Yesterday morning, I took the train out to Nikki's house in Warrawee. It was about a 40 minute train ride from the city, but was so much more relaxing than sitting in traffic in Los Angeles. She had a lot of outdoor plans for us to go "bush walking." From the name, I assumed bush walking meant going into the outback or someplace, way out in the middle of nowhere, but as it turns out, the phrase is pretty equivalent to "hiking." Just going out into anywhere that has no city and walking about. Sadly, though it has been nice the entire time I've been in Sydney, it was POURING when I got up, and continued to do so after I got to Nikki's place.
Despite the weather, we still headed into the bush by way of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park in an area called Westhead (I think I have that right). Although it was pouring rain and cold, it was really cool and a HUGE forest. Nikki used to volunteer there, so she knew her way around and took me to a place where she thought we might be able to see some Wallabies, but no such luck. We drove around to another area of the park where we walked into the bush. Because of the rain, the trail, which is usually hard packed red clay, was a squishy mess of red mud. I was really regretting only taking one pair of shoes with me (now coated in clay) and one jacket (a hoodie - no good for rain!). But the trek through the mud was well worth it. I was taken to a few different places where there were aboriginal carvings in the sandstone. Much of Australia is sandstone, which I believe is because much of it was once under water. Anyway, it's s soft rock, and easy to carve into. The carvings in the stone rock ground are equivalent to cave paintings, I guess. I took some photos which I'll post when I get around to it. (You may have to wait until I get home - the internet is so slow here I don't want to pay by the minute to upload anything, plus they're all stored on my iPod right now). ANYWAY...
Once we got done looking at the carvings, we drove into town to get a "sanbo" which is slang for sandwich. At first I thought she was saying "Sambo" which is totally NOT a sandwich. By the time we were done with lunch, the weather was clearing and the sun was showing itself in the sky. We drove over to Narrabeen Beach, which Nikki told me was a "real" beach. As a local, she doesn't think much of places like Bondi or Manly where all the tourists flock. Narrabeen is a place where real Sydneysiders go, beautiful and secluded. We then hiked up to nearby Collaroy Plateau where we watched the sun begin to go down over the water. We hiked down the side of the plateau back to the waterfront where a guy was fishing, and right there beside him, a whole group (gaggle?) of pelicans. Very friendly birds, or maybe they just wanted food from the fisherman. At any rate, I got lots of cool photos. In fact, I've taken more photos of birds here in Australia than I have at any other time in my life. The birds are all so different and unique here. I'd seen this beautiful black bird in the Botanical Gardens, and noticed when it lifted it's wings, it had a patch of bright teal feathers under one wing, and purle feathers under the other wing. I described it to Nikki who didn't know what I was talking about, then I found a photo of one of them on my camera, and she laughed saying, "That's just a duck!"
We then grabbed a pizza and went back to her place to watch an Aussie movie called "Kenny the Plumber" on DVD at her place and I took the train back home at night. It was a very fun, entertaining couple of days, and a testament to how nice Australians are that someone who doesn't even know me would go out of her way on her only day off to show me around, even in the pouring rain.
Today was finally the day of my day trip to the Blue Mountains. I'm not sure if I mentioned it in my previous post about this, but the Blue Mountains are neither blue nor mountains. They're a sandstone plateau that was "dissected" (causing a huge rift and cliffs). The blue tinge to the mountains comes from the oil given off by all the Eucalyptis trees that grow there. Because it's so dry in Australia, the area is prone to bush fires, and in fact, the Blue Mountains have the highest incidence of fires than anywhere else in the world! Also, the "mountains" aren't very high. Something like 80% of Australia is under 600 meters high, which also makes it the flattest continent. (Can't say I wasn't paying attention today!)
I got picked up by the bus at quarter to eight, and then we had to drive around the city picking up the other 19 people who would be joining us. We drove an hour to the base of the Blue Mountains and had a short morning tea. We then drove up to Kings Table, this big stone outcropping right to the edge of the cliff face. The wind was blowing HARD and it was super cold. There is also no guide rail, so we were warned not to get too close to the edge or we could be blown off. We then drove to Wentworth Falls, another place to view the mountains. This is where it was explained to us how the early settlers couldn't initially figure out how to get past the mountains. They tried to pass them they way you normally would a mountain - by following the low ground. But they went as far as they could, and then encountered this falls area which is surrounded by cliffs on all sides and no where to go. They had to turn around and go back to Sydney. It took them 25 years before someone figured out you have to follow the ridges, not the valleys, and that's how they got past.
After that, we went to Scenic World, which was a bit of a let down. Big trolley that goes down at a 55 degree drop - impressive. Short walk through the rainforest, and a view of the Three Sisters, a rock formation. Not too big of a deal. We then lunched in nearby Leura. BORING. Small town whose center reminded me of Big Bear's but without any of the...well without anything, really. We then drove to a place where there was a single aboriginal engraving in the sandstone. Not too impressive after all the ones I had seen the day before with Nikki. But then we went into the Blue Mountains National Park.
We'd been skirting the park, I guess, because there were towns and such. But the park itself is actually the size of Ireland. Yep - one park, the size of an entire country. I said to the guide, "Yeah, but there are towns and houses, right?" because I thought we had already been driving in the park. He shook his head. Just a huge park where you can drive in or bike in and go camping. And the best part is that kangaroos are wild in the environment there! We didn't get to see too many because it was Saturday and there were a lot of humans about, but we finally found two eating in a grassy area. It looked like a mother and her baby. They weren't very big. Maybe 3' standing. But so cool looking. You're not supposed to touch them...they ARE wild. But they look so cute! And when they bound off they are SO graceful. It's really a beautiful thing to watch. And then when we were driving out of the park, we came across 4 more crossing the road and they bounded over this fence and it was awesome. They were playing and chasing each other. Can you imagine camping in the forest, and instead of deer, there are kangaroos just hanging around? I must come back to this park someday to camp.
Finally, we stopped at Homebush Bay, the site of the huge olympic park they built for the olympics in 2000. After a quick look around, we went down and caught a ferry back to Circular Quay. I walked around with an English woman I met on the trip and had dinner with her. She is a newly retired grade school teacher who has given herself the gift of travel for her retirement. Started in San Francisco, then New Zealand, then ALL OVER Australia. She's off to Bali next, and then Thailand.
Sorry there are no photos and no links to anything. Australia is a bit behind us on the whole internet thing. The "broad" band is not so fast, and again, my Blogger page is in Chinese. When I went to Nikki's, she was still on dial up!
It's hard to believe it, but my stop in Sydney is coming to an end. Tomorrow is the last day I'll get here, as I have to be on a plane to Melbourne first thing Monday morning. Make sure you all say Happy Birthday to Wally on the 22nd. My little boy will be turning 7.