Driving, diving and flying,
The trip went by in no time
The Kangaroos, the Koalas, the Lorikeets,
Dancing white Peacocks, Penguins, the Coral reef,
The fishes, the sharks did all smile
It was a wonderful holiday, the best of time!

The hustle and bustle of Sydney, the rich wine of Hunter Valley, the turquoise gleam of the Blue Mountains the quaint town of Melbourne, the vivacious Great Barrier Reef at Cairns, the picturesque Port Douglas, each place majestically contributed in making our journey awe-inspiring!

1st December 2011 was the day we flew for a month’s trip to Australia. It took us almost twenty four hours to reach Sydney from New Delhi. Around 8 pm in the evening, the flight attendant announced the arrival at Sydney Airport. As the plane bent southwards to head down, we saw the distinct Opera House on the right before we landed. Well wishers had adequately warned us against carrying any food article/ packaged or open to Australia. Thus, obediently, we had carried no eatables. The endless clearing line and thorough checking left us restless and cribbing. Once we crossed the exit point, it was relatively convenient to get a cab for our Hotel. A policeman dutifully instructed the cabbie to take us to the destination, a hotel located in the vicinity of Darling Harbour . It was drizzling throughout with weather being decently cold and foggy, unlike our expectation of Australian summer. When we approached the hotel, (which was an appealing European building with glass exterior), a terse lady at the reception greeted us and handed over the keys. Fatigued by the journey and intrigued by the place, we slept early, mind still restless and feet wanting to start exploring.

We were directed to a shop in the nearby market place to buy the day’s Bus and Ferry ticket for AUD$20 per person. We purchased the tickets and unquestioningly waited for the bus in the nearby stop. The bus came in no time to carry us to the Circular Quay- the hub of Sydney Harbour, situated at a small inlet called Sydney Cove. On the southern side of Circular Quay is a walkway that leads to the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens; while on the northern side, a short walk takes one to the Harbour Bridge and The Rocks market,  one of the oldest, most interesting parts of Sydney, offering open stalls and artifacts, local dresses and bags. The Parramatta River is the main tributary of Sydney Harbour and gallantly flows through making its presence felt at Darling harbour, Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour, Manly etc and renders an outstanding view from the footsteps of Opera House. The Sydney Opera House boastfully stands in the backdrop of Sydney harbour over the Parramatta River. It was designed in 1957 by the skilled hands of Denmark’s Jørn Utzon, the architect, who was inspired to create this structure while peeling an orange. The ambience of Opera house is sprinkled with eating joints and coffee shops. We tried an Italian Pasta that brilliantly complimented the foggy milieu with its sizzling steam and delectable preparation. The Sydney harbour offers an excellent opportunity to leisurely walk and explore the place, with attractive shops selling niche curios. After a day’s leisure walking at Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay, we caught a Ferry to reach Darling Harbour. The Ferry ride indeed was fascinating, with the Skyscrapers, and innumerable hotels, at both sides of the river, pacing with the speed of the Ferry. The In-house Café at Ferry, provided out of the world, sumptuous muffins, huge in size yet silently melting in the mouth.  The occasional drizzling outside the cabin pulled us out in the open balcony to soak in the Fog in sync with the rhythm of splashing water. The Ferry silently approached the Darling Harbour. The place was overflowing with celebrations of Christmas, with walking Santa’s targeting the children. The carols were being sung by a group of enthusiasts that added spice to the celebrations. After spending the evening at the Darling Harbour and trying some Thai food, we walked back to our hotel, to come next day for visiting the Sydney Wildlife and the Sydney Aquarium, both located at the Darling Harbour. (One can avail a combo pack of entry tickets, which included Sydney Wildlife, Aquarius and the Sydney tower)

The Kangaroos at Sydney Wildlife

The Koalas at Sydney Wildlife .

Some Facts about Koalas.

The Sydney Wildlife satiated our quest for seeing Kangaroos, Wallaby, Koalas, variety of birds and other insects and innumerable reptiles. The Aquarium, siting some 2000 aquatic habitats offered splendid view through its glass tunnels. We also gathered courage to climb the Sydney Tower Eye, the tallest free standing structure in Sydney, elevating to the height of  1014 ft above sea level, was located in Sydney Central Business Point (CBD), not too far from the Darling harbour. We took a train till Pitt Street and walked to the entrance of the tower. Our guide for the activity was a young Korean girl who judiciously built our courage to climb the tower. We were given costumes and a chain. Once on the stairs leading to the tower, our chains were tied to the handles ascending till the tower. The gust of wind greeted us on the top. We were literally flying, only being nailed by the chain. On looking down, to our shock, we were standing on glass floors that boldly displayed the height and the distance from the road below. Before we could come to terms with our situation, the floor itself began to move, popping itself out of the building structure. Needless to say, there was unison of screams and shouts. Post this activity, we silently descended the tower and were offered to purchase our Shock stricken photographs. It was an activity to remember, and post hearing our exclamations, the guide advised us to climb the Sydney Bridge. Unfortunately we were short of both the time and courage to go for the endeavour. The next day was the trip to the Blue Mountains, for which we had booked a tour. At sharp 7 am in the morning, a minibus stopped at the entrance of our Hotel and MIKE, our driver, guide and specialist for the tour came in to greet us and take us for the errand. The bus took only fifteen minutes to collect the rest of the passengers and we happily proceeded towards Blue Mountains. The Feather dale Park, near Blue Mountains, was the first stop for our 12 passenger, Minibus. Post receiving miniature Koala mementos, we were respectfully instructed to explore the Feather Dale Park and stick to the timing to come back.  The park definitely is the entrance to the world of natural Koalas, Kangaroos, dancing white Peacocks, hanging bats, penguins,

palanquins and other innumerable variety of birds. We had enough time to talk to every specie, and feed the Kangaroos and Koalas, who proactively interacted. Post this we advanced towards the Blue Mountains, escorted by our Guide Mike, in the bus. On reaching the Blue mountain region, Mike foremost took us for a Walk in the Jungle. Huffing and puffing, we must have climbed and descended some hundreds of stairs and natural elevations. It was green and wet all over, with drizzles posing to be natural impediments.  But as we reached the top, the view of the glimmering Blue Mountains, did please us. Once back from the trek, the minibus took us to the cable car , which in turn took us to the Blue Mountain Café the also provided an uninterrupted view of the he Three Sisters is the Blue Mountains located at Echo Point Katoomba. The Three Sisters is essentially an unusual rock formation representing three sisters who according to Aboriginal legend were turned to stone.

The Blue Mountain offers the best and most economical collection of Australian artifacts and toys. Another spectacular experience is the rail ride, from the Café to the Jungle below, the steepest rail journey, we ever undertook. It is an open, train that slowly takes you on to a steep route down and brings you back up. The excursion guarantees innumerable laughs!

The Statue of three sisters at Blue Mountains
The end of the trip came with a surprise cruise in the Captain Cook ship. We were left at the Sydney Harbour, where all the fellow travelers hastily boarded the Ship and relaxingly undertook the journey to the Darling harbour. The Sydney Bridge en-route allured us to climb it, but the thought of driving to Hunter Valley, the next day, inspired more and we humbly came back to our hotel. We checked out in the morning, and took a cab till the airport, where our hired car, through Red Spot rental service was waiting for us. We were given an upgrade and were handed the key to bright red Hyundai sedan, by the representative at the airport. This was our first International driving. (Any country driving license, in English, is valid to drive a car in Australia). We struggled with the automatic car for some minutes and then figured that the gear had to be shifted to D4 that’s it and then we patiently drove straight to New Castle, Hunter Valley. The navigator confidently continued advising us on the route, and in a span of three hours, we were at Hunter Valley.

The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest and one of the greatest premier wine growing region, situated in deep lush, rolling hills of Barrington tops and Pokolbin. We stayed in Mercure resort, Pokolbin, just next to the botanical garden. The resort, the undulating hills and petite smoky cafés, can make one feel like Alice in wonderland. The ambience, the wine and cheese tasting tours, can soothe the mind for days. We regretted assigning only a night stay at Hunter Valley. It definitely deserves a week of uninterrupted attention.

We drove back the next day to Sydney, and in the evening boarded a Jet star flight to Melbourne.

Our friend greeted us at Melbourne, whose house became our abode for the next three days. They took us for a visit to the Melbourne Docklands, located on the spectacular Victoria Harbour and three kilometers of Yarra River frontage. This was followed by a visit to the Queen Victoria market, where we galloped a ride in horse carriage and spent the evening floating around. Our trip to Melbourne included, visit to the Phillip Island to watch the Penguin Parade

………………..Only 90 minutes from  Melbourne,  featuring spectacular coastal scenery, charming heritage and an abundance of Australian wildlife including the world famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade.
The drive on The Great Ocean Road exposed one of the most incredible tours in the arms of nature.
The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243-kilometre road between the cities of Torquay and Warrnambool. The road is the world's largest war memorial built by returned soldiers dedicated to casualties of World War 1. The journey introduces The Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park.

Our Australian adventure was incomplete without visiting the Great Barrier Reef and thus we boarded a flight for Cairns, post our visit to Melbourne.

The Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Cairns took almost three and a half hours, including a time zone difference of an hour. The weather at Cairns was absolutely contrasting to that of Sydney and Melbourne. We were greeted by Sultry, monsoons. Once we reached our destination, we adeptly took a cab and directed the chauffeur to the Galvin Edge Bungalows (A rated bread and breakfast outlet). We were greeted by genteel hosts Julie and Jesse Lowe, who handed the keys to the beautiful two bedroom bungalow, with a swimming pool and a library. The entire place was for us to enjoy our stay in Cairns. The very next day we took the Magic Reef cruises and post two hour of ship journey, reached the land of the Great Barrier Reef. I personally adventured into Helmet diving and snorkelling, despite not knowing how to swim. With heart pumping speedily, I wore the heavy oxygen filled helmet, and dived in. The rest was my head amidst fishes and corals. The guided snorkelling was the best with a view of the coral reef, some specie of fishes, turtle and unknown shark like Fishi!

The visit to Cairns is incomplete without a self driving endeavour to Port Douglas, a 60 km straight stretch of road along the sea. It is a treat for driving lovers!

Once at Port Douglas, we enjoyed our Lunch at the Wildlife Café, accompanied by the Lorikeats and other specie of birds.

Cairns was our last destination and we flew back to India post a week’s stay there.

The Australian expedition is the one we would cherish for a lifetime.
Huge nation, small population;
Window to the world of animals.

I was particularly impressed by their garbage management. Every household had a yellow and green dustbin to keep the recyclable and non-recyclable waste, everyone particular on not littering the environment. Small steps materializing into an enormous initiative to keep their country clean.

Ilika Ranjan
Author of the book ‘Puppet on the Fast Track’

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