Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Goldbergs at Lizard Island - The final days....

Well our readership is growing, the fast paced virality of the internet has made the Goldbergs in Australia series an international sensation.  It seems like only yesterday that we embarked on our journey down under, yet it seems like forever since we have seen the soil of our homeland.  Yes, its only been 10 days, but those 10 days have taught us lessons in life that we won't soon forget.

Because I am postdating this post there will unlikely be some strange combination of past and present but I'm sure you'll get the idea, our dear readers.

Today was the day.  Today is the day we take the trip off the eastern coast of Australia to spend the next 3 nights in what has come to be thought of as the culminating trip of the honeymoon, the trip to Lizard Island.  Lizard Island, for those of you who don't know, or we haven't bragged to yet, is an isolated group of 3 islands about 25 miles off the coast of Australia.  The island is inhabited by only the staff of the resort, the guests of the resort's 30 or so bungalows, and a research station at the other side of the island.  The island is about 4 miles by 4 miles and is a combination of 40 private beaches, rocky coasts, a dense jungle like forest.  The Dharma Initiative comes to mind.

Our excitement for this day was unparalleled.  As we boarded the small Cessna Caravan for our one hour flight to Lizard Island, the weather was an eerie grey, it was still raining from the tropical front which nearly stranded us in the Daintree rain forest the day before.  We wondered how this plane was going to navigate the torrential downpours, and nearly black clouds that loomed over the ocean which were about to fly straight over.  We think our pilot, of Hinterland Aviation, was about 13 years old.

And we flew.....Hannah, gripping her seat, giggling, and staring at the pilot everytime we encountered any type of instability in the air.

Upon landing in Lizard Island we were escorted in a van from the air strip to the main lobby of the resort.  We were given a brief orientation to the island which was accompanied by a welcome drink.  This welcome was well received, a bit like we were the latest contestants on a reality show in which 8 strangers were brought to a remote island where the only way to leave was to be voted off.  

The grounds of Lizard Island were beautiful, some rocky beaches, some sandy beaches, the whole natural environment was our playground.   There was beautiful barrier reef snorkeling right off the beach, the scenery was indeed paradise.  Hannah and I were excited to see what this "all inclusive" resort really included, everything was included in the price of the night's stay, which was about $2500 per night.  When you break this down, its $100 an hour, put another way, its about the same price as a month's rent in San Francisco, so we expected service and food to be reflective of the high price tag.

Our bungalow was simple, with a hammock hanging outside, a deck where we could sit and watch the sunset, and a great view of our neighbors bedroom.  There was a "no key" policy on Lizard Island, so we had to get used to leaving everything unlocked, safety wasn't a concern, but the mosquitos and ants getting into the room's porous sliding doors were. 

Our first meal at Lizard gave us a preview of what we were in store for for the next 4 days.  There were 3 options on the menu to choose from for lunch.  One was fried squid, one was roasted quail, and one was some pasta which I have already forgotten about.  The portions were tiny, so tiny that we had to re-order lunch twice.  I guess we were those fat Americans who need two lunches to be satisfied.  

Hannah I immediately took the bar to take advantage of the all inclusive food and drink.  We enjoyed wonderful mojitos, wine, top shelf everything, and managed to drink the resort out of their 3 top vodkas. It was great to have no concerns about the size of the bill we were running up.  They had a chess board, so between the open bar, the chess board, and the beach we were in our own style of heaven.

Before dinner that first evening we walked down to private Sunset beach, did our first snorkeling and had a wonderful romantic swim while light rain fell on us and the sun fell behind the clouds until it drifted out of sight.  The princess in the pea had to get her snorkel and mask replaced a couple of times before it was suitable, I knew we'd be making the trip back to the dive shop for more adjustments....I know my wife.

The dining service, food, and overall customer service at Lizard Island wasn't anything to write home about...but it looks like I am anyway.  We were constantly thinking about what we were paying and having our waiters and waitresses deliver us sub par food, forgetting things essential like bread, water, or coffee.  At one point we were delivered raw eggs for breakfast, and the waiter's response was "oh yeah, they look like their raw", and walked away.  We remained optimistic and had a great time as we always do. 

We came to learn a lot about the resort from speaking to the staff, who were in fact, very nice people.  Mostly young adults between the ages of 20 and 30 who were marooned on this island for months at a time, and worked hard (10-12 hours a day for 8-10 days straight), the transient nature of the job showed, but they did their best.  We missed Chris, our Byron Bay waiter.  Most of these waiters only last 6 months on the island before they quit and move on.

The water sports staff at Lizard Island was very different.  The scuba and dive instructors had been on this island for 5-10 years, they loved what they do, and to them it was a dream job.  It showed in their attentiveness, and how they loved to explain the intricacies of  island, the best places to snorkel, and at any point they would drive you in a truck or a boat to a remote beach on the island and arrange times to pick us up.

On day two of the Lizard episode the dive shop crew dropped us off at a remote beach and we spent the entire day walking, snorkeling, and swimming.  This beach was a short walk in low tide to where the movie The Blue Lagoon was filmed.  As you can imagine it was a spectacular spot, and we had it all to ourselves.  We spent the entire day without seeing a single person and at 4 pm we were picked up and returned to relative civilization.  We asked the the kitchen to prepare a picnic for us which we took to the beach.  The picnic wasn't good, but the day on the beach was amazing.

Our second evening on the island was marred by circumstance.  Our toilet stopped functioning, and much like the broken sewer in Newcastle was not due to the bean nachos, the broken toilet on Lizard Island was through no fault of the Goldbergs, although the manager of the resort eluded to it.  We were informed by a member of staff at dinner that evening that our toilet would not be fixed until the following day and they had another bungalow we could move into.  The was the culminating point of all events on Lizard Island.  Hannah had had enough.  We insisted that the toilet had been dying a slow death since we had arrived, which it had, and that they WOULD fix it tonight and the Goldbergs WOULD NOT be moving rooms.  The was followed by a very unpleasant interaction with management in which my poor bride was brought to tears, and insisted that we wanted to have a refund of what was owed for our remaining time, and we wanted to leave this place and go find the service and honeymoon we deserved.

At breakfast the following morning the manager and I had a chat about the following evening's situation.  I played good cop, ensuring that she knew that my wife had been having issues with many facets of life on Lizard and that it had all come out in a moment of emotional bearing.  The manager agreed to give us half off of our previous night, treat us to a free off resort snorkeling trip, and upgrade us for the remaining night to The Pavilion, their highest end bungalow.  We accepted their peace offering and decided to make the best of the rest of our time in paradise.

We had no idea what we were in for.  The Pavilion room itself was not much more spectacular than our previous room, but the view was incredible, and our private pool was the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing splash.  This room was the type of room we expected when we arrived.  As you can see from our pictures, the birds that tried to eat our lunch on the beach decided they also were entitled to an upgrade.  We can't blame them.

We spent the next evening and following day enjoying our newfound luxury.  The midnight drunken midnight dip in our private pool made the whole episode with our broken toilet worth it.  The food didn't improve, but from this point on we were attended to only by the food and beverage managers while dining and we could tell that the resort had discussed our situation and unhappiness and were doing their best to accomodate us and ensure us that they were doing all possible to make things right for us.  We do thank the Lizard for that.

We enjoyed a great off island snorkeling excursion the next morning and packed up for our grand departure from Lizard and the following day's journey back to the homeland.  When we picked up our bill from reception we were informed that the Lizard Island management had refunded us for 50% of our entire stay. 

Poor judgement on the my part put us at a hotel near the Sydney airport for our final evening.  If I had been more attentive and actually paid attention to our flight time of 4pm the following day we could have  spent the evening in the city and had a bit more of a finale....sorry wifey, I'll make it up to you on our next trip down under.

Thanks to everyone who followed us on this journey.  Through adventure, romance, love, scumbags who try to take pictures with your camera, excitement, bad toilets, bad service, and good service we have had the time of our lives.  

My wife and I thank you very much (Ween).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Goldbergs in Nimbin, Byron Bay, and Port Douglas - Day 7-12

As we pushed up through the Pacific Highway towards our next destination we tried to set our expectations.  So far we hadn't had the honeymoon experience that we would have wanted to treat ourselves to.  We have had an amazing experience and adventure thus far, exploring Sydney, barely surviving Newcastle, connecting with locals in Port Mcquarie, but we hadn't yet been able to sit in luxury and take relaxing time to ourselves.  

Byron Bay was our next stop, where we had 2 nights booked at The Byron at Byron Bay.  En route we made a short stop for lunch in a small fishing town called Yamba which was recommended for its prawns and other local seafood.  Stopping in Yamba, I enjoyed a freshly fried fish and chips lunch, while Hannah attempted to gracefully eat a full crab and prawns.  The battle between Hannah and crab was a tightly fought one, but in the end Hannah proved victorious, and the crab was decimated.  The town of Yamba was not much more than the fish and chips shop that we stopped at, so we quickly hit the road again, bound for Byron.  

We had heard through the grapevine of a small town located deep in the hills about an hour from Byron Bay called Nimbin.  Not many people we talked to had ever heard of this small village, but the few we had spoken to about it referred to it as Australia's "Greenest Town", and that it was.  The windy roads through small towns, hills, cow fields, and farms took us to the village of Nimbin.  Not much more than a couple of streets, backpacker hotels, and a few shops, Nimbin was like a Haight Ashbury which time forgot.  Hippies who obviously got stuck in this town in the 70s and never found a way to escape or a need to leave strolled the streets of the town, while a few tourists gazed in the shop windows, undoubtedly not shopping for what they appeared to be.  Nimbin was a great side excursion, and a place worth seeing.  We ended up in a casual game of pool with a couple from a nearby town who comes to Nimbin once in a while to score, their words, not mine.

When we left Nimbin it was beginning to get dark so we drove as quickly as possible the remaining hour to Byron Bay.  Our expectations, having been set pretty low by the last few towns' accommodation were not very high for The Byron which I had booked months ago.  We have learned, if nothing else, from this trip, that using the internet, Expedia, Trip Advisor, The Lonely Planet, to book hotels and resorts in another country can be hit or miss.  We really need to teach the world how to use Yelp more efficiently. 

We had some difficulty finding The Byron.  Hannah ran into a small motel to ask the receptionist where it was, and the receptionist's response was "spending loads of money are you?".  This renewed Hannah's hope that we may actually find our first true honeymoon spot.  How right she was.  The Byron at Byron Bay was nothing short of exquisite.  It was what we could only describe as an oasis amongst mediocrity.  From the moment we walked into the lobby which was a beautiful open air atrium which large fans circling overhead, modern dark wood furniture, and elegant staff we knew we had arrived.  We were escorted to our suite, which had been complimentarily upgraded in a golf cart and were simply blown away.  The suite was beautiful, there was champagne in the room especially for the honeymooners, it was perfect and just what we had been waiting for.  The Byron's property is nestled in a small tropical rain forest on the Pacific coast.  Our room was a 5 minute walk to the beach and the entire property was linked by a beautiful boardwalk that curved through the lush rain forest.  At one point Hannah and I both had the same thought that the noises being made by the birds were being broadcasted by some PA system, that's how surreal the surroundings felt.

We quickly showered and dressed and went to the restaurant for dinner.  The restaurant, much like the lobby was beautiful in the open air.  Our romantic table had a beautiful view of the rain forest which stretched in front of us.  As we sat down and started to realize that our honeymoon experience had finally begun we were approached by The Byron's owner or manager who simply came over to greet us, congratulate us, and ask our waiter Chris (who we came to refer to as our dream waiter for the rest of the honeymoon) to bring us a couple of glasses of champagne.  The greeting was short, sweet, and as classy as The Byron itself.  As Chris went to tend to his waiterly duties Hannah and I had a brief chat about how we were honored to be offered the congratulatory drink, but how were were sick of champagne and wished we could ask for something else, but not wanting to kick a gift horse in the mouth, we decided to take the bubbly and smile.  This is where we realized we had arrived Eden, as when our waiter returned he looked at us and said "if I were you guys I wouldn't want champagne, I would want a glass of wine or a drink, can I get you that instead".  We were floored, and we realized that not only was Chris a fantastic waiter, but he was also a mind reader.

The food at The Byron was exquisite, flawless, not once did we question anything being put in front of us.  This reaction continued for 2 days.  We spent the next day in the confines of the resort, only leaving the grounds to briefly visit the beach where we braved the desolate stretch of The Pacific where we were the only ones for what appeared to be miles.  We spent the next 2 days living in luxury at The Byron, and sad as we were to leave, we had other adventures planned, we could only hope they would be as romantic and beautiful as The Byron.

The next morning we packed up the car, and had a delicious breakfast, avocado, tomato, and mushrooms with poached eggs on a crostini for me and oatmeal baked with bananas and strawberry for the wife. We were then off to Brisbane Airport to catch our flight to Cairns.

When we got the airport we paid the overage charges for Hannah's suitcase, didn't see that coming, and boarded for our short flight.

Cairns is a hub of tourist activity as those wanting to visit the Great Barrier Reef and nearby rain forests all seem to stay in this town.  We had been advised to skip Cairns altogether and stay in nearby Port Douglas instead.  We had booked The Thala Beach Resort just outside of Port Douglas.  A few days prior we had booked on the phone and the person we spoke to really sold us on the resort.  We definitely weren't at a place as exquisite as The Byron, but it served its purpose.  We were upgraded to the most secluded bungalow on the property, which had a very nice view of the beach directly off our balcony.  The Thala bar and lodge area had a few redeeming qualities, one of which was a chess board.  Hannah and I had great time hanging out, relaxing with a few beers and playing chess.  When we were getting too intoxicated to contemplate our next moves it was time for dinner.  Dinner that night at the resort should have been skipped altogether.  It doesn't matter how much salt or olive oil you use, it doesn't make food taste any better.  I will refrain from negativity , but I will tell you that the food at Thala was disappointing.  

The next morning we were up at 7am for our 815am pickup for our tour of the Daintree rain forest.  The Daintree rain forest, Mossman River, and Mossman Gorge are highly recommended tropical destinations very close to Port Douglas and we were very excited to experience them, not knowing what to expect.  Since we had arrived Cairns and Port Douglas there had been torrential rain constantly, this is a tropical part of Australia and we could have expected this may happen.  The rain only added to the adventure of our rain forest experience.  We curved through steep inclines through the forest with our tour guides Ben and Karen at the helm of our massive 4x4 truck.  We would pass underneath waterfalls, and through streams of water which were passing over the road which we were driving.  As we curved through the forest we realized that the rain was starting to make some of the roads unpassable.  When we passed over a bridge where the river was about 6 feet below the level of the bridge our guides seemed concerned, when we returned an hour later and passed over the same bridge, the water had risen the 6 feet to the level of the bridge, making it dangerously close to being unable to pass.

One particular area of road was completely washed out by a rapidly flowing river.  A few tour groups which had crossed the road a few hours ago were stranded on the other side, unable to return.  There was concern they would have to stay the night on the other side of the ride.  We later learned that a rescue operation had been successful and they were retrieved.  Luckily our guides had the forethought to not risk our passing of the road.

During our rain forest excursion we stopped twice at the Daintree ice cream company, a local shop buried in a tropical fruit orchard.  Their specialty is home made ice cream made with the fresh tropical fruits that they grow in their orchard.  They also sold Hannah's single most favorite snack, dried mangoes.  She had run out of dried mangoes earlier in the honeymoon, and has tried frantically in every shop we have run across to find the coveted dried fruit.  As if by fate, the Daintree ice cream company had both of Hannah's pleasures, home made tropical ice cream, and dried mangoes.  As if by true irony, I forgot the wallet today.  We sat and watched with watery eyes as the rest of our tour partook.  

That evening we took a bus into the actual town of Port Douglas.  We were excited for our upcoming trip the next day to Lizard Island which was planned as the culminating portion of the honeymoon.  The town of Port Douglas was a welcome mix of quaint and some great bars and restaurants.   At the restaurant called 2 Fish we decided to over do our intake of fried fish and order the feast for two.  This was not necessary, and made us both feel very bad about ourselves after eating it.

See you Lizard Island, somewhere in the Pacific.