Hey, we just heard you're headed to Australia for a well-deserved vacation. We've both traveled Down Under this year too and have some recommendations for you.
First and foremost, enjoy your time off! There's nothing like being on the other side of the world, on the other side of the dateline, in a different day, in fact, to feel like you've gotten away. And if there's ever anything you absolutely have to catch up on, you're already ahead!
Second, it's a great time to visit Australia. The Aussies just took the Ashes back from the Poms. Don't know what we're talking about? Look it up. They're in a fine mood in Oz. Nothing beats beating the Brits at cricket.
We hope you're taking in the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone in Australia will add, "while it's still there." It's spectacular. Your kid will love it too. You'll have to wear stinger suits because of jellyfish in the water this time of year, but it's no big deal. And you'll get to witness one of the world's most vibrant, beautiful displays of coral reef biodiversity, including clams as big as you. You'll never forget it. And we trust you'll come away even more committed to making sure it's still there in the future, which will depend not just on what Australia does to protect the reefs, but what we all do to stem climate change.
Speaking of wildlife displays, if you go through Cairns or Port Douglas, be sure to reserve a sunset for watching the flying foxes--actually fruit-eating "mega-bats"--take off in the thousands from trees in the center of these towns where they rest during the day to forage in the surrounding rainforest and mangroves at night. It's another truly mind-blowing display of wildlife thriving amidst the bustle of town. A drive up to the Daintree Rainforest to see a croc or two is well worth it (shades of Disney's jungle cruise ride, but the crocs are real). And you might keep going north a little ways to see one of the world's oldest rainforests at the Cape Tribulation World Heritage Site.
You may even luck into seeing a flightless cassowary or two, as one of us did recently, when a chick rushed us in the last few minutes of a hike in the Daintree. Only then did we see the big adult bird behind it. It was a tense moment as cassowary are said to be fierce. They have an enormous claw for a middle toe and strong legs. But the two retreated calmly. And we then watched them for about 20 minutes as they took a bath in a creek. We thought it was a mother and a chick. Stereotypes. Turns out the father cares for the chicks.
And if you make it to the desert, you're in for a real treat. As astonishing as the landscape is in the outback, the sky at night is just as amazing. Check out the Aboriginal art too and learn something of its backstory. The way culture and environment are so deeply intertwined in desert paintings is fascinating.
Be careful walking around in the bush--it seems like most of the world's most poisonous animals are in Australia. Heck, even one of their mammals is poisonous! (The duckbill platypus.)
Remember your hat and sunscreen! It's hot Down Under this summer. And don't forget your binoculars! The bird watching in Australia is just incredible, even in the middle of the country's biggest cities. You can add several birds to your life list just strolling around town. Our most common birds are pigeons and crows, while Australia's most common birds are spectacular. The antics of the cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, and rosellas are not to be missed.
Speaking of cities, we know you're on vacation, but like us you'll occasionally be thinking of home and making comparisons in your mind. If you make it to Melbourne, the integrated tram and train system is a simple pleasure to use to get just about anywhere. They never tore their system out, like LA did, of course. And they have bike lanes all over. It's an inspiration for what a so-called "multimodal" system could look like and add to our city.
If you make it to Adelaide, don't miss wineries that put "Sideways" to shame.
In particular, the Henschke Winery Hill of Grace Vineyard and Kalleske Winery in the Barossa Valley should not be missed. Both are sustainable, organic, and use dry irrigation practices. In Adelaide, Haigh's Chocolate is excellent too!
Sydney is another beautiful city by the sea. And the food scene in Australian cities rivals Los Angeles for its inventiveness. Get out to some of the cool, trendy restaurants, and you'll feel right at home, but with a distinctively south Pacific twist.
And we know you're not working, but there's a hidden side to Sydney that you might not see on first glance. The city is becoming a global leader on climate change, with innovative energy efficiency and water conservation programs that we could learn from to move more quickly in the direction we know you want to take LA. We've written about them here at LA Observed. And if you have an hour or two for a wonkish interlude, check in with Allan Jones at Sydney City Hall to learn what they are doing to make Sydney sustainable by 2030. Since our cities are comparable in size (4 million people) and have similar faulty energy mixes (with too much coal right now), along with the urgent need to improve our wastewater treatment and recycling programs, you will have a lot to talk about.
Like LA, Sydney has incredible beaches. Don't miss Manly Beach--where the sewage meets the sea (the outfall is two miles offshore as seen in "Finding Nemo"). It will give you that Hyperion feeling--except the North Head Sewage Treatment Plant at Manly isn't at full secondary treatment! But the beach has far better surf than El Segundo and the ferry ride from the harbor is spectacular.
Finally, looking for some good reading for the long flight over? Australian historian Ian Tyrrell's book True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860-1930 gives the backstory on our deep connections, which Jared Farmer picks up in his new book Trees in Paradise: A California History, and we wrote about here.
These are environmental reform connections well worth continuing to cultivate.
Jon and Mark
Cassowary photograph by Peter Nijenhuis.