P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

Bondi

Made my final interstate venture to New South Wales and after 11 months managed to reunite with a familiar face at beautiful Bondi Beach.  How else does one begin a reunion?  With brews on the beach, of course.  As the ultimate surfer’s paradise, beach goers flock to Bondi’s shores to catch some rays, hike the cliffside, and shred the gnar.

Bondi Beach is also home to a Buvarian Bier Cafe.  A quaint pub equipped with a great happy hour, good draughts, and a foosball table (on which I kicked Joe’s behind 10-0*).

Manly

A 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay will take you to Manly Beach, known amongst surfers for its waves.  From its sandy shores, one can watch townies running the boardwalk, pros and amateurs taking to the waves, and school-aged students training for the Surf Life Saving Club.

Also located in Manly is a marine sanctuary, home to stingers, little penguins, and reef sharks.  The sanctuary works to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine animals found within Sydney Harbour and surrounding waters.

Darling Harbor

Sydney CBD is just that–a central business district.  Fully equipped with tall buildings, banks, and bustling businessmen.  The highlight of venturing into the city was walking up the steps to the Sydney Opera House (because let’s be honest:  Did you really go to Australia if you didn’t visit the Opera House?).

While Darling Harbour houses the zoo and aquarium and I was ecstatic to see dugongs and a crocodile stalk a lorikeet, Sydney just did not do it for me.  A day is more than enough time to take in the numerous “parks” (large grass patches amongst the concrete), the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

NSW State Lib

Would I be me if I didn’t take the time to snoop around the nearest library?**  In regards to style the New South Wales State Library differed drastically from those of Victoria and Queensland, but it did not fail in terms of education.  Aside from the many shelves of books, Australian State Libraries have exhibits that offer an intimate view into Australia’s past–this year specifically from the eyes of military personnel because 2015 was the ANZAC centenary.

While I would have preferred to spend all four days in NSW basking in the sun on Bondi Beach, I am grateful nonetheless to have had the opportunity to visit such an iconic city.

xo

*While yes, I am undefeated in foosball, Joe and I found a billiard table in a Sydney bar and he beat me 3-0.  Still sulking, but a rematch has been scheduled.

**Shoutout to Joe for being a good sport and entertaining this passion of mine.

Love is Love

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Since being in Australia, I have roamed museums and historic monuments where I have learned much about Australia’s past.  I attended Melbourne’s annual Midsumma Pride March where I got the opportunity to impact Australia’s future.

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On what was supposed to be a dreary day, gray skies and thunderstorms, Mother Nature had a change of heart and St. Kilda was bathed in sunlight.  The pleasant weather mirrored the cheerful, supportive, and prideful aura emitted from everyone participating in and attending the March.

Members of the Melbourne and Regional Victoria communities gathered on Fitzroy Street to celebrate and honor members of the LGBTI community.  It was beautiful to see people of all races, job statuses, and sexual orientations gather to show respect and support for marriage equality.   Flight crews, police forces, supermarkets, and churches were a few of the groups present.

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Ten minutes after the March’s commencement, a radical group sat in the street in protest of the Midsumma Pride March.  Derogatory remarks were spat at marchers and bystanders, while police worked to get the protesters under control.  As they say, “The show must go on,” and so it did.  Within five minutes, the event staff rerouted the parade around the hindrance and police escorted said hindrance off the street accompanied by a chorus of cheers and hollers from the crowd.

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The March continued as planned and finished with a great celebration complete with Aussie sizzles, performances, and immense support for the LGBTI community.

The theme of this year’s event was marriage equality, and I can only hope that the politicians present will have a positive impact within the Australian government.  As great as Australia is, it would be so much better if it abandoned its homophobia and embraced what so many other nations have already.  Love is love.

xo

 

Watched Some Tennis. It Was Ace.

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It’s not everyday you are in Australia to catch the Australian Open.  Lucky for me, I was able to attend days six and nine of the Grand Slam.

On day six, I started my day meeting Australia’s first Bachelorette, Sam Frost, and her beau, Sasha.  Upon entering Melbourne Park tennis grounds, I witnessed the following Round Two games:

Annika Beck (GER) defeat Laura Siegemund (GER)

Daniel Nestor (CAN) and Radek Stepanek (CZE) defeat Lukasz Kubot (POL) and Marian Matkowsh (POL)

Jocelyn Rae (GBR) and Anna Smith (GBR) defeat Johanna Konta (GBR) and Heather Watson (GBR)

On day nine, I watched Men’s Legends Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) and Thomas Johansson (SWE) defeat Wayne Ferreira (RSA) and Mats Wilander (SWE) in a no-pressure, rather comedic, no-ad game.  Following their game, Adrian Mannerino (FRA) and Lucas Pouille (FRA) defeated Jean-Juhen Rojer (NED) and Horia Tecau (ROU) in the Men’s Doubles Quarterfinals.

Although we did not have tickets to enter Rod Laver Arena to witness the Women’s and Men’s Quarterfinals first-hand, big screens located around the tennis grounds were airing the matches.  Much like sports fan gather outside Madison Square Garden to watch the NHL playoffs, we spent the rest of the afternoon gathered on the lawn outside Rod Laver with hundreds of tennis fans, celebrating Australia Day (equivalent to America’s Independance Day) and Serena Williams’ (USA) and Roger Federer’s (SUI) defeats over Maria Sharapova (RUS) and Thomas Berdych (CZE).

Glamping in the Grampians

How lucky am I to have rung in another new year in yet another new country!  I was fortunate enough to spend the first week of 2016 hiking, swimming, sunbathing, and eating ice cream in the town of Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park.

Boronia

To kick start the annual “New Year New Me” fun and fit lifestyle, I took on Boronia Peak.  The peak was situated a short distance from the campground and was a nine kilometer circuit, taking our daring dozen approximately four hours to complete.  The upward trek was a medium grade climb equipped with a relatively easy rock scramble up the face of the outcrop to the top.  Once atop Boronia Peak, one is left to rehydrate, refuel, and snap a few selfies amongst the picturesque background* of Grampians National Park.

There is an option to complete the return hike via the same route taken to reach the peak, but what’s a hike in Australia without a little bush trek action?  Our daring dozen became a nerveless nine, as those feeling a bit more adventurous took the path less traveled (and unmarked).  Down the opposite outcrop face we scrambled and through every prickly, poking, and scratching tree and shrub we strode to reach the original path.  I was advised during this excursion not to put my hands in any crevices, not to make too much noise, and not to stand still for too long as there was an abundance of Aussie creatures that could bite, jump, sting, manhandle, and kill me within three minutes (if you don’t believe me, check this out:  Come to Australia).  Fortunately, with only a few minor slips, cuts, and scratches, we all made it out alive.

Grand Canyon

While not nearly as “grand” as the United States’s, the Grand Canyon is a definite sight to see.  A 1.8 km circuit from Wonderland Carpark, it is a family-friendly walk thanks to its relatively easy ascent.  Clearly posted arrows and signs make it easy to find the vast rock valley sprinkled with small outcrops that are great for climbing and getting a better view of the surrounding mountains.

Mount William

It is highly frowned upon to go to the mountains and not witness at least one spectacular mountaintop sunset.  Where better than from atop the highest peak in the National Park?  The strenuous 1.8 km upward hump to the top of Mount William was well worth the sweat, tired quads, and overpowering wind.  Located just over 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) above sea level, the wind scored panoramic view was breathtaking.  You do not realize how vast the Park is (or how small you are) until you are able to see its full expanse.

I took a break from my hiking excursions to take a short bike ride to the Brambuk (pronounced bram-book) Aboriginal Cultural Centre** in the town of Halls Gap.  The Centre was constructed as a “testimony to the survival of Aboriginal or Koori culture.”  The building contains artwork and artifacts from native Australian tribes with an abundance of cultural history not shared elsewhere in Australia.  To this day, Aboriginals are still unequally represented and mistreated in Australian society, but through select government regulations and rights activist groups, they continue to strive for equality.

Mount Rosea

By midweek, that daring dozen I spoke about dwindled to a mere venturesome seven, but darn if the seven of us didn’t pack up and head out for yet another 10 km, 4-hour return hike; this time up Mount Rosea.  Slightly more challenging than Boronia Peak, the trek began with a level walk through a fern gully, followed by (what seemed like) an endless maze of rock formations to the top, only broken by a short bridge named the Gate of the East Wind (LOTR-esque, don’t you think?).  Searching for small lizards and skinks hidden among the shrubbery is an easy way to alter the monotony of winding and back-tracking curves that define the path.  Yet again, no disappointment once we reached the peak, but it is quite hard to be disappointed when you feel like you are standing on top of the world.

Pinnacle

We wrangled a rather large group together to tackle the Pinnacle before our departure from the Grampians.  Another family-friendly walk, approximately 1.8 km from the Sundial Carpark, leads you to an outcrop from which you can see Mount Rosea and Mount William in the distance.  The furthest outlook of the Pinnacle is railed-off to ensure the safety of park guests as they view the steep cliff side.

Venus Baths

As expected, I did not return to the carpark with the majority of our pack.  Instead I agreed to take the longer trek and return on a different path that would lead us back to the town of Halls Gap.  Approximately 900 meters from town, we took a small detour.  Much to the dismay of my Aussie friends-slash-tour guides, the Venus Baths were more like the Venus Sinks, seeing as they were rather dry in comparison to previous years.  During exceptionally wet summers, water rushes over the rock faces and into crevices, such that people are able to use the rocks as slides into rather deep pools.

Eight days is not nearly enough to experience all the Grampians National Park has to offer, but I can say I am happy with the ground I covered, the friends I made, and the memories I will cherish forever.  If the first week of January is any sign of the year ahead, I would say 2016 is going to be one exciting as year!

xo

*No photos do justice to the striking beauty of Grampians National Park.

**To respectfully honor the Aboriginal people and their culture, the taking of photos is not permitted within the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

Bula Mai Fiji

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Fiji, home to the most beautiful beaches, the clearest and bluest waters, and the most personable people I have ever met.  It is hard to say anything bad about a place, when your biggest worry during your stay is falling coconuts.

In Pacific Harbour, located in the south of the island Viti Levu, is the Fiji Palms Resort.  The Fiji Palms gives the feel of a quaint, secluded oasis, while still having the ease of access to civilization.  In a prime location, resort guests can enjoy the pool deck, the beach front, or take a twenty minute walk to the Arts Village to enjoy shopping and local performances.

Along the 30-minute scenic drive to the capital city, Suva, we saw primary and secondary schools, correctional facilities (jails), and local villages.  While some Fijians use automobiles to travel, some still use longboats or bamboo rafts to cross rivers, like the Navua.  In some villages, children have rigged devices to keep their books and uniforms dry as they swim across the river to go to and from school.

Lining the roadsides are native flora:  taro, kansaka (tapioca), paw-paw (papaya) trees, kava, and umbrella trees (Albizia saman).  Taro is potato-like plant from which the roots and leaves are eaten.

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Suva is home to Parliament which resides in the same building as the courthouse (pictured above).  The country has both a president and prime minister, the President being of highest ranking.  Currently, a rugby pavilion located to the right of Parliament is being renovated to move general admission seating from the Parliament side of the stadium to the opposite side (talk about prime box seats…).  Sandwiching the rugby pavilion between Parliament and itself is the Government House, home to the President of Fiji.  The Presidential palace is guarded by Fijian soldiers dressed in white sulus and red tunics.  The changing of the guards occurs during the first week of every month, at which time on duty guards and off duty guards swap duties.

After our sightseeing of Suva, we attended a lovo, or traditional Fijian meal.  A lovo is a method by which the food–typically chicken, pork, and fish–are smoked in a pit covered by palm leaves and dirt.  Prior to serving dinner, a lali, or drum is played to welcome guests of honor.  Lalies are beaten to different tones and rhythms to signify different occurrences (death of a chief, visitor’s welcome, chief visitation, etc.) within the village and as a means of communication between villages.

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Following dinner, villagers hold a kava session and perform entertainment in the form of songs, dances, and chants.  A kava session is the ritual and social drinking of kava, or grog which is made by soaking the ground roots of the plant in water.  Kava is a member of the pepper tree family and offers sedative and anesthetic properties when ingested.

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Following a few days of poolside rest and relaxation, we took to the ocean.  Aboard self-driven Wave Runners, we began a 60 kilometer jet ski safari to the backside of Beqa Island.  Jet skis tied together, we submerged ourselves into the barrier reef surrounded by sergeants, parrotfish, forcepfish, giant clams, and more.  Driving to Beqa’s coast, we anchored and enjoyed lunch on a beach that rivaled any postcard.  About 100 meters offshore, a patch reef was protector to seastars, elephant trunk fish, and two white tip reef sharks (by far, the highlight of my mermaid adventures).

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As if five hours in the Pacific wasn’t enough, the day following our jet ski safari, I ventured on a second snorkeling excursion to another reef, about a 15-minute boat ride from our beach at Fiji Palms.  I jumped off the Natalya Earl and into the bluest water I have ever seen.  It was as if someone had taped blue cellophane paper over my mask’s lens.  Absolutely unbelievable.  In two hours, I covered a few hundred meters of reef, and while I missed the reef shark sighting, I got to check several new fish species off my list.

The last few days of our stay at the Fiji Palms Resort were spent relaxing by the pool, hunting for seashells and sea biscuits along the beach, and enjoying the immense hospitality exuded by the resort staff.  I mentioned it before, but Fijians are the most personable people.  Every day and at every passing you could expect a greeting and a smile.  Never have I been to a resort where staff, other than the bartenders, engages you in genuine conversation.

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Our week-long stay at the Fiji Palms was up, but the holiday extended to the western side of the island in Nadi (pronounce Nan-dee).  We carted our luggage two and a half hours to the Sheraton Denarau Villas.  While equally as beautiful, the fast-paced, impersonal, resort lifestyle was less appealing than our homey stay in Pacific Harbour.  All in all, I wouldn’t trade holidays in Paradise, regardless of the number of hotel guests, for snow any day.  Summer in December is fine by me.

xo

Fijian Dictionary

  • bula (mboo-lah).  hello
  • lali (lah-lee).  drum
  • Nadi (nan-dee).  Nadi, city in western Viti Levu
  • sulu (soo-loo).  sarong
  • vinaka (vee-nah-kah).  thank you
  • vonu (vah-new).  turtle

 

 

(Still) No Queens in Queensland

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Much farther south from picturesque Port Douglas is beautiful Brisbane, Queensland.  Located along the river for which it is named, the capital city, although smaller than Melbourne, is packed with much to see and do.

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Brisbane City Hall’s clock tower is 85 years old and still uses the original cage lift and operation handle to transport maintenance personnel and visitors to its observation deck; thus, making it the oldest manually-operated cage lift in Australia.  Originally the lift was installed as a service elevator, but by 1930, shortly after the construction of the building, public tours began for sixpence per adult ($0.50 USD).  The lift, which has always been powered by an electromagnetic motor, carries passengers to the observation deck located 76 meters above Brisbane’s CBD.

The bell tower houses five bells, each with at least one exterior hammer.  There are four quarter hour bells and one hour bell (that alone weighs four tons!).  The four clock faces are the largest analog clocks in Australia measuring five meters in diameter.  The minute and hour hands measure three and 1.7 meters, respectively.  A master pendulum clock, located in the corner of the bell tower, controls the operation of both the bells and clocks.

After completing the bell tower tour, one can continue on to the Museum of Brisbane.  The Museum’s exhibits give a history of the capital city and its development through time, as well as several art exhibits promoting the work of local artists.

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Quite a large exhibit showcased a particularly challenging photography technique called camera obscura, Latin for “dark room.”  To achieve images like the one above, an outside image is shown through a pinhole aperture onto the wall of an inside room, producing an upside-down and reverse image.  A long exposure time (sometimes up to five minutes) gives the images their vibrancy.  The sharpest part of the image is located parallel to the aperture; and it is known as the point of clarity.  The outer edges are less clear due to the angles of the walls, ceiling, and floor onto which the image deflects.

“If you want to get laid, go to college.  If you want an education, go to the library.” –Frank Zappa

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The State Library of Queensland differed greatly from that of Victoria, most notably in its more modern design.  Since this year marks the ANZAC Centenary, the State Library was hosting an exhibit to honor the men and women who served in WWI.  There were displays showcasing draft notices, medical exams/records, progress reports from boot camp, letters to family, and more.  Unlike museums that tend to give the facts and figures of war history, the exhibit focused primarily on first-hand accounts.

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Across the river from Brisbane’s CBD is Southbank, home to Streets Beach.  Since the city is located inland, there is no beach access; and there is too much river traffic to allow for swimming.  Rather than forcing city-dwellers to go coastal, the city brought the beach to the dwellers.  Located just off Stanley Street (hence the name), in the Parklands, is a man-made beach, equipped with sand, palm trees, and lifeguards.  People of all ages congregate at the riverside pool to bask in the beauty that is the Australian Sunshine State, whether catching rays or enjoying a dip.

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On Sundays, Southbank’s Parklands hosts a market.  Vending includes:  corn on a stick (a popular snack in Australia, it seems); hand-made jewelry, handbags, artwork, and bath soaps; back massages; and much more.

After a browse through the market square, a narrated ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, a smaller-scale London Eye or Las Vegas High Roller, gives a bird’s eye view of the city and its surrounding landmarks.

Four days is just enough time to see and enjoy Brisbane, but makes it incredibly hard to say goodbye to the ideal weather.  Thanks for a last Sunshine State hoorah, Brissy!

xo