It may have taken my wife Joyce and I something like 36 hours in airports and on airplanes early in October but we happily achieved one of the biggest wishes on our senior bucket list when we finally arrived in Perth, Australia to begin a wonderful spring vacation with family. Our son Andrew and his wife Tara and their two rambunctious sons Liam, five, and Harrison, one, treated us to 21 fabulous days and nights of fun and adventures while exploring, discovering, and frolicking amongst the amazing beauty, nature, lifestyles, culture, hot spots, and vibrant character and welcome friendship of Western Australia. In this week’s column I will share some of the amazing highlights and unique facts and fun of our exciting adventure down under.
At 7,682,300 square miles Australia is the world’s sixth largest country, but also has the distinction of being the driest! The unique topography of this nation is its base of white sand from which a sprawling very diverse landscape unfolds into what includes: mountain ranges and deserts, thousands of miles of fertile plains where everything grows and is blessed with every varied species of magnificent trees, flowers, and foliage, and rolling range lands that are home to massive herds of sheep, horses, cattle, and wild camels, as well as millions of kangaroos, and other amazing wildlife. Along the vast shores of this nation there are literally thousands of pristine beaches, most accessible by all forms of transportation and are always full of thousands of local residents and tourists enjoying all varieties of casual or competitive water sports, but with a strict warning that sharks may also be in the area. The Aussies claim that the fishing and scuba-diving is great and in the area of Margaret River the 40 to 60 foot seasonal waves play host to countless international surfing competitions. Their biggest claim to worldly fame is the ominous Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest coral reef system in the world and covers an area of 344,400 square miles off the east coast of Queensland.
Australia is also blessed with thousands of magnificent and colourful birds, including parrots, cockatoos, penguins, herons, pelicans, a type of magpie that actually wails like a baby, and far too many sea gulls. While strolling in a big local park we were warned of swooping birds, and sure enough several started diving at our grandson Liam, but thank goodness he was wearing his bike helmet. Before our trip my wife was very concerned over the stories we had heard about lots of snakes and spiders that make their home in Australia. The kids warned us not to venture into the high-grass or around the inland bodies of water where most of the snakes hang out, and although they had their nice yard de-bugged, they urged us not to ever leave our shoes or clothes outside as very large spiders will crawl inside and get comfortable.
Although it was sometimes quite hard to understand what they were saying we found the citizens of Australia extremely friendly and happy-go-lucky folks, with their favourite greetings being “G-day mate” and “how about going for a pint.” We were also reminded many times that the Australians very proudly honour their war veterans, as well as avidly protecting their pristine environment. Most of their homes and buildings are powered by solar panels, have no basements, and are made out of stone and brick with metal roofs to withstand the humidity and varying temperatures. These temps range from close to zero in the winter and up to the high forties in the summer, where the present fire hazard watch is now at an extreme. We were extremely impressed by the ultra-modern and large neighbourhood playgrounds, which include water-parks, playing fields, picnic shelters, ponds with fountains, trails, and even computer operated washrooms. In the large cities of Australia the schools are located in each neighbourhood or shire, which also include weekly day-care services and the students all wear uniforms. An election campaign was on when my wife and I were there, and yours truly found out that at both the local and federal elections everyone age 18 and over must vote, either through the post office or at designated district polling stations. If they don’t they are fined and may risk losing some of the excellent government family support that they annually receive.
There is absolutely no way that I would ever drive in Australia. The steering wheels are on the right hand side and there are thousands of traffic roundabouts, where you have to go left, then right, and then hope that everyone yields to the right-of-way. Their highways are excellent, street lights from one end to the other at night with the same speed limit as ours, lots of overtaking lanes, and paved bike lanes with motion sensor lights along one side.
Next to hanging out with the family and trying to keep up to the youngsters, two of our biggest treats included a ferry boat trip to two secluded islands as well as visiting a game preserve. It was at these locations where we got to view those cute and cuddly Koala bears who dine on only eucalyptus trees, a pen of young kangaroos, and the fuzzy little quokkas, all of which are marsupials and have pockets to carry their young around. On Penguin Island we were treated to a visit with the world’s smallest penguins, witnessed a colony of very large pelicans, and an isolated beach of huge male sea lions, who were relaxing and gorging themselves on fish in preparation for their annual trip to visit the lady lions on another island a few miles away. It was certainly a wonderful visit and adventure, but despite a little jet lag and the results of our Oct. 21 election, it was great to come back home to Canada.
Whatever the case there is absolutely no doubt that the most precious blessings for all of us will always be our family, friends, faith, and each other. Have a great week, all of you.