Australia - 2005/02/07 to 2005/04/01 - Sydney

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Southeast Australia - Seven weeks touring by rental van in the National Parks of Oz and a hike on the Overland Trail across a portion of Tasmania.

Week 1 - Day 1

It was to be a trip full of personal firsts. I have never been south of the equator. I have never been in the western Pacific. I have never been to Australia. Now I was going to change all of that. I planned a seven week trip to Australia, using the internet to select where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, how I was going to get there, and how I was going to get around when I got there. I was surprised about how little good information with "feel" there was about the parks of Australia. I hope this trip report will give others wanting to go there an advantage in planning their trip.

Since time was not a problem for this trip, but money, as always, was, I decided to let some of the trip be determined by expenses. After preliminary investigations of travel books such as Lonely Planet and Fodor's borrowed from the library, I decided that I would confine my travels to just a part of the continent. Like the United States, Australia is a big place. One can easily let one's ambitions outpace one's budget. From my first look at the continent Down Under, I grouped it into four parts - the older more developed southeast with mountains, seashore and desert, the tropical northeast, the dry a sparsely settled southeast, and the wild and wooly northern territory. I wanted to see them all, but I also wanted to do justice to each of them while I was there. Since I am big on kayaking, I would definitely want to do some of that in the northeast. But January through March is not the best time to do that there, so that was out. Western Australia with its sparse and widely separated features seemed like a good option to be done as a second or third visit, not a first visit. It was also the wrong time of year for the Northern Territories, so the variety of southeast of Australia was what it was to be. Then I found out that my friend Rick would be in the area the same time I was. We could go hiking together is Tasmania. That settled it. Southeast Australia it was.

I started looking for inexpensive fares to Australia. Quantas runs cheap fares every once in a while. Flights to LA can be had quite inexpensively. But the cheapest flights for me were those of an American air carrier with a flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles and then to Sydney. The flight is gruesomely long. One actually loses a day on the way over. Somewhere during the night as one flies over the Pacific, a day just disappears. You leave on a Thursday arrive on a Saturday never having had a Friday. It is something you have to keep in mind when making reservations.

And it is a long darn way around to the other side of the planet. Sydney is about as close to the other side of the world from Baltimore as you can get. The airline flight there is brutal. If I was doing it again I would strongly consider a layover in LA or San Diego to breakup the hardship of the 24 hours of flying. If you go straight through as I did, you will be really wiped out when you arrive. With that and a major case of jet lag you will want to have an easy schedule when you first get there.

Week 1 - Day 2

Because of the international date line this day was actually lost. I left home on February 7th and landed February 9th. Somewhere an entire day was lost on the airplane. One needs to be careful about this when making reservations so that you don't book a place for an extra day.

Week 1 - Day 3

So I planned to spend several days just sight seeing in Sydney. That would give me the time to recuperate and get used to the new surroundings before striking out on my own to the parks in a rental van. I located a hostel in the downtown section of Sydney not far from the Central Train Station with frequent connections from the airport. My huge single suitcase weighed in at 85 pounds, which at the time was allowed as free baggage on the airline. Now you would need to divide it up into two pieces to meet the free luggage requirements. But I was able to get the monster through customs at Sydney airport and catch the train from the airport to the station near the hotel without maiming any fellow passengers or giving myself a hernia. I arrived early at the hotel, well before check in time. I left my bag at the desk, took my camera and small day pack and headed out to see some of the city.

My hostel accommodation was on the southwest side of the harbor, so I headed down to Dowling Park, site of the Olympics and a recently redone area of Sydney. I strolled through the park where I was greeted by ibis that seemed to be the local version of pigeons. They were everywhere in the park and seemed to be looking for a handout. It was strange to see these birds which I had only seen in more natural setting of swamps back in the states walking around on the sidewalks and stalking bugs on the manicured lawns. I soon located a map of the park and got oriented. I headed north to the harbor, which was lined with tall buildings on one side with restaurants and shops on the ground floor and a low building on the other also filled with restaurants, shops and museums. One restaurant was in a converted Sydney ferry. It looked very picturesque.

I walked down to the maritime museum at the mouth of the harbor. They had some life boats and a lighthouse on the outside of a large building for the inside exhibits. One could easily spend several hours here. But that wasn't in the plan. Around the corner from the museum, tied up without notice or fanfare at a warehouse wharf was a replica of the H.M.S. Discovery, the British ship of Captain Cook famed explorer of the Pacific. It made a striking contrast with the large cargo carrier docked at the commercial wharf on the other side of the harbor.

In the corner of Dowling Park is the Chinese Friendship Garden. This several acre piece of Dowling park has been designed and maintained as a traditional Chinese water garden with sculpture, wooden friezes, bronze figures, live bamboo pictures, intricately carved pagodas, numerous water features, exotic local fauna and restful places for contemplation in the middle of the big city. All this was scented by frangipani and other blossoms strategically placed to screen out the tall city building that surrounded the oasis of green. Just a wonderful place to spend a restful hour or two.

With the jet lag starting to catch up to me I returned to the hostel and checked in. I had a private room in the hostel for $77.00 per night which is not particularly cheap but then it wasn't bad for the center of a major metropolitan city. If you take the shared dorm approach you should be able to do about half of that. but after my long flight I was looking for a little peace and quiet. The old building in which the hostel was located had plenty of that. Constructed of extremely thick walls of concrete with nearly 20 foot high ceilings the converted industrial building was very quiet. There were no windows in the room only a skylight. But there was a shower in the room, a nice bed, a dresser, a TV and a little writing table. What else was needed? I showered and got to bed for a few hours sleep. With the door shut and the lights out, it was nearly dark in the windowless small quiet room. The only light came from the small skylight way up in the ceiling. Soon I was off to a deep sleep of a couple hours. I awoke in the afternoon refreshed and ready to hit the streets for more adventure.

The hostel and the Central Station are near the Chinese section of the city. This ethnic enclave is alive with pedestrians walking closed streets lined with restaurants and markets. A heavy pedestrian traffic walks down the pleasant street. Shops and restaurants line both sides. I planned to come back here for dinner, noting a few restaurants that looked particularly enticing. The Chinese section is just a couple square blocks. I continued my walk toward the harbor down the busy urban street.

Most of the Central Business District (CBD) is a booming modern city with skyscrapers being built everywhere. But here and there there were some old buildings left. Sitting on fabulously expensive real estate i doubt they will last much longer. With the pressures of a rapidly expanding Asian business climate and the growth that comes from Australia being a gateway of sorts to China, a small hotel, even an exclusive one, just can't last. Even in 2005 the bustle in the city was obvious. Much of Sydney's cosmopolitan population is of Asia ethnicity, even with Australia's very strict immigration controls. I continued my walk down the busy street toward Sydney Harbor bridge.

On the south end of the bridge is the Royal Observatory and park grounds. The park was established early on in Sydney and the trees on the grounds were planted with the first settlers in the city. They are really spectacular. Just to the east of the park is one end of the bridge, "The Old Coat Hanger" as the stark grey steel structure is affectionately known.

On the other side of the bridge from the Royal Observatory is the world famous Sydney Opera House. The Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship was berthed in the harbor directly across from the famous structure. The QEII is such a big ship. I suspect that it was unable to get under the bridge despite the enormous span and clearance of the harbor Bridge. Most cruise ships dock in Dowling Harbor, but the QEII was laying along the docks in the original harbor for Sydney, Old Town, next to the ferry terminal. One of the larger ferries that ply the waters of the harbor was coming into the harbor as I began to walk up the

I began the walk up the sidewalk over the bridge. The girders on the bridge are very large and closely spaced, much more so than the steel on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which looks petite compared to the burly look of the harbor Bridge. You can pay to go up one of the towers and there is even a tour that will take you out and up on the suspension girders hundreds of feet over the water far below. Its a little pricey for a short cheap thrill so I contented myself with the view from the deck of the bridge.

I headed over to the Opera House from the bridge, but anywhere in downtown Sydney the bridge is always visible. On a street overpass of the Old Town buildings the bridge did not seem out of place. Most of the bars and clubs of Sydney ware in the Old Town section. The rest of the restaurants and shops cater to the tourist coming in waves off of the cruise ships along the quay. From the hill over the harbor, the QEII really looked like it would not go under the bridge.

In front of the opera House is a large bricked plaza backed by the skyline of downtown Sydney. It was full of tourists of various nationalities, mostly Japanese and German. They stayed in groups, posing for typical pictures in front of the landmark structure. The opera house is intended to look like the sails of a several sailboats, perhaps in the midst of a race. The unique shape of the structure makes for interesting and challenging photography. The skin of the building is composed of squares of a white tiling that looks like scales when close up. Next to the opera House in the Botanical gardens, a large and rambling park of manicured gardens, large old trees and botanical exhibits. Cockatoos called from the tops of the tall eucalyptus trees. Once again it seamed most strange to see exotic birds just running around wild in the heart of the city.

On one side of the park is the Government House, the official residence of the Governor of New South Wales. It looks like a small English castle, with ornate stained glass windows and carved doors. It is constructed out of native sandstone quarried out on nearby North Head. Surrounding the building are more large trees and lush tropical plantings. The house was closed on this day as it is only open a few days a week for only part of the day.
I continued on through the botanical gardens making my way back toward my room. Along the way were many orchids, exotic flowers and tropical palms. Without a tripod even the digital camera was hard pressed to get a clear picture in the dark recesses of the greenhouses.

Further along the walk I came across Parliament House, the legilative ranch of the provincial government for New South Wales. It was all varnished wood, polished brass, red leather and heavy carpet. All very English. I wandered in and out of the official buildings. While not in session, the near complete lack of security was a bit unusual from that which I was used to in the U.S.

Next I came upon the Sydnel Gaol, which I learned was Australian for jail. Since the first settlers of Australia were all convicts, the jail was actually the first building built in Sydney. Constrtucted of the same sandstone as the Government House, it looked older and more worn than the ornate mansion I had just left.
I continued up the street past the tall communications tower/restaurant/observation platform. A stiff fee would get you up to the top of the tower for a panorama of the city, but with the overcast day i didn't think it would be worth it. I continued up the street to Ansac park, a park between two busy streets full of fountains and lined with eucalptus trees. The Catholic cathedral could be seen through a small opening in the tree tops.

I had walked quite a few miles around the city and worn down my shutter finger taking over 60 pictures. I was about done for the day. I headed back to the hostel, went out to the China town and had a wonderful, cheap dinner of stir fry vegetables. I came back early to the room and began to catch up on my sleep. It would be another early day of exploration on the morrow.

Continue the trip...............




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