(This post is literally 100% about getting from remote China to Port Douglas (Great Barrier Reef)—if you don’t want to read about our 32.5 hour journey, just skip ahead to the next post…)
We’re sorry…we apparently created a monster in our expected daily blog readership and have gotten numerous comments about the delay from the last post—our sincerest apologies but it did make us (read: me) smile. So let me catch you up to our crazy adventure.
Since we last left you, we’ve had quite the experience. Our departure from the Zhangjiajie area of China ended up going quite well given the potential for trouble- there were 8 outbound flights and 4 were cancelled. We checked out of our hotel and made our way to the airport around 12 pm (just giving you time references for the marathon that was) and had a peaceful drive in. Upon arriving, Debbie got very excited by the elevated moving walkway to take you from the ground floor to the departure level. The Zhangjiajie airport was exceptionally tiny—the check-in/security process took all of 4 minutes.
After a quick bite to eat, we boarded the short 90-minute flight back to Chengdu around 2 pm for the 2:30 pm departure (2.5 hours in to the travel day now). The flight was uneventful which is always a good thing when flying in a foreign country, and, after collecting our bags, got our only exercise of the day moving from one terminal to the next. We had planned to do a cheap room at an airport hotel but didn’t book in advance in case we were delayed but landed and discovered it was sold out so were stuck at the airport for 11 hours…
We found a lay-over pre-security “lounge” to pass the first few hours (up to about 6:30 pm now, 6.5 hours in) when we made our way over to the Air China counter to check-in for the Sydney flight despite them only wanting the Bangkok passengers. We explained that we were just trying to check our bags and get through security and the agent surprisingly let us through despite the rules saying that you can only check-in 3 hours before your flight (1:50 am, and it was 6:30 pm).
After clearing customs, we posted up in the Priority Pass Lounge for the final 6 hours of our lay-over. We had a self-served multiple course meal of airline lounge food. Debbie took care of some administrative items while I binge-watched Impractical Jokers (now all out ☹) and the six-hours flew by about as fast as a 6-hour lounge stay would (now 12.5 hours into the trip).
Around 12:45 am or so, we made our way down to the gate since we were ready to sit somewhere else and begin the 11-hour flight from Chengdu to Sydney. We boarded up the plane bus and made our way to our section—only 6 passengers in the 18 person cabin which made for a very nice experience. The seats were the longest we’ve ever had but about 2 inches too narrow which created some issues when trying to sleep later.
Around 1:30 or so, just before scheduled departure, they came around to take meal orders for the entire flight and I started watching Harry Potter to stay up for the first meal while Debbie went straight to sleep. The flight itself, also uneventful in a positive way, came and went rather fast for the second longest segment of the trip. A quick 6 hour nap and the first 2 Harry Potter movies work wonders.
We’d landed in Sydney around 4 pm (now about 25 hours into the trip) and were finally down under. Without going into the love affair that was the Sydney airport, just let me tell you it was the nicest layover experience we’ve had (especially compared to China). We quickly found the Virgin Australia counter on the terminal we arrived in and got checked-in for our flight and immediately dropped our bags off. Our Delta status played huge advantage in getting us into the special check-in process at our proper terminal- after getting off of the bus, we walked into a special screening area and went straight into the Virgin Lounge.
We were now on to what the Hokin family calls a“bang-bang” which translated for reading population means the intentional consumption of back-to-back meals at discrete eateries. We first “snacked” in the Virgin Lounge which was four-stories and had great plane-spotting. We then made our way to the first of two restaurant locations where with Priority Pass (for those of you that have it and are traveling here, awesome perk) we could spend $72 AUD (~$50 USD) at both locations for free. We followed up the lounge course with burgers and beer before heading to a tapas restaurant for reverse desserts—a salami plate and some churros to go along with an additional round of adult beverages.
The time was nearing 7 pm (28 hours into the trip) when we tried to make our way to the gate but discovered that the cyclone currently hitting the Northern part of Australia was creating some issues for us. After about an hour delay, we were situated on the plane for our 3-hour flight to Cairns. As with all marathon travel days, we were not happy to be on the final segment of the journey. We’d been going for quite a long time and a 3-hour flight is just over the edge of what we wanted to do. Other fun fact—for as a nice as the lounge experience was, Virgin Australia gives you nothing by way of snack/drink on the plane—water or bust—this was an unpleasant surprise.
Upon landing around 1030 pm (now 31.5 hours into the trip), we made our way to the rental car counter for our second adventure driving on the left side of the road. We were so lucky to have the opportunity to drive 70 minutes in cyclone weather down a pitch black road hugging the ocean in a torrential downpour. A lovely experience to cap off our transit.
We arrived at the hotel at 1130 pm, 32.5 hours after we had left the Zhangjiajie hotel, and were happy to check-in and immediately head to sleep before our big Great Barrier Reef adventure the next day.
(Note- terrible Wi-Fi in Cairns, trying to upload the photos from the phone)