Today we completed our New Zealand road trip in Christchurch, and took a flight to Sydney. Kia koa, New Zealand, you’ve been good to us and we hope to come back. G’day Australia, super happy to be here!
On our first day in Sydney, of course we headed directly for the iconic sights of the city: the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Except being the nerds that we are, we got sidetracked on the way by two fascinating exhibits at the State Library of New South Wales. The first presented stories told by Aboriginal elders about growing up in a culture that was actively suppressed by the government at the time. The second exhibit, called Living Languages, described the hundreds of Aboriginal languages and the efforts to document, preserve, and revive them.
Eventually, we made it to the bridge and the opera house. Both are stunning, but we were especially captivated by the architecture of the opera house. From near and far, it’s a beautiful structure. We spent lots of time admiring it and capturing photos from different angles and in different light.
We decided to drive up the coast from Sydney today and explore some of the more out-of-the-way beach towns. These towns have a laid back vibe that we really enjoyed. We had heard about the uniquely local saltwater pools carved out of the rocks and fed by the ocean, and we had to check them out. They are beautiful, perfectly integrated with the surrounding nature, and cleverly done.
In the late afternoon, we came back to Sydney and signed up for a guided tour of the opera house. We learned that the building’s distinctive sail-shaped domes are self-supporting concrete structures. Each of the five theaters within is essentially a building within a building, constructed later (after the builders and the architect had a falling out). Despite the technical difficulties, budget overruns, and political issues involved in its 16-year-long construction, the opera house turned out to be a truly spectacular landmark.
We absolutely love the lifestyle of living in the city and having little need for car or bus (a lifestyle that we’ve finally created for ourselves back home in Seattle). It turns out that our Airbnb is centrally located, and Sydney is a very walkable city, so we feel very at home here. In the last couple of days, we walked to so many different areas of the city, and today we walked some more.
In the afternoon, we had an excellent guided tour of the city’s Jewish museum. There were poignant exhibits on the holocaust, and on the immigration to Australia of Jews seeking to get as far as possible from Europe. They also had a really fun interactive exhibit called “Jukebox Jewkbox” about the influence of Jewish people in music. Did you know that Neil Diamond, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Lenny Kravitz, and Beck are Jewish? Also members of the Ramones, Clash, Nofx, and Guns N’ Roses.
Today we flew to Broome (a small town in the northwest of Australia) via Perth (a large city in the southwest). Bea’s face was glued to the plane’s window the entire time. From above, the Australian outback looks like an endless plane of artfully arranged geometric shapes of curious colors, crossed by impossibly straight roads. We’re immensely drawn to it. We couldn’t help but start planning our next trip to Australia in between flights.
Question: What’s turquoise, red, and green all over? Answer: The Kimberley region in Australia! It’s like someone turned up the earth’s saturation knob.
Equipped with a sturdy four-wheel-drive SUV, our drone, and Google maps, we couldn’t be happier in this area. We drove north for hours on red dirt roads, through forests of short stubby trees with crooked branches, beside (supposedly) crocodile-infested waters. The cautionary road signs also promised us kangaroos, but we never got to see any. Maybe tomorrow?
Two types of marine life tours are offered in Broome: one that goes out to sea to find humpback whales, and another that stays closer to shore to see dolphins. We wanted to go on both, but were told that the humpback season is nearly over, so we booked just the dolphin tour. To everyone’s surprise, our first animal sighting during the dolphin tour was a pair of humpback whales! We got quite close to them and followed them for a while, as they spouted and wove through the turquoise waters of Roebuck bay.
Then we proceeded to find snubfin dolphins, which are unique to the north of Australia and were only recognized as a separate species in 2005. Their numbers are so low that they are considered vulnerable to extinction, and Broome is just about the most reliable place to see them. We lucked out, not just because we got to see several groups of them, but also because one hyperactive snubfin leaped completely out of the water — something our captain said he has seen only once before in 12 years!
This will be a hard day to top!
Broome is known for its saltwater pearl production. Today we visited the nearby Willie Creek pearl farm — a great way to learn more about pearls and have a fabulous lunch in their cafe.
We also explored the dirt roads of the surrounding estuary. As the red dirt road we were on turned into a narrow sandy path, we wondered whether our SUV was up to it. Just then, a local pulled up beside us in a rugged Land Cruiser equipped with a snorkel. After confirming that we didn’t need help, he offered to show us the way to his favorite fishing spot. We pushed our four-wheeler (and ourselves) to the limit. We were comforted by the sight of a big shovel strapped to the top of his SUV and the fact that he waited for us at every turn. At one point, as we were about to drive down a rocky incline that looked deceptively safe from our viewpoint, he turned around and stopped us before it was too late.
It’s pretty clear that without the friendliness of this Australian stranger, we wouldn’t have been able to reap the rewards of the spectacular view at the end of the road: turquoise water, white sandbars and mangroves. As our new friend and a couple of Aboriginal women fished, we were thinking that for them, this special view was just everyday life.
The Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park in Broome is amazing! Everywhere you turn, there’s another prehistoric-looking reptile who would happily eat you for lunch if it weren’t for the seemingly feeble chain-link fence keeping them from snacking on you. The terror is tempered by a bit of cuteness, though: Eric got to hold an adorable baby crocodile!
Malcolm Douglas started out as a crocodile hunter, then became a documentary film maker and an advocate for the preservation of crocodiles. After his passing, his family continued to run his wildlife park near Broome, with over 2500 crocodiles and many other native animals.
We had a great time visiting the park, and not just because we learned a lot. They feed the crocodiles every afternoon, and we could feel the excitement (human and reptilian) building as the giant bucket of chicken meat was brought out. Crocs jockeyed for position and asserted their dominance, then practically jumped and snapped the chickens out of the air as they were tossed by the staff guide. Another favorite moment: when Eric got to hold a cute little baby crocodile (already as long as his arm, and with its mouth strapped safely closed).
When a crocodile endangers humans in the wild, it can either be shot or placed into a conservation park like the one in Broome. Relocating it to another area is not effective, as it will make its way back to its home territory. One of the crocodiles we saw was named “Mauler” because it had attacked two horses before being moved to the park. It was scary looking!
Crocodiles can be a threat to one another as well. “Zooey,” for example, who was brought to the park after attacking boat propellers, ate his girlfriend. When the park gave him another girlfriend, she was scared enough to dig her way into the next enclosure. There she met “Bluey,” a 5-meter (16-foot) long male croc, who happily accepted her as his second girlfriend. Something of a gentle giant, you might say.
Our original plan was to drive south, but we can’t get over the stunning landscapes north of here, so we went north again. Armed with the crocodile knowledge we acquired yesterday, we ventured deeper into croc territory today. Somehow being more aware of the gory details of how they kill humans didn’t make us feel any safer, but it did make us more cautious. Thankfully, we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery without encountering any crocodiles.
Today we explored the shoreline closer to Broome. We also did our good deed for this trip, giving a ride to someone whose SUV got bogged down in loose sand. We encountered him walking down a long dirt road in sweltering heat (it got to 97 °F or 36 °C today), pretty far from anything. That’s gotta be tough…
After a long flight (with a layover in Perth), we have arrived in Melbourne. We settled in at Eric’s sister’s apartment and look forward to checking out the city.
In the morning, we walked around Queen Victoria Market with Eric’s sister and her husband. Pretty incredible market – reminded us of our own Pike Place Market but much, much bigger. We bought lots of fresh ingredients, brought them home, and had a fabulous lunch and dinner. Loved seeing the ethnic diversity, both in the market and in the neighborhood shops and restaurants.
In the afternoon, we spent some time in the Melbourne Museum, where we learned more about Aboriginal culture.
We feel at home in Melbourne, not just because it’s a great city but also because it has attracted some of our favorite people. Today we had breakfast with Jonathan who we met in Beijing, lunch with Ann who we met in Oman, and dinner with Tony and Toby who we met in Papua New Guinea, along with Tony’s wife Penny. All of them are extremely well-traveled and interesting people, who we draw tremendous inspiration from.
In between meals, we visited the Immigration Museum. Along with the checkered history of Australian immigration, we saw a cool photo exhibition featuring people with traditional Samoan and Japanese tattoos.
We’re going to miss Australia! It was great to see family, friends, and a small part of this giant country. We’ll have to come back to see more!