Australia: the land of Oz

Australia more than lived up to our expectations.  We enjoyed many likenesses to home but did so in a semi-tropical environment with access to pristine beaches.  I can’t say we’re missing all the snow and cold Manitoba is experiencing right now although seeing Christmas decorations and hearing Christmas music when the thermometer hovers above 20 degrees is odd for us.  I’m thankful, however, to drive a car in late November on roads which aren’t icy and treacherous, especially since I’m on the ‘wrong side of the road’.

From reading local newspapers and watching local news, it’s obvious that Australia and Canada share the same penchant for innocuous political scandal and debate, drawn-out government-led inquiries, the seemingly ineffectual assistance to their aboriginal peoples, and mind-numbing rhetoric from public representatives.  Like Canadian news, Australian news highlights issues such as the economy, increasing obesity, management versus union tensions, and the balance between preserving the environment and impeding progressive development.  In comparison to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and, Nepal where fundamentals of popular democracy aren’t in place and where the possibility of uprising and bloodshed is real, the issues considered newsworthy in Canada and Australia are a reflection of the privilege we enjoy.

Canada and Australia also differ from each other.  Australia struggles with tDSCN7197 (Medium)he never-ending stream of refugees who show up in their waters.  Australia enjoys proximity to lucrative Asian markets including the world’s most populous countries.  Being near to Asia also affords access to a wider range of holiday destinations, especially those where one’s money goes farthest.  Although Canada is host to the moose, beaver, and bear, Australia is home to the unusual duck-billed platypus, the dog-sized and seemingly roadkill-prone wombat, the long-snouted and porcupine-like echidna, the iconic and spring-legged kangaroo and wallaby, and the cute and cuddly and remarkably lazy koala.  While the 100th Grey Cup was played back in Canada, the Aussies were focused on their national cricket team’s current quest for the number one ranking in the world.  Rugby and Australian rules football are also huge here.  What we in Canada call ‘football’ receives some ribbing from Aussies who consider all the padding football players wear something for sissies as compared to the rough and tumble play of rugby.  Also, Australians speak English with an accent while we don’t.  Smile

Would we go back to Australia?  Absolutely!  The similarities are comfortable, the differences refreshing.

I guess one expectation our girls had which wasn’t fulfilled is that no cute Australian surfer boys are coming back home with us.  I’m okay with that.  For now, no worries!

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Happy birthday Mary-Anna!

We celebrated Mary-Anna’s birthday in Melbourne.  To celebrate, we all enjoyed some of Mary-Anna’s favourite things throughout the day.  We took a tram to the Harbour Town area where we started with a breakfast of pastries and a few hours of shopping amidst Christmas decorations in sunshine and 23 degree weather.  We then trammed our way to the Botanical Garden where we spent hours exploring the beautiful grounds.

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Again on the tram, we went to Federation Square where we enjoyed some of Mary-Anna’s favourite snack foods; donuts and french fries.

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We then walked our way (4 kilometres) back to our hotel via artsy shopping streets decorated for the Christmas holidays, stopping on the way for more pastries.  We found a cool graffiti street where we took turns posing for pics.

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We ended the birthday celebration with a great meal (Mary-Anna had garlic prawns) at Errol’s Restaurant, a trendy bistro on Errol Street.  Mary-Anna assured us that she had had a great day.  Happy birthday!

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Golfing with kangaroos

We have stayed at Woodbine Park Eco Cabins near Merimbula for several nights, enjoying the quiet atmosphere of a cabin nestled in a forest of eucalyptus trees.  This place has a swimming pool, tennis court, and 3 hole golf course.  We spent time using each one.

Seeing kangaroos and other wildlife has become second nature for us.  The animals stop by our cabin occasionally to see if they might get a snack from us.  Beautiful birds compete for bird seed we set out.  On the golf course, it’s not unusual to see half a dozen or more kangaroos grazing on or next to the fairways.  The mothers with their pouched babies were particularly cute.  Golfing with these critters on the course makes for interesting sights, for them and for us.

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Driving south along the coast, we happened upon the 32nd Annual Merimbula Classic Wind and Wave Festival.  It’s an international competition for wave sailors, kite surfers, and stand-up paddle surfers.  We stopped to take a look.  It was cool, gnarly, sweet, sick…or whatever the lingo for awesome and interesting is these days. Smile

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Mimosa Rocks!

On the map, we saw the name ‘Mimosa Rocks National Park’.  Well, we had to visit it to take pictures for my sister Mimosa.  Of course, it’s a beautiful place.  In a town nearby, we came across Mimosa Rocks Restaurant.  How cool is it to have a place called Mimosa Rocks?

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Rainforests and animals

While the beaches along Australia’s southeast coast are a paradise for surfers and sun worshippers alike, the lush forests and rolling pastureland away from the ocean are beautiful as well.  We went for a hike in a coastal rainforest to see a waterfall along an escarpment.  The place reminded us of Butterfly Valley in Crete, Greece.  It’s kind of neat to be able to associate one place with another one a continent away.

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We also stopped in at several zoos to see the animals indigenous to Australia.  Other, foreign animals were displayed as well.

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We ended that day at a seafood restaurant on the coast.

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Happy birthday Emily-Ann!

Sweet 16!  It’s hard to believe the years have flown by and that our oldest daughter is 16 years old!

For her birthday, Emily-Ann wanted to take surfing lessons in Australia.  Well, that’s what she, Madeleine, and Aaron did.  To top it off, the girls first hung out with some Aussie teenagers at the beach and then got surfing lessons from Troy, their cute Australian instructor.  Dreamy, I’m sure.  Anyway…here are pictures of the kids surfing in waves that must have been about a metre high.  They loved it!  After surfing, we picked up some birthday cake and celebrated our birthday girl back at our cabin.

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The land down under

We’ve been looking forward to some ‘tastes from home’.  Australia certainly provides that.  Roads are good, things are clean, K-Mart and 7-11 are here, you can tell effective and efficient systems are in place throughout the country.  All of that’s refreshing.

After about 17 hours of flying on 3 flights as well as 6 hours of layovers in airports, we landed in Sydney where we picked up our rental car.  Driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ from ‘the wrong side of the car’ is disconcerting to say the least.  It continues to take a good deal of concentration on my part as I navigate the streets.  I’m getting used to it.  Thankfully, I have four backseat drivers who help me as I drive.

As much as Australia has been refreshingly familiar, it’s been almost too familiar.  Compared to countries like Jordan, India, and Nepal, it’s been comfortably bland.

In Sydney, we took the ferry to Manly Beach.  It’s this ferry that travels past the iconic Sydney Opera House.  As expected, it’s an impressive building.  At Manly Beach, the girls got their first look at the much anticipated Aussie surfers.  Apparently, they were impressive as well.  Smile

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We also visited the Botanical Gardens which back onto the Opera House.  These beautiful grounds are host to many tropical plants and numerous species of birds.

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