Travel

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of many a bucket list. One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s largest coral reef, and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space, it’s no wonder it’s a top tourist destination.  Over 2 million tourists flock to the Great Barrier Reef each year and we were keen to join the throng before climate change destroys it. If you’re interested in the science about threats to the reef due to climate change, you can read the National Ocean Service report here.

Our cruise on the Norwegian Jewel in February 2019 offered two excursions to the reef. We definitely wanted to book a cruise line excursion because we wanted to safeguard our plan as much as possible. We didn’t want to take a chance on missing the opportunity to see this natural wonder. The first excursion, on day 6 of the cruise, departed from the port of Airlie Beach and the second left from Cairns on Day 8. My friend, Lori, and I studied them and decided to book the first excursion on Cruise Whitsundays from Arlie Beach. We thought if the first excursion ended up canceled for any reason, we’d still have a shot at the second one.

On the morning of February 18, we boarded our catamaran directly from the cruise ship for the 2 hour trip to the Outer Reef. With clear sunny skies and calm seas, we enjoyed the views from our boat as we sailed toward Heart Pontoon at Hardy Reef. Before our arrival, the staff on our Cruise Whitsundays ship instructed us about snorkeling.

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Our ride

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Snorkel instruction

When we arrived at the pontoon, we got in line for the semi-submersible ride right away. We figured the lines would be long and they were. Although we noticed shorter lines later in the day, we were glad to have the experience of underwater views before we snorkeled.

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Arriving at Heart Pontoon

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Semi-submersible

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Semi-submersible

Honestly, the views from the semi-submersible (think glass-bottom boat) were somewhat disappointing. The glass windows seemed dull and scratched and the views were murky. We saw very little color causing me to wonder if we were seeing bleached coral.

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Goliath grouper

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Coral as seen from the semi-submersible

Following our ride, we ate a tasty lunch prior to snorkeling.

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After lunch, we donned our stinger suits. Stinger suits are lightweight lycra suits provided by all tour operators to protect snorkelers from the venomous sting of the box jellyfish. While they’re not especially attractive, I daresay I look better in a stinger suit than a bikini.

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Jim and I modeling stinger suits

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Jim and Rick ready to snorkel

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Lori and I are ready

I researched underwater cameras before our trip, planning to take lots of underwater photos at the reef while we snorkeled. I bought one with good reviews at a reasonable cost. (You can see my camera on a strap around my neck in the first photo of the stinger suits.) I should have saved my money. The challenge of managing my snorkel equipment and take photos at the same time was beyond my abilities and I soon gave up.

Opinions about the snorkeling experience itself were mixed. I felt safer staying near the ropes and I didn’t see a lot of colorful coral. Jim, on the other hand, stayed out there until he had blisters on his toes from the flippers. He offered rave reviews. He saw lots of colorful fish and some color in the coral. His favorite, however, was watching the giant clams (Tridacna gigas) languorously open and close.

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Jim and I prepare to enter the water

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Jim and I in the water

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Snorkelers along the guide rope

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Lori snorkeling

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Photo of Jim and me from under the water

I think our experiences differed mainly due to skill level. For those who lack snorkeling ability, the underwater observatory offered views of lots of colorful fish with little or no effort.

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View from the underwater observatory

Upon reflection, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. I expected to see what I see on nature shows and photos on the internet. Fortunately, I purchased a package of photos and I’ve shared several below. Enjoy!

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Overall, I would rate our experience at the Great Barrier Reef a 9. Although we didn’t see as much color as I expected, the reef was, nevertheless, amazing and it’s an experience like no other.

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

*Disappointment in Brisbane

As fires continue to rage across Australia, I gratefully think about our good fortune to have visited in February 2019 before the conflagration began. Coincidentally, I started writing this blog post in September 2019 just as the bushfires commenced. When my husband recently told me about a video of dead animals strewn along the roadway, (which I steadfastly refuse to view), I was finally spurred to action. I re-read my first draft of Disappointment in Brisbane while tearfully watching the morning news showing American firefighters cheered as they arrived at the Sydney airport.

Our opinions are certainly relative to the situation at hand, aren’t they? When I wrote this draft, I was focused on my disappointment because I couldn’t hold a koala. Today that seems silly. I would definitely choose another title now because, with new information, I appreciate and celebrate all surviving koalas without selfishly wanting to hold them. While I have no idea what future travelers will experience as they travel around Australia, I am inspired to record our experiences from February 2019.

Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the capital of the state of Queensland, but the most noteworthy fact to me was the opportunity to cuddle a koala at nearby Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the first and largest koala sanctuary in the world. I did my research prior to our arrival on day 3 of our NCL cruise and learned koalas can be held in only the 3 states of Queensland,  South Australia, and Western Australia. Our ship would not cruise near the other 2 states so this was our one opportunity to hold a koala and we signed up for the cruise line’s excursion to the sanctuary.

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I should have suspected a problem when our tickets contained a disclaimer to the effect that holding a koala was dependent on factors beyond their control. What that really meant is we would be there between scheduled holding times and it would be impossible to hold a koala. We arrived after all the tickets for the 9:30 photos were sold and departed before the 12:00 photo session.

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Needless to say, it was a disappointment. I wouldn’t have selected this excursion had the cruise line been honest about the activity. And, I definitely would have had my photo taken with a koala when we previously visited Featherdale Wildlife Park although we couldn’t hold them there. If you missed my post about our trip to the Blue Mountains, you can read about our visit to Featherdale here.

Although our plan to hold a koala was thwarted, we did see plenty of these adorable creatures and I especially enjoyed watching them munch on eucalyptus leaves which you can see in the video below. Just seeing a koala awake was a delight since they sleep 18-22 hours each day.

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A lucky visitor holding a koala

In addition to koalas, the sanctuary is home to kangaroos and wallabies. The mob below was taking it easy in the sweltering heat.

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Kangaroos at Lone Pine

Unlike the koalas, the roos roam freely with no restrictions while visitors wander about taking photos and hand-feeding them.

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Jim with Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Among the 70 species of native Australian wildlife found here, the platypus was one of my favorites. As we watched them dive and dart gracefully through the water, they almost seemed to be performing for us.

The bad-tempered Tasmanian Devil, the largest living carnivorous marsupial, is found only in the Australian state of Tasmania. Nocturnal by nature, this devil was sleeping during our visit.

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Tasmanian Devil

Likewise, the dingo was snoozing in the heat of the day.

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Dingo

Australia is also home to many colorful lizards, kookaburras, and large (creepy) bats.

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To date, over 1 billion animals have perished in the bushfires in Australia. Animals like the koala, kangaroo, platypus, wombat, and Tasmanian devil are found only in Australia and it would be tragic to lose these species. If you’re moved to take action to protect the animals and their habitat, you can help with a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

Following our visit to Lone Pine, our bus took us through the city, pointing out landmarks including traditional Queenslander homes. The distinctive architecture of the Queenslander from the mid to late 1800s included wide verandahs and was raised to protect it from flooding and to draw cool air from underneath.

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Queenslander home in Brisbane

We made a final stop at the Cliffs Boardwalk for panoramic views and photos of Brisbane before returning to the ship.

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*So now you know Brisbane was really not a disappointment. After all, who could be disappointed in a city that offers 300 days of sunshine a year? Cheers to Brisbane!

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

At Home on the Norwegian Jewel

I could live on a cruise ship except for the fact my son would hound me continually about my environmental footprint. And I agree, in theory, but ship life is so pleasant it’s easy to be selfish and forget about social responsibility for a few weeks each year. I also rationalize my behavior by telling myself NCL isn’t as bad as many of the other cruise lines. You can see the ratings here. So, we continue to cruise but we try to be environmentally responsible in other areas of our life.

Seven of our 19 days aboard the Norwegian Jewel were at sea which suited us just fine. We enjoy many of the activities offered on board but when we’re in port we feel obligated to explore onshore. On this cruise, we looked forward to having plenty of both.

My friend, Lori, and I began our first sea day by attending the Morning Stretch class at 7 AM followed by Fab Abs at 7:30 in the Aerobic Studio. We liked both so much, we began every day with the two classes unless we had an early excursion preventing us from being there. Jim often joined us for the stretching class, then went off to do his own thing while we developed our fab abs. Rick had his own fitness regimen which began much earlier than ours.

 

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Aerobic Studio in the Fitness Center

We fell into a routine pretty quickly. Following our workout each morning, our group met for breakfast in the area of the aft called the Great Outdoors, located outside the Garden Cafe. After a leisurely breakfast, we’d return to our stateroom to brush our teeth and change into swimsuits, then go in search of a deck chair in the shade. That was easier said than done with an aging cruise population, many of whom have also learned to prefer shade. At any rate, once we found a spot we settled in to read, people-watch, and doze. Often we could hear the musicians around the pool on Deck 12 from our lounge chairs.

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The Great Outdoors

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Lazing in the shade

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I’m not sure why we donned swimsuits to sit in the shade

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The pool area on the Norwegian Jewel

At lunchtime, we would join others in the buffet line at the Garden Cafe and find a table again at the Great Outdoors.

Some days we attended lectures regarding ports of call, excursions, or historical topics. A few of our favorites were the Great Barrier Reef, Darwin and Pearl Harbor, comments from the reef pilot, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, and Indonesian History and Culture. Lori and Rick also participated in some trivia contests and Jim went on the Behind the Scenes Tour of the ship where he was especially impressed with the machine that folded the beach towels.

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The reef pilot said the locals were friendly

Later in the afternoon, we would shower and dress for dinner, then rejoin one another to play bridge before we searched out our favorite table with a view at Azura for dinner.

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There was a lovely view even though it doesn’t show in the photo

The food was always well-presented and it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Following dinner, if we had time before the theater show, we sometimes stopped by the casino to throw away a few pennies. I was surprised to learn very few slot machines allow a penny bet anymore. I had a $20 budget for the entire cruise so I didn’t bet more than one line in spite of common wisdom which claims you have to bet more to win.

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I had a hard time finding a slot machine which would accept a penny bet

If time didn’t allow, we headed directly to the show, which we enjoyed almost every evening. Generally, photos aren’t allowed during the show but I captured the few exceptions.

After the show, it was generally, back to our staterooms for bedtime where we usually found a towel animal waiting to bid us goodnight. Then, the following morning, we would begin our routine over again.

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A few exceptions to our routine inevitably occurred. Jim and I explored the bridge on this cruise, something we haven’t done before.

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Good to know someone is steering the ship

We never miss an opportunity to enjoy free drinks and appetizers at the Latitudes cocktail party.

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Not all of those cocktail toothpicks were mine

Early on the morning of February 21, I encountered a woman on the elevator up to the 12th deck for my stretching class who asked me why the ship had turned around. I had no idea and inquired what made her think we’d turned around. She explained she’d seen it on the television channel which shows our route and progress. Sure enough, in the night we headed back to Cairns due to a medical emergency. IMG_7083.jpeg

We watched from the window of our stretching class as the patient was lifted aboard a hovering helicopter. Later, we learned the announcements we’d heard the prior evening requesting the reef pilot report to the captain were so he could safely guide us back through the Great Barrier Reef.

Then the following day, the starboard side of deck 7 was closed off. We found out a small fire had been extinguished in one of the lifeboats. Yikes! I suspected a flicked cigarette may have been to blame.

On the 25th, we celebrated Lori’s birthday with dinner in a specialty restaurant and birthday cake.

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Without a doubt, however, nothing was more romantic and captivating aboard the Norwegian Jewel than sunrise, sunset, and a full moon over the water.

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Sunrise on the Jewel

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Sunset from the Jewel

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One more sunset

 

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Full moon

 

Come back and read about the port of Brisbane next time.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Heart and Coal in Newcastle

Have you heard the saying, “It’s like carrying coal to Newcastle”? The saying which means to do something pointless or superfluous originated in Newcastle, England, where the expression dates back to the 1600s, but the Aussies in Newcastle, Australia, also claim it as their own. It turns out both cities have a legitimate claim. Newcastle, England, was the United Kingdom’s first coal exporting port and Newcastle, Australia, is currently the largest coal port in the world. (Newcastle, Australia, however, is currently trying to move away from a carbon-centered economy.)

Australia’s second-oldest city was permanently established in 1804 as a penal colony originally consisting of 34 convicts and a military guard. The convicts were treated harshly, working long days mining coal. By 1826, however, the Australian Agricultural Company took over management of all government mining and the penal colony moved to Port Macquarie.

I think of coal as an especially dirty commodity so I assumed the largest coal port in the world would be among the dirtiest, most unappealing ports ever but I was in for a big surprise! Shuttle buses picked us up at the pier and transported us immediately to the attractive town center. I took a photo of the sign below with a map of the town to help us find our way first to Fort Scratchley. As it turned out, the photo was the only map we had since we were told the town was out of tourist maps due to the recent large influx of cruise ships. Our walking route is enlarged below.

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You can find several other self-guided walks and maps on the Visit Newcastle website but our route, while not planned in advance, showed us a good sample of Newcastle’s sights.

We walked along the foreshore, then climbed the hill to the fort.

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Customs House in the background

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Looking back along the foreshore with a view of the cathedral high on the hill

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View as we climbed to the fort

Fort Scratchley was established in 1882 in response to hostilities between England and Russia resulting in fear of attack by Russian ships to obtain coal.  Colonel Peter Scratchley was put in charge of planning the fort which would subsequently be named for him.

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A Russian ship, His Imperial Royal Majesty’s Ship Rynda, did sail into the port in 1888 causing great consternation but the feared attack never materialized. Instead, an attack came from Japan in 1942 when a submarine, the I-21, shelled Newcastle with over 30 rounds. The troops at Ft. Scratchley returned fire but the sub escaped unharmed. Today, the fort is an interactive museum with many devoted volunteers who love to share these stories and more with visitors. As cruise ships depart Newcastle, they fire a three-gun salute from Ft. Scratchley but it’s rather a point of pride that they’ve never hit a ship.

 

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Quarters at the fort

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No. 1 and No. 2 guns 

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Jim and No. 2 gun

 

 

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View from Ft. Scratchley toward the Norwegian Jewel

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Jim and I enjoyed the view of Nobby’s Beach and Nobby’s Lighthouse

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A volunteer regaled Jim with stories about Ft. Scratchley

The walk down to Newcastle Beach was easier than our climb up to the fort. We had a chuckle over the sign at the beach announcing the nudie Australian Boardriders Battle but we missed the competition which was scheduled several days after our visit. My research on the internet revealed no surfers competed in the nude so I’m at a loss to explain the name. It is, however, the largest surfing competition in Australia.

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Newcastle Beach

After enjoying views of the beach, we climbed back up the hill to Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle where the Bishop resides. Construction began in 1892 but was never completed. In 1974, the roof sustained major damage as the result of a terrible storm and the building was finally repaired and finished in 1979. Disaster struck again in 1989 when a serious earthquake occurred and restoration following the event was finally completed in 1997. Today, the cathedral is beautiful both inside and out.

 

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Cathedral Church of Christ the King

The banners on either side of the nave depict saints and angels

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Interior of Cathedral

I was fascinated by the beautiful needlepoint covers on the kneelers.

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Kneelers with needlepoint covers

When I asked an employee what the symbols were on the kneeler below, quite a discussion ensued.

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They finally determined the six symbols represent the six states in Australia.

 

New South Wales: the cross of St George with lion and stars

Western Australia: a black swan

Tasmania: a red walking lion

Queensland: a blue Maltese cross and crown

Victoria: the southern cross

South Australia: the Australian piping shrike

Following our visit to the cathedral, we walked downhill one last time and to our great delight, we discovered Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, the iconic pie cart. Established during the Depression by Harry Edwards to provide cheap food outside the Woolloomooloo naval dockyard in Sydney, Harry closed his business when he enlisted during WWII. He reopened after the war in 1945 and the business has operated ever since. This early version of a food truck became “de Wheels” because the city council required food caravans to move at least 12 inches each day so Harry’s became Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.

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Harry’s is known for pie and having pie in Australia was on my “must-do” list. This pie, however, is no ordinary pastry; it’s a meat pie. Lori and I decided to share the signature Harry’s Original Tiger pie made with beef, mushy peas, mash, and gravy. YUM!

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After our sustenance at Harry’s, we were ready to return to the Norwegian Jewel. We had reservations at the French restaurant, Le Bistro, to celebrate a romantic Valentine’s Day with our sweethearts that evening.

I know Jim looks either inebriated or totally smitten in the photo below but honestly, he was just hamming it up for Valentine’s Day.IMG_6448

Join us next time for fun at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Leaving Sydney on the Norwegian Jewel

Our departure on the morning of day 5 in Sydney was bittersweet. Despite the heat-wave, no aircon, no window screens, blood-thirsty mosquitoes, a few other random unidentified insects, and a creature later identified by the landlord as a gecko that skittered through the apartment startling some and terrifying others, we enjoyed our stay in the Airbnb. The location, the kitchen, and the extra space were ideal. I think we all felt a little sad leaving Sydney, a city we agreed was delightful and offered many more experiences than we’d had time to enjoy.  On the other hand, we were excited to begin our 19-day cruise with 5 additional ports in Australia plus stops in Indonesia and Singapore.

So we trudged up the hill past our favorite pub, the Lord Nelson Brewery, one last time with our bags in tow. As we made our way down Argyle Street, I looked around fondly, taking a few last photos to remind me of our adopted home neighborhood.

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We arrived at Circular Quay too early to board the Norwegian Jewel, but joined the line which was already forming. Since our ship wouldn’t leave Sydney until 6 p.m., we had planned to go through the embarkation process, have lunch, then take in one last sight, the Australian National Maritime Museum, in nearby Darling Harbor.

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When we discovered we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the ship once we went through embarkation, we decided to cut the museum from our itinerary. We’ve all had nightmare experiences standing in line for hours to board the ship and right now we were at the front of the line so we decided to stay right there.

Happily, embarkation was one of the quickest we’ve experienced so we were soon on-board and made our way to the Garden Cafe for lunch. Although we couldn’t get into our staterooms for several hours, we contented ourselves with exploring the ship, purchasing our wine package, and perusing the Freestyle Daily which advises passengers of everything happening on-board.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House from the Norwegian Jewel

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View of CBD (Central Business District) from the ship

Our luggage arrived soon after the staterooms opened and we unpacked at a leisurely pace, grateful to think we wouldn’t need our suitcases for 19 days. The mandatory lifeboat drill was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and sail-away at 6. As the four of us enjoyed a delicious dinner before the show, Aussie Boys in Motown, we watched from our table as Sydney receded on the horizon.

 

 

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Leaving Sydney

 

Come back next time to read about our first port-of-call at Newcastle.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Down Under in the Blue Mountains

Wanting to get out of Sydney to see more of the countryside of New South Wales, we researched our options for day trips. After flirting with the idea of a wine tour to the Hunter Valley, we decided instead on a trip to the Blue Mountains. We booked a small group guided tour with Anderson’s Tours for $160 per person. Although it seemed somewhat expensive, the 11-hour tour included several stops in the Blue Mountains, Scenic World, a guided walk, Featherdale Wildlife Park, a river cruise, lunch, and all entrance fees.

Our guide, Kunal, picked us up at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel at 7:20 a.m. on Day 4 of our trip down under.

Ours was the last pickup point and seats were nearly full so Jim sat in the front with Kunal, beginning a thoroughly enjoyable ride. As he drove us through the countryside, Kunal shared his considerable knowledge about Australia, New South Wales, and the Blue Mountains with us.

The Blue Mountains received their name eponymously from the blue haze of the eucalyptus forests covering the mountains. The blue haze is caused by a phenomenon called Rayleigh Scattering, a molecular scattering of light. Incidentally, this Rayleigh Scattering also causes the sky to look blue.

After driving through Glenbrook and Katoomba, we stopped first at Scenic World. A privately owned tourist attraction, it offers several worthwhile experiences. As we entered, we were told to take the Scenic Skyway and meet our group on the other side before boarding the Scenic Railway. The Scenic Skyway, the largest aerial cablecar in the southern hemisphere, with 360-degree windows and a glass floor, provided some amazing views.

View from Scenic Skyway

As is sometimes the case, several of our tour group didn’t listen to the instructions and couldn’t be found at the meeting point so we wasted about 45 minutes waiting for them. This is why I’ve come to appreciate private tours whenever they are cost-effective.

Advertised as the steepest passenger railway in the world, the Scenic Railway with its 128% incline descends 310 meters (1017 ft.) to the floor of the Jamison Valley. Originally built to transport coal and miners, the incline railway began carrying tourists on weekends and holidays to supplement their income. When the coal mine closed, Harry Hammon and his sister bought the lease in 1945 and developed Scenic Railway as the centerpiece of Scenic World.

When we reached the bottom, we enjoyed the Scenic Walkway through several coal mining exhibits and an environmentally responsible 2.4 km trail through the Jurassic rainforest.

Sculpture of a coal miner and his pit pony
Scenic Walkway

The thick vines in the photo below supply water and nutrients to the foliage high above in the canopy.

Five Leaf Water Vines

Following our leisurely stroll through the rainforest, we boarded the Scenic Cableway for our return to the top of the cliff while enjoying more spectacular views of the Three Sisters, a rock formation created by erosion.

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
One last photo at Scenic World

We stopped at several more lookouts with relatively short trails leading to them. Even in the mountains, the day was oppressively hot so we were grateful not to hike too far.

Cahills Lookout
Jim on the right in the red hat at Elysian Rock

Following a tasty lunch at the elegant Alexandra Hotel in Leura, we had a little free time to explore the town before continuing on to several more lookouts in the Blue Mountains.

Lunch at the Alexandra Hotel

The view from Sublime Point lived up to its name.

Featherdale Wildlife Park was like most zoos—a somewhat sad place to see wild animals in captivity. Because of the heat, we departed from the air-con in the van somewhat apathetically to visit the animals.

I was eager, however, to see native Australian wildlife and especially keen to see koalas up close. Koalas are nocturnal and sleep 18-20 hours a day and none of them were awake but it was fun, nonetheless. You can hold koalas only in the state of Queensland (we were in New South Wales) so we didn’t bother to stand in the short line to get a photo merely petting a koala. I would later regret that decision but more on that in a future post.

Koalas are endangered; there are currently estimated to be only 43,000-80,000 koalas left in Australia due to loss of habitat. The koala eats eucalyptus leaves and while there are 700 varieties of the plant in Australia, the koala eats only 60 of them. Efforts are underway to try to save and restore the habitat to ensure the survival of this adorable marsupial.

A couple from our group with a koala

Lori and I took turns taking photos of one another petting the kangaroos that roamed freely around the park.

Lori and a roo
Me and my roo

The park charges a fee to take photos of dingos but I captured this one as one of the staff walked it through.

Dingo at Featherdale Wildlife Park

These adorable little penguins are native to Australia and we enjoyed watching them clamor for food at feeding time.

Feeding time at the zoo

The echidna, also known as the spiny anteater, is native only to Australia and New Guinea. They and the platypus are the only mammals to lay eggs.

Echidna

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Following our visit at Featherdale Wildlife Park, Kunal delivered us to the marina on the Parramatta River where our ride soon arrived to deliver us back to Circular Quay.

Kunal and Jim

It was a long, sweltering, exhausting, but satisfying day.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Down Under on the HO HO to Bondi

After our visit to Manly Beach, we were keen to see Bondi Beach in Sydney to compare the two. We decided the best way to make the 7 km trip from the Rocks to Bondi would be the Hop On Hop Off Bus, aka the HO HO Bus or the Big Bus Sydney. The $55 AUD ($38.50 USD) ticket for one day was pricey but we thought it was an efficient way to travel throughout the city and see all the highlights. We hadn’t yet ventured outside our neighborhood in the Rocks and the HO HO would rectify that situation. The map below shows the routes for the HO HO Bus with white circles at stop 1 where we boarded the bus and our destination at Bondi Beach.

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Map of HO HO Bus route

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Riding the HO HO Bus in Sydney CBD

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Sydney Tower Eye

To change from the red to the blue line, we got off the bus at stop 3. Spotting St. Mary’s Cathedral nearby, we decided to have a look before the next bus.

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St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

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Interior of St. Mary’s Cathedral

Back on the bus, we listened to the narration about landmarks such as Victoria Barracks and Centennial Park until we “hopped off” at the stop for Bondi Beach on Campbell Parade, just a short walk to the beach.

Bondi, pronounced bond-eye, is an aboriginal word which means “water breaking over rocks” or “noise of water breaking over rocks.” The crescent-shaped beach is 1km (.62 mi) long and the largest beach in the Sydney area, attracting as many as 40,000 visitors on the hottest days in summer.

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Bondi from the boardwalk

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Bondi Beach

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Bondi Beach

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View of Bondi Pavillion from the beach

After a brief exploration of the Bondi Pavillion, we removed our shoes to walk through the sand and dip our toes in the warm water of the South Pacific.

So, how did Bondi stack up against Manly Beach? If you’re looking for a wide sandy beach with a broad boardwalk from which to enjoy the beach scene, Bondi is for you. On the other hand, if you prefer picturesque views with shade offered by pine trees surrounding the beach, you’ll choose Manly. (If you missed it, you can read my Manly Beach post here.) Both offer coastal walks through the area and plenty of shops and restaurants. I’m told surfers prefer the bigger waves at Bondi, but we watched surfers at both. In the end, Manly got my vote but, if you have the time, definitely visit both.

Back on the bus, we enjoyed views of the city skyline from Dudley Page Reserve in Dover Heights, an eastern suburb of Sydney. Many tourists flock here to photograph the city from this vantage point.

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View of the skyline from Dudley Page Reserve

Soon after we transferred from the blue line back to the red line at the Central Railway Station, we spied one of the most striking buildings at One Central Park, in the suburb of Chippendale. The tallest vertical garden in the world, this 34 story residential building with 623 apartments was completed in 2013, winning an international award the following year for the best tall building in the world.

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One Central Park

We got off the bus again at stop 14 for the Sydney Fish Market at Blackwattle Bay. The largest working fish market in the Southern Hemisphere, the SFM supplies and promotes sustainable seafood,  trading over 13,500 tons of fish annually. We wandered around the area looking at fish we had never seen before and watching tourists eat local seafood prepared onsite.

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Sydney Fish Market

Frankly, we were out of our element and not everyone in my group enthusiastically embraced the idea of eating local seafood at the Sydney Fish Market so instead we had lunch at a nearby pub, the Dunkirk.

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Lunch at The Dunkirk

Following a leisurely lunch, we boarded the HO HO again to finish the route. We passed through the Darling Harbor area, China Town, and Dawes Point before ending our tour where we began in the Rocks.

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Darling Harbor

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Darling Harbor

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Dawes Point

Day 3 in Sydney ended satisfactorily at Lord Nelson, another pub just around the corner from our condo where we enjoyed a cold brew and discussed all we’d discovered on our tour of the city.

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Scenes from the Lord Nelson

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Down Under at the Coathanger

Day 3 of our visit in Sydney dawned sunny and hot, a perfect morning for an early walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately called the coathanger due to its arched shape. We had walked past the Argyle Stairs on Argyle Street many times in our short stay in Sydney but we hadn’t climbed them previously. Knowing the Cahill Expressway which crosses the bridge was above us, however, up we went.

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Looking back down the Argyle Stairs

At the top of the 174 stairs, we found ourselves on Cumberland Street. After looking about, we discovered the Bridge Stairs sign across the street partially obscured by a tree. When we saw the elevator, we decided to skip the stairs and take the elevator for the experience. At the top, we had clearly arrived at our intended destination.

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Bridge Stairs

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Elevator to Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Jim, Rick, and Lori riding the elevator

The largest steel arch bridge in the world, Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932 following nearly 9 years of construction, the labor of 1400 men including the deaths of 16, and a cost of $4.2 million. The four pylons at either end of the bridge provide no support; they are strictly aesthetic to make the bridge look solid. The Pylon Lookout Museum, located in one of the pylons, costs $15 AUD to visit and opens at 10:00 a.m., promising great views from the open-air lookout at the top.

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We arrived too early for the museum and decided to content ourselves with a free walk of a little more than 1 km (.75 mi.) to the other side and many photographs along the way. Jim still regrets not doing the bridge climb but with costs ranging from $174 to $388 AUD per person, the free walk with spectacular views was good enough for me.

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View from Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House from Harbour Bridge

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Another view from the bridge

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Today, the bridge maintains 7 vehicle lanes, one 24-hour bus lane, 2 train lines, a bicycle lane, and a pedestrian walkway. When traffic utilizing the bridge grew to unmanageable proportions, a 2.3 km tunnel was completed in 1992 to accommodate southbound traffic only. More than 160,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day and 85,000 vehicles use the tunnel. Tolls range from $2.50 to $4.00 depending on the time of day resulting in a pretty good source of revenue.

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Jim on the pedestrian lane next to lanes of traffic on the bridge

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View of a train line on the bridge

Below is a short video to give you the feel of walking the bridge with a few more views as we approach the pylons on the North Shore. (Starring Lori and Rick.)

After walking across the bridge and back, we headed to the Tourist Information office to purchase tickets for the Hop On Hop Off Bus but that’s my next post so check back to read about it.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Down Under at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

You may think a trip to Manly Beach, lunch at the Fortune of War, and a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House was enough for day 2 in Sydney but we weren’t finished yet. The opera house is adjacent to the Royal Botanic Garden so following our visit to the opera house, we headed that direction entering the garden through the Queen Elizabeth II Gate.

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Queen Elizabeth II Gate

As we entered the gate, I inquired, “What’s a bittame?” and Jim responded derisively, “Laura, that’s BITE ME!” It never occurred to me they would actually display a pejorative command in a proper garden but we’ve laughed over my naiveté several times since.

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Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

According to the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, the Royal Botanic Garden is a 72 acre (29 hectares) haven surrounded by 126 acres (51 hectares) of open parkland called the Domain. Located between the CBD (Central Business District) and the harbor, the garden was established in 1816 but wasn’t designated royal until 1959. Admission is free and the garden welcomes over 3 million visitors each year. We strolled the paved trail hugging the coast of Farmers Cove for about a mile (1.3km) to Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair. Many trails lead off to other areas of the park, as you can see on the map below but, with limited time, we confined our exploration to the foreshore promenade. (Our route is marked in red below.)

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Along the way, we paused frequently to read markers identifying various plants and to enjoy the spectacular views of Sydney Harbor.

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair was named for the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810-1821. Mrs. MacQuarie loved to walk out to the point to enjoy views of the harbor so her husband had a bench carved from sandstone rock to provide her with a resting spot. The inscription carved into the rock says, “Be it thus recorded that the road, round the inside of the Government Domain called, Mrs. Macquarie’s Road, so named by the Governor on account of her having originally, planned it, Measuring 3 miles and 377 yards, was finally completed on the 13th day of June 1816.”

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Point

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Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair

By happenstance, we discovered St. George OpenAir Cinema on our walk to the point. The movie that evening was a premiere screening of Everybody Knows, starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. People were lined up for blocks for the gate opening at 6:15. After an action-packed day of sight-seeing, we didn’t feel like waiting until 8:30 for a movie with subtitles. I wished we could have seen Mary Queen of Scots on February 13 but, alas, our cruise departed that day. Other movies during our stay included Bohemian Rhapsody and Instant Family, both movies I’d already seen.

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St. George OpenAir Cinema

This venue operates during the summer months and offers grandstand seating and food and drink including alcohol at tables before the show. We saw many people with coolers and learned you can bring your own food and drink but no alcohol. You may eat your food in the grandstand but the venue tables are reserved for customers purchasing food and/or drink.

The screen is raised over the water for shows and lowered when not in use. The red arrow on the photo below points to the lowered screen. When I return to Sydney, this experience is definitely on my list.

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As we retraced our steps to our condo, Jim stopped briefly on Argyle Street where the Sydney Markets were closing up and snagged some free samples of kangaroo, wild boar, crocodile, and emu. Tired after a long day, we prepared a light supper before getting to bed early. Join us next time for our first activity on day 3 in Sydney — a walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Down Under at the Sydney Opera House

Following a leisurely lunch at Fortune of War on day 2 in Sydney, it was time to see the Sydney Opera House up close. As we strolled toward the opera house along Circular Quay, we enjoyed more of the giant lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year.

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The weather was hot but the people sitting outside at Opera Bar pictured below seemed to be enjoying the live music, a cold drink, and the outdoor mist cooling system. I’ve seen outdoor heaters but not coolers and I was immediately a fan in 90F+ (32C+) temperatures!

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Outdoor beer garden at Opera Bar

I had no idea of the drama surrounding the construction of the Sydney Opera House until we went on the tour. We hadn’t planned to take the $40 tour because you can wander around the facility on your own for free. Instead, we wanted to attend a performance at the opera house, but, unfortunately, nothing scheduled during our visit appealed to us. So, in the end, we decided to take the tour to get the back story. This is some of what we heard and saw.

The Sydney Opera House is located on Bennelong Point which was originally called Tubowgule by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Tubowgule means “where the knowledge waters meet” and the site was considered a sacred meeting place by the Aboriginals. In the 1950s, this site was selected as the location for the new opera house.

Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design was chosen from 233 proposals following an international contest that paid £5000 for the winning design. Construction began in 1959 under the guidance of Utzon, with an estimate of 4 years to complete the project at a cost of $7 million. In the end, it cost $102 million and took 14 years to complete. Engineering challenges dogged the project. First, the ground where the building would be erected was unstable and the solution busted the budget early on. Second, the shell-shaped roof went through several iterations until a structurally sound design was found.

Finally, in 1966, delays and costs strained the relationship between Utzon and the government to the point that Utzon threatened to quit and his resignation was accepted. Although Utzon believed the opera house could not be completed without him, it was. Sadly, he would never return to see the magnificent result of his work.

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The pink sculpture is a lunar lantern celebrating the Chinese New Year and the year of the pig

With seven performance venues in the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theater, Drama Theater, Playhouse, the Studio, the Utzon Room, and the Forecourt, over 2000 performances occur each year. Photography inside the performance venues is allowed only when no sets or performers are present so I purchased the souvenir book which includes the same photo of Jim and me superimposed over various photos of the opera house.

The Concert Hall is the largest venue with seating for 2679 guests. The mechanical action organ with 10,154 pipes is the largest in the world and only one person in the world can tune it. I thought they needed to engage in succession planning pretty quickly. This is the venue where Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final body-building contest in 1980. Luckily, we were allowed to photograph inside.

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The Concert Hall

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Our souvenir photo inside The Concert Hall

The Joan Sutherland Theater, seating 1507 guests, was renamed in 2012 for the famous Australian soprano who died in 2010. After a live chicken landed on a cellist during the opera, Boris Godunov, in the 1980s, today, a net covers the 70 musician orchestra pit. Due to an innovative design, sets and props are stored below the stage rather than in the wings and are moved into place by mechanical lifts.

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Joan Sutherland portrait outside the eponymous theater

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Inside the Joan Sutherland Theater

The Drama Theatre, The Playhouse, and The Studio are smaller venues accommodating 544, 398, and 300 guests, respectively. These venues are used for theatrical performances, dance, and even circus acts. The Utzon Room is the only interior space designed by the architect before he left the project. Seating only 200 guests, the intimate space is used often for chamber music performances. Finally, the Forecourt is an outdoor plaza in front of the opera house that is the largest venue with a capacity of 6000.

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Forecourt of Sydney Opera House

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Forecourt of Sydney Opera House

The interior spaces outside the performance venues were also impressive and the views through 6223 square meters of glass were spectacular.   IMG_5685IMG_5689IMG_5690IMG_5720

One million sixty-six thousand six roof tiles cover the exterior of the sails (roof). Although the opera house looks white, the tiles are actually off-white because white would be blinding. You can see a closer view below.

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Exterior close-up view of Sydney Opera House roof

The Sydney Opera House is such an extraordinary architectural masterpiece, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. Currently, the opera house receives over 8 million visitors each year and after our visit, I understand why.

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Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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