It has been cold and snowy for the past week in Chicago. And as I write this, we are expecting another foot of snow.
So I thought it would be fun to escape the winter doldrums and take a walk down memory lane to a warmer climate-Australia.
Right now, Aussies are having their summer season.
They’re surfing the Gold Coast, sailing around glorious Sydney Harbor, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and hiding from the blistering sun in the Outback.
One year ago this month, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime in the Land Down Under.
My journey involved two, 20-something traveling companions, two airplane trips, 24 hours of travel, and the disappearance of one full day while in the air.
We departed Chicago on a Saturday morning and landed in Sydney on a Monday morning. Exhausting, but oh so totally worth it!
Australia: The Cliff Notes Version
Australia is the smallest inhabited continent located in the Southern Hemisphere with a population of 24 million people.
It is surrounded by the Pacific and Indian Oceans with a land mass comparable in size to the United States.
The Aboriginal people have lived here for 50,000 years. Fifty. Thousand. Years.
It consists of six states. The capital, Canberra, is located in New South Wales.
Australia’s major cities are Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Hobart(Tasmania), and Canberra.
It is a beautiful and rugged country.
There’s Sydney Harbor with its stunning bridge and sleek opera house, the ever-sunny Gold Coast and its inviting beaches, the hazy, serene Blue Mountains, the immense and breath-taking Great Barrier Reef, the prehistoric Daintree Rain Forest, the giant and sacred Uluru located in the blistering and rugged Outback, but I digress….
In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for Britain-without asking the locals for permission (sound familiar New England?).
In 1787, Britain decided to establish a penal colony in Australia.
They had already been sending their convicts to the American colonies for some time, but with that came the risk of convicts sailing back home.
So in 1788, they relocated a thousand British folks, 788 of which were convicts, to New South Wales. See ya suckers!
Now, for a penal colony to survive, thrive, and flourish was no mean feat.
After all, Bill Bryson, author of ‘In a Sunburned Country,’ famously states in the first chapter, “It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else.”
Poisonous snakes, insects, flora and fauna, crocodiles, sharks, and marsupials that will punch you in the face. The survival of this penal colony was the ultimate ‘up yours’ to Britain.
Sydney, Australia: She’s a Stunner!
Because Australia is so huge, there is simply not enough time to cover the entire country in two weeks. So we split our visit between Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef.
Sydney is a beautiful city. The people are AMAZING! They are very friendly and treat you like you are old friends.
I have always said Canadians are the friendliest people on earth, but after this visit I’ve decided it’s definitely the Aussies.
We chose to stay in an Airbnb apartment located in the Balmain neighborhood.
I always choose to stay in local neighborhoods if possible so I can get a feel for the city I inhabit.
This was a great choice. Surrounded by heritage homes, quaint shops and cafes, and a short walk to the ferry, this made our stay very comfortable.
Taking the ferry into the heart of the city every day was the best way to see the harbor and considerably less expensive than paying for a tourist boat tour.
Circular Quay (pronounced ‘key’ or ‘kay’ in Aussie-speak) is the main entry point for all ferries and cruise ships.
A Visit to The Rocks Leads to a Bridge Climb
There is so much to see and do in Sydney. We hit the highlights and could have easily spent another week or two here.
After disembarking from the ferry, we walked around The Rocks district.
Mindful of its colorful history of slums, convicts, prostitutes, and drunken sailors, we paid a visit to Sydney’s oldest pub – The Fortune of War.
Today, The Rocks is a vibrant neighborhood filled with shops, lively cafes and bars, and a wonderful outdoor market-all in the shadow of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
And speaking of that bridge, we signed up to do the Bridge Climb.
That’s right, we put on the gear and for the next four hours climbed four ladders and scaled 1,332 steps to the very top of this 440-foot tall, steel arch bridge.
It was A-MAZING! We all agreed this was the highlight of our visit to Sydney.
During our climb, we learned about the history of the bridge and the landmarks we could see from the bridge.
The views are breathtaking, and we even got a friendly buzz and wave from a police helicopter while at the summit.
Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Sydney Opera House is a magnificent architectural marvel.
Its roof is designed to look like sails. The building has several performance halls and hosts more than 1,000 concerts annually.
Officially opened in 1973, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.
The Sydney Opera House sits on the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
As an avid gardener, I can attest this is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever visited.
There are prehistoric plant species, thousands of varieties of flowers, and A LOT of giant spiders hanging around!
These gardens are right in the CBD (Central Business District). I can just imagine having a view of these gardens from my downtown office building.
So Much to See and Do in Sydney….
I could go on about every site we visited while in Sydney, but it would take me hours to write. There are three sites which did make a big impression on all of us.
Hyde Park Barracks played a central role in housing convicts and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We learned the history of this place, saw remnants of their daily life, and even got to experience what it was like to live in this hellish place.
St. Mary’s Cathedral is a very large and very gothic church. It takes up an entire city block and rivals some of the great churches I’ve had the pleasure to visit in Europe. Beautiful stained glass, side chapels dimly lit by candlelight, and golden idols all around, it’s a sight to see.
And the Australian National Maritime Museum with its warships, submarine, and tall ships. This museum takes an entire day to see all the displays and tour the ships. Former Navy men lead tours of the vessels and are very interesting. Being able to walk through the rooms of a huge ship and the bowels of a submarine (not for those who are claustrophobic) is an adventure.
While trying to see as much as we could comfortably take in, we also had the pleasure of eating at so many great places.
We sampled a little of everything, including the locally brewed beers.
I especially enjoyed the Thai food we ate as it brought back memories of a past trip to Thailand.
However, the most enjoyable dinner was during our final evening in Australia.
Fort Denison is a national park located on Sydney Harbor, which just happens to have a restaurant.
I made reservations months in advance for a sunset dinner. We took a boat ride to get there. And it did not disappoint.
The food was delicious; the sunset was sublime, and my dinner companions-beloved family members.
Australia, I cannot wait to visit you again.