The trip to Australia was different from New Zealand in many ways. The first major difference was that we didn’t have a car, so we were much more dependent on mass transit and our legs. This also meant that we didn’t stray too far from urban centers.
We had three main destinations: The Sydney area in New South Wales, and in which I’m including Bondi Beach, the Blue Mountains and Newcastle; The Great Barrier Reef area in Queensland; and Melbourne in Victoria.
We flew into Sydney from Auckland, and then immediately took a train to Newcastle to meet up with Wini at her aunt’s apartment (the bottom left picture below is the view from her balcony!). During our time in New Zealand we only got in the ocean once (in Wellington, jumping from a pier), so the beaches around Newcastle made a great first impression on me.
You can see a couple of coal ships in the picture on the top right. Usually there were several of them lined up, waiting for their turn enter Newcastle’s port, which is currently the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. The bottom right picture is from Blackbutt Reserve, where we got to feed a Koala. They also had kangaroos, emu, wallabies etc.
One of the mornings, we got up early to see the sunrise (top left) from the Newcastle Ocean Baths. It was kind of cloudy and even sprinkling a bit, but there was just enough of an opening along the horizon to make it spectacular. And because of the humidity, for a brief while we saw a double rainbow all the way across the sky! We were almost as excited as this guy.
Eventually we took a train back to Sydney. Our hostel was right next to Kings Cross station, which despite a couple of warnings, was a perfectly safe place to wander around. It gets lively at night, with a lot of young people on the street, so there really wasn’t much to worry about.
On our first full day we waked through the Finger Wharf, which has some fancy bars, to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens. I like plants, so I’m biased, but I was really impressed with it. Besides the awesome variety of gardens and plants, you get a great view of the city from there, and the opera house is adjacent to it. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city, walking around the harbour, crossing the bridge etc. At one point we stopped for food, and I got a bowl of fruit salad. It was way better than I expected! Seriously, Australia has great fruit!
The next day we took the subway line to Bondi Beach. It wasn’t even a warm day and there were lots of people around, so I can imagine it being packed in the summer.We walked along the Beach Pacific Trail which went along the coast and ran from Bondi beach to Coogee. If you like beaches, pools built right on the edge of the coastline, and really fit people, then this is a great place for you.
The last two pictures in the gallery below are of the aquatic center from the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It was the first Olympics that I followed closely, and though it was supposed to be Ian Thorpe‘s games, what that pool will always remind me of is Pieter van den Hoogenband beating Thorpe in the 200 free, and then breaking the 48 second barrier in the 100 free.
From Sydney we flew to Cairns and then took a shuttle to Port Douglas. Our two goals were to take a boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef, and a tour of the Daintree rainforest. Luckily we were able to book both those things once we arrived, and the tour company threw in a sunset cruise for free!
At the reef, they encouraged everyone to wear wet suits to help keep warm and for protection in case there were any jellyfish. The boat made three different stops where people could snorkel or scuba dive. What I was really hoping to see in the reefs was a sea turtle. I’ve seen them a few times popping their heads up at the beach in Brazil, but never underwater, swimming around. There were none to be seen that day though.
For me the boat rides are just as fun as the snorkeling. The sunset cruise was particularly cool, since we were on a sail boat rather than the 80 person motor-driven vessel from the reef tour. And the wind really picked up in the evenings, so we were moving pretty fast in the choppy waters.
One of the things that I really liked about northern Australia was the tropical weather. There was so much rain while I was in New Zealand that it rarely got up to 25°C in the summer, and in the spring it was mostly below 20°C. So to feel the warmth of 30°C was really nice.
Our luck with the weather continued through our last full day in Port Douglas. The first picture below is of the Daintree river flowing out into the ocean. We also saw endangered cassowaries out in the wild, and the tour guide insisted on telling us how lucky we were since they were rarer than pandas. Definitely not as adorable as pandas though. The mangroves were filled with all kinds of colorful crabs, and the rivers were home to some massive crocodiles.
After flying back to Sydney, we took a day to check out the Blue Mountains. Wikipedia explains where the name comes from:
The name Blue Mountains is derived from the blue tinge the range takes on when viewed from a distance. The tinge is believed to be caused by mie scattering which occurs when incoming ultraviolet radiation is scattered by particles within the atmosphere creating a blue-greyish colour to any distant objects, including mountains and clouds. Volatile terpenoids emitted in large quantities by the abundant eucalyptus trees in the Blue Mountains may cause mie scattering and thus the blue haze for which the mountains were named.
I really wanted to see a concert at the Sydney Opera House while I was there, and was thrilled when I found pretty cheap tickets to see Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2, performed by Andreas Haefliger and the Sydney Symphony. We sat in the last row of the concert hall, but the distance did not diminish the experience in the slightest. It was Wini’s last night before she had to fly back to San Francisco, so we popped some champagne to celebrate before the concert started.
After Wini left, Joey and I had 11 days left in Aussie and no real plans. We found an overnight bus going to Melbourne and decided to get on it. We arrived at the bus station in Melbourne the next day at 6:00am, when it was still dark. Apparently our luck with the weather had run out. It was cold, and while we were walking around in the morning, it started pouring. To avoid the rain, we hopped on the free tourist shuttle, which goes around the city’s main tourist attractions. Eventually we took shelter in the National Gallery of Victoria. The painting of the sheep shearing (below) was amusing to me, considering how much of it I had seen in the previous couple of months. Joey and I both took naps in the room with the colored glass ceiling.
Once we got over the exhaustion from the night spent on a bus, a night in an awful smelling hostel, and the bad weather, we actually started to really enjoy Melbourne. In many ways the city made me think of Batman. And I’m not convinced that it’s just my imagination. First of all, that building in the pictures below looks like it has batman ears. Secondly, a city that names its parks and roads after Batman seems like it definitely has some sort of devotion to Gotham.
Anyway, the views below are from the rooftop of the second hostel we stayed at, which was incredible (yes, there was a hot tub up there!). If you are ever in Melbourne, it’s called the Space Hotel (it was a hotel that was converted into a hostel) and I highly recommend it.
The Melbourne Museum was my favorite place down there. It’s the largest museum in the southern hemisphere and has galleries on everything from natural sciences, to arts, culture and history. I would go as far as comparing it to the Natural History Museum of London, which is the best I’ve ever been to.
Adjacent to the museum is the IMAX theater, where we watched Dark Shadows on the third largest screen in the world. And across from it is the Royal Exhibition Building. We didn’t go in that one, but it looks cool from the outside.
I originally saw a few University of Melbourne buildings in town and was really unimpressed, thinking that the entire school was comprised within them. But I completely changed my mind when we found the rest of the university. It’s actually a really nice campus, with lots of space and great architecture. Definitely seems like a good place to study.
My second favorite place in Melbourne was the State Library of Victoria, which was actually just two blocks from our hostel. Since we ended up staying almost a full week in Melbourne, we spent a lot of time in there catching up on the internet, reading and generally using it as refuge from the rain.
When we did have good weather, we would try to be outside. On one of our last days there, we took a bus across the river to see Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Garden (which doesn’t compare to the one in Sydney), and the Shrine of Remembrance, from which you get a nice 360 degree view at the top.
In the end, Melbourne became one of my new favorite cities. It has a great vibe to it, with awesome architecture, great museums, a really cool music scene and sporting events like the Australian Open for tennis, the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, and all kinds of soccer and rugby matches. For me, the only downside was the cold, but I suppose if you’re dying for better weather, you can always go up to Sydney where it’s warmer and the beaches are nicer.
When it was time to leave, we once again took the overnight, eleven-hour bus back to Sydney. We got there in the morning, and continued to Newcastle, where we had left some luggage with Wini’s aunt. When she wasn’t feeding us all kinds of delicious food, she liked showing us around. So one day we drove with her up to Shoal Bay, where we did a short hike up a mountain, and took in yet another great view.
I realize the irony of spending three months in New Zealand, and then just three weeks in a country which is almost thirty times larger, but that’s just how it worked out. While I feel like I was able to see the majority of what I would have liked to see in New Zealand, I know that I’ll have to go back to Australia if I want to experience it completely. There’s still much more to see there.
But I do believe that we were able to capture and appreciate a lot of what each country has to offer during our travels. In New Zealand, the stunning emptiness and natural beauty of the South Island is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. In Australia, the richer diversity of species that comes with being a much older continent helps create its own brand of natural beauty. Combined with the liveliness of its cities, friendliness of its people, and allure of its climate and beaches, it is without question worth a trip to the antipodes. My recommendation is that if you’re in that part of the world, you might as well visit both…