fun and excitement and turned into one long dreary round of queues, frustrations and commercial exploitation. Heathrow is by far the worst and it has some stiff competition (Brisbane gave it a good go as you’ll find out later). It starts at Heathrow when you realise that the once free hotel shuttle bus now costs a whopping £15 return for a family of four for the 5 minute journey to the terminal. Having been dutiful and checked in online, printing off all my boarding passes at home I was then told I had to use the check in kiosks and do it all over again. Another few trees lost forever. Finally I was fleeced to the tune of another £15 for a chocolate brownie, a cup of tea and a few bottles of water. God I hate airports.

Still, we were on holiday and we are all determined not to let Heathrow spoil the mood. Our flight was with Singapore Airlines and very good they were too in an economy long haul flight sort of way. I was rather excited (in a childish, airplane geek sort of way) to be flying on a new Airbus A380 (the double decker one) on the first leg. Not as long or wide as you’d imagine but it’s the wingspan that catches the eye. We settled into our seats for the journey

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

As I’m sure you already know Australia is a long way – a very long way – from the UK. The flight to Singapore alone is a bum-numbing 13 hours (an extra hour tagged on to avoid missiles fired by those cheeky chappies in Ukraine). I’d warned the kids of the boredom and to be fair they coped pretty well. I was happy as Larry (who was Larry anyway) as I caught up on about 10 films through the outbound and return journeys, ate lots of noodles and drank a few beers.

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

We changed planes at Singapore (a very nice and relaxed airport – Heathrow take note) which broke up the journey quite nicely. Then a final 7 hour stint to Brisbane punctuated by one little bout of air-sickness from TJF (big thanks to the steward who produced a tupperware container from nowhere at a very opportune moment).

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

I’d been worried about how the kids – and quite frankly the adults would cope with a 20+ hour flight(s). We all took it in our stride despite the fact that you have no idea what time of day it really is or what time of day your head says it is, complicated by a lack of sleep. TJS is not allowed to use this excuse as he slept like a log on all flights and had to be physically jabbed awake to be fed his noodles and curry

Flights over, bags retrieved, customs negotiated, car collected and a short 15 minute drive and we finally arrived at our hotel in Brisbane, the very pleasant Colonial Village Inn (review here) at Taigum. We’d set off from home at 6pm on the Friday night and it was now 9pm on Sunday. I think we’d earned some sleep although we were all holding up well. As we settled down a familiar sound could be heard outside – rain! And we’d only been in the country an hour!

The First Day

I was awake at around 5am as jet lag – or possibly boyish excitement – kicked in. While everyone else slept, I popped out for a walk around the hotel and the local streets. It was only suburban Brisbane but I was thrilled. I was in Australia for the first time! There were birds of every kind everywhere. The bird life here was amazing. Everywhere we went we saw a myriad of colourful birds all with their own song. The dawn chorus everywhere was always a delight. Here I saw Rainbow Lorikeets, Galahs, and Corellas. It felt almost surreal to be on the other side of world at 6am, walking the deserted streets and seeing parrots in peoples gardens!

Eventually I was joined in the waking world by the rest of the family. The hotel had a very fine cafe for a hearty breakfast at the Espresso 351 cafe next door (review here), very welcome after 2 days of airline food. The birds came down to the table to feed giving the kids their first up close view of some proper Australian wildlife.

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

The hotel owners came around for a chat and told us that we should have been here last week as the weather was glorious – not what you want to hear on your first day 🙂

Time to start the road trip. We had a 3 hour drive north to Hervey Bay where our adventures would begin proper. Hervey Bay has a huge sprawl of retail and industrial parks as you drive in, not hugely impressive. On a whim I turned off the main drag and managed to find the sea at at place called Torquay and a fine place it was. A wide grassy parkland overlooking the beach with an array of cafes and shops to feed us, again welcome after airline catering. We sat and ate our lunch on one of the many fishing piers, watching the heavy showers tracking over the bay, Australian Ibis picking about among the leaves.

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

The clouds looked heavy with rain so we headed off to our hotel, The Oceans Resort (review here), very fine in a posh and corporate sort of way. We had a huge apartment with a fine view over the bay and the pools, shame we were only in it for one night!

heathrow airport, sheraton skyline hotel, singapore airlines, Airbus A380, Singapore, Brisbane, colonial village inn, taigum, hervey bay, torquay, oceans resort, queensland, australia

Despite the cool and wet weather we were determined to enjoy the facilities and took a swim in the pools, one warm and one startlingly cold. It was great to be out and about and moving around after days spent in cars, airports and planes.

And that was our first day, uneventful but we embraced the fact that we were in Australia.

 

After a mammoth packing session for our trips to the islands (more to come) we headed to bed. We had to get up early the next day to start our holiday for real. We were going to see the Whales!

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4 responses to “And so it begins – Journey to the far side of the world

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  1. Oops – bit of a malfunction with the credits – that’s definitely not Roll Away the Stone, or Mumford and Sons. It’s Man of the World by Fleetwood Mac – and this may surprise you, me being such a contrarian and Mr Punk Rock and all that, but I have a bit of a soft spot for Fleetwood Mac in general, and for that song in particular. Do I get 10 points?

    Lovely photos, especially of the flight. When we went to the US last year we found the flight a bit trying. TBH and A both suffer badly with travel-sickness, we had kids behind us who spent the entire flight kicking our seats and parents who were too wet or too inconsiderate to stop them, and S refused to go to sleep because he didn’t want to waste a second of potential film watching time. He finally fell asleep just before we landed at Schiphol and then couldn’t be roused and I had to lug him around the terminal spark-out. I shan’t revisit the Oringina bottle incident – I think S may be bigger than me one day and he’s not very forgiving. I’m not sure I could face 20 hours. Although you’re already making it look worthwhile and you’ve barely started.

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  2. Bloody iMovie! It’s done that to me before, I definitely changed that in the text. You only get 5 points for no other reason than I’m in a grump now.

    Long flights are a drag but trust me it worth every minute. Just needs a lot of thinking through and some experience so you know what to expect. The in-flight movies weren’t much use to TJS and TJF as they are between adult and kid movies. A cheap tablet with some of their own videos on is handy as was decent neck cushions and eyeshades. A decent airline helps. TJF suffered from food fussiness and didn’t eat much on the plane hence my trying to get her to each a rich Brownie triggering the vomit moment.

    I actually enjoyed that first day immensely. It was just great being in Australia even for it was cool and wet. I didn’t mention that I got an absolute soaking doing the shopping

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  3. I generally love flying – even long haul – and we haven’t flown anywhere since we got the motorhome. You captured the atmosphere in the sky beautifully with your photos!

    Holidays like that are great adventures though, aren’t they? Not been to Australia, but do quite fancy it.

    And by the way, back in 1980, husband no.1 and I spent our wedding night at the Sheraton Skyline! It was certainly considered the height of luxury in those days 😀

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    • I love flying as well, just airports I hate. It was a pretty dull flight though we didn’t fly over much that was interesting other than taking off and landing. The Sheraton was nice enough, they just didn’t deliver what I paid for. The indoor swimming pool did look nice though, shame we didn’t have time to try it out 🙂

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