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We sailed to Martinique for the New year and spent a highly enjoyable New Year celebration dinner with our friends Phil and Danielle on their boat in the bay of Le Marin. Our aim was to get to Panama which is a crossing of 1000 miles of the Caribbean sea and we waited for a weather window to leave.

We left early morning of the 4th January and headed due west. As often happens at sea the weather changed our plans and after three days we headed into Curacao as a small but nasty looking depression on the north Columbian coast blocked further progress to Panama. I knew when I planned the entire trip that this passage could be dangerous and the cruising guides recommend that it should not be attempted in January through March as the strong trade winds can build huge waves and a very confused sea. The passage is one of the five most dangerous on the planet and we waited in Curacao for a five day window of light to medium winds. After 10 days we decided that rather than sitting in Curacao we would fly to Australia and visit our friends (Stu, Steph and Robyn)  in Brisbane and also see Sydney and Cairns. Our original plan was to sail to Australia but with the weather delay in crossing to Panama it was clear that we would not have time to reach this continent. We changed our final destination to Tahiti and used the time to visit Australia.

We left the boat in Curacao and flew to Sydney via Miami and LA. We spent a day in Sydney visiting the natural history museum before hiring a car to drive to Brisbane .The road trip to Brisbane is around 900 kms and over a period of five days we drove north up the east coast. We stopped at Newcastle and admired the reconstructed dock area. We spent a day in one of the Australian jungle parks to see the crocodiles,kangarous,wombats,platypuses,koalas and snakes. Moving on to Wingham we stayed in a golf club and drove up to the waterfalls close to the town. We also went to Timbertown  which is a reconstruction of a nineteenth century saw mill village in working order. We took lessons on how to crack a bull whip (you never know when this may come in useful !).

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We spent a night in port Macquarie and spent an afternoon swimming in the large waves and an endless sandy beach. The following day we drove to Yamba where we had our first surf lessons. The transition from body boarding to standing up and surfing down small waves took one lesson for the whole family. In our favour we had an excellent instructor and continuous perfectly sized waves which were ideal for learning to surf. It was such good fun that we decided to stay another day and improve on our technique.

Two days later we arrived in Brisbane to stay with our friends for a few days. The city had recently been struck with severe flooding and the clean up was in its final stages. We spent a night in the rain forest on a converted ranch in the hills behind Brisbane (O’Reilly’s) and took a 4 wheel drive coach tour into the bus. The driver suddenly stopped the bus, jumped out, and went and grabbed a large python which was under a pile of brush (these aussies are crazy!!!)

We had the pleasure to visit a koala hospital which Steph works as a part time volunteer. The injured or sick koalas are kept in the hospital until they are better and released back into the wild. After an enjoyable stay with our friends we left for Cairns to go scuba diving for a week on a motor yacht.

We had been watching nervously the passage of Cyclone Yasi which the week before had been projected to hit Cairns. The storm was a category 5 cyclone (the biggest category) and we knew that if it hit Cairns then our diving would be cancelled. We were lucky that it just missed Cairns and that the local population had been warned for days to prepare and evacuate. The storm hit just south of Cairns and destroyed the banana plantations and many homes in the area. We visited the centre of the carnage and saw tens of thousands of flattened trees and houses with their roofs torn off. Some homes were totally destroyed and the army was still helping with the clean-up a week later when we arrived. We visited this area not to see the wreckage caused by a cyclone but to do some white water rafting in Tully. We had a great time rafting down the rapids in the Tully river and made a good friend of our guide and rafting world champion, Graham Maifredi .                      

The following day we joined the motor yacht TAKA and motored north from Cairns towards Lizard Island and Cod hole. The boat and crew were perfect for this type of dive cruise, TAKA is a converted steel tuna fishing boat and can sleep 30 divers and 11 crew. We were only 11 divers as the cyclone had frightened away many tourists to the area. We had excellent service and some great diving as we only saw one other boat in five days. The highlights were the potato cod in cod hole which were the size of suitcases, a whale shark (10-12 meters long) off Osprey reef and numerous turtles and sharks.

We managed to dive four times a day (including night diving) on two occasions and were surprised by the poor state of the coral below 15 meters on some of the reefs. We were reluctant to leave the vessel, the crew and the cook after 5 days and our fellow divers (Malcolm and Lynn).

We flew back to Sydney for a couple of days before leaving for Miami. During these two days we went to see Madame Butterfly at the Sydney opera house which was superb. We also went to the aquarium and saw the dugongs and rays. It was while we were in Sydney that we heard a fisherman south of Melborne had just been eaten by two great white sharks (sobering thought). We took a ferry to the north of Sydney and rented mountain bikes for the morning to cycle to the “heads” and visit the national park. We also saw the “Rocks” suburb with the Sydney observatory and the museum of modern art.

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