Australia (including Tasmania)

Australia (including Tasmania)


Australia has a great deal of allure and I have not yet seen enough of it.  What I have seen, though, is truly wonderful.  A trip in 2001 to the “mainland” was recently (2013) supplemented by a third visit to Sydney plus a hiking trip to Tasmania.

Most everyone who goes to Australia begins in Sydney, and for good reason.  The city, its beaches, nearby mountains, zoo, harbor and people are all world class.  Just walking around Sydney is a treat; definitely include the Botanical Gardens and Darlington Harbor as well as a boat ride (anyplace – like the zoo or Manly) from the Central Quay.   Because of a strong currency vs. the U.S. dollar things are quite expensive; but such is life.  Go anyway.

I really think that one of the two most spectacular buildings I have ever seen is the Sydney Opera House (the other is the Taj Mahal).  I saw the Opera House initially when it was under controversial construction in 1971 and again in my two more recent visits.  It is absolutely a work of art.  There are five venues within the facility (three smaller theaters and two larger halls) and the building reeks of architectural imagination gone wild and free.  Besides taking a tour of the facility (a “must do”) the best place to view the Opera House is from the top of the Sydney Bridge.   An enterprising entrepreneur went to the Sydney city council in the late 90s and suggested offering a walking tour to the top of the bridge.  The council thought he was crazy and gave him a list of 64 problems with his idea.  Eighteen months later he had responded to all of the council’s concerns and they let him set up a tour operation.  It is now one of the most fun and interesting things to do in Sydney (but very pricey).  While it looks difficult, it really is not.  You put on a jumpsuit, grab a cable connector apparatus and put on a headset to join a group of 12 people with a guide for this three-hour excursion (the actual walk takes only about an hour).  You walk slowly listening to your guide give a history of the bridge climb operation, Sydney Harbor and the Opera House.    From the top of the bridge pictures are taken and you have an incredible view of the city.  We were advised to go at sunset and began as the sun was setting; it was evening as we got to the top of the bridge.  The evening lights of the city skyline and on the Opera House were to die for.

The second thing which is a “must do” when going to Australia is to see the Great Barrier Reef, off the northeast coast city of Cairnes.  Linking this with a visit to the Daintree Rainforest is a treat.  The Great Barrier Reef is the “largest living thing in the world” stretching for over 1400 miles.  We took the 400-person Quicksilver catamaran out 28 miles to a large platform directly over the reef.  Snorkeling was great, except for a man-o-war sting my daughter got in the first thirty seconds. Quicksilver also had a small submarine for the less hearty swimmers.  The underwater world is beautiful and truly unique, but I would not recommend going with this large a group.  The Daintree Rainforest north of Cairnes was also worthy of a half day excursion.  Before going to Australia I would highly recommend reading Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”; a fun read with a great deal of information.   Also, “Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes is a very interesting (but overly detailed) history of the founding of Australia as a British penal colony from the 1780s through the 1870s.

Tasmania is the about the size of Ireland, Switzerland or South Carolina and is an island state 150 miles off the south coast of the continent.  Over one-third of the island is national parks, reserves or National Heritage sites and the population is around half a million – lots of space without many people.    We flew (from Sydney) into Launceston – a very nice, hilly town with a beautiful gorge worth a mile walk to.  From there we went on a six-day organized hike with “Cradle Mountain Huts”  (a well run company) on the Overland Track.  It was great (except for the damn flies.)  Hiking is only about seven miles a day, including side hikes, and we stayed in very nice lodges way up in the mountains each night.  It was expensive, but with nice accommodations, two terrific guides, good food, wine every night, beautiful scenery and a small friendly group of 10 people, I would highly recommend it.  You carry a 20-pound backpack all day and some of the hiking was pretty strenuous.  Their brochure says, “any fit person can do this hike.”  In our group we agreed it should have said:  “Any fit 30 year old can do this hike.  If you’re 60, you’d better be damn well fit.”  Some/much of the terrain was very rocky and/or with many tree roots – and a few places with serious mud – but this just made for a challenging, enjoyable outdoor experience.  It helps to have good weather, which we did.   If you like hiking, do this trip.  It compares favorably (maybe a half notch below) the Milford Track and Routeburn Track outside of Queenstown, New Zealand (conducted by “Ultimate Hikes”).