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Far from home

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Susan Howell  

On an early December morning, I awoke some 10,000 odd miles from my own backyard, to the unfamiliar sound of wild birds that filled the Australian sky as the sun rose on Manly Beach, a hustling coastal suburb in Sydney Australia. 

Currawongs, Laughing Kookaburras, magpies and large flocks of colorful Lorikeet Parrots were some of the many birds that took to the early morning sky, the beautiful noise of their bird song rooting me to my son’s apartment balcony until the sounds of the waking city prompted me to get dressed and head to the beach. I was in Australia.

My trip to the other side of the world has been planned since the day my son took an overseas job transfer which landed him and his bride of only a few weeks in Sydney, Australia, a continent that has long intrigued my imagination. Something else awaited my visit, the recent birth of my first grandchild, a beautiful baby boy. What could be more fantastic?

It is summer in Sydney and the sun rises early, so by 6 a.m. I find myself walking over to the beach. 

Adjacent to the beach, a wide paved walking trail lined with towering Norfolk Pine trees is at this early hour a virtual beehive of activity.

Joggers, walkers, dog walkers and bicycles fill the path, while surfers, swimmers, kayakers and other water enthusiasts brave the chilly water and cresting waves. My walk leads me over to Shelly Beach, which is protected by a reef from the ocean swell, a good place I am told to snorkel and scuba dive. 

At Shelly Beach a trail paved with large rocks serves as a stairway up the colorful sandstone cliffs to North Head Sanctuary where miles of trails lead you through native coastal bush vegetation and wildlife habitat as you overlook the surrounding ocean, harbor and the crashing waves below. Absolutely beautiful!

Routinely, each morning I woke early and walked the trails of Manly Beach and Manly Harbor, where flowering trees the likes of jacaranda and frangipani grew alongside Cabbage Palms and a vast array of succulents growing both in ground and in the cracks and crevices of the sandstone ledges. 

Walking, I passed assorted wild flowers and flowering vines and a planted garden where large purple and white Agapanthus grew among pink hydrangeas, yellow and orange dahlias, marigolds and variegated Pink Leaf Jasmine. 

Always on the lookout for wildlife, I happened upon Eastern Water Dragons, a good swimmer, that is a large protected lizard as well as the Kings and Eastern Water Skink, seagulls, ravens, White-faced Herons, Little Black Cormorants, lorikeets and on my final morning walk, a large pod of dolphins swam in Manly Harbor delighting all who walked this trail.

Wildlife sightings didn’t stop at the beach. Hanging out on my son’s apartment balcony proved an excellent location for photographing and viewing some of Sydney’s wild birds. A flock of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos  flew daily overhead, Noisy Minors, Pied Butcherbirds, the non-native Indian Myna, Channel-billed Cuckoos and the Crested Pigeon which I missed a photo of by one second kept both my field glasses and camera busy. 

Once the sun set, the balcony turned into a Flying Fox observatory, these magnificent fruit bats with their large wing span flew quickly through the night sky, frequently landing on the Moreton Bay Fig trees that grow outside the apartment building giving me an up close encounter with these amazing animals.

My time spent at Manly Beach not only offered stunning panoramic views of the Sydney coastline, fauna and flora, but also an inside look at how the residents of this beach community seem to embrace from sun up to sun down an outdoor lifestyle all revolving around the surf and golden sand. Now that is some backyard.

 FYI: My two week visit to Australia did not stop at Manly Beach; stay tuned for part two, Sydney and beyond.