In five days we travelled 2000 km by car across Canberra, Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Brisbane and Gold Coast - almost all the A lists on the tourist map. We were dropping off the little Yaris - it did not let us down and is now parked in Brisbane, its new home.
Canberra did surprise me. As the capital of Australia, I guess I was expecting more in terms of population, breadth, width, size et al, just like Delhi. As our car veered towards Eagle resort, the hotel we had booked in, I thought there is more than meets the eye. But as we drove around, much of Canberra, save the small hub of shops and apartments in the main city area, was like an endless stretch of suburbs and parks, inhabited mainly by bureaucrats and students. I was trying to feel the soul of the place but I could not connect. However, ask any Australian, and you will find that he/she loves the quietness and solitude and vast stretches of what would seem like a no-man's land!
Boy was I happy the next morning when we headed off to Sydney, quite an anti-thesis to Canberra. Packed with people, shops, skylanes, theatres, malls and beaches, I found myself smiling again. I love Sydney for its over population, while the indigenous people are seething in anger for this very fact. The other happy thing was I got to meet an old friend, who was just discovered on Facebook. After 20-odd years, we had a reunion of sorts. In their quiet Ingleburn home in Sydney spread over five acres, we had a lovely lunch - of baked potatoes, silverloin meat, icecream and wine, interspersed with non-stop chatter. That evening, we caught up with another set of friends and headed for China town's array of food. A good day overall.
The next day, we headed off to Coff's Harbour. This was a delight. The Aankuna beach resort where we stayed was one of the most scenic and relaxing places. Two nights at Coffs Harbour was enough to rejuvinate our spirits as we pampered ourselves with massages and wine, and even visited a local gurudwara. This was not a religious visit but we went to find out all about the first Indian immigrants who settled here 100 years ago. We did meet a fifth generation member of that family.
We did a sneak peak of Byron Bay but with the rain playing spoilsport, we managed just a short stroll on its famous surfing beaches and drove round the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse. History says the installation of the lighthouse was regarded as a great event in the district where a banquet was arranged and special trains carried visitors for the opening. But bad weather prevented the premier of the day John See who had traveled from Sydney with colleagues on a steamer, from attending the banquet. They arrived at dawn when all the party was over!
After Byron Bay, we headed off straight to Brisbane, not a long haul away but I think we reached in about three-four hours. The weather was warm as we neared Brisbane and it is the sort of drive where an eski full of beers would have added to the fun. But with drink driving such a strict rule here, it's just a thought of course. We summed up our visit with an hour's drive to the famous Gold Coast the next morning. I was disapointed with the Gold Coast – it was too touristy and looked like another Pattaya minus the sleaze. Of course, definitely beautiful as the sands on the beach were golden and all that, but I guess after seeing so many beaches along the way, beaches were losing their appeal to someone as water phobic as me.
I have to add, travelling around Australia is so comfortable. Public toilets, rest areas, and food joints are strategically located everywhere. It's amazing how public toilets are so clean even on deserted freeways. One even had a sign saying, “Leave your worries behind but not your rubbish”. I thought, people were observing that to the T. Finally, when we boarded Tiger Airlines, with a bit of apprehension about cheap flights, coming home to my quiet suburb made nostalgia so easy.