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By Susan Howell
No grass grew under my feet once I landed at Sydney International Airport. After almost 24 hours spent in travel, I was quickly whisked away at the airport by my son, where we boarded a train that took us over to Sydney Harbor, where we then transferred onto a ferry which would take us over to Manly Beach. Reality set in as the ferry cruised past the historic Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge– “I’m in Australia.”
While I spent a good portion of my time exploring Manly Beach, my son and daughter in-law had a whole itinerary planned for my two week stay beginning with tickets for Katie and me to attend an English Christmas, presented by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs at the Sydney Opera House. I could never have imagined how wonderful this concert would be, the perfect blend of choral singers and the fantastic orchestra moved me to tears. The following day I was back in Sydney, where my son and I took the Opera house tour. We learned of its history and construction; this architectural achievement is as amazing on the inside as it is on the outside.
A day trip took us over to Sydney Harbor National Park and North Head Sanctuary, home to many native plant species, like Heath leaved Banksia, Scrub She Oak, Cranberry Heath and Red Spider Flower. We then drove over to the city of Mosman where we visited Balmoral Reserve and Rocky Point Island.
An overnight trip was planned for the four of us to leave Sydney behind and head approximately three hours inland to Hunter Valley. This is wine country where the Broke Break Mountain range provides a scenic backdrop as you navigate the hills and valleys of this rural landscape where beautiful grape vineyards encompass the area. We toured some of the many wine cellars in this region, tasting a wide variety of the local vintages. Beautiful flower gardens and lush vegetation greeted us at every turn and as always I was on the lookout for wildlife and again was not disappointed. Passing a small lake we spotted Black Swans swimming alongside other aquatic birds. White Doves and red-bowed finches ate from feeders provided by one winery and gorgeous pink and cream colored parrots, called Galahs were observed throughout the valley. We spent the night at the Chateau Élan, where wild Kangaroos roam throughout the property. Watching Kangaroos while sipping my morning coffee, I must be dreaming.
We toured the Hunter Valley Gardens, where pathways led us through different themed gardens: Storybook, Oriental, Italian Grotto to name a few. Then of course the rose garden where thousands of colorful roses grew, their lovely sweet scent filling the late morning air. A pair of superb fairy- wrens, had me stalking the garden paths, I was not leaving without a photo of the brilliantly colored blue male, perseverance paid off and I captured both the male and female on my camera.
On my last Sunday in Australia, we ferried back over to Sydney and toured the much anticipated Royal Botanic Garden. Founded in 1816 the 75 acre garden features beautiful tree and plant species both native to Australia and abroad. The Palm Grove with a collection of 140 different species from around the world was one of the first gardens to be planted. Winding paths lead you past Cycads, gingers, succulents, herbs, terrestrial orchids, bromeliads, roses, day lilies and to my hearts delight the Southern Magnolia native to the USA. Rainbow Lorikeets enjoyed the sweet nectar of Norfolk Island Hibiscus, while Pacific Black Ducks, Masked Lapwings, Dusky Moorhens and Sacred Ibis’ were observed at the large garden pond. I could have spent days touring this garden and never have seen it all, it was simply that magnificent.
Another day trip had us drive over to Bondi Beach, where another beautiful walking trail leads you through coastal vegetation and carved sandstone cliffs all the while overlooking the beach and the crashing surf below.
I spent my final day in Australia walking the now familiar coastal paths along Manly Beach. It was a bittersweet day where I reflected on my time spent here, all that I had seen and experienced. I said good bye to Manly Beach that evening as a glorious sunset put the day to rest. Tears in the meantime clouded my vision as these cherished moments spent with my wonderful son Justin, his wife Katie and my precious baby grandson, made my visit to the other side of the world, one of the best experiences of my life.
FYI: Australia has over forty different species of Kangaroo’s. The Red Kangaroo which stands taller than a man is the largest marsupial in the world.