Here are some impressions on some of the places – other than cities – that we visited.

Taronga Zoo
A great zoo, and easily accessible from downtown Sydney. Needless to say, we spent a great deal of time in the platypus house. My first picture was actually a mistake (the camera had reset its flash setting) and a violation of the rules which prohibit flash photography. The other picture was deliberate, but carefully taken when the platypus was under water and thus had its eyes closed. The one thing I was truly surprised by was how totally hyperactive platypi are. They just never stop moving, except for a few seconds now and then to chew. Watching the platypus paddle around constantly was pretty awesome.
Blue Mountains
In any other context, a trip there would have been a real treat. Compared either to our expectations or to the other things we saw on the trip, I’d have to say the Blue Mountains were a little disappointing. For one thing, they’re not really mountains but mesas formed by erosion from a high flat plateau. The walls are thus very steep and the views dramatic, but at the same time this creates some drawbacks for people who actually like to walk through a place instead of just looking at it from a parking lot. There are very few vertical trails (“tracks” to an Aussie) because of the steep walls, and most of the serious horizontal ones seem to be at the bottom rather than the top.
Jenolan Caves
This was another surprise gem. It hadn’t been on our itinerary, but most of the Blue Mountains NP was closed because of fire danger and it was oppressively hot, so we ended up going to Jenolan on the spur of the moment. The caves are fantastic. There are nine “show caves” big enough for guided tours lasting one or two hours, plus many smaller ones. Due to time constraints we only toured one (Chifley, formerly West Imperial). Pictures just can’t do the place justice, because they capture neither the luminous quality of the rocks nor the ambience – cold air, echoes, utter darkness except right near the lights – of such large underground spaces. This trip also provided a little “adventure” as we found out that the Great Western Highway back to our hotel was blocked due to brushfires…at both ends. We ended up spending the night in another hotel and picking up our stuff in the morning.
Botany Bay
Most of the Botany Bay park (near Sydney) is actually on the southern side of the bay, but just to be different we visited the northern section – named “La Perouse” after a French explorer whose later mysterious disappearance has me quite intrigued. This picture was taken there, along with others I’ll post some day. It was a blustery day and we pretty much had the place to ourselves to inspect the many weird and wonderful things that erosion has done to the rocks in the area. We were really killing time before our flight and hadn’t really been expecting much, but this little gem really surprised us.
Mount Wellington
Not much to say here, really, except that I envy the people of Hobart for having such a place literally within walking distance of downtown.
Mount Field
Unfortunately, the day we went there was really a travel day so we didn’t have much time, and it was drizzly besides, so we didn’t get to see that much. This was, however, our first chance to see a pademelon (rufous wallaby) complete with a joey in her pouch.
Lake St. Clair
Another short stop on our travel day. The exciting thing here is that it’s where we saw a platypus in the wild. They’d set up a platypus blind on one of the walking tracks near where platypus are often seen, and we patiently waited to see something. Eventually Cindy commented that two bumps she’d seen on the water and dismissed as rocks no longer seemed to be there. Thus attuned to what we were looking for, we patiently waited and were rewarded with several more sightings of the bumps as our monotreme friend came up to the surface before diving again. It wasn’t much of a show, to be honest, but to us it was very exciting.
Lyell Highway
It’s not truly a natural vista, and in some ways it’s truly horrid, but the scenery coming into Queenstown is too striking to omit mention. Extensive mining in the area has created a surreal and colorful landscape, and a pretty scary road. If Cradle Mountain looked like the ramparts that guard Mordor, the scarred land near Queenstown must be the slag heaps before the Gate. Unfortunately both camera batteries were dead at that point, so I couldn’t get any pictures.
Cradle Mountain
Fantastic, but too bad about the weather. Three of our four days were grey and wet and dreary. Apparently that’s the norm; for reasons only a meteorologist could fully appreciate, only about one day in ten is truly clear without at least some mist or rain. I imagine a lot of people who’ve gone there for only a couple of days and not seen a good one have been disappointed…but what a glorious day that one clear one was! Climbing up from Dove Lake – in any direction, but particularly toward the Cradle Mountain summit – is a physical challenge and a sensory experience not soon forgotten. I love rock scrambles, and even I had my fill on the final stretch. Looking at some of the pictures, I’m still amazed at how still the water of Dove Lake was to give such clear reflections. That one good day made up for any number of dreary ones.
Mole Creek
We visited King Solomon’s and Maracoopa caves near Mole Creek during one of the dreary days at Cradle Mountain. Being in Cradle Mountain’s “rain shadow”, Mole Creek provided a welcome break in the weather. The caves themselves, though much smaller than Jenolan, were also very worthwhile. See previous note about the inadequacy of pictures (or words) for capturing the experience.
These are the kind of mountains I’d like to have near where I live – lots of different trails to explore, many providing excellent views, with interesting rock formations and wildlife. The suddenness with which the Grampians rise out of the surrounding plain is quite astounding. Halls Gap is a nice little town to use as a base, with corellas making a constant racket and other avian visitors – rozellas, sulphur-crested and black cockatoos, honey eaters – providing variety.
Great Ocean Road
There were stretches that seemed a little far from the ocean, but the ocean parts were wonderful. I liked the rock stacks in the Bay of Islands, swimming in the Southern Ocean at Lorne, and most of what lay in between. Another great asset for Melbourne residents.
Once I’ve mentioned that Healesville had not one but three platypi, what more is there to say? ;-) There were a lot of other wonderful animals to see, but the “World of Platypus” was the one we kept coming back to. They had two females in one tank, and a significantly larger male in another. Watching the two females fight over a yabbie was fantastic, as was watching one or the other “park” under a rock shelf to chew for a while. It’s a little bit of a trip from downtown Melbourne, but well worth it even for those who aren’t platypus fanatics. I hope the park staff succeeded in getting their wedge-tailed eagle back after she decided she didn’t feel like doing a show for us. ;-)