Sunday, January 7, 2007


A year and a half in the making, the impetus for our trip to Australia was Molly's brother David's wedding. Australia had long been on my list of places to visit, but I never thought I'd actually get there.

Three plane rides later, one of them very, very long, we got there. We touched down in Melbourne, picked up our car, and started driving along the very scenic Great Ocean Road. We stopped numerous times to take in the views, including a visit to the 12 Apostles, a collection of striking rock formations just off the cliff-faced southern coast of Australia.

Above: Molly and me at the 12 Apostles and "The Grotto."

Left: As it turned out, the only place that was open on Christmas Day was this gas station.

We then took a ferry to Kangaroo Island, a remote area with few people and abundant Australian wildlife. In one day, we saw a wild kangaroo (pictured above), koala bear, wallaby, echidna (like a porcupine), and seals.

Also on Kangaroo Island were these "Remarkable Rocks," oddly-shaped granite rock formations that were very fun to play on.

We also got to see some sea lions up close on Kangaroo Island.

From Kangaroo Island, we drove north to Saddleworth, a tiny rural town where Melanie (David's bride) is from. Here, we took a bus tour through Barossa Valley and visited several of the region's wineries . Back at Mel's parents' house, we had a traditional Australian "barbie" and played a couple of rounds of golf on the miniature par 3 course that Mel's dad created in the back yard.
We then went to Martindale Hall, a mansion built in 1879. The remote house currently functions as a museum during the day and a bed and breakfast at night. Guests of the bed and breakfast are encouraged to explore, sit in the furniture, and play on the enormous billiards table (the first one ever built with automatic ball return, constructed from bamboo poles). I also found an interesting medical text from 1888.
The wedding was held on the front lawn of the mansion at dusk, and it was beautiful. After the ceremony, the wedding guests mingled outside for a while, and then went inside for food and dancing. It was pretty amazing to be drink, eat, and dance on the floor of this century-old mansion.
After David's wedding, Molly's brother Michael and I were talking to the Jesuit priest who performed the marriage. When we mentioned that we would be in Sydney for New Year's Eve, he told us about a Jesuit school in Sydney named St. Aloysius, which was located on a small piece of land overlooking Sydney Harbour. He said the view of the New Year's Eve fireworks from there would be unbeatable, and that we should look up the number to the Jesuit community when we got there, mention his name, and ask if we could join them for New Year's Eve. When we got to Sydney at about noon on New Year's Eve, I did just that, and the priest I talked to said he would leave seven tickets for us. This was incredible news, since we had heard that one must be downtown by 3:00 p.m., and some people camp out all night, to get good spots.

So that evening, we took the train downtown, crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and got off just on the other side. We weaved our way through the crowds and managed to find St. Aloysius, which it became apparent was having a charity event that night. We never found out how much everyone paid for their tickets, because ours were free. I'd say there were about 200 people on the large fourth floor roof of the school, which, as advertised, had an amazing view of the bridge and the harbour. We were just in time for the 9:00 fireworks show, and stuck around for the midnight show, which was awesome. It also happened to be the 75th anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge this year, so the celebration was even more extravagant than usual. Fireworks were going off across the whole sky, the bridge, barges, and downtown buildings. It was quite a memorable display.

The next five days were spent in Sydney. Highlights included climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Molly excused herself from this activity--there was some lame rule about being more than 24 weeks pregnant), visiting the beautiful Bondi Beach (unfortunately we missed Paris Hilton, who was there the same day), touring the Sydney Opera House, visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens, taking a day trip to the very scenic Blue Mountains, going on a seafood buffet lunch cruise on the harbour, exploring "The Rocks," which is a historic area on the waterfront with lots of shops and pubs, and taking on some Aussies (and beating all but two of them) in a poker tournament at a pub near our apartment. If you click on the picture below of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the left with some buildings to the right, you will get an enlarged picture and be able to see 1) the building which we stood on top of to watch the fireworks (a red building with a big white cross on it) and 2) people standing on top of the bridge, which is where I later stood with Molly's brother and dad.

Overall, the trip was was an unforgettable experience. We would return in a heartbeat.