Monday, 5 November 2012

One Week in Oz

Saturday 29 September
We fly out on a very early flight arriving in Melbourne about 8 am. Our hotel is on Collins Street so pretty central but we’re too early to check in so they look after our cases while we have a wander, ending up in the lanes having lunch. We immediately realise it’s going to be an expensive holiday as things seem to be about the same price or more than they are in NZ but the Ozzie dollar’s a whole lot higher than ours. It’s also very cold compared to Auckland, and we need to get well wrapped up to do our stroll along the River Yarra: hats, scarves, gloves, the lot. That evening we go to Brunswick Street in the suburbs to eat and get the tram back. Melbourne is a city of trams and travel is fun, easy, and cheap once you know what you’re doing. I’m always keen to get to know the public transport wherever we are and it’s fun persuading Mike to catch buses etc.

The tram system was really good. This is one of the old circle line trams which give you a free ride round the centre
Walking along the River Yarra
Sunday 30 September
We walk to the Queen Vic Market and have the perfect breakfast, reading the papers and taking our time before launching into this enormous market. It’s selling the usual goods but also a load of Ozzie tourist stuff: boomerangs, kangaroo skins, and nasty opal jewellery. There’s a lovely covered market area which reminds us of Europe with cheeses and olives, real bread and great looking meat. We buy lunch then wander off and visit the Museum which is rather disappointing, especially as we had to pay to get in. Back to the hotel for lunch and siesta, and in the afternoon we walk down the river to the Botanical Gardens which are lovely. The sun’s shining but it’s very cold still. We see loads of parakeets, unusual sweet smelling plants, and we find the Magic Pudding statue. Walk to Chinatown in the evening and Mike eats crocodile.

One very strange tree in the Botanical Gardens

Monday 1 October
After packing and settling up at the hotel we get an early tram travelling through the lovely south Melbourne suburbs to St Kilda’s. The domestic architecture here is quite different from Auckland with far more brick buildings and tiled roofs as opposed to the weatherboard and corrugated roofs we have here, along with plenty of decorative iron work on verandah railings and balconies, and a lot of stained glass windows. Very pretty with flowering shrubs and climbers everywhere. 

Looking back towards the Melbourne CBD from St Kilda's Pier

Brilliant entrance to Luna Park at St Kilda's

It’s a lovely bright day and we stroll down St Kilda’s pier to the Pavilion for coffee. There’s a colony of little penguins here but of course they’re only to be seen at dusk and dawn so no sign of them for us. Fantastic views back to Melbourne CBD however. Back past Luna Park though the Botanic Gardens to Balaclava, from where we get another tram to Windsor and walk along to South Yarra. This area is great for retro and second hand shops, and I see the most stylish Sally Anne shop ever. After lunch we jump on another tram north to the National Gallery of Victoria only to discover that Australian artists’ work is kept somewhere else. Love the stained glass ceiling and water wall. To fill every last minute we manage to squeeze in a quick tram trip to the new Docklands area before grabbing our suitcases and catching the 19.30 sleeper train to Sydney.

Stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery
Tuesday 2 October
. . . and it’s quite an experience. We have our own tiny compartment with bunk beds that drop from the wall, and we share toilet and shower with an identical compartment next door. The toilet and wash hand basin have to be pulled from their vertical position to the horizontal. All very clever and space-saving though I’m not sure how you’d manage if you were a large person. The train is quite old and it shook and rattled and juddered slowly overland as we slept fitfully through the night, arriving in Sydney about 7.30. Sydney is much, much warmer and we see great big sulphur crested parakeets grazing just outside the station. It takes longer than it should to get the hire car and then we have to find our way to the airport to pick up a satnav.

We drive up out of Sydney for about 1.5 hours stopping at the Glenbrook i-site in the Blue Mountains. We’d already planned a walk but wanted maps of the area. The big guy who dealt with us was so positive about going to Wentworth Falls that we changed our plans. He also recommended Newnes for wildlife telling us we’d see loads of wallabies and wombats down there. Good man, he was right on both counts. We drove on to the Falls but struggled to find the right path with the decorative but impractical map. We’re used to free DOC maps in NZ so it came as a bit of a shock to have to pay for them here. We soon get the hang of it and are amazed when we get our first glimpse of the massive canyon that is the Jamieson Valley.

View across and down into the Jamieson Valley
A lot of the walking is along ledges, looks hairy but feels pretty safe because of the railings

Looking back up the steps as we descend into the valley

The Blue Mountains are in fact a plateau with rivers and erosion cutting deep canyons into the surface over millennia. You are immediately reminded that Australia is an ancient continent in comparison to NZ. Katoomba, where we’re staying, and Wentworth Falls are on the surface of the plateau but the walks descend steeply down into valleys and run along under cliffs: sort of ridge walking in reverse, and the scenery is amazing and of course, completely new to us. A lot of the time we’re walking along narrow ledges with startling drops a few feet away, but it feels safe as there are metal rails beside us. Our walk this afternoon takes about 3 hours, down steep steps carved out of rock to the spectacular Wentworth Falls and then along the fabulous National Pass track running parallel under the over-hanging cliffs and through hanging swamps, then steeply up metal stairs at the far end to the Conservation Hut from where it was a short but exhausting walk back to the car.

Taking a rest in the shade

Looking up at the foot of the Wentworth Falls

We drive onto Katoomba and check into the lovely Carrington Hotel. It was built in 1895 and has retained most of its original features, so our room has a window seat and stained glass windows. Even the bathroom is original except the bath has been removed and a shower replaces it. I love it here, there’s a library and a billiard room: the perfect place for a murder mystery. We eat across the road at an Italian restaurant and get a good night’s sleep. 

The Carrington Hotel, Katoomba, my favourite place to stay
Lovely stained glass everywhere
Wednesday 3 October
Another beautiful clear blue sky and we’re walking down Katoomba St right to Echo Point at the far end. It’s a stopping point for coaches, there’s an i-site and a fantastic view from the top looking across and down into the valley. From here we descend the Giant’s Staircase beside the Three Sisters, down and down steep metal and stone steps into the valley below. Again we reach a level path and walk along towards Scenic World where we get on the steepest funicular railway in the world for a lift back to the top. This walk is less spectacular than yesterday’s but still stunning. 

The Three Sisters from Echo Point with valley and Blue Mountains beyond

Cllimbing down the Giant's Stairway, an almost vertical descent beside the Three Sisters

 We walk back to Echo Point stopping for tea on the way and see sulphur crested parakeets and crimson rosellas up close. Siesta back at the hotel after lunch and then in late afternoon we begin our drive out to Newnes where we’ve been told we’ll spot some wildlife. It’s a fairly remote spot further into the Blue Mountains and is an old mining town at the far end of a gravel road. It’s now more or less derelict except for an old ramshackle hotel and a wild camping site. Just driving along the road and I spot a bunch of wallabies looking startled in the late afternoon sunlight and they soon appear left, right and centre, though never very close. We’re soon walking along beside a river where a few families have set up great campsights, and we see large holes in the ground which we take to be wombat holes, then all of a sudden Mike spots a great big furry creature lumbering along not too far off . . . and of course it’s a real live wombat, just come out to sniff around in the evening light. Amazing wonderful creature and we’re chuffed to bits. 

The Newnes Hotel, more or less all that's left of the old mining town
Our first wombat sighting

Further along we spot a large animal just beside the road and stop to investigate. It’s wombat-sized but looks different and is very still, blinking its eyes but not moving much apart from that. Its hair is variable in colour, lighter, and very scruffy looking. In fact on closer inspection it doesn’t look too well at all. It’s so still, Mike thinks it may be a large koala fallen out of a tree. It certainly doesn’t look in the best of health, but doesn’t have the distinctive koala nose and ears and is just too big we think. It may be a very ancient wombat on its last legs poor thing. Much later, after a Google search we decide it must be a very sick hairy-nosed wombat. 

The poor sick looking animal we think may be a hairy nosed wombat
Driving back along the gravel road in the dusk we see loads more wallabies and a field full of grazing wombats . . . a wisdom of wombats as Mike’s chosen to call them, though they don’t look particularly wise it must be said. Suddenly a large kangaroo appears to our left and hops right across us, in front of the car, and another appears to our right running along beside us. So we’ve seen wallabies, wombats and kangaroos in the wild, all in one evening, and we’re excited and feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Thursday 4 October
It’s our last day in the Blue Mountains and the sun’s shining with all its might, so we pack up after breakfast and set off with packed lunch to Wentworth Falls. Must say I’m very sad to be leaving this beautiful hotel and great walking area. This time we decide to walk the other way around on the Wentworth Pass track as opposed to the National Pass which we walked on our first day here, so we’re parking at Conservation Hut. The path is lower down into the canyon so we’re descending more stone and metal steps even further towards the valley bottom, then walking on a more or less level track through bush with the parakeets screeching overhead. 

There are endless waterfalls during the descent
Mike climbing the Slack Stairs

At the far end we climb up the steep, metal clad, Slack Stairs, to the foot of the Wentworth Falls where we stop for lunch. There are kids playing in the pools and Mike joins them to cool his feet. It’s a fabulous day but quite windy and the spray from the waterfall is blowing all over the place. Spectacular and rather pleasant as it cools us down. We continue the climb back up steps which were cut out of solid stone over 100 years ago when a Scotsman had taken on the job of creating a scenic route for Victorian tourists. We take tea at Conservation Hut then drive on to Sydney. Mike returns the car and I check into the Hyde Park Plaza, where we have a small apartment with kitchen and balcony.

Old stone steps leading back up to the top

There’s a big difference in temperature, must be 30 degrees this evening, which is lovely for us as we walk out to find a restaurant. Stanley St has been recommended to us and its close by. There must be about 10 little restaurants for us to choose from, all with tables out and open fronts, we go for Thai. 

On the level along the Under Cliff path to Conservation Hut
Friday 5 October
It’s really hot today, 34 degrees and turns out to be the hottest October day Sydney’s had in 4 years, not really what you want for sight-seeing but we do our best after breakfast setting off through Hyde Park. We see lots of Ibis’s digging through rubbish bins. They’re very common here and quite ugly close up, not at all scared of people. We walk past the Royal Botanic Gardens down to the Opera House where we watch the little green and yellow ferries dashing around the harbour. We then walk around Circular Quay to The Rocks where we get ripped off for coffee but find a good info centre. 

One of many ferries criss-crossing under Harbour Bridge
Close up it's not bright white but made up of off-white ceramic textured tiles
The heat’s really getting to me and I need to retire to my bed with paracetamol while Mike buys lunch. We then walk over to Darling Harbour, stopping to nose at the shops in the Queen Vic Building. The weather’s changing again, temperature must have dropped about 15 degrees. 

More stained glass in the Queen Vic Building
Saturday 6 October
Today we do the Spit to Manly walk. Much cooler and drizzling but not enough to put us off. We manage to find the right bus, so I force Mike on public transport again, and get off at The Spit. The path takes us around the coast, past beaches, through bush and some bits of National Park. There are loads of flowering bushes and trees, quite different to kiwi bush, and we pass some Aboriginal rock carvings along the way. We get to Manly for lunch then catch the famous ferry back to the CBD. There are hundreds of little sailing boats out in the harbour and great views of the Sydney Opera House through the drizzle. This evening we go to the nicest restaurant on Stanley St and eat Balmain Bug (after checking what it is with the waiter) and Barramundi. Delicious.

Over-looking Sydney Harbour on a drizzly day

On the Manly ferry going back to the CBD
Sunday 7 October
Get the train to the airport and back home to Auckland. ouse through the drizzle.thiiiiito the airport

No comments:

Post a Comment