Archive for November, 2005

29 October 2005

We arrived at Sydney today after a rather long journey. We had taken a circuitous route through Korea because of the free tickets and so it took about thirty hours to get to Sydney after we started from Bangalore– almost like travelling to the US. Sandhya and Bharath handled the journey pretty well and we were not much jet lagged either – the fact that Sydney was only five and a half hours ahead of India being a definite help. We rested in the morning and went to see a Koala Park in the afternoon. This was like a zoo and we could see some of the Australian animals and birds there, like Koala, Kangaroos, Wombat, Emu, Cockatoo and many others. The Koalas are peculiar animals and they sleep twenty hours in a day. It seems they feed on leaves only and so they do not have much energy and that is why they sleep so long. They go up high on the trees and wedge themselves into the forks of branches and go to sleep. The Emu is supposed to be a dangerous bird that can kill a man by stomping on him. Needless to say, we kept a respectful distance. There was Peacock there and it had spread all its feathers and was walking around like that. Some of the birds are so colourful that they looked as if a child had painted them in his colouring book – very bright and stunning colours. There was also a demonstration of shearing of sheep. That was all we did that day and went to bed pretty early.

30 October 2005

We went to the Blue Mountains National Park in the morning. We left Bharath at home as he would not have enjoyed this. The Blue Mountains are just an hour and a half drive from Sydney and are a majestic sight with a very tall waterfall, forests and some nice small towns. It was not a day well suited for sight seeing as it was raining cats and dogs and we could not see much. We did go see the waterfall but the full majesty of it could not be seen because of mist and rain. We then drove to the city and visited a technical museum. Truth to say, I felt that it was no match to the Viswesarayya Technical Museum at Bangalore. The only interesting part was a display related to space and space travel.

31 October 2005

This was the day reserved for Sydney city. In the middle of the city, they have a Chinese Garden. This has been put up with assistance from the Chinese Government. It was beautifully landscaped and sculpted garden with some small lakes and nice flora. From there we went to the waterfront where they had an old destroyer, submarine and tall ship as museums. We toured through all of those. The submarine was intriguing and I cannot imagine how people spend months inside such a thing. Nowhere could I stand up straight and there were dials and controls and pipes all over the place. The cabins (even for the Captain) were so small with narrow bunks and small doors. It must be a strange feeling to be under the sea in a metal cage with no ability to see around oneself. The tall ship was also an interesting experience. This one was more decked out than the one we saw at Glasgow. This ship had been sunk off Queensland coast but was recovered and repaired. Seems a good portion of it has been retained from when it was built. The ship has been installed with a diesel engine also now and it sails on alternate Saturdays. That must be a nice experience – to go around in a sail ship and it must also be a wonderful sight to see the proud ship with all her sails out. I cannot imagine how it must have been to cross oceans in such ships when the seas were rough. I will never understand how people would gladly undertake such journeys, such risks. One must respect them indeed because the human race has progressed because of such adventurers who have seeked the unknown, to know what lay beyond and often perished in the task. Many are those unsung heroes who have gone to unknown deaths in unmarked graves. The next stop was the aquarium. They have a glass tunnel under tanks with sharks, rays and such. The last stop was the Sydney Opera House. It was a pretty tiring day. We then went to pick up the car for us and went home. We have rented a car for the next few days to drive to Canberra and Melbourne.

1 November 2005

We left Sydney early in the morning and drove to Canberra. It was raining very heavily most of the way and often the visibility was pretty limited. We arrived at Canberra at around ten after a three hour drive. The first stop was at the War Museum. They had a light and sound show that showed a heaving bombing sortie over Germany. That action involved 500 planes and over 50 were lost that night. It gave some understanding of how life must have been in those times of war. They had also several planes, tanks and guns from the First and Second World War periods. We then went to visit the New Parliament House. One could go inside and see the chambers were the lower and upper house representatives met to conduct business. The Parliament House was not an impressive sight at all and so we decided to skip the Old Parliament House. The only interesting display at the New Parliament House was a page of the Magna Carta. Seems it is a copy made in 1280 and it is the only surviving one of the four copies that were known to have been made. That took me back to the visit to Runnymede. The next stop was the Royal Australian Mint – one of the four or five mints in Australia. We pressed some coins for ourselves and then went to visit a miniature township. That was very exciting for Bharath. The township had houses from many different countries and that was a nice sight. Canberra is a very small town and driving around is pretty easy. The last visit was to the Telstra Tower and we could see all over Canberra. It was pretty cold and windy up the Tower. We ate at an Indian restaurant that night and it was quite good – a nice surprise that.

2 November 2005

Today, we drove to Melbourne from Canberra. We did not start very early and it took us about eight hours to get to Melbourne. Driving in the freeways in Australia is pretty easy as the roads are not crowded at all. It was past four by the time we got to our hotel. We tried to go to the beach in the evening but we lost our way in the town. We managed to get back to the hotel without much difficulty though.

3 November 2005

We visited the Yarra Valley, which is a place of great natural beauty with some very good wineries. We visited the oldest winery in the region – The Yerring Station – and I also bought a bottle of wine from there. We then drove down to a place called Dandenong Ranges and there we took a steam railway ride – resurrected from the 1900s – called Puffing Billy, which lasted for two hours. The views were stunning as we traveled through the forest. It was just after a shower and it was very beautiful. The trees looked fresh and all dressed up. It seems that this railway line is staffed by volunteers mostly. I was talking to one of the conductors and he told me that he reckons the volunteer work was worth about Two Million Dollars a year. He lives in a small town nearby and he said that it was good to live in a small town as it was peaceful and quiet. However, he noted that he was thankful that the town was still big enough to have a couple of Doctors and a school. The last stop was at a place called Philip Island where we could see some Little Penguins come off the sea at dusk. They came in groups, walking awkwardly and fearfully – seems they are afraid to come in the open because of predatory birds. Overall, it was a wonderful night and we went back to the hotel tired but satisfied.

4 November 2005

Today morning, we left Melbourne to drive to the Great Ocean Road. Midway, we stopped at Torquay at an airfield for some joy flights on an old Tiger Moth and an old Tiger Cat. The Tiger Moth dated back to 1930 and the other one was also pretty old. As the old planes could not carry all of us together, Sandhya and Bharath went up in the Tiger Cat and I went in the Tiger Moth. The flight lasted for about twenty five minutes and we went out over the sea. The pilots were pretty jolly and did some minor stunts. When I was in that plane, I somehow felt very free and liberated. I could get to know what Richard Bach meant when he wrote “One” – a great feeling indeed. That was the highlight of the day. We then drove down to a place called Apollo Bay where we are staying the night. We are staying in a Bread & Breakfast place which is right by a beach. We had a walk on the beach but the water was incredibly cold – Bharath had some fun with building sand caves and tunnels. I bought two small bottles of wine and am finishing off the last bottle as I write this. Food is a challenge for both Sandhya and Bharath and we have settled down for boil-and-eat-noodles and some fresh mango for the night. People in Australia are quite friendly and relaxed. They are willing to talk to you and I listened to a guy telling me that he had just bought the wine store a month back even as he was packing up the wine. The outdoors are wonderful and of all the countries I have seen, I think I like this the best – for its natural beauty – the only deterring thought being that of all the poisonous reptiles here. I was just getting eloquent with my writing when Sandhya barged in with dinner (noodles that I referred to earlier).

5 November 2005

We are following the Southern Touring Route as suggested by one of the tourism web sites for the state of Victoria. Today we drove from Apollo Bay to Port Fairy. On the way, we stopped to see the light house at Cape Otway. It was a good experience seeing a lighthouse as I have never been inside one. This one dates back to 1848 and as usual, I got that feeling of awe mixed with a sense of appreciation for the days gone by – a time when men were men and survival itself was an uphill task. I always get such a feeling when I visit places of historical significance, don’t know why! We moved on from there to a tree top walk inside a national reserve forest called Otway. This is a steel walkway which takes you to the height of tree tops – about forty seven metres – and that was a rare sight. It was a rainforest and most of the trees in the forest were very tall and went higher than fifty metres. These trees had no branches at the lower levels and had branches at the top only – so it was one straight, bare trunk that went down for 40 metres or so. Imagine that! This is supposed to be the highest and longest tree top walk anywhere in the world. The total walk was about two to three kilometres and Bharath handled that pretty well. The poor fellow was pretty tired but hung on. We drove on along the coast – we were on what is called the Great Ocean Roadand that covers a long stretch from a place called Torquay to another called Warrnambool – taking in breathtaking scenes as they came. This section of the cost is rather cruel and a forty kilometer stretch is supposed to have claimed about one hundred and forty ships in the days gone by. This was the first part of Australia that ships from England reached and many an immigrant ship went down in bad weather after hitting these razor sharp cliffs. Of particular interest is something called Twelve Apostles. These are twelve stones jutting out of the sea – cut out from the rest of the land due to constant erosion by the ocean. Not all the twelve apostles are visible but they are a very, very beautiful sight. There were helicopter rides that offered a view from the sky but we did not take that. Just past the Twelve Apostles is the site of the most talked about ship wreck of this coast – the site where the Loch Ard ran into grief and death. The Loch Ard was a Dublin registered clipper carrying some immigrants and merchandise from Dublin to Melbourne. She braved 91 days of gale and hot tropics and disease and rations and shortages before they sighted the Australian coast. Alas, it was a bad, dark night with the demonic winds waiting to destroy hapless ships and unfortunately, our Loch Ard could also do no better. She dashed against one of the cliffs and went down. Of the one hundred and forty people on board, only a passenger called Eva Carlisle and a sailor called Thomas Pearce survived. In the Warrnambool museum, they have a light and sound show that brings out this tragic tale very well. We saw this and it was well worth the late night effort. We stayed at a B&B today also, which turned out be a very charming house.

6 November 2005

We had a relatively light day today and we checked into our B&B by around five pm after finishing the sightseeing for the day – a drive from Port Fairy to Halls Gap. Halls Gap is a town that was founded by a person called Hall who actually found out a way (gap) through the Great Dividing Range. This is a relatively important town in this region (according to descriptions in the tour books) and I was dumbstruck by the appearance of it – all it has is one street with exactly five merchant establishments! Anyway, I could get some wine there – unfortunately, they had big bottles only and I bought one and am on my third or fourth (I’ve lost count) glass as I write this. Earlier in the day we visited some scenic sites in the Grampian mountains. Once again, it involved some walking – total distance of about four km – and Bharath managed that quite well. We could also see a waterfall –MacKenzie Falls – in the Grampians. There were views from a distance, taking in the whole falls, and one could also go to the foot of the falls. We did not go down to the foot of the falls as that involved some steep climbing on the way back. It was a majestic sight with water falling in sheets. This was here that I learned that waterfalls shift their position every year – by a few centrimetres. It has something to do with water following the path of least resistance.

7 November 2005

We visited a site which had some aboriginal art painting. So deserted were the country roads that we saw only two cars as we drove from Halls Gap to the Bunjils Shelter, to view the painting. The painting was drawn by the Koori aborigines. This was pretty old but the age of the painting has not been ascertained. It shows Bunjil (a creator figure) with two dogs. The colours used were brown and white. We were the only visitors here and that was an eerie feeling. From there, we drove to a town called Ballarat, which was a gold mining boomtown. Ballarat came up in the 1850s and people came from far and near to seek their fortunes. They have a chart showing the places that immigrants came from and I could also see that there were forty six Britishers that came from India and nineteen Indians in Ballarat in 1861; pretty interesting statistic! The two largest gold nuggets in eth world have been found at Ballarat. In fact Ballarat has figured in a Sherlock Holmes story also. The museum brought out the hardships that people went through to get some of the yellow metal. I will continue to be amazed at how much we humans value this seemingly useless thing. They have a wonderful outdoor museum called Soverign Hill there and they have recreated a significant portion of the old boomtown there, complete with people walking around in period costumes. It was like being in one of the towns out of a Louis L’Amour novel – very interesting. We went down into a fake mine and also saw a gold bar being poured. There were also some hansom carriage rides and altogether it was a jolly good experience. It rained a bit and took away some of the fun but it was enjoyable all the same.

8 November 2005

We flew back to Sydney today and packed for our departure the next day. Overall it has been a wonderful trip. All the effort that went into the planning was fruitful. I think it was more enjoyable because we took it easy and went around in a relaxed manner instead of rushing to see one sight after the other. Back to the grind now!