March 1, 2012
Our time in Australia began with visits in two of its largest cities: Sydney and Melbourne. Of the approximately 20 million people who live in Australia, about one-third reside in either Sydney or Melbourne. Neither city is the capital of the country. Canberra was selected for the location of Australia’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne.
As our ship entered Sydney we saw one of the most iconic landmarks in the world: the Sydney Opera House. We spent three days in Sydney visiting a variety of places in the city. Sydney is the oldest city in Australia and the site of the first British penal colony established in 1788. Our ship docked at Circular Quay, which is the main ferry port in the city. The Rocks, adjacent to our ship, is the location of the historic penal colony. Today the restored area is full of lively cafes and shops.
Walking the other direction and past the Opera House there is a path along the harbor. It was full of pedestrians and runners. To the right is the Royal Botanical Gardens. Our favorite part of this large park was the palm tree and fruit tree section. Hanging upside down from the fruit trees were sleeping bats. Every so often one would stir as it was badgered by birds.
Late one afternoon we took the train a short distance to Bondi Beach, which is one of Australia’s most famous beaches. It was amazing to see the large number of beach-goers and surfers still there at 5pm on a Monday. Even a little rain didn’t seem to deter them. We ate fish and chips at an open-air café with an umbrella to protect us from the rain as we looked upon the beach.
There was also time to visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian National Maritime Museum. The art museum featured both Australian artists and other well-known painters, such as Monet. The maritime museum contained exhibits on Australian navigation history, the sea voyages of passenger immigrants to the country and Aboriginal connections to the sea.
An 11-hour train trip separated Sydney from Melbourne. Most of that travel was done in the rain. Unfortunately, there is flooding in the area between Sydney and Melbourne and we saw some of the swollen rivers and washed out roads first-hand from the train. We were only delayed slightly and arrived in Melbourne just a little behind schedule.
Melbourne is built along the Yarra River. It has less tall skyscrapers than Sydney but has its share of historic buildings, parks and museums. The main public transportation is the tram. Melbourne has one of the largest remaining tram lines in the world and we rode the tram all over town. One highlight of our visit was the Melbourne Museum. We especially enjoyed the Aboriginal Culture Center where we learned more about their history.
All around Melbourne are evidence of the sport emphasis of the city. We saw the 50,000 seat stadium where Australian Rules football is played, the cricket ground and the arena where the Australian Open tennis tournament is played.
Another day was spent on a tram ride to St. Kilda beach, a short distance from the downtown area. Just up from this beach is the location of our overnight ferry that will take us across the Bass Strait to Tasmania and our first trek. After visiting Australia’s two largest cities it will be a nice contrast to move to a more rural area.