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Bondi, Sydney’s claim to world beach fame, is a three dollar bus ride from the center of town. The walk from there to Coogee Beach is six kilometers of nature’s finest, laid out for geriatric codgers to negotiate. I didn’t make it all the way to Coogee, but I made it to Clovelly in moderate walking pace stopping often to take pictures of the views in about three hours. It was time well wasted.

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You can take the train to Bondi Junction, but then you would miss walking through Hyde Park in downtown Sydney; not as famous as its namesake in London, but just as nice and certainly no less Victorian with its obligatory statue of the Missus, and her Consort guarding the entrance, and fountains with heroic figures taming the sea serpents to be had along with the Aussie’s favourite explorer, Captain Cook, and a very touching Anzac memorial to the soldiers of Gallipoli and other conflicts. Don’t miss St. Mary’s Cathedral on the east side of the park. The outside is deceptively plain, but the inside is bathed in a golden light that illuminates the graceful arches of its nave and seems to breathe a reverence that is often missing from more popular cathedrals in Europe.

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The bus to Bondi starts at the appropriately named Victoria Street and the driver will be looking for exact fare so buy the bottle of water you are going to need at the beach and get some change. Buses in Sydney are clean and fast and I enjoyed the ride. The bus will go right down to the beach itself, but the nicer stop is the one at the top of the hill so you can take in the view. I went early on a cool day before the crowds and the heat built up. Pam and Shelley had gone a day earlier in the middle of a scorcher of a day – 43 degrees Celsius – and the beach and the water were wall to wall with people. I am glad I chose a cooler day for my walk!

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I only stayed ten minutes at Bondi itself, as the walk itself was my goal, but I did wade for a bit and the sand was a golden granular tan and the water clean and relatively warm. South of the beach at the beginning of the walk is the Polar Bear Swimming Club that has a pool overlooking the ocean. Beyond that the path starts to climb, but never gets too high above the water at any point and often comes right down to the beach. The views of the cliffs dropping off to the restless sea are ever changing, and each new bay has its own particular character.

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My favourite was Bronte Beach, named not for the writer, but for Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte. Despite that literary disappointment, the beach was very nice. It is scorned by surfers as its narrowness and embankment of shale rocks make it unsuitable with better beaches at Bondi and Clovelly nearby. It is therefore free from the aggravating surfer dude culture that characterizes the larger beaches, making it not only safer for swimmers, but quieter, more relaxed and more civil. I had a very nice fried fish for lunch at a little spot overlooking the beach at a reasonable price without having to listen to a single misogynistic word before pushing on.

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At Clovelly the cliffscape levels out and there is a flat 1.2 kilometer stretch through beach and town around to where the walk starts to get interesting again. My feet decided by that point that they had had enough, and besides there was one of those clean and fast buses waiting to take me back to Bondi Junction. This time I did opt for the train as I wanted off at King’s Cross and our hotel so I could freshen up for the afternoon’s activities. Our time in Sydney is limited, but there were plenty of backpacker hostels all along the coast, and this is a spot that you could easily spend a week in, running into town for the evenings if you were so inclined. From KL you can get an eight hour flight with Air Asia to Sydney for around $500.

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As Pam noted in an earlier post, Sydney is a lovely city, and would be a joy to study, live and work there. But all around Sydney there are signs of Australia’s tenuous grip on civilization. The nation is a vast desert, as large as the Sahara, bordered by a thin coastal strip of habitable land that is barely a kilometer wide in some places. Global warming is a looming threat to a country constantly on the edge of drought. Recently entire subdivisions have had to be scrapped for lack of available water.

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On the two short days we were there 140 bush fires were raging in New South Wales alone. There were a hundred more in Victoria and Tasmania has suffered a devastating fire season with thousands stranded and hundreds of homes destroyed. The meteorological service had to add new colours to their maps to record temperatures well above the 50s in the interior. We flew north from Sydney and have rarely seen such a barren, arid wasteland. The heat builds up over this area and then pushes south. If the monsoon rains don’t come soon, it is going to be a long hot summer Down Under.

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