The Great Barrier Reef

After our time on the Sunshine coast, we flew from Brisbane to Cairns and drove north from there to Port Douglas.  We stayed in a condo in town that was walking distance to the beach, the harbor, and main street. Port Douglas was quite hot and steamy as the town is positioned on the north coast of Australia just outside of the rain forest area.  We explored the town, shopped a little, and hung out on the beach.  Justin even managed to catch the Cowboy's game on a patio overlooking the water.

Little church in Port Douglas near the beach
View from the beach in Port Douglas

We took a day trip to the Daintree rain forest.  It was interesting to walk through the rain forest with its giant trees and plant life.  We didn't see much wildlife but that didn't stop me from looking for it!  We followed the road through the Daintree all the way to Cape Tribulation.  We took a few walks through the forest along the way and had a picnic on the beach.

Watch out for crocs!  These signs were at every beach and we were told a sign is required to be put up at any spot a croc has been spotted.
Walk through the rainforest next to giant palm like plants

Lookout over the Daintree rain forest to the ocean

Huge tree at Mossman Gorge

I was trying to capture the vines growing up the tree.  The rainforest had things growing everywhere, on every surface

Bridge in Mossman Gorge

The highlight of our time in Port Douglas was our day trip out onto the Great Barrier Reef.  We sailed on a catamaran with 8 other people to part of the outer reef.  Justin took one look in the water when we jumped off the boat for the first time and proclaimed it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.  We saw tons of colorful fish and coral and we were even lucky enough to see a Silvertip Reef Shark.  The shark was probably about my size but he didn't seem to care that we were there.  Our guide also picked up a sea cucumber and let us hold it. In between snorkeling, we enjoyed a freshly cooked meal of fresh fish that our captain had just caught and thrown on the grill.  It was a wonderful day of sailing and snorkeling!

View from our catamaran

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

Sailing back to Port Douglas

One evening we took a sunset trip on the Lady Douglas.  The Lady Douglas is an old riverboat that takes you on a cruise through the mangroves searching for crocodiles. It was a nice cruise and we spotted a few crocodiles out in the wild.  One of the lady crocs even got out of the water and "modeled" for us!

Ready for our sunset cruise

Roots of the mangrove trees, perfect hiding spot for a croc

Beautiful path through the mangrove trees

Female croc posing in front of the tumbled down croc warning sign

We fed this guy some fish...I can't remember exactly but he is some type of rare bird

One afternoon we visited a nearby winery, Shannonvale Tropical Winery, that makes wine from many local fruits.  We did a full tasting and were surprised that none of the wines were "sticky sweet".  We quite enjoyed the tasting and we bought a bottle of the mango wine to pair with our dinner at the house.

Shannonvale Winery tasting area

Cheers from our room in Port Douglas

I found my beach

The Sunshine Coast Australia

Justin and I started our epic Australian adventure on September 1, 2013.  Our holiday spanned 23 days and covered 5 areas on the east coast of Australia.  The journey took us from the Sunshine coast to the Great Barrier Reef to Melbourne, to Tasmania, to Sydney!  We went from shorts and tank tops in the north to freezing I pretty much wore the warmest sweater I brought for 5 days straight down in the southern most part of Australia.  It was the trip of a lifetime that concluded back in Auckland where we said our goodbyes before moving back to Dallas.

We started our holiday relaxing and surfing on the Sunshine coast.  We flew into Brisbane and drove to our little bach just steps from the beach in Peregian Beach.  Most of the little towns along the Sunshine coast are just tiny little villages. Peregian Beach is a sleepy little place filled with what seem to be mostly retirees. Nearby Noosa has a nice shopping strip that runs along the beach and seemed to be mostly an Australian vacation spot.  We ended up spending most of our time in Noosa as the beach there was quite nice and there were surf boards you could rent right on the beach. We enjoyed a few days of surfing and one day of stand up paddle boarding.  There were no waves that day so we opted to try out the stand up paddle board.  It was pretty difficult even without waves but we both got the hang of it after a little while.  

Noosa Beach on a calm day
Justin stand up paddle boarding at Noosa

View of a surf beach along a path outside of Noosa

We celebrated my 32nd birthday while at the Sunshine coast and we did it up right!  We started the day with pancakes on the patio followed by surfing and laying in the sun.  We got slightly dressed up for dinner and had a fancy meal overlooking the beach in Noosa at Sails.  It was a perfect day!

Another day we visited the Australian Zoo, Home of the Crocodile Hunter.  We had so much fun exploring the zoo and meeting all of the uniquely Australian animals including the koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devil, and of course crocodiles!  There was a really cool kangaroo area that was basically a park that the kangaroos could hop all around.  We bought some 'roo food and fed and pet the cute little kangaroos.  They ate out of our hands and if you raised your hand up, the kangaroo would hold onto your hand with both front feet to get to the food.  I loved the koalas!  Everyone could pet one of the koalas in the exhibit.  One of the zoo keepers was just walking around holding a koala like a baby!  It was so cute.  So when we saw that you could pay to hold a koala and get your picture taken, I couldn't resist.  Come on, once in a lifetime opportunity right?  So I actually got to hold a koala and I have to say, it pretty much made my trip!

Tasmanian Devil close up

See the crocodile jumping out of the water?

Me cuddling with a koala!

A baby koala...seriously the cutest thing I've ever seen

Just chillin' with some kangaroos

J feeding two at once

This is what koalas do about 23 hours a day.  So lazy!

Momma koala close up

We absolutely loved the Sunshine coast and were sad to leave at the end of our 5 days there!

L on the beach outside our bach

These turkeys were everywhere

Look who joined us for lunch

Queenstown Skiing in August

Not that long ago but what feels like another lifetime, Justin and I took a long weekend ski trip to Queenstown.  We left very early Saturday morning and rented a car in Queenstown.  We checked into our hotel and then made it to the slopes a little after noon.  We skied the first day at Coronet Peak and bought a twilight pass which was good from 12 until 9 pm.  We had a great afternoon of skiing and enjoyed skiing on a new type of terrain with no trees to mark the trails.  The snow wasn't the best but that didn't stop us!    We took a snack break while the ski area prepared for night skiing by grooming the main trails and turning on the lights.  We were pretty exhausted by this time so we only made a few runs after dark and headed back to the hotel.  

View from the lift at Coronet Peak

Selfie on the lift
The next day we took a guided wine tasting tour with Funny French Cars.  It was a private tour, just Justin, me, and the guide.  We visited about 5 different wineries throughout the Central Otago region just outside of Queenstown.  We had lunch at Wild Earth Wines where we had a tasting plate with 5 items and a matching wine tasting with each.  The food and wine were both delicious!  We had dinner at our favorite pizza place in Queenstown, Winnies.  

J & L on the Funny French Car wine tour

The famous Queenstown shotover jet boat from above

On Sunday, we decided to try out the other ski field near Queenstown, the Remarkables.  We had an interesting drive straight up the mountain on a dirt road with our tiny engined, manual car.  We made it however and enjoyed a wonderful day on the slopes with perfect weather and nice snow!  We headed back to the hotel around 4 and picked up a hitch-hiker in the parking lot.  She was just a harmless ski bum/waitress but entertained us on the way back to town.  We had dinner at Coyote Grill followed by a mulled wine at a local wine bar.  On the way home to satisfy our sweet tooth, we stopped at the famous Fergbaker (part of Fergburger) and had the most amazing Boston Creme donut (seriously, I still dream about it).  

Lindsay at the Remarkables

Lindsay skiing through the snow tunnel

The next morning we had brunch in town, did a little shopping, visited a few lookouts over the lake and then headed to the airport.  It was a great trip to snowy Queenstown!

The Earnslaw from a lookout above Queenstown

10 Facts You May Not Know About My Brother

1.  Ben loved his Birkenstock mules.  He really believed they were the only shoes he needed.  He could dress them up or down, summer or winter.

2.  Ben was a firm believer that the Texas "swimming season" should begin in April.  The rest of the family joined him by Memorial Day...if he was lucky (and the weather was warm).

3. The only thing that could get Ben out of bed early was evidently....sonic the hedge hog.  He used to get up early to catch the sonic the hedge hog cartoon show and as far as I know....that never happened again!

4.  Little Ben had such sensitive eyes, he spent most mornings of his early childhood hiding in the corner of the living room shielding his eyes from the harsh morning light with his hands.

5.  Ben is the only adult I know of that literally slept while in the shower.  Seriously, standing up with my mom yelling at him from outside the bathroom.

6.  We had a running joke about Ben's underwear showing while he "sagged" his jeans.

7. Even Ben had to admit my bicep muscle was bigger than his (despite his efforts at P90X).

8.  Ben had the flat-est Flintstones feet I have ever seen.  Where did these come from?

9.  Ben had a true desire to learn Italian and move to Italy.  He would have loved to visit us in New Zealand.

10.  Ben was always up to help someone out...he built a fence with my church group for a widow (for free) and helped dig out our front flower bed (including breaking up concrete) for a pizza!

Winter at Hot Water Beach

A few weeks ago, Justin and I took a trip to the Coromandel with our neighbors and friends, Peter and Rebecka.  We stayed in Hahei at Tatahi Lodge but the purpose of our trip was to visit Hot Water Beach in the winter.  Justin and I visited Hot Water Beach during the summer but did not take part in the hot tub digging and soaking.  Rebecka insisted it was worth the time and effort and would be even more fun with a slight chill in the air.
View on the drive to Coromandel Town

Tatahi Lodge
We drove down to the Coromandel on Saturday and took the scenic route through Coromandel Town since Justin and I had not visited that area before.  We had lunch at a cute cafe and Peter, Rebecka, and I all enjoyed the fresh Mussels. 

Coromandel Town
After lunch, we took a hike to New Chums Beach. New Chums is rated as one of the top beaches in New Zealand and it was beautiful.  However, the hike to the beach proved a bit of a challenge as the track was extremely  muddy in places and extremely rocky in other places.  Combine this with our lack of hiking shoes and the hike turned into an adventure!  Not to mention we incorporated some tree climbing and monkey sounds into our hike!
Did I forget to mention J's shoes were so unsuitable he had to hike barefoot?

Peter and Rebecka waiting on New Chum's beach

I promise we were really high in the tree!
We arrived in Hahei in time to take a quick walk along the beach before enjoying a fresh vegetarian dinner prepared by Rebecka.
We are laughing at Peter b/c this is about the 5th angle he took a photo of us from!
The next morning we set out fairly early for Hot Water Beach.  You need to arrive at the beach at least one hour before low tide in order to find a spot to dig a natural hot tub and then have time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  We found a nice spot with plenty of hot water and dug a nice big tub.  We spent the next few hours lounging in our tub and running across the beach to cool off in the ocean.  We had to run as the area between our tub and the ocean was quite literally boiling in spots!

We got to hot water beach pretty early!

Justin and Rebecka did most of the digging.  Notice the steam!

Peter, Rebecka, and me enjoying the natural hot tub!

Panorama of Hot Water Beach.

View of our hot rub into the ocean
After our fun at Hot Water Beach, we drove back to Auckland and enjoyed a pizza dinner at That's Amore (half price pizza on Sundays). What a great weekend away from the city with friends!