Thursday, January 24, 2008

Australia - Melbourne and Sydney

Australia! We were excited for this part of our journey for many reasons, and not just because we'd never been below the Equator before. This was the part of our trip where we would be visiting friends, seeing Emily's parents and taking a break from the life of the backpacker to appreciate the comforts of life, such as drinking tap water, showering in bare feet, and not digging into your backpack every day. Our trip started in Melbourne, where Ken and Carlene Gosbell welcomed us very warmly into their home. Ken is the Chair of Australasian Wader Study Group, and as such, is a partner of Birds Korea in the running of the SSMP. He and his wife live in a lovely home outside of the city, surrounded by an 'Australian garden', which means that there are no introduced species. Introduced species, both flora and fauna, have ravaged many parts of this country, and a movement is afoot that is trying to build up the resident species of all kinds.

The Gosbells took us for a drive through wine regions to their
lovely cottage in the hills, where we went on a few walks and took in some lovely birds and sights. The ferns covering the forest floor were just beautiful, as were the Crimson Rosella that landed on us when we got out some seed. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about many different kinds of Eucalyptus trees, which smelled lovely in the mornings.

Before we headed back to Melbourne, we met up with another one of the SSMP's big players, and a leading shorebird expert and good friend Danny Rogers, who, with the Gosbells, took us to a nature park to see a wide array of Australia's strange and wonderful animals, just in case we didn't see them in the wild. We got up close and personal with Koala, Kangaroo, Emu, Platypus and a whole host of other species that don't appear any where else in the world. We learned a lot more about them, including what a Koala sounds like. We're not sure how to explain it other than deep, guttural grunts with heavy breathing - in other words, not at all what you'd expect from such a cute fella.

Once back in the city, Danny teamed up with another shorebird expert, Chris Hassell, to take us to a sewage treatment plant at Werribee. Very few bad smells (unexpectedly) and thousands of birds of over 70 species, it was quite the day! We were treated with a beautiful sunset

as we headed back into Melbourne, one of many we've had so far in Australia. After this fantastic introduction to Australia - thanks Gosbells, Danny and Chris!!!, we were back in Sydney to meet up with another SSMP participant in Andrew Patrick. He took us to Royal National Park just outside the city, and we saw some amazing birds and a really different-looking forest than the ones we saw around Melbourne. One bird that we were particularly excited to see was the Superb Lyrebird, which some of you may have seen on the internet singing chainsaw sounds, or camera shutter sounds, or car alarms, along with an amazing array of other birds' calls and songs. Unfortunately, it was not the breeding season, when they perform these amazing songs and dances, but we did manage to see one, had great views, and heard it practicing some of its repertoire - absolutely wonderful experience.

The next day we entered Sydney proper to meet up with Emily's parents!
We hadn't seen them for 18 months, so we were pretty pumped at the
prospect. After we met at the hostel we were staying at, we enjoyed the sights of Sydney for 5 days, which was a real highlight. Sydney surprised us, though. We had expected it to be an ultra-modern, bustling city with all the fixings usually associated with big metropolis' around the world. What we found, however, didn't exactly fit what we had imagined we'd find.

New buildings there were, but tucked in between them and hidden away in their own districts were aged stone buildings with loads of character. Some were being used as museums, galleries or cafes, but many were simply there being lived in. We hadn't thought of Sydney as a particularly old city, so we were surprised to see so much history there. Surrounding these buildings is acres of green space. In fact, from our hostel, we could almost walk the 45 minutes to the harbour area using only paths through parks! Trees lined roads, birds flew in all directions, and dusk saw the skies flooded with massive Fruit Bats which descend on the berry-trees in Hyde Park, giving Sydney an unusual claim to fame. So, we walked as much as we could, and also made good use of the excellent transit system, which for us was a major bonus. Signs we could understand! Buses that actually arrive on time, with everyone sitting down!! Fares that are non-negotiated and posted clearly!!! Traveling has a way of lowering your standards, we're finding. On the plus, however, traveling also makes you appreciate things you'd never think of appreciating while living in the countries that we live in.

One place that wasn't a stretch to appreciate, however, was Sydney Harbour. We loved how
accessible it all was. The ferry to Manly left from bays between the Opera House and the Bridge. The Opera House could be approached, walked around, touched and entered. The expected throngs of people were actually quite spread out, making pockets of murmuring crowds, all basking in glorious sunshine.

Our ferry trip out to Manly was very enjoyable, as the beaches out there far less crowded than the famed Bondi Beach just outside Sydney. The water, however, was slightly warmer than glacial, so those of us with a pre-disposition to more equatorial water temperatures stayed rather dry. We took on a nice hike through dense brush to reveal wonderful views across the bay to Manly and the ocean beyond. Sydney truly is a beautiful city, but for reasons far different that we had anticipated.

Next up: Adelaide! Ryley is doing a teacher exchange, so they've traded house, car and job with a family living in the Adelaide Hills. We'll be there for just over 2 weeks, moving her into her classroom, and them into their house and neighbourhood, while enjoying all those comforts of home:) We also heard there are a few good wine valleys nearby . . . we hope you're all well, and that you've rung in the new year positively. Take care!