It was two years ago today that I returned home from my three-and-a-half week journey to Australia. It was the last trip that I took before COVID-19 shut down travel in and out of Australia (and most of the world) since the pandemic began. Non-resident travel to Australia is not expect to reopen until early 2022. I’m glad I made the trip when I did and could. My main purpose was to participate in two one-week Friendship Force Club home stays, one in the Central Coast north of Sydney and the other in the Tweed Valley just south of Brisbane. I would spend my first week exploring a bit of the country (Australia is huge!) before meeting up with members of the Madison Friendship Force. My Traveling Partner decided not to go on this trip, she was dealing with some issues with her mother’s estate so spent most of the time I was in Australia in North Dakota. I wasn’t totally sure how I would make it that long without supervision. I’m happy report that I didn’t take any unnecessary risks nor was I jailed at any time during my time Australia. It wasn’t even close!
This might be obvious to most of you but travel to Australia takes a while. It took me nearly 24 hours from the time I departed from home to arrive in Sydney. I didn’t get much rest on my plane rides, even though I tried. There wasn’t much room to move around in coach setting, the plane was full. Every single seat was occupied.
It was about 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning when we landed. After clearing immigration and customs, I got my second wind. I boarded the train for the city center of Sydney. It was a beautiful spring day “down under.” The sky was a bright blue with a few white clouds, the temperature in the upper 60s. I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 3 PM but the hosts allowed me to stow my luggage until the small studio over the garage was ready for my arrival.
Even though I was tired from the long flight, I walked to a bakery recommended in the guidebooks. The fresh coffee and croissant hit the spot and gave me the energy to keep walking. My first stop was at the ANZAC war memorial. ANZAC is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corp. The memorial commemorates those who died and injured during the World War I British military campaign at Gallipoli (today in Turkey) to clear the Straits of Dardanelles and provide a supply route to and from Russia. It failed with about 250,000 casualties on each side. This was the beginning of when Australia and New Zealand began to openly discuss seeking independence from Great Britain.
The sculpture displayed below is titled “Sacrifice” based on the Spartan warrior from ancient Greece. It’s located in the center of the museum surrounded by reliefs from the military campaigns made by ANZAC soldiers. When visiting Sydney, this a must see.
After a few hours of bumming around enjoying the sites and sounds of central Sydney, it was time to check into my Airbnb. I needed a shower and some clean clothes after thirty hours of traveling. After a short siesta, I bought a few groceries at the local convenience store, had some dinner, then cashed in for the night.
The next morning after a good sleep, I met John, a guide I hired through City Unscripted for a three-hour walking tour of some of the main sights of Sydney. My goals were to identify places that I wanted to visit more in depth and other easy to reach locations to visit. John and I rode the train to Circular Quay adjacent to Sydney Harbor. After a short walk, two iconic sights to came into view, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The next day, I would visit the Harbor Bridge museum and walk part-way across the bridge.
As we walked along, John talked about the history of Australia and Sydney while pointing out some of the historical buildings. We made our way along the Sydney Harbor to the Royal Botanic Garden. From there, we had a great view of the central business district of Sydney.
After a fun few hours scouting the city with John, I boarded the ferry to Manly Beach. John suggested a couple places for lunch but they were closed until evening dinner. I scored some fish and chips at one of the many small cafes along the beach. Again, the warm sun and beautiful scenery made for a pleasant, relaxing afternoon.
After a few days in Sydney, it was time for my next adventure. I checked out of my AirBnB and took the train to the Sydney airport for a three hour flight to the center of the continent, the Northern Territories. My destination was Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. I’d booked three nights at the Ayers Rock Resort, the only place to stay near on of the most recognizable landmarks in Australia. After getting settled, I learned that to get to the big red rock without a car, one had to purchase a tour. I signed up for both the sunset and sunrise tours as well as tours to Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. It didn’t take long to drop several hundred bucks on tours but it was the only way I could see the area.
The soil is red and the vegetation consists of hardy grasses interspersed with low growing shrubs. There is a surprising amount of life in the desert. It has a beauty of it’s own and the more time I was there, the more I appreciated the hot, dry, dusty climate and interesting landscape.
Uluru is sacred to the aboriginal peoples that inhabit the region. They believe that their ancestors continue to reside within the rock. When the sun sets or rises, the rock reflects the light and begins to glow a bright rust color as seen the photo below. It’s almost magical and just maybe it’s the spirits trying to tell us something, like take care of the earth.
One morning during my stay, I took the earliest bus out to Uluru for sunrise photos and walk part of the rock. Towards the end of my walk, I came to the area where visitors were climbing to the top of the 1100 foot rock. In two days the climb would close forever at the request of the aboriginal peoples. This is the reason the resort was packed with people and why busses from Alice Springs, two hundred miles away, filled the parking lot. People began climbing in 1930’s and a chain was installed years later due to safety concerns. In the photo below, you can see the mass of people making the climb even though the indigenous peoples requested them to respect their wishes. Prior to the announced closing, only a few people a day would make the climb. After the announcement, people came from all over the world to climb. There were people that took small children on this arduous trek. Many were unprepared, not enough water and improper footwear. I only observed and muttered under my breath about the stupidity of some and the disrespect by many of the aboriginal inhabitants. To quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
On the last day of my stay in Uluru, my wake up call came at 2:50 AM for the 4:00 AM departure of the tour bus. Our destination was Kings Canyon in the Watarrka National Park about a three-and-a-half hour ride through the red desert. As we neared the park, we stopped for a hearty breakfast at the Kings Creek Station. The smell of frying bacon and steaming coffee was welcome after the long ride. At the park our guide, Jacob, explained there were two walks visitors could take. One was an one-and-a-half hour fairly easy walk on the canyon floor to an observation platform. The second was a three plus hour rim walk that began with a five hundred step steep climb up “Heartbreak Hill” otherwise known as “Heart Attack Hill!” We had to sign a waiver to make this trek and promise to carry three liters of drinking water. I signed the waiver and followed the much younger crowd up the path. There was a point of no return, only two people turned back. I kept going, glad for the energy from breakfast. I’m glad I did, the views from the rim were stunning and certainly worth the effort. At the completion of the walk, our guides handed each of us a cold, damp cloth to cool down and wipe away the red dirt. Then the bus took us for lunch where we enjoyed fresh-made sandwiches and a cold beer before making the long drive back to the resort.
After returning to Sydney from Uluru, I spent the night in a hotel near the airport. The next morning, I met the rest of the Madison Friendship Force Ambassadors to travel to our first week-long homestay about an hour-and-a-half north of Sydney. There were met our hosts, I was paired with Jennelle and Rod Williams, a delightful couple about my age. During our stay, the host club arranged for us to visit sites in the area. One of those was a pearl farm. Part of the tour was by boat to the pearl bed, the boat captain show us the harvest of a pearl. It was very interesting.
On another day, we visited a gallery that featured aboriginal art. I purchase a piece that I treasure.
We also visited a wildlife sanctuary and saw one of national symbols of Australia, the kangaroo.
After the week-long stay, we traveled to our second host club in the Tweed Valley south of the Gold Coast and Brisbane. There I met my hostess, Fay Rigby. The temperatures were warmer, it was further north, closer to the Equator! Below is a photo of the Gold Coast resort area, kind of like Miami Beach in looks and vibe.
This a photo of the very important Tweed River. The area is home to many sugar cane fields that require irrigation water to thrive.
One day we visited one of the local tourist attractions, Tropical Fruit World. They grow many types and varieties of fruit from all over the world. We had an entertaining presentation by the fellow in the photo below. This was followed by a sampling and a tour of the large orchard.
Another day, we took in the Currumbin Wildlife Park and Sanctuary. This is another popular attraction, located just south of the Gold Coast in Queensland. We saw a variety of animals such as koalas, ring-tail lemurs, and a variety of lizards and snakes.
The final show of the day was the feeding of the lorikeets. At feeding time, the colorful birds flock to the dishes of nectar often fighting for a place to perch while sipping away. A fun site to see and photograph!
Way too soon it was time to say good to our hosts and new friends. A few of us took about an one-and-a-half hour bus ride to Brisbane where we’d catch our flight back to the U. S. We arrived in the city about noon and had several hours before our late evening flight. Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia with about 3.6 million people in the greater metro area. The Brisbane River bisects the city and serves as the main tourist area with shopping, parks, and other attractions. After stashing our luggage, we wandered Queen Street, the main shopping area, down to the waterfront. We caught a free water taxi and rode the whole route that allowed us to see much of the modern city.
Well, this post turned out to be longer than I planned or expected. Australia is a big country and continent. And I have a lot to say about this great part of the world. Thanks for you indulgence. If you would like to read the 15 articles I posted after my return, here are the links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.
Until next week, happy travels!