By Tom Blake
Over the past few issues, I’ve shared with you details of an 82-day cruise through Asia that my partner, Greta, and I are on.
One of the trip’s highlights was visiting four cities in Australia. Over a 10-day period, the ship traveled from Darwin, on the northern coast, to Cairns, Mooloolaba and Sydney on the eastern coast.
Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, is in the tropical part of Australia, often referred to by locals as the “top end” of the country.
This city of 120,000 people has been rebuilt four times. During World War II, it was bombed 65 times. Plus, Darwin endured cyclones in 1897, 1937 and 1974. The latter, Cyclone Tracy, inflicted massive damage to the city.
Our ship was in port for only nine hours, so Greta and I—as we’ve often done on this cruise—boarded a double-decker, “hop on, hop off” bus for a city tour. There was no guide on the bus, but a recorded commentary explained the sites.
We heard, “As you can see, our beaches are beautiful. But do not swim in the ocean or the harbor during the rainy season. We have the most dangerous reptiles in Northern Australia here: jumping salt-water crocodiles up to 13 feet long live in our waters, and the deadly box jellyfish is also here. Stings last between six and 12 hours and can be fatal. So, stay out of the water, mate.”
Darwin is growing. High-rise apartment buildings are popping up around the city because of dwindling available land. City officials want to keep the gardens and beautiful green-belt areas in place.
It’s a great city that has bounced back from unimaginable adversity.
Cairns (pronounced “Cans”), our second port in Australia, is the closest major city to the Great Barrier Reef. Some passengers took the 90-minute boat ride there to snorkel. Greta and I opted to walk to a wildlife rainforest enclosure that is perched on top of the nearby casino.
There, we were photographed holding a 6-year-old Koala named “Nellie.”
For lunch, we enjoyed an Australian meat pie. Capping off our visit was a two-hour stop at the Cairns Museum and an adult beverage at Hemingway’s Brewery, which was adjacent to where the ship was docked.
Mooloolaba was the first “tender” port of the cruise. Passengers go ashore and back on the ship’s covered lifeboats, which hold 60 people each.
Within yards of the pier, there is an underground aquarium that features sharks, stingrays, groupers and a plethora of small tropical fish, co-existing together.
The air in Mooloolaba was the cleanest we’ve ever seen. Immaculate city, beaches and waterfront.
Of course, being in a city on the ocean, we had to taste the local fish and chips. Plenty of places to do that in Mooloolaba, next to the white sandy beach.
Our fourth Australian port was Sydney, with a population of 4.5 million. During the sail in, the ship passed the Opera House and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with about 25 feet of clearance.
A shuttle bus from White Bay, where the ship docked, dropped us at Darling Harbour on Cockle Bay, where the Aquarium is located and convenient to most Sydney tourist attractions.
Greta and I rode a ferry boat to Circular Quay, where boats, trains and buses enter and leave. Ferry boats are an important mode of transportation in Sydney, as many people live on islands around the city. We were impressed at how efficient, fast, reasonable, on time, and clean those boats are.
From Dawes Point Park, we walked three miles to the famous Queen Victoria Building (QVB), which is now a high-end shopping mall.
Sydney is filled with small sidewalk restaurants from every country imaginable. The choices are endless.
We were surprised at the number of people who fill their lunch break by jogging or running, especially along the waterfront walkways. We had to be careful not to get run over.
Many businesses encourage employee physical fitness by providing showers so employees can return to their desks, refreshed and clean.
We gave Sydney our best shot by walking 15,000 steps in six hours, seeing Sydney at its finest.
My favorite of these four cities? All of them. Our weather was perfect at every stop.
Australia is a wonderful country. Everyone is friendly. “Thanks, mate,” and “G’day” are phrases you hear often.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.