Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cairns - Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef - A First Timer's Journey

Gold! Who'd have thought it? Gold?

Cairns was settled in 1876 as the hopefuls headed inland to the Hodgkinson River an the last days of the Australian Gold Rush. The fever died out, but Cairns remained, slowly becoming the biggest town in the area, and the centre of a huge sugar cane growing industry. Have a look at the Map of Cairns and the Map of the Great Barrier Reef to get your bearings.

Then along came tourism, the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975 and the opening of the International Airport in 1984, all of which have made Cairns a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns City is about 2,700 Kms (1,670 mi) north of Sydney by road, and 1,700 Kms (1,050 mi) north of Brisbane, so if you are thinking of driving it, leave more than a couple of days just to get there. On your first trip to Australia, you will probably arrive into Cairns by air. As you land, it's water to the east - bright blue on sunny days, and steel gray when its overcast - and a heavy green vegetation climbing the hills to the west, rising to an escarpment of higher land inland. This is the tropics, and it rains a lot, even though it is usually warm.
Cairns Esplanade Pier
The airport is north of the main Downtown area and the Marina, near the Northern Beaches. More on the Northern Beaches in another post, but check out Trinity Beach, Yorkey's Knob, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach and Palm Cove for your hotels and accommodation in Cairns area. This gets you out of town and close to the water on a really nice beach.
Palm Cove Beach
While Cairns downtown has the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, restaurants, cafes, buzz and lots of people, it does not have a really good beach. It actually does not have a beach at all. During WW2, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Trinity River entrance to allow barges with supplies into the port, and messed up the tidal flow of the area. The beach turned into mud flats. Great for wading birds, and birdwatching, but not good for swimming. There has been an attempt to turn the esplanade back into a beach by dumping a lot of sand there, but it has not been more than cosmetically successful. If you want to walk a beach with the Coral Sea lapping at your feet, do it on the Northern Beaches.

Downtown, however, is where the Marina is located, and it is from here that we will leave on our expedition to snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef in my next post. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sydney - The Rocks to Bondi Beach by Bus - A First Timer's Journey

Wandering around a big Australian city on your own, at your own speed, is a real blast. Nothing makes you feel like you really know your stuff - "Hey. I'm doing this independently" - like a day zipping around Sydney and the suburbs on the way to Bondi Beach.

Big problem, however: How do you get from the Rocks to Bondi Beach by bus without losing your way, ending up in the wrong place and generally screwing up the outing? Easy: Let the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus do the navigating - you just decide where to get on and then get off again.

OK, so let's start by looking at the map of Sydney again. Bondi Beach is just to the east of downtown, the Rocks and the Sydney Opera House.
Bondi Beach
How do we do this? First you buy a Sydney and Bondi Hop-on Hop-off Tour ticket. This will give you up to 24 hours continuous riding over two different tour routes on their bright red, open topped, double decker bus. Sit up the top for the best views. A warm, wind proof jacket is always a good idea.

Start off at Stop 1 of the Sydney Explorer at Circular Quay - you can either take the full route, or you can change straight onto the Bondi and Bays Explorer at William Street (Stop 5) - or at Central Station (Stop 14).  Get off at the Bondi Beach Terminal.

As one of Australia's surfing icons, Bondi is not just sand, surf and people, it is home to a whole local beach culture. A couple of hours wandering Campbell Parade along the beachfront will leave some lasting impressions. Great pubs, bars restaurants and shops.  Don't miss it!  And for your first day at an Aussie Beach, how about some surfing lessons?

Hotel Bondi
Hotel Bondi - Campbell Parade - Find a Hotel in Bondi Beach

The trip back to the city will take you along the clifftops through Dover Heights - great views out onto the Pacific, and back to the City over Sydney Harbour.  

Take as long as you like - is this the way to see Sydney and Bondi Beach, or what?

See you next time.  Even though we could spend months in Sydney alone, I'm going to move around Australia randomly from now on.  Next post, let's check out Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.   Stay tuned. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sydney - Walk the Sydney Domain Foreshore - A First Timer's Journey

Today, let's take a walk along the foreshore path between the Sydney Opera House and Mrs Macquarie's Chair.  Get a map of Sydney and look at the area between the Opera House and the next point of land to the east - Macquarie Point.

But, what on earth is Mrs Macquarie's Chair?  Back in 1810, the wife of the Australian Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, used to like sitting out on Macquarie Point near Government House, watching the shipping in Sydney Harbour.  A bit like watching TV today. To make it more comfortable, the Governor got some Convicts to carve a chair out of the solid rock on the point.  Hence the name.  The chair is still there, and it's not any more comfortable today than it must have been then.

Macquarie Point is a great place for getting photos of the Opera House with the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind it. 

Farm Cove foreshore
Between the Opera House and Mrs Macquarie's Chair is Farm Cove. There is a great walk around Farm Cove on a foreshore path that takes about an hour return. From the Opera House, follow the foreshore east. Very scenic, great photos.  Not good in the rain, so go on a fine day. 

Leaving Macquarie Point, take the lower path between the foreshore path and Mrs Macquarie's Road and walk northwest back towards the city. You will see the high rise buildings behind the trees. This area is called The Domain, and is a very popular place for picnics, open air concerts and events.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Have a look through the Royal Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are uphill, adjacent to Downtown. You'll see some weird looking "parcels" hanging from the trees, These are Grey Headed Flying Foxes, also known as Fruit Bats - half fox (the front half) and half bat. They're not local, but have moved in and formed a colony in the Gardens.

Fruit Bats hanging from the trees
Flying Fox/Fruit Bat
With a wing span of about 1 meter (3 feet), they are grotesque. If disturbed, and near sunset, they make an unbelievable noise. They have been destroying a lot of the trees in the Gardens and the authorities are trying to remove them  Good luck with that!

After checking out the Flying Foxes and the Gardens, cross onto Macquarie Street, and walk back downhill to the Opera House.

Next Post we will head off to Bondi Beach on the Hop-on, Hop-off bus. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sydney - The Sydney Opera House - A First Timer's Journey

It's your first day in this iconic Australian city. You want to see and feel the Sydney Opera House. No need for a car in Sydney - it's a bit like hiring  a car in New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris or London - it costs more to park than it's worth.  We are going to walk from our hotel.   Let's check a map of Sydney for the exact location.

Look at the picture below. The Opera House is on a point of land sticking out beside Circular Quay (pronounced "Key"), where all the ferries leave from. If you can't see the Opera House from Circular Quay, you are in real trouble, or you have a serious case of jet lag and should go back to bed. 

Designed by Danish Architect, Jorn Utzon, the Opera House took years to build and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.  Like plenty of other projects, it came in late and way over budget.

Walk right around the front, smell the air (it has an indefinable "Sydney" smell about it - moist, salty, hint of diesel), feel the breeze, listen to the hum of the bridge and the city.  Then take one of the Sydney Opera House tours to look through. This is not just one big, single Opera Hall, it is actually a number of performance areas of varying size and function. It is well worth a look through the inside and getting backstage.

After the tour, just sit at one of the many cafes of restaurants beside the Opera House and soak in Sydney.

"Sails" of the Opera House

Why do the "Sails" of the Opera House gleam in the sun? When you get close, look directly up along the curve of the "Sails". They are covered with thousands of single tiles. The tiles alternate from glossy white to matte cream.  No wonder they seem to change colour depending on the time of day and the weather.

So, how do you book to see a show? Easy. You can book directly online and then pick up your tickets at will-call.

More information on the Sydney Opera House? - Check Wikipedia.

Next post, we'll take a walk through a real suburban oasis - the Sydney Botanical Gardens.  Stay tuned.

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