Friday, April 16, 2010

Sydney, Wallacia and the Blue Mountains

G'DAY! (Those are Mike's big size 13s and it is rare to see them in "thongs" as they say here.) In America thongs are something else entirely!

Aussie coins minus the 50c piece. In Australia the $1 coin is bigger than the $2 coin but in New Zealand it was the opposite.

Weird and Wonderful Trees at The Rock Lookout

See bottom right for the location of The Rock Lookout in relation to Sydney (45 minutes east) and Katoomba (1 and 1/2 hours west) where we went up into the Blue Mountains. You will also note the Nepean River and the town of Penrith, which is not far from our friend's home in Wallacia and is the main shopping area.

Bowerbird Nest

A bowerbird makes his home in our friend's back yard.

Jacaranda Tree on the streets of Wallacia, New South Wales

Sunset at The Rock Lookout

The Rock Lookout with Nepean River below and the Blue Mountains National Park (This river runs behind our friend's property.)

With Margaret at The Rock Lookout with grand views of Blue Mountain National Park and the Nepean River (below)

Mike and Bruce look out at the view from Bruce and Margaret's property in Wallacia, New South Wales

Bulli Beach Overlook

Strolling Bulli Beach with Bruce and Margaret

The Boogie-Boarders

Boogie On!

Mike, Margaret and Bruce

Sharing Chips (fries) with tomato sauce (ketchup) at Bulli Beach

No sightings today but hopefully!

Mike joked that if I was going to drive we would need an "L" (learner's permit) sticker for the back of the van. We are still on the left in Australia.

Camper van Shopping (Above and Below)

Bruce, Mike and Gregory discover the cause of the clatter...a broken shock.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Welcome to Blue Mountains National Park

Click here to read more about the Blue Mountains

Gregory tries on a drover's hat in the shop. What a ham!

Just hanging out in the rainforest.

See Below

Katoomba Falls as seen from the Scenic Skyway (see below)

Glass-bottomed Scenic Skyway ~ It is hard to see in this picture but you can see the base of the falls through the floor.

Exquisite Eucalypt Trees

Mt. Solitary is over my left shoulder. Mun-mi-ee is the Gundungarra Aboriginal name for this feature.

Mt. Solitary (Mun-mi-nee)

The Scenic Railway ~ This 206 metre (676 foot) vertical drop is not for the faint of heart! We did it! The very dark tunnel portion of the ride is 80 metres (262 feet)! They play the Indiana Jones theme music as you make your descent.

Three Sisters as seen from Queen Elizabeth Lookout ~ Queen Elizabeth viewed the Jamison Valley from this lookout during her visit on 12 Feb. 1954.

Three Sisters ~ Mennhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo ~
These rock formations are very important in Aboriginal Legend.

Gregory feels the "furry" Black Wattle leaves (see below)

Termites Nest ~ They "grow" these even bigger in the Outback.

100 metres is 328 feet!

On our first morning in Australia we woke to a rich musical chatter of what seemed like hundreds of birds! Our hosts live 50 minutes outside of Sydney and though they are in quite an established suburban neighborhood, their property has a very rural feel to it as they are surrounded by eucalypt trees and you can hike down to the back of their acre property and it backs up to the Nepean River.

In their backyard, Margaret wanted us to be sure to see the unique nest made by the Satin Bower Bird. Their "main bowers (nests) are neat avenues of thin sticks woven upright into two walls aligned north-south, and usually painted black with a mixture of charcoal dust and saliva dabbed on with the bill. Platform at both ends are decorated with flowers, feathers, berries and various man-made objects—mostly BLUE!" (Taken from Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds) Sure enough we went out in the yard and saw the Bowerbird's nest with blue pegs (clothes pins), blue milk jug caps, bits of blue string and misc. other blue items! He has glossy black feathers that have a blue sheen and we saw him perched up in their trees.

Another treat were the Crimson Rosellas with their bright crimson red and cobalt blue feathers. We spotted them perched on the bird bath, fence and swooping amongst the tree tops. They are quite stunning and something you would have to go to a pet store to see in America. The Crimson Rosellas can be either red, orange or yellow in color and live along the edges of tall-timbered eucalypt forests and woodlands, from river red gums along the Murray-Darling Rivers to rainforests on the Atherton Tableland. (Reader's Digest)

Another very noisy bird found in their treetops (that looks like it should be in a zoo or aviary) are the massive Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Their plumage is white with a forward-curving crest of yellow on the top of their head. I can't describe it any better so I have to quote this information on their voice: "Contact call in flight very loud, harsh, raucous screech ending with a slight upward inflection. Alarm call a succession of abrupt guttural screeches. Feeding and preening are accompanied by an occasional squawk or shrill two-syllable whistle." They are stunningly beautiful birds and in this past week we have had a couple of occasions to see absolutely dozens roosting in a tree-tops. As evening comes and the birds roost in the trees the sound can be almost deafening until after the sun sets but they will start back up in the morning! They can also make a mess by stripping the bark and leaves from the trees.

We hiked down to the river on their property in hopes of spotting a kangaroo but only got a glimpse of the many kangaroo trails in the underbrush. We did see the banks of the Nepean River on the edge of their property and Margaret also took us to Rock Lookout where we watched the sunset over the Nepean River and the beautiful dense forest of Blue Mountains National Park.

Another local creature came for a visit during our stay at the Rossiter residence and that was a highly poisonous brown snake (even more deadly than the black snake we're told). Margaret and Bruce just happened to see it in the garden! I can tell you I didn't go out their front door after that without having a good look around! This is one reason Gregory and I wanted to get a van in Australia rather than camping on the ground in our tent! I heard someone say there are more poisonous snakes and spiders here than in any other country in the world. I'll have to check that statistic! If not the most I'm sure there are plenty to keep you on your toes!

Mike's been shopping online for vans (to buy) since we got here. We had a look on the used car lots on our first day but didn't have much luck. With an appointment to see a van on Tuesday afternoon, Margaret and Bruce decided we should spend the morning taking a drive to Bulli Beach about an hour south of Wallacia. They reckon it is better than Sydney's famous Bondi Beach because there are no tourists and no parking fees. It was incredible. The water was gorgeous and the three of us put on our wetsuits and spent at least an hour riding the waves on our boogie-boards. It has been around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees F) for our first days in country and I've been in shorts and tank tops every day!

In contrast, Wednesday was a stressful day of driving into Sydney to check out vans at the Backpacker's Car Market and other car lots. Just Mike, Gregory and I went into the city and though we had maps, and Bruce and Mike had talked about directions, I had difficulty giving guidance from the passenger's seat and the freeway signs weren't always helpful in guiding us to our destination. We found the vans had high mileage, were older and expensive and we decided to head back to Wallacia making one last stop that was on the itinerary.

But, this was not before I had to have a look at the world famous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. (We plan to have a day where we take the train into the city and have a ferry ride to Manly Beach, with plenty of up close views around the harbour, but that probably won't be until the end of our 3-months holiday and I just couldn't wait to have a look.) Navigating the streets to get to this destination added to the stress of the morning but we did see these two iconic structures in all of their glory.

Things only went from bad to worse on the way home. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. I was so upset I couldn't speak and couldn't even participate in looking on the last few car lots. Mike was exasperated because of my inability to help him with the navigation and couldn't help but voice this, which only made me feel like calling it quits. When we walked in the door Gregory summed it up by saying to Margaret and Bruce, "Mom and Dad didn't have a good day. Mommy isn't the navigator anymore." I wish! Fortunately for us Margaret had cooked a tasty veggie stir fry and had a bottle of Cabernet waiting. Bruce lightened the mood when he blessed the food and said something to the effect of "help us to better deal with frustrating situations." I had a bit of a giggle at that but I still wasn't talking to Mike. After dinner I went to lie down on the bed and fell asleep in my clothes (around 7:30 P.M.) and didn't rise until the morning.

Thursday was a much needed regroup and to do this we got back to nature. Margaret and Bruce figured that a trip up to the Blue Mountains was just the ticket and they sent us on our way, about an hour and a half west to Katoomba, where we went to Scenic World. Yes, this sounds very touristy (and there were indeed many buses loaded with Asian tourists) but it really was a fabulous way to see the mountains. I guess Mike felt we needed to splurge so we spent the AU$70 ($65US ~ That is AU$70.00 x .93 exchange rate = $65US) to ride the glass-bottomed Scenic Skyway tram back and forth across the Jamison Valley, take the very steep Scenic Railway down through the vertical cliff side tunnel (not for the faint of heart ~ we were screaming!) to the walkways amongst the rain forest in the valley below, and the Scenic Cableway back up the mountainside. It was a stunning day with majestic mountain views all around. It was the perfect kind of day to mend a wounded soul.

We marveled at all of the rain forest vegetation including many varieties of eucalyptus and the various birds roosting in the trees and flying about. We even saw a Superb Lyrebird scratching around on the forest floor. We think we saw a male because his upper feathers were a chocolate brown and he had long dark brown tail feathers. I read that to attract a mate the male fans out these tail feathers the breaks into song. One of the unique things about these birds is that "although the birds are capable of imitating almost any sound—from a mill whistle to a cross-cut saw—they usually restrict their mimicry to loud clear sounds made by other birds and mammals." (Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds).

The Blue Mountains are so named because of the blue haze that comes from the eucalyptus oil that is emitted from the leaves of the trees. Even with this ever present haze we had stunning views on this bright sunny day.

Part of the reason we were able to relax and enjoy our day in the Blue Mountains is because Mike went online and booked a rental van. We got what we felt was a decent price but most importantly we've settled on a vehicle and can now get past the hunt and enjoy ourselves. All I have to say is thank goodness for our kind and generous hosts who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. Today, (Friday, April 16) Bruce was kind enough to go back into Sydney with Mike and Gregory to pick up our van while Margaret suggested she take me to do my shopping. She also took me to the hairdresser and took me to the phone store to set us up on a plan with a phone she is loaning us. We took time to sit and enjoy a coffee and a muffin and went to several stores for groceries and essentials. They really have been a godsend. Mike's parents wanted us to be sure to convey their thanks for taking such good care of us.

Tonight Mike set up the "Cheapa Campa" van with all of our belongings and food. It is really quite decked-out with a fridge, microwave, sink, table that converts to a double bed, a loft bed for Gregory, linens and pillows, bath towels, pots and pans, dishes and silverware, a toaster, a tea kettle (for the stove), an electric "pot" for boiling water, tea towels, condiments and more! Margaret and Bruce are loaning us blankets, chairs and other bits that will make us more comfortable. Bruce even cut pieces of carpet for us to use as doormats! Tomorrow we plan to drive north a couple of hours to meet their daughter Bronwyn and her two boys and then we will be on our way from there. Meanwhile, we have the flexibility of leaving our suitcases and other camping equipment here at the house while we are on our 3-month journey. We still don't have an exact itinerary, because we like to go where the wind blows us, but we've decided to head north and follow the warm weather. We had so much fun boogie-boarding that we just can't wait to get some more beach time!

I'm getting better at traveling without too many expectations. Whatever we see will be wonderful and since Australia is such a big country (from Perth to Sydney would be like going from LA to NY) we know we will just get a flavour of the country on this trip. Already we have seen and experienced so much in just a week. The other day Mike said, "I'm trying to decide if Australia feels like anywhere else that we have been." I commented that I didn't think so and that part of it had to do with the eucalyptus trees everywhere and the birds! Australia has a feel all its own. We can't wait to go exploring and perhaps see some of the many creatures that are unique to this country alone.

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