A Gloucester Native Goes Down Under for a Visit to Sydney, Australia
By Roberta Dexter, department of foreign languages
A funny thing about Sydney is that it doesn’t appear to be very tropical. Even though there are different kinds of palm trees, it reminds me of the vegetation in some parts of the California coast. The trees and evergreens are not that unusual looking and they blend into the landscape. From this point of view, it didn’t feel like I was in a foreign country during my visit last December.
I went to Australia for the first time to visit my daughter Jacqueline (Salem State ’05) who now has dual citizenship. My Aussie son-in-law Christophe told me the real Australian feel is further north where it is hotter and dryer. They had many inches of rain during my visit in December 2011 which was the beginning of their summer. Temps were in the 70’s compared to the high 90’s that can be expected and which can be scorching. Similar to here in the U.S., Australia’s weather patterns had changed in historic ways.
The family home where I stayed, which belonged to Jacqueline’s in-laws, is in Northbridge and I was very lucky to visit an atmosphere of comfort and generosity. Northbridge is a suburb about a 15 minute drive north of Sydney. The suburbs of Sydney are very hilly and busy with many roads that twist and turn.
In this neighborhood, the bird calls were beautiful to hear in the morning. One bird call sounded like a monkey laughing; that’s the Kookaburra with gray, white and brown feathers about the size of a small owl. Another sounded like a low-toned Indian flute. A Magpie came into view more than once. I was asked by my daughter not to turn over rocks out of curiosity. Some spiders, however small, can send you to the emergency room with one bite. Snakes and spiders are what you have to look out for, but it was never a big concern.
We drove past lots of familiar establishments: 7-Eleven, Starbucks, McDonalds, Target, Kmart, Shell and BP Gas. There is a Burger King that is named Hungry Jack. So if you get homesick for the states while you’re there, you have a place to hang out for a while. The supermarket chain (called Woolworth’s) had familiar products like Post cereals, Lipton teas and plenty of American magazines. Also, the prices were a bit higher than in the states.
My first visit to the city of Sydney was by ferry from a local beach town called Manly where my daughter Jacqueline lives with her husband. It took about 30 minutes to get to the city. Approaching the city from the water is spectacular and highly recommended. After cruising through the inlets along the coast, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge gradually come into view. The city itself is clean and not that hard to get around on foot once you get to know it. The public transportation was reliable and also clean. Safety is not an issue.
The Opera House has a tour but you have to make reservations. They keep the groups small. The guide gave each of us headphones that connected to his microphone so we avoided disturbing the other visitors with his speaking tour. It was very interesting. There are three different theaters. One theater is for opera only and another for ballet and other performances. The third theater is available for special events and for the public to rent out for private entertainment. You can eat there at a fancy restaurant and pick up souvenirs at the gift shop. Outside on the grounds is a café to get drinks and food, and listen to live music.
Jacqueline and Christophe had long weekend trips planned. We visited the Blue Mountain National Park and spent a full day of wine tasting at Hunter Valley where I saw my first kangaroos in the paddocks. We also did lots of walking along several beaches that included Bondi Beach which is another Sydney icon. The cliff walks nearby gave way to spectacular views of the coastline.
The other memorable visit was to Melbourne which is less than two hours from Sydney by plane or about ten hours in a car. My son Dexter is living in Australia temporarily so the three of us carved out an adventure. It’s not as sophisticated as Sydney, but it is a good size with a funky, artsy atmosphere and has unique cafés located on the “lanes” (not down an ‘alleyway’ as we’d say).
We did a side trip to Phillip Island which is only a two-hour drive south. This is a must if you visit this part of Australia. It’s a laid back island and part of a nature conservation. We went to a koala colony and saw wallabies roaming the grounds. But there is more.
There is a popular spot called the Nobbie’s. It is an important feature of this part of the coastline, a large group of rock formations that jut out into the ocean. These rocks are home for fur seals and birds. There is a webcam in the visitor’s center where you can watch the wildlife live and for a few dollars you can push a button and take a picture for a souvenir. The raised boardwalks along the coast in this area are well taken care of and bring you to stunning views.
The most spectacular was the Penguin Parade. Every evening (in our case it was 9:00 pm) the fairy penguins make their way to shore after a full day of fishing miles out at sea. They come back to feed their young who are waiting in the burrows that are in the grassy dunes along the coastline. There are hundreds of them returning. The night before, 2,300 were counted by the rangers. It’s phenomenal.
We were seated in a viewing stand to watch as they paraded right by us for over two hours. The rangers ask everyone to be quiet and remain seated out of respect for the penguins and for our fellow viewers. You’re not allowed to take pictures because of the distraction, but the low lighting they supply allowed some people to sneak a flash-less photo or two.
This was a time of celebration. My daughter turned thirty years old. I learned a lot about my son’s experience living in Australia while he was on a working visa, ironically close to his sister. I got to see where my children live, work and play as adults in another country. Living so far away from home, it meant the world to me.
We celebrated Christmas, and Boxing Day together. New Year’s Eve in Sydney is second to none. Sorry, Boston and New York.