Australia – End of Part 1

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We fly from Laos to Bangkok to Melbourne, Australia – a very
l-o-n-g commute. At the airport, we meet Florence and Allen, my
sister-in law and brother in-law from New York. We’ve been to
Australia about ten times, but for Florence and Allen this is a first.

Our starting point is Melbourne under a cold and sometimes
rainy sky. The central district is easily viewed from a free tourist
trolley. There is enormous growth here since our last visit 20 years
ago. Downtown has an array of skyscrapers and a dynamic food market.
Many street names are reminders of merrie olde England. Yet, there’s a
cosmopolitan air about the city and on weekdays a sophisticated work
force moves at a rapid pace. Thanks to a knowledgeable art dealer, we
receive an amazing education in aboriginal culture.

Driving north along the coast, the first stop is Prince
Phillip Island, a lovely beach resort and national park area. At one
end of the island, the wind whips  about and the sea roils as we
navigate a curvy boardwalk on a spit on land. All around us are
hundreds upon hundreds of Aussie-type sea gulls. Most are sitting on
eggs and occasionally a chubby brown chick is visible. A number of the
birds are fighting and there’s a cacophony of noise! We walk and hope
that the flying birds will not deposit any unwanted missiles.

The island’s major attraction is the Parade of the Fairy
Penguins which occurs after sunset. The penguins go to sea, feed, and
emerge on land to mate or find their babies or both. We arrive at the
beach bleachers two hours ahead of time with binoculars at the ready.
The cold wind has not abated and we huddle together for warmth. As the
sun sinks a park ranger appears and relates behavior rules for humans
in the presence of penguins. Just as darkness descends, the penguins
emerge in groups. The stadium lights above the bleachers go on and
with the binoculars we have a detailed view as they waddle ashore. The
little penguins head for the burrows on land. We are chilled but what
an extraordinary experience.

Continuing along the coast, our next stop is Narooma, a
beautiful town about a four hour drive from Sydney. We’re here to
attend our friend Clive’s 60th birthday party. We met Clive and Cheryl
20 years ago in Padang Bay on Bali. Clive asked if he could sublet our
rental car for one day and a lifetime friendship began. Although we
meet many people on our travels, Clive and Cheryl are the only ones we
see on both sides of the pond.

The birthday celebration is filled with friends and family
from all corners of the globe. There’s even a “toast and a roast” of
Clive in which we eagerly participate with travel tales. Florence and
Allen win the prize for coming the furthest distance. The celebrating
continues long after our midnight departure.

On the next day we drive around the Narooma countryside and
then watch multi-Aussie sports on television: footie* finals, rugby,
and cricket. [* “Footie and football share very little except a long
green field, goal posts, and a brown ball.] Never have so few
Americans spent this much time watching incomprehensible sports with
peculiar rules. There were some helpful mentors, but no bicycles were
involved so I learned little.

In October, a major migration of humpback whales occurs. At
the Narooma wharf, we boarded an excursion boat and headed out to sea.
At first there was nothing but the high rolling ocean. Then luck
struck and we saw a number of humpback whales breach and slap the
water. Supposedly, slapping helps rid the whale of barnacles. We’ve
seen these magnificent mammals before but this is always an
extraordinary sight.

Back into driving on the wrong side of the road and up to
Sydney. .. Mark and Allen take turns being navigator and driver. Our
mantra is always “STAY LEFT”. In Sydney I have two first cousins –
Jeff and Syd Reinhardt who emigrated from South Africa. It’s a special
feeling to catch up with all the families on another continent. They
each have children and grandchildren. The four of us stay with Jeff
and Lindsey in their luxurious home in the northern suburbs. This
splendid house overlooks a lovely inlet. Jeff’s boat is nearby and we
have a fun trip to the Sydney fish market on a gorgeous day.

Here are a few Sydney highlights:

*From downtown Sydney at Circular Quay [pronounced key] we
take a harbor cruise on Hop-on/Hop-off. Sydney must be viewed from the
water. Sydney is San Francisco down under especially when you combine
the beauty with the loose Aussie attitude.

*A climb up to the top of the pylon on the Sydney Harbor
Bridge costs a mere $6.50 compared with $260 for a walk up the bridge
span. We are almost as high and the views are extraordinary.

*A guided tour of the “Rocks” where the city was founded in
the late 18th century.

*Our cousins’ cousin Ralph leads us on a glorious coastal
walk where the sea crashes against the rocks while daredevil surfers
catch gnarly waves.

*Walking around the iconic Opera House and later attending a
lovely performance of “Marriage of Figaro.”

*A day trip to hike in the Blue Mountains, a 90 minute drive
from Sydney. The name comes from the gum trees aka eucalyptus which
appear blue when seen from a distance. Arriving in a disappointing
fog, we begin a 900 step descent. Below the cloud, the vista magically
opens and we see golden canyon rocks and a tumbling waterfall.
Cockatoos and parrots fly about. A gondola brings us back up.

Once again Australia brings cherished moments with family
and friends before we make a brief San Francisco stop en route to our
next destinations – Easter Island and Brazil.

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