19 Feb 2002 - Flying to Sydney
This morning we wave a fond farewell to Adelaide (sob sob), and jump on plane Sydney, enroute for the Blue Mountains (hooray!). After spending a week here in Adelaide and the Barossa Valley we are again enamoured with the place. Our initial misgivings when we arrived can, on reflection, can be attributed to the crummy weather and dodgy accommodation we had waiting for us. It's amazing what a week of hot sunny days will do to change your disposition!
Nick on...Airport Security It's quite a shock to take an internal flight in Australia after traveling in the US. The security measures over here are nowhere near as extreme (i.e. mindlessly overblown) as in the states. For example -
At Adelaide, you leave your rental car right in front of the airport (literally). There is no one there to greet you, you simply drop the keys off inside.
We were only asked for ID once at the check-in desk, and then only one of us had to produce it.
The security checkpoint was a breeze - no lines, no need to unpack every electronic item, take off your shoes, get a strip search, etc. You breeze through in 20 seconds.
Sydney airport still has luggage lockers! The only concession to security is that someone now has to come check your bags before you leave them in the locker.
Lynn and I are already on the hypothetical "we'd love to live here for a while" conversation (we do this just about every time we go somewhere we like) and of course the dilemma is where to live - Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide? Sydney is of course the most practical if you want to get a job (most of the software and publishing businesses are centred there), but housing prices are atrocious! Melbourne is a fun, beautiful town with lots of good restaurants, but most Australians agree that the weather sucks. However, Lynn and I agree that if we didn't have to work, Adelaide would be the place to be - the weather is great, the city is just the right size, the surrounding countryside is beautiful and the housing is dirt cheap. Still, it's tough to get a job there.
Anyway, I digress. After a very painless flight to Sydney (see sidebar), I wander off to pick up the rental car while Lynn gets the luggage. About 45 minutes later we finally manage to reconnect and head out of the airport. I made the mistake of doing an online booking and then compounded it by change the pickup date online also. Of course, the rental counter had no record of my booking (but it took many minutes of fumbling and keyboard tapping to work this out). Luckily I had the reservation printout so they had to give me a car, even though they were turning away other walk-up customers.
We leave Sydney in our shiny clean rental car (that won't last long) and head towards the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are an hour's drive west of Sydney and are really more like large hills than true mountains, but are stunningly beautiful nonetheless. The mountain range is one huge national park, and the highway goes across the main ridge, connecting all the towns along the way. On either side of it there are numerous dramatic cliffs and views out over the valleys, filled with rainforest and no human habitation at all. Wonderful!
As you may know, we arrived in Australia just a couple of weeks after they finally extinguished some of the most extensive forest fires in recent memory. Before we left the states we had seen amazing footage of thousands of acres of the Blue Mountains going up in smoke and flame. Therefore, we were a little apprehensive about this bit of the trip, expecting to see nothing but a lot of charcoal. We couldn't have been more wrong - if you didn't know what to look for, you would never have know that the fires had come through here at all. It turns out that the fires were actually a plus for us, in that many tourists have stayed away from the area, expecting (as we did) the worst.
Our first stop is the tourist information centre near Greenbrook. We had already booked ourselves in by email at Scribbly Gum Cottage in Leura for the first three nights and this was going to just be a quick stop for directions. 30 minutes later and for reasons too tedious to relate here, we leave with a 2 night booking at Acorn Cottage instead. Turns out this was a big mistake as the cottage was a bitty damp and generally crummy. We decide to stay the night and get the hell out of there tomorrow morning. The evening wasn't a complete loss however - left overs from Ying Chow for dinner! Yummy!
20 Feb 2002 - Blue Mountains day 1
Lynn, being the wonderful accommodation whizz that she is, has managed to score us a great place to stay for the next few nights. She called up to inquire about a place with wonderful views over the valley, but it was booked up. However, the lady tells Lynn that she has another wonderful cottage in town, called Scribbly Gum Cottage no less! We were obviously fated to stay here, so we take her up on the offer and are not disappointed - it's a lovely place, lots of space and well appointed. By the time we leave we will be favourably comparing this place to Miners Cottage in the Barossa (our very favourite place to stay).
While Lynn spends the morning settling in and exploring the town of Leura, I spend it doing a fantastic hike around the Wentworth Falls. I did this walk 4 years ago when we were here last and came away totally enamoured with the views and the experience. This time it was even better, so much so that I was inspired to write up a little illustrated guide to the best way of attacking this trail.
Lynn joins me for lunch at the Conservation Hut at the end of the hike, but by this point I'm so buzzed by the experience that I decline the ride back to Leura and hike back instead. This turns out to be quite the work out - there are a lot of steps along the way!
I meet Lynn back at our newfound abode and sit back with a beer in the back garden (complete with a scribby gum tree of course). Later I drop Lynn off at Echo point (where you have a great view of the Three Sisters and hoards of Japanese tourists) so that she can jog back to the cottage.
Nick on...Cottage vs. Hotel? I'm hardly the expert on this, but if you're visiting the Australian countryside, you need to decide...hotel or cottage? Over here, the word 'hotel' can cover a multitude of sins, ranging from what is essentially the local pub with some rooms upstairs, to beautiful places(with prices to match). For us, it's really a no-brainer. Cottages are the way to go. For about AUS$125 a night, you can get a beautiful two or three bedroom cottage, with full kitchen, garden and often laundry facilities. The only thing lacking is room service!
Compare this to a night at the Echoes Hotel near Leura which ranges from about AUS$300 to AUS$400 a night for two). Admittedly this is on the higher end of the quality scale, but value for money, a cottage has to be the way to go.
Finally - if you're staying in one of the major cities, consider staying in a managed apartment, rather than hotel. Granted, the hotel luxuries like porters and room service are missing, but for the same price or less, a managed apartment gives you one or two bedrooms, a full kitchen, laundry, parking and lots of space to spread out!
21 Feb 2002 - Blue Mountains day 2
We spend a fairly lazy day exploring some of the local scenic highlights, and some of the local bakeries too. We drive back out to Echo Point so that Lynn can scope out a couple of hotels for an article. Although the prices are a little steep, the Echoes Hotel comes out a winner. It's a boutique hotel (i.e. small - only about a dozen rooms), but it's perched on the cliff top and every room comes with a view to die for. If you're looking for romantic place to sit back, drink bubbly and admire the view, this has to be a winner!
Since we're in the area, we decide to park and wander out to the top of the Three Sisters lookout, to scope out the start of the hike we're planning for tomorrow. Echo point is one few places we've come across that actually charges to park - and what a charge it is - $2.20 and hour! Hell, we only plan on being gone for 20 minutes, so we'll tout the law and skip buying the ticket.
Even though it's one of the most popular viewpoints in the Blue Mountains, it has to be said that this spot is well worth a visit. Echo Point looks out over the valley and across to the Three Sisters. From here it's an easy 10 minute walk to the lookout at the top of the Three Sisters itself.
After drinking in the view, we return to the car to find a parking fine waiting for us. Blast! Now we know how they pay for the upkeep of this place - charge you exorbitant rates to park and outrageous penalties if you don't buy the ticket.
We round off the afternoon nicely with a jog out to Sublime Point, just outside Leura. That is, Lynn jogs out there and I drive out to meet her. The name of this place is justified - it's another beautiful lookout point with fantastic views of the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley. I sit out there, drinking a beer and dangling my feet over the edge. (A tip - just before you reach the lookout platform, turn left just after the big boulder, walk 10 yards through the shrubs and you'll come out on a secluded little rock promontory. A great place for a picnic).
22 Feb 2002 - Blue Mountains day 3
Lynn and I spend a delightful morning taking a hike from the Three Sisters to the bottom of the Scenic Railway. The climb down the 1,000 or so stairs by the Three Sisters is 'interesting', but well worth it. One of the great things about this hike is that you don't have to walk back up - you can take the train! There is an old coal hauling train, now converted to a tourist hauler, this runs from the cliff top to the valley floor. It also lays claim to being the world steepest inclined railway (520 if you're interested). The ride up is a blast! Click here for details on the hike.
After a spot of lunch in Katoomba, I spend a couple of hour sunning myself on the deck, drinking a nice cold beer and catching up on this journal, while Lynn heads off to do a spot of wine tasting research (which was a bit of a bust apparently, since the place was closed).
We round out the afternoon by getting to tick off one of our 'must do' things for this year, which was to have a glass of bubbly sitting at our favourite spot at Sublime Point.
23 Feb 2002 - Blue Mountains day 4
Today is the day that I tackle the mother of all day hikes (at least according to the guide books). Still feeling a little unchallenged by the previous Wentworth Falls and Three Sisters hikes, I pick one that's supposed to be an 8 hour job, reserved for 'experienced walkers' (what ever that means - I'm experienced, I've been walking just about all my life!).
This hike will take me from Evans Lookout, near the town of Blackheath, down through the Grand Canyon and into the valley floor. The ascent is next to the Govetts Leap Falls and back to the tourist information centre, where Lynn will be picking me up.
Knowing that the time estimates for these hikes are normally very generous, we arrange to rendezvous at 3 PM, giving me 6 hours to complete the hike. The descent down the Grand Canyon is quite beautiful, following a creek through rain forest like flora. You feel like you've wandered onto the set of the Lord of the Rings. There are a lot of steps going down and the whole time you keep thinking "I've got to go all the way back up".
And what a hike back up it is! The photo left shows the view from the bottom of the falls and it's an arduous 45 minutes from the valley floor to get to this point. From here, it gets really steep - you literally follow a path up the cliff face. At several points during the walk up I really though I was going to get a second look at my breakfast. All in all this was a great walk to do, but your return on the invested exertion probably isn't as good as the Wentworth Falls or Three Sisters hikes.
And how long did it take? About 4 hours, half the estimated time in the guidebooks. I the folks at the Parks Service are a bunch of wimps!
Not fancying the prospect of hanging out at a tourist information center for the next two hours waiting for Lynn (I mean really, the place is full of tourists you know), I get a taxi back to the cottage, hoping to catch Lynn before she goes out for the afternoon. I don't - Lynn has already take off on a couple of hikes of her own and we spend the rest of the afternoon in a series of near misses, finally meeting back up again around 5:30.
We round the evening off nicely with a bit of dinner at home in the cottage (a very yummy pizza take away from Terrafirma in Leura for me) and amuse ourselves with the latest media hyperventilation over the two Aussie winter Olympic gold medal winners.
Tomorrow we say a fond farewell to the Blue Mountains and head into Sydney for the last three days of our vacation, which takes us on to the next, and final chapter of this journal.