Port Douglas is as pretty a harbor town as you could imagine. There are big parks at both ends of the main street, a beautiful marina just a couple blocks from downtown and multiple cozy coffee shops and bakeries. Lush foliage was planted everywhere. The shopkeepers were all friendly. It was so hot, nobody was in much of a hurry. It was a relaxing place.
We headed back to Thala Beach after stocking up on a few essentials. The road was lined with various resorts, and field after field of sugar cane. I remember thinking parts of Hawaii must look very similar.
That night our trip to Kuranda was canceled due to the threat of Tropical Storm Olga turning into Cyclone Olga. Note to self: Do not visit northeast Australia during cyclone season. Heavy warm rain again pummeled our little abode. Yep, we were in a tropical rain forest, all right. Sheesh. And bugs. Hungry, clever, nasty bugs. I got bitten multiple times while Leo was basically ignored. So not fair!
The next day, not having anything else to do, we went back to Port Douglas, where we found out that our trip out to the Great Barrier Reef had also been canceled, due to Olga. Most of the larger boats had been taken upriver for safety. Oh, well. We spent the rest of our time just hanging out at the Lodge, where the staff had to literally tie down all the chairs, tables and lounge chairs just in case Olga blew through. Of course, Olga fizzled out and next day all the furniture was again restored to its proper place. The rain and wind overnight was truly impressive. We’ve never heard rain come down that hard, for that long.
Next on the agenda was Sydney. We landed in Sydney on Australia Day, their equivalent of our Independence Day. Our hotel was right on the harbor, and masses of people were hanging out, listening to the various live bands, taking ferries from place to place. It was a happy bedlam, culminating in fireworks that night.
Sydney has got to be one of the most beautiful big cities of the world, between the Opera House, Botanical Gardens, Harbor Bridge, sailboats, green hills, the blue-green water of the harbor…it was even better than I had expected. Certainly nature gave Sydney much beauty, but the people who settled it and then grew it to what it is today, have much to be commended for. They did a lot right.
Our first full day in Sydney we went to the Taronga Zoo via a short, scenic ferry ride. The zoo takes up the better part of a good-sized hill overlooking Sydney Harbor. It is quite a lovely zoo with not only native animals but a good variety of animals from other parts of the world. We enjoyed a free-flight demonstration put on by various parrots and predatory birds. The adorable red panda pair put on quite a show for us. Unfortunately the duckbill platypus was less cooperative and we only got to see him for a few seconds before he hid away in the shadows of his tank. Oh, well-maybe next time! The pelicans were amazingly graceful as they groomed themselves. We left the zoo tired but happy, and rode the ferry back to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”).
We then walked to Sydney’s CBD (central business district), home of all sorts of shops. Sydney prides itself on its homegrown fashion designers, and many of the shops featured their fashions. They were fun to look at, but I wasn’t tempted, always being most comfortable in casual clothes. At one food court I had the best yogurt I’ve ever had. The food court featured food from the exotic to the mundane. Subway was there along with other recognizable names, all of which we avoided, except for Starbucks. In fact, we felt compelled to apologize to the natives for McDonald’s and KFC, most especially. Wherever we went in Australia, fresh locally grown fruits and veggies were readily available, which we really appreciated. It was great having so much good fresh produce available in the middle of our winter.
The next day, we boarded a tour bus for a day trip to the Blue Mountains. The bus headed northwest up Australia’s busiest road through many Sydney suburbs. At tea time we stopped in Leura, a small, lovely village, for a break before the final leg of the trip.
They might be called the Blue Mountains, but to us they were more like the Blue Hills; they just weren’t all that tall. But oh were they pretty. Covered by temperate rain forest, fern trees grow in abundance. The Three Sisters are beacons to the eyes. We took a short ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the world’s steepest railway. Coal was mined from these mountains; we saw some original mining cars and mine shafts. The river gorge extends for miles and miles. Due to our short time there, we were unable to take advantage of all the trail walks and tram rides available, but it was a very worthwhile thing to see just the same.
After lunch in the rotating restaurant above the gorge, we once again boarded the bus and headed off to the Featherdale Wildlife Park. When we were met at the bus by a bloke holding a wallaby for us to pet, I knew I was going to like Featherdale. While Taronga was nice, it was a typical zoo, keeping quite a bit of distance between the animals and the people. Featherdale was much more informal and felt much more personal. There was not a lot of space between the animals and the people. In fact, you could get right up to the bird enclosures, for example. Of course there were lots of “Caution-these animals bite” signs, but that was ok, because it meant you could get close to the animals and really see them. And if you were stupid enough to get chomped, it was your own fault. Anyway, we got to see the wombats close-up. They were so cute!! The tasmanian devils were out and about. In a separate enclosure, I got to pet the ubiquitous kangaroos and wallabies, another koala, an emu and even several kookaburras and tawny frogmouths. It was wonderful to be so close to the critters. We saw dingos, bats (called flying foxes by the Aussies), umpteen bird species and more critters I can’t even remember at this point. We both loved it. If we ever go back to Sydney, we’ll be making another visit to Featherdale as well.
After leaving Featherdale, we took a quick look at Sydney’s Olympic Park, then boarded a catamaran for a very scenic ride up the Parramatta River back to Sydney. It was a beautiful trip.