This arrival to Australia came during a 120 day around the world cruise. Where, after travelling through French Polynesia and the Pacific, and following stops through New Zealand, we soon arrived to Australia (Day 51). And here the pace of life seemed to accelerate, as we moved from the relaxed atmosphere of the South Pacific to the big city life of Sydney. And it was just as the country was cooling down, following a very warm summer when the temperature had often risen into the 40’s, and now it had fallen into the high twenties. Which made sightseeing very pleasant, particularly in the evening.
We followed the normal tourist route across the famous Harbour Bridge so familiar to us for the magnificent firework display every New Year’s Eve welcoming in the New Year. The Harbour Cruise was very enjoyable and relaxing except for a heated dispute between two natives when one claimed that Bondi was greatly overrated and that Manly was a much better beach.
We then visited and photographed the Opera House for the benefit of our Facebook friends and followed this by a trip to Chinatown. We were extremely fortunate as we had arrived during the celebrations of Chinese New Year to welcome the Year of the Dog. The first sign of the festival was when we noticed the massive Chinese lanterns close to the Opera house and within Chinatown itself there was an open-air market, demonstrations and exhibitions and firework displays.
The celebrations also included what was claimed as the biggest dragon boat race in the Southern Hemisphere. This two-day event took place in Darling Harbour and was a colourful spectacle with hundreds of brightly painted boats taking part. Each boat was carved with the head and tail of a dragon and had 22 rowers and a drummer who beat out the rhythm for the rowers.
The atmosphere in the harbour area itself was vibrant. It was a hive of activity with tens of thousands of young people enjoying their Friday night out in the bars and restaurants.
However my favourite attraction in Sydney was the Royal botanical gardens which provide extremely valuable ‘green space’ in the centre of the busy city. The grounds extend over 70 acres and visitors will see a wide variety of birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish and admire a multitude of flowers shrubs and trees.
I found the Calyx glass house and function centre to be the most interesting part of the gardens. This included an exhibition called Pollination which showed the importance of colour in pollination and included a wonderful display of flowers and plants against a background of a fifty-metre green wall.
On leaving Sydney we spent next four days sailing along the East coast of Australia passing many small islands and reef systems until we berthed at “Yorkey’s Knob” a port suburb of Cairns which is still a relatively touristy area, with hotels etc, following the coastline. Cairns is a city in North Queensland and is the closest city to the Great Barrier Reef which is the world’s longest coral reef consisting of nearly 3ooo individual reefs and one thousand islands. It can be seen from outer space and has been designated as a World Heritage site which supports many vulnerable and endangered species.
One of the organised excursions was to use Cairns to snorkel the coral reefs and enjoy the beauty and colour of the world’s largest reef system and this was popular among cruisers. Cairns itself is a tropical paradise and has a wonderful Botanical gardens where we were able to explore the beauty of the tropical plants relax in stunning surroundings and learn about tropical flora and horticulture.
Perhaps the most exciting trip during our stop at Cairns was the Skyrail. The Skyrail travels above the forest for over 4 miles and glides a few feet above the rainforest canopy enabling passengers to experience the smell and noise of the tropical rainforest. An experience never to be forgotten.
We leave Cairns on 28th of February and for the next 4 days sail north and west to Darwin the capital of the Northern Territories. Again as we sail past the many islands we can bask in the sun with the temperature rarely falling below 30c.
Darwin is the most cosmopolitan city in Australia and has inhabitants from 70 different ethnic backgrounds and has 25% of indigenous people. The Stuart Highway is the only road out of town and runs for almost two thousand miles to Adelaide. It has been described as Australia’s gateway to Asia and is less than 3 hours to Indonesia and during World War 2 it was bombed by the Japanese. It is closer to the capitals of five Asian countries than it is to the Australian capital.
The Northern Territories is famous for its saltwater crocodiles and is the home of Crocodile Dundee. There was a trip to the Crocodylus Park with over one thousand crocodiles from hatchlings 12 ins to adults measuring 15 feet and weighing more than half a ton.
However we decided not to go on the excursion to see jumping crocodiles but instead to visit the Territory Wildlife Park to experience a tropical rainforest and enjoy the wildlife which inhabits it. It was amazing to see so many beautiful and rare birds and animals in their natural environment. We also experienced a tropical rain shower during our trip. It was the rainy season and such monsoonal downpours were quite common and exciting.
We had travelled two thousand miles and sailed for 8 days since leaving Sydney. We had moved from a major world city through an area of rainforest to one of the remotest parts of Australia.