Flying into Sydney I had forgotten what a great skyline it has. A quick flight from Adelaide, we descended into the city over the harbour with a great view of the bridge and opera house. Those sights helped all of us get more excited about the week ahead.
We are so fortunate to have friends all over the world. Our friends the Keirs’ offered to put us up for our five days in Sydney. I met Kim and Muir in Australia 20 years ago through mutual friends. Originally from South Africa, they were also exploring Australia and, when heading home, made the mistake of offering me a place to stay if ever I found myself in Durban (Umphlanga). I took them up on their offer a few months later showing up at about 8pm and calling them from the airport. I’m here!
I ended up working in Kim’s parent’s restaurant for a few months and we spent a lot of time together. They moved to London and Jody and I visited them back in 2001. We stayed in sporadic contact over the years as careers and kids take up everyone’s attention. That said, when I reached out to them to say we’d be coming to Sydney there was an immediate offer for us to come stay. In Muir’s words, ‘the shower’s hot, the sheets are clean and the beer is cold’. How could we say no?!
Muir met us at the airport and we picked right back up where we left off. It was great to see them and meet their three kids for the first time - Cameron, Bella and Sophie; all close to our girls in age (+/-). Arriving mid-week, everyone was still at work or school activities were in full swing. It doesn’t matter which hemisphere you’re in, family life is exactly the same wherever you go.
After a fabulous bbq, the Keir’s helped us plan our time in Sydney and we got caught up on all the goings on over the past few years. Again, the kids were no where to be seen. Our first day we headed to the Toronga Zoo. Some joker managed to climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge early that morning and was roosted there for several hours. This caused our commute to take about two hours via bus, train and ferry. Despite the delay, it was a great way to see the city and I was able to point out a lot of the sights and sounds I recalled from my previous time here.
The zoo is terrific. We made sure we hit all of the Australian animals before exploring other parts of the zoo. Overlooking the harbour, the giraffe’s have the best view in the park!
We walked through the aviary for Avery, our family bird-nerd, and hit all of the marsupials. The emu may be the least intelligent animal on the planet and the cassowary would probably gut you with its claws if you looked at it the wrong way. The platypus was a hit and we all enjoyed the amphibians and reptiles. The girls encyclopedic knowledge of what Australian animals can kill you (almost all of them) was good for discussion and frequent use of Meghan’s Australian catch-phrase: AND YOU COULD DIE!!!
We also saw a very active red-belly black snake who appeared to be on the hunt as two small birds flew into its enclosure. This was a highlight as our friend Tim Barrett had a recent close encounter with one of these deadly creatures in the Barossa.
The gorillas were fantastic (with a massive silverback) and the chimpanzees were incredibly playful. A somersaulting baby was quite the hit with everyone and provided a good opportunity to talk about what we learned in the Galapagos about Darwin and evolution.
Wanting to carry our weight we made sure to get back in time to make dinner and treat our hosts to some homemade burgers. BBQ two nights in a row! Being a carnivore is awesome.
Again, the girls went missing the moment we stepped in the door. It is great to see them develop such fast friendships. In chatting with Kim and Muir it is easy to see why everyone connects so well - the values our families emphasize and what we in-still in our kids. This holds true for all of the families we’ve connected with on this trip.
On Thursday, we headed back into the city on a short 40 bus ride. No bozo on the bridge this morning! This was going to be a walking day. Jod had wondered out-loud whether there was an app we could use as a pedometer while we were at the zoo. I downloaded one and was keen to see how much distance we were going to cover.
And did we cover it! Starting in Darling Harbour we grabbed coffee and smoothies to fortify ourselves and we followed the waterfront along the way from the aquarium to Ms. Macquaries Chair with a few times around The Rocks for good measure. Grand total - we covered about 12kms that day smashing our 10,000 step goal!
A few highlights included a stop at the Lord Nelson pub where I had a pint similar to what I’d enjoyed 20 years earlier (but at far less volume) and lunch in the Rocks where we had a conversation with the girls about city planning, gentrification and different perspectives on what people view as ‘good’. The girls provided some really thoughtful commentary on what constitutes a liveable city where everyone has a place. They made some connections to what’s going on back in Calgary in the East Village, St. Patrick’s Island and Inglewood too. We’ve got some strong citizens in the making here!
Before heading home, our last stop of the day was Mrs. MacQuarrie’s where the girls jumped up on the carved sandstone to get their picture taken. We waited our turn as some Chinese tourists also took this picture. Over the past several months we have found that our blonde and auburn-haired daughters have attracted the attention of people from all over the world. On several occasions they have asked to pose with our girls. While this is a harmless activity, it makes the girls uncomfortable. Megs was pushed over the top when an Peruvian lady patted her on the head and called her Barbie. Being the least princess of girls this didn’t sit well with our rough-and-tumble, sporty Meghan. Needless to say, she now avoids situations like this at all costs. Her spicy-senses were tingling at the chair.
The Chinese ladies waited until we got our photo of the girls and then two of them immediately jumped up on the bench to join Meghan and Avery. A third grabbed me to show me how to use her phone. Avery was caught on the platform while Meghan bolted to my side. Finding ourselves in an awkward situation I said that I would take the picture but that Meghan wasn’t going to join them when the lady started to literally push her toward the chair. When they realized that was the case, the youngest of the three Chinese ladies jumped down as the lady who showed me how to use her phone went up to sit beside Avery. Five people in the picture - OK. Four people in the picture - no good. Three people in the picture - OK.
I snapped a few quick photos and Avery, being a good sport jumped down, said bye and we quickly made our way out of there.
The entire way home we had some good conversations about different cultures, belief systems and how to handle situations where we might feel uncomfortable. It was a great day both in terms of physical and intellectual activity. Exactly what we’re looking for on this adventure.
That night, the girls disappeared again, having their fill of their parents for the day and all of the kids blew off their remaining energy from the day. Kim, Muir, Jody and I had another great night catching up. A fabulous day had by all - the next morning my face hurt from laughing so much.
The Keir’s pulled their kids early from school on Friday and we went for a hike and hit the beach at a national park north of Sydney. That night, we had a true Australian experience by heading to the local RSL (think Legion) for a great meal and participate in the meat raffle. The Keir’s had a track-record to upkeep as they’ve won something from the raffle each time they’ve gone in recent weeks. True to form a pie was won on the last draw of the night!
Our last day in Sydney started with Cameron’s season-opening soccer match. A talented young footballer, he scored the go-ahead goal on an indirect kick and their team ‘Forest’ won 3-1. It was all I could do not to yell ‘Run Forest Run’…
We then made our way to Manly Beach for some great chicken takeaway and a dip in the ocean. It’s a brilliant spot that really brings the Australian beach lifestyle to life. There was a surfing competition underway, a local lifesavers club, an ocean pool, promenade and green space for picnics. An amazing place to spend a Saturday afternoon and made us consider what life in Australia would be like. Great spot.
We had a fabulous time with the Keirs. It was great to catch up with them as they welcomed us into their home and introduced us to their awesome kids. We left the following morning with a new WhatsAp group organized to stay in more regular contact and with promises that the Keirs will come visit us in the next few years. We’ll keep them to it - so tidying up the basement is now moving up on the list of to-dos once we get home!
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).