Down Under in the land of wallaroos and wallabies

The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre on Bennelong Point in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was made a Unesco World Heritage Site on June 28, 2007. Picture: Courtesy of Paolo Coluzzi

Sunday, March 21, 2010

ON WEDNESDAY, March 3, I left the airport in Bandar Seri Begawan after three-and-a-half years of life in Brunei to undertake a journey that should take me from Australia all the way up to China.

But what has Australia got to do with Southeast Asia, some of you may wonder?

Well, perhaps not much even though a percentage of the population of Australia has Asian origins or have come from Asia, especially China, and the far north of the country has got a climate and a vegetation similar to that of Indonesia.

However, I had never been to Australia before, a country on the opposite side of the earth with respect to Europe, and as I have a few friends living here I wanted to come and visit. Besides, Australia is the nearest "West" to Southeast Asia, a good way to contrast these two different worlds which live next door to one another.

After a long trip of about nine hours of actual flight, I arrived in Sydney, the oldest and biggest (and, as many would say, the most beautiful) city in Australia, the morning of the following day.

My Italian friend Gennaro who now works here was there to welcome me. I was very excited and for the third time in my life I would be in the Southern hemisphere (I've been once in South America and once in Bali)!

This is the hemisphere where, contrary to what I've experienced since I was born, it is summer when it is winter in the North, where the sun runs in the north and where the sky at night is completely foreign to me ... Wow, I'm in Australia! One of the biggest countries in the world ... almost as big as China but with 60 times fewer inhabitants! However, the feeling is peculiar — on the one hand most things feel familiar, very similar to what I've experienced in United Kingdom where I lived for many years: the features of most of the people, the place names and the Victorian buildings, among others.

On the other hand this is clearly a new land completely different from England: apart from the warm climate, nature is outstandingly different, plants, trees and animals ... like the long-peaked black and white Ibis birds one can see everywhere in Sydney, or the yellow-crested white cockatoos I've seen in the Royal Botanical Gardens, with their eerie shrieks that seem to come straight from the Jurassic era.

I've been here already for six days now and have had time to explore Sydney quite thoroughly, a city where what is man-made stands so close to nature. I have never seen a city so beautifully positioned, along the stunning Sydney harbour, a huge bay lined with forest and plenty of beautiful sandy beaches. I've wandered along the Circular Quay, one of the "centres" of the city whose landmarks are there for you to enjoy: the old Sydney Harbour Bridge on the left and the Sydney Opera House on the right, jutting out into the harbour, one of the most famous landmarks in the whole world. From the Circular Quay I've caught a ferry that has taken me to Manly, the resort on the northern side of the harbour where in a matter of few minutes one can cross the narrow strip of land and reach one of the many beaches overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean. From the ferry one has a stunning view of all the eastern part of the harbour, Sydney's skyscrapers to the south, and plenty of green and blue all around.

My favourite spots are definitely the Circular Quay, the nearby historical area of the Rocks — the oldest part of the city — and the Botanical Gardens mentioned above. The latter is a huge park east of the Circular Quay overlooking the sea, full of beautiful trees and birds I have never seen before. In an area of the park there are also hundreds of huge bats called flying foxes hanging head down from the trees like ripe fruits! So good to relax in this park sitting on the lawn in front of the sea enjoying the view of the passing boats, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Yesterday I had a one-day excursion to the Blue Mountains, the mountain range about 65km west of Sydney. I spent the day with a German friend (met in Brunei) who comes to Australia every year. We went to see a wildlife park in Lithgow where I had the chance of seeing emus (big birds similar to ostriches), wallaroos and wallabies (kinds of small kangaroos) from a short distance, and then we went to the famous resort of Katoomba where we could enjoy the most breathtaking view from the Echo point, the main lookout: a huge green valley underneath us with a flat-topped mountain in the middle and the three peaks called the Three Sisters soaring on the left.

Now, I'm preparing for Armidale, almost 600km north of Sydney and almost 200km west of the Ocean, where an English friend and former colleague lives, but I will tell you about soon. Sehingga minggu depan!

The Brunei Times