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The lush green of the rain-forests and blue turquoise of the Great Barrier Reef provide a relief from the endless red dirt of the desertic centre, where striking rock monoliths rise from the otherwise pancake-flat plain. A unique collection of flora and fauna occupy those varied habitats, describes Mahindar Singh of his tour to the world’s youngest continent.
Australia is the only country that has a whole continent to itself. World famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces (beaches, deserts and "the bush" or "the Outback"), it is ironically one of the world's most highly urbanised countries and is well known for the cosmopolitan attractions of its globally significant cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, and the capital city of Canberra. Australia is also a major tourist destination, and one of the world's wealthiest countries.
At the ripe young age of 91, accompanied by my wife (of sweet 82), I embarked on a trip recently to Sydney in the world’s largest island and youngest continent. Australia is almost the same size as the USA excluding Alaska. It is 21 times the size of Great Britain. It lies between the Indian and Pacific Ocean, with New Guinea and Indonesia to the north, and Antarctica to the South.
Australia was discovered only in 1770 AD, by an English Captain, James Cook. After discovering the island of New Zealand, while sailing Northwards, Cook sighted the East Coast of Australia. In 1788 AD, Captain Arthur Philip of the British Royal Navy, dispatched from England with a party of convicts and settlers, landed at Sydney Cove, hoisted the British flag and proclaimed the whole of Eastern Australia as the Crown Colony of New South Wales (NSW) with Sydney as its capital. Today, the independent commonwealth of Australia, besides New South Wales, comprises five other states namely, Victoria (Capital Melbourne), Queensland (capital Brisbane) South Australia (capital Adelaide), western Australia (capital Perth) and the island of Tasmania (capital Hobert) along with the federally controlled Northern Territories (capital Darwin) and the capital territory of Canberra.
Hot Shots in Sydney
We stayed in Sydney, which is Australia’s oldest and biggest city. With a population of 6 million, it is a vivid and vigorous blend of old and new, sedate and gay. The total population now of Australia is 22.52 million, of which Indians form about 100,000. There are 12,017 Sikhs, mostly farmers, settled in Australia after the World Wars.
Sydney’s magnificent harbour covers 21 sq miles in the heart of the city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the longest arch of the world, was built in 1923, and is shaped like a coat hanger. Everyday 160,000 vehicles as well as hundreds of trams cross this bridge, termed as a ‘tactile attraction’.
Sydney’s Opera House is said to be the world’s most recognised entertainment venue. We climbed the Sydney Tower plus Observation Track. The Tower takes you to the highest point above Sydney for a breathtaking 360 degree view of the harbour and city. This is an amazing virtual adventure across Australia with 3-D holographic technology, 180 degree cinema screens, surround sound and heart- stopping real motion seating.
We went to Taronga Zoo, which is a 12 minutes ride from the city by ferry across the harbour. From there we were taken to the mountain where the zoo is located by electric cable-way. Here we had a ringside view of Sydney’s wildlife such as Kangaroos, Wallabies, Koalas and other animals.
One of the greatest attractions of Sydney, its Aquarium, also called an Oceanarium, is partly under the sea. Here you can travel under the sea in an enclosed glass corridor, as if you’re in a wonderland. It’s a heart-stopping experience to see sharks, over 3.5 metres long, above our heads and also below our feet. I think it’s rightly said that nowhere else in the world can you find a larger collection of aquatic life than at Sydney Aquarium, which has over 11,000 aquatic animals. We were also lucky to visit the new natural seal sanctuary.
A visit to the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains, located in New South Wales, 2 hours from Sydney, is like discovering another world. It offers many activities such as abseiling, rock climbing, bushwalking and canoeing. The area’s best-known rock formation, The Three Sisters -- a trio of pinnacles -- is best viewed from Katoomba, the largest of 26 mountain towns and villages. The Katoomba Scenic Railway, the world’s steepest railway, descends from the cliff-top at Katoomba down into the Jamison Valley. From high over the valley the Flyway descends smoothly into the ancient rainforest of the Mountains. The Scenic Railway is the world's steepest incline railway, descending 415 metres down the escarpment at a maximum grade of 52 degrees. This thrilling and unique ride passes through an 80 metre tunnel and a sunlit tree clad gorge, and descends to the cool and refreshing valley floor with its elevated Scenic Walkway boardwalk. After the walk, we were flown back to the top by Skyway, transporting 84 passengers in three minutes. The Blue Mountains reach a height of 1100m, and have been given their name due to the blue haze that hovers above the mountains, produced by the oil from its plentiful Eucalyptus trees.
Sunny Australia has one simple message for travellers (and for its own citizens!): "Slip, slop, slap!" In other words, "Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat!"