|Me with a koala
I got to pet a koala! Their fur is fine but rough, like steel wires, and smells like eucalyptus. My hand smelled like eucalyptus afterwards. It seemed like it was drugged, staring around in a daze while it gnawed at leaves. The guide said that it wasn't true that it was drunk on eucalyptus oil, as its liver had evolved to handle it; in that case, I suspected that the koala had been nibbling on some other sort of leaves.
|Me petting a kangaroo
It was quite bored, and used to tourists petting it, as long as it was properly bribed with an ice-cream cone full of grain. It didn't seem to mind that I was wearing a kangaroo-skin hat and my shorts were held up with a kangaroo-skin belt. I later got the chance to eat kangaroo steak ... a bit stronger taste than beef, and a lot leaner, and not bad at all. *hides from all the people who now hate me for this*
|The Grand Hotel
I stayed at the Grand Hotel in Sydney - a rather tall skinny building with ornate stonework, over a century old. The bottom three floors were a pub, with the upper floors having hotel rooms. Each room had a sink, with shared toilets and showers out in the hallway. The rooms looked much as they must have a century ago, except that a refrigerator and coffee maker were tucked into the wardrobe, the locks had been replaced with magnetic keys, and a ceiling fan and electric lights had been installed. They were clever when renovating - instead of ripping the walls apart to install light switches and such, they instead put remote control receivers in the ceiling lights. A remote control handset hung at the door, and you could take it to bed with you to turn out the lights without getting up. Very convenient, and something that could be used elsewhere! The hotel served a complimentary breakfast - warm milk, dry cereal, beer, toast, and Vegemite. Vegemite (made from the waste products of beer brewing) is ... interesting. Very salty, somewhat meaty, very strong tasting. Not BAD, just ... needs getting used to. After a few days, I hadn't started to LIKE it, but had started to EXPECT it for breakfast. I guess that's also why Australians need their morning beer, to wash down the taste.
At the Maritime museum, I saw some interesting exhibits, and got to tour two ships. The last Australian big-gun destroyer is open to the public, and is rather fascinating - I got lots of photos for Kevvie-poo. There's also an Oberon-class submarine, the same as the ones Canada just recently scrapped. I got to tour it, and immediately learned that I do not want to be a submariner. 60+ people in a crowded tube the size of a mobile home for months at a time ... *shudders*. Had a nice long chat with a retired sailor, and learned many more reasons why it is best to stay on land. This is a photo of the forward torpedo loading hatch - it enters the pressure hull at an angle so that the torpedoes can be slid into position. It's a surprisingly large entryway.
The guide gave us some ice-cream cones full of grain, and said if we would wait quietly, a kangaroo might come up to us for a nibble. Sure enough, one did. Or maybe it was a wallaby, I can't really tell. I gently patted the roo or whatever for a few minutes while it tentatively nibbled the cone. Suddenly, this big giant ostrich-like bird with a huge beak ran up and chased the kangaroo away. This bird was taller than me! It shoved me back, grabbed the cone from my hand, and ran off. The guide said that this was a local emu known as "Ned Kelly", who had become excessively comfortable around humans.
This is a Tasmanian Devil. Unfortunately, an epidemic of nose cancer is going through the wild population. They're breeding some in captivity, and isolating others to protect them. They have two modes of living - lying sprawled out in the sunshine, or running really fast at tourists.
|The Three Sisters
These three columns of rock were formed during the Dreamtime when a father changed his daughters to stone, either to protect them from an evil bilby or keep them from sneaking off to be with some guys from another tribe (I heard both versions). Anyway, while chasing away the evil bilby or the horny guys, the father lost his magic bone that could change the daughters back. So, he changed himself into a Lyre bird, with strong feet suitable for turning over the leaves and twigs of the eucalyptus forest floor. Ever since, he's been searching for his bone. Interestingly, each Lyre bird moves about a tonne of material per year while searching for grubs, exposing fresh soil for new trees to grow and revealing food for other smaller birds to eat.
|Blue Mountain Haze
The blue haze comes from the eucalyptus oil emitted by the eucalyptus trees covering the valley. The trees secrete the oil to kill competing plants and to make its leaves toxic to most insects and animals. The forest floor is barren compared to North American forests. The air is filled with the scent of eucalyptus, although I expect you get used to it after a few days.
|View from cable car
I took a cable car from one clifftop to another - you can see the steep drop. There are some softer layers of sandstone and coal halfway down the cliffs. These laters erode faster, making ledges where plants can grow. Lots of plants that are extinct elsewhere still survive in these isolated spots.