Team VA's Wonderings

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Sydney

OK. So I may have lied a little in the last post. No, the surfing photos weren't fake. However, when I said that my Australia leg had no highlights left, I was conveniently ignoring the Blue Mountains-for the sake of good copy, you understand.

I'm sitting on the 7.25 to Katoomba, glad to have escaped my slightly crazy new room mate. So glad I was 30 mins early for the train. I'm sorry (and I have been helpful and sympathetic), but he landed in Sydney yesterday, went to bed after lunch, seems to have no idea what he wants to see, feels homesick, has already worked out (from his bed) that 'no one cares about him here, unlike home', doesn't know how to fill 6 months in Australia........ I don't need that at 6.15 a.m.

In the Rough Guide's 45 things not to miss in Australia, the Blue Mountains come in at no 41. They will be the 22nd and last I do of the 45 (though I basically did 2 more and covered 3 in Africa). There are at least 10 more I wanted to do. Australia is a big country you see.

There are lots of trips to the Blue Mountains, but I think getting the train and then using the bus was a great idea. I got to do exactly what I fancied. Since most of this was walking, it was great to have the flexibility as I did my usual thing of setting off walking from A to B and then doing 17 detours. Also one of the great things on the trains, in NSW at least, is that the seats are a bit like Transformers (I hear you singing 'robots in disguise'). I always like to sit facing forwards (especially on a scenic ride) and my heart sinks when I see only backward facing seats available. If this happens to you in NSW, just push your backward facing double seat and the chair back moves slickly across to become a forward facing double seat. Brilliant-why doesn't everyone do that in their trains. As the trains are also double decker, I got a very good seat!

The Blue Mountains are blue because of the Eucalypt haze and are canyons not mountains. They took the British explorers forever to find a way through and there used to be coalmining there. That's the history. Your key site/photo op is the 3 sisters

but the whole place is just magical. The big lookouts are full of people, but even a five minute walk can get you to a place with breathtaking views, where you cannot see or hear another living soul. It seems most people take the cable car and the train up and down, while their coach tour takes them to 3 or 4 main lookouts. They spent a lot more money and missed out. Big time. In my humble opinion!

I went on a selection of walks and, apart from a second train ride and a brief sarnie stop, walked from 10 till 3.30. More so I remember-I went down into the canyon from the East side of the Skyway (something I missed-a sort of cable car whose floor goes transparent as it crosses the canyon), then ascended up the world's steepest railway

Mum-you would not have liked this. I then grabbed the bus and took the Prince Henry cliff walk from Echo Point to Gordon Falls via the Giant Stairway to one of the sisters, Leura Falls, the Olympian and a dozen other lookouts. It was all fantastic, but I don't think I can write much that's very interesting about it. There was lots of up and down and it was most tiring! If you go to Sydney, do it; if you can stay over, do it.

I was running low on time, light and stamina, but had a masterstroke. If I got on the 4.00 train, I could get to Wentworth Falls in 10 minutes and do the walk there. I wanted to do it for two reasons-firstly it was called Darwin's walk after Charles did it a couple of years back and declared the view one of the most stupendous he'd seen. And with NZ coming up and what looks like a whole lot of walking to do, I wanted to do another one when my mind and body had pretty much had enough. Just to up the ante, I really wanted to get the 5.30 train back (the next one was another hour), it took me 10 minutes to find the walk, which was 2 hours return. I was going to have to push it.

At one point I was running, which was a bit keen. At the end of the walk the lookouts were poorly (i.e. not) signposted, so I had to run in 3 different directions to cover the ones I could spot. It was well worth it

On the way back I thought I was making good time and relaxed. This was something of a mistake as I promptly got lost, using up the time I had in hand. I made it back to the station and had just enough time to go to the toilet (NSW trains may have cool seats, but no toilets) and hop on the train. Glorious day.

Oz Revoir
So. My last day in Sydney; my last day in Australia. What to do? Well I thought I had a pretty good plan-get up rather before the crack of dawn, cross the harbour bridge for some cracking sunrise photos, wander through the Rocks back to the Opera House and head down to the SCG for a tour. It's turned into a total shambles, which I feel is somehow appropriate-I just hope that I've got it out of my system and get back on track in NZ.

First up, I couldn't get up that early. Yesterday's walking was pretty full on and followed the usual assortment of late nights, drinking and early mornings. When I emerged from the hostel at 8.30, I was fairly pleased to see a lot of cloud overhead-it meant I wouldn't have got the photos I'd been after.

To walk up to the bridge, across it and down to Milson's point is a fair hike. Or at least my aching legs felt so, and it did take a good hour and some. It felt good to cross the bridge by foot-I'd been across it on bus, train and car already. It's really quite high and has folk patrolling who are trained to dissuade jumpers, so I was pleased I didn't feel too wobbly as I went across. Then I started to lose it-I was meant to find two lookouts points on the other side; Milson's point is easy-it's the pointy bit stuck out in the water, so I started with the other one. I call it the other one as I forgot what it was called, what street it was in and whether it was in a park, or not. So I wandered up and down hills in deserted suburbia for 20 minutes until I could see Milson's point again and abandon the search for the lookout with no name. At Milson's point, the views were special and I tried to get some more arty photos of the opera house. I took one from a graffitied gazebo thingy.

As I was taking it, I was gagging on the stench of urine; I thought this was unusual, as the structure was open on all 4 sides. Then I discovered the very fresh urine. That I was now standing in. Lovely.

Moving a little further round Milson's Point I found a camera crew and a couple of police boats that seemed to be blocking the exit from the harbour. I had visions of some sort of Miami Vice chase, but nothing much happened so I moved on. I later discovered the grisly news that there had been a collision in the harbour last night and at least 3 people were dead. It seems the police boats were searching for bodies. The harbour is seriously dangerous-someone died in a collision near the Opera House when I was here in January.

I grabbed a brief rest on a convenient park bench and a quick flick at the Rough Guide made me realise that I had been labouring under a misapprehension for 2 and a bit months; I had always had it in my mind that I needed to go back to the Rocks for something. Turns out I didn't, which put a little hole in the masterplan. Anyway, Opera House next, always good, even if it is now a long way away.

Actually, this was the highlight. I've seen a number of echoes while I've been back in Sydney, and as I walked up to the Opera House, my mind was back to New Year's Eve. The sun was burning, there were security checkpoints and people everywhere, some camping, all trying for the best views of the fireworks. So much for the vision in my mind's eye; with my actual eyes, it was pretty dark, drizzling with large drops of rain and there weren't many people about. I nearly slipped over my arse, but I guess the surf training helped me keep my balance. I loved it though. There was something appropriate about the difference to 3 months ago, as if the two images of Australia's ultimate icon were bookending my trip here-even though I'd been in the country for 4 weeks by New Year's Eve. In the novel, it'll be the first and last port of call. It was so much better that it looked as it did today, rather than a facsimile of the end of last year. I'm going back tonight, just for a last look in the dark. I can't recall another place that's kept bringing me back like this. At least not a place that doesn't serve alcohol or host sporting events.

Speaking of sporting events, it was time for the SCG. I was aiming for the day's last tour and my incompetence and Opera House gazing meant I was struggling to make it. So, as with last night's Darwin walk, it was time to push it. As I did my best to power along the wet streets, I had another very stong echo of January when I passed the railing where a depressed tout had been selling half price tickets for the 20-20 match. When I rocked up with 5 mins to spare, I was dripping. I hoped everyone else would think it was the rain, but I knew the real reason. Still at least I was in time, this was the very last tour of the old ground that I would be able to go on. If they hadn't cancelled it that is. Some sort of event is on tonight, to which I hadn't even been invited. Bugger. Should have called ahead.

I sauntered back out into the rain and made the 'it's time to give up now' mistake. Well, since I'd come all the way out here, I thought I may as well walk round the Aussie stadium/SCG complex. Anyone who's been to cricket with me (and probably anyone who's been to cricket) will know that walking round the ground at one of the meal breaks is part of the experience. I'd discovered at the WACA, MCG and SCG that the Australians don't let you do this: for reasons best known to themselves they section the stadium and keep the member's areas separate, so you can't do a circuit inside. At the SCG and WACA, you could only get half way round. I had extended this notion to walking around the outside of grounds-to get a good view. Perfectly possible at Adelaide and Melbourne, but a total waste of time at Brisbane and Perth as the grounds were part of complexes and had other buildings and just all sorts of concrete crap driving you away from the ground. Let me tell you, the SCG is far, far worse.

About 50m past the entrance Jamie and I had use in January is Fox studios, a sort of Universal Studios kind of thing, but something you can wander into as the attractions are independent and there are lots of shops and stuff. Ducking in here seems to the be the way to follow the SCG perimeter. Construction teams, cinemas, empty bars and car parks all conspired to cut me off from the ground and deny me any exit. It took 15 mins for me to find a way out-in fairness this may be a record, as it's one of those pieces of retail architecture where nothing is in a straight line and you're pretty sure has been designed to hold you prisoner until your wallet's empty. And your card's maxed out. Back on a new street, in the strengthening rain, I have no idea where I am, can't see the stadia, which seat about 100,000 between them and know only one thing-I'm not going back in Fox studios. Realising this is all hopeless, I chuck on my iPod and decide to potter until I recognise something. Just 20 mins later I see a bit of the roof of Aussie stadium and another 10 mins gets me back to where I started. In all I walked 2 hours in the rain. For nothing really. I must be mad, because I quite enjoyed it.

Flight to Christchurch is at 8.20 tomorrow. Morning. So let's hope I don't make an arse of getting the train to the airport.


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