(Click on a picture at the bottom to pull the full sized gallery up!)
There is no place I’ve ever been asked if I’ve been to as much as Australia (AU). Obviously it is a place, that Americans at least, fantasize about going to. So when my friend Tobias got a job at Google in Sydney he also got a serious request from me – please don’t leave your job in AU without telling me first. I will drop whatever I’m doing to come visit you! Needless to say, I was able to make a proper visit. We mutually decided that, besides me coming to Sydney, we would also both fly down to Tasmania for a week’s circle drive of the island.
Sydney is like a shining Walt Disney World of the future. Monorails. The Opera House. The Harbour Bridge. You can visit the old sailing ships at the water’s edge or go to the Aquarium. Lights, natural and unnatural, sparkle everywhere. Boats plow to and fro. And don’t forget the Shiny Happy People too. I toured the city alone while Tobias was at work.
I’m not one to spend days at the beach baking under the sun, but right in Sydney are two world class beaches: Manly and Bondi. One day I headed out to Manly Beach, accessible only by ferry. It was on this ferry that I had the first of many interesting discussions with Aussies on why their country is so dang expensive, and I was nearly always given the same answer: Americans have cheap Mexican labor! It’s funny how one country forms a consensus stereotype about another. Anyway, Manly beach is has manly everything, even a manly hike with a great view of the Sydney skyline from afar. Bondi beach the next day was completely gorgeous and the weather was phenomenal. I body surfed for a couple of hours and then climbed up the cliff to the Annual Bondi Beach Art Festival. The series of quirky pictures at the end below would be this.
One day Tobias invited me into the sacred realms of the Google Empire for lunch. It was filled with things like rooms where the furniture is on the ceiling, rooms with billiards and ping pong tables, endless places to pick up food where I’m afraid the code writers could sit in their cubicles and get fat. I ate lunch next to a Russian guy who invented Tetris.
Our trip to Tasmania was the highlight, and these pictures compose most of the album below. The Capital, Hobart, lies right next to Mt. Wellington which looms over the city, and which we conquered first. The views here are spectacular. On the other side of the city lies the Tasman Peninsula and the city of Port Arthur, noted for being the perfect site for a nineteenth prison because it is cut off from the mainland by a very narrow isthmus of land, easy protected by vicious dogs. Much of AU is populated with the dross of old English Society it seems. Maybe that’s why the people are so much fun.
Up the coast was the Freycinet Peninsula and National Park. As it was still spring time in this very southern area, it was cool and perfect for hiking. We were greeted the parking lot by a perfectly friendly Wallaby with her little joey all tucked in. Since I’m a Wallaby whisperer I happened to know she was asking for food (unfortunately, actually). The goal of the hike was Wineglass Bay, which by some accounts, is one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world. [I’m not a fan of these lists, however – the next month a friend of mine and I took a stroll down Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City “one of the Best 500 Drives of a Lifetime” and we were not especially impressed. My own home town of Traverse City, Michigan, was named “most beautiful spot on in the USA by “Good Morning America” and it really is quaint and super naturally gorgeous (and next to a National Park), but c’mon – the Grand Canyon?]. When we got to the beach it was cloudy and chilly, but it did at least look like an above average beach. I will admit it had the shape of a wineglass.
The main tourist spot on Tasmania is Cradle Mountain National Park near the high spot on the island. It is beautiful, but perhaps the light needed to be better that day. I was amazed at the towering eucalyptus trees though and I got a great photo looking straight up through them. Nearby is Mole Creek National Park. Located on the northwest side of the island, it is in the rainforest. The interesting thing about the park itself is the system of caves inside the mountains; we went to a fairly popular one, Marakoopa. The stalagmites (and tites) are ancient. I kept wondering how I so often find myself in caves on my trips.
On the far west side of Tasmania lies the town of Strahan. The vista of the sea here was massive. The wind howled, not too coldly, a storm brewed out in the ocean, and the sun occasionally broke through, lighting it all up in a dramatic way. That night was the first anniversary of Tobias’s brain surgery, and I took him out to the fanciest place I could find for dinner. We considered what we had been doing exactly one year before: me jumping in the dunes in the Sahara with Fabian and Philippe, and Tobias lying on the operating table in Germany. We were grateful to be in this new place a year later.
My favorite spot on all of Tasmania, however, had to be Russell Falls in Mt. Field National Park on the drive from Strahan back to Hobart. For some odd reason, this place is completely omitted in the Lonely Planet Guide. The Falls them self were hard to photograph because they consist of layer upon layer of stacked smaller falls. The entire ambience entranced a water lover like me. On top of that, the hike to the Falls feels like a walk through a forest of the Carboniferous period.
Back in Sydney, we had one final excursion. Tobias’ friend Georgina has a family home up in the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, west of Sydney. They invited some other friends from Google, the actual people who write the software your Android phone uses, and we headed up in a train where the house (once a true estate) was a bit mothballed. None of us being great cooks, we nevertheless scrambled some edible concoction together (of course a Wifi system was quickly set up) and had a dinner party. It was undoubtedly the most fabulously geeky dinner party ever!! Here’s an example of a typical topic of conversation: how to bridge the gap between human and computer syntax). The nice fellow Sam next to me worked happily on his computer the whole time, continuously checking to see the result on his phone. When I asked him if it was really necessary for him to be working on the weekend (Tobias was his boss), he replied “Oh no! I’m just working on a project of my own.” His wife, the linguist, didn’t seem to mind at all. The next day, Tobias, Georgina and I hiked to the edge of the Blue Mountains not too far away. The distinct blue haze is a result of the oils given off by the eucalyptus trees.
At the end of my trip I had planned to fly up to Cairns by myself to see the Great Barrier Reef. But alas, to use an English phrase, I was so gobsmacked at the prices that I was dissuaded from doing this. One day of snorkeling was at least $200, not to mention the hotels, food, etc…I thought I’d wait for another time when the exchange rates were more reasonable. I heartily recommend Australia! Just make sure you know what you are getting into financially.
So, do I think I “saw” Australia? Australia is a continent. If a European comes to the US to visit Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon did they “see” the United States? Australia is vast; six months would do it justice. And finally, if anyone is thinking of going to both Australia and New Zealand in the same trip: banish the thought! They both deserve to be savored, and it can’t be done in three weeks. You would end up feeling like you saw nothing.