Building (largely by workers from India and the sub-continent) seems to be happening everywhere in Muscat, indeed everywhere in Oman. New international airport, new railway network, 4G upgrade to the telecom network; a major new infrastructure project seems to be announced everyday. Everywhere that is apart from Mutrah and "Old" Muscat which seem quiet unhurried villages on the coast in comparison with the bustle just a short distance inland.
Mutrah, despite being the main port area for Muscat has the feel of a small fishing village with a very active fish market where the daily catch is delivered and sold. It had a lovely atmosphere without a particularly fishy smell and nobody seemed to mind as we (and subsequently a coach load of tourists from the recently arrived cruise liner in the port) wandered round the fish market looking at all the different types of fish that had been caught that day. There were tuna, swordfish, sardines, red snappers and many other strange looking types of fish most of which I couldn't name; one large dark coloured fish with protruding eyes looked particularly ugly to me as it was laided out for display at the back of a truck (see final fish market photo).
Stallholder at Mutrah Fish Market
Freshly caught Swordfish and Yellowfin Tuna at Mutrah Fish Market
Mutrah Fish Market
Mutrah Fish Market - the cruise liner tourists arrive
Ugly looking Fish being unloaded at Mutrah Fish Market
Moving on from the Fish Market we walked along the "Corniche" or harbour wall looking at the boats in Mutrah's harbour and port area. There were a couple of pretty Dhows moored off shore but pride of place was given over to the Sultan's Royal Yacht with its dedicated naval supply ship behind it. It's an impressive looking boat but apparently spends most of its time moored here. Behind the Royal Yacht was the big cruise liner Costa Atlantica and a couple of small catarmaran ferries, I think we can guess which boat the coachload of german tourists at the Fish Market came from!
The Corniche at Mutrah
Dhows in Mutrah Harbour
The Sultan of Oman's Royal Yacht in Mutrah Harbour
The Cruise Liner Costa Atlantica moored in Mutrah Port
Across the road was the entrance to Mutrah Souq, a typical chaotic Arab Market but housed in a surprisingly modern building. We were lucky to visit it on a Sunday, an unusually quiet day but will still heard one stallholder offering to sell "Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh" which perhaps isn't one of the most original of sales pitches but probably goes down well with the tourists.
The entrance to Mutrah Souq on the Corniche
Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh on sale at Mutrah Souq
From the Souq we moved on to Old Muscat in the next bay along the coast. Like Mutrah, Old Muscat feels unhurried and small scale compared with the bustle of the commercial area slightly in land but the buildings are certainly not old and pride of place goes to the Sultan's Palace built in 1972 on the site of the former British Embassy. Surrounding the Sultan's Palace were different ministry buildings and a couple of museums one of which was the Bayt Al-Zubair with its interesting well presented collection of traditional weapons, clothing and other artifacts from the different regions of Oman. It also had a new hall dedicated to the "Jewel of Muscat", a replica of an Arab Dhow that was sailed to Singapore in 2010 recreating what happened in the 9th Century.
The Sultan's Palace
The Sultan's Picture on the wall of the Bayt Al-Zubair Museum
Giant ornamental Frankincense Burner at Al-Riyam Park overlooking Mutrah Harbour
Rottnest (or "Rotto") is a small island 12 miles off the Fremantle coast famed for its wildlife (and in particular "quokkas", cat sized marsupials) and used as an idyllic holiday retreat by the locals. The day started with catching the early ferry from the Barrack Street Jetty in Perth and then an hour long cruise down the Swan River past West Australia's equivalent of Millionaires Row to Fremantle.
Perth from the Barrack Street Jetty
View from the ferry on the Swan River between Perth and Fremantle
Having berthed up beyond the "Costa Deliziosa" Cruise Ship (the big cruise ship currently in port) and loaded up with more tourists, bicycles and ballot boxes (for the imminent state election), the ferry sped past ships queueing to berth up in Freemantle Harbour. Arriving on Rottnest Island about 30 minutes later, we then got on a RIB (Rigid Inflatible Boat, apparently similar to those used by the SAS) for a 90 minute "eco-tour" right around the island stopping at coves to see the wildlife along the way.
Bicycles and Ballot Boxes being loaded on the Rottnest Ferry at Freemantle
Approaching Rottnest Island on the Ferry
The RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) we were on going around Rottnest Island
On the eco-tour RIB speeding around Rottnest Island
The ride bouncing along at up to 35 knots outside the speed restriction areas was fun and we saw lazy New Zealand Fur Seals, nesting Ospreys and well as foraging Stingrays but I must admit I had hoped to see more as dolphins and seas lions are often also seen on the trip I took.
New Zealand Fur Seal at Cathedral Rocks on Rottnest Island
Kayaking and snorkeling amongst the seals on Rottnest Island
New Zealand Fur Seal floating on his back on Rottnest Island
Osprey perched high up on a cliff on Rottnest Island
On returning to Thomson Bay (the main settlement on the island) I hired a bicycle for a couple of hours to explore the island's interior as with cars non-existent this is the recommended way to get around. I managed to reach the Oliver Hill Guns (WW2 Battery installed to defend Freemantle Harbour), Wedjemup Lighthouse and ride past some of the salty pink lakes (4 times saltier than sea water and like the Dead Sea you naturally float in them) before I had to return back to make sure I was back in time for my ferry.
The WW2 Gun Battery on Oliver Hill
Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island
A pink lake on Rottnest Island
Me exploring Rottnest Island by bicycle
Geordie Bay full of yachts on Rottnest Island
Back in Thomson Bay I made a quick visit to the museum and "Quod" (old prison now hotel, Rottnest was used as an aboriginal open prison during the 19th century) was beginning to worry the only quokka I would see would be the one sleeping by the surf boards at the bicycle hire shop. I need not have worried, literally just before I got back to the boat one wandered out in front of me and good as posed for my camera!
With only a limited amount of time in Sydney (and having got the Blue Mountains out of the way), I signed up for 2 days of touring Sydney and Bondi Beach by bus followed by a cruise of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately for the open-top bus tour of Sydney it was raining, not only making the top deck seats wet but also weighing down the branches of the trees causing them to sweep the top of the bus! Sometimes when it rained we braved the weather, sometimes we dived downstairs for cover.
Open-top double-decker bus tour of Sydney - in the rain!
The tour started from the currently being restored Sydney Town Hall just across the road from the very ornate Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898 and full of speciality shops. The first place of note awe passed as we got underway was Scruffy Murphys, an Irish Bar on the edge of Chinatown. When I returned later in the evening it turned out to be a very friendly but basic rough local with good Guinness and lots of impromptu Irish singing and dancing!
Sydney Town Hall being restored
Inside the Queen Victoria Building on George Street
Scruffy Murphys - the most famous Irish Bar in Sydney
Hyde Park (named after the famous park of the same name in London) is the oldest public parkland in Australia and marks the eastern boundary of Sydney's Central Business District (CBD). The focal point of the park is the Archibald Fountain overlooking the Roman Catholic St Marys Cathedral. The spine of the park is a pretty impressive looking avenue of fig trees.
The Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in Sydney
St Marys RC Cathedral with the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in the foreground
St Marys RC Cathedral (note the fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce cars outside awaiting a wedding party!)
The fig tree lined avenue through the centre of Hyde Park in Sydney
On the south side of Hyde Park is the ANZAC War Memorial and Lake of Reflections. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 during World War I and the day has been remembered as ANZAC Day in both countries ever since. Nearby there is a statue of Captain Cook to commemorate his discovery of the east coast of Australia in 1770 and there are also very good views of the 1,014 foot (309 metre) high Sydney Tower Eye amongst the city's skyline.
The ANZAC Memorial and Lake of Reflections in Hyde Park
Inside the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park
Captain Cook's Statue in Hyde Park with the Sydney Tower Eye amongst the skyline in the background
Heading east out of the CBD we passed through Kings Cross, Sydney's red light district. It was originally named Queens Cross in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 but nearly everyone got it confused with Queens Square on Kings Street so it got renamed. Dominating the area is the iconic 42 feet (13 metre) high Coca Cola Billboard sign originally erected in 1974, it's apparently the largest billboard sign in the Southern Hemisphere but isn't heritage-listed as most people assume. Kings Cross itself surprised me with how narrow its tree lined streets were although as expected nearly every second building seemed to be a strip-club or bar touting for business!
The Coca Cola Sign at Kings Cross, the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere
Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross - Sydney's Red Light District
Continuing north towards the Harbour, we passed the main east coast base of the Royal Australian Navy on the east side of Woolloomooloo Bay and also past a peculiar piece of street art of a car crushed by a large rock in the middle of the roundabout. We then caught our first sight of the two big Sydney iconic landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge although I was to get a much better view of both of these while on the Harbour Cruise the following afternoon.
HMAS Newcastle and HMAS Sydney moored up at the Naval Base on Woolloomooloo Bay
Street art in Sydney
The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Close by where the Hyde Park Barracks, built with convict labour in 1819 and now a world heritage site. Between 1819 and 1850 over 50,000 convicts passed through these barracks on their arrival in Australia, including potentially one of my ancestors (I found 2 convicts sharing my surname amongst the database of former inmates!). I also found the gallery on the Irish orphan women particularly interesting because of it potential relevance to my own family history. In the walls of the barracks was the An Gorta Mar, Australia's national memorial to the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1852.
Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks where 50,000 convicts were landed between 1819 and 1850
Convict uniform on display in Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks
Convict hammocks at the Hyde Park Barracks
The Court Room at the Hyde Park Barracks
An Gorta Mor - Australia's National Memorial to the Irish Famine
Moving back towards the city centre is the Circular Quay, Built by convict labour in the 1850s this was the original main port for Sydney. Today it is mega busy with tourists boarding ferries going to all the different parts of the harbour as well as being where the big cruise ships (such as the "Carnival Spirit" that arrived while I was there) moor up when they are in town.
The Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House
The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Circular Quay
Aboriginal Cultural Performers on the Circular Quay
By the following morning the weather had returned to normal for Sydney without a cloud in the sky so I was able to take the open-top bus tour to Bondi Beach, 4 miles (7 kilometres) to the east of the city and one of the most famous beaches in the world. After enjoying a stroll along the beach for a couple of hours I caught the bus back to Sydney, catching fleeting glimpses of the city views that are the reason why this area has some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
My first view of Bondi Beach
The Lifeguard Lookout and Pavilion on Bondi Beach
Me by the Lifeguard Lookout on Bondi Beach
Lifeguards on duty on Bondi Beach
Millionaires Row view of Sydney on the way back from Bondi
Once back in Sydney I boarded a catermaran in the Circular Quay to do the Sydney Harbour Cruise. The first stop was Fort Denison, a martello fort about kilometre offshore built in the mid 19th century to protect Sydney. From there we sailed onwards towards the ocean past the net-protected Sharks Beach in Vaucluse before reaching the affluent suburb of Watsons Bay.
Sydney's Circular Quay
Fort Denison in the middle of Sydney Harbour
Shark Beach protected by nets
Watsons Bay was the furthest we travelled east towards the open ocean before we turned around. The views of Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as we made our way back were stunning.
Looking beyond Watson Bay towards the Ocean
Looking towards Sydney on the way back from Watson Bay
The replica of HMS Endeavour beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Me sailing past the Sydney Opera House
The 'Carnival Spirit' Cruise Ship berthed at the Circular Quay next to the Sydney Opera House
After brief stops at Taronga Zoo and the Circular Quay we passed under the Harbour Bridge and turned into Darling Harbour opened in 1988. The National Maritime Museum with its impressive fleet of historical ships (including a replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour) occupies the west side of the harbour while the Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussaud's and more tourist boat jetties occupies the east side. Sydney also has a monorail which runs across Pyrmont Bridge at the bottom of Darling Harbour but this was due to close in June 2013 so I was probably one of the last to ride on it.
Replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endevour in Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour and the fleet of historical ships of the National Maritime Museum from the Pyrmont Bridge
The Sydney Monorail coming into its Darling Harbour Station on Pyrmont Bridge