Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our "New" Nation's Capital

In April, I had the opportunity to head to Canberra, the capital of Australia, for a work-related trip. My expectations were very low because Australians tend to talk "trash" about Canberra, complaining about how boring of a place it is. On Friday evening, we arrived into the brand new airport terminal and took a taxi to our accommodation for the next five nights. Along the way, I was thinking that Canberra was a lovely place. Mountains surround the city, and due to the fact that it was Autumn, the leaves were changing colors, making for very nice scenery. There are some older military barrack-type housing areas that definitely look a bit run down, but the area where we stayed, Lyneham, and the area where we did most of our dining out, Dickson, where both nice neighborhoods. A cycling/running path ran right along our apartment and was used by many locals for their daily commute.
View looking left from our balcony...
...and the view in the other direction.
The first few days were spent getting certified as a Level 1 Club Weightlifting Coach. We teach Olympic lifts to our students from Year 9 onward at the Sports Academy (more details coming about my new-ish job soon!), so a few of my co-workers and I needed to obtain the certification.
For all of my WHS friends, learning these lifts again brought back memories of Rod and also made me wish I had spent more time perfecting these lifting techniques back in high school!
The lifting course took place all day Saturday and all day Sunday with a practical test at the end. On Sunday night, the rest of my coworkers arrived for the next part of our professional development trip. My manager (which is the word that Aussies use for "boss") was a coach at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for the Australian race walkers until just last year. The AIS is essentially the equivalent of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Not every Australian athlete lives and trains at the AIS, but quite a few do, and we had the opportunity to watch (and often learn from) their training sessions. I should note that Australians do not generally use the term "practice". They don't go to soccer practice...they have a soccer training session. Anyway, due to my manager's connections, we had a very unique and exciting trip to the AIS.

There were swimmers who competed in and won medals at the 2012 Olympics training while we watched this session.

One of the highlights of our trip was an early morning trip to watch the rowers train. We got to sit in the boat with a coach and watch/listen as he took his athletes through a training session. It was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was also a gorgeous morning to be on the water.

My coworkers and Kim Crow, who won a few medals in London. She was one of the rowers who we got the chance to watch train. And, yes, I work with all blokes!
We also had the chance to watch athletes from a variety of sports train in the gym.

Boys will be boys, and my coworkers decided to race each other at the end of our last day at the AIS.

Due to our busy schedule, we did not have time to visit the "touristy" parts of Canberra. Despite what most Australians think, I wouldn't mind another short trip to Canberra, this time to see the "sights" and perhaps due some hiking in those surrounding mountains!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wine, Cheese, Chocolate, and Beautiful Beaches!

After returning back to the mainland from Rottnest Island, we headed south along the coast of Western Australia. Our destination was Margaret River, a region known for its wine making.
Rockingham. Apparently there is a spot here where you can swim with dolphins.
Bussleton. This jetty is the longest in the southern hemisphere...almost 2km long!
Once we arrived in Margaret River, we settled into our accommodation for the next two nights. We walked into "town", where we found food for dinner and strolled along the main street. The next day we were up early, so we decided to check out the Margaret River Pro surf competition. The waves were big but sloppy, so it wasn't the best of conditions, but it was fun to watch and experience a major surfing event.

From there, we spent the rest of the day visiting wineries. We stopped at 3 Oceans, then the cheese factory (Erik's favorite stop, of course!), Howling Wolves, and Providore, followed by a stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory and then two more wineries: Hay Shed Hill and Knee Deep. There are SO many wineries in Margaret River and they are really close together. Lots of bang for your buck, you could say!
These distances are in kilometers, so even closer than miles, folks!
Spotted this kookaburra at one of the wineries
Needless to say, we were quite tired that evening, but we headed out to a local pub to watch the footy game (the two teams from WA were playing each other, so it was quite the rivalry). In the morning, after a short run along an awesome wooded path near our accommodation, we said goodbye to our lovely host, her "chooks", and the family (mom, dad, and joey) of kangaroos that we saw wandering through her yard that morning. It was a hard place to leave!

We drove south until we reached the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Pretty cool, huh?
The Indian Ocean starts just beyond the lighthouse.

We stumbled upon a black sand beach, reminiscent of our honeymoon in Hawaii!

From there, we started working our way north again, and our next stop was Hamelin Bay. This was one of the highlights of our trip for me. The beach was absolutely gorgeous, and I had read that manta rays frequently swim along the shore here. Apparently if you let them they will suck on your toes, which we did not attempt, but it was really cool to see the rays swimming along in the shallow water.

I thought our experience of seeing a few rays was great until I came across this YouTube video showing someone's experience at Hamelin Bay. Awesome!

We drove north through Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, home of the famous karri tree, the third tallest tree in the world.

We continued the drive along Caves Road, stopping at another winery or two along with a second (and even better!) chocolate factory, Gabriel Chocolate. Then it was time to check out more beach views, so we stopped in Yallingup and walked a short portion of the Cape to Cape Track.

We also visited Bush Shack Brewery, where we shared a sampler of tasty beers. I was lucky enough to be doing most of the tasting on this trip, as Erik volunteered to be my driver! That afternoon he drove all the way to Mandurah, about an hour or so from Perth, where we stayed for the night. In the morning, we took a walk around town before hopping back in the car, where we drove north of Perth to check out Cottesloe and Scarborough beaches before heading to the airport for our late flight back east.
Scarborough Beach
After our trip to WA, I am now even more interested in going back there for a longer period of time. In fact, if we both did not have jobs in Melbourne, we might consider moving there. There are certainly downsides to living there, mainly the high cost of living and the isolation from the rest of Australia (it is the most isolated big city in the world, I've been told), but the lure of the Indian Ocean coupled with lots of sunny days is hard to resist. Until we meet again, Western Australia!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rottnest Island

About a year ago, Tiger Airways, a budget airline in Australia, had a 2-for-1 ticket sale on most flight routes. A lot of Aussies complain about Tiger being a poor airline, but Erik and I have flown Tiger on numerous occasions without problems and have been pleasantly surprised with their customer service. As long as you know what you are getting into (e.g. they will likely weigh your carry on bag so make sure it is under the baggage allowance or you will get charged A LOT), we feel it is a good budget option for flying. During that 2-for-1 sale, I purchased tickets for our trip to Sydney with my parents, tickets to Tasmania, and tickets to Perth. The Perth dates were really far out (9+ months), but they were SO cheap ($150 return per person including baggage) that we decided to book the tickets and hope that we could make it work with our commitments at the time, since we would be taking a few days off during the week for our trip. Erik visited Perth last year for a work conference, but this would be my first visit to Western Australia.

We arrived in Perth early on Thursday morning, picked up our rental car and headed south towards Fremantle, where we would catch the ferry to head to Rottnest Island. We had some time to kill before our ferry left, so we were able to spend some time walking around downtown "Freo", as it is commonly referred to by Australians. It seemed to have a laid back vibe (though that is what Western Australia is known for) and some really cool, eclectic shops.
On our way to Fremantle we stopped at Macca's (otherwise known to Americans as McDonald's, a place that we generally try to avoid) and found out they were featuring an American themed menu called "Tastes of America", including things like the "Smoky Texan Burger" and the "Banana Split Shake".
Found this gem at a Salvation Army (Salvos) store in Freo! Yes, it's a GW bobblehead.
Once it was time for our ferry to depart, we said goodbye to the mainland and were on our way to Rottnest. It is not cheap to get to Rottnest Island, so it is something that we debated back and forth about doing. After talking with friends who are from WA and people who have visited the area before, the general consensus was that we should go if the weather was nice. The weather was absolutely perfect. A tad on the cool side, perhaps, but not a cloud in the sky on that day. Once we arrived on the island, we checked into our accommodation for the night, a cabin that could sleep 6 people. It was basic but clean and a bit of a step up from camping, which we had done a lot of recently in New Zealand and on Fraser Island. We then went to rent bikes so that we could explore the island. There are no cars on Rottnest, so biking is the best way to get around. Armed with a map, we peddled around almost the entire island, about 20 kms or so, stopping along the way to enjoy beautiful views.

Our "cabin" for the night, along with our rental bikes!
Fortunately we did not see any venomous snakes.
You can see the mainland in the background of this picture.
Do you see the sunken machinery sticking out of the ocean? At this point I noticed that we have a piece of sand stuck in our camera, so you will see the dark dot on the rest of our pictures from WA, unfortunately!

Our first quokka sighting! Quokkas look like small kangaroos/wallabies.
Wadjemup Lighthouse
Quokkas are most definitely used to human interaction, though visitors are encouraged not to feed them.
Narrow Neck

We spent the evening hours lying on the beach as the sun went down, then headed into "town" to pick up some food for dinner.
Not a bad spot for a nap! A short walk from our cabin.
Bathurst Lighthouse
A standoff between a quokka and a peacock! 
Quokkas are literally everywhere. Stores have to put these up to prevent quokkas from coming inside.
The next morning we took one last leisurely bike ride before dropping off our bikes and catching the ferry back to the mainland. Our trip to "Rotto" (yes, there are abbreviations for everything here) was short, but we felt that it was just enough time to explore a breathtakingly beautiful place. Erik and I were in awe of the gorgeous ocean views, each one somehow even more impressive than the next. You will see a few more Indian Ocean pictures from our visit to WA, but none compare to the views of the ocean from our bike ride around Rottnest Island.
View of Perth CBD on our way back from Rotto