Sunday, October 29, 2006
Return to Down Under
We went back to Australia for R&R, this time to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney is a beautiful city with lots to do, and we enjoyed a trip to the Hunter Valley wine district which is located about an hour outside the city. We also flew to Cairns for a few days, where we saw the rain forest and went snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, about an hour's boat ride from Cairns.
This was absolutely the best snorkeling I've done anywhere--including the Grand Caymans, which I thought was spectacular---crystal clear water, myriad varieties of coral and fish, and warm temperatures. It was a bit windy, but that didn't get in the way too much, other than causing virtually the entire Asian population on the catamaran to get seasick on the way to the reef. The boat staff was well prepared for this, and diligently carried bag after bag to the deck for disposal in a large garbage can apparently there just for that purpose.
The day trip to the rainforest was fascinating, and we had a great guide, who was very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna as well as the history of the area. Below you can see a huge fiddlehead (not edible), and many of the fern varieties date from prehistoric times. Australia has eight of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, and most of these are in Queensland in this area--fortunately, we didn't encounter any of them. From the rainforest, we took a nearly 45 minute chairlift ride to Kuranda, a small touristy village filled with the obligatory didgeroos (Aboriginese music sticks) and other overpriced art. After lunch, we took the Kuranda scenic railway (see Marty above), which winds down through lovely forests and waterfalls, back to Cairns.
Back in Sydney, the highlight was a trip to the Hunter Valley--again with a very knowledgeable guide. I had done some reading about Hunter Valley wines, which represent only a small portion of those produced in Australia (most are in the South), and there are a more limited number of grapes which do well here due to the very hot Australian summer in this area. One of these is Semillon, a French variety which produces a very light, crisp table wine. A speciality of this region is also dessert wine made by allowing the grapes to shrink and develop a fungus called botrytis--I'm not a big fan of ice wines or botrytis, but these were quite good. The cellar we enjoyed most was Brokenwood--only a small percentage of their wines are exported (they are best known for their shiraz called Graveyard, which was not included in our tasting due to the price), and on the white side they had a delicious Viognier, with an interesting fruit/peppery overtone, that we picked up. Due in part to a cork shortage (and lack of quality) that has forced innovation in bottling, many of the best Australian wines are now screw top instead of corked--and we were educated in the proper way to remove a screw top (which is NOT from the top). All in all a fascinating journey, and we're now back in monsoon-soaked Chennai....