A Travellerspoint blog

LOOKING BACK

semi-overcast 16 °C

Now we are home I suppose it's time to look back on the memories and keep our many experiences alive for as long as possible. The return to routine, work and school comes around so quickly, at times it feels like we've never been away so the thousands of photos (4073 to be exact!), hours of video and diaries we have kept will keep the memories with us for our life time.

Many people have asked what was your favourite? My answer has been "too hard to choose". I have enjoyed so many aspects of our adventure that I couldn't single out just one. The combination of mountains, snow, water and wilderness and the activities that abound them were just spectacular and too numerous to pack into a holiday. Obviously the reason so many people visit these places and end up staying for ever.

During our many hours sitting around airports, on planes and in cars we talked about many things but what stood out for me were the questions the kids would ask about places we were going and what we were likely to do, expect or see. The fact that we were enjoying these experiences altogether, for the first time, made it memorable and special for all of us. The kids just assumed we knew what to expect and were quite surprised at our answers of " I have no idea, we've never been here before either!" If nothing else, I hope that this holiday will instill a love of travel and discovery for the kids where they can draw on all our adventures with worldly confidence and tackle new places and experiences for themselves in the future - not too distant I hope.

We were all surprised at just how many airports we visited while away and how efficient we tried to get at removing shoes and jackets.

Just for fun we listed them all during a lull in our itinery one day.
Perth x 2, Brisbane , LAX, Vancouver x 3, Kelowna, Las Vegas, San Francisco x 2, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Portland , Honolulu, Sydney

Another list we added to as we travelled was all the different forms of transport we experienced and I'm sure I will have missed something.
Aeroplane, sea plane, car, bus, coach, train, cruise ship, river boat ( sternwheeler) , canoe, jet boat, ferry, catamaran, cable car, street car, gondola, ski lift, bikes, dog sled, horse sleigh, mule, skis, snow mobile , mini z's , taxi, limo and maybe not covering the most Kms but definitely getting a good work out were the feet!

So as I sit finishing this off back at home I look around our home feels so big!! Those small motel rooms did get a bit much but they served a purpose and saved the dollars for activities and places we will remember. I believe that is some of the best advice I have heard about travelling - you won't remember the hotel room you stayed in but you will remember the activities you do and places you see with the money you save by not having the fancy accommodation. We definitley didn't slum it but bunking in together saved that second room and brought us very close together - literally!

Planning this holiday ourselves was definitely consuming for months prior and took many hours of research but we have no regerets in doing it this way and fortunately suffered no hiccups or dramas. This has been an experience of a lifetime for all of us, the dust hasn't settled yet but we have the travel bug to explore some more, who knows where?

Posted by fiveofus 11.06.2008 05:47 Archived in Australia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

BONUS NIGHT IN SYDNEY

sunny 30 °C

After 10 weeks of no hiccups it took our final check-in at Honolulu Airport for things to change. Our plane had not arrived and we were to spend the next 6 hours twiddling our thumbs in Honolulu! Could have been worse, we were given 5 lots of food vouchers valued at $15 each so when the kids asked for milkshakes they were pleasantly surprised with a positive reply!

The hours passed quite quickly but the delay in our flight leaving Honolulu meant that our connection onto Perth later that night was not going to be met. We were scheduled to land 30 minutes after the Perth flight was to leave plus we had to clear customs. So even with a quick flight time, we were less than likely going to make it.
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Eventually we left Hawaii on a smaller plane than we expected so no in seat movies or games. Nine and a half hours later, we were more than happy to get off that plane and not have to get on another. Instead we were given cab and accommodation vouchers for the night at Brighton on the Beach in Sydney, where we enjoyed some very comfortable beds while Perth was apparently ravaged by one of the worst storms for the year.

Our new flight was scheduled for 8.45am so following a great breakfast, overlooking the sunrise on Botany Bay we went back to the airport and boarded our 747 home. In hindsight, the stopover was actually a blessing in disguise and we got home without any huge struggles with jet lag.

Posted by fiveofus 11.06.2008 05:30 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

OUR FINAL HOURS AFTER 10 WEEKS AWAY.

sunny 32 °C

We were determined to finish off these final hours with something memorable so we didn't spend the evening moping about. After our day of snorkelling we returned to our room and packed up everything so that yucky job was done.

The idea of a sunset cruise along Waikiki appealed to us for the evening and there were a couple of options that we had noticed during the week.

The whole dinner and show cruise wasn't what we were really looking for but the idea of an outrigger catamaran with an "all drinks" included offer sounded more what we were looking for.

The cat left from along Waikiki beach so after a stroll along the beach we arrived along with a great bunch of others who were also ready for a great time.

We all jumped on the catamaran and were quickly waited upon with drinks and the famous Outrigger cocktail in a souvenir Cocktail shaker ( harder to spill!). Settling onto the trampoline, the spinnaker was raised and we were off away from the beach at the request of all the passengers to go FAST! Fast was what we went, and the further off shore we went , the bigger the swell and wetter we got on that trampoline. So much for any sea sickness, I have never heard so many squeals of delight and excitement from our 3 as we got wetter and wetter.
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The sunset was wonderful but so was the enjoyment and relaxation we had while on board with some great company.

Later we wandered off back along Waikiki, a bit soggy but very happy!

Posted by fiveofus 11.06.2008 05:00 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

SUN, SURF AND SWIMMING IN WAIKIKI

sunny 30 °C

Our arrival in Honolulu was after a long day of travelling however we enjoyed the fact we had 3 meals in 3 different states: breakfast in Anchorage, lunch in Portland and dinner in Honolulu! What fun we have had and we thought by now we would be ready to come home but we really are having too much fun and definitely have the bug now to see so much more.

Our room at the Waikiki Banyan was not yet ready so we unpacked our bathers and took off to the pool to enjoy some sun and relax while the kids enjoyed the pool and a few kids to tear around with. We were in a great location only one block from Waikiki beach without the Beach price tag. It felt great to get out of all the heavy jackets and jeans and into some more summery clothes with temperature about 30 degrees during the day and dropping to about 25 at night! Gorgeous..

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With 5 nights to spend here we didn't have too many plans other than to relax for a while and break up the trip home.

Denver was keen to have a surf lesson so after checking out what was available around the area we decided to book a lesson for both Wayne and Denver on Waikiki later in the day when things weren't so busy. These plans worked to our advantage after paying for a group lesson, Wayne and Denver were the only 2 booked for that time so got a teacher to themselves.

They had a great time on their enormous long boards, built for success, they worked a treat with Denver catching his first wave and getting up on his feet to ride it into the shore. With such long waves it took them longer to paddle back out to the break than anything else. Wayne, on his board that he descibed as "bigger than Texas" also had success catching enough waves to be happy with his achievements as well.

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The Waikiki area is very touristy but lots of fun with some great shopping, markets and restaurants.
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Sadly Hawaii has become very expensive, importing everything, so much that many of the native "Polynesians" have had to leave to live on the mainland in more affordable states like Nevada and Arizona. Many of those living still in Hawaii are working 2 or 3 jobs to be able to provide for their family.
These beautiful birds were earning their keep on the street by having their photo taken.
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We had planned to go out to Pearl Harbour while we were here until we found the tours leave at 6.15 am and only small groups head out to the memorial for 15 minutes each. After considering all our options we decided that the early morning get up at this stage of our holiday was not high on our list of priorites and we figured Pearl Harbour wasn't going anywhere - it could be something we do next time. The islands of Hawaii are another destination we will certainly return to with more time, money and energy to explore.

We did spend a big day on a tour out to the Polynesian Cultural Centre on the other side of the island. We were picked up about 10.30am by coach and entertained all the way by our guide "Cousin Billy" from Samoa. The cultural centre is on about 42 acres of gardens and villages representing the 6 island cultures that make up Polynesia: Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii. We love the whole island culture represented here and even amongst Waikiki, the people are incredibly friendly, welcoming and with an incredible sense of humour. Cousin Billy was a wealth of knowledge along the drive pointing out places where many movies have been filmed, including Jurassic park, Lost and Karate Kid. It was wonderful to see the villages away from the city streets and how people lived along the magnificent coast and mountain ridges. They are obvioulsy not concerned about the whole land slide issue!

The cultural centre was a fabulous day. With Cousin Billy as our personal guide for the day he kept us busy and ensured we got the most out of our day. I was so impressed with this knowledge of all the cultures as he shared the way of each of the islands and focussed on the family beliefs and every day life on each of the islands. Most of the young people that work at the centre are attending school at the college adjacent to the centre. Interestingly the centre is a not for profit "business" that puts all the monies from tourism back into the college to help fund the island youth go to school here. As the students from other islands are considered aliens, the cultural centre is the only place they can work. However, I was extremely impressed at how proud these young people were of their culture and their plans for the future.
Denver got to make his way onto the Samoan stage during the demonstration of coconut husking and cracking. The samoan finally convinced Denver that it was ok to drink the juice from the coconut, however it did take a lot of persuasion. I think all the jokes the guy had cracked previously had made Denver think that he was about to be the subject of the next joke!!
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The day was concluded with a traditional hawaiian buffet complete with luau of roasted pig and native foods followed by coconut, pineapple and guava flavoured desserts! yum.
To finish the evening, all the islands performed traditional dances and songs in an amazing open air theatre. This was a truly spectacular performance involving hundreds of performers with amazing skills and costumes. The Samoan fire display was like nothing we had witnessed before and definitely something we won't be repeating at home.
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Around the coast about 10 mile from Waikiki is a beautiful well known bay called Hanamau Bay. A preserved National Park and Marine park, it is the remains of past volcanic activity, a magnificent bay teeming with numerous fish species and coral reefs. We organised a shuttle service out to the bay which included all our snorkelling gear with a return pick up later in the afternoon.

This marine park was under very strict management with park services with many restrictions on the number of people in the area and for how long in an effort to reduce the impact on the reef and marine life. Every visiting adult was charged a $5 entrance fee and were required to view a 20 minute video on the bay, its history and what you may find there. Obviously the do's and don'ts were well covered but it gave visitors an insight into how precious and special this area is.

After a very steep walk down to the beach we ventured out into the beautiful waters and within metres were surrounded by fish of all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. Jaimie and Denver had snorkelled before in Malaysia but this was Mackenzie's first real effort with mask, snorkel and fins. It is times like this that I become appreciative of the hundreds of dollars and hours spent on swimmimg lessons as we all swum out comfortably over the reef, marvelling at all there was to see.
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Mackenzie managed like a star with only the occassional splutter and swimming around together holding hands I didn't have to keep looking out for where she had gone. It was amazing how strong the current was so I was happy to be able to have hold of a hand and we explored together.

Later in the day, Wayne and I swum out a bit further past the first reef to check out some more coral when we came across an enormous green sea turtle. It was obviously quite accustomed to snorkellers as it went blissfully about eating and swimming occassionally rising to the top for a breath. When I realised this turtle was not going anywhere too quickly I suggested Wayne swim back in and get the kids. I knew they would be so disappointed if we got to swim with a turtle and they missed out, we would never hear the end of it. So as Wayne swam back into get the kids, I tracked the turtle, hoping all the time he didn't decide he'd had enough of the bay and venture out into open water again. The kids made it backto me in time to also enjoy the magic experience of swimming about with the turtle and watching him eat the weed off the rocks with his huge beaked mouth. He was so comfortable with us. We all kept our distance from him and probably swam about for about half an hour. At one point I thought Mackenzie was going to walk on water to get out of his way. Just as we floated over the top of an over hang, where the turtle had disappeared underneath, he began to rise up for a breath right under her. I'm sure she thought he was coming up to have a piece of her as she took off like I'd never seen before. She could make it to the Olymic trials in a few years if she keeps up that speed!
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Posted by fiveofus 09.06.2008 06:41 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

CENTRAL ALASKA - FAIRBANKS

overcast 8 °C

We boarded the Alaskan Railroad again for the journey across Alaska to Fairbanks. Travelling in the late afternoon seemed to put everyone into more of a party mode with the bar open and lots of us desperate to get the possible final glimpses of any wildlife.
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We caught some great sights of a herd of white Dall sheep teetering on a mountain ridge. Interestingly, it was these animals that first brought Denali park pioneer, Charles Sheldon into the Denali area to hunt these sheep that usually appear as white dots on the high ridges. It was his concern about the number of sheep being slaughtered yearly by commercial hunters that inspired him to fight to preserve Denali. Today, Denali National Park and preserve allows populations of animals to be self regulating with no human influence into herd or predator management. Its goal is to keep the park as close to nature as possible.
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Some amazing scenery, bridges and crossings we ordered ourselves our train dinner and took the stairs down to the dining car.
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The trip into Fairbanks was about 3.5 hours and of course we arrived in daylight. Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska after Anchorage and situated on the Tanana River , the largest glacier fed stream in the world. It may be a large city but not too much happening here. Our accommodation here was not very central so we were thankful we had eaten on the train.

Our itinery for our day in Fairbanks was rather full on with a morning pick up to board a river boat to cruise along the Tanana River to a replica Chena Village and then after lunch off in the opposite direction to El Dorado Gold Mine to do some gold panning.

The riverboat we boarded (with a few hundred others) has its own history in the area as an original family business of sternwheeler makers and captains from the Binkley family, originally bringing prospectors to the area in the early 1900's through to the 1950's.
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Along with boats in the summer, Alaska has the highest percentage of people to own and operate light aircraft in the US. Any lakes you see in the area are surrounded by sea planes on the banks. If I remember correctly I believe there were 20% of Alaskans with licenses to fly. In the winter, many people still use dog sleds for transport along the frozen waterways or of course snow mobiles. It is quite incredible to cruise along this river now and imagine what it would be like in winter when everything is frozen and these houses become surrounded by white.

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We stopped along the way to the Chena River to view an authentic replica fish camp and watch an Athapaskan woman, clean, gut and prepare a salmon for drying in record time!
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Susan Butcher, Iditarod race champion, has her many dogs along the river at Trailbreaker Kennel. Susan, an Alaskan Legend, lost her long fight with leukaemia in 2006, however her legacy lives on with her husband and 2 daughters. In addition to her amazing record as an Iditarod race champion, Susan also led the only climbing party to conquer Mt McKinley by dog team when they mushed to the summit. One of the Trailbreaker Kennel's senior handlers and Iditarod competitor, Jessie Royer was on the bank of the river to show off some of the new pups and talk about the race of 1100miles across Alaska from Anchorage to Nome. She showed how the dogs behave once harnessed on the sled and then they demonstrated how they race using only voice commands. For exercise during the summer months, instead of pulling a sled, they are harnessed to a quad bike and pull that around at break neck speed.
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Further on the boat pulled into the Chena Indian Village where we learnt about the different native groups of Alaska from young guides. They represented Athabascan Indians (interior Alaska), Eskimos (northwest coastal and arctic), Aleuts ( southwest) , and Tlingits ( southeast). Four very similar but different groups of natives, some who still live in rural communities and follow the subsistence way of life, living of the land and using many of the traditional methods we were shown at the village. Each of these groups have different ethinic origins, languages and cultures much of which was passed on in stories. Without a written language, a lot of work is now underway with village elders to gather as much information as possible to keep a record of these past traditions and cultures.
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After lunch we boarded the coach once again to head out to the El Dorado Gold Mine, north of Fairbanks in the heart of the mining area where the first gold strikes attracted miners from the Klondike. Still a producing mine, we boarded a short train ride that took us around the mine, passing through a very dark and cold permafrost tunnel. Of course all we really wanted to do was get our hands on some gold of our own so after patiently sitting through a demonstration of panning we each got our share of the "poke" of concentrate from the sluice and were off to try our luck.
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Wayne was our most wealthy panner with his gold weighing in at a value of $17, Denver second with $10, and then the rest of us about $7 each. Very exciting we got to bring home our little bit of Alaska in a film cannister! I was actually more excited about the nugget that Jaimie got her hands on, valued at many more thousands.

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Our final night in Fairbanks was not to be wasted either. I was not going to leave this part of the world without getting to Santa's house at the North Pole. After much deliberation as to how to get there ( the shuttle was not yet operating for the season) we decided to get on the last bus that headed in that direction with another couple from Maine and then we could share a taxi fare back.

Heading out into the burbs of Fairbanks we got our closest glimpse of moose for our entire trip, grazing on the side of the highway. It's quite incredible that these enormous animals just wander around the streets and enter many backyards only to destroy gardens. The locals find them rather frustrating but we just thought they were so cool!!

We could tell as we got closer to North Pole as all the light poles became candy canes, even Mac Donald's sign. All the streets were decorated with Christmas decorations - every day here is Christmas!
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We eventually arrived at Santa's house to find he was out, but all his reindeers were there and we got to sit in his chair. We now have his personal address and of course we left him a note to make sure we were on his list for this year.
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Off to Anchorage in the morning for our last 2 nights in Alaska before heading home via Hawaii. Alaska has been truly amazing with the most spectacular scenery I imagine will be very difficult to beat. Just another place to put on the list to explore further in the future!!

On our flight out of Fairbanks the next morning, Jaimie managed to capture these last images from the plane of Mt McKinley poking her point out above the clouds. Magical!!
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Posted by fiveofus 04.06.2008 08:53 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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