We are very fortunate to be able to travel to Australia every few years. In addition to visiting family there we always make a point of doing some general touristy travelling. On our most recent trip in February 2019 we drove from our base in Melbourne up the east coast to Sydney, then south again to Canberra and then western Victoria on our way back to Melbourne.
Before we left Melbourne we enjoyed a picnic lunch with Graeme’s brother and sister, Ken and Judith, at the nearby Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. We were soon joined by a kookaburra, Australia’s national bird, which watched patiently for an opportunity to steal some food. It suddenly swooped down from the tree and snatched a sandwich right out of Ken’s hand. We watched in amusement as it then proceeded to bang the sandwich against a tree branch as if killing a snake (part of the kookaburra’s more natural diet!) before eating it.
We made two stops on our drive to Sydney, at the coastal town of Mallacoota in Victoria, and at Nowra in New South Wales. Mallacoota has since achieved international fame as the seaside resort that was devastated by bush fires in December 2019. With the single 14-mile long access road through the bush blocked by fire, hundreds of tourists were evacuated from the beach by the Australian Navy.
When we were in Mallacoota nine months earlier all was calm and tranquil, with kangaroos grazing on a small park in the middle of town. We took a long walk through the bush to a vantage point where we could see the sandbar across the mouth of the Wallagaraugh River which was completely blocking all access to and from the river. On a later walk along the river we learned that the sandbar had also substantially raised the water level of the river, flooding the docks used by fishermen and boat renters. The locals were unhappy that the government was dragging its heels on dredging a channel through the bar.
Nowra, New South Wales
A TV news segment in Mallacoota informed us that the Pelican Rocks Cafe in Greenwell Point, NSW had just been declared to have the best fish and chips in Australia by some tourist organization. We found that it was only about 20 minutes drive from our next stop in Nowra, so we made haste from Mallacoota the next day to arrive in time for lunch. We were not disappointed.
Our Nowra motel was near the Shoalhaven River and we enjoyed watching large flocks of galahs and cockatoos as we took a long walk through the park along the river bank. Before leaving for Sydney the next day we headed back for a second seafood lunch at Pelican Rocks.
This was Connie’s first visit to Sydney, and Graeme hadn’t been there for more than 30 years. In our short time there we crammed in as many tourist attractions as possible.
With rain forecast for our first day we headed for the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife Sydney attractions at the inner-city suburb of Darling Harbor. They offered a good selection of Australian marine life and animals and it was a great way to pass a wet morning. We enjoyed a tasty lunch in one of several waterfront restaurants. That evening we attended an excellent two-man show about the life of and music John Lennon in one of the several theaters in the Sydney Opera House.
The next day we started with a delightful guided walk through the historic Rocks area of Sydney, site of the first Australian settlement in 1786. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the area, taking in more of the Opera House and the adjacent 75-acre Royal Botanic Gardens.
The magnificent Sydney Opera House dominates the view from anywhere near Sydney Harbor, and draws the camera to its many different facets when viewed from different directions. One of the best and cheapest ways to see Sydney and the Opera House from the harbor is to take a ferry from Circular Quay to the Taronga Zoo, which we did on our third and final day. The zoo itself is also a must-see tourist destination, with hundreds of animals from Australia and around the world and beautiful views of Sydney and the harbor.
Canberra, Austalian Capital Territory
Australia’s capital city Canberra is half-way between Sydney and Melbourne, the country’s two most populous cities. We arrived from Sydney in time to visit Parliament House, the seat of Australia’s federal government. We joined a very informative hour-long guided tour that covered the building and its Senate and House of Representatives chambers, as well as the history and political structure of the Australian federation.
After an overnight stop in Bendigo we arrived at the home of Graeme’s sister Judith in the bush “town” of Wartook, Victoria bordering the Grampians National Park. Wildlife abounds and Judith and her son Rodney enjoy feeding some of the local birds and wildlife. We were able to spend some time in the national park to take in the rugged beauty of the Grampians range.
Back in Melbourne we spent a day walking around the very crowded central city area. We were able to meet friends from California for lunch. Ken and Claire just happened to be there on a month-long tour of Australia and New Zealand. [We had a similar coincidental meet-up with them in 2016 when we had unknowingly booked into the same RV park at the same time near Yosemite National Park during our three-month long cross-country trip.]
Apart from considerable bitter-sweet family time the one other notable excursion was a day trip for a “picnic at Hanging Rock,” which happens to be the title of a 1975 Australian movie based on a novel of the same name. Hanging Rock is a distinctive volcanic rock formation about an hour west of Melbourne. It was a sacred place of the aboriginals who had lived there for more than 26,000 years, and still has an aura of mystery about it. However, much of its reputation is now based on the mistaken belief that the novel and movie about disappearing school girls was based on a true story!