Nancy’s 1994 Australian Quest – Pt.1


It was the latter part of July when Nancy Willson Gokey, Monica Johnson, and several other friends first inquired  at the Sonora Travel Service,  about touring the eighteen hundred mile east coast of Australia,  and the island state of Tasmania.  Nancy and Monica arriving at the Sacramento International Airport, their September twenty one day journey having begun.  the two boarding  a United Airlines flight to LAX to embrace a Qantas Airlines 747 for the 7,300 mile non-stop journey to Cairns in Queensland Australia.  A 6:30 arrival at LAX, with a 9:20 departure, both travelers questioning the new experience of the long flight, and somewhat beguiled by the time zones and international date line,  leaving California at 9:20 p.m. on the 10th, traveling 22 hours and arriving at Cairns at 6:15 a.m. on the 12th, agreeing September 11th was never played and must have been shuffled back into the deck..

Nancy and Monica enduring the relatively long flight confinement with forbearance,  in anticipation of their venture.  It was welcome, the pilot with an Australian accent, announcing  their decent to the Cairns International Airport.  Debarking, the two travelers joining the flight  arrivals at the passport control station.    Cairns was situated between the Coral Sea and the Rainforest Mountains,  a city of 70,000, and was noted as  the commercial center of the east coast.  A representative of the tour company having arrived,  providing transportation to the Floriana Guest House, their residence for their stay in Cairns.   Experiencing the throes of jet lag, little sleep and an early wake up call for their sea adventure,  a day long Quicksilver snorkeling cruise to the great barrier reef,  deciding to curtail any extensive exploration of Cairns.

The early morning departure found the adventurers boarding the Sandurio,  a 62 foot, 2 mast ketch at the Marlin Marina,  located a short distance from their Floriana abode.  Others joining as they embarked on Quicksilver’s outer edge of the great barrier reef  cruise.  The morning found refreshments and an informative presentation about the great barrier reef by a marine biologist.  The journey taking them to the very edge of Australia’s continental shelf, to the Agincourt Reef, a kaleidoscope of underwater color and brilliance.


The two enjoying a tropical buffet lunch, followed by an instructional course on snorkeling, realizing they weren’t the only ones who had never meant the challenge.  Soon discovering that those with no experienced would not be free lancing in their underwater endeavor,  a flotation device would limit their underwater depth.  The new great barrier divers,  in addition to  their snorkeling view, were able to get an up close view of the underwater world from Quicksilvers underwater observation platform, discovering,   several other touring enterprises provided underwater great barrier reef viewing platforms.  On their return, the  gentle swells of the coral sea provided a solace of satisfaction, their introduction to Australia, five stars.

The morning found Nancy and Monica arriving at the Cairns central train station for the 8 30 departure of the scenic Kuranda Railway Tour.  A brief wayside stop at Freshwater found additional tour groups boarding.   The two experiencing the viewing comfort of the carriage cars, their  two hour journey to Kuranda  encompassing the crossing of 37 bridges,  the train slowing to view the Stoney Creek Falls Bridge,  being one of the most photographed bridges in Australia because of its structure and  the spectacular beauty of its location.   It’s concrete foundations on which the wrought iron trestles are mounted was started in 1887 and  is one of only two Queensland railway bridges constructed with wrought iron trestles.  Their railway journey passing through 10 hand carved tunnels as they continue to view the scenic splendor of numerous waterfalls that frequented the surroundings.  A non-station stop was enhanced, enabling those aboard to absorb the breath-taking steep tiered Barren Gorge, with its cascading falls of the cresting Barren river descending from the Atherton Tablelands that bordered the majestic rainforest.

Arriving at Kuranda Station, world renowned for its tropical gardens and historic significance,  noted as one of the most photographed railway stations in the world. Departing the train, the two finding the station but a short walk into town, visiting the   art galleries and ethnic Aboriginal crafts displays.   After lunch a scenic rainforest walk before  returning to Cairns,  their day still having more to come,  attending a tour scheduled Night Fire Show at the Tjapukal Dance theatre, in the Abor Tjapukai’s Aboriginal Cultural Park, six miles northeast of Cairns.  The two experience meeting the Bama, the Indigenous rainforest people, taking  you on   a historical journey, telling of actual events passed down through dance and music, with the haunting sounds of the aborigine didgeridoo, a 1000 year old conical instrument. The fire dance presentation  highlighting the their use of fire to open a canopy in the rainforest, enabling a savannah, to increase the number browsing and grazing animals for them to hunt..

With the dawning of day four , a 7:30 boarding of their transportation found the explorers traveling north viewing the coastline of the Coral Sea,  arriving at Mossman Gorge in the middle of the rainforest.  A bushwalk from the gorge to acquainting the Daintree River for their morning river cruise.   The Daintree River sharing its presence with the realm of 2000 lbs, 17 foot saltwater crocodiles.   The river very much isolated from shoreline rainforest access, no roads or foot trails on it banks, the ten boating occupants viewing the encompassing forage, the pictorial  waterfalls, flora and bird life.  Their scenic river run complete, leaving the Daintree, the group partaking of  grilled barramundi,  tropical salad and fruit lunch.  A brief excursion of  Port Douglas,  then stopping at Harley’s Creek Crocodile Farm,  viewing  the crocks  up close and acquainting the  Australia native emu and cassowaries.      Their Daintree River and Rainforest excursion coming to a conclusion, once again enjoying the views of the breakers of the  coral sea coming ashore as they returned on the coast highway to Cairns..

Another early start, Nancy, Monica and their tour group boarding a 6:00 a.m. Qantas Airlines 7 37 for the 4 hour, 12 hundred  mile flight to Sydney.   Arriving, the two secured transportation at the Sydney airporter,  a hotel, motel shuttle service to their lodging, at the Chateau Sydney,  in pomeroy building.  After lunch, they procured a hop-aboard tour bus,  acquainting them with the city Sidney,  with a stop at a city district known as  the Rocks, an outdoors museum.  The streets, courtyards, and facades, a treasure trove of artistic, architectural, archaeological detail, and  galleries of fine crafts, specialty shops and boutiques.

The morning once again found them on a bus seeing more of the city,  with an afternoon  stop at  the Royal Botanical Gardens,   its 72 acres  surrounded by 130 acres of open parkland.   The Garden forms a large natural amphitheater, divided into four major sectors called the Lower gardens, the middle gardens, the palace cardens and the Bennelong precinct.  The Gardens acreage adjacent to the Sydney Opera House grounds, the two later scheduled for a later tour, but deciding to venture to the Drama Theatre,  to take in an afternoon theatre production.


Day three In Sydney found a full tour agenda for the two, starting with the Governors House, the complex construction started in 1837,  including the house, a garden and greenhouse, a chalet with courtyards,  garages and gatehouse, taking six years to complete.    A visit to another Australian landmark, Paddington and the Town Hall, with its foundation being laid in 1890, the 105 foot clock tower added in 1904.  Their venture continuing to Kings Cross,  colloquially known as The Cross, the area once known for its music halls and grand theatres, but then was transformed during the conclusion of  World War II by the influx of troops returning and visiting from the nearby Garden Island naval base, and remains known as Sydney’s night entertainment, and redlight district. .

The afternoon found Nancy and Monica enjoying a  Captain Cooks luncheon Cruise, viewing  Sydney’s beautiful skyline,  cruising under the Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House, Fort Denison, an off shore fort built in 1840, and seeing the expansive harbor as the landmarks continue to roll by while  they enjoyed their lunch.  From the harbor cruise, the iconic Sydney Tower beckoned,  the tower a Sydney showcase, completed in 1981,  rising 1014 ft., the cities maximum building height limit of 915 ft. having been set back in the era of pontoon flying boats,  being raised. The two looking forward to the view, taking one of three elevators, it being publicized the emergency exit stairwells had 1504 steps, the equivalent for a 98 story building. Reaching the  observatory level of the tower, finding it somewhat unimpressive, even with a coffee and snack counter and viewing binoculars, but the view was something else.


It was the last excursion of the day, a guided tour of the world renown Sidney Opera House, with its 1000 rooms,  concert hall and opera theatre, the Joan Sutherland and  drama theatres, the play house, the studio, and Utzon,  with the outdoor forecourt and north broadwalk,  providing spectacular outdoor performance space.  The complex’s construction began in 1959 in three stages,  and completed in 1973, with Queen Elizabeth the second, at the official opening.   Nancy and Monica amazed at its conception,  an international competition was organized for the design of a performing arts complex that was won by Danish architect Jom Utzan,  to be built on Bennelong Point, the birth place of  the first aborigine to speak english.  Their building tour long and impressive, and with day’s activities fulfilled,  a bigger day instore for tomorrow.

The morning again found the two explorers traveling, this time to the most visited city in the Blue Mountains,  Katoomba and its spectacular surroundings.  Boarding the  Scenic Railway,  the railway built in the late 19th century to serve the Katoomba coal mine, down a 52-degree incline,  the steepest railway incline in the world.  Seated, they continued down the sandstone cliffs,  dipping into a rock tunnel, next to the famous Orphan Rock landmark, and then re-emerging to incredible views of the Blue Mountain surroundings.  At the bottom station Nancy and Monica dismounting, deciding to take the mile and half Scenic Walkway back through the Jamison Valley rainforest.

Returning to Scenic World, the two deciding to venture on the Scenic skyway, a large gondola suspended 885 feet above the bushland, the car with its many passengers  gliding between the clifftops, a 4 mile journey gazing over the treetop canopy of the val lee below. The two viewing Cahill Lookout, Katoomba falls, traveling by the famous Thee Sisters and experiencing, the scenic wonders of the Blue Mountains.

Returning back to Sidney, the evening was not on entertaining but educational, the two attending The Jolly Swagman Show Dinner Show.  “Waltzing Matilda” being Australia’s best-known bush ballad, and described as the country’s “unofficial national anthem” . The two learning the title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “Matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back.  The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or “swagman”, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat.When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter,  landowner, and three troopers , mounted policemen,  pursue the swagman for theft, he declares “You’ll never catch me alive!” and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong, a watering hole,   after which his ghost haunts the site.  The translation of words in the Australian colloquialism bringing meaning to the song.  The two enjoying the dinner show, the performer having dressed appropriately in hat with corks, bowyangs and worn out boots.   the swagman throwing down his swag and billy can, spinning his yarns with songs, poems and folklore.  the hour long show an unforgettable experience.


It was their last night in Sydney,  The morning found members of the touring group joining Nancy and Monica in a renting a van, continuing their tour itinerary schedule trekking north.


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