Thursday, February 23, 2012

Melbourne and Sydney

Melbourne dawned a much nicer day, as we pulled into port just before a Holland America ship docked alongside our own. Port logistics proved a bit challenging that day, however, and our tour was a bit late to take off. We had booked an ambitious excursion and, in retrospect, would cut one of the stops out. It began with a short harbor cruise on the Yaro River, narrated by an entertaining Aussie boat captain who pointed out the sites. Then we re-boarded our motocoah for the ride up to the Healesville Sanctuary, a much larger facility than the Bonorong Sanctuary in Tasmania, although here we were not allowed to pet or feed any of the animals. Nonetheless, we satisfied our need to see more indigenous marsupials and other animals in their native habitat and added a few more photos, too. Not too far away was the Ferguson Winery where we enjoyed a delicious lunch with local wines and the opportunity to do some wine tasting. Others in our group did variations of the above, or boarded the Puffing Billy Train for a ride through the Dandenong Ranges, or went on city tours. It seemed a very fast stop!

We spent our final day at sea re-packing and saying farewells, as some in our group were headed straight home, while others planned to stay over in Sydney. But all of us were all up early for Sydney sail-in day. We’ve always ranked Venice as the number one sail-away port past the Grand Canal (which will be history in 18 months when the new channel is dredged), but Sydney comes in pretty darn close. We sailed within yards of the beautiful Sydney Opera House (check out the history of the design) on the port side and could see the Sydney Harbor Bridge (no, we did NOT do the bridge climb!) until the ship veered left to the cruise port. Magnificent!

Ben and I had planned only two days in Sydney, so we quickly stashed our bags at our hotel in Circular Quay and boarded the Hop On, Hop Off bus to see as much of the city as possible. We got in some shopping and a German lunch in The Rocks district, where British convicts were first brought in as work crews. We returned in time to get dressed for the performance of Puccini's Turandot back at the Opera House. Admittedly, Ben and I aren’t huge opera fans, but this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. As it turned out, we had booked excellent seats online in advance that were close enough to see the orchestra and conductor, and we could also read the English translations high above if we strained our heads upward. Even Ben found himself really getting into it! Maybe another opera is in our future.... By the way, Natalie Cole was playing in another part of the opera house, and friends attended her show with great reviews.

To top it off, during an intermission we were enjoying a glass of wine outside when the Diamond Princess, lit up from stem to stern, sailed out of the harbor en route to Singapore. It was a magical evening.

For our final day, Ben and I booked a tour up to the Blue Mountains, home to Jurassic rain forests, waterfalls, and giant Three Sisters rock formations. Our tour proved more adventurous than most, as we all walked, rather than rode, down the muddy, slippery slopes though the forests to the base of the cogwheel railway where we happily boarded for the return up! Our guide was very passionate and informative and delighted in talking about the native landscape. Lunch was a quick, but delicious Aussie-style meat pie at a small bakery recommended by our guide. The Blue Mountains tour is an all day event, so it should be booked only by those with time to spare during their Sydney stay. Other popular stops are Bondi Beach and Manley.

The next morning, Ben and I flew to Fiji for one more night before flying on to Los Angeles for a night to meet with our colleague who was covering for us. Timing was everything for this stop. After our first stopover en route to Auckland under sunny skies, the rains began causing terrible flooding in many parts of the Fiji Islands. We returned, gratefully, to more sunny skies.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, notwithstanding the diversion away from Fjordland because of the weather. We wish we’d had time to see more of Australia, since Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney barely tell the whole story of this huge country. But we enjoyed the parts of New Zealand and Australia we did visit, and we loved the people there immensely. Maybe we’ll get back one day.

Next up, more about the Diamond Princess.

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