Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Australia Tour - Part 8 - New Year Eve night at Circular Quay

I am posting this ahead of the third part of the Auckland tour because of its timeliness. We reached back here in Sydney from Auckland on 30th evening. 

We planned the Aussie trip with the idea of seeing the fireworks on new year eve at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not just because it's an iconic annual event.

Though new year breaks in New Zealand two hours earlier, and there too there are fireworks, we have all grown up seeing the Sydney photos on the front page of newspapers.

But this time, fireworks have evoked mixed feelings. It's not just about celebrations. Forest fires that are still raging (for well over a month now) in New South Wales and Victoria states have claimed many lives and property. News of the fires is the headline news every day. 

There was a demand to have this marquee NYE event cancelled in deference to the feelings of those affected by the forest fires, especially since all around Sydney there is a total fire ban in place.

After all the debates and campaigns, for and against, the Royal Fire Service gave the go ahead. One of the reasons for it is that many people have already paid to watch the event. But there are a good number of people who aren't happy that this is happening. One of my friends here is boycotting this. She said she won't watch it even on television. 

It's with this mixed feeling that my wife, son and I are sitting at Circular Quay, one of the best spots. We reached here at 5.15 pm. 

It was a very hot in the morning and afternoon with hot wind making it quite unbearable. But now the temperature has dropped and sunshine doesn't have the severity it had earlier in the day. 

Two flags fluttering atop the bridge are flying at half mast.

Most of the vantage points have already been occupied. But we managed to find a seat for three of us with a good clear view of the bridge.


It's now 7.45 pm. Absolutely pleasant weather now here with cool breeze blowing. People are still streaming in. Most of them are tourists. All vacant spaces on the ground have now been almost fully occupied with people spreading clothes to sit on. 

Some of them are reading books, some listening to music, some on video chat, some others are playing cards, a few are having snacks. After all, over four hours to go.

Meanwhile, the flags, which were flying at half mast earlier in the evening, are now flying at full mast.

At 9 pm the family fireworks were set to go off. But, it began only at 9.15.  Later I learnt that it was because of the strong gusts of wind that has blowing across this region. This fireworks is meant for the small children who might not be awake till midnight. 

There were loud cheers as flares went up at three locations, and crackers burst. This precursor to the real event was impressive enough. 

It's like a break time now, with many dispersing for dinner or snacks. Soon all will be back here for the midnight fireworks.

Waiting for the clock to strike 12, taking us to 2020. We plan to leave this place around 1230.

Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Auckland tour - Part 2

The last two days, we were busy museum hopping.

Friday, December 27

On 27th morning we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, situated close to the CBD. Opened in 1929, it's one of the first museums of the nation and entry is free for residents of Auckland. 

The front part of the museum is a war memorial, and a good part of the museum is about how the first world war broke out, how it spread to different parts of the world, how New Zealand got involved in it, and the sacrifices of New Zealand soldiers in the war. 

It's not just about the war. One section is about the Maori and Pacific cultures. We saw a one hour Maori Cultural Performance, a lecture-demonstration showcasing their traditions and lifestyle. After the programme we had a chance to interact with the artists, and take photos with them. 

Another interesting section was on Tupaia, the Tahitian priest, navigator and artist who travelled on the Endeavour to Aotearoa in New Zealand. 

Then there are sections on the plants and animals of the regions, besides arts and culture. It took us almost the entire day. 

Saturday, December 29

In the morning we went to the Kelly Tarlton's Marine Museum. The biggest attraction there were the penguins: birds that can't fly, who walk on their two feet, whose wings are like fins for them to swim and dive under water. 

There is a replica of the Scott's Hut built in the Antarctica in 1911. Capt Robert Scott was one of the first to extensively tour Antarctica.

Other sections include those on sharks, jellyfish, sea horse, and various aquatic plants. 

There is also an area where children can play, and draw and colour pictures of marine animals.

Post lunch we headed to the Museum of Transport and Technology. It's a huge 40 acre facility that has on display the history and evolution of everything that is related to transportation and technology related to our everyday life. 

The facility, which opened in 1964, is spread over two locations, MOTAT 1 at the Great North Road and MOTAT 2 at Meola Road. 

We started with MOTAT 2 which is all about aircraft. The moment I saw the huge metal birds, I was reminded of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Air and Space Museum, in Virginia, which of course is much bigger and exhaustive than this section in MOTAT. 

One of the exhibits is the Sunderland of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. It's one of the most powerful and widely used maritime reconnaissance aircraft used in the World War II. The one on display is one of the only four remaining in the world. 

There is a tram that runs every 15 minutes connecting MOTAT 1 and 2, via the Auckland Zoo. This tram number 906 too has a history. It entered service for the city's tram network in 1945 and was retired in 1997. Then in 2006 it was moved to MOTAT as a shuttle service. 

We took this tram to MOTAT 1 which is far bigger than the other side. It has sections on locomotives, turbines, motors, cars, buses, communication equipment like telegraph, telephone, radio, television, computers etc. The Morse code signal that Titanic's captain sent is also on display. 

An old dial telephone allows visitors to dial a particular number on a phone at one end which rings the phone at the other end, and the two person can talk. 

Another fun exhibit is the Whisper Dish. There are dishes facing each other sepatared by around 25 - 30 meters. When a person whispers into one dish, the sound waves get reflected from dish and refocusses on the other allowing the person at that end to hear what the other person is whispering. 

In the evening, we went to the Hunua waterfalls, at Hunua village, about an hour's drive from the city. The drive around curved roads amongst tall trees is itself a great experience. The water fall from a height of around 50 meters from the Wairoa river is a beautiful sight.

(To be continued) 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Auckland tour - Part 1

We reached Auckland, New Zealand yesterday late night by a Qantas flight from Melbourne. The flight had quite appropriately stewards sporting Christmas costumes and the in-flight sound systems playing carols. We all also got chocolates.

Today morning we went to the Botony Town Centre, a large shopping and entertainment complex housing over 200 stores, in East Tamaki. Being Boxing Day, there were up to 50 per cent discount on many items, and the place was swarming with shoppers. 

After lunch, we headed to a place on the west coast called Manukau Heads Lighthouse, a 19th century tower, in the rural hinderlands of Auckland. 

All through we could see lots of greenery, vast areas of farmland, and large number of cows grazing. Rustic beauty in all its glory. 

The drive around curvy roads up to this place, which is 240 metres above sea level, presents a breathtaking view of the valley below and the Tasman Sea. The place is also home to many rare flaura and fauna.

From the car park we climbed 120 steps to the top of the tower. It's a beautiful sight no photo or video can recreate. 

The place also commemorates the watery grave of New Zealand's worst maritime tragedy, HMS Orpheus, in 1863, in which 189 lives were lost. 

(To be continued) 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Australia tour - Part 7

Tuesday, December 24

The place we went to today might not be very high on an average tourist's list of must-see places. But it's the type I love. And it was an unforgettable experience - getting into a gold mine. 

It's in Ballarat, the third largest city in the state of Victoria. Its claim to fame is the discovery of gold in 1851, which not only brought an influx of people from around the world in search of fortune but also dramatically changed the socio political and economic profile of the people.

There are many places in the city that showcase various facets of the gold-triggered industrialisation of a hitherto village of sheep farmers. 

But the best place to see is Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum, spread over 25 acres, that has recreated the township, with tents and buildings as they were during the gold rush days 150 years ago. 

When gold was struck first, the miners worked for themselves. Once top layers were mined and it became more difficult to mine, various machineries entered the scene and gold mining companies set up shop there, and miners were employed as workers by them. 

The museum has working displays of machines that are used in the processes involved in the extraction of pure gold from the minerals. At one spot, we can actually pan water and look for very tiny specks of gold.

There is a section called Gold Pour, where an industrial blacksmith melts pure gold that is valued at $200,000 and pours it into a container to turn it into a bullion bar. When he revealed the gold and its price, there were loud gasps of wonderment from the room full of people. 

We got into two mines. One is the Red Hill Mine, which is a self-guided tour of about 15 minutes. As we enter a tunnel, we are guided by an audio description of the mine. There is a very impressive hologram display of how mining was done in those days without the help of any machinery. 

But what is more worth seeing is the guided mine tour that lasts 45 minutes. Along with a guide, we descend into a dark tunnel to around 60 feet below the earth's surface in a small open-roof tram. 

In order to acclimatize our eyes to very low light, the initial couple of minutes or so of the tram ride into the tunnel is in total darkness. We aren't allowed to turn on the torch mobile phone. 

Then, we deboard, and walk through the tunnel. At regular intervals, we halt and the guide explains the life and work of miners. This was a real mine which functioned in the 1870s. Here some mechanical equipment like Rock Drills were used to drill holes into rocks for explosives to blast them.

But the drilling inside the tunnels produced sharp silica dust that got lodged in miners' lungs. Many of them contracted silicosis leading to their early deaths. The Rock Drill came to be known as 'widow maker'. 

A great experience of going deep inside a mine and learning about the life and work of miners. Really worth it! 

Nearby there is a Gold Museum that chronicles the life during the Gold Rush. Apparently photography was a major activity during those days. There was a Travelling Photographer's Cart which had all the equipment for taking a photo. It travelled through towns and villages and parked itself in scenic places. People could take their portraits taken. The museum has a replica of the cart. 

The museum also has a replica or what was called Hansom Cab. It was invented by Joseph Hansom of Birmingham, England in 1833-34, and was introduced in Australia in 1849. It had many innovative features like a front door instead of one in the back allowing better and easier monitoring of passengers by the driver. Also the seats were located such that they helped women to board and alight easily. 

The museum has many such interesting facets of life in those days. 

(To be continued) 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Australia tour - Part 6

Monday, December 23

When you are visiting places of tourist interest, it's not often one comes away with a feeling of having seen and known about something that is truly one of its kind. That's what I felt at the end of the day today. 

The Great Ocean Road stretches around 250 km with the Southern Ocean on one side and plains and hills on the other side. It takes around four hours one way and presents the traveller breathtaking view of the ocean and the landscape. 

We started around 10 am. The first halt was Lorne Pier. We had coffee at the seafood restaurant and took a walk along the pier, giving us a beautiful view of the ocean. 

The original pier was built in 1879. The one that's there now was built in 2007. It's a favourite spot for fishing. 

The road, an amazing stretch, is not just any road. It was built between 1919 and 1932 by the soldiers who returned from the World War I in memory of fellow soldiers who died in the war. It's a war memorial. 

The most popular attraction on the road is a place called Port Campbell. The cliffs there are made of limestone and sandstone that are susceptible to erosion. Because of constant pounding of the sea water the cliffs have given way leaving behind structures of various shapes and sizes. 

One of them is called the Twelve Apostles, a collection 12 stacks of limestone. From the viewpoint out of the original 12, one can see only seven stacks, after one of them collapsed in 2005. 

Over a period of time the existing stacks could collapse too, and the cliffs could also be susceptible to erosion giving birth to new stacks. 

There was a huge rush of tourists at the spot, with everyone looking for the perfect spot to click photos with stacks in the background. 

This is one of those rare natural formations, giving us an insight into the complex marine life. The cliffs and stacks are so captivating that one could just keep looking at them for ever.

(To be continued) 

Australia tour - Part 5

Sunday, December 22

Unbelievable cold in the morning. Melbourne is known for highly fluctuating temperatures. But a wintry chill and cold wind with temperature hovering over around 15 is not at all what I expected today morning around 10, especially after I was told that it was around 44 degrees a couple of days ago.

My family, along with my friend, a university professor, went to Albert Park and Lake around 10 am. The track around the lake is where the Grand Prix is held. We walked around the nearly 5 km walkway around the lake, which has many black swans.

There were two of them, who put up a synchronized swim very close to the walkway, for the camera as it were.

The grassy wetlands is home to nearly 200 bird species, both resident and transient.

The original inhabitants of the place were the Wurundjeri people, who lived here nearly 40,000 years prior to the European settlers.

In the evening we went to South Wharf, a suburb just two km from the CBD. To one side is the Yarra River, apparently developed to rival The Thames of London.

Some of the big landmarks here are the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Melbourne Maritime Museum and a sailing ship Polly Woodside built in 1885.

On the banks of Yarra River is the Crown a sprawling entertainment complex. It's spread over 5,10,000 Sq metres, has three hotels, spas, casino (which reminded me of Las Vegas), bars and restaurants. 

We had dinner at one of the restaurants in South Wharf and retired for home around 10.30 pm.

(To be continued) 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Australia tour - Part 4

Saturday, December 21

It was hotter than previous days, around 37 degree. That didn't stop us from going on a walk.

Headed to Blackwattle Bay in the morning. The park there is such a beautiful, quiet place.

Interesting to know that it was named Blackwattle in 1788 after the Black Wattle tree that was used for construction of houses. We walked along the Glebe Foreshore Walk. The photos show the view from the Walk. 

Since it's an off-leash area, it was nice to see  many dogs having fun running around the area or going in for a dip in the water. 

From there we walked to Broadway Mall. Took about 20 odd minutes. Was quite tired, thanks to the heat. Had lunch. Then did some shopping at K Mart and Target.

Then, we went to a flea market nearby. Picked up some things from there too.

Had some juice and took a bus back home.

Around 6.15 pm, left for the Sydney domestic airport for our flight to Melbourne at 8.40 pm. 

After we cleared the security and reached the gate, saw an alert from Google Assistant that the flight has been delayed to 9.30 pm. At 8.55 pm, I got an email that the flight has been further delayed to 10.05 pm.

The delay was owing to gusty winds and the bush fire smoke that they carried over the airport areas. Thankfully there was  no more delay and we landed in Melbourne at 10 minutes to midnight. 

(To be continued)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Australia tour - Part 3

Friday, Dec 20

Not much of touring today; was indoors most of the day.

In the evening, we went to Bondi Beach, a very popular tourist spot in Australia. 'Bondi' comes from the Aboriginal word 'Boondi' meaning 'surf', and not surprisingly surfing is a common sport here.

The beach is an impressive vast curvy expanse of white sand caressed by relentless waves. It's populated by tourists looking to soak in the sun or take a dip in the waters or ride the waves. 

It's overlooked by an array of eateries humming with revellers indulging in gastronomic delights. There are also fitness freaks stretching themselves or pulling themselves up hanging from a beam. Beach volleyball too is common here.

One can see some beautiful street art also here. 

Bondi Beach is a very densely populated place: a little over one square kilometer area has over 10,000 people, from different parts of the the world - English is not the native tongue of many people here.

The Gap
Just a few kilometers away is The Gap, a beautiful cliff overlooking the Tasman sea. 

Before the British came in 1788, this was the home of the Aboriginal tribe Birrabirragal. Later, the settlers used this cliff as a strategic military surveillance point to guard against invaders. 

One gets an amazing view of the sea on one side and the city landscape on the other. 

(To be continued) 

Australia tour - Part 2

Wednesday, Dec 18

Easily the day my wife and I will savour for the rest of our lives - - the day our son graduated from the University of Wollongong.

We started from our Burwood residence in a rented car for Wollongong around 7.15 am. Reached the Univ around 8.45 am. There we met one of the friends of my son, and his parents. The students were all dressed in the formal graduation attire, in gown and mortar board. 

After a light breakfast at the Univ cafeteria, we headed to the auditorium. Son and other graduates were seated in a group to the right of the hall, while we sat to the left. 

First it was the turn of the undergrads. Then came the post-grad students. We craned our necks to see when son's turn would come. We waited and waited, like any parent would. 

Finally, we saw him stand up and join the queue to walk up to the stage. He moved forward, climbed the short flight of stairs to the stage and when his name was called out, he made his way to the centre and stood before the chancellor. 

Handshake, handing over of the certificate, touch of the edge of the cap, and a bow of the head, in keeping with the time-honoured tradition. 

At the end of the entire event, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, the friends and relatives of the students stood up to give a standing ovation to all the students who graduated.

Then followed refreshments and multiple photo sessions in front of the University name board and emblem. It was the formal culmination of two years of rigorous training, and the beginning of a new phase in the students' life. 

We then went to the Wollongong Harbour and had lunch. In some parts of Sydney mercury had risen to record level, while at the Harbour it was gusts of strong cool breeze. 

Kangaroo Valley 

It was now time to unwind and chill out for the students, and parents too. I am at Kangaroo Valley, tucked away a good 90 odd km away from Wollongong. 

It's beside the Kangaroo River. The original inhabitants were Aborginala Wodi Wodi people, who were there thousands of years before the English came. 

With so many trees all around in the hilly area, the current bush fires did come to our mind and our thoughts went out to the people who have been affected by it. 

On our way to our rented cottage here we saw boards warning us of presence of animals. We saw what looked like a hedgehog. 

We all - son and his four university mates and their relatives and friends - a group of 16 - are now at a cottage. What a heavenly place! Totally disconnected from the outside world. No mobile connection or internet. The owner stays just across the road. 

There is a group of some 15 kangaroos close to the cottage we are staying in. (Apparently these are not kangaroos, but wallabies, a type or macropod very similar to kangaroos). This is an animal we don't get to see often; an animal that evokes curiosity and amazement in the way it moves around. 

A totally relaxed get together of students and elders. Drinks, snacks, food, songs, jokes, reminiscences, anecdotes, gossips, and some serious conversations too. It's about 1 am. The children are still having fun, while I type this out and save it. All the elders have retired for the day. So too will I now. 

Thursday, Dec 19

We left a Kangaroo Valley at 10 am. There was extreme heat weather warning, and it seemed to be very true, actually burning hot. 

We reached Kiama. It was such a relief that the weather was much cooler here. The major attraction at this seaside spot are two Blowholes: one the big one, and the other a smaller one.

It's all about a spectacular scene of water shooting up into the air through a hole in one of the rocks on the sea front. This happens as a strong wave lashes the rocks. Because of difference in the pressure, some of the waves, as they enter the crevice between two layers of rocks, the water shoots up through the hole in the rock on the top.

The Little Blowhole, some 10 minutes drive from the bigger and more well-known Blowhole, is much more spectacular.

We then came to Wollongong Lighthouse at the Harbour, which was first lit in 1937. It was designed in such a way that it's automatic and doesn't need a lighthouse keeper. The lens dates back to 1862.

We also saw there three artillery guns that were placed there first in 1880, as part of the defences of the Wollongong Harbour. Once they fired a 31 kg shot to a distance of 1.6 km and were manned by the local citizens.

We were back in Sydney around 6 pm. Four school mates of mine, who reside here, and their families, and we met for dinner. It was a good meet up, with sumptuous food and reminiscences of our school days.

(To be continued) 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Australia tour - Part 1

At the outset I must apologise to readers, who are regular visitors to this blog, for my inability to both post replies to your comments and also my infrequent visits to your blogs.

I have been preoccupied with lots of official as well as personal work during the past couple of months. On the latter front, a lot of work was related to the upcoming Aussie trip, which finally has begun, with the touchdown at Sydney airport Sunday night 9 pm.

My son, a school friend of mine and his wife were at the airport. The last time my wife and I met our son was about an year and a half ago, when he  came to India during university semester break. 

We were quite tired, after the 14 odd hour flight combined with the jet lag (Sydney is five and a half hours ahead of India). 

Monday, Dec 16

We took a metro to Circular Quay. What better way to begin the tour than a visit to the most famous of Sydney landmarks - the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge - - stunning pieces of architectural and engineering marvel. We also went around the nearby botonical garden.

We then headed to The Rocks Discovery Museum. It was amazing learning about the history of Sydney - right from the pre-European times when the place was inhabited by the Cadigal tribes - through English colonization to the current times.

Tuesday, Dec 17

We took a 'Light Rail' to Pyrmont to visit Darling Harbour. After lunch at one the restaurants there, we headed to the Australian National Maritime Museum. 

With a ticket of $20, we got to see the inside of the submarine HMAS Onslow and ship HMAS Vampire - - a first time experience for me. 

The museum also has documentaries on how the sailors worked in very difficult conditions in the submarine and the ship. Hats off to them. 

The engineering that has gone into submarines that travel so many miles under water, doing surveillance and collecting valuable information is mind boggling. 

The museum has plenty of literature on maritime treasures. It was worth the visit. I really enjoyed it. 

We walked around the place, had some refreshments and sat for some time soaking in the ambience and cool breeze. There are so many white doves out there, knowing well that some kind hearted tourists will feed them. 

We also got to watch a comedy-cum-magic show by a street artist who regaled the crowds with his jokes as well as some deft acrobatics. 

We then headed home later after dinner at a Malaysian restaurant Mamak.