I recently got to take a trip I have always wanted to.I finally went to Australia.My friend and I arrived in Sydney after two flights to get from central Pennsylvania to Los Angelas,then a fourteen hour trans Pacific flight.Roughly twenty-eight hours of travel time,but very much worth it.We spent the first three days in Sydney mostly relaxing and enjoying the city.We did the Harbour Bridge climb on our second morning there.It was nowhere near as strenuous as it may sound.It was informative with wonderful views of the city and betond.Most of the rest of the time was spent sightseeing. From there it was off to The Red Center.We spent the next three days in Yulara in the shadow of Ulara,aka Ayer`s Rock,probably the most photographed place in Australia outside of Sydney.It is a fascinating area.Beautiful desert scenery all around.We also hiked in an area known as Kata -Tjuta or The Olgas,another interresting group of rock formations.There was also a trip to Kings Canyon where we went on a very nicethree and a half hour hike,where we saw some unusual terrain and had spectacular views of the surrounding outback. After leaving Yulara we traveled north to Darwin.This was our base to see Kakadu National Park.While on tour in Kakadu,our guide explained a great deal about local Aboriginal culture,including their rock art which is prevelant in the area.Unfortunately we did not encounter much wildlife in this area. As enjoyable as the trip had been to this point,I was looking forward to our next stop,Cairns.Five days here was not nearly enough.Up until now,we had everything planned in advance when we booked the trip,but Cairns offers so many options that we decided to wait to plan any tours.We were not disappointed.We took a guided tourof the mountainous rainforrest areas just inland which included a stop at a crocodile farm.There we saw some real monsters of reptiles.One of the crocs is eighteen feet long.On the other end of the wildlife spectrum,we got to hand feed some very gentile,very cute kangaroos.Quite an experience.They also have a couple of cute dingo pups there.Finally,I got to handle a relatively small(five feet or so in length)python.Not gross or scary at all.In fact,I liked that quite a bit. Now for the good stuff.Day three in Cairns had us traveling north to Port Douglas to board Poseidon for a trip to the Angincort reef area of the Great Barrier Reef.Poseidon carries roughly eighty passengers,but on this trip I was one of only twelve certified divers.We were divided into two groups of six plus a guide for the first two dives.Only five of us did a third dive. The diving was all I had hoped for.A wide variety of fish in all shapes,sizes and colors in large numbers.No huge fish,but the variety made up for that.The diving was mostly from twelve to eighteen meters,with maximum depth of twentey five meters.Excellant visibility and water temps around seventy five degrees,but for some reason I was getting a bit chilly,as was my friend who was just snorkeling.I wore a hooded vest for the final dive.Some hilights were some very colorful giant clams,moray eelsand many,many clownfish.I did catch a glimps of a reef shark in the distance,but I was hoping for a closer encounter.There were so many fish and brightly colored coral that even if I could recall them all there is not enough space to list them here.It is better to experience it for yourself anyway. After another day of touring different section of rainforrest and kangaroo spotting we went back out to the reef,this time with Seastar,based in Cairns.Since the boat was docked just a five minit walk from the hotel we were able to get a bit more sleep and have a full breakfast beforegetting to the dock.Seastar took only twenty passengers out to Michaelman`s Caye and Hasting`s Reef.I was the only certified diver,so I got personalized treatment.Very cool.The dives here were shallower,and the marine life of greater variety than at Angincort.This could be explained by the fact that these areas have only recently been re-opened to dive operators.As I said,there was a wider variety of marine life,but the numbers of fish of an individual species was smaller than farther north.Nearly all diving here was done above ten meters.We had clear skys,so visibility was fantastic and the colors amazing.It just can`t be described with words.I can`t imagine better conditions.Again,the water temp was around seventy five,maybe slightly higher.When I booked this tour,I requseted a full suit to avoid getting chilly again.Since they only carry shortys as hire gear,one of the crew let me borrow his five mil semi-dry.It was a pain to get on and off,but I am glad to have had it.If you are fortunate enough to be n Cairns,I highly reccommend a trip with Seastar.The crew is fantastic and the diving is unbeatable.I did not get to see any turtles on this trip,but thesnorkelers saw several.My friend even got a thirty second video of one swimming near him. Now it is back to Sydney for the last three days.We only arrived in late afternoon so that day was just to relax.The next day we went west of the city to the Blue Mountains.There is spectacular scenery here,just like most of the rest of Australia.The tour we were on was mostly a sightseeing deal.We were on a small bus with ten tourists and a guide.We stopped at some of the better vantage points ang I was able to get quite a few good photos.The guide was also very informative,telling us of the history and geography/geology of the area.I would have really liked to take a hike into some of the valleys,but time would not allow for that on a day trip from Sydney.On the way back we got a brief tour of the Olympic Park. The last day was completely unplanned until the day before.My friend and I decided to go our seperate ways for the day.I headed over to the northern suburb of Manly,where I got to make a shore dive at Shelly Beach.Not quite the Great Barrier Reef,but still very good diving.There were several port jackson sharks a few small rays and a weedy sea dragon.Strange looking,but very interresting.Again,good visibility(four to seven meters) with water temp around seventy two.Maximum depth of eleven meters. Finally,to end the trip,I was lucky enough to secure a spot, with the help of the hotel consierge,for the 2:00pm shark dive at Oceanworld Manly.After some breifing and paperwork,myself and two other divers and two guides got into the aquarium with giant rays,turtles and some big,fierce looking,but not at all aggressive sharks.This wasn`t so much of a dive,as we just walked along the bottom to a spot and stood in place while the sea creatures made their way around us.The aquarium water is pumped in from the harbour to simulate the natural cycle of the creatures habitat.This was a very cool experience.Definitely something I would do again.Even though it wasn`t in the wild,it was very gratifying to see these animals just inches away without a glass barrier seperating us. That concludes my recap of the best vacation I have had to date.There are more nice ones to come although I do not expect them to match this one.There is no place else that can compare to Australia,but it can`t hurt to look.