I spent three weeks in Australia, and in that time I saw the sun rise over the Opera House and set over the Harbour Bridge. I saw kangaroos, a goanna, a crocodile, an echidna, a great billed heron, innumerable cockatoos and ibis, an entirely new set of stars (and the milky way), a rainforest, the great barrier reef, and a 150-million-year-old cycad. I snorkeled, hiked, windsurfed, threw a boomerang (no, wait, that was a stick; it didn't come back), and rode in planes, trains, and automobiles. I met people from all over the world. I ate some really good food (including crocodile) and some pretty bad food (are you sure this is chicken?) and basically had a wonderful time, and I did it all without getting a sunburn (factor 30 is your friend; apply often and liberally).
I took notes and kept a journal. Until I actually get those transcribed, here are the mails that I sent while I was there (internet cafes are plentiful) and some of the pictures that I took with my new digital camera.
Date: Sept 12, 2002
Australia, mate! That was a long flight -- I had about 5 feet of leg room though, I got an exit row. I actually got some sleep, too, but I think I had my leg twisted because my knee was killing me!
Dinner was ravioli and turbulence, and the latter was quite good. Breakfast was at 1:30am Sydney time, and consisted of a square egg. There was also strawberry ice cream at 4:30 am, which I don't understand but it broke up the monotony.
I got to see the sunrise from the plane, with some unfamiliar stars in the background and some puffy clouds down below. That was cool.
Good news is that my hotel room was available when I checked in at 7:30am. Thank you!!! I really wanted a shower by then.
Clouds are breaking up, so I'm going to go out exploring. I'm actually functional, although the ground is moving beneath my feet.
Date: Sept 15, 2002
Greetings one and all again. I'm in Sydney still, and loving it. This is such an awesome city. I'm having fabulous weather and enjoying my stay very much.
Friday I took a trip to the Blue Mountains. It was part of a tour, so my time in each spot was limited, but it was still worth it. We saw some roos (little ones -- the huge red ones are only in the desert) and lots of birds, and an Echidna (a squat little pincushion with a long nose and VERY cute). We also saw the Three Sisters, and went to a wild animal park that rescues animals and got to pet Koalas and Roos and see lots of other animals close up.
Yesterday I spent at the Botanic Gardens, and did their walking tour, which was wonderful. I was the only one for the tour that day so I got a personalized trip. The gardens are HUGE and beautiful. In addition to plants, they also have several thousand bats, so step lively and wear a hat. :o My tour guide also told me about one of the fig trees that has a resident wasp. The male is blind and wingless and lives inside the fig, the female deposits her eggs, dad takes care of them until they hatch and move out. Dad stays there -- he spends his entire life blind and wingless inside a fig.
I on the other hand went for a nice walk over to the Opera House, which is very cool, and then just sat there enjoying the breeze and watching the boats go by (one of which was a catamaran with an XBOX logo).
This morning I noticed that the Harbor Bridge was closed to traffic, and then noticed several thousand runners. I guess it's some kind of a marathon. Good day for it too (yes, another beautiful day in Sydney). I walked over to the aquarium.
The first stop is the platypus, which is the oddest creature on earth (part mammal, part bird, part otter, it just gets weirder). They also have a number of VERY cool lizards (dragons), and a crocodile and sharks. I'm not talking about the little ones, I mean the full-grown guys. The croc was just sitting there looking at us with his evil yellow eyes. The shark thing was downright freaky. It's one of these tunnel things where the water is around and above you and they have several like eight-foot sharks and some rays the size of a double bed and the sharks start fighting I mean this one guy had they other guy's head in his mouth and they really start going at it and you're under them and they're writhing around and they play this creepy music and ohmygod what are they doing and how strong is this glass..... AAAAAaaaaaack!
I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at Darling Harbor, which is a cool U-shaped area that's ped's only (no cars) and a sidewalk that's way wide enough for many people and cafes and lots of clean restrooms and ice cream every ten feet (including one that offers wasabi- flavored cones, I kid you not).
I think it's time for a nap and then maybe watch the sunset from the Harbour Bridge.
Date: Sept 18, 2002
Or you would think so, based on how they react to the rain -- they were running for cover like it was boilding oil and it's not even raining hard. Anyway, it was a good excuse to be inside, so I went to the Australian Museum. It's a poorly-organized hodgepodge. There were some good exhibits, but it's in an old building, so they need to improvise around it's structure. They had some dinosaurs (my main inspiration for going), but the space they had available for it wasn't really big enough to properly display them. They did have some good exhibits on aboriginal art and culture, and a really fabulous display of some of the original art for the various illustrations used in the museum.
On my way out, I found my way to a sort of endless underground shopping mall. I'm not sure how big it is, but it seems to go for several blocks under the city in a series of mole tunnels.
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day and I took the ferry to Manly and went to Manly beach (Deb - I didn't make it to Red Gum; I took the ferry over and they're not in that immediate area). The beach was great; beautiful ocean as far as the eye could see. <sigh>
More later -- the rain's gone and I'm going to go for a walk.
Date: Sept 19, 2002
and it's not much of a town. I think Cairns exists only as a jumping-off point for the reef. The town itself hasn't got much, not even a beach. It's got a tidal mud flat that streaches as far as the eye can see. However, I have several day trips scheduled.
The flight over was pretty darn good -- it was a full flight so they bumped me up to business class. :) I was in row 1, so I think I was actually farther forward than the pilots -- they were upstairs (it's a 747-200).
Yesterday, whilst still in Sydney, I went on a tour of the Opera House. It's fantabulous on the inside. It's actually 5 different venues, and the Concert Hall was so amazingly beautiful that I bought a ticket for the show that night! One of the pieces was by a contemporary composer and, um, had a lot of notes. The final piece was Rachimanov and far better-organized notes :)
Tomorrow is a trip to the reef!
Date: Sept 23, 2002
The Reef was fabulous. We made a stop on the way out to Fitzroy Island. It was really interesting because it has a coral beach -- I mean the entire beach is made up of broken coral (with a big sign saying "do not remove any from the island"). Then it was out to the reef. THe trip itself was pretty good because it was low wind, so not a bad ride.
The reef itself was fantastic. In addition to snorkling and SCUBA, they also had a glass-bottomed boat and a semisubmersable (where you are underwater looking out, not down). I went on the latter, and that was pretty cool.
Then I went snorkling. Wowzers. It's not just the fish, but the reef itself. There are so many types orf corals, some of which are bright blue or yellow, and I also saw a giant clam, which has this interesting blue. It was really cool. And mom, you're gonna puke, but O- Berry went with me. :) I've got a waterproof fanny pack, and I stuck him in there and he went snorkling at the Great Barrier Reef! I dare say he had a blast. (For those of you who don't know O-Berry, he's a little stuffed guy that I made when I was 10).
The next day I took the Sky Rail to Karunda. It's a gondala-style ski-lift like thing that takes you OVER the rainforest. Despite the fact that I am petrified of heights, it was really awesome. You could hear all of these birds below you and see out everywhere.
Then there was a wildlife park that we went to (Rainforestation), which was excellent primarily because the guy giving us the tour was such a kick. At the same place you got to ride a DUCK (a genuine WWII DUCK) through a piece of rainforest with some good narration on what you were seeing, again with a sense of humor.
They also have an aborigianl cultural center, and they demonstrated how to make and play a digeredoo, some spear throwing (which we did not get to try) and some boomerang throwing (which we did get to try, and I'll just say that I"m better at softball).
Finally, there was the train ride back on the Karunda railway, which is quite spectacular.
Yesterday I had a daytrip up the Daintree river, where I saw a wild crocodile, a tree snake, and Great Billed Heron (the guide said that he rarely sees the herons, and he's out there every day). We also went through the rainforest, and I got to see a 150 million-year-old cycad, with a great scenic view on the way up and back.
Today I did laundry. Rather less exciting, but necessary since tomorrow I get on a train for a day-and- a-half ride to Brisbane, and then out to Hamilton Island.
I think I've exhausted Cairns, since it seems to consist mainly of dive shops and internet cafes. There are also a lot of shorebirds here, and a lot of birders watching them.
Date: Sept 26, 2002
The train ride was excellent. It was first class -- Sleeper cabin, sit-down meals (and it's amazing what they can prepare in those little kitchens), and a great way to meet people. (Although I was glad to take a shower in a stationary object upon arrival!)
There were quite a few Aussies who were on the train, I'd say at least half. There was also a couple from San Francisco who's daughter now lives in Sydney (and Mel, when i told them where you live, they said "eeeeeek"). There was a group of US travel agents from all over. I met a couple from Brisbane, some folks from Perth, a guy from Townsville, and a number of other people from places I can't remember (I had never heard of before, and probably never will again).
The scenery consisted of lots of eucalyptus and cows, but it's a smooth track with good food and good company. We only had one long delay, which was due to the fact that they are upgrading the tracks to make way for a new bullet train, which will make the same trip in 7 hours instead of a day-and-a-half. Convenient, but nt the same thing as this ride, which, unfortunately, they will be deleting at the end of the year. I gues it only runs at 60% capacity on a year-round basis. It sells out several months out of the year, but it empty in other months. And being a government operation, they're only going to run the coach cars year-round, instead of taking on the dining cars on a seasonal basis.
I'm off to Hamilton Island this afternoon, three days of lazing on the beach, snorkeling, hiking, and the like. I'm hoping to find a kayak.
(sorry about any tuypos, but this keyboard is terrible!)
Date: Sept 29, 2002
I just spent 3 days at Hamilton Island -- your basic island resort. Went kayaking and tried windsurfing -- what a blast. Now I'm back in Sydney for one last day. Weather is beautiful. <sigh>
Date: Sept 30, 2002
Well, <sigh> I'm back <sniff>. Just yesterday I watched the sun rise over the Opera House, and enjoyed a warm spring day. The day before that, I was windsurfing at Hamilton Island. Now, <sniff> I'm back in Seattle. WAAAAAAAAAAAA! <sniff>