H as somebody ever asked you how your recent trip went and you couldn’t find the right words to adequately describe it, and you walked away feeling like you didn’t do it justice?
I had that experience the other day.
My friend, Alicia, and I met for lunch on Monday to catch up and share our experiences from Fall Break and the trips we both just returned from. As we enjoyed our lunch, she had me in stitches, laughing over her misadventures of mastering (or just plain avoiding) the squatty potties in mainland China, trying to “aim” properly and not fall in, and envisioning how much Purrel and tissue packs she went through while on her holiday. She regaled me with stories of all the places they went to see, the “restaurants” they stopped in to eat, and just how delicious the food was, despite the un-hygienic conditions of the establishments. She obviously had an amazing time and, with every new story, she had me thinking that I’d love to go there someday and experience it for myself, squatty potties, and all.
I absolutely know I wasn’t as descriptive or as humorous with my tales, and it wasn’t because where we went wasn’t amazing, or that funny things didn’t happen. I was simply having a hard time putting it into words. I’m still working on it and, unfortunately, descriptions like “amazing” and “beautiful” don’t really seem to capture the correct sentiment. I’m hoping that between the photos (I took too many) and the stories I can share, you’ll get a taste of what we experienced last week and you’ll want to add it your ‘Must Visit’ list as well. So here goes…
Being an expat in Southeast Asia has many perks but one of the biggest is that it’s so easy to explore the surrounding area when you have a holiday. Whether you have three days off or a week, there is an endless list of places to visit all just a short bus, train or plain ride away. Most of our friends who traveled during Fall Break headed to places like China, Myanmar, Thailand, Bali, etc. Us? We skipped all the exotic Asian locations and headed straight for Australia.
Yep, you heard me. We headed Down Under.
Oh yeah! (Men At Work is playing in my head)
We love Australia and Neil and I have been wanting to get to the Great Barrier Reef for a very long time. Now that we live so much closer to it, and the boys are old enough to not only appreciate the location but fully take advantage of all it has to offer, we thought now was the perfect time to go.
Our destination was Hamilton Island and 8 Days of Aussie heaven.
Perfectly situated on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, amongst Queensland’s 74 Whitsunday Islands, Hamilton Island offers an experience like no other: glorious weather, azure waters, brilliant beaches, awe-inspiring coral reefs, fascinating flora and fauna, fine food and wines, and activities almost too numerous to mention.
We landed on Sunday morning and all of us were excited to get busy exploring the island. As you leave the airport and head to your accommodations, the marina is the first real view you get of the island. As you can see, there is no shortage of money floating in the water and, depending on your tastes and budget, you can either join any one of the regularly scheduled tours or you can charter a boat to follow your own itinerary. There are options for everybody from the fans of the extreme jet boats to the families who want just a dingy to go out fishing for a few hours. We did a little bit of everything…except charter a yacht , but I’ll get to that later.
When Neil booked this trip, there were several options for accommodations including everything from spectacular 4 bedroom villas to basic hotel rooms. We chose to keep our accommodations in the moderate price range because we wanted splurge on the activities. Even though we went for standard hotel rooms, their location on the island was great and the views from the balcony were breathtaking.
Because we arrived relatively early on Sunday morning, our rooms weren’t ready. So, after we dropped off our luggage and checked in, we set off to explore the island . Just as a point of interest, there are no cars on Hamilton Island, or at least very few. There are a couple of choices for transportation, including walking, the island shuttle buses, and buggies, better known to North Americans as golf carts. The shuttles run very frequently and many things were within a reasonable walk, but for convenience and mostly just for fun, we rented buggies that morning, and a few other times over the week.
What was the first issue we had with them? Who called shotgun first for Neil’s buggy. I kid you not. 5 people and two buggies and it’s still an argument. You’d think that because there were no doors, and that every seat had natural air conditioning and a great view, that it wouldn’t matter which seat they took. Alas, no. I suppose it might have to do with the fact that every time we rented buggies, no matter if it I had mine floored, or not, my buggy never went as fast as Neil’s. What’s with that?? Did they not trust me to stay within the 20km/hr posted speed limit for buggies?? I did not realize that I had that rebel air about me that couldn’t be trusted with ‘speed.’ Perhaps they thought I would hand the keys over to Jacob or Zach…<snort> like that would ever happen! So, for the week, Neil’s shotgun seat was superior to mine.
Dad is always cooler.
As you would expect, Hamilton Island had an incredible amount of beach activities and aquatic sports to chose from, and we did indulge in several. However, the island also had loads of non aquatic activities to keep us busy. There was a sports club with a gym, tennis courts, spa, etc. There were also hiking trails, a driving range (as well as a ferry to neighboring island for 18 holes of golf), shooting range, ATV’s, and much, much more.
One of the first things we checked out was the go-karts. The boys all loved racing around the track, and Neil and I enjoyed watching how each of them approach the coarse. It’s funny to see their personalities shine through in their driving. Jacob had a grin plastered on his face the entire time and I know, without a shadow of doubt, that he had Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson doing a running commentary in his head as he tried to get a good lap time. Sam took a more serious and cautious approach. He has no desire to be the next Formula One driver and he couldn’t care less what his lap time was; he was just there to have a good time. Zach, like Jacob, was practically gleeful out on the track but he was all about speed. He was the only one who had the tires squealing and who managed to spin out a few times, taking a more aggressive approach to the corners. All I can say to that is thank God the driving age in Singapore is 18. We’ve got time.
Another major highlight for the boys was a trip to the shooting range.
There were a lot of things about this trip that I would consider once in a lifetime and, for our family, this was probably one of them. I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or if their American half was starting to shine through, but all three boys, and even Neil, were excited…no, ecstatic to go to the shooting range and try out their skills. Initially, I didn’t get what the big deal was with the shooting range, but I’d owned and shot a gun before. Actually, to be fair, I could understand Jacob’s interest. He’s seriously considering a life of service in the Coast Guard. Guns are something he’ll likely have to be proficient with. Zachary, however, just wanted to see how it would compare to Call Of Duty…as if it would!
Whatever the reason driving them, they all listened intently to the instructor and learned how to load the ammunition into the clips, load the guns, and fire them each safely and smoothly. They started with a rifle and moved their way up. There was a healthy dose of competition to see who would have the best accuracy, and Neil and I were a little surprised at how well they all shot, considering it was their first time.
For some reason, Sam never posed with any of his targets but, rest assured, he was equally as accurate as his brothers.
The guys shot everything from a Glock to a .38 Smith and Wesson and they were all pretty impressive, but nothing held a candle to the .44 magnum. Not only is is incredibly loud, even with the ear protection, but it has a pretty serious kickback. All of the guns were wired into the cubicles for safety, so you couldn’t hurt yourself (or anyone else)…but still, that’s a powerful weapon. Probably one of the funniest moments of the entire trip was Zach’s first shot with it. He was acting all calm, cool, and collected, like it was no big deal and he did this all the time. You know…13 year old cocky. Or perhaps he thought he was channeling Dirty Harry, who knows. Well, he loaded the weapon, set himself up, aimed and fired….and he immediately dropped his head, whimpered, and then began to laugh. It was a ‘HOLY CRAP!’ moment followed by an ‘OMG that was FREAKING AWESOME!’ moment. He continued that pattern until he ran out of ammo, and Neil and I laughed ourselves silly watching him.
I have to say, Neil did a great job of balancing the week between pre-planned tours and some down time to relax and explore the island and it’s various activities. Over our stay, we spent several days out on the water, at the reef and Whitehaven Beach, which I will post about later this weekend, but one morning, before the weather turned and the wind picked up, we also tried our hand at fishing. The guys enjoy angling and we usually have great luck catching fish. You’d think that there of all places, it would be the same. Well…not so much. We anchored the little boat that we rented, and the boys cast their squid baited lines, and we sat…
We got nibbles! Lots of nibbles. Squid must be a mighty fine snack because nearly every time the boys pulled up their hooks the bait was gone.
And after we tried multiple locations, and the patience and squid ran out, this is all we had to show for it.
Yes, that tiny little fish is the only thing we caught the whole morning. Sad isn’t it? For anyone concerned, we are strictly a catch and release kind of crowd. Perhaps we should have made that clear to the fish.
Despite our poor fishing results, we had a fantastic time that week and the island couldn’t have been more beautiful. I’m always afraid the reality won’t live up to the anticipation, but on this I can say that it absolutely did. I’ve got so much more to share but I’m separating the posts into the Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef to help keep it organized. Besides, I think the reef deserves it’s own post, don’t you?
OH! I nearly forgot! There happens to be a flock of Cockatoos that live on the island, and some of them came to visit us on our balcony daily. Is that even correct? A flock of Cockatoos? Flock of seagulls, gaggle of geese, flamboyance of flamingos…..hmm…whatever, there’s a lot of them. There are signs that tell you not to feed them, but we may, or may not have ignored those signs one night and offered them a bit of a snack. That might also have been the night that we had nine of them lined up on the railing. It’s hard to remember ;) and I admit to nothing….
Random fact…did you know some birds really like pizza crust?