My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

Terra Australis – Australian Capital Territory

I struggled to hide my disappointment. After driving through a thunderstorm to get there, our luxury accommodation was far from luxury. Under the darkening sky of a very cloudy evening we drove round southern Canberra around the parliamentary buildings and I thought to myself that what I had heard was right: here was a part of Australia that wasn’t worth visiting. We had given ourselves two nights here and one whole day on our road trip from Sydney to Melbourne and the place wasn’t really grabbing my attention. I wasn’t feeling it for Canberra. I was wrong. Not only that, but a day was in no means enough to see everything there was to offer, and we left Australia’s capital city knowing there was enough for a return visit.

We were staying within walking distance of the shops in Manuka, to the south of the Australian Parliament building. With a choice of eateries, shops, a cinema and a selection of bars, we found ourselves happy with our location the next morning where the sun shone down on us. With the forecast detailing another thunderstorm for the late afternoon, it was time to make the most of the sunny day and explore Canberra. The city is built in a series of circles and triangles. From the front of the nearby Parliament building on Capital Hill, we could see across Lake Burley Griffin towards Russell on one aspect, and the CBD on another. Marking the top point of the triangle is the large flag staff atop the Parliament itself, and it is clearly visible from most of the city.


From the outside, the Parliament building looks odd and (to me), visually unappealing. A water feature improves the look slightly and above the main entrance, a metal depiction of the Australian crest glinted in the sunlight. Walking inside however, past the security search point, your eyes are filled with the immense expanse of marble. The design and source of the marble was precisely chosen to represent the history of Australia as a nation, and looking around, the entrance hallway alone is worth a lot of dollars. Joining a tour of the premises, I was surprisingly enraptured with the history and workings of it all, learning about the Australian political system and visiting the house of senates and seeing those areas where laws are made and bills are passed. Despite having a largely European founding, Australia has taken a very American approach to its style of governing.


From the second floor, a lift whisks you up to the roof of the parliament which is partly grassed, and wandering around the roof outside, below the towering structure of the flagstaff, there is a 360o view of the city sprawl. The area is largely flat but there are some low hills dotted around. Standing in the centre of the roof, the eye travels immediately to the old Parliament building further down in the grounds, and past the lake to the War Memorial on the far side. The triangulation of Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue complete the vista. Behind the far end of Lake Burley Griffin, the Telstra Tower stands tall in the distance. Back down on the lower floors, a reminder of the country’s ties, a statue of Queen Elizabeth, stands in imposing bronze form in the beautiful and calming environment of the Queen’s terrace next to the cafeteria.


It was an incredibly hot day, well into the 30s, and we wandered round the gardens between Parliament Drive and Capital Circle. The ground was dry and crisp, and hidden amongst the trees lay tennis courts, a soccer field and a cricket oval. Only one garden was in bloom and it was full of yellow and orange flowers and a water feature. Down the road, the old Parliament building is now a museum, and when we were there it was partly hidden by scaffolding. Despite that it was still an impressive and dominating presence and it is flanked by yet more gardens. Facing the front steps, an Aboriginal tent embassy had been set up, and an Aboriginal flag flew on a simple post next to the word ‘Sovereignty’ with the War Memorial visible in the background. The nearby pavement was adorned with traditional Aboriginal paintings.


We took Kings Avenue to the far side of Lake Burley Griffin and drove up the dual road of Anzac Parade to the underground car park beneath the Australian War Memorial. It was the first week of January, and it was exceedingly busy. Standing on the front steps, the view looked back across to the two Parliament buildings, and behind me stood the domed roof of the memorial at the back of the museum. Three years prior, I had just moved to New Zealand from Scotland, meaning that just three years ago, I knew nothing about Gallipoli. In history classes at school, understandably, we were taught mainly Scottish and European history. After all, these cover a much more extensive time frame than that of Australia and New Zealand. With regards to World Wars, our classes focused on key battles between the British and German troops. Gallipoli was never mentioned. I’ve slowly begun to learn about the devastating events and losses that occurred on the Turkish peninsula through stories and memorials scattered between New Zealand and Australia, and I’ve learned the significance of ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) day, April 25th which is a national public holiday here each year.


Taking a self-guided tour of the museum, there were displays from the two world wars, including some impressive dioramas, a special ANZAC hall with the remains of several aircraft, and downstairs there were zones depicting more recent conflicts, and a section dedicated to the war in Afghanistan. Probably one of the most sobering parts was the extensive roll of honour which spanned the length of the outside courtyard on both sides, and listed the names of fallen soldiers. The board was adorned with hundreds of poppies, and at the end under the domed roof, lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. A nameless, faceless body, who will forever represent the thousands of people who lost their lives at war.


After lunch I took a wander down ANZAC parade to view the statues that adorned the side, and then we headed to Commonwealth Park for an up-close look of the lake. On the far shore lay the National Gallery of Australia, the High Court of Australia, and on the shoreline, a display of international flags. Within the lake itself, a jet of water shot up in a large fountain as part of a commemoration for Captain Cook. It was uncomfortably hot outside of the air conditioned car, so we drove around the waterfront to the National Museum of Australia and then around the city centre itself. Heading out past Acton, we stopped briefly at the Botanical Gardens but felt it was too hot to get out and enjoy them, so instead we followed the road up Black Mountain to the Telstra Tower. We had been told by staff at the Parliament that it had previously been open as a viewing platform and restaurant but that it had been sold by Telstra and had been closed ever since. Reaching the car park, there were too many trees to see the city, but we discovered upon getting to the tower, that the viewing platforms were in fact still open so we headed up. We could see the impending weather system moving in, but we still got a fantastic 360o view of the city and the ACT countryside around it. From here, the entire extent of the man-made Lake Burley Griffin is appreciable, and Canberra itself is completely visible, demonstrating how small it is as it nestles either side of the lake and in between the various forested areas that surrounds it.


Both evenings in Canberra were spent enjoying different eateries in Manuka, and both nights we went to different cinemas. The first night was at the poshest cinema I’ve ever seen, in Acton, and the second night at the cinema in Manuka. Fittingly that second night, we saw the Russell Crowe movie, The Water Diviner which was based around the events of Gallipoli, and as we sat watching it, the thunderstorm that had crept in during the day, finally broke and it was so loud we could hear it over the movie. When we came out, the whole city glistened as the last of the drizzle fell.

The following morning we were in no hurry to leave. To the east of Capital Hill on the south of the lake is Jerrabomberra wetlands. A mixture of pools and swamplands, there are several bird hides on a couple of tracks that allow you to spy on the feathered occupants of the area. It was also a known platypus zone, but as always, these elusive creatures were nowhere to be seen. Instead, we saw parrots, great egrets, swamp hens, geese, swans, ducks, and surprisingly (due to being fresh water and so far inland), a lot of pelicans. It was a peaceful place to be, and a nice way to pass the time.


Taking a detour to the sports district for my partner to see the Canberra Stadium, we rejoined the Barton Highway heading north west, and in no time at all, we crossed out of Australian Capital Territory, and back into New South Wales on route to Corowa.


Hosier Lane

Across the road from Federation Square, nestled between a collection of buildings, lies the apparently unassuming Hosier Lane. Take a wander through it, however, and a world of art is opened up before your eyes. Although evident in many parts of Melbourne, Hosier Lane is crammed with an ever-changing display of street art. This is not graffiti, this is most definitely a highly expressive art form, and it is very impressive.


The Princes Highway snakes its way south out of Sydney, leaving behind the sprawling suburbs of Australia’s largest city, and winding past the green expanse of the Royal National Park. Just an hour down the road lies Wollongong, sandwiched between the New South Wales coastline where it meets the Tasman Sea, and the Nepean mountain range that stands tall behind it. It was a perfect stop for breakfast on the first day of our road trip, and we navigated through the streets to find the beach and waterfront where a little harbour nestles next to Flagstaff Hill. In the sheltered waters of the harbour, people swam, kayaked and made attempts to stand-up paddle board. It was such a beautiful day and we ate our food staring out at the pelicans as they passed by.


It wasn’t much further down the road to the little coastal town of Kiama which was buzzing with people. On a little peninsula to the east of the main street, stands a lighthouse which towers over a rocky outcrop where a blowhole creates an impressive spray of sea water high into the air when the tide is right. Even at the wrong time of day, there were several decent-sized sprays emanating from the ocean below. There was a decent crowd enjoying the sunny morning.


For a while, the route south cut inland and we skirted past several settlements of varying sizes. We took another detour off the main road to go down to Jervis Bay. By the time we reached Huskisson on the western shore, a more inclement weather system had started to appear from the south-west. A popular place to go dolphin-watching, and with a lot of accommodation options, and several beaches in the area, it was bustling. Following lunch, we made a brief stop at the beach near Vincentia, and then steadily made our way back towards the Princes Highway.


The clouds had come and gone whilst we’d rested at Huskisson, but the further south we travelled, the closer we got to a front of dark clouds haemorrhaging rain drops. By the time we reached Batesman’s Bay, we were in the middle of a thunderstorm, and what I had hoped would be another stop was quickly abandoned. It was hard for the windscreen wipers to keep up with the deluge that hammered us as we took the turning onto the Kings Highway heading inland.


As we climbed up into the hills, the route got wetter and wetter until finally it eased off, although the heavy black clouds framed our journey the rest of the way as we exited New South Wales and crossed into the Australian Capital Territory. We briefly swapped states again as the border snaked across the road, before we crossed it once more, finally arriving in Canberra. Two days later, we again crossed back into New South Wales to the north of the capital, following the Barton Highway until it joined the M31, the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne.


The temperature gauge began to climb into the 30s early on, and by the time we reached the famous ‘Dog on the Tucker Box’, a quaint rest stop on the Hume Highway, it was sweltering. There were plenty of people at the cafe which stood next to the well-photographed statue, and we struggled to find a spot in the shade to eat our lunch. It reminded me of Queensland the year before – the incessant heat that saps your energy and threatens to make you irritable. By the time we reached Corowa on the banks of the Murray River, Australia’s longest river, it was 37oC. After a fantastic meal and catch-up with friends, we all took a walk to the river and I paddled in the Murray River at sunset with a cacophony of parrots above our heads.


On our friend’s recommendation, we stayed on the NSW side of the Murray River and headed west to Lake Mulwala which has a slightly eery feel about it thanks to a flooded forest. Large sections of the lake appear as a graveyard to hundreds of trees that poke out the water as a dead reminder of the past. Again the thermometer was starting to climb into the 30s making it uncomfortable to get out of the car for long. Crossing south across the bridge at the head of the lake we entered our third state, Victoria, and carried on through reams of farmland to Benalla, another quaint little place with a quaint little lake. From here, it was mere minutes to reach the M31 again and rejoin the Hume Freeway for our final leg to Melbourne.


We passed sign after sign for koalas, wombats and kangaroos, and as we reached the outskirts of Melbourne in the early afternoon, the temperature hit 40oC. For the second time in my life, we arrived in Victoria’s largest city, and wound our way through the northern suburbs to reach our accommodation. Unfortunately, by the time we had checked in, a thunderstorm had rolled over the city, and after hiding in one of the city’s plethora of eateries, we got caught out in the rain.


That night, we took part in a Melbourne summer tradition and made our way to the Queen Victoria night market. Thankfully the rain had cleared away although the heat was again unbearable, as we wandered through the ever-increasing crowds of locals and tourists who crammed into the space to enjoy the food, the music and the market itself. It was an enjoyable experience and I would have loved to have had enough space in my stomach to try more of the food on offer.


We didn’t see much sun for the rest of our holiday. The next day was overcast and threatened rain hour after hour. We went up the Eureka Tower so that my partner could get an aerial view of the city. I had done this on my last trip here when I had been on my own, and wasn’t overly impressed with it, but it helped my partner get his bearings and so we spent a bit of time there before heading along the Yarra river to Federation Square to get a tram pass to allow us to go to St Kilda. This was another place that I had seen but my partner had not. Just like last time, it remained overcast, although there were a few hardy souls lying on the beach and playing in the water. Last time I had failed to meet up with a distant relative due to having the wrong contact details but this time, getting caught in the rain on the way, we managed to find ourselves in the right location and I made two family members very pleased in the process.


Back in the city, we found ourselves at Hosier Lane, one of Melbourne’s most famous lanes, which is adorned with an ever changing array of street art. Over many years, every reachable inch of this lane has been transformed into a myriad of artworks, and over time, some of them are updated or replaced. Even as we wandered up it and its adjoining lane, a couple of artists were busy creating something new. Melbourne is famous for its street art and sculptures, and whilst Melbourne will never be anywhere near the top of my favourite cities in the world, I do love its quirky arts culture and its impressive choice of dining. Unfortunately, we lucked out with our choice of restaurant in Chinatown that night, and left rather disappointed.


Our final day of the trip was another grey one. My partner was keen to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground so we caught the tram and joined a stadium tour. Whilst I would rather watch paint dry than subject myself to what I find to be the world’s most boring sport, I couldn’t fail to be impressed with the stadium and its history, which was just as well as the tour was over an hour long. The lady member who led our group round was quite entertaining and it was interesting to get her female perspective, especially as she will never be able to sit in the special reserved area for those members who have been with the club for over 50 years, all because females weren’t allowed to become members until relatively recent times.


After lunch down a busy lane full of eateries, we headed to the Old Melbourne Gaol which housed the infamous Ned Kelly and which continued to be used as a penitentiary until surprisingly recently. We took part in a brief role play session, pretending to be criminals and being locked in a cell, before being let loose to wander through the dark corridors and around the tiny cells. Always keen to get the most out of every available opportunity, I even dressed up as Ned Kelly upon finding a dress-up set in the lower corridor.


Finally, killing time before heading to the airport for our overnight flight home, we wandered through a couple of Melbourne’s malls before being pleasantly surprised with the Penguins of Madagascar movie. After a quick trip to Max Brenners for a sickening cup of liquid chocolate, we made our way back to our hotel, grabbed our belongings and made our way to the airport for a long wait to check-in and an even longer flight home to New Zealand.


I can’t imagine ever losing that love for exploring and discovering new places, but as eager as I am to seek out new regions to explore, the list of places I’ve fallen in love with and yearn to go back to is a constantly growing list too. Just five years ago, I could not imagine me ever stepping foot on Australia’s soil, and now, living on the opposite side of the world, it is a mere jump and a surprisingly cheap airfare away, and I find myself drawn back there time and time again. I fell in love with Sydney on my first visit there 2.5 years ago, and with my best friend now living there, I’ve happily made the trip back a couple of times since. The minute I get off that plane at the airport, I feel home. Every stress and worry lifts off my shoulders and a mighty grin splits my face for the duration of my stay. After taking my partner there last year for his first trip to the city, he too fell in love with its charms and we vowed to go back there for New Years Eve.

After spending Christmas in Auckland, we flew from there on a beautiful sunny day and arrived first thing in the morning. We were once again staying in one of the best hostels I’ve ever been in, YHA at the Rocks, and we dumped our bags before making our way to some friends and family at Bondi beach. The city was packed, the busiest I’ve ever seen it, and there were long queues for the buses to Bondi. Stepping off on the main road at the beach, the whole area was a mass of bodies swarming along the pavements, and draped across towels on the grass and the beach.


One of the best things about staying in the Rocks area is the location. Not only does the hostel itself have a fantastic rooftop view overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but it is an easy walk to Circular Quay and two main transport hubs. Throughout the summer months, Circular Quay is often dwarfed by various immense cruise ships that berth there, and there was no denying that this was peak season. Just a few minutes walk from the hostel is the Harbour Bridge itself, and for the second time, I pulled on the jumpsuit and went through the safety briefing before heading up onto the arch. On my first visit, I had done a day time climb, but this time it was at night. The red sky was fading as we made it up onto the arch and by the time the group had summited, it was dark. Fruit bats flew past us as shadows against the twinkling lights around us, and the big draw with this time of the day was the near silence. With little goings-on below us, it felt a world away up there on the bridge, so tranquil and isolated, and we could really enjoy the experience with little external distractions.


The following morning we took the ferry to Kirribilli then headed up the coast north to Palm Beach. The sun was relentless in a cloudless sky, and even so early in the morning, the place was packed with people and cars. Eventually it was time to head off on the boat trip that we had come up for: a river cruise up the Hawkesbury River. It was a lovely little boat and we were lucky enough to get an outside seat to enjoy the view on the way up. For anyone who watches the soap Home & Away, Palm Beach is the location region, and as we left the wharf behind we passed the building and pier used as Alf’s Bait Shop and saw the Barrenjoey Lighthouse that sits atop the peninsula at the end of the beach. It is a beautiful location, and heading up the river there were small settlements scattered about the place with plenty of people making use of the waterway. There were plenty of pelicans at our first stop, and at the second stop there were 2 float planes making use of the waterway to take people on scenic trips. Finally we reached our destination, Bobbin Head, a quaint little place with a marina and park nestled into the upper reaches of the river. We ate lunch whilst a large shoal of fish fought over scraps of food, before heading back towards the sea and returning to Palm Beach. The sun was setting by the time we reached Kirribilli again and we had a beautiful view of the Harbour Bridge as the sun dipped behind it.


The next day was New Years Eve and it turned out to be one of the most relaxing New Years Eves I’ve ever had. Not normally one for being idle on holiday, I was unusually content to sunbathe for a while on the roof of the hostel before meeting my friends in Chinatown for a much needed Thai massage, followed by a manicure and a tasty lunch. My friends headed back to Kirribilli and I headed back to my hostel to meet up with my partner, and a few hours later we headed down to Circular Quay to catch the ferry. People had been marking their spot in Circular Quay since early in the morning, and by now, near 6pm, we couldn’t get through to get to the ferry. Officials sent us first one way, then the next until we were completely denied entry into the wharf. In the end, we had to catch a train across the bridge, but arriving on the north shore, there was a mass of people cramming down the stairs to exit the train station before being shepherded out only one exit, leaving us on the wrong side of the bridge. Eventually, after a longer walk than planned, we made it to the party in Kirribilli.


Whilst our view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were restricted, we had a prime view out across the harbour and as the hours passed, the water twinkled with the lights of hundreds of boats. With this against the backdrop of the lit up buildings on the shore, it was stunning. The water reflected all the lights and the sight was simply mesmerising. In between eating and socialising, we nipped up to the rooftop to view the various fireworks displays as well as a boat display and an aerial display as the hours ticked away. Eventually though, as the clock neared midnight, all the occupants from the whole block of flats piled out onto the roof to watch the fireworks. Only on the television can you truly appreciate the whole display, but even from our vantage point, it was an unforgettable experience watching the fireworks dance off the harbour bridge and then the opera house and finally starting up along the harbour. There were too many places to look, and for 12 minutes, the sky lit up with colour and the only sounds to be heard were the bang of the explosions, and the cheers from the audience. Eventually the crescendo came and went, as did the rest of the night, and in the small hours of the morning, we made our way back across the harbour and to bed.


New Years day was a scorcher, and we joined the large crowd of people in Manly on the north shore, taking a walk along the coastal walkway and generally perspiring. Later on we headed to Chinatown, and wandered through to Darling Harbour before sailing back to Circular Quay and an early night.


Since my first visit to Sydney, I had been keen to go to Jenolan caves deep within the Blue Mountains, but up until now I hadn’t had the time. Finally though, we made the nearly 2 hr trip by train to Katoomba to catch the bus to the caves another 1.5hrs away. It was a long way to go, but the scenery was stunning, and finally we wound our way down the narrow road to the caves nestled deep within a valley. The road itself goes through a natural tunnel in the road, coming out at a stunning building that is hidden away at the back. There are multiple cave tours to choose from, and we had selected the Chifley and Lucas caves. They were both fascinating in their own right, but the tour groups were far too large which marred the experience somewhat. Even in the middle of nowhere, it was very obvious that we were in peak tourist season.


In the first cave it was very difficult to hear what the guide was saying as there were so many of us in there, and many of the kids were either crying or talking. The guide herself was taking no prisoners, getting rather agitated and taking on a ‘school ma’am’ role, scolding parents for not quieting their children. We had little time to waste in the rather long queue to get food from the cafe, gobbling it down before having to leg it back to the cave entrance to join the second tour. By this stage, a thunder storm was rolling in, but deep underground we were completely oblivious until the lights all turned out and we were plunged into darkness. The back-up generator failed to kick in and so the second half of the cave tour was self-led by mobile torch light, and the occasional brief spell when the lights came back on prior to going out again. We emerged at the far end to a rain-soaked world, and the whole drive home was in lashing rain.


Our last day in Sydney, we met up with my friends for the last time, and caught the train to Paramatta. Not being a fan of Sydney’s CBD, I found Paramatta to be a much more pleasant place to go for shopping. It was a roasting day, and after a short time spent at the mall, we headed towards the river and waited for the ferry. As it turned out, the tide was too low, and we had to be bused to the next ferry terminal to catch it, but from there, we set sail down the upper reaches of the Paramatta river on route to Circular Quay.


That final night we boarded a tall ship for a dinner sailing around the harbour. With a bbq meal, and a licensed bar, it was a lovely way to spend the evening. I paid extra for the experience of climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest. As soon as we left Circular Quay, I got kitted up and set loose on the rigging. It was harder than I thought. Between the movement of the boat across the water, the long gaps between each rung and the narrowing rigging with height, it all added up to make it quite an exertion. When I finally reached the crow’s nest, I didn’t think I would be able to haul myself onto the ledge. After pausing for a few minutes though, I made the effort and stood proudly on the ledge looking down at a world that seemed so distant below. It was fantastic to look down on the deck below me, enjoying a moment that was privy only to me alone. It was the sight of food being served that drew me out my reverie and brought me back down to the deck and the rest of the passengers.


Another gorgeous sunny day followed, and we checked out of our hostel. Heading across town to collect our rental car, we set off on our next adventure…

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