Are you an Indian?” I asked the cabbie, going by his Indian looks and the Hindi one-liners he spoke. “No, I am a Pakistani, from Lahore,” came the pat reply. My wife cast me a sidelong glance, her uneasiness evidently spawned by the P-word. We had touched down at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, at 9:30 p.m. on a November day after flying eight hours from Bangkok, and were now on our way to our city hotel. A few minutes into our conversation, knowing we were from India, the cabbie became quite friendly with us.
Next morning, true to the Australians’ punctuality, our tour coach arrived on the dot at seven. The seemingly 70-plus driver’s grasp on Australian history and geography was remarkable, going by his non-stop commentary from the dashboard microphone.
The city tour also included the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Fitzroy Gardens, wherein stood the famed Captain Cook’s Cottage – who discovered the East coast of Australia, in 1770.
We got down at the Melbourne City Center and decided to have a first-hand experience of the city tram, which also has a Free Tram Zone; any tram trip that starts and ends within the City Center is free. We hopped on and off the tram in this zone to have a feeling of the city that bore a colorful and artistic heritage. In the evening, we lazed around the Yarra river-front, where hundreds of anchored silver white canoes presented a spectacular view against the backdrop of dazzling skyscrapers.
The following morning, we drove to the world famous Great Ocean Road, an Australian National Heritage about 200 km. from Melbourne. The near 250 km. road snaking through varying terrain along the South Eastern coast of the country offered a breathtaking view of the sea and its white sandy beaches.
Our next destination was the 12 Apostles – natural and humongous stone monoliths grandiosely standing against the backdrop of a tranquil blue sea and towering cliffs, as if proclaiming the truth of their having stood witness to the eternal vagaries of Nature.
The next day, we took a morning flight to Cairns, Queensland, and drove straight to the Kuranda National Park in the midst of the Tropical Rain Forest, skirted by the placid sea at its periphery.
The whole of the second day at the Green Island, 27 km. Offshore from Cairns, was full of fun and excitement as we cruised in a catamaran to the idyllic Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system stretching over 2,300 km. that can also be seen from outer space.
The next morning we flew to our final destination – Sydney, and straightaway proceeded to the Sydney Tower Eye. Sipping coffee at the observation deck – 50 meters above ground, we enjoyed the spectacular view of the city, including the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
The second day at Sydney started with a bus trip to the Blue Mountains National Park – its vast expanse a mix of dense rain-forest, canyons, plateau and escarpments.
The ultimate day’s Sydney city tour included the Sydney Harbour Bridge, known across the world for the spectacular New Year fireworks display around it. From there, we proceeded to the world famous Opera House, one of 20th century’s most famous and distinctive buildings comprising of multiple performance venues which together host well over 1,500 performances annually. After a walk around this engineering marvel, we went to the adjacent Royal Botanic Gardens that housed the Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair an exposed sandstone rock carved into the shape of a bench by convicts, in 1810. It was late evening by then, and so we sauntered back to our hotel along the busy streets of the country that can definitely boast of its disciplined traffic and well mannered citizenry. The next morning was the time to bid adieu, with a bagful of vivid memories from one of the finest cities in the world and also a lifetime experience of our sojourn Down Under.