… Trundling down to Brisbane, on the southern border of Queensland. We’d scheduled a rendezvous with a couple interviewees and were seeking a much-needed break, having already traveled some 3,600 kilometers since Cairns. We did the interviews – maybe I should say we got them out of the way – with a college activist and a Friends of the Earth volunteer. Then we went Insane In The Brisbane for a few days – but it was more of a catatonic insanity, mostly resting in our creaky backpackers (hostel) room and wandering distractedly along the waterfront.

Brisbane’s waterfront is well designed and vibrant, with marketplaces and museums, restaurants and pubs aplenty, all festooned with public art and open green spaces. Brisbane is a big city but laid-back, easygoing, and has, I suspect, an army of landscape architects to thank.

Possum in tree

We had to go. We could not stay. We must needs depart. Leaving Brisbane we pointed the car toward Sydney, where my cousin Deb awaited our arrival. Deb and her husband, Paul, and their daughter, Katie, live in the hills to the north of Australia’s New York, in a suburb called Bayview: they graciously invited us to stay for a few days and use their home as a base from which to explore the city.

But first we had to get there, some 1,000 kilometers south of Brisbane.

Farewell Queensland. We hardly knew ye. Crossing into New South Wales we again repaired to the hills, just guessing now but guessing right, moving inland under the shadow of Mount Warning through the “hippie” hamlet of Nimbin to Nightcap National Park, where we hiked up to Protestors Falls past coiled pythons and wounded septuagenarians. In the Seventies a group of protestors saved a large swath of the area’s forest from logging, including the falls, which drop into a marvelous grotto of slick mossy granite and table-sized shelves ideal for picnicking – and meditating. They are one reason for so many shall we say progressives seeking this area. Strangely though, and wonderfully, the park is not very heavily visited: we spent half an hour on a weekend afternoon watching the spray of the falls and enjoying the cool air without seeing another person. A short bush hike afterward around Mount Nardi, a low shoulder of ancient rock covered with stands of stately doughman trees, was equally undisturbed by humans.

Lisa in Nightcap

Eventually we returned to the highway and wandered into Sydney, which at the time was experiencing a befuddling cold snap: surprising rain and chill winds greeted us. Deb’s welcome was the opposite, and we had a delightful few days talking about Michigan, family, cricket (with Paul, who I hope has a better opinion of American sports fans after I endeavored – with some difficulty, and some success – to learn the game), food, wine, and Katie’s accent – not quite Australian, but not American either. A charming cross between the two, I’d say.

Deb, who moved to Sydney with Paul in 1989, lives in a beautiful neighborhood near Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (now apparently on fire), overlooking an inlet filled with boats big and small. They partially own a boat themselves, a 46-foot yacht called “Stingray Bay,” and we spent an afternoon tooling around Refuge Bay and sipping wine anchored in a discreet cove while schools of basketball-sized jellyfish glowed just beneath the surface. A lovely way to pass the time.

Staying with Deb and family we were tempted to camp out on their back porch, poolside, and watch the birds from beneath their grass-roofed gazebo. Perhaps sip fruity drinks and nibble Tim-Tams all day long. But we couldn’t miss out on the famous attractions of Sydney: the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, the Aquarium, the Royal Botanic Gardens. The neighborhood of The Rocks is best for pub-crawling: don’t miss Fortune of War, est. 1828, reputed to be the city’s oldest pub. (I didn’t.) We commuted via the city’s excellent rail system but could have used a few more days. In the end as with everything else on this trip there was too much to do, too much to see, and we ended by feeling unsatisfied and rushed. Boo-hoo.

Harbor Bridge

After four days we figured it was time to go as Christmas approached and no one should have to endure foreign visitors during the holidays, least of all smelly uncouth ones. With a lot of hugs and smiles we left Deb, Paul and Katie, and headed for the hazy dark line in the west that signified the Blue Mountains.