Australia Day 6

If yesterday was a sleep in day, today was the up at the butt crack of dawn day. We were down in the hotel lobby at 7am (which with three people sharing one bathroom meant early wake up) and met our tour leader Justin. He fit the role model of Bush tour guide – thick Australian accent combined with weathered features. No goofy Paul Hogan hat, but he did mention his name along the tour out of Sydney. Apparently Paul was a maintenance worker on the Harbour Bridge who was entertaining his fellow workers when one of them mentioned he should try out for a comedy show. He won the competition and the rest of the world has been living with it since.

We headed out through some of the same neighborhoods that Margaret had initially drove us through, but then we veered off the beaten bath and went through some of the lower income suburbs. Besides the people driving on the left, it looked very similar to parts of South Central LA, but with Lebanese and Asians instead of Hispanics and African Americans. Our first stop on the tour was the Featherdale Wildlife Park. Despite its grandiose name, it really is a small compound in the middle of a suburb featuring some enclosures with various native animals.

After our complimentary breakfast, which included a clip-on koala holding onto some Vegemite, one of the handlers brought in a Koala for all of us to pet and get close to. The photo Koala was outside, so after we were all done we all headed outside for pics with the various animals. I managed to take photos with Kangaroos and Koalas as well as get some candid photos of the various animals in the sanctuary like Dingos, Wallabys and the like. Overall, it was a neat little place, but I think it is more an artificially created “sanctuary” that gears towards tourists like me who just want that photo op rather than a place that benefits animals. I am not sure, they might do some good work and perhaps I am just spoiled by the glitz and glamour of the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.

We then headed up into the Blue Mountains. We were on the 4-Wheel Drive tour, but really it just meant we went up a couple of dirt roads – no real cross country stuff. We stopped at a few scenic overlooks while Justin told us some of the history of the area. I was lucky I got to sit shotgun since there were 17 people on the tour. Two of the groups were especially grating – one from Hong Kong and the other from Canada. It is not that they did anything especially bad, just the HK people were kind of loud and the lady that was translating for the older couple was talking over Justin causing him to glare at her a few times. Lastly, the large group from Canada just reminded me of the Weaver family from the Amazing Race Family Edition. The daughters just seemed disinterested and rather have someone like Rolly who was at least helpful, their son was a complete buffoon who managed to scare the crap out of a kangaroo in the enclosure and then drop his silverware at lunch. Then again, I did drop my fork at lunch and kept taking pictures of an action figure so I don’t really have room to talk.

Lunch was at the Imperial Hotel in Mt. Victoria, NSW. The food was buffet style and OK, though the potatoes were cold. The most striking thing about the place we stopped was that I could not stop thinking about LivingTV’s Most Haunted. This place is right out of that show and I half expected Yvette, Richard, and Derek to come around the corner with their cameras. Seriously – it was around noon and the place was creaking and spooky. I took some video so maybe I can use it later. After lunch, it was time to head over to Govett’s Leap for a quick photo op. Apparently a “leap” is Australian for “waterfall”. We then headed out to Scenic World. This is a big tourist trap at the edge of a box canyon. When you are here, you can take a tramway down and then a railcar back up. The catch is that it’s almost a vertical drop off the edge of a cliff. It was pretty steep, but not nearly as scary as some of those tram rides I have been off the sides of mountains (e.g. Palm Springs or Zugspitze). Once down at the bottom, you get to walk along an elevated boardwalk and see some of the rainforest up close. This was not tropical by any means but it was neat and you got to see several cheesy scenes of miner life. Think Knott’s Berry farm on a bad day. It was then time for the train ride back up the cliff. It was more like a thrill ride that an actual form of transportation. It was kind of scary as it shot up the hill pretty quickly. At the top it was time to board the bus and head back towards Sydney.

Before the end of the trip, we stopped at a Euroka Clearing where we had champagne and listened to our driver try and play the didgeridoo. He was better than I’d ever be at one so I can’t complain. We also had a chance to see wild kangaroos and a Guiana lizard. I think it was some sort of Monitor Lizard, but I am not sure. We then headed further down to Parramatta to catch the ferry back to Circular Quay. The ferry was very crowed with 6 tour groups on it and the weather had heated back up so it was hot and stuffy. We finally reached CQ and then headed back to the hotel after a brief stop at McDonald’s – yay! It was good tasting unhealthy grease for the first time in a week. I also has a coke which was my first since December. I have had a few sodas since I have been here. My New Years resolution was only till March when I went on the trip, but I think my soda consumption will continue to be low when I get back.

We then crashed at the hotel and watched a bit of the Academy Awards. I was mildly surprised Crash won, but considering how many Academy voters said they didn’t even watch Brokeback Mountain, it was not that surprising. Besides, I thought it was a bit long myself. Watching the awards in Sydney just underscored how out of touch I was with most of the films this year – they seem worlds away. Mom and Gary did some last minute laundry to get the stench of sweat out of our clothes. They were up late and I am glad I was able to throw some shirts and socks into the mix. Mom blames my clothes for the stench, but we were all sweating on that bridge so I am not sure.

Tomorrow we are off to Melbourne where we hope to go along the Great Ocean Road and see the much-hyped Penguin parade.