Monday, March 19, 2018

Not Enough Time in Australia

I can’t believe our short week in Australia has already come to an end. We were hoping to have an extra weekend at the beginning of the trip, but because I had to work a certain official visit we pushed our vacation. We didn’t get to visit our friends in Canberra and felt like we only scratched the surface of the few cities we visited, but it definitely left us hungry for more.

I’m going to try my best to cram our entire week into one blog post, so there’ll be a ton of pictures this time. The stunning landscape above was actually the view from our friends’ apartment, where we spent our first night in Sydney after an approximately 24-hour transit from Kenya. K and K were amazing hosts, and we were so happy to see them! They even gave us our first (literal) taste of Australian culture with a box of Tim Tams, a delicious type of cookie we'd never tasted before.

Then, we took the "Shopper Hopper" - a little ferry for the Sydney Harbour that took us to where the cruise ship docked so we could drop off our bags. Because we opted to go by boat instead of Uber, we scored the amazing first photo of this post with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and iconic Opera House in the background.

After we dropped off our bags at our massive Royal Caribbean ship (Explorer of the Seas), we took a free walking tour of Sydney. I know I’ve sung the praises of free walking tours before, but we both really love them because we like paying what we felt the tour was worth (and what we can afford) at the end. The quality is usually excellent, and this Sydney one was no exception. (It helps that it was such a gorgeous day to begin with, regardless.)

One of my favorite highlights from the tour was an auditory art installation called "Forgotten Songs" with assorted birdcages playing the real recorded audio of birdsong from a massive array of bird species displaced by Sydney’s urban development. Walking underneath the cages and listening to the sounds of nature in the middle of the city that removed them made for a unique and thought-provoking experience.

After Sydney, we spent a day in Melbourne. We met up with our dear friend S for lunch, and then made time to hit two sights before we had to get on the ship. Our first stop was the Shrine of Remembrance, a beautiful monument devoted to Aussie armed forces and their service.

Then, we dropped by the free Australian Centre for the Moving Image main exhibit hall, which included a wealth of information about the evolution of cinema and moving picture art. It was one of the best designed museums I’ve ever seen, with interactive exhibits ranging from video games to abstract art to virtual reality. All of that is on top of its impressive collection of artifacts from not-so-distant history, like the transparent television from 1939 pictured below.

Before we knew it, we were off to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania (a smaller island just to the south of the main Australia island). The first sight that greeted us when we stepped off the ship were food truck… boats? (Food boats?) Whatever they’re called, we thought they were brilliant.

At one of many official Tasmanian Travel and Information Centres, we booked tickets to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary for that afternoon and dropped by the excellent, free Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in the time we had to spare before our shuttle departed the city. Once we were on our way, the drive out to the sanctuary gave us some lovely views of the Tasmanian countryside.

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary itself was even better than we had imagined. The whole organization is committed to sustainability, nature conservation, and wildlife rehabilitation, which made us happy to pay the $29/person entrance fee and support the mission. We learned about wombats:

As well as the famous Tasmanian devil:

Just kidding! I mean this one:

And, of course, the koala bear:

The highlight of the whole experience was definitely reaching the end of the tour, where kangaroos roamed freely and we could feed them and scratch them. Of course, we both had to try.

We even saw a mama kangaroo with her baby joey in her pouch! It’s amazing how big of a baby can still fit in there…

There was also a huge range of birds (caged if they were rescued members of invasive species but otherwise free) and birdhouses scattered around the property. Their sounds were beautiful.

Our last stop on our Australia trip was Wollongong, which we quickly learned was an artsy city. It’s the kind of place that had cool art randomly on the sides of alleys.

Not being the best art appreciators ourselves, M and I opted for a cultural trip to the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple instead. We learned more about the humanistic Buddhism practiced there and enjoyed the beauty and tranquility of the temple grounds. The most beautiful sections were the sacred temple interiors, with many Buddha figures with varying symbolic meanings, but we did not take photos there out of respect. We highly recommend visiting the Nan Tien Temple - it’s free and open to non-Buddhists.

Now that we’ve reached the end of this amazing Australia trip, we can’t help but feel that the time flew way too fast! We really only spent less than a full day in each of four cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, and Wollongong. Yet we had such a dazzling experience, in large part because of the top-quality service, attention, and care of our wonderful cruise ship staff. Royal Caribbean definitely lived up to M’s longtime hype.

Thankfully, we also got a great taste of Aussie culture from friends we made on the cruise - as the guests were overwhelmingly Australian. Now we understand why so many of our friends said Australia was one of the most enjoyable places they’ve ever been. So although this wonderful week had to come to an end, we know we’ll be back again someday. Thanks to all who made it so special!

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