Alan and Jonna's Australia trip

Jonna and Alan promised their one nephew and two nieces that we would bring them on a trip as each graduated from high school. The first, nephew Larkin, graduated in the spring of 2011 so the first trip was planned. A list of seven trips was presented and Larkin chose Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. We then scheduled a trip through REI Tours that included white-water rafting, two days hiking/camping in the rainforest of Davies Creek National Park, three days SCUBA on the Great Barrier Reef (all three of us got SCUBA certified before the trip) and three days sea-kayaking on Lake Tinaroo (originally planned for coastal islands but changed because a recent typhoon damaged the island's beaches). We scheduled three additional days in Cairns after the tour to explore on our own. Finally, travel delays resulted in us having an unexpected day to explore Sydney on the way over.

Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture. There are five pages of photos in total):

1) Thanks to an airline snafu, our Australia vacation started with an unexpected day in which to explore Sydney. The first new experience for us was having wild parrots join us for lunch at a small outdoor cafe near the harbour. The guys flew in and started tearing open sugar packets on the neighboring table. The cafe's staff gave exasperated shrugs and left them alone.

2) The iconic image of Sydney has to be the famous Opera House on the edge of Sydney's harbour. Our sightseeing blitz of Sydney won't win any awards for originality but getting to see the Opera House still made our few hours there worthwhile. The architecture is simply stunning!

3) In addition to seeing the opera house, we also walked out onto the equally famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. We had neither the time nor the money to climb up to the top but the view of the bridge's architecture from the roadway was impressive...

4) ...and the view out over the harbour was quite scenic.

5) The view of the bridge was just as impressive as the view from the bridge. Larkin took the unexpected travel delay in stride and seemed to be happy to have a chance to check out Sydney.

6) By noon, both Jonna and Larkin's energy was lagging. A 14 hour international flight, combined with a couple of frustrating hours at the airport getting our luggage and getting booked on a new flight to Cairns and then a couple of hours walking around Sydney harbour took its toll. This attempt at napping on the benches outside the Opera House was foiled, some enthusiasm was rekindled and we headed back out to see some more of Sydney.

7) First stop, a coffee house to replenish the caffeine levels and to stimulate the brain with a few games of Set. Larkin introduced us to this card game and then soundly trounced us, even when Jonna and I started combining our cards.

8) Revived, we pressed on to Sydney's Chinese Garden which turned out to be a beautiful little spot in the middle of the hussle and bussle of the downtown.

9) An artsy shot from the Chinese Garden of some bamboo against one of the garden's high walls.

10) This mini-panorama shows what I mean by this being a little quiet oasis in a busy city. Despite the skyscrapers overhead and the cars zooming by outside the walls, inside is a scenic and artistic getaway.

11) After our rushed tour of downtown Syndey, we got back to the airport and caught our flight up to Cairns. We arrived at our hotel at midnight and then awoke at 6am for our first adventure as part of the REI tour: A day of white-water rafting on the Tully River. Here we are suited up and ready to paddle. Visible behind us is the Kareeya Hydro Power Station whose Koombooloomba Dam controls the water level on the river allowing for rafting even during the dry season.

12) Our REI tour group consisted of nine people, six of whom (including us) did the rafting. REI provided two tour guides and Shawn (seen here) was our raft guide on the river. The Tully is a very technical river, consisting of almost constant class 3 and 4 rapids. We did a five hour trip with a BBQ lunch served river side in the middle.

13) The rainforest around the Tully River is protected as the Tully Gorge National Park and, despite being ravaged by Cyclone Yasi in February, was beautiful.

14) To add a little more excitement to the rafting trip, Larkin took up the challenge of jumping off this 30ft high rock in the middle of the river. This photo was taken a little late to fully capture the front flip he did off top!

15) One of the highlights of the trip for Larkin...the drinking age in Australia is eighteen. After rafting the group stopped at a bar in Tully that was frequented by the rafters were we took this photo of Larkin drinking his first legal beer.

16) Naturally, the rafting company provided another way for us to spend more of our money by offering us a thumbdrive with photos taken by a company photographer. Normally we'd have skipped but our looks in some of these photos were just too good to pass up. (Thanks to our fellow REI tour participants for splitting the cost of these photos with us!)

17) Shawn was an excellent us exactly the right commands to get us down the river without incident (unlike some of the other boats which had a few scary accidents).

18) We, the crew of boat (I kid you not) number DV8, never deviated from our commands as seen here with us all paddling like crazy through one of the many exciting rapids.

19) Larkin started the trip in a wetsuit but by the first rapid decided it was too tight and ditched it. This gave him a better opportunity, as seen in this photo, to flex his biceps. Alan is apparently doing his best to flex his forearm but somehow the effect isn't the same.

20) Official crew photo! From left to right: Shawn, Alan, Kati, Jonna, Kathi, Julie and Larkin.

21) A nice two photo sequence of us going over one of the biggest rapids. Note Shawn's extraordinary steering effort to pull the front of the raft around! This was our closest call to a flip of the trip.

22) The end of result was a bunch of very cold water and all of us getting thrown together on the left side of the raft. This moment probably helped accelerate our getting to know each...a good thing since we all spent the next nine days together.

Go forward to the second '11 Australia Trip Photo Page.

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Alan Fleming