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CNN Travel Now

Discover the Thrills of Australia

Aired February 12, 2000 - 6:30 a.m. ET


CAROLYN O'NEIL, HOST: There's something about Australia that captivates travelers around the globe. And for many, this is the year to go Down Under, as the Summer Olympics come to Sydney. We'll show you how the city has come of age from world famous sites to inventive cuisine.


HELEN GREENWOOD, "THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD": People that come to Sydney taste the food and go on back and say wow, this is amazing.


O'NEIL: The thrill of Australia goes beyond the Olympic host city.


MICHAEL SMITH, SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE PRESENTATION, INNCC.: One of the things we're trying to do is not just have everyone go to Sydney and leave. We want them to go to all parts of Australia and enjoy the whole experience.


O'NEIL: So we'll have advice on what to do in the Outback and beyond. And we'll top it all off with a climb up the Harbor Bridge.


UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: The view is spectacular. It's the most beautiful harbor I've ever seen.


O'NEIL: From high and low, come with us as we travel now to Australia.

Welcome to CNN TRAVEL NOW and Sydney, Australia. Hello, I'm Carolyn O'Neil.

This is Sydney's harbor, a dramatically beautiful site that's become one of the most photographed places on earth. And as the world's attention focuses on the Summer Olympics to be held here this year, more travelers are curious to see what it's like in this vibrant city Down Under.


O'NEIL (voice-over): One look at its glorious harbor and it's easy to understand why Sydney captivates visitors and its four million residents.

JOHN MORSE, AUSTRALIAN TOURIST COMMISSION: The whole focal point of Sydney is the harbor. In fact we live on, around, near or by the harbor. The water is incredibly important to us.

O'NEIL: And while Sydney's skyline is typical of many modern cities, two architectural marvels stand out, the Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

CATHH SQUELCH, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE: During the '50s, Australians were beginning to realize that they had great opera singers and they had great conductors and great musicians but they had no venues for them to perform in. For them to make their mark they had to go to England or America.

O'NEIL: So a design competition was launched and in 1959, work began on Yorn Utsin's (ph) winning entry. But numerous setbacks caused by politics and construction problems dragged out the process. Fourteen years and more than 100 million Australian dollars later the opera house opened in October, 1973.

SQUELCH: The opera house has five theaters, the concert hall, the opera theater, the drama theater and the playhouse and the studio. The concert hall is actually the major theater in the complex making our name a mistake. We're really a performing arts center.

O'NEIL (on camera): And when you visit, a closer look reveals another surprise, the Sydney opera house is not one building. There are three.

(voice-over): In the shadow of the Harbor Bridge and a short walk from the opera house lies the rocks. This is where the country's first European immigrants settled. They came mainly from England and Ireland.

DEE LADD-HUDSON, THE ROCKS WALKING TOURS: Those convict ships came into Sydney Cove in 1788 and the convicts were sent up onto the rocks to start the settlement.

This is George Street. This is the oldest street in Australia.

O'NEIL: In the beginning, life in the rocks was far from idyllic.

LADD-HUDSON: This was a dock yard. There was no sanitation. People were living in very overcrowded conditions. Some people may have called it a slum.

O'NEIL: Today, with its shops and restaurants, the rocks represents a city on the rise, a part of Sydney's history that's cosmopolitan and refined.

DEP. LORD MAYOR LUCY TURNBULL, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: There's a wonderful energy and buzz about Sydney at the moment and I think it's not only because of the Olympics. Of course that's got a lot to do with it. But I think that we're really understanding for the first time what a terrific city we are.

O'NEIL: Much of Sydney's spirit lies in its diversity, exemplified by art on display in museums and for sale in aboriginal- owned shops.

GAVIN FLICK, ARTIST: If people purchase a piece of art they're actually buying a story that's many thousands of years old. The colors change, the artists change, but the story remains the same.

O'NEIL: Sydney also is home to the world's second largest gay and lesbian population after San Francisco. And it boasts an eclectic mix of ethnicities evident in the multitude of restaurants in every price range. All those qualities contributed to Sydney's winning bid for the 2000 Olympic Games.

MICHAEL KNIGHT, MNISTER FOR THE OLYMPICS: It's a truly magic part of the world and of course Australians are sports crazy. We're a nation of only 19 million people yet we finished fifth on the medal tally count in Atlanta.

O'NEIL: And like previous Olympic cities, Sydney hopes to make the most of its games.

KNIGHT: Barcelona more than doubled their tourism in the years after the games and we hope to get that same sort of benefit out of showcasing a city that's still a bit of a secret to a lot of people in the world.

O'NEIL: A secret soon to sparkle on the world stage.


O'NEIL: And stay with us. Later on CNN TRAVEL NOW, another view of Sydney from the spectacular Harbor Bridge. We're actually going to climb to the very top. But first...


STEPHANIE OSWALD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the oldest forms of human expression, aboriginal rock art dating back thousands of years.

Hi, I'm Stephanie Oswald. When CNN TRAVEL NOW continues, I'll take you far from the streets of Sydney from Australia's top end into the Outback and beyond.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'NEIL: Welcome back to CNN's TRAVEL NOW and the Sydney International Aquatic Center, where Olympic athletes will go for the gold.

And while Sydney certainly gains from the attention it gets hosting the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, visitors are expected to explore other parts of Australia, too.

Here's Stephanie Oswald with some suggestions.


OSWALD (voice-over): While Sydney is in the spotlight, if the Olympic dreams of Australia's tourism officials come true, the entire country will bathe in the fame of the game and the after glow as well.

KNIGHT: Well, we've had a lot of economic activity in the lead up to the games. We've had extra tourism. And for us the challenge is to keep that going, to get those benefits over a longer period of time.

SMITH: A few extra dollars will get you to some fantastic locations and really seeing the more authentic experiences and away from the east coast mentality of some of the packages that are being sold.

OSWALD: One of the best ways to get beyond Sydney is by train.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the gan (ph) to Alice Springs departs from platform number one in 10 minutes.

OSWALD: Rail service can take you west all the way to Perth and north to Brisbane and Cairns, home base for divers headed for the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. The historic gan takes passengers from Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide and from there on to Alice Springs.

STEPHEN BRADFORD, GREAT SOUTHERN RAILWAY: The journey was originally moving residents and businesses to Alice Springs from Adelaide and as more and more people worldwide heard of the train journey, because it's very interesting rail, tourists started to join the adventure.

OSWALD: The scenery changes dramatically as the train rolls north. Our rail adventure ended in Alice Springs, a town of about 25,000 people. This is a gateway to the center of the continent and it's where we uncovered artistic links to Australia's past. The colorful roots of this country run deep, expressed with paint, music and dance.

Australia's native history is the focus of the Aboriginal Art and Culture Center.

UNIDENTIFIED AUSTRALIAN: These kind of paintings here that represent the foods, you know that's a woman's painting.

OSWALD: From Alice Springs, it's a five hour drive, or about an hour flight, to this.

(on camera): This is the most awe inspiring sight I found in Australia, the massive sandstone of Uluru. It's a sacred site for Australia's aboriginal people but the wonders of this majestic landscape speak to the souls of everyone.

(voice-over): Also known as Ayer's Rock (ph), this 600 million year old piece of sandstone is a Mecca for spiritual and adventurous travelers from around the globe. What's more, it's the starting point for the Olympic torch relay. Just a short drive away, another inspirational setting, a group of massive rock formations called patajuda (ph).

From the red center, many opt to explore the wetlands of Kakadu National Park to the north. From there, a flight to Arnhem Land is another option. A personal safari can open up this part of the top end, a world defined by huge termite mounds, flocks of wild birds and intimidating crocodiles. Also a treat for those willing to put up with the files and the dust, rare primitive rock art, in some cases dating back more than 50,000 years.

More options for those seeking a lesser known slice of Australian life, the diverse landscape of Tasmania, the island state on Australia's southeastern tip. Much smaller Kangaroo Island is just a hop away from Adelaide. This wilderness retreat is one place you're likely to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild.

Another choice, Perth. Despite its gleaming skyline, it's been described as one of the most isolated cities in the world. But for others, such as historian Ted Egan Australia is really all about wide open spaces.

TED EGAN, HISTORIAN AND SONGWRITER: Oh, it's just a wonderful place and really, if you think about it, Australia, its best future is in staying largely empty and letting other people come from other parts to marvel at that and in the process we won't stuff up this place.

OSWALD: In all, more than a million and a half travelers are expected to use the Olympics as a reason to paint a bigger picture of this country, a country whose pulse can be measured in many different ways, through the power of nature, the messages of ancient rituals and the nostalgia of every day living on the world's smallest continent.

Stephanie Oswald, CNN, Sydney, Australia.


O'NEIL: Coming up next, our adventures in Australia continue. So you say you've never tried shark lips? We'll give you a taste of Australia's delicious yet diverse cuisine. And later, we'll travel to new heights one step at a time.


O'NEIL: Far from the wild bush and the outback, sleek modern restaurants in Australia are world class in dining and decor. But what's most interesting here is the passion to create a cuisine that's internationally diverse yet uniquely Australian.


O'NEIL (voice-over): Throwing a few shrimp on the barbie may be the popular stereotype of cooking Down Under, but inventive chefs here have been busy creating a new definition of Australian cuisine.

NEIL PERRY, ROCKPOOL: And I think what sort of knocks people out is the kind of vibrance and the freshness and the ease at which we put things together.

O'NEIL: At Neil Perry's Rockpool in Sydney, the menu is as sleek as the surroundings. Asian noodle salad with Australian abalone is flavored with truffle oil, ginger and scallion. More Asian influence, omelets are seasoned with Thai fish sauce and crispy fried in a hot wok. A nation of palates yearning for flavors beyond their British roots found inspiration when Asian immigrants brought their cultures and cuisines.

KAHN DANIS, ROCKPOOL: We eat their food all the time and we're inspired by their food and hopefully we do them justice.

O'NEIL: At Sailors Thai in Sydney, the menu salutes the flavors of Thailand, a tasty testament that Australian food has come a long way.

DAVID THOMPSON, SAILORS THAI: Apart from a few good country cooks and a few rare exceptions, it was, in fact, a culinary wasteland.

O'NEIL: Chef David Thompson is such an authority on traditional Thai cooking that the Thai government has asked him to teach chefs in Bangkok. Here in Sydney, dishes such as jasmine tea smoked perch with a green mango chili salad reflect his passion.

THOMPSON: There's been an excitement of discovery, almost a gawkish enthusiasm as one discovers new ingredients and how to toy and tinker and technique with them.

GREENWOOD: Australian cooking generally has strong roots in French technique, a little bit of a nod, maybe, to our British heritage now and then with a bit of steak or something, steak and kidney pie. But generally it is a mixture of the Asian, of the Italian, the Greek and other influences.

O'NEIL (on camera): And while chefs in Australia are certainly serious about their cuisine, this is a country with a refreshing sense of humor. For instance, at one of the top restaurants in Sydney, M.G. Garage, the dining room is decorated with M.G. sports cars and yes, they are for sale.

(voice-over): This unique pairing of precision performance is a partnership between an M.G. dealership and Greek born chef Janni Kyritsis. JANNI KYRITSIS, M.G. GARAGE RESTAURANT: I'm ready for the ovens.

O'NEIL: This electrician turned culinary pro illuminates multinational marriages. Here, Australian beef with Mediterranean olives is wrapped in an English style dumpling, served with stir fried spinach and topped with a French Madeira sauce.

KYRITSIS: All that is cooked by a Greek that used to be an electrician. So you can't find any combination like that anywheres in the world and that's part of Australian cooking.

O'NEIL: The real recipes, secret chefs say, is the great fresh produce in Australia and below the famous surf, seafood is abundant and unusual. Balmane bugs (ph), sort of like lobster, show up on menus. And as Chef Cheong Liew of the Adelaide Hilton demonstrates, specialty ingredients such as shark lips are found in local markets. After they're steamed, he serves them with scallops and braised vegetables.

CHEONG LIEW, THE GRANGE RESTAURANT: I can't even figure out the menu because everybody comes in and out and has the shark lips.

O'NEIL: So as attention turns to Australia in anticipation of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, visitors will find a nation already serving a world of flavors on its plates.


O'NEIL: Next, a unique perspective of Sydney Harbor. We're going to the top of the Harbor Bridge.



UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: To find out more about the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, is a good place to start for a city guide and ticket information. If a walk through Sydney's historic neighborhoods interests you, get in touch with The Rocks walking tour for times and prices. And as featured in our next story, visit bridgeclimbsydney (ph) online to book a climb to the top of the Harbor Bridge.

For more about the destinations and restaurants you've seen in today's show, log onto our Web site at


O'NEIL: It's billed as the climb of your life and the bridge climb over Sydney Harbor is fast becoming one of the hottest and certainly most talked about tourist attractions here. However, it is not for everyone. Let's find out why.


O'NEIL (voice-over): Built in 1932, the Sydney Harbor Bridge is a dramatic sight, with graceful steel girders arching 440 feet above the water below. The bird's eye view via helicopter is thrilling, but a closer look along the top shows you there are people up there. As I was about to find out, they climbed over 1,300 steps to join this adventure.

It all begins with a breathalyzer test.

(on camera): I passed.


O'NEIL: Other safety measures, special gray suits to minimize distracting drivers below and harnesses with safety latches which attach to lines on the bridge. Even hats are secured. Guides lead the way to our first stop, a simulator to practice using the latches. Then it's time to go.

(on camera): OK. OK, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED GUIDE: Just about ready to get going?

O'NEIL: Yeah.

(voice-over): Sensing a bit of anxiety, my guide promises we'll get the scariest part out of the way first.

UNIDENTIFIED GUIDE: It looks like you're ready forr it. What we're going to do is we're going to walk out in public in this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'NEIL (on camera): Oh, very funny.

(voice-over): Groups are led along a catwalk under the bridge and then the ascent. An amazing view of the harbor and the opera house awaits climbers coming up steep ladders, that is, if they can take their eyes off the steps.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: You hear so much about it you just want to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: This is great. Hi, Enid (ph). Hi, mom. Don't worry, I'll be home safe, I promise.

O'NEIL: The remaining trip is as easy as climbing stairs, built originally for workers who maintained the bridge and steady enough to allow our cameraman to walk backward.

(on camera): That's got to be fun.

(voice-over): Ten years of careful planning won city approval in 1998. Now at about 100 Australian or $65 U.S. dollars a person, the bridge climb is Sydney's most popular attraction, the only one like it in the world. Adventure is the main draw, with climbs both day and night. Some have even tackled a fear of heights. And there have been quite a few marriage proposals. Who would say no at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: But the great thing about coming up here is that the further up you get the more spectacular the view becomes.

O'NEIL: It is a spectacular view. I think we can see all of Sydney, Australia and I can't believe I did it. We're at the top!

UNIDENTIFIED GUIDE: Congratulations. Well done.

O'NEIL: Now you're going to tell me that going down is the hardest part?

(voice-over): Climb leaders photograph triumphant groups followed by a round of celebratory cheers.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: Absolutely fantastic. I plied my bridge.

O'NEIL: More guides will be added to handle crowds expected to be looking for that winning feeling during the Olympic games.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

O'NEIL: They'll see that you don't need nerves of steel to walk into the sky above Sydney and the top of the Harbor Bridge.


O'NEIL: And victoriously at the summit of the Harbor Bridge, I can't think of a better place to wave good-bye to Sydney, Australia.

I'm Carolyn O'Neil. Thank you for joining us. That's CNN TRAVEL NOW.

If you enjoyed our trip away from Sydney, be sure to join us again next week. In south Australia, we'll take a closer look at Kangaroo Island, where it's said Australians go to see their native wildlife.


UNIDENTIFIED AUSTRALIAN: It's not the traffic along the road that you worry about, it's the traffic of the kangaroos crossing the road.


O'NEIL: In the top end, we'll visit Arnhem Land, a place few outsiders have seen. Here, open air galleries show paintings that depict centuries of aboriginal history. Near Adelaide, they've been making this creation more than 150 years. We'll introduce you to the vintages of the Barassa Valley (ph), gaining attention worldwide. Escape with us into Australia next week on CNN TRAVEL NOW.


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