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We were in Australia and New Zealand last August. It was an awesome trip.

Sydney is a fascinating city. We were only able to spend two days there. Not nearly enough time. We took a boat tour of Sydney Harbour on a Sunday Morning. Since it was a beautiful winter day, many sailors had their boats out. The boats ranged from a small rowboat to large sailboats. Our tour boat operator fed us coffee and muffins. We held pieces of the muffins in our hands for the seagulls to take.

That afternoon we rode a ferry over to Darling Harbour and toured the Sydney Aquarium. A fascinating place. Put it on your "must see" list. We came face to face with platypus, seawater and freshwater crocodiles, known locally as freshies and salties, and other creatures of the deep.

We did not get to tour the sailing museum, also in Darling Harbour. Our friends saw it and said that it was worthwhile. They also rented a sailboat, complete with a captain, and spent the afternoon sailing in the harbour. Our friends are proficient sailors (on a lake in Nebraska) so the captain let them take the helm and he sat back and told stories.

The next we took a tour to the Katoomba Falls. A very interesting day. We stopped at various points to view an area that our driver referred to as resembling the Grand Canyon except that it was filled with trees. It did look like the Grand Canyon! At Katoomba Falls we rode an old coal tram to the base of the falls. There are hiking paths to explore. We also rode a gondola above the area. What a view! We saw the Three Sisters. According to legend three sisters were committed marrying braves from another tribe. Their father did not want these marriages to take place so he turned his daughters into stone.

We did not have the opportunity to tour the Opera House or see a performance. Some members of our group did and enjoyed them. Other people in our group enjoyed climbing the bridge that spans the harbour.

We flew from Sydney to Cairns where we spent a week. We took a tour to the Great Barrier Reef. The tour boat had a large pontoon anchored above the reef. People snorkeled in a roped off area that was supervised by life guards. Others were led on guided scuba-diving tours of the reef. Those of us who did not swim were able to view the reef from semi-submersibles and glass bottom boats. There was also a touch tank where we could touch sea stars and cucumbers that divers had brought up. My husband snorkeled for the first time and loved. He and our friends went out on a small boat a second day. They snorkeled from the boat. I went horseback riding in the rainforest. (The rainforest near Cairns is 150 million years old. It is the oldest rainforest in the world. More on that later.)

My husband and I went hot air ballooning above the tablelands. The tablelands are a farming region. We soared above fields of corn and neatly tended orchards. Wild kangaroos hopped about below us. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Another day we rode an old steam train to the village of Kuranda. We visited an Aborigine cultural center where the Aborigines entertained us with some of their dances and demonstrated their boom-a-rang tossing and spear chucking skills. We spent a few hours in the shops in Kuranda where they sold native crafts and jewelry. As you know, opals are mined in Australia and plentiful. I purchased an opal ring. Shopping for jewelry was a different experience than in the U.S. In the U.S. the jewelry store employees remove only one item at a time from the case for you to see. In Kuranda, they removed trays of jewelry. Often there were three or four trays of jewelry on the counters at one time. I stopped in three stores before I found a ring that interested me. As I was looking at it, the clerk encouraged me to take it outside to see it in the sunlight! I was a little startled at the suggestion. I did it and she made a sale. We rode a gondola back to Cairns about the ancient rainforest. There were a couple places where we could get of the gondola and walk through the rainforest on a boardwalk. Plaques described what we were seeing. It was a great day.

We took a day to the Daintree National Park. On the way we stopped at Mossman Gorge and hiked to the boulder laden stream. Very beautiful. I wish that we had more time to explore the area. We arrived at the park where we rode a pontoon boat down the river and saw "salties" sunning themselves on the banks. Some were quite large and a few were babies, only inches long. Lunch included a fruit tasting. As we ate exotic fruits, the proprietor told us about them. We stopped at a wildlife park in Port Douglas. We petted kangaroos and wallabies. A pelican tried to steal our friend's watch. A small yellow bird hopped onto my camera, then onto my hand and then got tangled in my hair. My husband released him.

It was an awesome trip. If we go back, and we would like to go back, we would see the outback, the gold coast and spend more time in Sydney.

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