Our hotel in Sydney was tucked into a small street in an area of town called Millers Point, and when Maile and I arrived in the city, our taxi took us from the airport straight there, a route that kept us from actually glimpsing the the famed Opera House or Harbour Bridge. By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were pretty beat from all the moving around we'd been doing during those first few days in Australia, so we opted to stay in, order room service, and catch up on work.
The next morning, however, we discovered that our itinerary actually didn't call for us to explore the city itself -- rather, it required us to go offshore. And Maile and I could not have been more excited.
For this was the day we were going to see the whales.
Our reservation with Whale Watching Sydney required that we be at Circular Quay at 9:30 a.m., and when our taxi dropped us off and we saw a glimpse of the Harbour Bridge through the trees to our left (above) ...
... and to our right, the incredible Sydney Opera House (below) ...
... well, Maile and I could barely catch our breath.
"Are you believing this?" I whispered.
"I can't ... " was all Maile could manage.
Here's the thing about these two structures: it's not like you haven't seen them before, you know? I mean, if you watch New Year's Eve celebrations (as I love to do), this is the city you watch ring in the new year first: you've seen the fireworks over the water, lighting up the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. And yet, when you're actually standing before them, they are incredible. First of all, they're huge -- bigger than you expect. And they more majestic than you expect. And they're just ... well, they're just more than you expect.
We managed to pull ourselves away from the scenery to go find Wharf 6, where we were to meet our whale-watching vessel. It was a glorious day to go out on the water, and as we set sail we watched the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge get smaller in the distance.
One thing that I couldn't help but notice was how clean the water is. I mean, think about it: the Sydney harbour is a working harbour -- there are ferries and cruise ships and other industrial, oceangoing vessels that come in and out of this harbour every day, and yet the water appears quite blue and pristine. I mean, I'm really picky about where I swim, but honestly, based on appearances alone I wouldn't have hesitated a minute to jump into the water, and when was the last time you could say that about a major city port? It was marvelous, and we enjoyed the ride out, watching the locals made use of the waterways as well as the commercial boats.
Finally, we exited the harbour and went out in open water.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day -- not too hot, and not too cold -- and we were all out on the deck, just enjoying the morning sun. The captain slowed the engines, and we bobbed around on the ocean for a while.
And then ... suddenly we saw ... something ...
Hold up, was that ....?
... dude, no way.
For three hours, a mother humpback whale and her calf hung around the boat. According to the boat captain, the mom was nursing, and she and her baby were joining the thousands of other whales who were on their annual migration south to warmer waters.
Incidentally, the captain did a stellar job of keeping a running commentary going during that three-hour cruise, sharing really interesting facts about whales, their migration patterns, and their social interactions, but honestly, I hardly heard a thing. I was too enthralled with these beautiful creatures, who didn't seem bothered by us in the least.
There was, however, one part of the captain's spiel I did catch: a young man on the boat who was wearing the same t-shirt as the rest of the crew, except he was carrying a camera with an exceptionally long lens. He was the official cruise photographer, and when the captain invited us to approach him to purchase photographs, I couldn't help myself.
"Excuse me," I said, tapping him on the shoulder.
"You're the ship photographer?"
"I am." He smiled.
"Did I hear the captain actually say your name is 'Jonas'?!"
His grin grew wider. "It is."
"So let me get this straight: your name is Jonas, and you photograph whales for a living. Is that right?"
He laughed. "That's right."
"Good Lord. I have got to take your photograph. No one is going to believe this."
He gamely posed for me.
"Thanks," I smiled.
"Um, don't fall in, okay?" I couldn't resist.
He laughed. "Not planning on it."
The rest of the trip was great -- the whales stayed near the boat until it was time for us to turn around. And this was truly one of the highlights of our Australian adventure -- and we were just halfway through.
More to come, friends.
Huge thanks to Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty for making this adventure possible. If a trip Down Under is a dream you've had, please be sure to check out the Tourism Australia site for all sorts of juicy information about Australia; in addition, throughout October Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty are running two additional campaigns to help make your dream come true in 2014: the first, Fill-A-Plane, where you can sign up to be one of 322 people to get a special discount on air travel for folks who take the pledge to travel to Australia next year; the second, "Win a Wild Card ticket to Australia," for a chance to win a trip to Australia, by simply becoming a member of Go Mighty and adding your wildest Australia-based dreams. You can check out all the details here. And to see my iPad images and listen to more in-the-moment impressions I had while in Australia, be sure to check out my Go Mighty posts of this adventure.