Just back from Australia and New Zealand, this will be a bit of a report on Australia. I wrote earlier about the first leg of our trip in New Zealand, or more precisely, some  parts of that trip that got me to thinking.  Australia held its surprises, too, an element of travel that compels us to travel in the first place. Travel is full of surprises, and fortunately a vast majority of them are pleasant.

Melbourne, pronounced “Mel-bun” by the Aussies, was a fine introduction to this vast country’s southern coast. It’s a city of youthful energy, diversity, modernity, and in world terms, relatively recent history with its founding in 1835. Since then it has grown to be populated by about four million people. Here in the world-famous Queen Victoria Market, two blocks from our hotel, were vast amounts of merchandise including fresh produce, meats, flowers, clothing, jewelry, and many works produced by aboriginal artists.

Our next stop was in Cairns, founded in 1876, located in a tropical rain forest by the Great Barrier Reef. Our day on the Reef was clouded, pardon the pun, for some of our fellow travelers, who complained about the steady rain. I tried to counter such complaints by asking,

“What did you expect to find in a tropical rain forest?  A tropical sun forest?”

Such polemics were only mildly amusing, but at heart I was only trying to lift the spirits of our traveling friends. Oh well.

It was interesting to learn that the images we typically see of the Great Barrier Reef are taken on selected bright sunny days, when the colors of the reef and its inhabitants are accentuated by sunlight. On a rainy day, the Reef is still beautiful but it tends to be a monochromatic green in photos. I hope this last couple of paragraphs will give future travelers there a more realistic set of expectations.

My wife Ellen and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Cairns on a splendid dry and sunny day. That evening we had a special meal at Ochre, billed as one of Australia’s finest restaurants. The meal and superb service lived up to the billing and then some. We were persuaded to have the wild game platter for two, featuring crocodile, wallaby, and kangaroo. While not everyone’s cup of tea, we relished these new foods. There’s a tendency for some to say that crocodile tastes like chicken, but it’s more like the alligator I had at a Florida restaurant several years ago. If you stop to think about it, a crocodile looks a lot more like an alligator than a chicken, as well. The wallaby was similar to perfectly prepared lamb, and the kangaroo was similar to beef. Topping off the meal, we had pavlova, Australia’s national dessert. It was presented on a specially designed anniversary dessert platter, and I began to salivate as I completed this sentence.

Sydney, the largest metropolis in Australia with 4.6 million people, was reserved for the end of our trip. We spent a short four days there, where the first British settlement in 1788 was a penal colony whose residents were shipped there by the English to rid troublesome miscreants from their shores.

A highlight for me was a face-to-face encounter with a koala at the Sydney Zoo. We paid extra for this experience, but it was well worth it. It turns out that koalas don’t grow in the wild in Australia, but must live in protected places such as zoos and reserves or other places without predators.

Hungry Koala

This koala picture was and is important to me because when my daughter Joy was a little girl she and I had an imaginary game we played with each other in which a koala resided in our family room light fixture. We looked up at the light fixture and talked to the imaginary resident koala. When she was two years old Santa left a life-sized stuffed koala hanging from the light fixture. The look of wonder on Joy’s face when she saw that koala on the light fixture was, well, magical. I hope she won’t mind my saying that was over four decades ago, when I was considerably younger than she is now.

Among other memorable things about Sydney, we attended a performance in the iconic Sydney Opera House by the famed U. S. jazz trumpeter Chris Botti accompanied by the Sydney Symphony. During one of the pieces, Botti snapped his fingers in rhythm and each snap could be heard clearly in the amazing acoustics of the great hall. The Opera House is indeed an architectural masterpiece, quite a sight for this grown-up Tennessee farm boy.

Sydney Opera House

We only scratched the surface of Australia. But then, that’s about all we can do anywhere we travel. We’re likely to go back, especially if future aircraft can reduce the flying time by half.

G’day, mates.

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