Family & Friends,

I am currently in Byron Bay (Australia's Eastern Most Point) learning to surf. The weather is beautiful and I haven't seen rain since I left a month ago.

Wow - I can't believe it is now over a month since I left Atlanta. Sorry I am late updating you but I am having such a great time that e-mail has been the last thing on my mind.

I will try to give you a run down on where I have been and what I am doing. The purpose is of course to make you green with envy and wish that you had quit your job and come with me.

Started out flying though San Francisco and arriving in Sydney 14 hours later. Managed to sleep a full 12 hours and only awoke when we were about to land. Good thing since I had pre-arranged a climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with its spectacular views of the city and famous Opera House. (See photo below.) Donning special clothes and harnesses, the 3 hour tour took us via catwalks, ladders and straight up the arch. Talk about a view of the city from a different perspective!! Incredible.

Due to fact that it was winter in Sydney at the time, I was advised to go west - and so I went - straight to Ayers Rock (Uluru - as the Aboriginal people call it.) It is located in almost the geographical center of the Australian continent in what some call the "Red Center" which gets its name from the color of the oxidized dust in the dry and desolate outback. The rock is huge (many times over than Stone Mountain in Georgia) and the sunrises and sunsets that hit it blaze it in a fiery red glow. Despite the fact the Aboriginal people consider it a spiritual site and request that one doesn't climb it, it doesn't stop the hundreds of tourist from doing so (including myself). The challenging climb to the top (1100 feet straight up) is not for the faint hearted. However once there, the views of the Australian outback are just not worth missing.

Next stop on the tour was Alice Springs (Pop 27,000). It is basically an old mining and cattle town. Other than the MacDonnell Mountain ranges nearby, there isn't much to see. I did however take the time to play a round of golf on what Alice claims to be one of the top 10 desert golf courses in the world. Since I haven't played any other desert courses, I couldn't compare. What I can tell you is that it was definately different than Irish courses. No lost umbrellas....however, the beer at the end was just as cold.

Instead of a 32 hour bus ride to Cairns, I opted to FLY! Three hours later I was there. I went straight north to Cape Tribulation in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. The rainforest runs right into the ocean surf and is full of wildlife including the dangerous estuarine crocodiles (salties). Our guide continuously talked about them being everywhere but we spent 2 days not seeing one. Everyone was beginning to wonder whether it was simply ozzy hype but alas, on the 3rd day during a river cruise, we spotted a few huge females and some babies quietly sunning themselves on the Daintree River banks.

No trip to Australia is complete unless one visits the Great Barrier Reef. (One of the 7 natural world wonders.) Back in Cairns, I boarded the Mike Ball Dive Expeditions boat. This is one of the boats that goes to far north and outer reefs to avoid the tourist mayhem near Cairns. Diving was fantastic, the coral was incredible and up at Cod Hole, we fed 6 giant Cods (Grouper). 14 dives later and no close calls with death, we took a low level flight (max. 700 feet) back to Cairns from Lizard Island. I was chosen to join the pilot of the plane carrying all the dive gear. It was a small 2 seater propeller driven plane and we took off from the only airport (if you call it an airport) that one can walk to from the beach in 3 minutes.

I then started my journey south towards Sydney and have been on the coast of Oz ever since. The town of Mission Beach was the first stop. Essentially it is a backpacker hangout and a place to relax. This I did! I heard from a fellow B.P. that I should check out Kennedy beach. I trekked the 7 KM path through the forest and arrived at a beach about 3 miles long. I guess not many had heard of it as I was the only person around. Needless to say, I didn't need a bathing suit that day......

Townsville, while not much there, is the hopping off point for Magnetic Island and the dive trips to the famous Yongala Wreck. "Maggie" Island is home to quite a few wild Koalas. The Koala which I believe is Australia's most-beloved marsupial lives on and among the leaves of eucalypt trees. They sleep an average of 18 hours a day. It was on a rainforest trek, that I ran into a few. Some were high up in the trees but one mother and her baby were within arms reach. I sat down near a tree to watch. The mother, spying some other "greener" eucalyptus leaves climbed down her tree, waddled over to me, and as I was thinking she was going to climb my leg, she scampered up the tree beside me. All the while with her baby clinging fearlessly to her belly. Talk about Kodak moment!! You can check out the pictures on my website.

One of Australia's top dive sites is the Wreck of the S.S. Yongalla - an ocean freighter which sank in 100 feet of water during a typhoon one year before the Titanic. This world premier wreck site is a covered in coral and is home to many large sea creatures along with the smaller fish. On the first dive, a huge bull ray (diameter 10-12 feet) was hovering under us. The next dive we spotted turtles, sharks, 200lbs Queensland Grouper, and the ever spectacular 12 foot wingspan Eagle Ray. Of the many worldwide dives I have done, this site is near the top of the list.

The town of Airlie Beach is hopping off point for the famous Whitsunday Islands. A trip through Oz again would not be complete if one didn't visit the Whitsundays. They comprise of a collection of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland. Here most backpackers join one of the 3 day sail trips that offer one plenty of time to sail, snorkel, and explore this paradise. The famous Whitehaven beach is 6KM of white, fine as talcum powder, sand. It squeeks when you walk on it. The ship I choose to explore these Islands was the 80 foot Maxi racing yacht SISKA IV. In her former racing days, SISKA took many titles including the Sydney to Hobart (Tasmania) race. This sleek boat allowed us to outsail the other boats. On one good windy run, we even managed to tip the boat so far that its side railings were almost in the water. 3 days just goes too quick!!

The night we arrived back in port, I took the 13 hour overnight bus to Hervey Bay. Australia is huge! Thankfully my good friend Tom Chmielewski warned me about distances in Oz. Distances look small on a map but when you start taking 6-10 hour bus rides between places, one finally realized how big it is.

Hervey Bay is yet just another pause before the big adventure. It is the main gateway to Fraser Island. What can I say about this place?? Incredible comes to mind. Fraser is the largest all sand island in the world. It grew out of emerging currents which just deposited the sand where it now lies. To visit the island, the hostels arrange 3 day self drive 4WD jeep safaris with 7 other backpackers. Just imagine an island beach that is 125KM long and that the beach itself is a register national highway. One drives on the beach with the normal road rules and with the only limitation that one waits 3 hours before and after high tide (for obvious reasons). The speed is unlimited but recommended is 80 KM/H (50 MPH). There is one downside to the island. Namely - one can't go swimming in the ocean. With its deadly box jelly fish, fearce ocean currents, and prowling tiger sharks in knee deep water, we were advised absolutely no swimming. Can you believe that? 125 KM of beach and one can't swim!! To make up for it though, there are beautiful crystal clear lakes which include Lake Wabby and Lake McKenzie to cool off in.

Next stop was Noosa on the sunshine coast. It is a quaint mix of rich and the poor (the backpackers). Noosa is a hangout of the rich and famous. Didn't see anyone I recognized but enjoyed searching.

Finally, I arrived in Byron Bay, having skipped over Brisbane and Surfers Paradise. This is a small hidden surfer hangout and is the Eastern most point of Australia. I have a total of a week here before I head staight for the Sydney Olympics. But first I am learning to surf. I took lessons today and hope to take another tomorrow or the next day. Yes, I have learned to catch a wave and to stand up. Now I just need to learn to turn. I hope to send pictures when I get them.

I guess you can now see why you haven't gotten an e-mail earlier from me. Maybe you don't want one after reading this long winded one.

Anyway, I hope you are doing well. Please let me kwow how you are doing and what you are doing. Despite having all this fun, I miss you and look forward to getting e-mails on the road. Please don't be shy and not write back.

I have attached 3 pictures.
1) Bridge Climb (Sydney)
2) Sailing the Siska
3) Whitehaven Beach

More pictures can be found on my website at the following address:
Please let me know what you think!

Until Travel Log # 2...... G'Day Mate!!



copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Hopkins - all rights reserved
revised NOVEMBER 2008