It is a wonder Down Under
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 1:27 p.m.
My trip didn't do justice to the wonder of the country and continent of Australia. Since it's as big as the U.S., you need months to explore it.
We flew to Cairns from Los Angeles (with plane changes in both Fiji and Sydney — you don't want to hear how long the flights were!). Cairns is on the Cape York Peninsula and provides access to the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world. Our cruise on Quicksilver Connection included time to snorkel, a semi-submarine tour and lunch. Optional excursions included a 10-minute helicopter flight or diving trip.
The next day we took the Kuranda Scenic Railway trip through the tropical rainforest of Barron Gorge National Park, followed by a Skyrail Journey (gondola trip), affording more panoramic views. We also saw the performance at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, with its boomerang demonstrations and the chance to hear a didgeridoo.
Melbourne (pronounced Mell-bun) was next on the itinerary — a welcoming, vibrant, sophisticated city that's easy to get around. Don't miss the Royal Botanic and Fitzroy Gardens, the architecture and sights of St. Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne Town Hall, Parliament House, the Royal Exhibition Buildings and Queen Victoria Markets.
Our city tour included the Immigration Museum, with its entertaining multi-media experience of stories of people who migrated to Victoria from the 1800s to present day. Bohemian Brunswick Street reflects the city's tolerant and accommodating soul, and it's great for people watching, eating and shopping.
Last on our whirlwind trip was the gateway city of Sydney. A must is to walk around the distinctive Opera House, maybe take the tour of the interior, or attend a performance. There are jet boat rides and cruises in the harbor, plus an option to climb the harbour bridge (expensive, but when are you ever going to get a chance to do something like that again?)
The Rocks is an area of cobblestone streets, filled with museums and galleries, markets, shops, pubs and restaurants. Check out the beaches — Bondi being the most famous, and historic Paddington, with its iron-railed town houses.
If there's no time to visit the Outback and other territories to meet Australia's fauna, go to Tarunga Zoo, the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World to see kangaroos, emus, koalas, wombats, sharks, seals and more.
For the record, Australia's dangerous creatures (box jellyfish, sharks, crocodiles, snakes, spiders, etc.) kill as few as five people per year (pet dogs account for about 31 deaths a year in the U.S.)
Ayers Rock, or Uluru, is one of the country's most iconic symbols. It's more than four hours' flight from Sydney. To include it in your itinerary consider a Qantas Aussie Airpass or Virgin Blue Airpass. Still to visit are South Australia, Western Australia, the Capital Territory and Tasmania.
The laid-back Aussies generally love Americans, and there's great food, wines, a developed infrastructure and a myriad of sights. And once you get used to Aussie slang you'll have a fair dinkum (genuine) experience!
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of the month.