Six of us went Down Under at the end of February 2004. Three of my sisters, one brother-in-law & one nephew accompanied me. The trip took us primarily to Sydney in Australia (where we?d home-stay with my niece Winnie & her family and then to Auckland in New Zealand (where we’d home-stay with another niece).
There was a bit of uncertainty in the beginning while attempting to get our visas and book our air tickets. For the latter, various permutations and combinations were worked out and in the end we all took different flights, with me flying Thai on the Bombay-Bangkok-Sydney route. The visas too took inexorably long. We decided to let the travel agent deal with our visas. Once the Aussie visas came through, the NZ Embassy in Delhi blindly stamped their visas onto our passports! The immediate hurry was to get to Sydney on time to be present at another nephew?s wedding, on the beach, to his Australian bride Jenny. This would have been my first ever trip outside India, if not for the month I spent in Dubai with family, just prior to boarding the Thai flight. The flights were true to their advertising ? smooth as silk.
The Wedding on the Beach
The wedding itself went off smoothly with the nuptial ceremony taking place outside a Clubhouse, which overlooked the beach. What a sight and setting it was for a wedding! The ceremony lasted half an hour following which we moved into the Clubhouse, for the drinking, the eating, the dancing and the merry making! Aussie weddings are very informal and we chatted up quite a number of people, some of whom had driven 12 hours from Melbourne and even flown in from South Korea! The party ended at 11 pm with the boys carrying the groom and bride, (not chairing them, mind you!). We must have slept at around 1 am. With the wedding firmly behind us and the couple away on honeymoon, we got around to the ‘serious’ business of discovering Sydney and chalking out various plans to make our visit memorable.
Winnie’s place in the suburb of Manly was very spacious and had a big backyard, in which ran a few chooks! Two were reddish-brown in colour and a third one, a lame chook, black. Another one had been served up as dinner shortly before we had arrived in Sydney! There was no H5N1 virus threatening humans then.
Being a little fastidious about food, I gingerly tasted foods like lasagna ? however reluctantly. Winnie and my sisters were constantly making something or the other through the day and most of it was quite sumptuous. One really can?t complain when one is with relations on home-stays. For breakfast we normally had toasted bread with jam or marmalade or butter or cheese spread together with oat porridge! Quite a stomachful. Oh the joys of breakfast! For lunch, the ladies used to try out a number of different recipes including ?Kerala Beef?, the recipe of which I had carried with me! We would wash it all down with ginger beer or VB beer.
Sydney and its surrounding areas are beautiful, to say the least. You would forgive me if I said that the roads and houses seemed straight out of the movies Hollywood makes. The pavements at Manly, the suburb where we stayed, had a grass strip followed by a paved strip and then, another grass strip. Endless stretches of unspoiled beaches, most famous being Bondi beach, which of course, we never went to! Quite amazing, compared to where we came from.
Most of us being on the wrong side of 60 meant, that we were tending to our souls too and that entailed visits to the local catholic church which was St. John the Baptist church, the priest?s name being Fr. Paddy Gillic, who would finish the mass in 10 minutes flat! I noticed for the first time that people shake hands, as many as they can reach, whilst offering peace during holy mass.
We then planned a City trip, weather permitting. A Daytripper pass at AU$ 15 per head covers the bus ride to Manly, ferry from there to Sydney Harbour, monorail & normal train travel. On reaching the famous Coathanger Bridge at Sydney Harbour, we paused for photographs. We also went up to the adjacent Opera House and took a number of pictures in front of that amazing structure.
The ferry then took us to Darling Street and the Pyrmont Bridge (above which runs the monorail), where are situated the tall buildings that dot the Sydney skyline ? E&Y, KPMG, Nestle, ING and the rest all very close to each other, something like our Nariman Point in Mumbai.
We next went to Star City, which houses a casino among other things on one full floor. With AU$ 10 loaned from my niece, I played the 5 cents and 10 cents machines. I won AU$ 15! II returned the loaned amount and joined two others at the machines, only to lose the remaining 5 bucks! Day trips to the City are memorable and leave an indelible imprint on our minds long after we have left the City.
Port Macquarie is about 375 km from Sydney and was our next destination. We took a break at a park half-way through to our destination and refreshed ourselves before continuing. Winnie?s husband had hired a 12-seater bus and did all the driving himself. All our hosts at Port Macquarie were very humble and caring and did a lot to make us feel absolutely at home. They had a big farmhouse with two sections, separated by a roofed passage. Some of us were in the smaller section called ?Granny House?, self-contained with a bedroom, hall, kitchen with the required gadgets, a toilet & bath combined, hot and cold water through the day, everything. The bigger section has a number of bedrooms, hall linked to another hall, dining room, kitchen and another hall which serves as anything you want it to be. There was a swimming pool with one section heated. We all splashed in and I made an attempt to swim, propped up by floating aids.
We took a ferry, MV Port Venture, for a 2 hour ride along the on the Hastings River and past a number of man-made canals. There was a net attached to the ferry boat where all of us did some swimming or splashing around.
We saw a few small kangaroos and a few deer, as our hosts & their neighbours have a forest area on their properties where grow tall gum trees as you see them in movies.
Once back in Manly, we were figuring out the logistics of a trip to Melbourne, if possible. We found out that it cost AU$ 45 each way to Melbourne per head by bus. A trip along the coast there to see the ?12 Apostles?, we figured costs around AU$ 200 each way. We decided that such money was sadly not worth incurring. We had also heard that in Melbourne, the weather can change 3 to 4 times during the same day! We instead made plans to make a quick trip to the Blue Mountains, a 2 hour drive from Sydney and also to the Australian Capital Territory of Canberra!
The Blue Mountains, a great destination for nature lovers contain spectacular formations and attractions, among them the Three Sisters (where my three sisters posed for pictures!) and Jenolan Caves, both of which we visited. Blue Mountains gets its name from the blue haze caused by light passing through evaporated Eucalypt oil, which is the result of direct sunlight shining on the Eucalypt Trees. This evaporated gas is actually flammable, and is one of the reasons why Australia is prone to bush fires every summer.
Back in Manly, we went to the Vincent De Paul bargain basement to see if there was anything to pick up. There is everything from a pin to an elephant, I suppose, but they are hand-me-downs. Some are in reasonably good condition, but we did not pick up anything except a pair of boots. There were novels for 50 cents each and some looked as though they were marked for 5 cents each! Later we went to Warringah Mall, one of Sydney’s shopping centres, and I picked up a new sweater for AU$ 12. At this mall, we got a bit lost, as the mall is really huge. We took in Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ’ at one of the 7 or 8 multiplexes in the mall.
By now, our 45-day stay in Sydney was rapidly coming to an end and our tickets for Auckland (where we would spend a month on our last leg) were getting confirmed. Consequently, we decided to take us on another trip to the City, this time to see places we had not seen on our earlier trip.
On reaching Sydney Harbour with another set of Daytripper tickets, we went up by escalator to the railway platform, took a train ride to St James station, from where we exited to the St James Cathedral, close by. It is big, lengthwise, and even breadth wise as you approach the altar. It’s a Catholic church and has daily mass. We sat in the park opposite the station, a huge one with seagulls, ibises and pigeons flying about a big fountain in the middle with Greek mythological figures in it. There was a section which had tall trees forming an arch.
On the other side of the park was a cylindrical tower, Sydney Tower, which is the highest structure in Sydney. We then went to Central station, 3 stops away by train. The Town Hall is located there and adjacent to it, a square with large circular seats, where people sit and have their meals, read and 3 chinese-looking guys used them whilst consulting an Aussie for their tax returns. The other side of the square is St Andrew’s Protestant Cathedral. We then went upwards and took the monorail which passes through one or two buildings at the 1st floor levels and down some streets and came to the Aquarium, quite the grandest place a visitor should visit. The Aquarium has to be seen to be believed. It is quite vast and its sub-level section is the finale. You are surrounded on both sides and on top by fish of all kinds, including sharks and even giant turtles and at one section they were below us. Though the aquarium is worth seeing, it cost a whopping AU$ 24 per head.
A few days later, I turned 68 years and we all went for lunch to a Chinese restaurant in Manly. The restaurant owners seemed to be quite friendly in disposition and we were treated like family. There was a lively crowd of patrons also present.
Our last hurrah in Australia was the trip to the Australian Capital Territory of Canberra.
We left for Canberra in a mini-bus hired by the married nephew and driven by him and his new bride. We had started at 11 am and reached the Motel Village in Canberra (our camp) in 4 hours, a distance of 300 km. The motel cabins had 2 bedrooms and a hall cum kitchen with all the gadgets that you can have in a normal home. After registering, we went to Black Mountain, nearby.
The road winds up the hill to a height of 810 metres and atop it is the Telstra Tower which houses the TV station. A lift takes you to 870 metres and you can then climb to 3 viewing galleries, which give you a panoramic view of the surrounding supplemented by aerial snaps of the area you are looking at. A bookshop, a restaurant and a PO box installed years ago and functional are also there.
From there we carried on to Lake Burley Griffin near Parliament House 2-3 kms away. It is beautiful, man-made and was created to honour the architect who designed the new Parliament House some years back. Black swans and a number of wild ducks and 2 paddle boats on the lake entertained us.
We visited, in serial order, the Parliament House, War Memorial and the Mint.
Anyone after a normal security check, is allowed into Parliament House and guides take you in and explain the history, different sections and all that one needs to know about the proceedings there. Later that afternoon, there was a session which was open to the public after one registered one’s name. There were no stifling curbs or formalities, unlike in India.
On our way back we stopped at Mosman, which is midway between Canberra and Sydney to spend time with friends of Jenny. They have a huge mansion, which was recently acquired and, has at least 3 big bedrooms, 2 ? big verandahs and other rooms. In the garage behind, a huge tool room for the owner, Keith Johnson, as he likes to potter with things and is quite efficient with them. He brews his own beer from hops bought from a shopping mall. It is really good and works out to 60 cents or so as against AU$ 2.40 for marketed ones.
Finally, we were counting days for our departure to New Zealand. All of a sudden, we were rushed for time.
Useful websites for some of the places we visited are as follows.
Sydney ? www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au
Star City, Sydney ? www.starcity.com.au
Sydney Tower ? www.sydneyskytour.com.au
Warringah Mall ? www.warringahmall.com.au
Mosman ? www.mosman.nsw.gov.au
Blue Mountains ? www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au
Canberra ? www.act.gov.au
Parliament House ? www.aph.gov.au
The Mint ? www.ramint.gov.au
War Memorial ? www.awm.gov.au
Author: Valerian Mendonca- Hyderabad