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Sydney Opera House
Sydney Town Hall
Queen Victoria Building
Queen Victoria Building
Sydney Opera House
Harbour Bridge climb
Harbour Bridge climb
Sydney Harbour
Sydney Wildlife World koala
Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour
Sydney Tower
Taronga Zoo


Cairns Australia
Cairns AJ Hackett bungy
Cairns Port Douglas Australia
Great Barrier Reef helicopter Australia
Great Barrier Reef helicopter Australia
Great Barrier Reef submarine Australia
Cairns Australia
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Kuranda Station
Kuranda dingo
Kuranda Rainforestation
Birdworld Kuranda

Sydney and Cairns, Australia

Koala Kuranda AustraliaWhat I learned in Australia:

• Koalas really are as soft and cuddly as they look.
• Take plenty of water on an Ayers Rock base walk.
• Don’t wear new white sneakers in the Red Centre.
• Flies in the Outback are relentless.
• Kangaroo is delicious.
• Aussies sure like their meat; vegetables, not so much.
• U.S. carmakers should import the ute.
• It’s easier to display a didgeridoo than to play it.
• Avoid planning a trip that coincides with a U.S. presidential visit.

We arrived in Sydney in 2007 as the city went into lockdown for a visit by world leaders, including George H.W. Bush, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting. I would like to say how grand the interior of the iconic opera house is, but it was closed “for security reasons.” I would like to talk about the vibrant city center, but barricades and armed troops made it feel more like a police state.

Harbour BridgeIt wasn’t a total bust: the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb hadn’t been shut down. So after taking a breathalyzer to prove we weren’t drunk (standard procedure for all climbers), up we went: over traffic along the outer arch to the 440-foot-high summit, then across the spine and back down the other side — 1,332 steps in all over three hours. It gave us an unobstructed aerial view of the opera house — with nearby landings roped off and security boats patrolling the water.

Then it was up to Sydney Tower for a Skywalk around the outside of its turret — exactly twice as high as the Harbour Bridge. Even with my fear of heights, both adventures were surprisingly stress-free. I guess it helps to be safely harnessed to the architecture.

Next up on this 16-day odyssey were Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. Find out more about them here.

Great Barrier ReefAnd finally, Cairns, where we were packed like sardines in a crowded catamaran for a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. The ride was miserable — misbehaving children, dirty parents — and more than once we wanted to jump over the side and end it all. The payoff, though, was worth suffering with the sweaty masses: a helicopter ride over the aqua blue water and all the dazzling coral beneath it.

The adventure ended with the longest single travel day of our lives: leaving our Cairns hotel at 4 a.m. Saturday for the airport for flights to Brisbane, then Los Angeles, then North Carolina (a 14-hour time difference) for the drive home. We walked in the house at 11:55 p.m. Saturday — 34 hours later.

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