Sydney and NSW
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
Welcome to the penultimate chapter in this rambling journal. We're slowly heading towards Sydney and the final stop for one of us at least.
16 Mar 1997 - Berrima
Another long day's driving brings eventually to the 'historic' town of Berrima, about 130 km west of Sydney. We stay in the "Coach and Horses" cottage in the town center. The day ends on a emotional low point for us - I think the rigors of non-stop travel have finally caught up with us. 'Nuff said.
17 Mar 1997 - Blue Mountains
We plan to spend a couple more days in the country before heading into the big city. The big dilemma through was - sea or sky? More specifically, do we head South East to the coast and drive up the coastline into Sydney, or North East towards to the Blue Mountains? For no particular reason we choose the latter.
The drive took a little longer, not helped by the windy roads, and the fact that we were driving along the wrong windy roads all together. A one point the road came to an abrupt end at the edge of a cliff (this was our first clue we weren't quite on track), but the view out over a valley and large lake was quite awe inspiring, so that was OK then.
Lunch was a quick stop to chow on some chook in Picton and then onwards to the Blue Mountains. God knows why they call them that though, since they aren't really mountains and they're certainly not blue. In fact, the Blue Mountains are really a plateau, perhaps 1,500 feet above the surrounding countryside, with very step cliffs virtually all the way around. Most of the towns are perched on the edge of a cliff, and if you were a town planner in this part of the world, you'd do the same thing, because the views out over the valleys and the cliffs that surround are quite beyond words. I'm still working on the words, so I'll get back to this later.
Our first stop in the mountains is Wentworth falls, which is the name of the town and the river as it plunges over the edge of the world. The falls are over 900 feet high and that's about average around here. By the time they reach the bottom, the river (admittedly very low at this time of year) is nothing more than mist. There are several trails around here that join up the multitudinous lookout points, like god's dot-to-dot puzzle. Some of them actually run along the cliff face halfway down, where the rock has been eroded away. The views are still there and the words are still defying me.
After the usual frantic scrimmage in the tourist center, we find a place to stay, called the Crabapple Cottage. Turns out to be an entire house in a lovely wooden part of the town of Leura, and a short walk from the shops, bakeries, restaurants and wine store (with the biggest underground cellar in all of Australia). I think we find these kind of places on instinct by now.
After a bout of serious, heavy duty loitering, we drive out to "Sublime Point", another lookout on a promontory that juts out into the valley. We're the only people there and we take the short walk through the bush to the lookout point, which is right at the edge and surrounded on three sides by shear cliffs. This is the first time I can say "heart-stopping views" and really mean it. As we walked out of the trees, I could actually feel a lump in my throat, the views were just so overwhelmingly beautiful. And large. You had to be there, but the closest I can come to it is - take the Grand canyon, fill it with trees and you're close.
They Jameson valley below is just filled with Eucalyptus forest and the full range of Australian wildlife noises. Even though the trees were more than 1,000 feet below us, we could hear them quite clearly. The Sulfur Crested Cockatoos were making their presence know with a vengeance (we've come to realize that this bird is about as common as Pigeons). The whole Jameson valley is a wildlife preserve, to the extent that the public aren't allowed to even walk down there. Civilization such as cars and buildings are out of the question.
Anyway, I'm rambling. Dinner was supposed to be at a restaurant called "The Ferns" in Leura. The menu looked good and it had atmosphere, but apparently what it lacked was food. After an hour of waiting, we got talking to a threesome at the next table (Brits). They'd been waiting for and hour and a half, and had only seen two meals, which had to be sent back on account of being cold and raw! The advantage of a BYO is that until the food arrives, you owe them nothing, so we grabbed what was left of our wine and voted with our feet. We ended up instead in a café ("The Food and the Dishes" - get it?) and got some spectacularly scrumptious food in about 10 minutes. We were shortly joined by the three Brits who had also given up.
18 Mar 1997 - Blue Mountains
Drove out to Katoomba, another town 10 minutes away and paid a visit to a key tourist spot - "Echo Point" and the "Three Sisters". Echo Point was a lookout that again quite spectacular, with views over to the nearby Three Sisters. Unfortunately, it had the misfortune to be 50 feet from the car park and heavily marked on all the maps, so the place was full of tour busses disgorging their hordes. We didn't stay long.
Instead, it was back to Leura, pickup a picnic lunch and then out to Sublime Point again. We sat on this rock outcrop, dangling our feet over the edge, eating and watching the world go by. I think I can safely say it was the best picnic spot I've been to in this life time.
The afternoons was wasted lounging, doing a bit of shopping and catching up on the washing (take advantage of that washing machine when you can). Spent the evening learning the idiosyncrasies of a new BBQ the hard way (hard for the food anyway).
19 Mar 1997 - Blue Mountains
Today was supposed to be our first day in the big city, but after finding a gem such as Crabapple Cottage, we've decided to stay on for another night and 'do' Syndey in two days!
After our tentative explorations of the local trails yesterday, I decide that I'm going to spend this morning doing some seriouswalking. At 8am sharp, Lynn drops me off at the head of the "National Trail", which is supposed to bring me back to the start 4 to 5 hours later. It's graded as hard, but the trail runs along the cliff edge two thirds of the ways down and promises some spectacular scenery, so this is the trail for me.
The times are indicated as 'conservative', but an hour and a half later, I've done the vast majority of the loop including all the hard bits (there are a lot of stairs going down and up). The walk did deliver all that it promised through, and more. The trail descends the cliff face alongside a waterfall, and then goes under several more as you proceed along the cliff face. And when I mean under, I mean it literally - the stream is falling on you as you cross it. It's fine at this time of year, but in the rainy season it must be something else.
Anyway, I end up doing three different walks to pass the time before my midday rendezvous with Lynn and thoroughly enjoy myself. In the first three hours of walking, I only meet three other people. Cleve - you'd love this area.
Lynn picks me up at 12 and we drive back to Sublime Point and picnic again at our favorite spot. In the afternoon we drive a few miles north to the town of Blackheath and stick our noses over a couple more lookout points. These face in the opposite direction, in towards the valley that makes a huge dimple in the center of the Blue Mountains plateau. It's called the Grand Canyon!
20 Mar 1997 - Sydney
We make an early start this morning, and a beautiful one it is too. By 8 am it's blue sky and already 25 0C. The drive down to Sydney was uneventful, if a little slow. They have this great motorway (a.k.a. Freeway) most of the way, but it appears they've just discovered traffic cones, and we loose half of the lanes to them. Sydney, as the guide books warned us, is a regular old 'big city' and holds no surprises to anyone harking from USA or the UK.
Still, we drive through town to the area called The Rocks which is where the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge hang out. Its quite impressive. We have a spot of lunch at this little café right next to the Opera House - great views.
After lunch we drive east a couple of miles to our hotel. This is supposed to be a super-swanky place where all the rock stars hang out. It turns out to be in a slightly seedy area of town called Kings Cross. For those from the UK - it's similar in character to the British version! We were right about the stars though, there are memorabilia in the foyer from many of the all time greats (you be the judge), including Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Cliff Richard, Elton John and a few others we'd never heard of. The room we had wasn't bad, but I guess the high rollers go for something a little more expensive.
We while away an hour or so taking a dip in the roof-top pool and then we drive back to the Circular Quay, which is the hub for Sydney's extensive ferry system. To travel a little further a field in Sydney Harbour, it's the only way to travel (a lot of commuters certainly think so anyway). We jump on the JetCat to Manly beach, which is just north of the Harbour entrance. Surfer's paradise and warm water too!
After driving around a bit, we decide that King Cross is not too scary, and venture out in the evening for a little dinner. We're told by the receptionist that it's quite safe, just as long as we avoid the short-cuts through dark alleys.
21 Mar 1997 - Sydney
Breakfast's included in the room rate, so we make shameless pigs of ourselves. To burn off all those calories, we do a little more sightseeing in the car, taking in Bondi Beech (the surfer paradise). This being Saturday, the place is crawling with the dudes and there's nowhere to park, so we keep moving.
Back into town and we go our separate ways for the afternoon. Lynn drops me off to explore the delights of Darling Harbour, while she goes off to do a little window shopping.
Darling Harbour is just round the corner from The Rocks, on the other side of the Harbour Bridge. The is a little like Epcot-On-Water, but without the Disney tie in. One of the main attractions is the Sydney Aquarium, which is what brings me there. Turns out to be very enlightening, with the highlight being the huge shark tank that you actually walk through in a glass tunnel.
With a little time on my hands, I pay a visit to the IMAX theatre next door, which is apparently the biggest in the world - the screen is 8 stories high! They're showing the Everest picture that was filmed in the middle of the Everest disaster that happened during May 1996. I read John Krakauer's book (Into Thin Air) and so I was quite keen to see this film, which really brought home the monumental effort it takes to do this climb.
Anyway, back to the hotel for another dip in the pool and then out into the depths of Sydney's suburbs to hunt for a great last-night meal. Tomorrow, Lynn takes off for LAX and home, while I continue the adventure. My next stop is Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef for a few days diving on a Live Aboard. But that's just going to have to wait for the next, and final chapter…