We left Sydney this morning to travel to Brisbane. After checking into our flight at the airport we had time to meet as a group and discuss our experiences over the past few days. Students shared their observations and insights on some of the activities we had completed, what we had learned about nature, the environment and culture as well as differences and similarities between Australian and US customs and values.
It was interesting to hear the different perspectives and useful for students to synthesise their experiences to date.
We are now in Brisbane and will be visiting the Australia Zoo tomorrow. More on that later!
Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is one of the best places to get a shot of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and yes you can also sit in it. It was built by Governor Macquarie for his wife so she had a place to sit when she wanted to enjoy the view from her favourite spot. Of course we had to try it out.
The Botanic Gardens
An old part of Sydney known as the The Rocks
Panoramic view of Sydney from the Harbour Bridge
Harbour Bridge at night from the Sydney Obsevatory
Today was a free day for the students with no planned class activities so students ventured out in Sydney on their own. One group visited more museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art, another experienced Sydney's famous Bondi Beach, a third did the 3.5 hour guided climb of the Harbour Bridge and a fourth did the Escape Room challenge. Several of them also toured the Botanic Gardens and the Opera House. Lynn and I wandered the Gardens, walked across the Harbour Bridge and took a night-time guided tour of the Sydney Observatory.
A diverse set of options and a whole range of experiences for everyone!
Today we boarded a train and headed west to Katoomba for a guided bush walk in the Blue Mountains. Our excellent Rangers, Liz and Paula, led us on a 4 hour hike through eucalyptus forest, as well as temperate rainforest at the bottom of Jamieson valley. Highlights included waterfalls, tree ferns known from the Jurassic, cockatoos, amazing vistas and rock formations, and not one, but TWO lyrebirds! These birds are known for their ability to mimic other birds' songs and incorporate them into their own courtship rituals. They also have a mating dance where they display their tail feathers to try to attract the females of the species. We watched them scratch up the soil looking for invertebrates to eat, and observed pilot birds, small individuals of other species that hang around looking for leftovers. It is truly amazing to see one of these birds, but TWO? It was fate, as we took a path that was not on our original itinerary, and ended up seeing these rare and beautiful animals.
Today was filled with animal encounters of all kinds , from sea life to birds and mammals. We started out by walking to the Sydney Aquarium and spent a couple of hours looking at the wonderful exhibits there. There were a few spectacular underwater tunnels where the fish swim all around including above you and you really get to see them up close. We had the good fortune of being able to listen to a talk on sharkswhich was really informative and interesting. Out of 400 species of sharks, Australia has 120 and only 4 species are dangerous (to humans) unlike the myth propagated by the news media.
After the requisite souvenir photo (see blog) we took a ferry to another location and then one on to Taronga Zoo. The ferry ride took us under the Harbour Bridge and right next to the Sydney Opera house so we had plenty of scenic photos taken on that leg.
The highlights of the zoo for the students were probably the kangaroo and koala exhibits as well as the two shows we saw - the seal lion and bird shows. Two of our students Nia and Dan were chosen from the audience to participate in each of those shows much to their delight. We learned a lot about conservation and the threats facing many species today and also quite a bit about the role of the environment in the evolution of Australian animals.
Students commented on how friendly and helpful everyone is. People here seem more laid back and less intense, despite the fact that we are in a big city. There is a very strong East Asian influence in just about everything from food and restaurants to stores and even entertainment. You are just as likely to hear Chinese as English on the metro and many of the signs are in both languages as well.
Tomorrow we head to the Blue Mountains for a day long hike. More on that later.
Our first (almost) full day in Australia is over and it was a busy one. We arrived a couple of hours late since our flight out of JFK was delayed. Customs and immigration went smoothly and we reached our destination in central Sydney by 10:30 am.
We took off right away on a walking tour to get our bearings. First we headed to Hyde Park and the ANZAC memorial. ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand army corps and it commemorates all the lives that have been lost in the various conflicts that Australia has been involved in. After walking through beautiful Hyde Park and taking some group photos at the Archibald fountain we toured the Hyde Park Barracks which housed the convicts who made up the early white inhabitants of Australia. Students had fun with the various interactive displays, trying on period clothing, and testing the hammocks that served as beds in the dormitory style rooms.
Next we headed to the Australian museum of natural history. The museum had excellent displays on the indigenous cultures of the region as well as Australian fauna, geology and of course the requisite dinosaur section. Overall it was a great introduction to the early history of the region and a good context in which to place our upcoming experiences.
After returning to the YHA we had a quick meeting to debrief and go over the next day's plans before we dispersed for the evening.
We're guessing it don't be difficult for students to fall asleep tonight!
The gang is all here and we are waiting for our flight which is delayed an hour and a half. Everyone is in good spirits though and the group seems to have bonded already. One stop at LAX and then we're off to Sydney!