My husband, Roger, and I arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday, March 15 ready for the 8:00 pm flight to Melbourne, Australia. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d go to “the land down under.” When he first asked if I wanted to travel to Australia and New Zealand, I simply said, “Sure.” He started researching the travel options and I increased my monthly contributions to our travel fund.
A couple we know also wanted to go, so the four of us poured through several catalogs with plans to travel together. We selected Grand Circle Travel® – perfect choice. Our friends planned to join us on the 22nd of March in Cairns.
When the travel information arrived in the mail, we learned about the passport and visa requirements and the luggage restrictions (one 50 pound checked bag and one 15 pound carry-on bag). I chose one 25 pound checked bag, a 12 pound backpack, and a purse large enough to accommodate a small camera and mini iPad. With plans to utilize the hotel laundry facilities, I packed enough for eight days, not for the entire 27-day trip.
Upon arrival at the Melbourne Airport on Thursday, March 17 (losing a day crossing numerous time zones), we felt the extreme heat immediately. We looked for other travelers wearing the Grand Circle name tags and met our tour guide, Ronan McChesney. He was born in Ireland and became an Australian citizen because he loved the island nation so much. During our wonderful time in Australia, we understood why.
After a coach ride from the airport and brief tour around the city, we arrived at the Rendezvous Hotel. Ronan assured us that our luggage would be taken to our rooms. Because it was a little too early for check in, he gave us a brief orientation outside the hotel then took us on a walking tour around the neighborhood. He cautioned us that Australians (Aussies) drive on the left side of the road and pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Good to know. Ronan said to drink a bottle of water each hour because of the dry heat.
At the Rendezvous Hotel, Ronan picked up all the room keys for the tour group. This was his well-organized duty at each of our hotel stops facilitating our check-ins. We joined Ronan in a conference room for a briefing and get-acquainted session. Each person said his or her name, where they lived, and why they chose to travel to this part of the world. Ronan talked a little about what to expect during this trip. He also explained that Aussies pronounced Melbourne “Melbin,” the city of Alice Springs was just called “The Alice,” and the city of Cairns was called “Cans” or “Kennes.” Ronan distributed headsets which facilitated hearing the tour guides’ dialogue on the various tours throughout the trip. He also gave us a gold sheet of paper giving us the itinerary for the first five days of our journey. The color, he said with a smile, represents the sands of the Outback.
He warned that once we got to our rooms to be careful of that large rectangle covered in a beautiful, colorful pattern in the center of the room that would beckon us to try it out. “Don’t do it. Or you’ll miss dinner.” Sleeping in the afternoon meant not sleeping at night. Adjusting to jet lag wasn’t too bad for us.
After going to our rooms and freshening up, we were free to tour the city or to rest. Roger and I toured, then joined our group for dinner at the hotel. Whenever our prepaid dinners were with the group, Ronan had us select in advance our culinary choices from a prepared menu. This allowed the restaurant to have the meals for our group of twenty-three, including Ronan, ready upon our arrival.
On Friday, March 18, we enjoyed a full hot breakfast at the hotel (every breakfast was included in the cost of the trip). Wearing our battery-operated headsets, we met in the lobby at 9:00 am ready to board the coach for the half day Melbourne City Sightseeing Tour. We stopped at the beautiful, impressive St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then saw the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Australian Open Tennis Centre. We visited the Shrine of Remembrance which honored the Australians who fought in World War I and World War II. Family members were unable to receive the bodies of their deceased loved ones because of the distance and expense; therefore, this Shrine of Remembrance was designed to honor the military.
That night some of us went to the Fairy Penguin Parade at Philip Island to watch the Little Penguins (much smaller than what we usually see at Penguinariums) come out of the water to return to their nesting places on shore. We were not allowed to take pictures, with or without a flash, because that frightens the penguins causing them to throw up. They would starve. After the show, I saw an adorable little girl about two years old walking like the little penguins. Too cute.
On Saturday, March 19, breakfast at the hotel was at 6 am. Our bags were set outside our rooms at 6.45 am ready to be picked up by porters. Already hot, the temperature was scheduled to reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit. At 7:30 am, we met in the hotel lobby ready to board the coach to the Melbourne Airport to fly to the Alice Springs Airport. Excitement mounted as we prepared to see the Outback, learn about the Aboriginal culture, visit a kangaroo sanctuary, and more.