Brisbane

From Melbourne we headed up to Brisbane. The driver of our cab from the airport was obviously very proud of the city as he regaled us with how much activity is happening there, including that the city had the most construction cranes in the world during 2018. Well, there were still a lot in the central business district in 2019 too. Brisbane is all about the river, there is a lot of activity in town focused on a long and winding riverfront that includes much public and green space, lots of boardwalks, lots of building activity and plenty of places to wet your whistle and enjoy a meal. There are a variety of ferry boats to take you up and down the river including a free one that covers most of the central city, both sides of the river.

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A ferry heading down the river.
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The bridges are interesting.

One side of the river features some cliffs that attract climbers and as we walked along the base of the cliff we watched a number of them heading up to the street above. We took the stairs. This area has some great skyline views and we passed a small grove that was getting set up for a wedding later in the day. A few hundred meters down another couple was having wedding photos taken with the remarkable combination of the natural features of the river and the cliffs along side the skyscrapers and boats moored along the park.

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The cliffs behind some of the public art that lines both sides of the river.

We arrived on a Friday, so we were able to check out several of the markets that set up every weekend. One, on the side of the river where the museums and entertainment areas are set up was full of artisans, from fabric and paper art to jewelry and photography. It was a bit rainy when we were there, but still well attended. Later in the weekend we went to the market in the botanical garden which had lots of food trucks, produce, jewelry, clothing, and jewelry that included opals mined nearby.

On a trip last year, we met a couple from Brisbane, and we had reached out to them when planning this trip. They had just sold their house and moved a few hours further north to get a beach location and be warmer (because the 30 C weather we had wasn’t warm enough for them) but were in town that weekend and we met them for drinks and dinner. It was great catching up with them and they were just as much fun as we remembered. Apparently, they meet a lot of people traveling and are always told “we are coming to Australia and will meet up with you” but we are the first people to ever actually follow through on that threat!

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Maybe if they showed photos of this guy more people would come visit!

One of the oldest koala sanctuaries is in Brisbane and we decided to take the tour and check out the cute little buggers since we hadn’t yet seen any. The tour included an hour-long boat ride up the river to the sanctuary and there was commentary! We learned about the development of the city, the impact of three major floods and had many fancy homes and buildings pointed out to us. There was a three-story building that was built prior to the 1894 flood that still stands, and the captain was able to describe the three floods with the context of where they hit the building. In 1894 the floods filled the first floor, the flood in the 1970’s reached the bottom of the balcony on the third floor and the 2010 flood covered the first floor again. After the flood in the 1970s the city put in major flood control projects upstream including a huge dam, but even that couldn’t stop another flood in the area. It was nice to have some context for the impact of the floods.

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This tower was involved in “gas cracking” and was kept after the plant was demolished because someone like the look and the reminder.
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A view of the city from the river.

When we arrived at the sanctuary we decided to spring for a photo with a Koala. That was a bit cheesy, but fun! And, the proceeds support the work being done to protect the wildlife at the sanctuary and around Australia. In addition to the koalas, there were platypus, kangaroos, crocodiles, lizards, dingoes and a variety of birds including emus, parrots, kookaburra, and a cassowary (the large bird that killed a guy in Florida a few weeks after we saw this one). We were able to pet not only the koala, but also a kangaroo which was surprisingly soft.

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There are a lot of koalas at the sanctuary, they don’t get any less cute for the volume.
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There are a fair number of lizards there as well.
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The cassowary is a large bird who seems to always be a little annoyed at the world.
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Another of the lizards at the sanctuary.
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An Emu
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The animals here are very domesticated, you can feed and pet the kangaroos.

 

Melbourne

Melbourne is about the same size as Sydney and over the years the two cities have engaged in some civic competition. I will not weigh in on any of this, all of Australia is proving to be wonderful in so many ways! Whenever anyone asks us about our “favorite” part of any trip, we can never answer because there are always so many great things, and this trip is just like that.

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Like Sydney, Melbourne has some great old buildings,
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And a lot of lovely new ones.

Melbourne does not have a convict story as it was set up as a free settlement in the mid-1800’s. For myriad reasons including a navigable river, large harbor, economics and some gold, Melbourne has had periods where it was among the wealthiest of communities in the world. You can see proof of this in the beautiful architecture, many theatres and civic spaces. It is also a city filled with people from all over the world, with a large and thriving Chinatown, a huge Greek community, and the sound of different languages and accents every where you turn. There were a variety of things happening in Melbourne during our time there including: the Australian Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, the Australian Grand Prix Formula One Race, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and preparations for the International Flower and Garden Show. I am sure there were lots of other things happening, those are just the things that caught our notice.
We settled into our usual new city habit of walking out the door and heading a new direction. The concierge at the hotel provided us with a good city map and a nice articulation of our strategy “the best way to see Melbourne is to get a little lost.” He also suggested we wander down the many alleys and into the Arcades and suggested a few of his favorites. Melbourne, like Sydney, is a mish-mash of old and new. Modern skyscrapers next to mid-19th Century buildings, classic facades opening into glass towers and tight alleys connecting out to main thoroughfares. Exactly the kind of place you want to get a little lost in.

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One of the many Arcades you could walk through, shop and enjoy.
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In another arcade the clock has 2 giants guarding it and ringing in the hour.

Our hotel was situated not far from the Melbourne Exhibition building which was built for the Exhibition the city hosted back in the late 1800s. It is currently undergoing some renovations and is an impressive building. Not only did the building host the Exhibition, it was the location of the first meeting of the Australian Parliament in 1906 and hosted events for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics including basketball and boxing. While we were in town it, and the park around it, were hosting the Flower show.

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The Exhibition Building.
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And her it is reflected in the neighboring science museum.

Taking advice from friends who were in Melbourne a year or so ago, we went to the Queen Victoria Market and wandered through quite an array of stalls selling everything from cell phone cases to locally constructed hats, leather gear, merino wool sweaters and UGG Boots, to shoes and even rabbits and song birds with pet supplies. There were food vendors and soap makers, a hardware booth and several kitchen supply shops. And then, you get to the fruit and vegetable market! We got a couple of fresh mangoes and left the market with a smile on our faces and a good step count for the day!
Following another suggestion from our friends, one afternoon we headed up to the Sky Deck. We took an express elevator to the 88th floor and had great views of the city, the bay, and the mountains off in the distance. When we went out to the very windy outdoor deck we heard a distinct mechanical whine, and identified that we could hear the Formula One cars racing around practicing for the upcoming Grand Prix! We also saw several places that then went on the “let’s go find those buildings” list!

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A view from the sky deck.
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The Grand Prix practices on zoom from the skydeck.

The day we wandered over to one of those “find those buildings” places happened to be the day the Grand Prix was running, and we were in that area of Melbourne. As we were walking around, we heard that whine you hear when fighter jets are around. Sure enough, an Australian Royal Air Force jet was doing some fancy flying as part of the warmup to the race. We were not ideally situated to see the whole thing, but it did some loop de loops and a very impressive hovering maneuver that we could see. Almost like they followed us from Newcastle to show they could do more than fly by really fast!

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RAAF

Melbourne is located on the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay with several sets of large commercial docks. We took one of the river boat tours that took us down the river through town, past the commercial docks and across the Bay to a lovely suburb where we found lunch and a nice market, much smaller than the Queen Victoria Market, but with great views of the city!

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Melbourne from across the bay.

Our hotel loyalty program includes an “experiences” section that has lots of tours and excursions available all over the place. One evening, while scrolling through the list, we found a bus tour of the Yarra Valley Wine region that included a ride on Puffing Billy, a narrow gauge railroad dating back to the early 1900s. Who can resist a train ride and wine tasting! It was a great day. Our bus driver was knowledgeable, but didn’t overwhelm, the drive up to the mountains included a stop for tea and a short hike where we saw wallaby’s, but alas, not the bird we were told about on the ride. I can’t remember what type it was, but it is one that is quite the singer and can also mimic other sounds, including chainsaws, according to the short video. From there, we headed to the train station and boarded the beautifully restored open-air train cars for a short and slow ride along the rail line. The train was narrow gauge to make the twists and turns necessary to transport goods and people up the mountains. Several times during our ride the twists were such that we could see the engine out one window and the end of the train out the other!

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Making a turn.
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Our 1906 steam engine.
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The “luxury” seating.

The wine region near Melbourne, like most wine regions I have been to, is beautiful. We had three wineries to visit and enjoyed tastings at all of them. It was an interesting selection with one very large well-known winery, a medium sized regional winery and a small, family owned winery that only does estate wines and ciders. We did come back with some bottles to enjoy!

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Perspective matters – the round building in front is separate, but there is only one other building behind it.
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Just another lovely buidling.
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Fitzroy is a quirky, fun neighborhood near downtown.
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In quirky Fitzroy.

The Great Ocean Walk – it was a great ocean and a great walk!

The Great Ocean Walk is a 108-kilometer trail that covers much of the coastline associated with the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road was built after World War I by returning soldiers. It was conceived as both a monument to the soldiers who served in the war and a civic works project for them during the depression that followed the conflict. Initially the road was funded with private monies and local funding as the state government was not interested. We missed most of the Road, as we were walking, and while we expected the trail to follow the path of the road, it really didn’t, we had very little interaction with the road.

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The trail.
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In the rainforest.
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Some of the local plants.
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More plants.

 

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The coast was different from every vantage point.
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We had a lot of coastline to view.

We did have a lot of interaction with the coastal areas though! Not really knowing what to expect, we were constantly surprised by the variety of terrain and landscape. We walked on beaches, along cliffs, on rolling hills, in rainforests and areas full of coastal bushes. Every time we turned a corner it was a new view. The coastline never disappointed and we saw new and different things every day and in every section.

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Different coastal areas, each time.
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Sometimes you looked down on the coast.
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There was some “scrambling” over rocky coast line.

We stayed in a lighthouse keepers cottage dating from the 1860s, a gracious guesthouse that started life as a farmhouse in the late 1800s, and several small hotels located in charming small harbor towns. We used an outfitter who provided the logistics and lodgings, directions and arranged not only for us to have our meals, including way too much lunch on the trail, but to move the rest of our luggage each time we changed lodgings. The company we used was www.auswalk.com. They do walks all over Australia and if you have the time and inclination, it is a great way to see parts of the country.

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The lighthouse from the patio in front of our cabin.
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The lens of the lighthouse. It ran until the 1990s.
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Sunset from the porch of the guesthouse.

Australians joke that the coastal area we were walking in can get all four seasons in a day. Well, we certainly had a lot of weather during the seven days we were there, and usually we had variety each day. Early on the walk there was fog and low clouds and we spent a lot of time one day deciding if we should put the rain gear on, or if it was safe to take it off. The coastal views were neat because we could see the cliffs, but often not the tops. The waves were crashing and we had that as the soundtrack even when we had taken turns inland.

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Ferns in the rainforest.
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Pretty Bird.
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Fairy Wren.
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Yes, it was a long climb up for this view.
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The waves were crashing the whole week.

Besides the different terrains, we also saw or heard a lot of wildlife, mostly birds. We had heard there were black cockatoos and came across them during a sunny period on the second day. This bunch had bright yellow highlights on their tails. There is a bird call that sounds like a slower version of Woody Woodpecker’s laugh with some vaguely jungle sounding call inserted. It is a sound you might associate with the noises Hollywood inserts for jungle scenes in movies. Well, we heard that sound. Dan’s initial reaction was “what’s that? Is that real? I thought that was a fake move sound.” We were informed by the nice couple who was also staying at the guest house that it was the sound of the Kookaburra. The Kookaburra is a member of the Kingfisher family of birds and does migrate around the South Pacific, but I think some Hollywood types have been playing fast and loose with reality in most cases. Alas, while we heard the bird, we didn’t actually see any.

 

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There were some beach walks required.
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We think this was an albatross.
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An Echidna, they are shy and I am pretty sure it was saying “you can’t see me.”
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And, some more different coastal features.

Another animal we didn’t see were Koalas. They are in the area, but can be tough to spot. Between the cloud cover, rain and so many new things to see, we weren’t able to spot any. When the shuttle driver asked if we had seen any, I admitted I didn’t really know to look or even when I should look. She said you can hear them, and when asked what they sounded like she made a little “grrrrrr – uuooff” noise. Her husband, also in the vehicle, let out a laugh and some minor ribbing ensued. When we asked for a refresher on how they sounded the next morning, she laughingly refused!

We did come across our first Kangaroos which are larger and lighter in color than the wallaby’s we had seen (and continued to see). They move in larger packs than wallaby’s called Mobs, so when you see one, there are plenty more. On one section of the trail, we came around the corner and started up the rise and there were 4 or 4 Kangaroos just standing there about 10 yards up the trail. They weren’t going anywhere and Dan decided to serenade them with the University of Akron fighting song. He also referred to several as Zippy because they do bear a resemblance to the Zips mascot! The animals continued to stare at us completely unimpressed with his rendition of the song and the fact that he remembers it from his time there.

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That puzzled look is because Dan is singing the U of Akron Fighting song.
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Yes, he was that big and muscular, and yes that is a rabbit sitting in front of him.

Our wildest weather day was also the toughest terrain on the walk. Described as “steep up and down followed by undulating sections with more steep climbs at the end” they weren’t kidding. There had been heavy rain overnight so not only were the hills steep, they were muddy and slippery. We persevered and about an hour in to that day’s walking it started to rain again and the wind was picking up. There was plenty of thick vegetation though, so the wind wasn’t too much of an issue. When we started to get pelted with hail, though…. Fortunately, the hail remained pea sized and didn’t last too long. We stopped for lunch at one of the campsites and were joined by a group on a guided walk. As we all huddled under the picnic shelter located along the cliffs on the coast, the wind really picked up and howled around us. It was really cool! We ran into one of the guides the next day and while we caught up on how we had all fared the previous day she tried to sell the weather with “it’s great that you get that kind of weather, makes you appreciate the s even more!” I told her she was overselling it, but we are always happy to get a story, had proper gear and weren’t really complaining, but if you can’t complain about the weather, though.

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Great views, and worth the climb.
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The Twelve Apsotles, but there are only 8, there used to be 9 but one collapsed about 15 years ago.
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More great coast.
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An Apostle.

Tasmania – Hobart to Cradle Mountain

After our time on the east coast, we headed south to the largest city, Hobart, with a planned stop at the historic Port Arthur. We had a large and good map thanks to the car rental agent who gave it to Dan after our rental car was delayed. It was huge when unfurled and a bit ungainly but had lots of detail and included the locations of many shipwrecks along the coast line. Despite the quality of the map, the size made it challenging, so we asked Google maps to set our route. It offered up a nice looking route through a state forest area. The road quickly went to gravel but took us to a nice turn off with great views of Maria Island, the previous day’s destination. The gravel road was in such good shape Dan commented that the paved roads at home were often not as smooth. Murphy’s Law, being what it is, meant that shortly after that comment was uttered, we spent the rest of trip bumping along a washboard textured road with some pretty impressive potholes. We had entered the area of the forest that was actively logged. It was still a beautiful drive and well worth it.

We arrived in Port Arthur, not really knowing what to expect beyond the historic site of one of the largest convict site in Tasmania, if not Australia. I think I expected a town and the remains of the prison site. In fact, it is the prison site, there are many residents in the area, but it appears as if Port Arthur is held in time. Not only is it a World Heritage site related to the convict history of Australia, it also has the sad distinction of being the site of the largest mass shooting in Australia, and at the time in the world. In the 1990s a mass shooter opened fire on the staff and visitors, killing 35 people. Shortly after, Australia passed significant gun control legislation and no longer appears on the list of mass shootings. There is a memorial garden at the site of the massacre and the site honors both its older and newer tragic histories in very appropriate ways.

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The main penitentiary building. Port Arthur is a very busy World Heritage Site.
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These are the outlines of the cells. They were small and no outside windows.

The site is a sprawling place with the prison and British army garrison in one area and the church and homes for the free settlers nearby. It sits on a beautiful bay and is connected by a narrow strip of land back to the mainland. There are no fences because the natural boundaries were perceived to be sufficient to keep prisoners on site. In the early days, the strip of land – about 100 km across – was lined with vicious dogs, chained at intervals who would attack anyone trying to cross that way. The forest and the water were the other barriers. It seems like they worked because there were very few escape attempts, and even fewer successes.

This site was a place of secondary incarceration, meaning that if a convict re-offended after arriving in Australia, they were sent to Port Arthur and held there. There is a lot of history regarding the convicts in Australia, and I admit to knowing almost nothing as the writing of this blog. Who knows if I will educate myself in the future and feel like sharing, so you might want to stay tuned…

While a number of the buildings have been destroyed, either by neglect before it became a park, or by one of several major bush fires in the area, there remains a lot of history. The site is also a stop for many cruise ships that come to Tasmania. A P&O Australia ship was in port the day we were there, and the Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to arrive the next day.

From Port Arthur we left the sparsely travelled rural roads and headed in to the big city across a large bridge spanning the river and overlooking the harbor. We found our hotel and Dan navigated the rush hour traffic to drop off our stuff and then proceed to the parking deck several blocks away. Judicious use of the one way streets allowed us to avoid any major lane crossings and difficult turns. I think he was very happy to stash the car for the remainder of our time in the big city!

The schedule called for four days in Hobart with a suggested visit to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), we had also heard from our friends in Sydney and several other people that we should check it out. We did some exploring of the city and found out where to catch the ferry if we did decide to head to the museum but were still on the fence. The ferry terminal was on the pier next to one that hosted several restaurants and we stopped in and sampled some different brews made in the Hobart area, we would be back here more than once.

The next day dawned cloudy and had rain in the forecast so we took that as our sign to head over to MONA. The ferry ride is definitely part of the experience and each ferry (there are at least 2 we saw, possibly 3) has it’s own décor. Ours included a herd of sheep on the upper deck and some kind of hot pink torpedo looking thing on the front. They have 2 sections on the ferry; the pit where everyone can go hang out with several cash bars and a café and the higher class section which you can pay extra, get canapes and an open bar. Since it was pretty early, we took the cheap seats. The ride across the bay and up the river to the museum was fun, with views of the nice houses, some industrial areas and then the museum. There are 99 steps from where the ferry drops you off to the entrance of the museum (if you can’t do the stairs they take you to a secondary dock and give you a ride up there).

You enter the museum at the top and then proceed down four stories to begin to see the exhibits. The building itself is worth the price of admission, and the variety of art on display is pretty amazing. Things from ancient Egyptian figurines to recreations of 1960’s art installations share space with a mechanical digestive track that poops every day at 2 pm. There is live artist painting in a recreation of an impressionist artists studio (sorry, I didn’t write down the name and waited too long to write this post to remember) and around the corner an artist tattooing his body sits on display as a living canvas. Dan became part of the exhibit by lending his heartbeat to a light display that incorporates all of the pulses into an ever-changing rhythm.

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Not the car from Cars, but some modern art!
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The view down in to an exhibit.

We enjoyed a great lunch at one of the many restaurants and it was served so nicely plated and artistic that we were inspired to play with our food! After we finished in the museum we headed to the winery. MONA sits on the site of an established winery, so that is a nice bonus. We tasted a selection of wine and liked one well enough to buy a bottle to take on the rest of our Tasmanian adventure!

The next day we were scheduled for a walking tour and it turns out we were the only ones, so we had a wonderful, private tour of the central part of the city. Our guide took us into several historic buildings still in use, and many were made with convict labor. She provided interesting insight into the daily practices of the settlement, including the free colonists, the recruitment of women to come to Darwin (not as convicts) and the penal colony, including how they encouraged the convicts to learn a trade so they would stay and have a vocation. There were of course a variety of issues created by both the efforts to establish livelihoods for paroled and released convicts and the use of convict labor as essentially slave labor by free settlers. All of this before we even get in to the destruction of the aboriginal population and culture.

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This beautiful room is in the town hall and used by many public groups, a great way to maintain your historic spaces!

Another stop on the walking tour was a park in the city with a number of monuments that could have been grave monuments. Well, they were. The park was built on an old cemetery in the 1920s, but the council in its civic wisdom was not going to relocate the bodies or the gravestones. They gave families the option to pay to remove their loved ones, but very few could afford it. When the time came to prepare the park, they simply pushed the headstones, except for a few monuments to “significant” people, down the hill. They were discovered a while later by an architect doing site preparations for a new government building. He proposed a wall between the park and the building that would incorporate many of the headstones and it is a nice monument. It was a fascinating tour!

Our last day in Hobart we took a walkway along the “rivulet” that serves the city up to the “Female Factory” which is where many women convicts were incarcerated. This site, like many, was sold by the government in the early 1900s, and only about 60% of it has been reclaimed and turned into a museum. It is part of the multi-site World Heritage Site that includes Port Arthur, Maria Island and other locations around Australia. They have done a nice job on this site of giving you the sense of the place despite the fact that only a few walls and one building remain. On the 40% of the site that they will likely never get back there sits a day care center and several private homes.

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One of the yards of the Female Factory. Small plaques placed around the site give information on the women who were incarcerated there.

After our exploration of the Female Factory we headed up the hill to the Cascade Brewery. Now owned by one of the international beer conglomerates, the building is visible from many places in Hobart and the grounds include some beautiful gardens. We declined to get a Goose Island beer using our usual “we can get that at home” standard, but we did try a tasting paddle of three beers and a cider. Like most Australian beer so far it was light and delightful, especially after our walk up the hill in the bright and warm sun.

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The Cascade Brewery – we were half way up the hill for this view!

From Hobart we had our longest drive to the next destination, four hours on the short route. We were headed to Cradle Mountain, most of that region in Tasmania is national park. Of course, we took the scenic route which meant we spent whole day in the car. But there were plenty of stops along the way. We tend to stop at most places with a “scenic overlook” sign and were not disappointed on this trip. The first turned out to be part of a hydroelectric system build in the 1920s and 30s. Great views and well worth the minor detour. Further on the trip the overlooks included opportunities for short hikes, one to see some waterfalls and another with panoramic views of the mountains in the region.

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One of the waterfalls!

When we arrived at our accommodations the woman checking us in encouraged us to go to the “feeding” tour of the Tasmanian Devil sanctuary nearby. While we planned to stop at Devils@Cradle on this trip, we hadn’t reserved a spot on the afterhours tour, but a quick log in to the wifi and a few moments on my phone and we had tickets! Again, not sure what I expected, but Tasmanian devils didn’t disappoint. Endangered because of a cancer, loss of habitat and falling prey to feral cats, this sanctuary and several others around Tasmania are home to “insurance populations” and are breeding centers. They have devils on display who are too acclimated to humans to be released, usually due to being hand raised, and devils who will be released to try to stabilize the population. While they look cuddly, if you let your fingers or toes too close their jaws are powerful enough that you might lose one. They are mostly scavengers and got their name because they let out quite a racket. They growl and moan to communicate and when there are several in close proximity who decide to make their presence known, it is obvious! The center also has two types of Quolls, cousins of the Devils who are smaller, but even more fierce.

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A young Tasmanian Devil! You can’t see them, but he has some impressive teeth.

Our cabin at the lodge had a wood burning fireplace and a deck with a nice view of the mountains. We spent some time on the deck, and enjoyed a woodfire after dinner along with our wine from MONA. The grounds featured several walkways and paths and a nice collection of wallaby’s and the occasional wombat. We woke up one morning to a wombat sitting in the grass near our car. The couple staying on the other side of the duplex cabin was walking out to their car while we admired the wombat from our window and we got to see the woman’s startled reaction when she looked over and realized she was feet from the furry guy!

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Our local wombat.

We took several hikes that started near our lodge and saw some beautiful waterfalls, some otherworldly forest scenes and some type of alpine low shrub area that might have been near a spring. The forest was filled with trees covered in moss and the overcast skies and light mist made us on the lookout for elves and fairies or perhaps, Yoda.

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Tasmania – Launceston and the Eastern Coast

We booked a “self-driving tour” of Tasmania with a great company out of London, yep, the London in England. If you find yourself puzzled by how we linked up with them, there were a few steps down that path. Researching Australian options online prior to the trip we came across the website www.responsibletravel.com, which offers literally hundreds of experiences around the world that meet criteria related to using local vendors, being economically, culturally and environmentally responsible while offering unique local experiences. We were intrigued by the option of some good local guidance and assistance in seeing Tasmania – or as the Aussies call it, Tassie – so we clicked the button saying we were interested. Audley Travel ( www.audleytravel.com ) sent us an email giving us information and offering to set up a call to learn our interests and let us know what they could offer. We spoke to a lovely woman named Hannah who had spent time living and working in Australia. She listened to what our interests and goals were and put together a 12 day trip around the Island for us.

It was awesome, she mixed some urban and rural settings, gave us hiking options, told us where the local breweries and wineries were, set up a boat tour off the coast, a walking tour full of history, and pushed us to go to a local museum (which is not something we usually spend our time doing). We will happily return to Tasmania again given the opportunity, this trip was a great sampler and we had quite an experience.

Our tour began with the collection of our rental car and Dan’s first experience driving on the other side of the road. There are some adjustments and few things you might not expect, like you can always tell someone used to driving on the right-hand side of the road because they will inevitably turn on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker. He did great, but at our age having to pay that much attention to the little details of driving is different.

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Not only are you driving on the other side of the road, but you have to be on the lookout for car tipping marsupials!

Our first stop was in the city of Launceston, which is a three-syllable name that only took me six or seven tries to get close on the pronunciation. It is the second largest city in Tasmania and full of lovely mid-19th century buildings and a boat harbor on the river, navigable out to the ocean some 50 kilometers away.

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The clock tower on the post office

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Not far from the center of the city is a park around Cataract Gorge, a great hike where we had our first sighting of black swans!

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Cataract Gorge!

 

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A suspension bridge from the 1940’s, fun to cross, but you don’t want some joker to be jumping up and down!
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Black Swan

 

We headed back to town for a nice lunch and some wandering around. During our explorations we came across a city park and noticed an area that had an enclosure, further investigation put us on a viewing platform in front of display of monkeys. Apparently in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s this park often displayed animals and it was decided during a restoration in the 1970’s to continue that tradition with some monkeys that would thrive in the local climate. When we reported that find to our waitress at dinner that evening she responded “yes, isn’t that a weirdly random thing to come across here?” Can’t argue with that assessment!

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A mama monkey and her baby at the park. They are Japanese Macaque’s.

We also stopped in to the George Boags brewery, one of the oldest in Australia and just down the street from our hotel (I told you Hannah was great as I am sure that was a consideration when she set up our accommodations!). We skipped the tour as we have seen a lot of breweries, but we got a tasting paddle and enjoyed the selection of beers. I am finding most Australian beers to be light and refreshing, less hopped that the American beers we have been drinking and with a lower ABV, which makes sampling a pleasure.

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From Launceston we headed over to the eastern coast near Freycinet National Park. The suggested route from Hannah, our trip planner, called for a stop in Campbell Town on the way. So, of course we headed there first. A small town on the main road south, it had a number of cafes, a nice park in the center and a surprising number of church buildings for sale. As we walked on the main street after a delightful lunch we noticed a line of bricks with inscriptions on them. They listed a person’s name, what looked like the name of a ship, a date, and age and an offence and sentence, and sometimes additional information. These bricks cataloged the people transported to Tasmania from England. There were children, men and women of all ages. Transportable offences and sentences ranged from murder and horse thieving with life sentences to the theft of a silk handkerchief and a seven-year sentence. The industrial revolution was wreaking havoc on the British economy and many displaced people got caught up in an unforgiving justice system with incentives to provide people to “help” colonize England’s foothold in the Pacific.

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A section of the bricks listing information about the convicts. For example – John Webster, Age 32, Palmyra (ship) 1846 Stole Horse and Pig – 10 years

We stayed near Swansea right on Oyster Bay, we had great views from the restaurant and from the deck on our cabin. We were booked on a boat tour scheduled to take us out of the bay and up the coast to see Wineglass Bay, a particularly scenic area. Alas, the weather made the seas too rough for our ship to head that direction and the captain turned us south to go around an island near the mouth of the bay. He sold it as “I love this route and think it is at least as good as Wineglass Bay.” Can’t disagree with him as we saw some beautiful, rugged coast line and wildlife. There were a number of fur seals resting along a pretty steep coastal area and it is amazing they can maneuver themselves that far up from the water line and around the rocks. We also saw some nesting White-bellied Sea Eagles pretty close up. The tour included a special lunch with fresh oysters. In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution to be a more adventurous eater, I tried one, it was pretty good so I had a second one to make sure I like them.

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Oyster Bay from the beach down from our cabin
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Fur seals, they get around amazingly well on those rocks. Several had climbed much higher than this group.
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A Sea Eagle
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The Eastern Tasmanian Coast line, shrouded in mist.

We had time that afternoon to take the hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout from our side of the Bay, so we did that. It was raining when we reached the top, but we were able to look down over the bay and it is lovely.

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Wineglass Bay from the lookout, just as the rain started.
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The rock formations on the trail were really interesting.

The next day we headed down the coast to take a recommended trip to Maria Island. Here I learned that I was, again, mispronouncing and Australian place, it is pronounced Mo-ri-aah Island. Anyway, we caught the ferry over to the Island which was once a convict site. We hiked along the coast to a set of cliffs full of fossils and then into the woods to come across an old industrial building. There were wallaby’s lounging around and we heard rumor of Tasmanian Devils, but saw no evidence as it was mid-day and they are pretty nocturnal. Both animals have been introduced to the island, not sure how the Wallaby’s got there, but the Tasmanian Devils have been released there to try to reduce the wallaby population and in hopes that they can avoid the cancer that is one of the causes for their endangered status.

 

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A couple of wallabies, hanging out…
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Cliffs on Maria Island

The prison site on the island has been restored and is also used for some camping sites and lodging. There were several large school groups setting up while we were there. While going through the buildings and reading about the history we found information on a famous Montanan. Meagher was an Irish rebel transported to Tasmania who, after being paroled with the promise he would not leave Ireland, headed to the US and ended up in Montana where he was one of a number for former Australia convicts to play a large role in the development of the State of Montana. After Tasmania stopped taking prisoners through transportation, the Island was used for a large concrete plant into the 1920’s, but now the only residents are the rangers for the park.

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The remains of a building used in brickmaking on Maria Island
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Now a visitor exhibit, one of the old buildings on the island.

Sydney – as Guests

One of the great things about travel is the interactions you have with people. We meet many great people as we wander around, and on our trip to the Amazon at the end of 2017 we hit the jackpot. So many new friends and great conversations. One couple was a pair from Sydney who were great fun on the cruise. They were adventurous, friendly, and fun! Indeed, they offered us accommodations should we ever find our way to Australia. Well, we took them up on that offer and they were great hosts! Not only did they open their lovely home to us, they gave generously of their time and local knowledge.
We made our way to their suburb in Sydney, one of the “Eastern Suburbs” on a peninsula around the harbor and got settled. S, the husband, was travelling, but V was in town and took us on a tour of the area, pointing out not only sights, but “here is the house I was raised in” and “here is my school,” a lovely place overlooking the harbor. She admitted that it is surprising she got any learning done as the views from her classroom were amazing across the harbor to the Harbor Bridge.

We saw the local Coogee Beach, which we agreed might be nicer than the much more famous Bondi Beach just up the coastline, and took us down to Botany Bay where some guy named Bligh had landed. No mention of it’s claim to fame as the name of the ship used to exile the criminal Khan by Captain Kirk, not sure why the Australians don’t capitalize on that. Beautiful views and a good sense of what it’s like to live in some of Sydney’s older and close by suburbs.

After the driving tour we went in to “The Spot” a retail and entertainment area close to their home where we had a great dinner and learned about the Australian practice of BYOG – bring your own grog. Apparently most Australian restaurants allow you to BYO, usually wine, even if they have a full bar. We stopped at a bottle shop and picked up some wine and then headed to dinner. Just an unassuming Vietnamese place where we shared our bottle of wine and a delicious dinner. On the way back, she pointed out a Japanese coffee shop across from the bus stop we would be using all week.
The next morning we tried the coffee shop. Dan had his morning coffee, but in Australia it is a “long black” which is a shot or two of espresso with hot water, what we call an Americano. I had tea and we split a muffin, not unlike our usual routine at home.

Those of you us who know us can predict that this became the pattern for the rest of our stay in Sydney and you would be correct! Except on Sunday. The Café Japone is closed on Sunday, so we went a few blocks further to The Spot and tried another place where our server was an American who was studying abroad for a year and had great advice for things we should see. We are finding that even as we travel, the rhythm of our lives stays pretty constant.

Packing Update – Overpacking

Well, we are just about two months into this adventure and we already made some packing adjustments. There were some minor fails! My footwear plan didn’t quite pan out, and there was some minor overpacking.

Both the overpacking and the footwear fail had their origins in that classic planning mistake of focusing too much on an item that is not the key issue. I got all wrapped up in the “dress code” and “formal nights” parts of the cruise, which was only 21 days out of an 7-9 month trip.

Because I was so worried about not being too casual on the ship I picked my shoes based, in part, on them being “dressy.” Oh, they still had to be comfortable enough to walk around in all day, but… Anyway, I left my hiking sandals at home and brought a comfortable but prettier pair. The problem with that pair is that they really don’t do well in wet weather or on rough terrain. My flats, which were great but had been in heavy rotation for over a year at home also gave up the ghost on this trip and did not go down without drawing blood – literally, the leather heel piece decided to split in the middle of a long walk and rubbed quite the wound on my heel. So, I have purchased new hiking sandals and a pair of Australian all-purpose ankle boots!

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You see Aussie’s wearing these for hiking, construction work, office work, kitchen work, even dressy events.

In Dan’s defense, he didn’t really overpack, I pushed him to pack the dressier pieces in his travel wardrobe: black pants, travel sport coat, button down shirt that doesn’t have good pockets and a tie, as well as a pair of shoes that aren’t hiking boots. His plan all along was to donate the shoes once we arrived and he did, but we didn’t realize how little he would need any of the other pieces.

So, off to the post office we went in Melbourne to ship home a package with all of this in it:

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What we sent home – the cheapest and slowest option and it will still beat us!

 We have bought a few things here, but it is still a net reduction for both of us. Even after several trips to test our packing strategy, we are learning things!

Sydney – As Visitors

In Sydney we stayed with friends we made while on our Amazon cruise last year. On that adventure we observed that Australians are like the Midwesterners of international travel – willing to talk to anyone and very friendly! This couple was great on the cruise because they were great explorers and had fantastic stories. When they heard we were looking to do an extended trip to Australia they immediately offered us a place to stay when we came to visit. Well, little did they know we would take them up on it! Not only did they generously open their beautiful home to us, they made time to show us some of the local sights. In fact, on one 2 day period, we got a guided tour to “what the locals do” from our hosts that included several coastal walks and pub stops galore.

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Doesn’t look too threatening does it? It was…

The first walk, originally planned as an afternoon coastal/pub walk, ended up being a two day trek as we got caught in a big rainstorm early on and decided to make it a pub stop! This walk was the Coogee to Bondi Beach walk. The walk is in the visitors guides and is about 6 kilometers. It takes you from beach to beach along the pacific and during whale migrations you can see whales from the path. Obviously a well used and loved trek, the path moves from sandy beaches, parks and coastal neighborhoods with great views along the way. Our guide stopped us often to take us into the neighborhood pubs, including the local Legion club where he is a member. While there – avoiding some of the rain – we watched women’s rugby on TV and finally had someone explain what was going on for us! Rugby is fun! We also walked by a lawn bowling club set right on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Bowls is a popular game in Australia.

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Bowlers – actually watching some balls roll around on the grass, not staring out at that sea view.

At the next beach area we observed some clouds over the water and a rainbow. While we marveled at the lovely sight the rain came roaring in and we were quickly soaked. We decided to head to that neighborhood’s pub and call for a ride to dinner. At dinner, at the DOG (Duke of Gloucester – when mentioning the restaurant one host said “I don’t know why he calls it DOG, it is the Duke of …. Oh….” They are so charming!) Anyway, we sat outside on an upstairs balcony and noticed some large birds flying around that looked a bit off, but then again, most of the things we had seen were not familiar. Then we realized they were Flying Foxes! Much bigger than the bats we are used to at home. There were a lot of them, and we were happy to see them. Alas, as it was twilight, we weren’t able to get any photos, but we will keep trying!

We woke up the next day to much better forecasts and set out to finish our walk to the famous Bondi Beach. Again, the walk does not disappoint. The ocean was still very big, so there was a lot to see between the waves and the coastline. At several of the beaches, including Bondi, they have the baths that are built right along the ocean and get the sea water pouring in and waves crashing along the edges. People were swimming laps and just standing near the edges as waves and spray refreshed the pool water.

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Bronte Beach from the trail, yep, you just round a corner and a view like this shows up…
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Pretty good surf going.
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An ocean side bath with waves crashing over it.
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The famous Bondi Beach

Our host explained that Australian kids get swimming lessons in school and there are many programs that bring them to the sea and teach swimming and aquatic safety as well as fun. Given the rip tides and dangerous sea life it is essential. And, the amount of people braving the currents with surf boards or just to swim in the water shows people are very willing to use those skills.

After we finished the ocean side walk, we headed to the other end of the peninsula on which our hosts suburb is located for a walk along the Harbor. This walk took us by a number of Bays in the harbor full of sailboats. There is a great deal of public green space in the Sydney region and much of it is along the water. We passed several harbor beaches as well, with much calmer water but with “shark fencing” to allow swimming. We were assured that no one had been killed by a shark since at least the 70s, but none of us ran out to grab a swimsuit and take a dip. We ended up in Watson’s Bay, an old fishing area now home to some nice bars and restaurants. There, after a great lunch and some much appreciated Australian cider and beer, we looked at some of the small “fisherman’s cottages” in the area. These are now very valuable real estate and it is a charming neighborhood.

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Things are much calmer harbor side.
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Lots of sailboats in Sydney Harbor. Note the netting beyond the swimmer – that’s to keep the sharks out.
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Some of the real estate along the harbor – not a private home, it is a public building.
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Looking back at a footbridge on the trail.

We needed to catch a bus to get back to the car without having to retrace our several hour walk. But, 2 of us (not Dan) had failed to grab our Opal cards. After some discussion at various points on the walk and at lunch we decided to us a cab, we called for said cab, but were told it would be a while. At that point, our guide (the one who remembered his card) said “well, I have several extra Opal Cards, let’s take the bus.” We all looked at him “why didn’t you say that earlier?” “you didn’t ask…” was the reply. After that chuckle, we headed for the bus and proceeded on with our day, which in keeping with the incredible generosity of our hosts included a great meal in their home where we were joined by their daughter and her partner who had even more great advice for us and the rest of our adventure!

There really is not enough time or room in this blog to share the great sights, wonderful people and experiences we are having! But, here are some more photos!

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Superb Fairy Wren
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Not the only cemetery with a great view.

Sydney – As Tourists

We arrived for an overnight port of call in our final stop on the Arcadia. Pulling in to Sydney Harbor on a raining, foggy, cloudy morning made it less impressive than the brochures present it. We pulled in at 6 am, so it wasn’t all that bright out yet either. It was still very cool. We were at anchor near Rose Bay with great views of the city, the Harbor Bridge and the beginnings of the eastern suburbs. The ship tenders dropped us off firth at the base of the famous Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanical Gardens.IMG_1345

Our first day was spent with some necessary housekeeping as we would be getting off of the ship and staying in Australia for a while. We headed into the Central Business District in search of a phone store. We were successful in replacing the SIM cards on our phones and are now the proud holders of Australian phone numbers. We also found a bank and got Australian money and a Post Office and got postcard stamps! So easy to please!

We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Botanical Gardens, and the Rocks which the oldest neighborhood still standing. After all of that, we stopped at a brewpub and motioned at two ladies if we could take the other end of their picnic table. They welcomed us and with our thanks said, one asked the other “are they yours or mine?” We fessed up to being American and she said “yours.” Turns out they are longtime friends thanks to the American’s (a retired teacher from Virginia) participation in People to People. They met in the 70’s in Boston, UK and have been friends ever since. As we chatted it came up that we were on the Arcadia and they could not believe we hadn’t run in to each other as they were also on the ship. Our casual style and avoidance of eating in the dining room was determined to be the primary culprit. They were lovely table companions, too bad we hadn’t run in to them in the previous 21 days.

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The cockatoos just use their beaks to break the heads off of the flower stems and then proceed to messily consume the best bits.

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This was interesting…
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Doesn’t look a day older than a mammoth… (read the sign in the previous photo)

The next morning we disembarked from the first phase of our journey and said goodbye to the Arcadia and really began our Australian adventure. We managed to figure out the transit system and purchased our Opal Cards – giving us access to the great public transit in Sydney, buses, trains and ferries! The visitor center had a really great tourist map of the main parts of the city and we took advantage of it and found our way to so many great places. We had several days to wander around the city and see the tourist sights.

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The Harbor Bridge on a sunny day!
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The Opera House
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The Opera House in profile

The fish market claims to be the largest in the southern hemisphere and it certainly had a lot going on! Most of the vendors were large companies so the size of the actual market did not reflect the amount of commerce that happens there. The variety of fish and seafood was pretty amazing. We saw huge king crab, lobsters that were the size of small pets and so many prawns!

From the fish market we headed toward Darling Harbor where there were museums and lots of restaurants and bars. This is an entertainment area and there was a lot to see from public art, historic and interesting boats, and lots of new building. It was also the area where we encountered a little rain that did allow us to determine if we had the right clothes. Fortunately, we had rain coats and hats and quick dry everything else. This is an area where the city is making a big investment in public space, transit and private development. A keystone is Barangaroo Park, a lovely greenspace overlooking the harbor and the bay bridge.

This was a great exploration on our way to my ultimate plan for the day – Claiming Walsh Bay! Alright it is already claimed and named, but I wanted to check it out. A nicely redeveloped area that is part of the arts district for Sydney. The main building which houses several theaters was under renovation, but you could walk along the water right up to the Bridge.

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Public Art is everywhere!
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Sometimes they need to point it out…

On another day we took the train to the Kings Cross neighborhood to check out their weekly market. A nice collection of local and organic produce, flowers, crafts and food. The neighborhood is very trendy and full of nice older homes. Everywhere in Sydney is dense in terms of housing, even the suburbs we saw, and Kings Cross is very dense given the age of the neighborhood.

Most days we found ourselves back in some area of the Royal Botanical Garden. Each time we saw different areas. It is am immense space with great views across the harbor and interesting plants everywhere. One day we came across a group of Cockatiels feasting on flowers. We saw these birds everywhere. They are very noisy.

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Here is a good picture of a Rainbow Lorikeet, since I put the cockatoos up in the earlier section about the botanical gardens.

We made it to Australia! – Starting in Newcastle

Our first stop in Australia wasn’t where we thought it would be. Because of all of the schedule changes caused by the weather – thanks Cyclone Oma! – the cruise added a stop in the busy commercial port of Newcastle. Newcastle, Australia is known for mining and coal – which it has in common with its English namesake. Surprising, huh?

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Sunrise as we entered the  port of Newcastle, Australia

Newcastle is a nice coastal city with a very busy port – over 2,500 ships per year using the port. Not many of them are cruise ships, but there are enough that no one seemed surprised to see us.

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Pelicans, just hanging out on the lights at the port.
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Some of the equipment in the commercial port as we pulled away in the evening. Looks like a scene from Alien a little.

The city as a long walkway along the water that was constructed to connect Nobby’s Island to the mainland. We walked along and saw dolphins in the harbor entrance jumping around as large cargo ships were being escorted in. 

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Nobby’s Island and Lighthouse from the walkway. Impressive even without the lovely sunrise.

While we made the walk to the end we heard the distinctive sound of supersonic aircraft, then we started looking and saw a second one approaching, even prepared we barely got the picture! We were walking by some of the Australians from our ship and one said “you just saw the whole Australian Air Force” while another told him to stop sharing classified information! We heard later that they were new jets and the Air Force was running them at maximum speeds, including breaking the sound barrier, but we didn’t get any of that on this day.

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Yep, even with the camera up and ready to go, this is as good a photo as Dan could get.

We continued around several beaches and saw our first Australian Baths – which are large constructed pools next to the ocean that use the tides and some mechanical actions to fill the pools. Lots of swimmers and great views. You will have to read a future post to see a photo of one of these though. Another beach was around the corner.

Fort Scratchley is located in Newcastle and is the site of the only shots fired on Australian soil in World War II. A Japanese submarine fired on the city and the fort fired back. Originally built to defend British land from Russia during the Crimean War (a bit of history I need to learn), the fort sits atop a hill with great views of the ocean, harbor and city. The fort is now a historic site and is usually closed on Tuesday (our day of arrival) but it was opened especially for us. This was probably more exciting to our Captain than anyone else because when a cruise ship arrives for the first time in Newcastle part of the celebration is to have the Captain fire off the cannons. He must have announced that he would get that honor 4 times in the days between the addition of Newcastle to the ports of call and our arrival.

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Fort Scratchely from the beach, you can see the cannons!

After exploring the fort and enjoying the views we headed into town for lunch. I enjoyed an interesting melt – chicken, pineapple and cheddar on a great piece of fresh bread. I liked it. Dan had a BLT he seemed to enjoy. After some more walking and looking at lovely older buildings we found our way to the brewpub near the harbor and enjoyed some Pacific Ales!

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A memorial of sorts, different types of shoes and some bare feet in a circle, no real explanation that we saw. Dan did comment that it was probably a Pokémon Gym and when his phone signal got stronger, indeed, it was.