Thursday, 28 February 2008

Taronga Zoo

The Blue Mountains

On Saturday, Andy drove us to Katoomba for some spectacular views from Echo Point. We got a map of a nice day walk from the information center and ordered coffees to drink from the balcony overlooking the 'Three Sisters' and 'Jamison Valley'. Unfortunately, service was very slow so we had to quickly down our coffees in order to make it back to the expensive parking lot before our pass expired.

We were, however, able to park for free at Scenic World so we started our walk form there. We walked along the cliff top until we arrived at Echo Point once again. Then we began the descent into the valley. We got to sit just below 'The Three Sisters'. The story goes like this....

Once upon a time there was a sorcerer. He turned the three sisters to stone to protect them from the unwanted advances of three young men. Unfortunately for the sisters he died before he could turn them back into humans again....

We took the Giant Steps down to the valley. It was quite steep. It reminded me a little bit of Day 3 of the Inca Trail when we had to go down the stone steps for hours. This was similar, but we were able to get to the bottom more quickly. When we reached the bottom we realized that we only had 45 minutes to get to the train station in order to catch the last train up to the top again. We had to pick up the pace a little bit. We made it in the end! The train ride was the most exciting part of all. It was originally designed to transport coal up the mountains. When you get into the car you are practically lying down flat on your back. As the train begins to climb you are virtually standing upright. There was a cage over the top to keep the passengers from falling out it was so steep. I was longing for a seatbelt and clutching the cage desperately the entire way up it was so steep! We went through a really dark tunnel and I had the strange sensation of falling instead of climbing. I breathed a sigh of relief as pulled into the station at the top. It was the most exciting train trip I have ever been on ..... and it was probably the highlight of the day!
Blue Mountains - Grand canyon with trees

Good things
Views of trees, waterfalls and Japanese families
Nice vertical train ride takes you back up to the top

Bad things
Families getting in my way on the footpaths.
Drive out from Sydney was like the A40 out of London
Parking 4 dollars an hour. Found sneaky alternative

Bondi Beach

Friday, Stephen and I took the bus over to the famous Bondi Beach. We actually took the bus to Bronte Beach first because Stephen figured it was within walking distance to Bondi. Bronte Beach was located in a really pretty cove-like setting. Unfortunately, the swimming beach was closed due to dangerous conditions. We walked along the cliffs toward Bondi and stopped at Tamarama Beach for some coffee and a sandwich while watching some really incredible surfers catching some huge waves. We carried on around Mackenzies Point and saw the really nice swimming pool that overlooks Bondi. What a great palce to do laps!

Stephen and I locked up our things and decided to rent a boogie board. We spent the entire afternoon in the water diving under enormous waves and hugging the sand on the bottom so that we wouldn't get churned up and thrown back to shore. It was a pretty rough day in the water. Stephen said he had never been in such rough conditions and I haven't been in them very much. We still enjoyed ourselves as we tried to imitate the really good body surfers catching waves around us. They looked as though they were up on boards, but in reality they were just using their arms to keep their heads out of the water. We managed to catch a few good waves. They were strong enough to pick us up even if we weren't doing things entirely correctly. It was a lot of fun! I can only imagine how busy Bondi is on the weekend because it was incredibly busy during the week.
That night we met Andy and a girl Stephen used to study with in Oxford. We had a nice meal on the harbor.
Bondi beach Sydney - Bournemouth again
Good things
Surfed huge waves at Bondi beach and managed to miss the dopey swimmers because the lifeguards pen you in to a 10m section. Not enough for the most famous beach in Australia.

Bad things
Needs 3 buses to get there

Fruit Bats at the Sydney Botanical Gardens

Andy suggested that we try to visit the Botanical Gardens just before dusk so that we could see all the Fruit Bats hanging from the trees there. As we were wandering around we spotted several different kinds of birds - colorful lorakeets, huge white cockatus and a few curlews. We saw a group of tourists clustered beneath a tree in the distance. As we got closer we realized that the tree was covered in bats. They were all sleeping upside down. We watched them for a while and soon noticed that all of the trees in the area were hosting sleeping bats. We stayed hoping that we could see them all wake up and take off into the night. Unfortunately, we had tickets to see La Boheme at the Sydney Opera House so we couldn't wait very long. We managed to see a few

wake up, change positions and squabble with each other. We saw one or two take flight. It was fascinating to see so many large bats. They seemed much bigger than the few I have seen in California. Their faces were actually kind of cute. They almost looked like winged foxes.

Afterward, we dashed over to the Opera House to meet Andy for an evening performance of La Boheme. It was excellent! We had the nosebleed seats with obstructions, but we felt fortunate just to be able to attend. It was a modern day adaptation set in some students digs. The costumes were modern as well. One of the Bohemians had dread locks and another had an earring, black leather jacket and tatoos. The singing was fantastic and the acoustics were incredible. When the scene took place in the far left-hand side of the stage I couldn't see what was happening, but fortunately most of the action occurred in the middle of the stage and part of the stage even lifted up so that everyone could see when they were on the second floor of the apartment complex or they were changing scenery below. We all really enjoyed it - even Stephen :-)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Manly Beach

Today we took the ferry to Manly Beach. I think Sydney Harbor is the nicest harbor I have ever seen. The ferry allows you to really appreciate the size of it!

We arrived at Manly Cove and I saw my first shark net. I think it is primarily there to protect swimmers from jellyfish (especially the deadly Box Jellyfish we read about at the aquarium). The picture of the beach shows a bit of the shark net. It is held up by wooden pylons.
Stephen and I crossed over to the beach side (it is a bit like Mission Bay and Mission Beach in that there is a narrow isthmus separating the harbor from the ocean). We went for a swim and then attempted to do a bit of bodysurfing. The sand was really soft and fine. The shallow water was turquoise and it was not as cold as the ocean in California. We could have stayed in all day, but we had to keep checking to make sure our backpack was still on the beach. Later, as we were drying off on the sand, the lifeguard announced that several Blue Bottle jellyfish were drifting in towards the shore. These are not deadly like the Box Jellyfish, but I think their stings can be fairly painful. We opted not to go back into the water. I took a photo of one that had washed up onto the shore.
Since we couldn't go back in the ocean, we decided to follow the Manly Scenic Trail that starts on the harborside. It was very scenic with lots of rocky coves and clear water. There were also massive spiders in webs in the trees along one particular part of the walkway. I have never seen spiders so big. We saw one wrapping up a huge butterfly. If you lived in one of the beautiful homes along the harbor you would have to knock down spider webs all the time - or at least be careful not to walk into them.
We went for a swim in one of the rocky coves on the way back. Too bad we didn't have our snorkelling gear with us!
It was a great day out. We caught the end of a sailboat race on the ferry ride back....

Maritime Museum and Sydney Harbor

Well - we are fortunate enough to be staying within walking distance of Sydney Harbor.

We started off at the free National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbor on our first morning in Sydney. It is an excellent museum. We took the general tour. Our tour guide was really interesting because it turns out he came to Austrailia when he was 6 years old as an orphan. They sent several orphans to Australia from England during WWII. The Suez Canal was blocked so they had to take a ship to Canada and then a train all the way across the country to Vancouver. The ship they were supposed to take from there had been bombed in the war so they had to wait in Vancouver for a month before boarding a different ship. They stopped in Hawaii, but because they had 20 children listed on one passport they weren't allowed to leave the ship until the authorities got in touch with Washington. By then, it was too late so they sailed on to Fiji. In Fiji our tour guide saw bananas, pineapples and coconuts for the first time. The people there were really warm and friendly and he has really fond memories of Fiji. Next, they sailed to Auckland and then on to Eastern Australia. I think he had a tough time growing up without a family, but things seemed to have worked out and he has a lovely grandaughter at the moment.

Next, we visited the Aquarium (see the previous blog entry) and finally we walked over to Circular Quay for coffee and a walk around. Later, we met Andy at the Lord Nelson pub in 'The Rocks', the site of Sydney's first European settlement. It used to be a real unsavoury area as sailors, whalers and scoundrels drank and brawled in and around the pubs. It has cleaned up nicely and there are some really interesting buildings, shops, restaurants and pubs in the area now.

Sydney Aquarium

We went to the Sydney Aquarium today. I wanted to go to see the marine animals just in case I don't see many of them when I am getting my diving certification. I'm sure this is an unfounded fear, but it helped to convince Stephen that the costly entry fee was worth it!

Stephen and I were especially interested in the saltwater crocodile. I always thought the difference between crocodiles and alligators had something to do with the snout, but it turns out the difference is really in their bite. When a crocodile has has mouth closed you can see both the top and bottom teeth whereas when an alligator shuts his mouth you can only see the top set of teeth. An alligator's bottom teeth fit in special sockets so they are not visible when his mouth is closed. Interesting!

Anyway - I am going to attach my favorite pictures. It was a bit difficult to take them through the glass so please try to ignore the reflection and slightly hazy appearance of the pictures. My absolute favorite is the photo of the nurse shark's jaws as he passed over me when we were in the clear tubes walking through the shark tank. That is also an incredibly large stingray in case you are wondering...


We just had a great visit with Maree and Grahame in Christchurch. It is a really nice city. We were very impressed with it. The food was excellent as well. I will leave you with Stephen's 'good things' and 'bad things' list. Oh- and I won't attach the video of Alan's juggling performance. I will send it to Athena and she can decide what to do with it!

Christchurch..1960s England with parks, flowers and tram rides

Good things
Hot thermal pools in Henmnet ideal for monsoon days
Nice volcanic ridges to view Diamond harbour and sprawling Christchurch
Alan getting roped in to providing assistance for juggling street theatre
Becky's friends Graham and Maree had a copy of the John Grisham book that I had left on the bed in Uruguay with only a few chapters to go.

Bad things
Getting stuck in the window of a rock shelter whilst playing tig with Bill's 6 year old
You don't legally need car insurance so all the 16 year olds buy old V8s and go racing round Christchurch at night showing off. I had to make do with a 1.3 Escort and take it to do the shopping
American Airlines screwing up the tickets again so that we have to run from one office to another to convince them to let us on the flight. And why do we have to go via Aukland when everyone else goes direct to Sydney?
New Zealand charges you 25 dollars to leave the country and you have to fill a form in that is supposed to be for New Zealanders only and then old people forget and hold you up in the queue to get onto the plane that you've just rushed across from the stupid internal flight from Christchurch that should have been organised properly in the first place from incompetant Trailfinders sales pillock.... Finally had to say goodbye to travelling chums Alan and Athena who are finishing their trip in Singapore and who have still got my book. -- Stephen Grant

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Royal Albatross Colony

Dunedin is Celtic for Edinburgh and Yorkshire for Sheffield with albatrosses. Great place to live if you are a seabird needing overcast days and gusty breezes to get you out of bed in the morning.It has a chocolate factory as well that you can tour around and get chocolate fish for answering questions. Like being back in the production plants at Ford but without the chocolate fish.
Watched loads of albatrosses taking off, landing and feeding their young. They only produce one chick and they're fat things weighing up to 9kg before the parents start putting them on a strict diet to encourage them to fish for themselves. Good job they don't learn to drink beer or they would never do anything. They then spend up to 6 years at sea - literally before returning to mate. The babies that left in Septemer have been tagged and have made it to Chile already. It normally takes adults 8 days but took the youngsters over 30 days. Must have found the beer after all..

Good things
Huge albatrosses - 3m in wingspan, can eat up to 2kg in 15 minutes- babies weigh up to 9kg before flying
Chocolate fish - Only in NZ apparently

Bad things
I have a cold
Can't find the fish and chip shop

Dunedin - Cadbury Chocolate Factory Tour and Taieri Gorge Railway

Cadbury World

We booked ourselves on the 12pm tour shortly after eating a huge brunch at a nearby cafe. We decided not to do anything involving physical exertion because Stephen has a cold. Instead, we opted for a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and a train ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway.

The tour was really interesting, especially watching the various machines cooling, wrapping and boxing up all the chocolate. A chirpy guide in purple overalls led the tour and awarded people with chocolate bars when they answered questions correctly. We ended up with plastic bags full of chocolate to take on the train with us. The tour ended with a demonstration of the largest chocolate waterfall in the world. It was fun to watch as a ton of chocolate cascaded down into a huge vat below. I got splashed a bit with the chocolate, but it was worth it!

The photos of us in the hair nets are also from the Cadbury World tour. Alan got to wear a special snood to cover his facial hair....
At 2:30 we boarded an old-fashioned, wood-panelled train. The train took us through the Taieri Gorge. A guided pointed out various sights along the way. Construction on the railway began in 1879. Highlights included crossing the Wingatui Viaduct that was 47m above the Mullocky Stream and looking down into the gorge below betweent he tracks, the statue of a sheep dog that is a tribute to their role in New Zealand's history and the rugged, schist rock cliffs and overhangs...I think we were the youngest people on the tour, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. Stephen got some naptime in and I managed to catch up on my journal.