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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Five go mad in Australia - climbing in the beautiful blue mountains, and loving the lovely city of Sydney

Australia: the land of no worries, where we rediscovered the delights of Europe usually taken so much for granted - bread, cheese, wine, ham, brick houses - and where the  Emergency Rain Poncho saved the day, several times over!

One reason to visit Sydney, as well as it being just a great world city, is that we have old friends who now live there. And while in Sydney we discovered how very very nice it was to be in the company of friends again. We delighted in kids being able to play with other kids, while we drink wine and chat with friends. These are some of the most normal things in life, but what we have entirely missed these last several months. And how I have missed it, and how it seems like such a special treat now.

It was also a refreshing change from the Balinese beach huts we had been used to to be back in a brick built house which isn't half open to the elements, and to have your own kitchen after two months of being in hotels, and to have other western luxuries, like wine. But being in suburban houses with pavements around, and not having the sea just always there, just there in front of you, feels like I am missing a piece of me. Missing Bali..

We went from Sydney to the beautiful Blue Mountains around Katoomba and stunning Echo Point - well worth a visit. We also went to "Scenic World" to take the Scenic Railway down to the valley floor - the World's steepest railway! This had been the result of an extended negotiation with Danny, who wanted us to walk down to the valley floor and back up again, not taking the railway, versus me and Joe who wanted to take the railway one direction and didn't really care which, versus Poppy who was most vocal that no way did she want to walk up, on pain of crying, or at least substantial whining. But that's in fact what we did.

The world's steepest railway was steep! And fun. We got front seats and saw right through the tunnel as the train descended. Once at the bottom it began to rain - we haven't had that in a long time either! - luckily, and unusually, I had packed cardigans for Poppy and Rosie, and ... the Emergency Rain Poncho! This item has developed legend status in our family - given to me as a going away present by the lovely Claire Miller we sing songs about it and generally worship it. And this time even more luckily for me, Joe said that he was just so happy to be in the cold and rain that he wanted to be in the rain, and so I could have the emergency rain poncho! It really was a real rainforest down there - fascinating to be in among the Lilli Pillis and the Sassafras and Coachwoods. Beautiful misty views with clouds all around.

We walked along broadwalks and then towards the Furber steps up to the base of Katoomba falls and further up from there. Rosie had done a terrific amount of whining when we had to walk just to the railway station, and Poppy had whined for days in anticipation of this climb, but actually nobody whined almost at all during the actual climb. We lunched at a perfect natural shelter, Carey's Rocks, entirely dry and free from the misty rain. Just after we met a couple who were appalled we were about to climb up Furber's steps with Rosie, "She's very little, and there's hundreds and hundreds of steps, and they're nailed into the rocks, they're really hard!" She's OK, we said, she's been climbing in the alps. And indeed she was. Everyone did great climbing, and it was not "hard" as the official signs designated the route. It was just fun. Especially as I had the emergency poncho to counter the near constant rain ...

Back at the top and a bus swung by so we ran for it and jumped on, and it took us back to the Chocolate Factory for some amazing hot chocolates  where you melt chocolate buttons in an individual mug fondue set- mmmm! Must buy some of these when we're back in Exeter. Then home, just before the rain began to absolutely pour and the clouds literally rolled down the street outside.

Home through the pouring rain - in the rain poncho of course! And back for an evening of kids playing an endless monopoly game, mixing and matching with bits of computer programming beach school, while Poppy and Rosie began new diaries that I had bought them, and Danny cooked a gorgeous pork dinner.

I guess life outside Bali is worth living too.


Off to Leura falls the next day, in the drizzling rain. Little did we know that the weather was going to get worse and worse...Past Echo Point there wasn't a great deal to see today as the clouds were right down, but some mists and clouds and swirling around still made for an interesting scene. As long as you were on the bus looking out at it.. On to Leura cascades. We got off the bus and walked through the rain - at least we all had cardigans on today, and I pretty quickly donned the emergency rain poncho... The cascades were pretty unimpressive in my opinion, but the cliff edge walking from there towards Gordon Falls was a super walk. Everyone did well with Poppy having got all her complaining out of the way before we left the house, and Rosie too busy "teaching me to speak gibberish" to complain. She just tripped along the path and up and down the steps - great. We passed many lookout points but there wasn't much to look out upon as the rain got steadily heavier and the clouds came down right upon us.

It was a good job we enjoyed the walk because Gordon Falls when we finally got there, entirely soaked, were not exactly a sight for sore eyes - I think in general it's pretty dry here and so the waterfalls are not much cop. Nothing like compared to what we have enjoyed in Bali that's for sure! Not even much of a patch on Lake District falls - sure they make substantial drops, but with such a tiny quantity of water that there's not much to it. Joe called it rather than a 200 metre drop, a 20 metre drip.

The rain came pounding now and visibility was down to about 50 yards so we dashed the last bit to the picnic area and found a picnic table in a shelter to have our lunch. At least we have escaped the crowds!  After lunch, abandoning all thoughts of going to the Everglades Gardens, the only task was to get a bus home. We had a timetable so we knew when the bus would come, just no watches or phones so we didn't actually know what time it was... There was no shelter at the bus stop, and no shops, houses or any other sign of habitation for miles around, so we cowered under trees with Joe and I sharing the emergency rain poncho and it was only about 15 minutes waiting in the tipping rain until, down the deserted street along which we had not seen a single car drive, suddenly we saw the very welcome sight of the big red bus! YEY! It was the same driver as yesterday who greeted us warmly and said he would drop us right outside the chocolate factory. Double yey!

In we all went for hot chocs and coffees for all. Then home for an afternoon of drying off, watching Scooby Doo (some things never change!), and writing diaries. A lovely dinner and wine in the evening.

Taking the ferry to Paramatta one day was a plan that started so well, but ended with a late night traipse around the entire Olympic village until we finally found the entrance to the train station out. It was a lovely sunny day and we made the long bus journey up to Circular Quay where we suddenly came upon the view of the iconic Opera House! It is just as dramatic and spectacular as one is expecting, just smaller somehow. Then we got on the ferry to Paramatta and got some of the last spaces outside at the front of the boat for the journey. It was a super journey - spotting the Harbour bridge, countless small sail boats in a race, and all the many inlets and promontories that Sydney is made up of, all with the sun sparkling on the water. What a beautiful city!

The journey up the river was lovely - watching the houses change and Sydney give way, finally, to countryside, and then we arrived at Paramatta, and were greeted by the incredible sight of a very very large Pelican! It sat on a post and then opened its gigantic wings and flew off into the water - amazing.

We bought toasted sandwiches and sat under the trees at the edge of the river in the bright green grass, looking at the trees waving in the breeze opposite on the other side of the cool calm river.

Apart from the walk round the entire Olympic village, the only black spot on our visit to Sydney was the seige in the Lindt chocolate shop, which I first found out about by friends messaging me to check we were OK. The seige was over in the middle of the first night night, but two people died. Really tragic.Turned out the guy was a random nutter, which feels better than organised religious nutters. But the effect, of two people killed, is the same. The whole city is really affected by it, not surprisingly. When in town we saw the beginnings of the flowers left for the people who died - a flower shrine that grew and grew.

Near us in our suburb south of Sydney we discovered the beautiful beaches of Little Bay, and Congwong, around near Botany Bay where Captain Cook first landed and "discovered" Australia. Stunning beaches, and beautiful beautiful bays. The only shocker was the temperature of the sea - COLD! We clearly have been entirely spoilt by the warm tropical seas of Bali!

One day, after a morning of beach school me and the kids had an appointment with Sydney's world famous zoo using Andy's zoo card, while Danny had to do his weekly report for work, The Week in Official Documents. We went into town and dashed onto a ferry just as it was about to leave. Ate our packed lunch on the ferry (I am still not tiring of bread, cheese, and proscuttio), with wonderful harbour views all around. In no time we were there! And found the cable cars which took us up to the top of the zoo!! What fun!

And the zoo was terrific - we did everything at breakneck speed and it was super fun - just me and my little band! We saw kangaroos! We saw kangaroos jumping! We saw wallabies, we saw gorgeous koalas!! So fluffy and gorgeous. We saw a BIG emu! And we saw a bit of a talk about spiders, including the Red Back spider with its incredible parachute mechanism for leaving the nest, and the Huntsman spider. We saw everything we wanted and then we dashed for the cable car with me thinking we had 2 minutes to spare to get the ferry that would get us back in time to make it to Andy and Kelly's. But I had miscalculated and we had no minutes to spare to catch the ferry - as it was already there at the dock, we could see it from the cable car as we were rapidly descending. Joe said "As soon as the door opens I will run, and you follow!" He did, Poppy just slightly after. He ran and ran, and got there with the gate still open. Joe stood in the way of the ramp, panting to play for time, and then Poppy came and said "Please wait for my mum, she's just coming" and the lady said "She will have to be quick" with a menacing look in her eye and just then Rosie and I came as quickly as we could, running, rounding the corner and we all dashed on with looks of gratitude all around and she closed the gate immediately behind us and we were off! A twix on the boat and wonderful views of the opera house all the way and we were back. Terrific!

Another day we went to Manly, a boat ride away from the centre of Sydney. We took with us a picnic lunch and set off into town on the very long bus ride we have become so used to, and then quickly onto the ferry. Such a lovely ride out into the bay! Past all the boats and the inlets of Sydney - what a beautiful location for a great city.

We arrived to find that Manly is a bustling seaside resort with a great collection of swish looking bars and cafes. Both Maree at the house and Andy had told us the thing to do in Manly for a walk is to keep the sea on your left and just keep walking. So we did. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we walked past bay after bay, keeping walking along the path, past the most beautiful bay views, until we came upon a grass covered hill down to the sea, and underneath some trees for shade, there was a wooden swing, just crying out for us to settle there and have lunch. So we did. It was the most idyllic spot to take our ease, eat our lunch, and watch the kids swing on the swing and climb the trees.

The most noteworthy experience for us in Australia was the realisation of how much we have missed normal social interactions with all our friends. So, I am talking about you lovely people reading this - we have really missed you all! And the most noteworthy experience of Australia is how it is missing any sense of connection to its Aboriginal past - the divisions between aborigines and all of the later settlers are obvious and stark. I cannot speak for the rest of Australia but certainly in the stunning city of Sydney and its environs, and up in the blue mountains Australia appears to have built a well-functioning, growing economy and society. But its an economy and society where it is all too clear that aborigines are second class citizens.

Then, all too soon, it was our last day in lovely Sydney. Next stop New Zealand, Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. What would it be like...?