Sydney, a World-class City

Sydney, a World-class City

» Featured Columnists | By Mike Cooney | February 17, 2012 11:44 AM ET

There are many national parks throughout Queensland including The Great Sandy National Park, which is located approximately 140 miles north of Brisbane.  We camped there for two nights, and it was only the second time in nearly a month that we were in one place for more than 24 hours.  The major draw is Frazier Island, which is located across the Sandy Strait from where we camped.  Only four-wheeled drives are allowed on the island, and for good reason.  It is the world's largest sand island.

Our final destination before returning the hippy van in Brisbane was Caloundra about one-hour's drive north of Brisy, as the Australians call it.  We were renting a house for three weeks and looking forward to staying in one place for a while.  The reason for spending so much time there was because our twins, Morgan and Zach, had an opportunity to volunteer at the Australia Zoo.  As most everyone knows, it was made famous by Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter.  It had been a life-long dream of theirs to visit the Zoo, and being able to actually work there was beyond their wildest expectations.

We sadly said farewell to the hippy van in Brisbane and picked up a subcompact to drive for the next three weeks.  When we first got the van, my wife and I were counting the nights until we could return it.  The fact is both of us hated camping.  However, after 30 days and a lot of incredible experiences, we were (almost) sad to give it up.  Although intended for only two people, it more than adequately met the needs of five.  When it was finally turned in, we had driven 5,282 miles and spent $1,151.94 USD on gas.  The van averaged 25 miles per gallon, but with only a 10-gallon tank there were many fill-ups along the way.

Caloundra is one of the most perfect locations in Australia.  It has beautiful beaches, a thriving town with all of the services and a spectacular mountain range to the west.  It is possible to get from the beach to the mountains in less than 30 minutes.  Try that in California!

At the end of three weeks we headed south to Sydney, where we were scheduled to depart for New Zealand on August 28, 2009.  The route took us along the coast with a brief stop in Brisy.  It was a beautiful, clean, modern city; however, the recent flooding has devastated the lives of its residents and the local economy.  Some estimates indicate the rebuilding could reach $20 billion, which likely means it will take years to reach its former glory.

The five-passenger rental car made the drive south even more crowded than the hippy van.  The trunk was so full with all our gear that it would barely close, and the inside was not much better.  We stopped at many famous surf spots along the way, but without boards it was more of a solemn pilgrimage than a hanging 10, totally gnarly experience.  The combined mileage including the van, rental car in and around Caloundra and the rental car needed to drive to Sydney totaled nearly 8,500 miles, a truly epic journey.

We had met a fellow camper in Alice Springs that invited us to stay with him once we arrived in Sydney.   Since there were five of us, I thought he was either very kind or completely nuts.  We stayed in contact and he continued to insist we stay at his place.  Australia was a budget buster and the chance to save money on lodging was welcomed.

Paul lived in Manly, an upscale community an hour's ferry ride across the bay from Sydney.  It was a beautiful town and well known for its upscale shops and spectacular views.  He was a gracious host and became our tour guide for the three days we were there.  Paul was the nicest, most generous and sincere guy we have ever met.  He has traveled extensively throughout the world and enjoys hosting fellow travelers.

We only had one day in Sydney, which is not nearly enough time.  There is so much to see and do that visitors can easily spend a week or more in one of the most beautiful cities in the Southern Hemisphere.  Until traveling outside the U.S., San Francisco was always my favorite city.  It was bumped from the top spot after visiting Cape Town, which is now a close second to Sydney.  It is clean, modern and one of the friendliest cities in the world.

In addition to the iconic Opera House, there is also the bridge over Sydney Harbor that can be climbed.  The climbs are not cheap; however, they are safe, well supervised and gives non-acrophobics a chance to see the city from an awe-inspiring vantage point.  The parks and beaches in and around Sydney are among the best in the world.  It's an easy city to walk around and there is an excellent transportation system through out.

The center of activity in Sydney is Circle Quay where all of the ferries come and go.  Locals and visitors can catch a connecting ferry to another destination, walk into the downtown district, ride the monorail, catch a bus, visit the park close by or walk down the expansive promenade to the Opera House.  There are countless restaurants, cafes and shops all through the area including the Rocks, which is the oldest preserved colonial district in Australia.

The next destination was Christchurch, New Zealand where we picked up a large motor home to tour the South Island.  Because it was winter and very, very cold the five-person casa de wheels was only slightly more per day than the hippy van.  Little did we know that the larger, roomier motor home would cause more tension among tribe members than we had experienced during the entire trek - both the first and second legs. Thankfully it was toward the end of the journey or we may have called it quits and flown home, but more about that next week.

And remember, "Travel is the ultimate education."

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