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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gray Matters: A Trip Down Under

Monday, September 22, 2008

I seem to be increasingly fascinated with tales of friends who travel to far-away places. Recently, I was privileged to visit with Lisa Mayer and her daughter, Bridget, who had traveled to visit a cousin in Australia. They are the wife and daughter of James Mayer, Marcus area farmer.

It was June, the beginning of summer, when they left Iowa. They flew into Sydney where it was still June, of course, but down there it was the beginning of winter. The cousin they visited lives in Cairns, Queensland, in far northeast Australia. After a few days in and around Sydney they headed north toward that more tropical area.

North toward the tropics?

Hey, this does get a bit complicated.

They enjoyed several bus tours around Sydney, which is built on Sydney Harbor. The earliest Europeans were prisoners shipped there from Great Britain. These hard-driven laborers did the first building, all on the flat open plains south of the harbor.

In an unusual geological quirk, the area to the north of the bay consists of deep, rocky crags. It wasn't until 1932, with the completion of the iconic Harbor Bridge, that north and south were connected and it truly became one city.

The Opera House, Sydney's other most familiar landmark, lies on a nearby point of land jutting into the harbor. Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, won a world competition with his design for that stunning structure, first proposed in 1959, but not completed until 1973, when Queen Elizabeth II attended the dedicatory concert.

A trip outside Sydney took them to the Blue Mountains. Here, due to a phenomenon unfamiliar to our part of the world, the atmosphere really does turn blue. Earliest settlers didn't even attempt to explore that mysterious area. Now, though, it is a favored tourist destination, as it includes the world's only non-tropical rain forest where rare cool-weather flora and fauna abound. It is also a great wine-producing area.

The Hunter Wine Tour was another enjoyable excursion. When I asked why their lovely vineyard pictures all seemed to include roses, they told me the growers had explained that roses and grapevines are subject to the same plant diseases. So they plant a row of roses around each vineyard, and watch it closely for problems. If any appear, it gives them time to take action before their precious vines are affected. I found that very interesting.

Then Lisa and Bridget traveled to Cairns, in Northern Queensland where their cousin works for a company which prospects for mining sites in that area rich in rare minerals. Truly tropical, it consists mainly of sugar cane fields and conventional rain forest. Just offshore, extending some 1600 miles out into the Coral Sea is the Great Barrier Reef.

Lisa confessed to a life-long fascination with that place which is famed as the world's biggest structure made of living organisms, tiny coral polyps. Nowadays it may be even more famous as a Mecca for scuba divers.

It turns out that she was determined to attempt that challenging sport. (Remember, Lisa is the mom). So their cousin, himself a diver, took her out for a try. To her great disappointment, the diving suit made her claustrophobic, so she had to settle for snorkeling, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Undaunted, she insists that, with a bit more preparation, she will someday achieve her goal. Knowing her, I don't doubt that she will.

Down under, they saw so much that is totally different from what we are used to in the Northern Hemisphere--trees, flowers and other plants, as well as emus, dangerous cassowaries, Tasmanian devils, wallabies, wombats and koalas. What a pleasure to view their pictures and hear their stories!

Yes, I do truly enjoy this kind of second-hand travel, and I promise I will let you know when my adventurous friend finally does go scuba diving!