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3 Reasons to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes

STATE 21 - IDAHO

sunny 75 °F

When I (someone living in the opposite corner of the country) think of Idaho, I think of the Idaho potatoes. I have never met anyone from Idaho, and I've never been there personally, so there really hasn't been anything or anyone to educate me about the state. Well, I am going to set you straight (if you are as clueless about Idaho as I used to be). I am going to share 3 reasons to visit Idaho other than the potatoes (although there is a 1 in 3 chance your potato came from Idaho)!

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Western Idaho (along with eastern Washington) is known for its great tasting wines. Vineyard after vineyard passed by the first hour driving through Idaho. The slightly arid climate and hilly landscape give long period of sunlight during grape-growing season. The grapes have a concentrated fruit flavor, perfect for making wine (similar to the wine country in South Australia). Here is one of the vineyards we passed just after we entered Idaho.

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The hills grew larger, eventually forming mountains. Trees filled the countryside, and lakes filled the valleys. Western Idaho is very scenic. We turned north to head to Sandpoint, ID in the skinny northern section of the state. Few cars were on the road, and there were even fewer towns. Most of the area here is reserved for National Forests. This leads me to Reason #1 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potatoes: Lots of forests, trails, and rivers. It's an outdoorsman's paradise. As far as the eye can see, the land is unspoiled by humans, and the land that is being used is for growing grapes for wine!

We eventually wound our way into Sandpoint (couldn't miss it, the highway slows to 25mph when it forms the main street in town). It had the feeling of a small beach town. Most of the people were on foot wearing bathing suits or riding bikes. We parked the car and walked through the town. The town was only about 5 blocks long, but it was the biggest town I had seen since entering Idaho (most of the people in the state live in the southern end near Boise). It was relaxing, no one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere. A bluegrass band played some mountain music while people moved in and out of the shops.

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Megan and I went into one of the wineries in town to try some of the wine we passed by on the road. The winery was called Pend D'Oreille, named after the local Indian tribe that lived around the lake. They had a variety of wines, choosing not to focus one particular type of grape. Megan got excited when they had 3 different types of desert wine for her to try.

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We chatted with the bartender about being from North Carolina, and he kept our glasses filled. I could have sat in there all day, but we wanted to see Lake Pend Oreille and some of the trails in the area. We thanked the bartender and headed back out onto main street.

We walked through town towards the lake access. To my surprise, a giant beach surrounded the park next to the lake. No wonder it felt like a beach town! This was the closest beach for some of these land-locked Idahoans.

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It wasn't exactly hot outside compared to a North Carolina summer, but it was roasting for northern Idaho. Everyone was at the beach, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. People were riding skateboards and bikes along the walkway lining the beach. We both waded into the water, and then promptly got out (it was chilly!).

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We continued down the beach. People were grilling out and sunbathing, while kids dove off floating logs serving as a swimming barrier. Every person for miles was probably on the beach, and it was hardly crowded at all. The mountains rising over the clear, blue water was very pretty. Reason #2 for Visiting Idaho Other than the Potatoes: It is hard to beat the views.

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We followed a trail going around the lake. A few people passed us on bikes, but for the most part the trail was empty. We passed by some swimmers that were doing half mile loops in the lake (most of them we wearing wetsuits). Megan found the "biggest dandelion in the world", and proceeded to blow the seeds into the wind.

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The trail eventually went over a bridge, so we stopped to watch the sun set over the water. The lake and surrounding mountains were absolutely beautiful. The air was clean and refreshing. A train went over a nearby bridge, adding to the backdrop.

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We walked back into town to try the local brewery and get some dinner. Megan has come a long way, from disliking all beer to now enjoying a few of the darker varieties. It is my belief that she makes up her mind whether she is going to like something before she even tries it, so I challenged her to a blind beer taste test. I ordered a sampler of beer and had her blindly taste all the varieties in the brewery.

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She started going through the beers randomly, ranking them 1 to 5. The darker beers scored much higher than the hoppier beers, so it seemed that she genuinely didn't like the bitterness of a hoppier beer. Instead of randomly handing her beers, I started just handing her only the hoppy ones, just to see her bitter-beer face. It was hilarious. After taking a sip, she involuntarily shuttered and made a bitter-beer face.

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To make Megan feel better, I started making a bitter-beer face after every drink. Here is my bitter beer face.

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To try some authentic Idahoan food, Megan and I ordered the Idaho specialty, the magnificent spud. Megan opted for the french-fried variety, while I stuck to the homemade chip.

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Reason #3 to Visit Idaho Other than the Potato: It was one of the most relaxing days I've had in a long time. And the potato was pretty good too!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:44 Archived in USA Tagged mountains beer beach local_food Comments (0)

Charleston

STATE 6 - SOUTH CAROLINA

sunny 80 °F

Bachelor Party Time! A group of guys are looking for some warm weather, nice beaches, and plenty of night life. We also wanted to leave our home state, so we headed south to our more unruly southern brother, South Carolina.

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North Carolinians view South Carolina in a special light. Although South Carolina is like a kid brother, it is the spunky, back-woods, stand-up-to-anyone kid brother that your mom makes you take everywhere. South Carolina is where you go to buy illegal fireworks, ride your motorcycle without a helmet, and rip the mufflers off your cars because there are no emission laws. South Carolina just stopped flying the confederate flag in 2000. South Carolina is home to the touristy and tacky Myrtle Beach, but the first of impression of South Carolina when entering from North Carolina trumps everything else. This incredibly tacky, yet irresistible, road side stop is called South of the Border.

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I have only given into temptation once and stopped at the eyesore that is South of the Border, but goodness knows that I have wanted to stop every time I drive past. It's all in the marketing. You are forced to read over 100 billboards for the last 60 miles before entering South Carolina, all with punny catch phrases like "Pedro's Weather Report: Chili Today - Hot Tamale!" and "Time for a PAWS?". South of the Border is filled with cheaply painted statues, a sombrero tower, more gift stores than you can count, a gas station, and a roller coaster. Eager to make my way to Charleston, we skipped the redneck Disney World and continued south.

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Charleston is situated between two rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The harbor is protected by a narrow entrance and multiple islands, making it prime real estate in colonial times. Charleston was the 5th largest city in North America at the turn of the 18th century and largest port in the southern colonies. Charleston has also been in the forefront of the early American wars. The British tried to seize Charleston early in the Revolutionary War and the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston.

My first of impression of Charleston as we entered the city was that it felt like a small town. No buildings were over 3 stories tall. Most of the streets were two lanes. Most of the people were traveling by foot and there was light traffic. By the end of my stay this impression would extend to picture this city as a get-away town for couples (as most people were couples walking hand-in-hand) filled with restaurants, large historic homes, beautiful parks, and a strong southern charm. However, by night the city was even more alive with its vibrant night life making it a great destination for a bachelor party.

Upon arriving in Charleston, I called my old house-mate from Australia, Jeff, who was currently managing a bar in Charleston. We met up with him on Market Street (the central nightlife spot) and hopped through some of the bars. The rest of the bachelor party arrived in from Charlotte, and the whole crew ended the night drinking Charleston's finest on top of Big John's Tavern.

The next day we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and hit the beach. We met up with another one of my friends from Australia, Rob, and headed out to Folly Beach.

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We spent the day on the beach drinking beer, tossing the football, and flying $2 kites we had purchased from the gas station. The kites were of especially poor quality and required a lot of effort to keep in the air. At one point, one of the strings broke and sent the kite out to sea. The weight of the string dragging in the water kept the kite from flying too high and the wind blowing offshore kept the kite aloft. We strained to keep sight of the kite as it reached the horizon, but eventually we could no longer see it. It should be flying somewhere over Portugal about now.

We made our way back into the city, cleaned up, and decided to go out from some seafood. A place named A.W. Shucks was too good to pass up. We had a contest to see who could say "aw, shucks!" the most during dinner. We started off with a load of oysters (which were fantastic) and then moved on to almost every form of seafood known to man. Pete and I split shrimp stuffed with crab and wrapped in bacon, and it was as delicious as it sounds.

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After dinner, we went to Southend Brewery to start our bar crawl. The beer was good, but the music was even better. We got to hear Country Grammar on bongo drums. When made our way from bar to bar, eventually ending up at the pizza joint on Market Street.

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The next morning while the rest of the guys were sleeping in, Pete and I walked down to the water front park near the end of Market Street. From here you could see the harbor stretching out in both directions (and Fort Sumter off in the distance). Sailboats filled the harbor as people took advantage of the sunny day. A pathway wandered along the water front all the way to the east end of town and battery park.

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Battery Park had cannon monuments marking the positions where the original cannons had defended the Charleston shoreline. Gigantic trees lined the park. Large, historic homes were visible heading back into the city. It was very scenic, proving that Charleston had as much to offer during the day as it did at night.

We walked back to the hotel, drug the rest of the guys out of bed, and made our way out of town. I started the trek back home to Raleigh, once again barely resisting the temptation to stop at South of the Border.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 12:41 Archived in USA Tagged beach local_food bachelor_party Comments (0)

Hanging out in Sydney

Figured I'd post some additional pictures from the two week visit by everyone, just to fill in the gaps.

We did spend a lot of time in Sydney. One of the places that everyone visiting Sydney needs to experience is Scruffy Murphys. From the outside, it looks like a cool Irish pub. Hearing about the multiple level bar (top level—laid back pub atmosphere, ground level—bar with live music, sub level—dance club) you'd think they would have something for everyone. Walking around Sydney the first day, Dawn and I were drawn to it to have our very first beer in Australia. However, it is also one of the most frequented by backpackers, instantly making it sketchy and a place where people just get absolutely obliterated. There is drag queen karaoke every Wednesday night. The dance floor is techno only, which is often filled by over hyper people dancing spasmodically. The night we went, it didn't disappoint.

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We also made it back to the beaches. After going to Manly the first day, we went down to the "world famous" Bondi Beach. Bondi received its latest world notoriety due to multiple shark attacks in the previous week (after supposedly having no attacks for the past 50 years). It didn't stop us or the surfers from getting in the water. Lifeguards patrolled the beach in jetskis (possibly looking for sharks, I had never seen them do that before). Multiple news helicopters floated overhead as well. Jason proclaimed the helicopters were there because "they had never seen guns like these" and began his body builder poses. Soon enough, we were all striking poses at the helicopters. This eventually progressed into trying to take pictures of us all synchronously jumping.

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I wanted the guys to meet some of the coolest drinking partners in Sydney, so I called up Nick, Caroline, and Leighanne. We met them at their local bar, a place I was dieing to try out.

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There was another experience the guys did not miss out on. Typically after leaving the bars, Dawn starts chanting one phrase over and over again—"I want Hungry Jacks!"

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The prettiest views of Sydney (in my opinion) are seen from the Botanical Gardens. Not only are the Botanical Gardens close to the harbor, they also offer great views of the Opera House and the Bridge. Of course the gardens by itself is absolutely beautiful. I made sure to show Greg the huge flying foxes that hang out in the trees (look for the bats hanging in the trees in the picture of the spider). We took our time going through the gardens, stopping for a break at Mrs. Macquarie's chair (in the 1800s the governor's wife spent so much time on a lookout viewing into the harbor that a chair was carved for her out of the stone).

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Greg, Dawn, and I also made it back to the zoo. Just like I was, Greg was enthralled by the lion feeding. Being able to stare into the eyes of a hungry lion is quite an experience.

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One of the top things I wanted to do with everyone was hit up the German beer garden. We did all make it to Lowenbraus, but since it was Friday night, they weren't serving their liter beers. Greg, Dawn, and I did make it back before Greg left. Notice that Greg and i got man size while Dawn settled for the woman-and-baby-carriage size.

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Greg, Dawn, and Will made it back out to Watson's Bay for the incredible views of the ocean from the cliffs (it was also where we watched the Boxing Day Yacht Race).

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:44 Archived in Australia Tagged animals beer beach state_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Manly Beach

sunny 83 °F

Greg, Jason, and Will have arrived in Sydney. What's the first thing to do? Head to the beach!

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I had read the best way to combat jetlag was to begin eating on your new time schedule, get out into the sun so your body knows it's time to be awake, and keep the blood pumping. Dawn and I figured a walk to the beach would keep our new arrivals awake for their first day.

After making a quick stop at the mall for a couple haircuts, we walked the long (and I mean long) way to the wharf. We walked the entire length of downtown, but it was perfect for a first impression of Sydney. Lots of people, lots of walking, lots of new sights kept the guys moving. Our destination was Manly Beach, the closest beach on the north side of Sydney Harbor.

The best part about Manly Beach is the scenic route in which we take to get there. The beaches on the southern side of the harbor are a bus ride through the suburbs with nothing really to see. However, Manly Beach requires a walk through downtown and then a scenic ferry ride across the harbor with awesome views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

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Slowly chugging across the ferry you can take in the entire city from the water (the best way to view Sydney). You pass by the naval shipping yard, past the island once used as a base for protecting the harbor, past the huge houses on the north shore, past the zoo, and past the opening to the Pacific Ocean. Sailboats and yachts zigzag in front of the ferry. We even saw a submarine headed back out to sea! We landed on the harbor side of Manly and made our way through the beach town.

While the rest of us were focused on getting to the beach, Jason bolted down the street. He was the first to notice the fountains along the walk to the beach, and before anyone could stop him, he ran right through the middle of them.

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Jason didn't just run through the fountains once, twice, or even three times. He repeatedly charged back and forth through the water. Notice that the only other participants were a 4 year-old and a 6 year-old (whom had to dodge Jason as he barreled past them).

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After dragging Jason away from the fountains, we made our way to the beach. Manly beach is larger than the beaches south of the harbor (Bondi, Coogee) and has more of the feel of the beaches in North Carolina (long, straight beaches versus beaches lining the inside of a cove). Jason crashed on the blanket, Will made some friends on the volleyball court, while Dawn, Greg, and I took a dip in the ocean.

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A good thing about Manly is that portions of the beach are shaded in the afternoon by the giant pine trees that line the beach (which was good since it reduced the chance that Jason would bet burnt after passing out on the blanket). We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and catching up on stories from back home.

Once the sun started to set, we made our way back to the ferry for the ride back into the city. A beautiful sunset over the city completed a great day at the beach.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 02:00 Archived in Australia Tagged boats beach world_heritage_site Comments (0)

I'll give you the Tingles

sunny 105 °F

After a 5 hour flight from Sydney we arrived at the Perth Airport (A). As usual, we weren't going to spend much time in Perth immediately, but rather hit the road and spend time in the city later. Our destination was the Nornalup National Forest on the south coast. After picking up our mighty Toyota Yaris, Dawn and I headed south to Walpole (B).

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Our route took us away from the coast and through the countryside in Western Australia. Towns are few and far between, and when you do come across something marked on the map, it is usually not more than a gas station (and sometimes a pub). The unspoiled landscape was very pretty, and there was plenty of it. It was broiling outside, and Dawn made me roll up my window, threatening to strip naked if I didn't turn on the air conditioner. Keeping her clothes on, Dawn dutifully began looking for places to stop, but there were few turnoffs from the road and fewer attractions to break up our trip. The Toyota Yaris isn't exactly an offroad vehicle (think of a smaller Corolla without a trunk), but we were going to have to leave the paved highway to see the sights. We came across a sign indicating a lookout point, and headed up the offroad dirt path for a view of Western Australia.

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We arrived in Walpole in early evening and checked into our room. We had met a couple taking a break from the heat at one of the lookouts who recommended a hike to see a giant tingle tree. It sounded like something we could do before sundown and it would be a good preview of what we would see on the Treetop Walk. We drove back to the entrance to the Nornalup National Park and headed up the offroad tracks, once again going offroad in the Yaris. After driving through the heart of the park, we came to a sign indicating the path down to the giant tingle. It was astonishing.

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It was absolutely enormous, even larger than the giant trees we saw in Melbourne, bigger than any tree I had ever imagined. You could easily fit 40 people underneath this tree.

Tingles are the largest buttressing (where the base of the tree grows outward) tree in the world. The buttressing is due to a shallow and broad root system where most of the roots stay near the surface (and there is no taproot to secure the tree like in North American hardwoods). Only the layer of the tree immediately under the bark is alive, so the tree is able to survive even when fire, fungi, or insects cave out a cavity in the base. In fact, a major characteristic of the red tingle is the exposed cavity at the base of the tree, often caused by bushfires. You can see in the picture above how the inside of the tree is charred.

The large tingle we saw is about 300 years old, but the oldest tingles in the forest are nearly 400 years old. It is amazing how such an immense tree could be supported with a hollow base. What is even more amazing is that another giant tingle is only 20 feet away from this one!

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We made our way back to the car once the sun started going down. Wanting to get to the waterfront to watch the sunset, we exited the park and headed south to one of the points (not really sure where we were going). Speeding through the winding roads worrying that the sun would set before finding a viewing point, we stumbled upon a path down to a fishing spot on the edge of the water. We had made it just in time.

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After watching the sun go down, we made our way back to get some sleep. Still on Sydney time (Perth is two hours behind) and after a long drive, I was ready for bed. We planned to get up and get an early start on the TreeTop Walk through the Valley of the Giants.

Our early start didn't quite go as planned since the TreeTop Walk didn't open until 9. We made a detour to go see the Circular Pool (a sign had been posted near the walk to the Giant Tingle). The stream feeding the pool was a brownish color and filled with frothy foam (the locals call it the Cappuccino Pool). The dark color comes from the breakdown of plant material against the rocks (which also causes the foam). We took a couple pictures, took in the scenery, and then took off as soon as it got close to 9.

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The Treetop Walk through the Valley of the Giants was built in 2002 to help protect the tingle trees. Tingle trees aren't widespread and are limited to the area around the national forest. Like I mentioned before, the tingles have a shallow root system which can be damaged just from walking around the trees. One of the most popular trees (and largest) actually fell over due to root damage. The boardwalks and treetop walks keep people's feet off the ground and away from the roots of the tingles. Anxious to see the trees eye to eye, Dawn and I practically ran to the start of the walk.

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This walk is actually what convinced us to come to Perth. Bill Bryson, a humorous travel writer that wrote a book about traveling through Australia, spoke very highly of the walk. The walk is a series of trusses that lead you up to the treetops of the giant tingles, eventually reaching over 200 feet in the air. The walk is made to sway as walk through it, giving you the feel of moving with the branches as the wind blows. It sounds nice, but swaying in the wind 200 feet in the air makes your knees wobble and compels you to grab the railing tightly as you look down through the grate flooring. I also took every opportunity to jump up and down on the scaffolding while Dawn was in the middle of the trusses.

Even after seeing the size of the Giant Tingle the night before, I was amazed at the sheer size of the trees. The crowns of many of the trees had broken off during wind storms and showed new growth. Wind actually promotes the buttressing (the more the tree sways, the more the trunk spreads out for support), but it's hard to imagine such an immense tree swaying in the wind. The tops of the trees also supported many dead limbs caused by exposure to fire earlier in the trees life. Here is a video Dawn took towards the end of the walk. Listen for the distinctive call of the Australian raven, it's been the soundtrack for my trip in Australia (it makes an arrr, arrr, arrrrrrrrrrrrr sound that sounds like a diseased cat).

After completing the TreeTop Walk, we made our way to the second walk through the tingles, this one being on the ground. Being on the ground didn't make the tingles any less impressive, rather after seeing them from above made you appreciate just how big these trees really are. We were able to walk through more trunk cavities and snap a few more pictures. On some of the tingle trees you may notice large bumps (especially in the pictures above). These growths are actually the tree's defense to viral infections and are prized by furniture makers for their irregular grain.

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We left the Valley of the Giants and began making our way back to Perth. We decided to travel the long way through the wine country and see some of the scenery closer to the coast. Around lunchtime we stopped at a winery to sample the local wine and grab a quick bite to eat. It occurred to me that doing a wine tasting is not the best thing to do on a road trip, but I told myself that I would only have one glass. Dawn sampled each of the wines offered by the winery (Lost Lake), and I sampled the reds. The featured wine was a honey merlot, served chilled over ice. The honey merlot was not sweet as I had expected, but rather very smooth and refreshing (especially on a hot day). We each ordered a glass (and of course each got suckered into buying a bottle of wine), and settled into the patio for lunch. The view was beautiful as we looked over the vineyards and two horses sunning next to a crystal-blue pond.

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We stayed at the winery way longer than anticipated, but it was so peaceful and relaxing we had to drag ourselves away. Dawn slipped into a wine induced nap, and I tore up the highway to make it back to Perth before sunset. I had booked a place on the beach so that we could see the sun go down over the Indian Ocean. Living on the east coast, I have seen the sun rise over the ocean, but had never seen it set. Several hours later we reached the outskirts of Perth and began making our way to the coast. I took a detour to go through the heart of Perth to get a feel for the city. The city of Perth is beautiful, it's skyline sitting on the Swan River. It was a larger city than I had anticipated, but didn't seem too large (reminded me of Charlotte). I almost felt disappointed we didn't have more time to spend walking through the city.

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Arriving just before sunset, we hurriedly checked into our room to make it out onto the beach. Dawn and I dipped our feet in the ocean and staked out a warm spot in the sand to watch the sunset. Kite surfers and wind surfers were acrobatically riding the waves. It was high tide and the waves looked pretty rough, but a man attempted to ride a boogie board into the surf with the aid of flippers (he gave up shortly after repeatedly being thrown back to the shore). After watching the sun set, we picked up a pizza and some Swan Draught and called it a night. Tomorrow we are headed to the desert to see the Pinnacles.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 05:24 Archived in Australia Tagged hiking beach national_park Comments (0)

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