2003 - Australia
Monday 7th April
We arrived from New Zealand to a hot day in Sydney and rested in the hotel until early evening. We had been told that the Rocks area was good for restaurants and set off to walk there. What we had not been told was to turn right off George Street - so we passed by the harbour front and the restaurants. However, we did find THE bridge and saw the Opera House. Then we asked a lady the way and had a good meal on the waterfront but it was pricey!
Tuesday 8th April
We had done a lot of research and included two discussions with the Information Offices before electing to buy a Day Tripper ticket which would let us have unlimited use of all transport. We took a ferry to Manley, about 30 minutes away which has an attractive sandy surfing beach on the Pacific coast. We also found a shop selling Lonely Planet books at 20% discount so we bought one on East Coast Australia and one on Tokyo - we feel much better equipped now!!
Then we returned to Sydney and walked around the Opera House before boarding
another ferry to Parramatta, a city suburb of Sydney with a colonial past.
The return journey was interesting for views but the destination proved less so as the houses we wanted to see were too far to walk to comfortably and the one we did reach was shut! However, we did see a pelican sitting on the post at the ferry and this was a consolation. On returning to the centre of Sydney we were thrilled to be able to buy the sun cream for Keren that we had tried for throughout our time in NZ. She had told us that she would like some if we could find it as what she had bought had run out.
Wednesday 9th April
A trip to the Blue Mountains- reminiscent of China: leave 7.15! We had deliberately chosen a small company and went with 14 others in a minibus. The company had packed into a single trip most of the features of all the other trips out of Sydney.
We started with a quick look at the Oympic Village which is huge and elaborate. The apartments have been sold off, the main stadium reduced by a third in seating capacity, and the remaining buildings are used some of the time. My own feelings remain as they have done for years that this is a colossal waste of resources and that a few permanent sites would make more sense. However, it was the site of the city rubbish dump and so this did represent a real improvement. Australia, as NZ, appears very conservation minded and are heavily into recycling. Kaikoura (NZ) declares itself a zero waste area.
We then visited Wonderland. This is really a zoo-cum-amusement park and has also the opportunity to "cuddle a koala". In fact you do not do so but stand beside one in a small "tree" and stroke it whilst your picture is taken. Another attraction was a show featuring sheep shearing (by hand and by power shears). It was very "cheesey" but one has to admire their skill - it takes 4-5 years to train and there are only about 50 men in the country able to shear with "blades".
We resumed our journey but soon stopped again at an industrial estate sited on ancient aboriginal land and went into one unit run by aboriginals and decked out with their art. A very good didgeridoo demonstration was given by an old man and a youngster. Then there was the opportunity, with no pressure, to buy their art - we succumbed and took the opportunity to also photograph the artist.
We then headed steadily upwards to the Blue Mountains. As the main road wound eastward there was steady traffic but the scenery became increasingly beautiful as we gained height. The area is heavily wooded and it is in fact the predominant eucalyptus tree that gives the blue haze. Apparently it is the oil released into the air by the tree that causes this.
We passed some older style buildings and towns that house the 50,000 inhabitants of the Blue Mountains area in 25 townships. In common with NZ these tended to be clapboard with corrugated iron roofs. All buildings are usually single storey but shops have the high facades with name boards and with verandas - all reminiscent of the wild west of America.
We stopped briefly in a park to learn the noble art of boomerang throwing before going to a Service Men's Club for a quite reasonable lunch. Then onward again - this time to an old coal mining area where the mines had been cut horizontally into the cliff face of a very steep sided and wooded valley. There was no external sign of this visible now although various items of industrial history lay abandoned in the forest land. We descended in a cable car that gave fantastic views over the Blue Mountains and also of the Three Sisters rock formation. We then walked through a section of rain forest where our guide/driver pointed out vines and various trees and informed us about them. Our return trip was by Katoomba scenic railway - the steepest railway in the world and in the Guinness Book of Records. It exceeds 51 degrees at its steepest.
On the road again, we stopped briefly for a photo shot across the valley back to Katoomba and also to see the valley and the Three Sisters.
After a longish drive back towards Sydney, the day finished with another ride on the ferry that we had used the previous day from Parramatta.
Thursday 10th April
We had found it difficult to organise a trip that covered something different. We selected a dolphin spotting trip to Jervis Bay. This is some 120 or so miles south of Sydney and was described by Gray Line as a Southern Highlands tour. This time we had 50 people on a double decker bus. As we had a front seat upstairs we had good views. We spoke quite a lot with a couple who had been farmers 100 miles west of Adelaide and were visiting their daughter in Sydney. This helped provide general info on life in Australia. The previous day we had simply listened to the endless questions of an American who nearly drove our guide mad!
The driver stopped to make us "Billy Tea" whilst he drank tea from a tea bag, and we ate Anzac biscuits which tasted very good - this might be because I had denied myself anything of wheat or dairy in connection with my migraine diet.
Our next stop was at Kiama where the sea produced fantastic spouts via a blowhole. The foam of the waves blew around as dandelion seeds do back home - quite amazing and we had never seen anything like it.
Lunch was on the boat prior to setting out for the dolphins. The wind speed was 20-30 knots and the captain decided to try the more sheltered areas to locate the dolphins. Unfortunately this proved unsuccessful and after 2 hours we set out for much rougher seas, leaving 2 passengers quite poorly. Eventually we found the bottle nose dolphins. There were perhaps 10-15 of these but, whilst larger than the dusky dolphins we had seen in NZ, they did not leap and we saw very little of them.
The return journey was via a very twisty road through Kangaroo Valley, but despite the existence of 60 million in Australia we did not see one. We did see a wombat, but sadly only a dead one at the side of the road. After a brief stop at a waterfall we returned home.
Friday 11th April
This was our own exploration of Sydney and we certainly packed it in! We started with a train and then bus to Bondi Beach. This was an interesting experience but Bondi itself was a little disappointing. The beach was much smaller than I had expected, although the surf was impressive. Despite temperatures in the low 70s, there were few people in the water and really no successful surfers.
We took the bus all the way back to Sydney which took an hour. With a run this enabled us to take a tour of the inside of the Opera House. This proved quite interesting and included facts such as the building period of 1959 to 1973, the impossibility of the original design, the nature of the tile covering of the outside that prevents growth to algae etc, as well as a brief look at a ballet rehearsal. We hailed a Red Explorer bus (a hop on hop off circular route with commentary) and went 90% of the way before getting off at Darling Harbour which Keren had recommended. Seeing a monorail we took this just for fun and alighted at the Queen Victoria Building - a shopping mall but in a refurbished huge Victorian building. Brenda at Jill's school had listed the toilets here as a sight not to be missed - despite efforts and a visit to 2 sets, we saw nothing out of the ordinary!
Then back to the hotel for a quick e-mail and goodbye to the concierge who had helped us with trips, we set off to the airport. The driver had a Japanese girlfriend and said we would love Japan. He also helped us with the most basic Japanese phrases.