the Harbour Bridge and the Opera
House at dawn
Sydney, Australia; Feb 19, 2005
the low down
--Feb 28, 2005
- the land that time forgot
Overall: Australia is huge.
And what they say about everything being bigger in Australia is
true - the meals, the people, the bugs. We enjoyed the transitions
from outback, to reef, to beach town to big city as we moved through
Australia. Unfortunately, we missed the western coast and the
wild, wild west of the middle this time, but we plan to be back.
What we did: We spent a few
days in the Daintree Rainforest/Cape Tribulation, a few days in
Palm Cove while traveling back down the coast, five days on Heron
Island on the Great Barrier Reef, and 2 weeks in Sydney visiting
friends and being tourists.
a little bit about sydney...
On the topic of Sydney, a Queenslander
we met said, "Waste of time. It's the *least* Australian
city we've got." (Queensland is up north, and is, in
general, a much rougher part of the country.) We thought
that was an interesting comment because, since it's Australia's
biggest city (edging out Melbourne), one could easily argue
that it's the *most* Australian city. But certainly, our
outback friend had a point since Sydney is certainly not
the rough country of which many Australians are so proud.
We were expecting the New York
of Australia, or maybe the San Francisco of Australia, and
while it has similarities with both, we decided that it
was much more like a humongous beach town. The people are
extremely laid back, it smells like the beach, it’s
common to see surfboards on the bus, and since most neighborhoods
are close to one beach or another (Sydney is home to a staggering
37 beaches), a lot of the city has a strong dose of that
beach-town feel. Don't get us wrong, there's plenty of proper
city going on, too, but somehow the real power of city seems
to be its link to the water.
And by the way, it’s not
the capital (Canberra is).
Essentials: a thick skin -
outside Sydney, the native Australians are rugged and tough and
can't understand why you wouldn't be the same so don't bother
asking for napkins and get your own damn snakes out of your room.
Sydney, in contrast, is a world-class metropolis and you can find
anything you need.
Food: Similar to the US (but
bigger) with the addition of kangaroo and different fish to the
menu. One annoying thing - you have to pay for bread at the table,
even in nice restaurants.
People: Except for the (almost
invisible) aborigines, the population is surprisingly homogenous.
The now defunct "White Australia Policy" actually forbade
the immigration of non-Europeans to Australia until the 1970s
and the affects of this are still evident. That said, outside
Sydney most of the native population is brawny and athletic. In
Sydney, the population is worldlier, with a more varied minority
Cost of living: With the dollar
suffering, the cost of living is about the same as the US at the
moment, if not a bit higher. We were surprised by the cost of
Standard of living: In the
big cities, about on par with the US. In the outback however,
Daily budget: Varies depending
on where you are and what you want to do. It's certainly possible
to live cheaply in Australia (and we did while staying with friends),
but the cost of our visit was driven up significantly by other
activities (snorkel trips, surfing lessons, visit to Heron Island
Exchange rate: $1 US =
What's fabulous: The ocean
and beaches - beautiful, white sand beach and warm, clear waters
suitable for swimming and surfing - all mitigated by the fact
that you can die in it at any moment (see sidebar in australia:
the big tease).
Weather: We're here in Summer
(February in the southern hemisphere) and it's pretty much sunny
and hot with the occasional rain shower – as in biggest,
baddest rain shower Susan's ever experienced, described by locals
in a typically Australian fashion as, "We're having a bit
of weather." (Also see australia:
snowball on a red hot barbie.)
Friendliness: In and outside
Sydney, we thought everyone was very friendly... as long as we
could understand them. We've also met a lot of Australians while
we've been traveling (in other places) and have had a great time
chatting (and always laughing) with them.
Nobody knows how the Aborigines
actually got here. There’s evidence from 45,000 to
60,000 years ago, but no clear links (racial or linguistic)
to any neighbors. The only explanation that anybody’s
thought up is that they mastered ocean-going craft 30,000
years ahead of everybody else, but that theory is hotly
disputed. So… it’s a mystery. (See
user comment for what sounds like a legitimate theory.)
Getting around: Australia
is a big country so moving from city to city requires flying or
extensive driving (we chose flying). Getting around in Sydney
and to its outskirts isn't as easy as in other big cities - we
were lucky enough to borrow Maria's car, but buses and (for more
local trips) bikes came in handy, too.
Enjoyments: Our friend Maria
proclaimed that Sydney has the BEST coffee and we're sure that
parts of the US will protest this, but we agree. It IS yummy and
every cafe serves decaf and soy and chai. Mmmm...
"She'll be apples." - Everything will be alright (like
"No worries, mate.")
"flamin' galah" - blooming idiot (a galah is actually
"ridgy didge" - very patriotic fellow
Book to read while here: Bill
Bryson's Down Under. It's funny and easy to read and
gives all kinds of interesting facts and history on Australia.
Specific places we visited/things we
- Cairns (pronounced, as far as we can figure, "Cans"
or maybe "Cannes" if you're European). This is where
our plane landed, but we were only here for an hour or two.
From our perspective, there's not much reason to actually
be in Cairns, though it's a common launching point for boat
trips out to the Great Barrier Reef (see the sidebar in australia:
reef walking for an alternative way to see the Reef).
- Daintree Rainforest/Cape Tribulation: This location is
one-of-a-kind in that two World Heritage Sites connect here,
Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, both of which
are rarities in that they satisfy all four of the World Heritage
Site criteria (a site can qualify by satisfying only one,
and while many satisfy more than one, few satisfy all four).
The Daintree Forest is a land that time forgot, leftover from
when the world was a single land mass. Somehow Daintree avoided
many of the more dramatic climactic shifts so there are plants
here, alive and well, that were thought to have become extinct
100 million years ago. Besides the constant threat of death
(jellies, crocs, spiders, snakes, etc.) we thought the area
was beautiful and peaceful - great for getting away and long
walks. We went on a fun and educational zip-line tour through
the rainforest canopy and got a day's worth of Vitamin C by
licking a green ant's butt.
Recommended: Cape Tribulation Beach House << website;
phone: +61 7 4098 0030
But be warned, "beach house" it is not - stark
cabin is more like it. Ours was a 2 minute walk to our
own deserted beach and actually *in* the rainforest.
- Palm Cove: a sleepy little beach town on the coast north
of Cairns – very relaxing.
- Heron Island: There are lots of birds and it smells bad,
but the wildlife is awesome. Turtles are nesting and hatching
here now (see the turtle
video and other pictures in the australia
gallery) along with 70,000 birds. We swam with small
sharks, rays, lots o' fish, and bright, pretty coral. The
snorkeling trip drops you on the reef and is exhilarating.
The only disappointment was the “resort” itself
email, phone: +61
2 8296 8010). It’s the only place to stay (the island
is, after all, tiny). Aside from our Tanzanian safari (see
tanzania: the low down),
it was the most expensive accomodation on our whole trip (we
had decided in advance to splurge in an effort to recharge
in a bit of luxury). But alas, our room smelled horribly of
birds (or more specifically, bird poop) and the food was repetitive,
of mediocre quality, and poorly presented. If it wasn’t
for the price (US$400/night,
all inclusive including roundtrip ferry), we wouldn’t
even mention these things. If these guys change their tune
and get their act together, this place would be truly outstanding.
Oh well. You win some you dim sum, as Susan likes to say.
- Sydney: Amid the normal touristy stuff, our favorites
were the Opera House (we took a back-stage tour which was
quite educational, saw Tosca one evening, and of
course just gazed at the amazing architecture many times -
the Opera House is by far Australia's #1 tourist attraction
and gets 4.5 million visitors a year which puts it ahead of
the White House), learning to surf at Bondi Beach, and swimming
laps in the Olympic Aquatic Center! Otherwise, we visited
the Queen Victoria Building, Downtown, the bridge, Darling
Harbor, Chinatown, the Aquarium, the "Rocks" (an
area full of shops and restaurants, aimed squarely at the
tourist population), Paddington Market, Balmoral Beach, hung
out a lot in the Oxford/Crown Street area (where Maria and
Sean live, our hosts), and took a bike ride around Centennial
- Blue Mountains: We drove through these beautiful mountains
early in the morning and watched kangaroos having breakfast
in Euroka Clearing for a few hours before a big tour bus scared
them off. It was amazing to stand in a field in the middle
of about 50 kangaroos! On the way home we went hiking at Wentworth
falls which was lovely.
but hey, it's Bondi! (the locale of our first surf lesson)
Apparently, the ancestors of the Aborigines
came to Australia from India. The sea level was much lower back
then; they just island-hopped on over. And, there's DNA evidence
showing the genetic relationship.
--Ed (Virginia, USA); May 1, 2007
Okay! We've heard a few theories on this
subject... this one sounds legit, but we're certainly not experts
on this subject.
--Grace & Susan; Jul 3, 2007
You have seen more of our wonderful country
than I have... What great advocates you are for Australia. Next
time squeeze in Melbourne, you won't be disappointed!
--Jen (Melbourne, Australia); Nov 17, 2005
G'day! we loved reading about your perspectives
of sydney and australia. thanks for the mensh, and glad you had
--Maria & Sean [our hosts in
Sydney] (Sydney, Australia); Jun 15, 2005
Just blew through about 45 minutes this morning
perusing your latest travels and faking like I'm working. Thanks
a lot guys.
--Phil (last initial and location
omitted for job security); Jun 15, 2005