MARCH 6 – AT SEA
After leaving Bay of Islands, New Zealand we headed west towards Sydney, Australia. We are due to arrive tomorrow at 6 PM.
Australia started it’s British history as a vast penal colony in 1788. Bad apples from England were unwillingly shipped here, a horrible place at the “end of the world”. Many of the convicts had done nothing more then steal a few loaves of bread, but colonists were needed on the new continent, and volunteers were in short supply. Anyone who went such a great distance in those days were unlikely to see their homeland again. Over 2,000 prisoners and their jailers sailed from England but less then half made it alive. Violent weather crushed ships and disease raged. The tattered survivors arrived in Sydney Harbor and began to build. Can you imagine how frightening the land, people, and animals must have been? How about seeing an aboriginal warrior for the first time? A pitch black naked guy… sneering with a fearsomely painted face… and stabbing the air with a poison tipped spear. My guess is that the natives were less then pleased about the onslaught of new arrivals. What about the oddity of the kangaroo with it’s comical clown like feet? Nothing in jolly ol’ England could have prepared them for this sight.
Australia is about the size of the United States, but there are only 22 million inhabitants in the entire country. 4 million live in or around Sydney. Compare that to Mumbai, India at 17 million people spread across a mere 20 mile radius! Why so few people? The only sustainable areas are on the seacoast. The interior is bush/desert with little water and searing heat. Here, you will find an occasional cattle ranch that encompasses 1,000 square miles and supports only 70,000 animals. They eat dried grass that dies off quickly after the virtually non existent rain and dream about living in California.
MARCH 7TH – ARRIVAL IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – 6 PM
We arrived on a Sunday evening, which was a real treat. As we approached the jagged cliff lined harbor, hundreds of pleasure boats streamed towards the ship to escort us. Thousands of people on the shorelines watched us pass by. It was such a heart warming welcome, I couldn’t help but weep. Helicopters flew over head, tug boats greeted us with a water gun salute, ferries and tour boats packed to the brim with people waving and yelling “Aussie Aussie Aussie!”
We lucked out being on the starboard side this time. We got the stunning skyline view. We are docked here until midnight tomorrow evening.
MARCH 8TH – SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
We woke up predawn to a cacophony of high pitched screeches radiating from the Royal Botanical Gardens across the inlet. Through binoculars we zeroed in on the culprits. Huge white parrots were swooping through the tall branches belting out discordant tunes. It made our ears hurt! We had to investigate! We woofed down a quick breakfast and headed out on foot as the sun spread over the tree tops. It was already quite warm and humid at 7 AM with temps expected in the low 90‘s. We caught up to the parrots as they were in full baby feeding mode. Their “song” have been known to shatter ear drums.
As we continued walking through the Gardens we heard more noise in the distance. A creepy chattering that sounded like a sound track for an Alfred Hitchcock movie. As we got closer to the source, I looked up and nearly fell to the pavement in shock. Above us in the trees were thousands of bats! In broad daylight! Okay, technically, they weren’t bats – but “Grey Headed Flying Foxes” coming back to roost after a night of sucking on insects and fruit. They looked like big squirrels with veined wings, and they were everywhere. Demonic beady eyes surrounded by black furry faces assessed us cooly from 20 feet above. It was downright freaky. I always thought that bat-like creatures hung out in caves or other dark places during the day. Not these. They hang upside down in the hot sun, biding time until dusk. We arrived when they were jockeying for positions, hence the noise. I could barely move my stiff neck the next day after staring up at them in amazement for over an hour. Steve finally had to grab my arm and tear me away. Nothing could top this. Nothing.
Next, we strolled by the famous Sydney Opera House. The tourist information will tell you that the roof was designed to look like boat sails. This is a falsehood. Apparently, the chosen architect was peeling an orange as he sat working on his design… and Wah La! The roof mirrors the peels of an orange. It’s less romantic then “sails”, so most visitors don’t know that the building was inspired by an afternoon snack.
On the waterfront we hopped on a commuter ferry and headed to the old town of Manly. One side of this beach town borders the pounding surf of the Tasman Sea. We watched from the safety of a park bench as knuckle headed surfers ignored the “Danger – Strong Rip Tide” signs and headed out to get clobbered by monstrous waves. It was about 15 degrees cooler here then in Sydney, so we wiled away a few hours strolling on the promenade and trails. Manly is a throw back in time. Many of the buildings from the early 1,900’s still exist on the pedestrian mall.
Back in Sydney, we walked across the Harbor Bridge with hundreds of others as traffic thundered across and shook the entire structure. Looking down induced vertigo. High above us, there were people who actually paid over $150 per person to inch along the span to the tippy top of the bridge. They were given a breathalyzer test before taking the first step and forced to wear harnesses and neon jump suits. Why neon? If the harness fails, then their splintered bodies will be easier to spot in the swirling water several hundred feet below. A group of 10 people set off every 15 minutes, all day long. I bet when the city was building the bridge back in 1930, they had no idea what a money maker it would be.
We headed back to the ship via the Gardens to check on our furry friends. They were silent and fanning themselves with one wing to create a breeze in the stillness. Steve had to drag me away again.
We knew the foxes would take flight at sunset so we sat on our balcony and waited for lift off. The sky soon filled with eerily silent dark shapes that flew off in every direction before disappearing from view. From a distance, they looked like birds. We knew better. I wonder how far they go?
The ship left at midnight and we heard that over 100 pleasure boats escorted us from the harbor. We were fast asleep, and didn’t hear a thing.