Australian and Bali on the Solstice with Perth and Sydney before and after
On our first trip to Australia, we selected a Celebrity cruise on the Solstice called the Top End cruise from Perth (Freemantle port) around the west, north and east coasts of Australia, ending in Sydney, from February 15, ending March 4. The cruise included stops in Bali, Indonesia for two nights, as well as Port Hedland, Darwin, Yorkey's Knob (Cairns), Brisbane and Sydney.
We arrived in Perth on February 12th after a brutal series of flights from Jacksonville, Florida. We departed Jacksonville about 2:30PM and arrived in Perth two days later about 12:30PM. The 14 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was the worst part of the trip. Still, if you want to visit Australia from North American, the trip will be long. Our Delta flights up to Sydney and Virgin Australia flight to Perth were all good. We had good service and the food wasn't bad. We watched several movies on the long flight. I think movies help pass the time better on long flights than anything else. The Virgin Australia flight was good, the seats recline more than on any airline seat from any airline. Also, the lunch we had on the flight was quite good.
Perth is on the west coast (Indian Ocean) of Australia and 2000 miles from Sydney, about as far as Jacksonville is from LA in the USA. It was hot in Perth during our visit. Temperature exceeded 100 degrees F while we were there. Coming from the Winter in North America, we rather enjoyed the heat somewhat, especially since there always seemed to be a breeze in Perth area.
Our taxi from the airport was $20Au and our driver was friendly (everyone is friendly in Australia). He was one of several aborigines that we saw in the Perth area. We saw more aborigines in the Western part of Australia than the East, and more appeared to be not of mixed ancestry. Our hotel (Miss Maud's) in Perth was in the downtown area, walking distance from the river port and central city. Miss Maud's is a Swedish Hotel with a great restaurant. The hotel was not a luxury hotel, but it was adequate and clean. The restaurant was fantastic. I would highly recommend the hotel, since it is adjacent to the restaurant. We ate all our meals there. The breakfast buffet was included in our hotel bill, and it included about anything you might want for breakfast. We ordered off the menu except for the last night there, when we had the dinner buffet (smorgasbord). The buffet changes every night, but offered several meats and seafood, with salads, vegetables and great desserts. Only problem is that we were going on a cruise and didn't need to eat so much.
I had booked tours for us on the 13th and 14th with Captain Cook's tours. On the 13th we took the Triple Tour-deluxe. This was the description of the tour:
"See the best of Perth and Fremantle's sights with the greatest value tour around. Enjoy a birds eye view of kings Park on the open top double decker bus, cruise down the beautiful Swan River and take in the history and nostalgia of the old port city of Fremantle aboard a Tram.
This tour is very flexible as it can be completed all in 1 day or over 2 or more days, it's up to you!
Two day pass on the City Sightseeing Hop On- Hop Off Double Decker Bus tour of Perth
Return river cruise between Perth and Fremantle, commentary and complimentary Tea and Coffee
A day ticket on the Hop on Hop off Fremantle Tram touring the Port City, including Commentary.
Entry to Fremantle Prison
Lunch at Cicerello's Fish Shop
Tour departs daily at 9.45am"
This tour was expensive, but included the river cruise from Perth to Freemantle and return, as well as the Freemantle tram tour, with a tour of the old Prison and the Hop on Hop off bus tour of Perth. One tour is comprehensive of the Perth-Freemantle area. The area reminded us of Southern California, with is hot and dry climate. The river cruise departed at the reasonable hour of 9:45am and lasted until about 4:30pm. We had no time to do the Perth bus tour that afternoon, so our ticket was extended another day, since we had the wine cruise booked for the next day.
The river cruise was pleasant, the commentary was interesting and we saw more yacht clubs and boats in that short distance that one could imagine. We were told that the per capita boat population was the highest in the World. We departed the boat at the Freemantle cruise port, where we embarked on the Solstice on the 15th. The Freemantle tram took us through part of the city to the prison, where we had a guided tour. The prison was a world heritage site, built by convicts. The prison had been closed for some years. However, we could see that life in that prison must have been hell on earth. There was no air conditioning and prisoners were in small cells, required to stay in open yards for most of the days in the hot sun, with temperatures north of 110 degrees F. There were separate areas of the prison for the murders, sexual offenders, young people and those with less time. Also, former police in the prison were kept in a separate area. The prison was closed in 1991 since the authorities demanded more modern facilities and refit costs would have been high and the prison was in the city center.
We picked up our tram and saw more of the city (town hall, train station, Explanade Hotel and fishing boat harbor). One stop included a panoramic view of the city from a memorial park(WWI and WWII) at the top of a hill. We were dropped off at Cicerello's restaurant for our lunch (we had a voucher for fish and chips). The food was good, not great, but they wanted $1.95 for ketchup. Apparently, ketchup is generally an additional cost in most Australian restaurants (usually 30 cents a packet). I ate my fries without ketchup.
After lunch, we took the tram back to the river boat for our trip back to Perth. We had no time to take the Perth HoHo bus, but we took it on the morning of the 15th, prior to leaving for our Solstice cruise. The Perth bus tour was good, the highlight was going through the King's Park. We didn't have time to get off the bus and go to the botanical gardens, but just going through the park was good.
It should be noted that one of the most interesting things about visiting Australia is the very different flora and fauna found there. We saw very unusual trees and foliage. Later in the trip, we saw the unusual animal life in Australia, from the large fruit bats that look like Chihuahuas with wings, to huge crocs, beautiful birds and the array of marsupials.
On the 14th we took the Swan valley wine tour with Captain Cook's. The tour is described:
"Join us on board for one of Perth's most enjoyable day tours!
Your Captain and crew will ensure you are well looked after as you cruise upstream into upper reaches of the picturesque Swan Valley.
Enjoy morning tea soon after you board, followed by cheese and biscuits and premium tastings of our 'Wines of the Month' from local vineyards.
Disembark directly at the prestigious Sandalford Winery to sample and have the opportunity to purchase some of their excellent wines. Then reboard the boat and cruise back downstream, sampling more West Australian wines.
On arrival at Waters Edge Winery, enjoy a delicious three-course lunch at the riverside restaurant overlooking the Swan River. Your meal is accompanied by live entertainment! Surprise entertainment is also included on the journey home.
Your cruise is all-inclusive, including the wines throughout the day."
The official tour description is accurate. We visited three wineries, with a lunch at the Waters Edge Winery. Lunch was very good as well as all the wines. We liked the Sandalford wines the most. The crew on the river boat keeps us happy with more samples as well as providing entertainment with some crew singing for us. It was a happy day and everyone seemed to enjoy the tour and the wines. We probably overdid the sampling, since on return to Perth, we did not have wine with dinner. Both Captain Cook's tours were very good and enjoyable.
That evening, we met Joyce from the Gold Coast in Queensland (Northeastern state of Australia). She was traveling alone on the cruise and we had arranged to meet at Miss Maud's restaurant for dinner the night before the cruise. Joyce had arranged for a mini-bus service to take us to the cruise port for $17Au per person, which was a good price considering that a taxi from Perth to Freemantle could run from $70-100Au. We enjoyed Joyce's company and spent more time with her on the cruise. We found that frequently, we would meet unplanned from time to time that we were on the same page. We met for drinks or lunch a few times and Joyce added us to her Skyrail reservation in Cairns when Celebrity cancelled our excursion to Skyrail.
We learned a lot about Australia from Joyce.
We embarked on our Celebrity Solstice 17 day cruise on 15 February with an easy check-in. We lunched at Bistro on Five, enjoying its crepes. Joyce joined us for lunch. We had lunch there about three times during the cruise and it was never crowded. It does cost $5 pp to eat there, perhaps that is a deterrent to some.
That evening, we joined our table (# 274) in the main dining room for dinner at 6pm. Celebrity has two fixed dinner seating, 6 and 8:30 as well as Select Dining, where you eat when and where you want. Our table of eight was a great group. We very much enjoyed the companionship of our table mates, which included Bob and Anne from Canada, Mel and Elveda from Mesa, Arizona and Will and Lisa, Americans living in Canberra, Australia. Our dinners normally lasted until 8pm and we were usually some of the last to leave the dining room. Many times we broke out in laughter from someone's comment. Also, our waiters for 274, Joseph and Kamal were excellent, as was our wine steward, Ingrid.
The food in the main dining room was the usually superior Celebrity quality. Not everything that I had was excellent, but most was. I was disappointed in the stuffed mushrooms, which were not good, as they usually are on Celebrity. The food at the buffet on the 14th deck was very good. The salad bar was excellent with many salad choices as well as making your own salad. Further, I liked the design of the many food islands in the S class ship, as opposed to the M class, where everyone gets in the same line (salad bar as well as hot food, which does not flow expeditiously). I had many excellent salads, Mexican food that I could heat up with tobacco sauce, spicy Indian food (one night the beef curry was tough) as well as pizza.
Our entertainment was excellent. There were a couple of shows that were not memorable, but most were great. We especially liked the Celebrity dancers and singers (Stars of Celebrity), Celebrity Cirque Soleil group, pianist Tiang Jiang, The Aussie Boys, Belinda Marks, Patrick McMahon, and Juggler David DiMuzio. Patrick McMahon was a hit with his Neil Diamond songs. Tiang Jiang was wonderful on the piano. He performed some of his own compositions "Shanghai dreams." The Stars of Celebrity performed about three times and were always enjoyed.
This cruise included 10 sea days out of 17, which was one of the negatives of the cruise. We like port days with a few sea days here and there. Still, sailing three fourths of the way around the continent takes some time, so we expected this. Sea days do give you the opportunity to go to the fitness center, which I did every sea day but one. Ginny went there as well, until she strained a leg muscle. We did a lot of walking on the tours as well, and I didn't gain any weight on the trip. The fitness center is adequate for the ship, however several times the cycle machines were all busy (at one time two were broken). Celebrity's answer is to post a sign that limits you to 20 minutes for your workout if someone is waiting. Sorry, 20 minutes is not enough for a good workout.
Another good side of having 10 sea days is that it gave us time to hand wash clothes. The hot Aussie weather made it easy to dry the clothes on our balcony. We did use the ship's laundry for some items.
Our first port was Port Hedland. With all due respect to the wonderful people at Port Hedland, this port could be skipped. I don't understand why it was included. We did meet some nice people there, including the mayor, who was directing traffic as we got off the shuttle bus. The small downtown had an interesting art exhibit of aboriginal art. The shopping center was like a Wal-Mart with a few shops. You could see the extensive mining operation (salt and Iron ore), but this hardly merits a stop. Celebrity should consider going straight to Bali and adding a day at Cairns. We did Port Hedland on our own, with Jim and Reva from Jacksonville, FLA, that we met in Perth. We enjoyed our morning with them as well as lunch a couple of times on the ship.
Bali was a two day stop. We arrive on time, but were delayed over two hours due to the Indonesian authorities before tender operations could start. This was the NUMBER ONE problem we had on the cruise, TENDERING. Because of the delay, our excursions were delayed that first day and our arrival back at the dock coincided with nearly everyone else, so returning to the ship was delayed by the long lines and Celebrity using a very large local boat for tendering. It took almost an hour to fill up this large tender, then transport to Solstice, then another hour to unload those on the tender. We still had a nice day in Bali that day, but the tender delays made it painful.
Our tour the first day in Bali was a Celebrity excursion called Authentic Balinese Remains (OE03). It was described as follows:
"This historical tour will take you to an ancient site on Eastern Bali with artistic remains. Depart from the harbour to the Kesiman Village where the batik factory is located. You will have an opportunity of making your very own batik painting. Continue to Klungkung where you will visit Kertha Gosa, an ancient justice hall, which is famous for its painted ceiling that has undergone numerous changes over the past century. Kertha Gosa had to be restored after the devastating earthquake of 1917 and was again repainted during the 1930's by Pan Sekan, a master artist from the nearby village of Kamasan. Afterwards you will visit the Rendang Village where lunch will be served at the Maha Giri Restaurant.
Continue to Penglipuran Village which is a stunning village compound where you can learn about the local architecture and see the villager's daily activities. The last stop will be at Kehen Temple which is similar to Besakih "Mother Temple", with its ascending courtyards up a hillside and is reminiscent of the stepped pyramids of the Megalithic Age.
Note: Guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over flat and stone surfaces. Approximately 20 steps may be encountered at Kertha Gosa and approximately 60 steps may be encountered at Kehen Temple. Sequence of tour may change to avoid over crowding at venues."
Because we were late tendering to shore, the batik painting was moved to the end of the tour, and we had no real opportunity to make our own painting. However, the rest of the tour we were able to see and enjoy. We visited some beautiful ancient Hindu temples, and had a great lunch at Rendang Village on a hill overlook rice fields that would have had a view of the mountain, but it was raining (yes, February is the rainy season). Even raining, the view was great. We visited the Penglipuran Village, which was an actual local village, with its many family temples. This was a high point of the tour. Hindu temples and family temples seemed to be everywhere. Bali is 95% Hindu, while Indonesia is 80% Muslim. We had never been to a Hindu country and it was very different. The people were nice and Bali was very picturesque. It reminded me of Thailand. Our tour took us over quite a bit of the backroads of that part of the island, and we were able to see the area in some depth.
The second day, our Celebrity tour was Cultural Performance (OE06) and described as follows:
"Your tour today will begin by visiting Celuk Village, which specializes in the making of gold and silver jewelry for which Celuk is the island's undisputed center. In the center of the village you can enter a maze of back alleys where from almost every household emanates the sounds of hammering, chiseling and filing as people work to supply these shops with small masterpieces and to fulfill large export orders. Proceed to Batuan Temple with it's beautiful reliefs and historical temple, which was built in 944. There are many beautiful reliefs based on the Ramayana Story, the gate in Balinese style as represents the sacred mountain and there is the single-leaf like wall in front that prevents evil from coming in. Continue on to Mas Village where you can see group of carver busy chiseling away with their carving. Watch the skills of these men and women. Try your inner talent in carving yourself! Complete your visit with a stop at Kedewatan Village to attend an ancient performance of the Barong Dance. This performance represents the eternal fight between the good & the evil."
The second day had no tender delays and it seemed to rain less than the first day. In any event, most of the time on Bali, the rain was not constant and not always heavy. I learned to take photos with one and holding my umbrella and the other my camera. This tour included more shopping, more temples and a "cultural performance," which was the Barong Dance, in effect a traditional Balinese play with religious themes. The temples were remarkable, but the Barong Dance was the highlight of the tour. The actors performed well and we enjoyed the costumes and show.
Our next port was Darwin. Darwin has a history be being bombed by the Japanese in WWII. The Japanese were going for the communication facilities, but did kill several civilians. We took a walking tour of the city for 2-3 hours. That tour was our choice over the excursion to see the Crocs that leaped out of the water. We live in South Georgia and Alligators are no big deal. Didn't want to pay to see the bigger cousins, the crocs. However, some of our tablemates do go to see the crocs and had some great photos of huge crocs leaping out of the water. Our walk tour was good, but I must say that Darwin did not compare with the other ports we visited, except that it was better than Port Hedland. Our tour was a walking tour of the city and did not visit any of the museums. That was another choice we could have visited the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and the Australian Aviation Heritage Center. We saw museums in Sydney and were happy with our walking tour.
On the way to our next port, Yorkey's Knob (Cairns), our ship had to turn back toward land and wait for a med-evac helicopter to medevac a 23 year old crew member that had a heart attack. The chopper was two or more hours late and it caused us to be late at Yorkey's Knob (arrived 10:30am instead of 7am. You have to wonder about a 23 year old having a heart attack? One of our tablemates heard that it was actually an injury from a knife fight. However, we have no way to question the Captain that announced that it was a heart attack.
Proceeding on to Cairns, about 24 hours before we arrived there, we went through the straits between Australia and Papua New Guinea, known as the Torres Strait. This was great to watch from the top deck at the bow of the ship. The straits require a special pilot that navigated the straits and the rest of the trip down to Cairns. Our ship passed between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland. We saw islands from time to time on our port side on our way down the coast. Even after leaving Cairns, the Reef extended further on down to coast, almost to Brisbane, with many islands to our port side.
We arrived at Yourkey's Knob at 10:30am and tendering was delay once more for quite a while. I had tender ticket number 4 and we did not get to Yorkey's Knob (location of a yacht club) until 12:15pm. Many people did not make it until 2-3pm and gave up on trying to go anywhere. Yes, we were late due to a medevac, but again the Solstice couldn't get the tendering right. Fortunately, we had teamed up with our Aussie friend Joyce, who called Skyrail and added two more persons to her reservation. Skyrail had a bus waiting for us and others, that took us to Skyrail, were we spent the afternoon. Skyrail is a cable car system that takes you up and over a small mountain over a rainforest (Barron Gorge National Park) to Kuranda. Kuranda is a small town with many things to see and do. We purchased a roundtrip on the skyrail, which takes 45 minutes each way, allowing us about two hours in Kuranda. We didn't shop for souvenirs, but did have fish and chips at a pub and then visited the Butterfly Sanctuary, which was great. We walked into the enclosed sanctuary and were constantly faced with butterflies everywhere. Some were very colorful, especially the bright blue, Ulysses butterfly. We also visited the Birdworld Kuranda, which housed many species of colorful birds. Many of the birds were like what you see in the Caribbean, which has a similar climate as Northern Australia. We returned on the Skyrail, which was a treat into itself to see the rainforest below. There are two stops you can take on the Skyrail to get off and see under the trees, but we didn't have time. Skyrail was $88Au per person with roundtrip for the cable car and transport to and from Yorkey's knob included. Having our excursion to Skyrail that included the return train trip cancelled was a disappointment, but we saved about $90 each by going it alone.
The Solstice continued on to Brisbane. As I said earlier, we saw many more islands on the port side on our way down to Brisbane. At Brisbane, we had a Celebrity Excursion that included a tour of the city, boat ride across the river and an Aboriginal Experience. Brisbane was a disappointment, but only because it rained heavily the entire day. We did manage to see the city on the bus, but our scenic vistas from a nearby mountain (I think it was called Kuna) were obscured by heavy rain. We did enjoy the Aboriginal Experience, which was about an hour or more of a local tribe performing some of their traditional routines, many with the Didjeridoo. That instrument is the long pipe looking horn that is played constantly with the player constantly blowing out while learning to continue breathing in at the same time.
One more sea day and we arrived in Sydney harbor at 5am in the morning. I woke up at 5 to view the ship coming into the harbor. Of course, it was still dark, but as the ship got closer to docking (right across from the Opera House and right next to the famous steel bridge) the lights of the city allowed me to take some photos that turned out well. We disembarked about 8:30am and took a taxi to our hotel, the Hilton, on George street. The taxi stand moved efficiently and we only had to wait about 10-15 minutes for our taxi. The hotel was about a mile away. We had enjoyed the cruise and meeting all the great people that became our new friends.
The Hilton surprised us by allowing us to check in to the hotel early. We checked into our room and after waiting for our room key cards for a few minutes, we set off for Darling Harbour, about half a mile away. On our way to Darling, we crossed the street to the Queen Victoria Building. It is an ornate 19th century building dedicated to that Queen that was original a vegetable market. Now it is an upscale shopping center, with some restaurants. We had dinner that night at Cellinis Bar and Restaurant on the second level of the QVB. The food was good, but expensive, since for two beers and two entrees we paid $54Au.
Darling Harbour is definitely worth a visit while in Sydney. We visited the Wild Life Sydney and the Sydney Aquarium on a combined ticket for $60Au each. Both were worth the visit, especially the aquarium. The aquarium was one of the best that I have ever seen. It had several tanks of marine life that were great to see, but toward the end we walked down two sets of stairs to go under two separate tanks, the first with various fish and sealife like the Dugong, an animal similar to a Manatee. The first tank included swordfish and some very colorful fish. The second tank included a lot of sharks. The final series of tanks at the end was a replication to some degree of the coral and wildlife at the Great Barrier Reef. The
Great Barrier Reef display was stunning. The aquarium is not to be missed. The Wild Life Sydney has some great wildlife including Kangaroos, Wallabies, crocs, Platypus and many snakes and interesting creatures. However, if you go to Featherdale zoo on a trip to the Blue Mountains, skip Wild Life Sydney, since Featherdale is the best.
That evening, we got a call from my Son's friend Jason who was in Sydney (we were not sure he was coming when we got on the plane for Australia). We had dinner with Jason and Eric, another friend of my Son while in Sydney. The first restaurant on the second day there was on "the rocks" at the top of a building with a great view of the Opera House and city. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant.
Our second day in Sydney, we took a Grey Line tour to the Hunter Valley. We had originally planned to take the Grey Line City tour with Harbour cruise that day, but since we decided to go to the opera on Friday, the only day the Hunter Valley was offered was on Tuesday. The tour is described as follows:
"World acclaimed Australian wines from the vineyards of the rolling hills and valleys of the Hunter region, delight both the palate and the eye in this green and fertile land dotted with villages and over fifty wineries. The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest commercial wine producing district with over 7000 acres under vine. Famous wine styles include semillon, shiraz, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, cabernet sauvignon and earthy pinot noirs.
Cross Sydney Harbour Bridge
Cross the Hawkesbury River - renowned for its superb oysters
Visit historic Wollombi and take a stroll in this rural valley
Tour Cessnock and the lower Hunter Valley noted for its early Australiana townships
Visit McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate for a guided tour and tasting
Enjoy a sumptuous two course lunch complimented by fine Australian table wine (vegetarian meals available on request)
Visit world renowned Lindemans for a private wine tasting and cheese platter
Travel through the central and lower Hunter passing many famous wineries
Continue to Hunter Valley Garden Cellars for further wine tasting
Enjoy time at leisure at Hunter Valley Gardens village to visit the boutique shops, galleries and attractions"
A bus picked us up at the hotel at 7:35 and took us to the Grey Line bus terminal, were we got on another bus headed for Hunter Valley. The Hunter Valley is north of Sydney, across the famous bridge and about 100 miles from Sydney. Our bus driver guide was very good and had a great sense of humor, as do most Australians. The worst part of the tour was that it took three hours with all the traffic to arrive in Hunter Valley. Normally, the tour would have stopped at a quaint small town named Wollombi earlier for tea or coffee, but that town had been on the receiving end of some serious flooding. We eventually stopped for tea/coffee in an interesting small town, Cessnock, but our bus overwhelmed the coffee shop that many of us didn't receive our tea until just before we were leaving for the first winery. I suggest that Grey Line try harder to arrange for a place that can receive a large group. Our first winery was a familiar one, Lindemans. We have purchased some of their wines in the USA. The wine at Lindemans was excellent. We were told that the Lindemans wine imported from Australia comes primarily from their wineries in Southern Australia, which produces a larger volume than the Hunter Valley. We had lunch and tasted more wine at a brewery that did not produce wine. Still, the lunch was very good. After lunch we went to the McGuigan winery, which in my opinion was the best wine we tasted in the Hunter Valley. The tour visited two more wineries, including more tasting at the Hunter Valley Gardens village. The village was very touristy, but not unpleasant. I expect that some shoppers loved the village.
The next day we visited the Blue Mountains with Sydney Great Escapes. Patty from Pennsylvania had arranged for this tour and we connected with it on cruise critic. We had 8 persons on the bus and our guide was great. His name was Rob and he was hilarious. Also, he was a great guide and very informative. The tour is described as follows:
"We take the circle route around the Blue Mountains where you will be amongst the wilderness the whole day and not see the same thing twice. Breathtaking scenery will unfold before you as we travel the back roads of the Blue Mountains. Visit Featherdale Wildlife Park where you will find the world's largest collection of Australian native animals. Cuddle up with a koala, hand-feed the kangaroos and see the dingoes and Tasmanian devils.
We stop in for a short break at a local family-owned orchard where you can buy fresh Australian produce straight from the farm. You'll see breathtaking scenery with plenty of photo opportunities as we travel along the Bells Line of Road to the top of the Blue Mountains and hear about the Australian native fauna that inhabits this world-heritage listed National Park. Learn first hand from Rob, who has been a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service for over 25 years, the natural effects that bush fires have on our ecology.
Visit the Three Sisters and make the most of the opportunity to walk through the rainforest on an elevated boardwalk across the valley floor. You will have time to ride the Scenic Railway, Scenic Cable Car and Scenic Skyway at you own expense. For those wishing to stretch their legs a little further ask your guide about the Furber Steps down past Katoomba Falls to the valley floor."
Rob picked us up at our hotels early (7:10), but we only had eight on the tour and we got out of town quickly. There was less traffic going west to the Blue Mountains than going north to Hunter Valley. Rob had us in stiches with his humor. Eventually, he bashed lawyers, and since I am a lawyer, I went back on him, to discover that his wife was a lawyer.
Our first stop was at Featherdale zoo. Featherdale was great with the ability to pet kangaroos, wallabies and koalas. We were warned not to touch them around the head. We saw one wallaby with a"joey" in her pouch. I got a good photo or two of her. Also, we saw many birds, snakes, lizards, and other animals in this large and well-kept zoo. Featherdale was better than the Wild Life Sydney and according the Frommer, better than Taronga zoo in Sydney.
After Featherdale, we proceeded to the Blue Mountains, with a stop for coffee or tea. Rob then took us to a couple of scenic spots not normally visited by tourists. We saw unusual rock formations and scenic views. There was much more to follow. On our way to see the three sisters and Blue Mountain cable car, we drove through a back road through some scenic pasture land, where we saw a mob of kangaroos in the wild. That was great, being able to see roos in the wild.
Then we stopped at an old hotel in a small town for lunch, which was good. We were the only diners in the small hotel, so it was quiet and peaceful. The main event was next, we were taken to the Skyway site where we could take great photos. We took the Skyway cable car across the valley (more scenic views) to the other side of the valley where Rob met us with the bus. We had some time for photos and walking the pathways on the side of the mountain. The Blue Mountains are not to be missed. After we were finished and headed back to Sydney, Rob arranged to drop us at a ferry to avoid the terrible Sydney traffic. We enjoyed a river cruise that took us to Circular Quay.
After arriving at Circular Quay we walked to the Bridge Climb office and verified our tickets to climb the Piles (Concrete and brick supporting piles at the ends of the bridge). The Pile climb was $11Au vs. $240Au for the Bridge Climb and you could take your camera for photos. The Piles appeared to be about ï¿½ of the height as the top of the bridge from the surface of the water.
That night, Jason and Eric were going to the play, "Driving Miss Daisy" with Angela Landsbury and James Earl Jones, so we dined on our own at a Spanish Tapas restaurant at the corner of Liverpool and George streets. The restaurant was called La Tapa Guapa Spanish Restaurant on the ground level of the Sir John Young Hotel. The food was very good. We had three tapas and shared an order of paella with a bottle of wine. The bill came to about $100Au for the two of us.
The next day, we took the Gray Line tour "Sydney City Tour with Magistic Luncheon Cruise." Again, we were picked up at our hotel at 7:35am, taken to the Gray Line bus terminal (under the casino) and transferred to our bus for the city tour. The tour was good, it took us to see all the main sites of the city. Our first stop was at the Botanical Gardens to see Mrs Macquarie's Chair, located at Mrs Macquarie's Point, directly east of the Opera House on the eastern edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, provided excellent views all around. The historic chair was carved out of a rock ledge for Governor Lachlan Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth, as she was known to visit the area and sit enjoying the panoramic views of the harbour. Apparently, she sat there waiting for her husband to return home.
Next, our bus proceeded toward Bondi Beach. We stopped along the way for scenic views, with one notable stop being an overview of the entrance to Sydney Harbor from the Pacific Ocean. Next was a stop at Bondi Beach, where we spent about half an hour. Entrance to the beach is through a large pavilion, with shops, toilet facilities, dressing rooms, lockers, etc. The beach was smaller than I thought, but you could see many people enjoying the sun and surf, as well as the famous Bondi lifeguards.
Returning to Sydney, we were dropped off near Darling Harbour to pick up our Magistic harbor cruise that included lunch. The ambience of the cruise was excellent and even though we had seen much of the sited before, we enjoyed seeing them from the water and enjoyed our excellent buffet lunch. All in all, the tour was good and we felt like we had done Sydney. I do wish we could have done the tour our first day in Sydney.
That evening, we met Jason and Eric for dinner at an Italian restaurant at 11 Bridge Street, near George Street called "Fratelli Fresh." The food was excellent. Jason knew someone from Sydney that recommended the restaurant and it was as good as we had heard. The food taste was enhanced by the apparent freshness. Also, prices were not outrageous.
The next day, Jason, Ginny and I visited the Australian Museum, which had a special exhibit on Alexander the Great on loan from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. That exhibit was very good. Also, we visited another exhibit on aboriginal art and history. After our museum visit, we purchased lunch from a local restaurant, "Pie Face" which is a great fast food restaurant with great breakfast and lunch sandwiches and pies. For breakfast that morning I had picked up breakfast pies of bacon, egg and cheese, which were excellent. Price for a breakfast pie was $5.75Au. Our lunch of three sandwiches and three dessert pies was $31Au. The food was good and we finished off some of the wine we had purchased in the Hunter Valley. That evening Ginny and I walked from the hotel to the Opera House and enjoyed La Boheme. We thought that we would be underdressed. I wore my suit and tie. As it turned out Aussies dress more casual for the opera. Most did not dress up and most men did not wear ties. The opera was great. The music and singing was super as was the production. We had purchased our tickets on line for $108Au each, which gave us tickets on the aisle (still we were on the seventh row from the orchestra). We could see the subtitles board, even though when I purchased the tickets I was told that it would not be visible. About 5% of the stage was blocked, which was not a problem, and after intermission, we moved a bit closer to the middle in some of the few empty seats. The opera was a great way to end our four week trip to Australia.
The next day, Jason joined us at our hotel in the morning and we shared a taxi to the airport. Cost was $45Au. We were told that it could be as much as $58Au due to traffic, but traffic was light on Saturday. Our flights back to Jacksonville were as good as we could expect, with the Sydney to LA flight a little shorter at 12 Â½ hours with a tailwind as opposed to the other directing it was 14 hours.
It was good to return home after four weeks. Australia is in some ways like the USA, but in others very different. We very much enjoyed our visit and especially the Australian people.