Yes, it tastes like it looks.

Today in Australia, I ate a wood-fired kangaroo pizza, and the guilt was overwhelming. The kangaroo is a national symbol, for pete’s sake; it appears on the Australian coat of arms and on various currency—which made my lunch the equivalent of eating braised bald eagle in the States. I felt like Ted Nugent. And the pizza kind of sucked: a bland, soggy mess full of chewy ‘roo meat and pumpkin squash. Even Hannah rejected it, tossing scraps onto the floor from her high chair.

Manly Cove, the place we ate it, is a scenic beachfront suburb of Sydney. We were tickled to learn the name referred to its indigenous inhabitants, and meant what we thought it meant. “Their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place,” said Captain Arthur Philip (1738-1814), a British naval officer. Just think what America would be named if all explorers followed this practice.

Manly Beach was gorgeous: purple sand, clear water, cliffside views. There was a pedestrian walkway along the beach with a breathtaking view and a jogging woman with the greatest abs in the history of abs. Sarah and I both gaped.

You know how when you’re on vacation, you’re never sure what day it is? We’re not even sure what season it is. Even though it’s January, it must be summer, because we’re sweating our asses off.   

Being from Kansas and all, I’ve never surfed, and Sarah kept trying to get me to try. I suspected, however, that Manly was not the place to learn. First of all, the waves were massive; secondly, there were surfers everywhere, and they all appeared to know what they were doing. Thirdly, my performance was bound to be particularly un-Manly. I fell asleep on the beach, instead, with Hannah snuggled on my chest.

* * *

Why should I smile? You ate my uncle.

The next day, we took a tour bus to the Blue Mountains, a range of sandstone geological structures about 50 km from Sydney. The bus was full of Europeans (plenty of Swiss, British, German), Aussies, Americans, and a Canadian who looked like Wilford Brimley. We had the only baby, and she charmed the whole group, smiling at everyone regardless of nationality or smell. We bribed her with grapes and biscuits and Goldfish™.

The drive featured some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen anywhere: cliffs and forests full of gum trees, eucalyptus, coal mines, amazing vistas left and right. Once we got to the Blue Mountains, there was a hike through the blazing sun through thick foliage, me with Hannah on my back, until she got smacked in the face with a branch and started wailing, the big baby. Sarah carried her the rest of the way.

The Blue Mountains get their name because of a strange azure tinge the range gives off from a distance. We’re told it comes from the release of oils from eucalyptus forests. They were given their named by good old Captain Arthur Philip, who must have been feeling less saucy this time.

The money shot is the Three Sisters, a three-pronged mountain range that has been formed by years of erosion. (Eventually, all three will be gone.) The peaks, named Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, come from a story concocted for tourists about three Aborigine sisters who fell in love with three forbidden men from a neighboring tribe. This scandal led to war, so some witch doctor turned the sisters to stone to protect them from battle—then he promptly died in the battle, leaving no one to turn them back into humans.

A nice story, but I immediately began poking holes in it. “The guy is powerful enough to turn three humans into massive hunks of sandstone, and he gets killed in a battle? Why didn’t he just turn his enemies into stone?” Sarah told me to pipe down, that I was ruining the view.

The highlight of the Blue Mountains tour was a chance to see kangaroos lazing about in their natural habitat. We wandered through this sort of big nature preserve, where you could walk right up to the them. You’ve got to be quiet and careful, our guide warned, because they kick harder than the Brazilian World Cup team. Despite the danger, we really wanted to get a picture of Hannah with a kangaroo, so we risked (her) life and limb to shoot a bunch of shots. The unlucky kangaroo looked at us like, “Why me? I’m minding my own business here.” None of the photos came out well, which I suspect is retribution for that pizza.

Photography: Courtesy of Jeff Ruby