MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Blue Mountains”

Reacquaintance

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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Sydney for Two

When I was 19 years old, I travelled across Canada and fell in love with the city of Vancouver. It has, for over 10 years, remained my favourite city in the whole world. Until now. On my first visit to Sydney in 2012, I was travelling solo but this time, not only was I going with my partner and excited to show him my favourite places, but one of my best friends now lives there, meaning an insiders guide to the city. By the end of the week’s holiday, not only had I convinced my partner of the city’s charms, but I had sealed the love for the place which has firmly made it my new favourite city in the whole world.

We arrived on my birthday which was almost coincidental. The real reason we had booked the trip to Sydney was to see the live show of Mrs Brown’s Boys at the weekend. We decided to go a couple of days ahead, meaning no lie-in for me on my birthday. Instead, we had a ridiculously early rise to get to the airport, but the pay-off was that we arrived in Sydney still early in the morning, giving us the use of the whole day. After we hauled our bags up the many many steps from Circular Quay up into the Rocks, we reversed our route and jumped on a ferry out to Taronga Zoo. Last time I had visited, I had been blown away by the bird show and had sold it as a good enough reason to go to the zoo. Arriving in the early afternoon we wound our way through the exhibits under the blazing sunshine. Like Australia Zoo at the end of last year, I was as much (if not more so) enthused about the wild creatures flitting about, as I was about the animals in the enclosures. We were near the kookaburra enclosure when 2 wild kookaburras flew down onto the pathway, which was the closest I had ever been able to see a wild one. I felt sorry for the captive ones, as it seemed as if the wild ones were taunting the others. There was definitely a good bit of vocalisation in what was probably some territorial stand off.

 

I continue to feel very uneasy about captive mammals performing tricks for show, but I guiltily enjoyed the seal show. All the seals they have there were injured individuals that were rehabilitated, and they do seem to enjoy themselves, but I couldn’t help but watch and have thoughts of Blackfish in the back of my mind. From there, we headed straight to the outdoor amphitheatre where the bird show is held, but when we got there, they had a sign up informing us that the afternoon show was cancelled. I was rather disappointed, as it was the main reason for coming back here, but with views over the harbour and the city skyline beyond, it was still a good trip for the afternoon. That evening, we had a wander around the Rocks, and along Circular Quay towards the Opera House. The most amazing red sunset took place over the harbour, and we watched it until the darkness took over, before we headed back for an early night.

 

As an avid fan of Home & Away, it seemed only appropriate to make the long bus journey up to Palm Beach, north of the city. It was a lovely, though long, drive over the harbour bridge, through the northern suburbs and up the east coast past beach after bay after beach after bay. Most people got off at the wharf on the west coast of the peninsula, but we stayed on till it crossed to the east side, getting off at the park which backs the long stretch of golden sand. There was no mistaking this place for the back drop of the fictitious Summer Bay, but it was quiet with barely a soul around and the building that plays the part of the Surf Club was shut up and empty. The beach was stunning, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. We walked from the surf club to the southern edge of the beach where there were a couple of shops and restaurants but still very few people, then headed back to the surf club again. Unsure of how to get up to the lighthouse, we decided to head back to the wharf on the western shore where there was a bit more life, although still very quiet. Unlike the surf on the eastern side, this western side was very protected and the water was lovely and clear. We waded about for a while before heading over the brow of the hill to the pier where it turned out we had missed the one and only sailing of the day. With nothing else happening, and with neither of us having swimwear with us, we decided to head back towards the city. We detoured at Manly to head to the beach, another gorgeous stretch of beach which was conversely crowded with people: sunbathing, in the water, and generally milling about the place. After lunch overlooking the beach, we did a bit of shopping in the surf shops before heading back to Circular Quay. It had been a lovely but hot day, so it was almost a relief when the clouds rolled in for the evening.

 

We had arranged to meet some friends in Darling Harbour, so we opted to walk from Circular Quay round the harbour, under the Harbour Bridge and round the other side. Since last time I was here, part of the walk had been removed whilst building work was going ahead. A brand new casino is in the process of being built, amongst other things, so there was plenty of activity going on. We had to skirt the building site to get back to the waterfront at Darling Harbour and we followed the harbour round, cutting up at Tumbalong Park. I had previously found Darling Harbour quite garish and brash, and hadn’t been a particular fan of the place last time. This time, it was a little different. Whilst still a bit loud and intense, it is changing quite a bit. The monorail tracks are still in the process of being removed and there is some construction work taking place to redevelop it a bit. But it was Tumbalong Park that really helped me change my mind a little. It has an amazing children’s play ground with all sorts of structures for them to play around, and climb over, as well as paddling pools and water features for them to interact with. Being a Saturday, it was absolutely mobbed, and it seemed a great place to keep the kids cool and entertained at the same time. There was plenty of eating options nearby for the parents to get a snack or drink to indulge in whilst supervising their children at play. In the green space behind there was a Thai festival taking place, with stalls serving a wide range of Thai foods, as well as tents to indulge in a Thai massage, tourism spots for Thailand, and Thai entertainers.

 

After a brief wander round, we cut over to Chinatown, another place I hadn’t been to last time, and we gawped at the tanks crammed full of giant crabs and lobsters on display in the windows of the restaurants. It was just a case of crossing the street to go inside Paddy’s Market, one of the largest indoor markets I have ever seen. It was huge, and the range of things on offer was immense, from clothes and toys, to jewellery and souvenirs, and fruit and veg out the back too. We spent a wee while wandering around and still didn’t cover even half of the floor space. Outside at the corner was a wee takeaway shop selling some strange concoction of green tea. The English descriptions were quite vague, with most of the writing being in Mandarin, but I joined the queue and ordered a passion fruit green tea. The tea itself was really nice, but it came with a load of weird jellied sweets at the bottom that would get sucked up the straw and give a weird taste or sensation in my mouth. Looking around, the drinks seemed really popular amongst the predominantly Asian crowd, but I was slightly put off by those jellied sweets. Cutting back through Chinatown, we returned to the Thai festival and partook in a Thai-style neck & shoulder massage whilst waiting on our friends. It was sore in a good way, and the food from the stalls that we all sat down to afterwards was delicious. It was a good way to pass a few hours.

 

After our friends left, we caught the ferry back to Circular Quay for a brief respite before catching another ferry up the Paramatta River to the Sydney Olympic Park. The further up river we went, the more residential the buildings became, and the Olympic Park itself was a surprisingly large area incorporating some wetlands and several walks. Towards the back of the park, there are multiple events buildings and some restaurants. The bus from the wharf took us on a rather convoluted route before we eventually jumped out near the main stadium. Mrs Brown’s Boys was playing at the Allphones Arena and I was very impressed with the whole set up of the park in general but also the building itself. The food and merchandise areas allowed a lot of people to get served at once, meaning quite an efficient service most of the time. They also allowed food into the main auditorium meaning we could sit down whilst we ate. The show itself was great. I was a little disappointed in the first half as, having watched all the series’ several times, it was just an elongated version of a couple of the episodes from the television show. Whilst padded out with plenty of humour and plenty of ad-libbing, it was hard not to feel like I knew a lot of the punch lines before they came. The second half was much better though, and when the cast came out at the end and ‘Agnes Brown’ read out some messages, it was hysterical. Just like in the television series, the actor who plays ‘Rory Brown’ can’t help himself sometimes, often bursting out laughing in anticipation of an upcoming line, and the banter between the cast with impromptu lines was hysterical.

 

The following day was an event that had been quite short-notice, having only found out about it within the week. We caught the train to Blacktown Station on the Blue Mountains line, and from there caught the free shuttle bus to the Sydney Motorsport Park for the Top Gear Festival. My memories of Top Gear on British television go back years, and with a rather long waiting list to be in the audience of said show, I jumped at the chance of going to the festival when I found out that both Jeremy Clarkson and James May were to be there. There was a lot going on at the festival, from stunts and racing displays on the track, to stunts to take part in, as well as stalls selling everything you could ever need for a car, and opportunities to meet drivers, as well as multiple racing car simulators. After a morning spent wandering round the stalls and looking at a lot of cars, we settled into the grandstand seats for an afternoon of stunts and action. The range of stunts was amazing, from motorbikes in mid-air to trucks driving on 2 wheels, and even the Top Gear presenters got in on things. The absolute highlights of the afternoon included Jeremy Clarkson challenging an Olympic Hurdler to a race; car football, whereby James May & Jeremy Clarkson took on the Australian Top Gear presenters at the wheel of Reliant Robins; and a car attached to a bungee cord with someone sitting at the wheel. It was a fantastic day, more than worth the entrance fee, and considering that it had been short notice, it was a major highlight of the trip.

 

After a long day, we took ourselves round to Chinatown where we went in search of a restaurant to have dinner. Just walking down the main street we were almost grabbed at every restaurant by one of the staff trying to tempt us in with their menu and general refusal to take no for an answer. We didn’t make it far before giving in to one determined woman, and taking a seat outside in the warm evening air. We weren’t disappointed though: the food was divine and we ate our fill heartily, watching the large crustaceans being presented to various customers at the restaurants around us. Down the street a busker was playing a lyre and on the boat back to Circular Quay, a lightning storm rolled in to the south of the city, momentarily lighting up the city skyline in a beautiful purple glow. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

 

The next day brought clear blue skies, and a return trip to Manly in the morning which gave fantastic views over the city, the harbour and the Tasman Sea beyond. Back in the city, we jumped on a bus to Bondi, a place I had seen through the rain on my last trip. On this day, it was hot, sunny and the beach and surrounding streets full of eateries and shops were packed. Lunch was enjoyed on a grassy hill behind the beach, people watching those around us whilst trying to fend off the swarm of seagulls that threatened to ruin our enjoyment. Eventually we took to the promenade and wandered along the beachfront before hooking up with the coastal walk south to Coogee. It was a popular walk, and I could see why. On such a beautiful day, there were cracking views north and south along the dramatic coastline, but round every bay was another inlet with another beach offering a multitude of choice for sunbathing, swimming and surfing. Each little bay was beautiful in its own way, and after an hour of snaking round the rugged coastline, we came across Coogee. Coogee was just as gorgeous as Bondi was and nearly as busy, and after all the walking in the heat, the iced coffee from the cafe across the road was well earned and well received. Catching a bus back into the city centre, we retrieved our bags and caught the train to Redfern where my friends live. From the balcony of their flat they have an awesome view back towards the city centre, and I am more than a little jealous that they get to live in this incredible city. It was great to get a local’s perspective of the place, and with them having previously lived in neighbouring Newtown, we headed there for dinner where there was lots of choice for food and drinks.

 

Our last full day was a long one. Getting up early, we caught the Blue Mountains train to Wentworth Falls, the location of my favourite of the 3 walks I did in the region. I had talked this trip up to my partner for months and was determined to show him why I loved it there. After nearly 2 hrs, we stumbled off the train with a few other groups of walkers and jostled with them on the way to the park and on the Charles Darwin walk through the forest. We had been told about a flash storm that had hit the region not long before we arrived in the country but the water level in the river was less than when I had been there in September 2012. It was still a beautiful walk along the riverside, past several waterfalls until we came out at Wentworth Falls and that oh-so-familiar view of the expanse of the Blue Mountains. Like last time, there was a crowd of people at the top of the falls, and the various view points on the way down the steep staircases to the side of the falls, down the canyon wall. Upon reaching the ledge of the National Pass, the crowds thinned out, with many people going no further and heading back up the stairs.

The path passes under the top section of the falls, and above the bottom section, and from here onwards, we had the path mainly to ourselves. Hugging the natural cliff ledge, we walked under dripping overhangs and across stepping stones with loud cockatiels flitting amongst the branches of the thick vegetation. At the far end, we stopped for lunch before heading up the many steps past a couple of waterfalls back up to the top of the canyon, and up to the cafe for a rest stop. The Overcliff track back to the starting point of the hike was closed due to storm damage, so we had to take a detour which shortened the return leg dramatically. We managed to cut back to the cliff edge for the Undercliff track which gave us a higher view of Wentworth Falls and a last sighting of the expanse of the Blue Mountains before heading back up Darwin’s walk to catch the train back to the city.

 

Our flight home the next day was in the evening which gave us some time to have a leisurely breakfast with our friends in Newtown before catching the ferry out to Watson’s Bay to meet up with another friend for lunch. We went to the famous Watson’s Bay hotel by the waterfront which was surprisingly busy on a week day. Still stuffed from a late breakfast, we forced down some fish & chips, then went for a walk over to the ocean where the waves of the Tasman Sea pound against the cliff edges. It is a beautiful and dramatic coastline but the renovations to pull back the barrier, the security cameras that had been installed, and the various signs for the suicide hotlines (all of which were new since my previous visit) drew attention to the darker side of these cliffs. None-the-less, we vowed to walk from the heads all the way down to Coogee if we were to come back again. Sydney’s charms had worked their magic on my partner and he is as in love with the place as I am. It was with sadness that we caught the ferry back to Circular Quay. We could see smoke arising from behind the city, and we discovered later that part of the new casino under construction at Darling Harbour had caught fire. We collected our bags and headed to the airport, but before our plane had even taken off from the tarmac, we were well under way with making plans to return.

Terra Australis – New South Wales

The more I travel, the smaller I feel; like a tiny grain of sand in a vast desert. Sometimes, when I am travelling long distance or visiting somewhere new, I imagine my location in my head and then I can zoom out like on Google maps, and picture myself as a little pin on a map. It gives me a sense of how small I am to the world, and it adds a degree of thrill to my journey. Arriving at a destination that I have seen in photographs for most of my life, and just being there and feeling it all, is a large part of why I love travelling – the butterflies and the grin that I can never hide from my face makes all the months of saving up and waiting worthwhile.

It was just like that the day I stepped off the train and saw the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour bridge in front of me. The sun had shone for my arrival in Australia, and I found myself in the centre of Circular Quay surrounded by the bustle of locals and tourists alike. I was staying in the Rocks area of the city, at a hostel which consequently became one of my favourite hostels ever, the relatively new YHA. The view from the rooftop balcony overlooked Circular Quay with the Opera House standing guard at the Quay entrance, and the Harbour bridge to the side. I could never get enough of this view.

 

I set about getting myself on a boat, and headed out through the harbour heads into the Pacific Ocean in search of humpback whales. We sailed down the coast past Bondi beach which was barely visible on the coastline as we turned further out to sea, reaching about 10km off shore before coming across 3 male humpback whales. At this time of year, in September, the whales were migrating south towards the rich Antarctic waters for the Southern summer. The mothers and calves follow close to shore for relative protection, whilst the males stay further out to sea, near the east Australian current. I know that I will never get bored of seeing these creatures, no matter how many times I come across them, and they gave us quite a display of lunging out the water, breaching, and tail slapping. We spent a long time with them, bobbing about on the ocean before heading back, passing below the Harbour Bridge into Darling Harbour before heading back to Circular Quay. Whilst Sydney’s CBD is nothing spectacular, this city to me is all about the long stretch of waterfront, and I took to spending my evenings wandering around the waterfront, soaking up the atmosphere of glorious vibrancy.

 

Under a glorious blue sky, I took the ferry to Manly on the north shore. Manly straddles a peninsula at the eastern margin of Sydney harbour, with the sheltered bay to the west, and the openness of the Pacific Ocean to the east. I followed the coastline round the peninsula, past Little Manly Cove, Spring Cove and out into the Sydney Harbour National Park. Whilst walking through the bush, I came across a Bearded Dragon. They are a fantastic lizard that are very popular as pets in the UK. As a vet with an avid interest in the more exotic patients, I have seen plenty of them in my clinic over the years, but like many things, I was ecstatic to see a wild one, and watching it shuffle around in the undergrowth, made me sad to think of all those captive bred lizards that don’t get to experience this lifestyle.

 

Eventually the route swung back towards the beautiful, but exposed, stretch of Manly beach, and I joined the crowds once more. Cutting back through the main streets back to the ferry terminal, I continued west this time, following the coast through North Harbour Reserve, Wellings Reserve and into another section of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Away from the streets of suburbia, it was peaceful, though oppressively hot, and I was getting quite thirsty. I trudged as far as the Spit Road bridge, hoping to find somewhere to eat, only to find nothing apart from a park bench, so after a brief respite, I began the long walk back to Manly to catch the evening ferry back to Circular Quay. The sun set as the ferry headed off, and we approached the main terminal beneath a beautiful red and yellow sky.

 

One of the things that I had wanted to do in Sydney since first finding out about it, was to climb the arc of the Sydney Harbour bridge. I headed to the check-in station early with the sun beaming above me and barely a cloud in the sky. However, between checking in, going through the briefing, getting kitted up, practicing our clipping on technique, and actually getting out onto the structure of the bridge, the clouds had rolled in and a breeze was picking up. It was still a pleasant walk amongst the lower girders of the structure, looking out to the traffic and boats below, and to either side of the harbour vista. As we climbed higher onto the outer arc, the wind speed was picking up considerably. It was still sunny enough for our official photographs, and I enjoyed the view and the climb immensely. By the time we reached the summit with the Australian flag flying proudly, it was gusting 82km/hr, and as I posed for my triumphant photograph, the wind threatened to take me off my feet. The return journey was made difficult by the crosswind whipping at us from the side, drumming into my ears, and forcing me over to one side as I negotiated the descent step by step. The noise had become quite painful in my ear, so I was glad to regain the relative shelter of the lower girders. The wind continued to pick up, and the clouds became denser as the day wore on, so I was definitely lucky to have gotten up when I had.

 

The Royal Botanical Gardens sits immediately east of the Opera House. Following the promenade round from Circular Quay, I got up close to the Opera House, and was nearly blown away. Literally. The wind was whipping up across the water, and when I turned the corner, out of the protection of the building, it blasted directly in my face. With it came the overcast sky, and there was occasional drizzle as I wandered through the gardens, cutting up and down various routes, eventually coming out at Woolloomooloo Bay. One of the penthouses across this bay is reported to be owned by Russell Crowe, and the eateries on the wharf seemed very upmarket. As I walked along the edge of the gardens, I was surrounded by sulphur-crested cockatoos. These were another species that I was more used to seeing in captivity as pets in the UK, and I loved watching the flocks of them screaming above the streets of the city in the evening, coming to roost in the trees above my head.

 

One of the peculiar things about Woolloomooloo Bay is that there is a block of apartments that have a publicly accessible roof garden. The path leads out from the Botanical Gardens, over a bridge, and along the roof of the building past flowers and bushes, and even up to a little viewing platform at the far end. Heading into the city itself, I delved deep into the busy streets of the CBD, and wound my way south towards Central Station. From there I took the soon-to-be-removed monorail to Darling Harbour and spent my evening there enjoying ice cream, and taking a wander around the compact aquarium. Rounding off the day was a trip to the State Theatre to see one of my favourite comedians, Bill Bailey. I was so excited when I discovered that my trip to Australia coincided with his World Tour, and I was exhausted from laughing so much by the time the show finished.

In the early hours of the following day, I caught a taxi back to Central Station, and jumped on a train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains National Park. After the heat of Sydney, I got a bit of a shock at how cold it was when I got off the train. I hurried to dump my backpack at the hostel before pounding the brief streets of Katoomba town, and out the other side to Echo Park. The Three Sisters is one of the most photographed, and therefore recognisable natural features of the National Park, and when I reached the viewpoint at Echo Point I was not disappointed. Immediately below me was an impressive canyon, covered in dense bush, with the iconic Three Sisters just off to my left. I was excited to discover that there was a trail leading out onto the first of the sisters, and then down a very steep collection of stair cases to nearly the bottom of the canyon. The view was amazing, although often hidden by dense bush, and on reaching the bottom, I headed west on the Federal Pass, surrounded by dense trees, and under watch of the myriad of parrots that flew in flocks above me. The route eventually brought me out at a memorial for an old mining system that used to be there, and after a brief walk through the exhibit and trail, I took a ride up the canyon on the world’s steepest incline railway, bringing me back out at the top of the gorge. By this point, the sun had shifted in the sky, and I had a differing perspective of the Three Sisters. It was an easy walk to the same viewpoint, and having noticed some waterfalls marked further round on the map, I decided to keep hiking. Staying up high this time, I passed by the Three Sisters for the last time, and hiked on the Overcliff Track first to Leura Falls and onwards to another waterfall even further east. I found myself in a part of the track that had been devastated by a bush fire, benches charred, wooden steps disintegrated and the remnants of bush blackened and crumbling. It was an eerie sight. Eventually, as the sun was preparing to set, and the temperature dropping, I cut back towards the streets of Leura, and dragged my aching feet back towards Katoomba for some much needed sustenance.

 

Full of enthusiasm for exploring the beautiful outdoors, I hopped on the train to the nearby stop of Wentworth Falls. I had been given a map and some advice on walks in the area the day before by an enthusiastic woman at the information centre at Echo Park, and today I was following her advice. I’m exceedingly glad I did, for this day was one of my favourite days of my whole holiday. Cutting through Wentworth Falls itself, I headed straight for Wilson Park and Darwin’s Track which followed a path through native bush alongside a stream as it built into a river, passing little waterfalls and pools on the way. It was a long walk, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at the end of it. Eventually though, the bush opened up before me to expose a large canyon, and I found myself at the top of the Wentworth waterfall looking out on a grand vista of thick native bush carpeting the canyon floor, and steep canyon walls on either side of me. I instantly felt tiny and insignificant, and for a moment I stood silently taking it all in. There were quite a few tourists waiting around to take photos from the top of the falls, and after I had my turn, I headed off on the National Pass track. This track involved a steep descent down the side of the canyon, skirting the waterfall itself, to a ledge roughly halfway down. From here, the track cut over the water at the base of the first section of the waterfall, but above the second section. It then hugged this ledge for some distance, providing a most spectacular view for a most spectacular hike. It was a busy trail, multiple people taking the path in either direction, and I even came across a little marsupial at one section. All around were flocks of loud parrots, mainly cockatoos, both sulphur-crested and black. Eventually the track brought me to another waterfall, and from here, it climbed back up to the top of the canyon where I took a nature walk through the bushland before heading back along the ridge-top to the falls, and back through the Darwin track to the train station. It was an epic hike in what felt like wilderness, despite the amount of other people there.

 

Another day, another train ride, this time to Blackheath where I walked through the edge of town to Govett’s Leap, another spectacular lookout over another stunning vista of canyons and bush. I managed to get about 10 minutes of peace at the lookout before a school bus arrived, and a whole class of teenagers bustled out and took over every inch of viewing space that there was. I left them to it, and headed along the Pulpit Rock track, passing above Bridal Veil Falls towards Evan’s Lookout. A little back from here was the start of the Grand Canyon walk. As I started the descent, I met a few people on the way up. None of them had done the full walk, they had all gone down to see the view from the canyon floor and were coming straight back up again. They commended me on doing the full hike and I wondered several times on the way down if I was letting myself in for something extreme. Aside from a few rock scrambles in the river bed, the walk itself was not too difficult. But it was through thick bush, and it went up and down so much that it was tiring, and after a while, just a little bit tedious. Unlike the previous day’s hike which had rewarded me with a fantastic view at every turn, there wasn’t much to see here but trees, and there was little bird life to keep me company. The canyon twisted and turned, and I began to wonder if I had underestimated the time the walk would take me. Eventually, I came round a bend to find a woman beginning to strip off her clothes. I quickly alerted her to my presence, and she went bright red as she turned to see me. It turned out, there was a group of people ahead that were going canyoning through the river, and she had separated herself so as to change into her gear. They blocked the pathway with their equipment, but everyone welcomed my presence and we passed pleasantries as I squeezed past them to continue with my hike. They gave me the most welcome news that I was nearing the climb back up to the top. Back at the canyon top, I followed the road a little while before heading up a dirt track to join the Breaside walk. As the shadows stretched, and the temperature dropped a little, I came out at the top of Bridal Veil Falls again. Heading back to Govett’s Leap, I enjoyed some more time at the lookout before following the Pulpit Rock track to join Popes Glen walk back into Blackheath.

 

It was an early start back to Sydney. The train was crammed with people heading into the city, and when it reached Central station I thankfully didn’t have far to go. My hostel this time was attached to the train station, but it was stuffy and the window to the dorm room opened into the train station itself, so it was easy to hear the goings on of the busy platforms. On arriving, I was immediately absconded by an exiting backpacker who was looking for someone to look after her surfboard whilst she went elsewhere for a few days, to save her carrying it. Hostel life and backpacking in general involves a lot of trust and open mindedness. I’ve had some bad experiences in hostels before, from cold and damp rooms, to stolen food, people having sex in a bed across the room, noisy snorers and rude roommates who refuse to acknowledge your existence. It’s all generally part of the experience. But on the good side are the shared travel stories and tips, someone to keep you company, and the genuinely nice people that you meet. When no-one else would help out this girl, I agreed to look out for her stuff at the hostel and let her back in at the end of the week to get her things back before her flight home.

That first day back in Sydney I quickly headed back to my favourite place: the waterfront, and hopped on a boat over to Taronga Zoo on the north shore. I have mixed feelings about zoos. Whilst I appreciate that they allow people to see animals that they would otherwise never see, and potentially educate them about them, as well as offer breeding and conservation programmes, I’ve spent too many visits at too many zoos cringing at the cramped enclosures and depressed-looking animals within, pacing back and forth, back and forth. I had heard mixed information about Taronga, so I headed there with trepidation. From the ferry terminal there is a gondola ride up to the entrance building, and this swung above one of the elephant enclosures, giving an unusual perspective of these creatures. Having been duped into the typical tourist folly of expecting to see koalas and kangaroos at every turn in Australia, it was my first chance to see these native creatures in this country. Having seen them in other zoos in other countries, I was a little disappointed with the irony of needing to go to a zoo in their native country to see them too. Whilst the zoo suffered from the same space restrictions as other zoos, meaning that there were several of those moments of cringing next to an all-too-small enclosure, there were several areas where the occupants appeared to be catered well for, and in all, it did rate as one of the better zoos that I had been to for a while. I was disappointed that the giraffes were not on display as I had hoped to be able to hand-feed them, but I happily spent several hours walking round amongst the immense crowds in the immense heat, all the while getting a varying view out into the harbour, and back towards the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. In fact, it is often joked that the zoo is on prime real estate with regards to their harbour views. The one thing that made the whole entry price worth it though was the bird show. I sat down at the back of the mini-amphitheatre, looking across the harbour to the Opera House with no expectations, and was pleasantly taken aback by the antics of the birds and some rodents. The handlers deftly sent the birds flying through the gathered crowd to gasps amongst the audience, and I was outwardly grinning at the surprising display that the handlers had trained them for.

 

On yet another ferry from Circular Quay, I headed east to Watson’s Bay on the south shore. It was another blisteringly hot day, and after a delightful breakfast in a little cafe along from the ferry terminal, I headed across the isthmus to the eastern shore and the bluff that took the brunt of the Tasman Sea. I followed the clifftop south through Gap Park and Signal Hill before heading back, and cutting through another part of the Sydney Harbour National Park to Camp Cove. Camp Cove is a beautiful, though popular, stretch of beach, and there were plenty of people swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. I paused there for a while to rest my feet before following the tip of land round past a nudist beach to an old gunnery and lighthouse that used to protect the harbour entrance. It was quite windy here, being so exposed to the ocean as it was, so I didn’t hang around long before heading back to the ferry terminal.

 

Whilst the evenings at the Rocks had been spent enjoying the view from the rooftop, and enjoying the vibe round the waterfront, the area around the train station left a lot to be desired. It was a good hike south to a mall for some food each night, and the nearest cinema. The immediate area around the train and bus station was rather drab and devoid of anywhere decent to go. The cinema was rather poorly designed, with no tiers to the rows, meaning that anybody sitting in front of you blocked a large portion of the screen. Having sat through the direness of Kath & Kim-darella (where else would you watch an Australian-made film, but in Australia?), missing half the picture probably wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

 

Having climbed the Harbour Bridge the week before, I had received a voucher for reduced entry into the Pylon Lookout. One of the 4 pylons on the iconic bridge is open to the public as a museum to the construction of the bridge itself. At the top is a lookout offering a different perspective of the bridge itself and the busy road that passes across it. I can never get enough of the harbour vista, so for me it was another opportunity to get my camera and photograph the same things from a slightly different angle as before. By the late afternoon, I headed to the Westfield shopping mall to head up to the viewing tower. I hoped to get up to the top in time for the sunset, so I (among others), was monumentally pissed off to discover that we had to sit through a stupid 4D movie before being allowed up the tower. What was worse, only so many people could fit in the theatre at one time, which meant there was a queue for the pointless movie, and despite the pleas of another man near me in the queue, there was no skipping this section. He too was wanting to be at the top for sunset. To add insult, after standing through the movie, and getting wet, I slipped on the wet floor on my way out and landed hard on my butt. The usher saw me do it, but said nothing. He assumed that I was fine because I walked out, but I was irked by his lack of customer service. I was also rather peeved to get out of the lift at the top to be greeted by darkness. The sun had set, and there was very little light left in the sky. We had missed the sun setting. I hung around for a while, watching the city light up below me, but with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge hidden behind other buildings, I could have been anywhere.

 

My last day in Sydney was overcast, and gloomy. I took the ferry over to Luna Park which was closed, and headed along the harbour front round Lavender Bay and onto Berrys Bay. It was yet another alternate view of the city’s most famous landmarks, but I was really just killing time till my friend finished work. One of my university friends had moved to Sydney shortly after graduating, and this was going to be the first time I’d seen her in over 7 years. We had arranged to meet up to walk the Bondi to Coogee cliff top walk, but by the time I arrived at her local train station it was torrential rain. She took me on a road trip around the south harbour suburbs, including my first and only view of Bondi beach, albeit in the rain. It was fairly deserted, a far cry from all the photographs of crammed sands and surfers riding waves that adorn many holiday brochures and websites. I was impressed with the view from her apartment which looked back towards the Harbour Bridge, and she introduced me to some of the best ribs I have ever tasted. When her husband returned, we all headed out for dessert, and I was introduced to the world of Max Brenner. Max Brenner is a cafe-come-chocolatier who offers every possible chocolatey indulgence that you could think of. It is pure sickly sweetness in both liquid and solid form. I both loved it and felt sick with it at the same time.

 

After being driven back to my hostel, I said farewell to my friend, and settled in for my last night in New South Wales. The following day, I boarded an early train bound for Melbourne, eager to get there to see my partner who was flying in from Christchurch. I had a long 12hr train ride ahead of me, so I settled in for the long haul.

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