Australia packs a punch for tourists with a variety of magical landscape, throbbing cities and golden sandy beaches. It lets you to be what you are and also it’s a fun loving country.
Suresh Selvaraj shares his sojourn in Australia.
Last January, I was in the freeze zone (weather at minus 25 degree Celsius) of Montreal in Canada and as the year winded down, I was in Australia, covering the width of the world, almost end-to-end. It looked as though I’ve had rollers attached to my shoes and clocked-in a staggering 22,000 Kms. My bucket list is big. And there are many buckets too. Hopefully I will empty a bucket or two in 2020. Here goes my international travel series, beginning with Australia.
What comes to your mind when one says Australia? Kangaroos? Australian Open? Great beaches? Sledging, aggressive Cricketers? Easy go Life? Well, Australia is much more than that It indeed packs a punch. I have just visited the eastern part of Australia and longing to go to its West and to its hinterlands, perhaps next time.
When I hailed a cabbie at Brisbane airport for my hotel drop, the amiable taxi driver grinned and said, ‘Welcome to Brissy, mate’ with a typical Aussie’s lazy accent, where mate sounded like mite. Brissy? Have I landed elsewhere, I wondered! I glanced back at the arrival concourse to reconfirm that it is indeed Brisbane. Later I realized that Aussies have a shorty but sweety name for many a things. When you are in this gigantic island of paradise called Australia, there are a few Australian slang words that you should learn to get through day to day life. Aussies have a tendency to shorten most words with musical connotations. Like Brekky for breakfast; Avo for avocado; Tinny for a can of beer; Lappy for laptop; Macca for McDonald’s and even a Straya for Australia! Well, I mumbled their celebratory chant “Aussie.. Aussie..Aussie..Oi..Oi..Oi..” and started my sojourn.
Brissy that’s never busy:
The first thing that impressed me in Brisbane was its city ferry service which is absolutely free. Hop in. Hop out. You can cover the tiny city with no strain on your wallet. Can you believe I spent zilch on public transport in Brisbane except from airport to my hotel and the visit to the hallowed Gabba cricket stadium? And covered almost every place that I wanted to go? Brisbane is made to order city for a leisurely lifestyle. The South Bank is a cluster of action with Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Science Centre, and Queensland Museum. It also has eye-popping entertainment zone. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the free to use “Street Beach” bang at the city centre – with typical beach sands, lapping waves and meandering pools. People surely have a rollicking time sunbathing, soaking into the crystal clear water, kids rolling all over and a Beach Guard station to boot with. Yes, there are restaurants and beer taps all around. An area that is never to miss is King George Square with its shopping options and fine restaurants on the street but watch out for the long, thin, curvy beaked Ibis birds that hop around to beg for your French fries..
Brisbane river garlands the city and the banks on each side buzz with action. A giant Brisbane Wheel overlooks the river. And there are innumerable bridges connecting both – including ‘walking only’ types. A walk on the historic Story Bridge gives a comprehensive view of the city – the river front, gleaming skyscrapers and bustling boats. They have an Adventure Climbing sports to walk on its top railing that costs around AUD $-130. I opted for free- to-walk at surface level. Story Bridge looks like the younger sibling of our own Howrah Bridge in Kolkata but with saner traffic and cleaner environs.
As Virat Kohli and his boys are scheduled to play th T20 World Cup Games at The Gabba cricket ground later this year, I wanted to pay a prior visit there. Though visitors weren’t allowed, the friendly front office lady at the Queensland Cricket Club permitted us to have a peek at the grand stadium and its famous bar. I could visualise and feel the roar, ‘Indiaaaaahhh, India”, from the vast diaspora living n Australia.
Brisbane By Night:
The city transforms into vibrant colours by sunset. . Brissy, what a cozy little thingy you are! You tick all boxes on living standards. The aesthetically lit up public spaces are a treat to experience. Brissy pleasingly glitters but doesn’t dazzle or look overwhelming. Weather was a comfy 24°c, it’s like pre-ordered for strolls.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a typical Kerala food joint in Brisbane that serves fabulous dinner – Dum n Rum restaurant run by a Mallu team – Ravi Shankar, Tarun, Vaishna and Dayne in an obscure corner of the city called New Farm. These guys are from Kochi but live in Brisbane. They belted out lip smacking Meen Polichathu, (steamed fish with herbs, rolled in a banana leaf) Beef roast, Kerala parotta topped up by a spiced up Beer with a red chilly and nice smoky single malt called Lingvalin. Stomach full, tanked up, we went to bed early to catch a train to Gold Coast the next day.
Silken Soft Sands at Gold Coast:
Gold Coast is just an hour’s travel by a very comfortable, frequently run train from Brisbane Central station. The beach is broad, stretches long with silken smooth soft sands and big frothy waves. If not careful, one might stumble on to the hordes of sunbathers who lounge on the sand, dabbed with shiny body creams. And there are delirious kids chasing seagulls and surfers with their colorful surfing boards. The beach rescue team keeps an hawk’s eye, planting warning boards/flags on safe or danger zones. The main point of Gold Coast is Surfer’s Paradise area that has big waves at the sea and frothy beer flowing on the land side bars with an amazing range of 24 varieties of brews from the tap!. There’s a Sky Point Observation Deck at level 77 that charges $25 for a visit. Souvenir shops, restaurants, massage parlours, amusement parks, golfing and there are endless possibilities of fun and frolic. Even for a small city like Gold Coast, the traffic is orderly and as our taxi driver, a gregarious Sardar from Jalandhar said, it is safe and nice to be in this city of golden sands and surging waves. You can take a train from Brisbane airport or Central Station to Gold Coast. Board any train that goes to Varsity Lakes every half an hour. Change at Helensvale station near Gold Coast to hop across to local tram in adjacent platform to go to Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast. Costs AUD$-30
Melbourne is a melting pot of culture as immigrants from various parts made it their home. Trams within the city centre are free. Yes. F. R. E. E. Here again, we hardly took a taxi to cover important landmarks. Melbourne throbs with life. When we reached our Air BnB apartment in Docklands area, the view from the balcony took our breath away as it overlooked Yarra river with its boats and vistas. Buildings in Melbourne city are architectural wonders with varied shapes and designs. I loved the art installations in public places – especially during a leisurely stroll for breakfast in Melbourne City Marina. The walkways are filled with decks of flower beds of multi-hued flowers brightly smiling at you. Never miss the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. The sight and sound, the smell and colors over there draw you closer and the sheer variety of things available for sale is mindboggling. Three of our American friends found it hilarious with our antics at the hallowed MCG stadium as we simulated batting and bowling actions in front of the statues of Dennis Lille and Shane Warne at the entrance and one of them commented that we are like kiddies in a candy shop!
It was a pleasant surprise to see two bubbly 70+ old dames near the buzzing Flinders Station guiding tourists to various spots around. They are part of Red Squads, a voluntary unit to serve as tourist assistants and they perfectly guided us to the iconic 1861 established pub, Young & Jackson. As a bit of craving for Indian food surfaced, we headed to Hotel Saravana Bhavan on King Street to savor excellent masala dosa and vada sambar. But be prepared to shell out $-20 for a dosa and vada! As the twilight approached, we proceeded to Eureka Skydeck to see Melbourne at 360 degree. Perched at 88th floor, the Skydeck flexes upto 600 mm and to prevent excess swaying, they have built 300,000 litres water tank on levels 90 & 91! Skydeck offers a visual panorama of Melbourne.
Great Ocean Road & Twelve Apostles:
It is the highlight of our trip as we traversed some 250 km off Melbourne. The road is on a mountainous terrain that snakes around the ocean. There are countless dairy farms with thousands of cows feeding on the lush green meadows. The leisurely drive is serene and a feast for eyes.
12 Apostles is spectacular. It’s breathtaking. Seeing the beauty of these limestone monuments is unforgettable and absolutely not to be missed. One should stay in that region for three nights to see them in glorious sunrise/sunset periods. Words can’t justify the mystic beauty of that place and your eyes go wide in awe. There were12 Apostles earlier but a few of them got eroded at a rate of two cms an year and currently there are seven apostles above the waterline. You have to experience it before they disappear! When you descend down the 100+Gibson steps from the Great Ocean Road to the golden sands, you come across one of the twelve apostles that loom very large in front of you. With the constant pounding of lashing waves at the rocky surfaces, cracks appear and they start eroding to create either an arch like structure beneath or a tunnel within and they are absolutely stunning and picturesque. During lunch I wanted to quickly finish and go back to sightseeing but… the bar girl told me that for every beer they sell, they contribute 10% towards Whales Preservation. Well, I had to do a noble cause three times over!
We were taken aback when we came face to face with a massive, 12-storyed cruise ship that suddenly loomed in front of us as we entered the Sydney Harbor Bridge area that is swarmed with tourists and locals. These cruise ships drop hordes of tourists in Sydney harbor area that is full of restaurants all around. When you nibble at these open restaurants, watch out for those perky seagulls that are such skilled breed of thieves, they are ever ready to swoop down and steal food from your plate. One of the preoccupations for the pretty stewardesses in the restaurants is to chase these rogue seagulls from disturbing their guests. The iconic Opera House shines bright with those lotus petal shaped domes and it’s hard to choose which angle it looks better as the structure is pretty from any angle. The walk around the adjacent Botanical Garden was soothing to the lungs and tiring to our legs and we thought we would lounge at the famous Mrs. Macquaries Chair over there but realized that it is actually a carved rock ledge, where the Governor’s wife Elizabeth Macquaire used to sit and admire the harbor view. The sunset boating from Darling harbor to Opera House is yet another wonderful experience in Sydney that gives you the sights and sounds of the buzzing Paramatta River with innumerable rowing boats and yachts, the skyline of Sydney and the gleaming steel edifices of the Harbor Bridge and the marble white domes of the Opera House. We’ve had amazing dinner at The Meat & Wine Co at Circular Quay and they do serve Kangaroo Steak which is a bit harder and wonder whether we have had its hind-leg!
Beyond the City, Harbor and Opera House:
We have taken a day trip to Blue Mountains and on the way, visited Feathedale Wildlife Park. It was an adorable experience as I was feeding baby kangaroos and it’s such a heady feeling when they eat off your palm. There are koala bears and penguins to boot with. I witnessed an incredible feat by the park keepers. An adult kangaroo had to be medicated and some six of them with a huge net surrounded it but the Roo kept hopping and galloping at such rapid speed within the open top enclosure that they sweated out for half an hour before netting it.
Blue Mountain is lush green and the attraction is Three Sisters, a cliff top platform with views of 3 landmark weathered sandstone peaks, around which an aboriginal folklore is built. The rope car service between the cliffs is stunning and there is a canopy walk that takes you to a defunct coal tunnel. The view of the dangerously dangling rope car is stomach churning and the view of a waterfall from the rope car is astounding. The area is full of wattle plants that are inspirational to Aussie’s national jersey of green and golden yellow.
Australia is fun. The cities are beautiful, hinterland is mystical and its wildlife, rare. Life is at a leisurely pace in Australia unlike their terrific fast bowlers like Dennis Lillie, Glen McGrath or Bret Lee!
About The Author: Suresh Selvaraj is a former President of Outlook Group. Now, he is an avid biker, traveler, and explorer.