Posts Tagged ‘Vitamin Me’

Vitamin Me Update – Christmas in Cairns – 2011

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

 

Me loving the Vitamin Me @ Agincourt Reef with the SilverSonic

Saturday – December 24th, 2011.
After reading news reports on the huge volume (56,000) of people expected to be through Brisbane Airport on Friday December 23rd, I must admit I was somewhat filled with dread at the idea of negotiating the crowds and the queues. The large number of people on the AirTrain did little to assuage these fears. However, it wasn’t too bad at all. The Priority Check In line at Virgin Australiacertainly made it better – I just walked straight up, then plonked myself in The Lounge. I was still full from a wonderful lunch with my team at La Dolce Vita (Milton), so didn’t partake in noms but did have a few glasses of Les Petites Vignettes.

Champas and my boarding pass. Pity I couldn't spell the name of the Brut correctly

I was informed by the Lounge Angels (do we call the guys that too?) that the flight was full, so no chance of an empty seat next to me, so I stuck with my seat close to the front and hoped for no kids. Joy of joys, the other other people in my row failed to board! HUZZAH! As such I had a lovely trip, relaxing for the 2ish hours from Brisbane to Cairns, while everyone else was squished.

I should say that I haven’t been to Cairns since 1985. I remember a tiny airport, roads with no gutters, big trees overhanging roads and old houses. Imagine my surprise as I looked out the window to a lovely city below me. Yes the character houses were still there, but now there was a thriving (well kind of, the GFC was not kind of Cairns) CBD.

I had pre-booked a transfer into town with a company I had never heard of (CoralSea Coaches), and figured that if they didn’t show, it was only $15 return after all. My transfer arrived, on time and in a perfectly clean mini-bus I was deposited directly at my hotel. It probably took all of 5 minutes as I was the only passenger they were meeting from my flight.

What a view to wake up to!

My hotel is the Mercure Harbourside. While I don’t generally stay in Mercure, it seemed like a good location and the price was great. Unfortunately it was arranged before the 50% Accor sale but still incredible for being right on The Esplanade. Nevertheless, I had high hopes – all be them 3.5star hopes. After initially being told I didn’t get an upgrade (I usually do), the Check In staff decided to give me a double upgrade. I had booked a queen bed suite facing the mountains – I got a king bed suite facing the Coral Sea. When I woke up this morning (24th of December) and looked out my window (whole East wall) I saw the sea, the islands and the sun streaking orange across the lightest smattering of clouds.

Don't linger or the crocs will get you!

Even though I had consumed a fair bit of wine on the patio the night before, I was up and about early to beat the heat. I went for a relaxing stroll along The Esplanade into town. Mercure Harbourside is about 2km from the centre of town – so close enough to be walkable and far enough to be quiet (and it is right next to a bottleshop). They also run a free mini-bus to and from town hourly. So the plan was to stroll, take photos, enjoy a relaxing breakfast, buy some more goodies for balcony wine, something for breakfast Xmas Day, and most importantly, anti-seasickness tablets as I am going diving on the SuperSonic out of Port Douglas tomorrow before jumping the free ride back to the hotel for a swim and perhaps a nap.

The walk itself was divine. There was a light breeze that offset the heat and humidity nicely. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of people out. From cyclists, to mums pushing prams and a few walk of shames plus all the runners and dog walkers. The way the light reflected off the water or dappled through the trees was just perfect. I had to laugh when I saw the no swimming due to crocodiles sign. Naturally I stopped to take a photo! These two old guys walking an incredibly old pooch came up behind me and said with an evil laugh “Don’t linger or the crocs will get you!” I love Queensland humour!

I love these Angel Fish fountains.

One of my favourite images of Cairns has to be the gorgeous angle fish fountains/sculptures in the Lagoon. There was no way I was missing that photo opportunity given the perfect morning light and snapped a couple of pics while wishing I had brought my bathers with me. The Lagoon reeks of chlorine but looks so inviting. What is really cool about the Lagoon, apart from the water, is that it is in the shape of Queensland.

From there I strolled up the main street a little, to get away from the overtly tourist targeting cafes to find breakfast. Even though the tips on Foursquare for Perottas weren’t that favourable, I decided to give it a go as everyone there seemed to be locals (wearing real clothes, greeting eachother etc). I wasn’t disappointed. While I paid the same for what I would have paid for my hotel buffet breakfast, the quality was far superior. Lovely scrambled eggs, roasted field mushrooms and bacon on toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil. Their decaf latte was superb. Just writing about breakfast makes my mouth water. Located right next to the Cairns Regional Gallery it catches the breeze nicely, has lots of ceiling fans and great service and food. I may just come back on Monday or Tuesday.

Saturday Afternoon – December 24th, 2012.

After breakfast at Perotta’s I hit Woolies to buy some food for the balcony meals and tried to buy anti-seasickness tablets. Unfortunately the chemist closest to where I was was closed till 11.30am and while I was waiting for the mini-bus back to the Mercure Harbourside, I thought to check FourSquare and found one a couple of blocks from where I was. I had 10 minutes to get there – only to discover it was a shopping centre. I managed to get back to the pick up spot in 12 minutes – all be it stinking hot and perspiring.

Back at the hotel, I spent the day relaxing by the pool, reading a book, slathering on sunscreen and cooling off in the water. Naturally, during the high UV periods I disappeared back inside, but even with these precautions, I still managed to burn in a couple of places where I hadn’t reapplied my sunscreen carefully enough. Nothing bad – just a little pink in a couple small places (unlike many of the guests here who were bright red in the evening). I am not one that can sit around and do nothing for hours on end, but the warmth of the sun, the lightness of the breeze and the coolness of the water made the time pass quickly – though I constantly checked the time so I wouldn’t burn.

A twitter follower recommended a local Balainese restaurant for dinner, the chicken curry was to die for. I was dropped off at BayLeaf by the hotel mini-bus. I waited at the lovely bar of BayLeaf as my highly recommended dinner was cooked. The restaurant had a lovely feel to it – and I adored the use of Tourquay bottles for water. I picked up dinner and strolled the 500m back to my hotel, and promptly poured some wine and mineral water to enjoy another balcony meal.

It was still incredibly hot and muggy, but the light breeze made it spectacular. The sunset was amazing – with the colour streaking all the way back to the East. As the night closed in, the fishing trawlers out in the Coral Sea had their lights on, so their port and starboard lights looked like Christmas lights out to sea. (EDIT: I looked today and they might be the warning lights around a large sand bar but I think the boats sound much more romantic). The sounds of night closed in, soft laughter drifting up from the restaurant and bar by the pool as I watched the green and red lights blink on and off while I fell asleep.

Perfect day.

Christmas Day, Sunday December 25th.
While people were opening presents and gorging on food – I was lazing around the pool at the Mercure Harbourside, carefully ensuring I didn’t burn. I finished a chick-lit book by Sheila O’Flanagan and ate leftovers from the wonderful BayLeaf. I should explain there is a still a meal worth of leftovers upstairs in my room.
It does amaze me how determined some people are to “brown.” I didn’t think there was still that belief where they think if they go lobster red then they will go brown back home. The number of people I have seen burnt under peeling skin is just scary. The message of Slip Slop Slap doesn’t seem to carry or isn’t communicated as it used to be – and certainly not to those from overseas. Perhaps there should be some sort of communication about it.

Boxing Day however was a totally different day for me.

Boxing Day, Monday December 26th.
I was collected from my hotel and taken up the very scenic Captain Cook Hiway to Port Douglas to go out diving on the SilverSonic – run by QuickSilver. Unfortunately, the pick up was running about 25 minutes late to some guests who weren’t where they were supposed to be, so it was a mad rush to get onto the boat when we arrived in Port Douglas. The driver was a lark! He catered very well for his audience. At one stage there were only 2 non-international passengers on the boat, so he made sure he pointed out the kangaroos, shared stories in basic English and pointed out other touristy things to do while in town. Driving through Palm Cove was divine. I said at the time, it looked like a beach in Thailand or Vietnam – still, island off shore, shady trees, quiet little beachside town. I can’t wait to stay there!

The day itself on the SilverSonic was incredibly well organised and the ratio of staff to guests was MUCH higher than I expected. From multiple life guards, to swimmers with the snorkelers and 1 dive guide to 6 divers (all put into groups in line with experience) it was a very slick operation. I had read reviews from other dive/snorkel boats where the certified divers had to hang around under the intro divers – this was absolutely not the case for SilverSonic.

The tour participants were broken into groups – with snorkelers first called to be given their gear, then the intro divers to do their safety briefings and watch the what to expect video. Finally we were called down, and we were given a very thorough safety briefing – all be it a little hard to hear at times over the intro divers. I must admit I was surprised by the quality of the gear on the boat. I had brought my own because I once used hire gear on holidays and it was terrible. Everything looked reasonably new and very well cared for. Noone in our group had any problems with their gear. It should be noted that the gear (not including stinger suits) is included in the price of diving.

For the first dive, there wasn’t a sense of rush – we got into the water, got our bearings and slowly made our way down. It was a nice easy dive, so our very professional Dive Master/Guide Erin Smart could assess us and what we liked. I was impressed how attentive she was to her group – constantly checking on us – not just during the first check dive, the following two as well. I saw noone pop, look worried etc, and she timed the dive really well so we came to the mooring about 35 mins into the dive so we could drop off those with 50bar. We also spent the safety stop not just hanging out, but exploring at 5m – very well planned. The dive we did was Garry’s Gut – and provided us with a good entre of what we would see. Turtles, reef sharks, lots of aquarium fish etc.

The second and third dives we did were drift dives. As such we had a little bit of a scurry to get ready and into the water. I felt like I had just got comfy and relaxed up on deck and I, along with the certified divers were called back down again. This was probably my favourite dive of the day. Panova was a great site. Reef sharks, turtles, aquarium fish, great bommies, nudis, and a lovely medium sized maori wrasse. In the blue I also caught a glimpse of 3 devil rays that Erin spotted for us. That was a great surprise!

Our third and final dive was another drift dive – Just Magic. This was an incredibly relaxing dive – we all hung around 10m for most it and again stayed down the maximum time 50 minutes. I came up with 100bar, as did most of the others, but it was time. I was starting to feel the chill of three dives in a few short hours, even in 28c waters. Again we saw turtles, reef sharks, and lots of aquarium fish. There was also a photo stop where Erin took photos of a couple of the divers with their cameras behind a well positioned Nemo family. I passed but Erin took an awesome one of me on the second dive.

For 5 hours on the reef, we spent most of it underwater. Each dive was 50 minutes. Each dive had a real focus on safety and Erin’s care of her group was fantastic. If you do get the opportunity to dive while in Cairns or Port Douglas, I highly recommend the SilverSonic, not just for the excellent staff to guest ratio, but also for the huge amounts of food at lunch (the guests and the crew didn’t come close to eating it all – and it was a good range, including vegetarian), the quality of the guide staff (ask for Erin), but most importantly because of just how fast and stable the SilverSonic is. We blew past the Poseidon, and I wouldn’t want to be on her on a rough day – she was moving a bit and it was pretty much dead calm as we left Port Douglas.

It wasn’t all perfect though. Unfortunately, one of the other boats in the QuickSilver family had an engine problem, so returned to shore about 20 minutes late. Then four guests went missing who were supposed to be on my bus. Even though we were told very clearly, do NOT go shopping, there isn’t time, two went shopping, and the other two were having photo problems from the boat. We finally left after I had been waiting an hour. I understand maintenance delays – I fly a lot, but people who think they are more important than the other 30 odd waiting really annoy me off. In the end we left without two of them, and the QuickSilver team had to send a bus back for those two guests – what a waste of time and money for the company.

This was a great trip, and I highly recommend.

Upon returning to my hotel, I filled the bath, washed my dive gear then beelined for the pool. BLISS! It was so good to just be covered by the water and just relax. Bed came shortly after, as you can imagine after 2 hours on a bus, 3 dives and a day in the sun.

Tuesday December 27th.
It was hot. It was the first morning when I woke up and thought “Oh so this is what people have talked about.” The heat and humidity was oppressive so I decided to just hang out around the pool for the day. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as I got to get some final relaxation in. The highlight of the day would have to be the sounds of thunder in a clear blue sky. Shortly after a huge storm front was barrelling across the city into the bay. It was brilliant. The next thing I know the heavens opened and the rains fell. The apparent temperature in Cairns fell by 13c and I had to get a pot of tea to warm up! The really nifty thing about my hotel was an automatic roof in the bar/cafe. So when the first drops fell, the roof closed keeping me and the other guests dry (well we had been in the pool so dry-ish) while we watched the show. It rained like in the video for 45minutes and it was still raining (lightly) 2 hours after the first drops. It was fantastic to experience my first tropical storm in the tropics.

Unfortunately, at 5pm my poolside relaxing had to come to an end, and I changed into “real clothes” and headed to the airport. I was again picked up bang on time by the lovely people at Coral Sea Coaches. Again I took advantage of the Priority Boarding queue and checked my dive gear in. Unfortunately, there is no Lounge in Cairns, but I didn’t have to wait for too long before I was back on a plane to Brisbane.

All in all, this was a fantastic quick getaway.

Organisations mentioned in this post:
www.sunloverholidays.com.au
www.virginaustralia.com.au
www.coralseacoaches.com.au
www.silverseries.com.au/sonic.htm
www.mercure-harbourside.com.au/
www.bayvillage.com.au/bayleaf
www.cairnsdining.com/509

 

 

Vitamin Me

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Thanks to Tourism Queensland for the image

Hi all

Not a regular post (or semi-regular as it has been a while since I blogged).

For those who follow me on the Twitters, Facebook and Path know, I won Tourism Queensland’s Vitamin Me competition.

I have had a lot of questions on how it all works, how I got it and what I plan to do with it.

So, since I am, at my heart, incredibly lazy – read on.

Tourism Queensland ran the Vitamin Me competition, promoting having a break in Queensland to recharge yourself – getting your dose of Vitamin Me. This competition was part of a larger marketing strategy – which is still going on. By visiting their webpage, you could test your own levels (feel free to post your score in the comments). Since I am often away , am always thinking about what I might do for my next adventure, and 90% of the time love my work, I scored very high. This high score did nothing to help me win, but made me feel better about taking some many weekends away.

There were 175,000 entries, of which some 44,500 were unique. I only entered once.

From these 175,000 entries, my entry was randomly drawn and I won the prize – $10,000 of Vitamin Me time in Queensland.

The prize works similarly to a gift voucher. I don’t have to use it all at once, however it expires in 12 months.

I can use the voucher on anything that can be booked through SunLover Holidays – the travel agency associated with Tourism Queensland (these are the same peeps who did “Best Job in the World). This means flights, transfer, activities, tours, hire cars etc can be attributed to the voucher. The only time food/drinks would go on, would be if they were part of a resort package or cruise etc. Unfortunately I find the SunLover Holiday webpage terrible to navigate but if I search on google, then search for the provider there I can generally get around it.

So what am I planning to do?

Well, firstly I am using a small amount to do a day trip diving out of Port Douglas on the SuperSonic. I will be in Cairns over the break anyway, so this will be my first chance to put the prize into use. I was going to do a day trip anyway, this just means I do it on Tourism Queensland vs my Visa card.

Other things I am planning are (in no particular order):

  • The Dinosaur Stampede at Winton
  • Diving the Yongala
  • 4 day Coral See Mike Ball Dive expedition (was thinking of doing it at Easter but some friends are thinking of going in May, so will probably go then).
  • Mt Isa Rodeo
  • Mountain retreat with some friends and some wine (and spa treatments if I can find somewhere)
  • Mackay – so I can eat at Sorbellos again!

I will be flying Qantas as much as I can as I am hoping to reach Platinum status (geek moment).

All in all this is an epic prize. Crisscrossing the state is going to rock. I love Queensland – such an amazing state! I can’t wait to experience more of it.