No photo shop – he’s a real koala!
“I come from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder.” Well, I’m not from there but Kate and I visited the land down under (and heard that song a lot) earlier this month! Wow! Australia is amazing! We didn’t have a lot of time, but we stayed very busy and saw so so so many amazing things. I just want to tell you about some of them.
First of all, I was a little nervous about the very long flight (and getting on the plane – but that’s a different story), but the reality was the flight is so long that I watched a movie, then took a sleeping pill and then still had a good 10+ hours to sleep so, when we arrived there I wasn’t feeling too exhausted (of course I had my neck brace, my eye mask, my foot sling, etc…)! Our first destination was to fly north to Cairns and go to the Great Barrier Reef – which is actually almost 3000 reefs, so it isn’t really 1 reef. (And, the Australian airline Qantas is great!). Cairns is a sleepy seaside city, so we wandered and relaxed after arriving – no swimming at the beach though because of the crocodiles! And they have some massive sized bats there – just flying around in the evening. I don’t mind bats, but these made me feel a little uneasy!
Our excursion to the GBR would begin early the next morning. We elected to go on a smaller boat which would take us to two different sites. Both were sites were good and we saw lots of fish and coral and even a giant clam.
Confession though – I’ve dived in Bermuda and the Caribbean and can’t honestly say the GBR was any better but maybe if we had done deeper, more experienced dives? The reefs appeared healthy and we got to hear a talk from a marine biologist about the health of the reefs and more.
We also did an aborigine experience – complete with fire and didgeridoo and a dinner buffet that included emu, kangaroo and crocodile. (Emu was “gamey” but the kangaroo and crocodile were quite yummy.) I have no desire to play the didgeridoo!
We picked up the pace when we returned to Sydney – only a 3-hour flight away but when you take the 5am flight, you get a full day! We opted for a pass that got us the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus, Sea Life Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Sydney Tower and Madame Tussaud’s! I’m usually not that impressed with the open air, sightseeing buses, but it really was great for Sydney – the blue bus goes further out of town taking you to Bondi Beach (the famous Sydney beach). We saw things we would not have otherwise seen so I highly recommend it! The bus also has a running commentary about the history of the area and what you are seeing.
We also thought the Aquarium was fun. It has some wonderful glass tunnels you walk through while rays and sharks glide over you! There we also got to
go on a little boat through the penguin enclosure – they really smell! And we saw a dugong – a cousin to the manatee (they look very similar but the dugong has a tale more like a whale and the manatee has a tale more like a very large beaver). The Aquarium’s dugong is named Pig – they feed him romaine lettuce every 15 minutes and he is quite a messy eater! A few years ago we swam with manatees so it was fun to see the dugong.
At the zoo we saw a Tasmanian devil, kangaroos, koalas, an enormous crocodile and lots of snakes (but no petting of any of the animals!). My thoughts as we went through the displays were I was glad I didn’t have to be the zoo keeper for all the dangerous, highly poisonous critters there!
We had fun at Madame Tussaud’s – posing with Spider-Man and Superman and Wonder Woman. Kate liked Wolverine and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But my favorite display at Madame Tussaud’s was of the Queen and Prince William and Kate!
I think they said that the Queen has had more wax models made of her than any other person. I couldn’t resist getting a photo with Nelson Mandela since I’m going to his country in a few months. In addition to those places, we also did a tour of the Sydney Opera house – including a brief symphony concert! The building really is unique with great acoustics and gorgeous wood. Our guide told us all about the design and the architect – Jorn Utzon,a Swede, who was basically fired from the job halfway through the project. He did live to see the day that UNESCO recognized the opera house as one of the most outstanding places on earth in 2007 even though it had only been built 34 years earlier. There are more than a million Swedish made tiles covering the roof – and they are designed to never need cleaning. The Opera House was the place to be that day as Prince Harry and Meaghan were also visiting about an hour before us!
Another place we enjoyed visiting was the Sydney Tower. Rising high above Sydney it offers great views of the entire area – and we were fortunate because the rain dissipated and we were able to see those views! We went late in the afternoon so we not only got to see the day view, but also the evening view.
Our biggest event in Sydney was actually climbing the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the coat hanger as they call it. What an experience! We showed up at our appointed time and after getting our flight suits on and divesting ourselves of all personal items, got our safety harnesses on and began the assent – through the pylon, up ladders, and finally to the top of the bridge. The view was magnificent, especially since we had done the evening/night tour, so all the lights were twinkling in the skyline. I am always amazed by God’s creation – either the natural or the man-made and seeing the city lit up was wonderful! We were also really thankful it wasn’t raining!!
Our last day in Australia was spent on a tour of the Blue Mountains. I didn’t think we could top the climb from the previous day but… We began by going to the Featherdale Wildlife Park where we touched a wombat, petted a koala bear and fed kangaroos – even the joey in his mama’s pouch! This was a fabulous place and I only wish we could have stayed longer!
The koala’s fur was very short and thick and soft! The kangaroos reminded me of my golden retrievers – they just wanted the food and would hold your hand to keep the food there. Petting koalas and feeding kangaroos was pretty amazing!!
From there we went on to the Blue Mountains, named because the many eucalyptus trees cause a blue haze. We didn’t see any wild koalas, but we did see some amazing rock formations (the Three Sisters).
We were told that that Aborigine Dreamtime legend is that there were 3 sisters who were turned into stone to protect them during a battle. Unfortunately, the person who turned transformed them was killed in the battle and no one else could change them back so there they stand. This is a beautiful area with the Katoomba waterfall, rain forest and and eucalyptus trees! We went to Scenic World and rode the skyway, a cable car that has a glass floor so you can see the valley below your feet.
The view of the waterfall from there was magnificent! After that we went down to the valley floor via an old mining railroad that goes down at a 52-degree incline – the steepest in the world – which was quite the ride (we did it 3 times!). We finished our day by going back into Sydney via the river – a river cruise! (Interesting fact – Sydney Harbor and the river that feeds it is a known breeding ground for bull sharks – it’s not very safe swimming outside protected areas!!).
Australia gets lots of tourists – and most of them are from Asia. I guess they aren’t used to Western toilets. In every toilet they had picture signs showing that squatting on the toilet is not the thing to do – and to please throw the toilet paper in the toilet, not the trash. As we wandered, we were as likely to hear Chinese spoken as English. We did enjoy some amazing Thai food, right around the corner from our very quaint, Victorian flat (well, the building was Victorian but they had updated in the 21st century so we had old floors, tall ceilings and modern Ikea furnishings!)
So, with 2 days in Cairns, and 3 days in Sydney, our 5 days in Australia were over and it was time to return home! We didn’t see everything but we sure experienced a lot! And our return trip was wonderful – 14 hours in first class sitting next to each other! Yes, they gave me pajamas to wear and I lounged my way back the the USA! I’m looking forward to my next trip! P.S. While we were in Sydney, we saw the Royal Caribbean ship, Radiance of the Seas, set sail – maybe someday I can cruise from Sydney!