A Travellerspoint blog

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Australia – A Childhood Dream Came True

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Ever since my childhood, Australia has been spooking in my head as a dream destination. As a primary school kid I was very much interested in animals, and the exotic fauna of Australia with its many strange creatures fascinated me. However, I never considered this dream by any means realistic, and over the years and decades I more or less forgot about it.

But then, 30 years later, I met that certain guy at the office, let’s call him F… During that summer when we got together (slowly slowly – long story that I don’t want to bother you with), he had just had a bunch of cousins from Australia visiting at his family home in the Black Forest. I learned that his mother’s younger sister had emigrated to Australia in the 1970s together with her husband and then 3 children (no. 4 and 5 were then born in Australia). Most of them were living in Perth, one cousin in Melbourne.

Some months later F’s sister went to Perth to pay these relatives a return visit. And that’s when my old dream, which had already been sleepily stretching in the back of my head for a while, was suddenly wide awake, and I said, “Oooh, I so much want to go, too…” The reply was, “Okay, sure, we can go. Since this needs some preparation, we could plan a trip for next year.”

Time for a happy dance!

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We chose to go in March, because we wanted to avoid Australia’s worst summer heat and it was a month when four weeks off work could be taken without problems. Since it was my first trip – F had been three times before – we planned an itinerary that involved much more than just family visits. We booked an open-jaw flight with Malaysia Airlines (those were the times when they were a good, reliable airline with an excellent reputation, before all those catastrophes they recently went through). We flew from Frankfurt via Kuala Lumpur into Sydney and out of Perth.

Our itinerary started with five days in Sydney. Then we flew over to Melbourne, staying a couple of days with F’s cousin. From there we rented a campervan for a week to cover the leg from Melbourne to Adelaide, along the Great Ocean Road, through the Grampians and Barossa Valley. The city of Adelaide was somehow neglected, but knowingly and on purpose, since we had to adjust to the timetable of the Indian Pacific which runs only twice per week. We decided to use the one full day we had in Adelaide to go on a tour to Kangaroo Island. A train ride of 36 hours took us through the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, where we spent the last week, partly together with F’s relatives, partly on our own.

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This blog is partly based on travel pages I had written on the now defunct Virtualtourist. My pages there were not complete, though, so I have to recur to my memories and sum up what I remember, in particular concerning the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The entries will thus differ in length and depth.

I have to apologize for my photos: This was before I bought my first digital camera, I had my beloved but heavy analogue SLR. Thus, what I am showing you here are scans from slides. Amazing how few photos I took in those times.

It was a fast-paced trip, although I have seen much worse itineraries in various travel forums... We tried to find a compromise to solve that certain problem we all know too well: Wanting to see as much as possible without making the trip a rat race. I think we have succeeded.

Three years later we went on another Australia trip. This time we entirely focused on the Southwest. We spent almost two weeks in Perth and did a ten-day loop through the Goldfields and along the coast. This second trip is supposed to be described in this blog, too, at a later stage. And with digital photos;-)

Posted by Kathrin_E 05:24 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Sydney

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The postcard view from Mrs Macquarie's Chair

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Kingsford Smith Airport

We landed in Sydney after a long day on board: First a twelve-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, a break of three hours to change planes, then eight hours to Sydney. That second flight was even prolonged due to a necessary detour around cyclone “Ingrid” which was sitting outside the coast near Darwin – I actually saw her in the distance, I think. Thanks to this cyclone, and the stream of wet air it drew from the Pacific despite the long distance, we got rather lousy weather for most of our stay in Sydney. That was a bit of bad luck.

We landed in the early evening. This was my first long-distance trip over several time zones, hence I had no idea how I’d cope. The timing turned out to be perfect to minimize jet lag. I cannot sleep at all in a seat, so I’ll be down and out after the flight anyway. Arriving in the evening allows, after a light dinner and a beer or two as nightcap, going to bed immediately and then getting up at a normal morning hour. The first day was a bit of a blur, but then I was done with the problem. I’d never book a flight that lands early in the morning!

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We had a hotel smack in the centre of the city, close to Wynyard Station, so we did more or less everything on foot.

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On the first day we took it easy and spent as much time as possible outside in fresh air, walking through the centre, along Circular Quay, the Opera House, the harbour, and round the Royal Botanic Gardens. I remember hordes of Flying Foxes hanging out in the trees, and this very naughty cockatoo who first pored for us on a bench, and then decided to land and sit on my hat! This was a bit scary because I could not see what he was doing - would he nibble on my hat, or maybe on my ears? A photo exists but I can't find it.

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Of course we did what all tourists do: a boat cruise in the harbour. Sydney has the most amazing cityscape. The most iconic views that everyone knows involve the harbour bridge and the opera house - I think there is no need to describe these photos because everybody will recognize them. But the harbour forms many small bays and peninsulas, perspective and views change all the time.

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This little fortress on a tiny island was supposed to protect the whole city in case of war. Optimistic planning.

On foot, we mostly roamed the city centre, the harbour promenades, Circular Quay and The Rocks, and Darling Harbour.

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Darling Harbour

I found the architecture in the centre really fascinating. It is a mix of modern and contemporary with 19th century buildings in between.

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Remembering my childhood dreams and interests, Taronga Zoo was high on my wish list. We intended to spend the whole day there. But St Peter, or cyclone Ingrid, were against us: It was pouring “cats and dogs” all day long. The advantage was fewer visitors, but the strain on our perseverance was hard, so we did not stay as long as planned. We came over by ferry from Circular Quay, and took the little cable car to the top entrance in order to meander through the zoo in downhill direction. Since we can see lions, bears and zebras in every European zoo, too, we focused on the Australian animals. This was the first time I saw live koalas, echidnas, Tasmanian devils, quokkas and many other marsupials that European zoos do not have.

And wombats! At that time I was not yet nourishing that affection for wombats that I have now, though. I did not appreciate the unique chance then to meet a wombat joey that the zookeeper was presenting to visitors. Shame on me!

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Sleeping wombat

We also explored the underwater world round Australia’s shores at the aquarium in Darling Harbour.
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Strange fish in the shark basin...
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This is already a historical photo...

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All by myself I rode a special kind of public transport that sadly does not exist any more: the monorail. The monorail line was built in the 1980s, with the high hope to install a fast and reliable transport system around Darling Harbour.

This did not work too well, though, because the monorail was not well connected with the rest of the public transport network and because it required different tickets. Through the years it became just a tourist attraction, hardly used by locals. Thus it has been demolished and is now a thing of the past.

Being a tourist, I regret its disappearance. I did the ride and thoroughly enjoyed it. The trains run at the level of the first floor of the houses. From this height I got a different view into the streets than that of a pedestrian on the ground, and the overview over Darling Harbour.

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The only museum that our limited time allowed to visit were Hyde Park Barracks, the former prison for convicts.

Built in 1818/19, the brick building is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Sydney. It is a museum now, which gives insight in the living conditions of the convicts. I went to see it by myself - F preferred an afternoon nap at the hotel - because I wanted to learn more about that so-called early history. I do not have any photos of the interior, but I do not remember whether it was because of a photo ban.

The first white Australians were either military or convicts. In the beginning, no one came here out of their own free will. The museum shows a cleaned-up version of what life in this cramped prison must have been like in reality. Those were hard times!

A minor offence, like stealing a bread ort a piece of clothing, was enough to earn a sentence of several years in prison and forced labour in Australia – and that meant forever, because who could afford the voyage back to Old England when released from prison after seven or so years? This is how Britain solved its problem of overpopulation in those times.

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Night views at Circular Quay

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What to do in the evenings, in addition to the obligatory walk along Circular Quay? I had done my homework in advance, and booked us tickets for two big evening events. We had tickets for the Opera House to see Carmen, in an excellent performance. The architecture is, I have to admit, far more spectacular from the outside than from inside. I was impressed by the practical thinking of the management: By every door into the hall they had large baskets with free cough drops for the audience to take along.

The second performance was a musical. We had originally intended to see the Queen musical, “We Will Rock You”, but it was taken off the schedule earlier than expected. So we picked “Lion King” at the Capitol Theatre instead. Choreography, costumes and setting are, it seems, the same all over the world. Say what you want – this musical culture being highly commercialized, globalized, etcetera etcetera – it was a fantastic show with great music, great singers and actors, great stage effects. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

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On our last evening we took the ferry over to Manly, and once more enjoyed the panoramic views on Sydney Harbour.

We went for a walk on Manly beach, which was almost deserted except a few hardcore surfers. It was too chilly for bathing, but at least my feet have been dipped into the Pacific Ocean. This is the easternmost place on the globe that I have ever been to.

We had dinner at a small café by the beach promenade. I am not really a fan of fish dishes, but I like fish the way they serve them in Australia. Since they mostly have very large fish from the ocean, the usual serving is a grilled slice of fillet the size of a good steak. What I dislike most about fish isn’t the taste but the fishbones, those tiny ones that you feel between your teeth and that threaten to get stuck in your throat. The bones of those big fish, however, are the size of a finger and if there is indeed one left inside, it is easy to spot, remove and avoid. I could learn to love fish dishes there…

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That night I tasted Barramundi for the first time. The side dishes they combined it with were a bit weird, though – potato mash and a sauce that involved horseradish and beetroot, and some green leafy vegetables, I forgot which kind. But the result was much tastier than it sounds…

Five days barely allowed scratching the surface of this fantastic city. I would very much like to return for a longer stay someday, several weeks if possible. With time for some side trips to other parts of the city. Walks on the beaches. A trip to the Blue Mountains. Time to see some of the museums, in particular Australian Museum and Maritime Museum. Time to explore deeper at a more relaxed pace. But that will remain a dream…

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Evening at Manly Beach

Posted by Kathrin_E 15:10 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney Comments (2)

Birds Eye Views from Sydney Tower

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The highest viewpoint in Sydney’s CBD is the observation deck on Sydney Tower. We chose our only sunny day for going up, the views were perfect. One goes up there to enjoy the views, so here is a gallery of images. Having a good zoom allows details and closeups.

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Sydney Tower, and its shadow on Queen Victoria Building

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Sydney's centre from above

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Harbour Bridge

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Darling Harbour, general view

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Looking south towards the airport

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Sydney harbour

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Looking down

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A rooftop terrace

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Opera house

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Darling Harbour

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Cruise ship in Darling Harbour

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A hostel in the centre

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ANZAC memorial in Hyde Park

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St Mary's Cathedral

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The little fortress in the harbour

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The monorail from above

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A different part of the harbour

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Planes flying in

Posted by Kathrin_E 16:15 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney Comments (1)

Melbourne

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St Paul's Cathedral

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After five days in Sydney we flew to Melbourne, on Qantas this time, and Qantas perfectly lived up to their reputation as kangaroo airline. The landing was very much in kangaroo style, it felt like we were bouncing along the runway… This remained a running gag between us for the rest of the trip.

At Melbourne airport we were picked up by F’s cousin Yvonne and her boyfriend. We were staying with them at their apartment. Together with their two cats, they were living in a loft in the suburb of Brunswick, which they had turned into an apartment with several rooms. They said, “You buy the box and do with it as you like.” Since this suburb’s namesake, Braunschweig in Germany, is my hometown, I was especially happy about the location!

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Melbourne received quite a large number of immigrants from Germany in its history, as a city map shows. There is not only Brunswick but also Altona (the original being a part of Hamburg), Heidelberg (needless to explain), and Coburg (Coburg in Franconia).

One evening Yvonne and Mark took us out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I was a bit of a failure that night, though – it was my first encounter with Japanese food except the universal sushi, so I ordered a bento box to be able to try various dishes. I did not like one single of them, though. I felt so sorry for our hosts but it tasted simply awful to me, although everyone else liked theirs. My North German tongue is not compatible with Japanese cuisine. I’ll better never go to Japan…

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Flinders Street Station

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Federation Square

Each day we took the tram into the centre for sightseeing, while our hosts had to go to work. We explored the city centre and its architecture, which is a mix of old and modern, brick and glass, Victorian historism and modern functionalism – plenty of options for photography: details, contrast of styles, reflections…

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We appreciated the historical City Circle tram. Its route is rather a rectangle than a circle, but it’s constantly doing its rounds and it is free to use. Saves quite a bit of walking, and this rattling old vehicle with its elaborate furnishing in brass and polished wood is fun to ride.

We visited the State Library where they keep the original armour of Ned Kelly - the Australian Robin Hood or a common criminal? The architecture was the best of that visit, though. I would love to do research in that reading hall under the vast dome. An impressive building, one of the most beautiful library halls I ever saw.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Immigration Museum, this was the sight that impressed me most. It shows and explains everything about immigration to Australia from the early convicts to nowadays’ rules and procedures. One particular exhibit is a life-size, walk-in model of the deck on a 19th century immigrants ship, complete with the sounds that a crowd of people in a narrow deck would cause (including those from the toilet, LOL). Videos display interviews with potential immigrants, and visitors are asked to make up their mind whether this person would be accepted or not. A very interesting and instructive museum that I wholeheartedly recommend seeing.

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Queen Victoria Market was a great destination for some souvenir shopping. I got myself a keyring which I am still using on my keys to this very day. It is made from wood, in four layers of different colours. With some imagination, it has the shape of the continent of Australia. It has actually served me as an overview map a couple of times when I explained the itinerary of our trip.
I even found a new plushy friend in Melbourne: I adopted Platy the platypus girl.

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Rialto Tower was the highest skyscraper, and the only one with a viewpoint at the top. It overlooks the whole city, the harbour and the bay. The weather even allowed some fine zoom shots.

You’ll say: But Eureka Tower on Southbank? Southbank was still a construction side in 2005. The huge towers have been finished in the meantime, and I hear that there is a viewing platform on the highest of them which will certainly offer an even more impressive view of the city.

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Southbank in 2005

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The guy who operated this crane had the workplace with the best view in town.

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View towards the harbour and bay

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It’s also interesting to see what purposes the rooftops of the lower buildings are used for – roof gardens, restaurants, kindergarten, tennis court... I think the rooftops in cities provide valuable space that should be used much more.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 16:33 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne Comments (1)

Great Ocean Road 1: Melbourne to Lorne

Great Ocean Road

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Our faithful campervan on the Great Ocean Road

Our hosts drove us to the rental where we picked up our pre-booked campervan. We made our way through Melbourne’s morning rush hour and entered the Great Ocean Road.

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Along the way we stopped at Point Roadknight near Anglesea for a break on the beach. The beach was almost deserted except for a tour group just setting out for a canoe tour. The fine sandy beach runs in a gentle curve along the shallow bay and ends in rock formations that, with a little imagination resemble petrified dragons, lions, or other monstrous creatures. In case you are coming from Melbourne, this place is worth a stop and you will find them rather spectacular. In case you are coming from the other side and have already seen the really spectacular cliffs of Port Campbell National Park, Roadknight's Head is, of course, nothing...

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Lorne was our first overnight stop during our tour of the Great Ocean Road. It is not too far from Melbourne so we could have continued further south on that first day, but the driver had to get a feel for the big campervan first, and I think he was grateful for an early stop… which I understood all too well. I do not drive myself and I admired him for coping with this big vehicle, and with driving on the wrong side of the road!

So we took the first day easy. We found a campground on the banks of Erskine river and spent the afternoon with a little walk along the river mouth and the beach, a beer at a local pub and an excellent dinner at a small Italian restaurant in town.

A boardwalk lead from the campground along the river bank towards the beach. A sandbank closes the river off the sea at low tide. The river mouth is crossed by a suspension bridge, kind of a “miniature Golden Gate”. It’s a romantic spot.

Then we walked along the beach to the centre of Lorne. It was late March and really chilly. Besides, the beach was full of seaweed. I have no idea how the waters are for swimming. Maybe it is better in summer. Since Lorne claims to be a seaside resort there must be better options in other seasons. The town was rather quiet as it was more or less off-season when we visited. It will be much busier in summer.

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A few metres uphill from the main street we found a small Italian-style restaurant called Tiramisu. The restaurant was run by a young couple. He was of Italian descent, the chef and an ambitious singer... She was the waitress, maybe of Dutch/Belgian/German ancestry - not sure. Really cute people. The food was ex-cell-ent. I had the Fish of the Day, a Blue Eye fillet the size of a big steak, grilled and served on risotto with fresh tomatoes and herbs. One of the best fish dishes I have ever had in my whole life. Unfortunately we were almost the only guests. I assume the location off the main street was a disadvantage for them, as many other restaurants are located in the main street. I do not think it still exists, which is a pity – at least I cannot find any traces of it neither on Google Maps nor anywhere else on the web.

The coastal landscape around Lorne is beautiful, although not as spectacular as later on, west of Cape Otway. There is hardly anything that could be called cliffs here. But it was a pleasant place for a relaxed day.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 00:49 Archived in Australia Tagged great_ocean_road Comments (1)

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