Cradle Mountain National Park and Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), Tasmania, Australia

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Cradle Mountain (over 1,500 meters / 4,921 feet high) rises in the distance, beyond the fields south of Devonport, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

Our destination for the afternoon drive was Cradle Mountain National Park and Dove Lake, with a long visit to the Tasmanian Devil sanctuary, Devils@Cradle, where we had a naturalist talk and tour of the sanctuary (and got to pet a live, raised in captivity, Tasmanian devil).  Cradle Mountain, at over 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), is the icon of Tasmania’s World Heritage Wilderness and the surrounding landscape is a place of pristine and spectacular natural beauty – jagged peaks, cool temperate rainforest, alpine woodland, button grass moorlands and plateau it is a paradise for animals of the alpine.  A range of easy-hard walking tracks of varying distances are available within the National park.  An abundance of native wildlife, animals such as Wombats, Wallabies and Possum can be regularly viewed in the Cradle area while for bird lovers the area is home to a large number of endemic bird species.  While many people hope or expect to see Tasmanian devils roaming in the wild, this is often not the case. Tasmanian devils, along with both quoll species, are shy nocturnal creatures and the chance of seeing one in the wild is quite remote for most of the year.

 

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A naturalist (“keeper”) talked to us at Devils @ Cradle Sanctuary for Tasmanian devils, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

The Devils @ Cradle Tasmanian devil sanctuary breeds Tasmania’s three unique threatened carnivorous marsupials; the Spotted-tail and Eastern quoll and focuses primarily on the Tasmanian devil.  The facility is located on the edge of the Cradle Mountain National Park World Heritage area and conducts in-situ conservation programs for the Tasmanian devil including an on-site breeding program for insurance of the species.  The carnivorous Tasmanian devil is scientifically known as Sarcophilus harrisii.  A visit to the sanctuary day or night allows visitors to observe these extraordinary animals up close whilst one of the Devils @ Cradle keepers provide lots of information about them. “Keeper tours” are conducted hourly, while in the evening visitors can observe the amazing night-time antics of the animals being fed.

 

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A Tasmanian devil, bred in captivity, was held by the keeper who then let us pet him, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

The “keeper’s” talk was very informative as he provided background on the marsupial and discussed the rationale for the creation of the sanctuary — to breed disease-free Tasmanian devils that can be reintroduced into the wild in order to build up their population which has been decimated due to a unique disease afflicting them.  Tasmanian devils are the worlds largest living carnivorous marsupial unique to the island of Tasmania.  They are extraordinary animals that range from coastal to alpine habitat throughout Tasmania.  A shy nocturnal creature that has a vivacious appetite and almost mythical reputation it is an elusive animal that is rarely seen in the wild.  Unfortunately devils are suffering from an infectious cancer called devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) which threatens to drive the species to extinction. This disease has more than halved the island’s population of Tasmanian devils in the last ten years and it is now considered and endangered species.

 

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Outside in the Sanctuary the keeper fed a wombat, Devils @ Cradle, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

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A healthy, disease-free Tasmanian devil in one of many breeding areas of the Devils @ Cradle Sanctuary that will be released back into the wild when he’s older, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

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We watched three Tasmanian devils fight somewhat with each other in order to eat the carrion on the end of the green nylon rope that was controlled by the keeper at the Devils @ Cradle Sanctuary – they have the strongest bite per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator; Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

“The size of a small dog, [the Tasmanian devil] became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936.  It is characterized by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odor, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding.  The Tasmanian devil’s large head and neck allow it to generate among the strongest bites per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator, and it hunts prey and scavenges carrion as well as eating household products if humans are living nearby.” —Wikipedia

 

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Diseased, dead trees littered the ancient rainforest landscape as we drove up to Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the Devils @ Cradle Sanctuary; Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania, Australia

 

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The landscape of Cradle Mountain National Park as we drove up to Dove Lake which lies under Smithies Peak and Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, Australia

 

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Dove Lake lies within Cradle Mountain National Park, the island state’s most visited national park, Tasmania, Australia; the area was first visited by Aborigines more than 35,000 years ago, including during the last ice age

 

Exploring Tasmanian history around Burnie, Tasmania, Australia

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Home Hill, once home to Joe Lyons, Tasmania’s only Australian Prime Minister Devenport, Tasmania, Australia

 

Overlooking Bass Strait on Tasmania’s northwest coast (an island state of Australia, south of Adelaide and Melbourne), Burnie was settled by Aboriginals long before the island’s discovery by European explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.  Paying homage to its industrial heritage, Burnie has proclaimed itself a “City of Makers,” replacing once-thriving paper, chemical and lumber plants with artisanal cheese makers, a single-malt whisky distillery, ceramic workshops and handmade paper.  The abandoned paper mill in town employed 3,000 workers until about 10 years ago.  We were very impressed with the ongoing, but successful so far, transformation of the city from an industrial city to one catering to creative artists and tourists.  This being Australia, exotic flora and fauna are also part of the scene, from diminutive fairy penguins, echidna and platypus to lush gardens, nature reserves and waterfalls.

 

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Vineyards at Ghost Rock Winery in Port Sorell, Tasmania, Australia

 

Our first day in Burnie we joined a group that headed south from the city on the coast of the Southern Ocean inland towards Cradle Mountain.  Our route first took us east along the coast towards Devenport, passing through Ulverstone and other seaside towns along the way.  Our first stop was for a guided visit to Home Hill, once home to Joe Lyons, Tasmania’s only Australian Prime Minister.  Further on, Devenport Bluff features numerous aboriginal sites.  Around midday, we arrived at Ghost Rock Winery in Port Sorell for a tour and wine tasting and a gourmet lunch featuring Tasmanian seafood, cheese, veggies and smoked meats, along with a glasses of wine.  The winery is on the “Cradle to Coast tasting trail” which features Tasmanian farms, cheese makers, wineries, etc. that are open for visits; this reminded us of our local Sonoma County, California, USA, “Taste of Sonoma Trail”.

 

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The winery building at Ghost Rock Winery in Port Sorell, Tasmania, Australia

 

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The outdoor display of winners of the International Sheffield Mural Fest annual competition at Mural Park, Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia

 

On our drive after lunch to Cradle Mountain [see our next blog post], our route south took us through Sheffield — in the foothills of striking Mount Roland (42 miles (67 km) from Burnie) — known as the “Town of Murals” for the 60 or so paintings which decorate most of the buildings, depicting the town’s history in a colorful display of al fresco art.  We found it interesting that many small towns in Tasmania have found a theme, like “Town of Murals” to develop as an attraction to draw tourists to the town.

 

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A winning mural (#A) of the International Sheffield Mural Fest annual competition, Mural Park, Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia

 

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A winning mural (#B) of the International Sheffield Mural Fest annual competition, Mural Park, Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia

 

Sheffield has gone so far as to have created the annual “International Sheffield Mural Fest” whose winners are on display outdoors at the Mural Park in Sheffield.  At the park, we found an informative sign that asked “Why are these murals different?”  It explained, “The murals in and around Sheffield were painted by dedicated artists whose main aim was to bring the region’s history to life, and tell the stories of our early pioneers.  A true picture from the past.  Here in Mural Park, the murals were painted during the International Mural Fest, Sheffield’s annual week-long mural art competition.  They are the personal interpretation of a themed poem by the nine finalist artists as they compete for the major prize.  These works add a contemporary perspective to Sheffield’s murals.”

 

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A winning mural (#C) of the International Sheffield Mural Fest annual competition, Mural Park, Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia

 

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A winning mural (#D) of the International Sheffield Mural Fest annual competition, Mural Park, Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia

 

Eden, New South Wales, Australia

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Aslings Beach along Calle Calle Bay is Eden’s most popular beach with pristine waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling, Eden, New South Wales, Australia

 

As the oldest former whaling station in mainland Australia, Eden boasts a long, proud maritime heritage.  Although whaling expeditions have long since ceased, Eden is still home to the largest fishing fleet in New South Wales.  The Killer Whale Museum has an exhibit about Old Tom and the incredible story of how local whalers were aided by obliging Orcas in their quest for leviathans of the sea.

 

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The rugged coast along Twofold Bay and Calle Calle Bay (parts of the South Pacific Ocean) around Eden have numerous homes tucked into the forested promontories, New South Wales, Australia

 

The winter visitors the New South Wales waters between Eden and Point Danger include both Humpback Whales and Southern Right Wales, on their migration from the Antarctic to their tropical breeding grounds.  The whales return to the Antarctic at the end of spring, some completing the longest migration of any animal species.  The early mornings of clear, still days between August and November are the best times for whale watching along the coast at Eden.

 

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St. Joseph’s School, Eden, New South Wales, Australia

 

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A lone surfer waits (in vain?) for some surfing waves, Eden, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The Killer Whale Museum, Eden, New South Wales, Australia

 

Whaling by Europeans commenced in Twofold Bay at Eden in 1791 and the first shore-based whaling station in Australia was established by Captain Thomas Raine at Snug Cove in 1828.  The Imlay Brothers erected Eden’s first building circa 1833.  Slab huts near Aslings Beach formed a station and “try works”.  Several other whalers followed, including the colorful Benjamin Boyd.  Early record show that local Aboriginal people were the first whalers of Twofold Bay.  They took advantage of the hunting technique of killer whales (Orcas) which involved the herding of marine mammals into shallows where waiting men could spear them from canoes.  The Aborigines revered the killer whales and would call to them, smack the water to attract their attention and throw meat and fish to them.  Records show that Aborigines were widely employed from the outset in the European whaling industry and that they made excellent and enthusiastic whalemen.  The relationship with killer whales continued because, at Twofold Bay – and nowhere else in the world – killer whales not only rounded up large whales, but they herded them into the Bay for the whalemen to kill.

 

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A hotel overlooking Twofold Bay, Eden, New South Wales, Australia

 

Exploring Tilba Valley, south of Batemans Bay, New South Wales, Australia

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Moruya Heads, popular with human surfers and dolphins, is located on the coast of the South Pacific Ocean east of the town of Moruya and south of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

Sailing south from Sydney on our way to Tasmania (the island to the south that is actually a state of Australia) we stopped in Batemans Bay (population 17,500) on the South Pacific Ocean coast.  Batemans Bay is a gateway to the region’s historic villages, stunning beaches and forested parklands.  We spent the day exploring the area south of Batemans Bay, centered on the Tilba Valley.

 

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Close up of the striated, eroded rocky shoreline, Moruya Heads, New South Wales, Australia

 

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We enjoyed a wine tasting and luncheon with some recent releases from Tilba Valley Wines ending with a nice tawny for dessert, Tilba Valley, New South Wales, Australia

 

On our hour-long drive to the Tilba Valley, we stopped half way at the Moruya Heads to see the beautiful coast line there.  Our first stop in the Tilba Valley was a visit to Tilba Valley Wines, the first (and thus far only) commercial winery on the Far South Coast opened in 1983.  The winery produces about 700 cases annually, including Shiraz, Cabernet, Semillion, Chardonnay and Rose. We were met by the winemaker who explained their production as we tasted the recent vintages of his varietals.  Production is quite limited as the weather is a major challenge (being so close to the ocean) and the birds and animals enjoy eating the ripening grapes. Our light lunch was accompanied by a local pianist and we finished with a glass of Tilba’s Tawny Port-style wine.

 

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Just outside the town of Central Tilba on rolling hills is the Tilba Real Dairy, New South Wales, Australia

 

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A view downhill of some of the shops and cafes in Central Tilba, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The Emporium Store in Central Tilba offers a broad array of goods and services: gasoline, groceries, fishing bait, lottery tickets, the post office, an Internet café, and fudge; New South Wales, Australia

 

After lunch we drove across the valley to the tiny town of Central Tilba, a nicely restored heritage village protected by its National Heritage status.  Set against the backdrop of Mt. Dromedary, the village grew around a cheese factory built here in 1891.  The tradition is carried on at Tilba Real Dairy, whose owners operate the ABC Cheese Factory in town.  We met with the cheese maker for a tasting of some of their award-winning products and an explanation of their cheese production process.  Afterwards we bought excellent fresh whole milk for subsequent breakfasts on board the ship and some of their delicious smoked garlic cheese.

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My favorite shop/café was the candy store with an old fashioned soda fountain and this 1950s American auto culture seating area replete with a working juke box, Central Tilba, New South Wales, Australia

 

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A real, old-fashioned English tea with scones and clotted cream and jam at a tea room in Central Tilba, New South Wales, Australia

 

 

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The main (and historic) business — although it employs very few people — in Central Tilba is the ABC Cheese Factory, founded in 1891, at the edge of town which sources milk from the owner’s dairy, Tilba Real Dairy, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The ABC Cheese Factory cheeses were quite tasty — right to left: cows’ milk mountain ash, a hard cows’ milk cheese, smoked garlic cheese, and an Australian-style cheddar, Central Tilba, New South Wales, Australia

 

Eat local: Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Whole Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon, Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

On this trip we purposely sought out the Sydney Fish Market for some morning sashimi (really fresh!!) and to purchase seafood for our kitchen on the ship – some for lunches and dinners the next day or two and more for the freezer for the upcoming months when we will be on an expedition and will not have access to either towns or markets.  We were quite excited, as on our previous visit we were staying in a hotel in Sydney and, while we enjoyed some morning sashimi, could not purchase any seafood for “take-away” as we had no access to a kitchen.

 

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Cooked Morton Bay Bugs, a shellfish delicacy that tastes like lobster, found around the cold waters of south-east Australia, looking like a trilobite (a fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that are one of the earliest known groups of arthropods); Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

“SFM (the Sydney Fish Market) is the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest seafood market in terms of variety in the world.  Approximately 2,700 crates (around 50-55 tonnes) of the freshest possible seafood is auctioned each day through the computerised Dutch auction system to approximately 160 buyers.  The incredible variety of seafood is sourced from individual fishermen, co-ops, fishing businesses and aquaculture farms in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific Region with over 100 species available to buyers daily.” – SydneyFishMarket.com.au

 

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Oyster “sashimi” at the market with multi-colored caviar (fish roe), Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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Cooked Morton Bay Bugs (out of the shell that was stuffed with fruit) topped with caviar (roe) for take-away eating at the Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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Fresh, local scampi (raw) for cooking at home (or at a restaurant), Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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Fresh scallops on the “half-shell”, Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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Freshly prepared sashimi for take-away or eating at the Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia – mackerel, sake (salmon) and scallops

 

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The price says it all (note, at the time of publication, 1 AU$ = 0.73 US$); Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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Wild Abalone Sashimi (for take-away or eating at the Sydney Fish Market), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

New Year’s Fireworks in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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The municipal fireworks on New Year’s Eve viewed from the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; here the Sydney Harbour Bridge (closed at 4 pm to traffic) was the launching “platform” for literally tons of pyrotechnics

 

Before our visit to Sydney, Australia, we heard from friends who live in the city that the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve were not to be missed.  When the Sydney Opera House web site went live with tickets for the evening (back in March), we decided to book the whole evening there with friends: a pre–performance gala dinner, a live performance of Puccini’s opera La Bohème (with an intermission in time to go out on the terrace to watch the 9:00 p.m. “kids’ fireworks”), a post-performance party and supper and fireworks viewing from the terrace at midnight.  This turned out to be a really festive, fun, and memorable evening – definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for visiting Americans.

 

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To get to the Sydney Opera House at 4 pm (the roads were closed!) on New Year’s Eve we took a water taxi to the nearby Circular Quay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; the dock was full of spectators waiting since early morning for the 9 p.m. and midnight municipal fireworks

 

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The view from the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theater’s dining area on New Year’s Eve overlooking Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the fireworks launching platforms in the bay; Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The early evening dinner in the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theater’s dining area for those attending the New Year’s Eve Sydney Opera House performance of La Bohème; Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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After sunset, following dinner, the view from the outdoor terrace of the dining area gave us an interesting night-time perspective of the adjacent concert hall; Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The view from the Joan Sutherland Theater’s terrace before the 9:00 p.m. fireworks was fairly tranquil, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; the Sydney Harbour Bridge is at the top and the ground level plaza was alive with a New Year’s Eve party in full swing

 

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The 9:00 p.m. municipal fireworks is affectionately referred to as the “kids’ fireworks” as they are held earlier in the evening than midnight for all the “kids” to be able to see the 12-minute pyrotechnics show and then get a good night’s sleep; viewed from the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The final curtain call on New Year’s Eve with the principal singers and the orchestra conductor of Puccini’s classic Parisian love-story opera, La Bohème; Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The midnight (“Happy New Year, 2017!”) fireworks started off like the 9 p.m. “kids’ fireworks”, but, as shown in the next photograph, had a superb finale on the Sydney Harbor Bridge; viewed from the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The finale of the midnight (“Happy New Year, 2017!”) fireworks extravaganza had a magnificent fireworks waterfall cascading off the deck of the Sydney Harbor Bridge along with massive numbers of fireworks launched from the deck of the bridge; viewed from the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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After the post-performance Opera party and midnight fireworks, we caught the 1:45 a.m. water taxi back to White Bay Cruise Terminal where our ship was docked – Happy New Year, 2017!; this view of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, was made from the water taxi

 

Sailing into Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, Australia

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Panorama of Sydney Harbour as we sailed in on an overcast day with intermittent rain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

Entering Sydney’s glorious harbour is a highlight of any seaborne journey.  The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge creates the perfect backdrop for the equally familiar white sails of the Sydney Opera House, with miles of sandy beach framing the scene.

 

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The sky became quite dramatic as we approached the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

“Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania.  Located on Australia’s east coast, the metropolis surrounds the world’s largest natural harbor, and sprawls towards the Blue Mountains to the west. Residents of Sydney are known as ‘Sydneysiders’.  Sydney is the second official seat and second official residence of the Governor-General of Australia and the Prime Minister of Australia [after Canberra, the capital city] and many federal ministries maintain substantial presences in Sydney.

“In addition to hosting events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics, Sydney is amongst the top fifteen most-visited cities in the world with millions of tourists coming each year to see the city’s landmarks.  Its natural features include Sydney Harbour, the Royal National Park, and the Royal Botanic Garden.  Man-made attractions such as the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Tower and the Sydney Harbour Bridge are also well known to international visitors.” — Wikipedia

 

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Downtown skyscrapers located behind the Sydney Botanical Garden, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The iconic Sydney Opera House [where we spent New Year’s Eve; see our next blog post!], Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The Sydney Opera House is undeniably Australia’s most recognizable building.  It is a reflection of the country’s creative and technical achievements.  Constructed between 1957 and 1973, the building, with its distinctive white shell roof above a granite platform, is an internationally acclaimed architectural symbol of the 20th century.  A thriving hub of art, culture and history, the Sydney Opera House hosts a wide variety of performances and exhibitions.

 

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The Australian flag proudly flies over the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the largest steel arch bridge in the world when it opened in 1932, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

Fondly known by locals as the “coat hanger,” the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest steel arch bridge.  This engineering marvel opened in 1932 and supports vehicle lanes, rail lines, a foot way and cycle way.  An extremely popular activity is the BridgeClimb, where visitors (wearing special blue overalls and a safety harness) embark on a thrilling climb to the bridge’s summit to experience breathtaking views.

 

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Looking back at the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as we sailed on to White Bay where we docked near the White Bay CruiseTerminal, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

 

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The clearing sky served to highlight the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia