Thursday, October 1, 2015

A bird's eye view of Sydney.

A few weeks ago we read a Facebook article asserting that the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb was one of the top 10 bucket list travel activities in Australia. Since we'd done quite a few of the others (watch the sun rise over Uluru, drive the Great Ocean Road, snorkel the reef etc) and we were going to Sydney- and despite the fact that it cost A LOT and, as mentioned previously, I am seriously acrophobic, this became a MUST DO activity and Geoff booked us in for the last day of our holiday.

The Bridge Climb company is a very slick organisation. I don't know which entrepreneurial genius came up with the idea but I wish it had been me! Every 15 minutes from 9am till 9pm they escort a group of up to 14 patrons, (each paying $218 each - unless it's the special Cantonese experience or bridge karaoke! - that's more), to the top of the most famous coat hanger in the world.

The first 15 minutes are spent suiting up into the glamorous, bridge walk onesies, getting used to the harness that keeps you constantly tethered to a clever sliding thing and paying particular attention to to the special hooks that attach everything from your sunglasses to caps, beanies, polar fleeces, handkerchiefs and radio headsets, so that nothing falls down on the unsuspecting travelers below.

Then there's a few minutes practising how to go up and down the ladders - turn to your right, don't look down, face the wall, feel for every step, hang on to the rails! Our guide, Lisa, was lovely and we were lucky enough to have just 4 other people in our group so it was easy to ask questions and get help if we needed it. The actual climb, up and back, takes about 2 1/2 hrs with lots of stops to admire the scenery. It could be done much faster, but having committed that much money and energy, it was great to have time to savor the view. And what a view it is! On a clear day like yesterday we had a panoramic view of beautiful Sydney Harbour and the CBD and you could see far beyond the city boundaries.The frequent stops also gave me time to catch my breath. There are 1390 steps on the climb, half of which go up! There's also a little bit of climbing in and around the struts, and some more energy expended on the sheer exhilaration of being ON TOP OF THE HARBOUR BRIDGE.

In some parts of the bridge you can see through the 'floor' to the highway and the harbor below. At other spots, the trains hurtle past, above or beside you. It's a wee bit disconcerting but to be honest you are so high and so exposed that it all seems a bit surreal, and therefore, less frightening. At the very top you walk across a skinny little beam and have your photo taken. No drama at all!

There are plenty of interesting anecdotes included in the climb, including one about an Irishman who was the only person to survive a fall from the bridge and another about the engineer's wife who climbed the bridge in her high heels but to be honest I was too busy concentrating on putting one foot safely after the other to listen properly.

Included in the price is a ticket to the pylon lookout (usually $13 each), so we thought we better do that as well. The bridge climb was a wonderful experience; the pylon lookout not so much, so it was just as well we didn't pay. Maybe if we hadn't just been looking out on the world from the top of the bridge, the view from the pylon might have been worth the seven flights of stairs to get up there but it certainly wouldn't have been worth $13!

Much less impressive view from the pylon.
By the time we got down the 7 flights and back to our car park, unfortunately the dreaded Sydney evening commute had started and it took us a long time to clear the city. Consequently we made it only as far as Holbrook where we found a quaint little motel to rest our weary heads - and legs. The motel reminded me of somewhere on the old Route 66 in the U.S. Like many small towns there, Holbrook is dying now that the highway bypasses them and the several, 70's styled motels must be finding it hard to make a buck. Nevertheless, the 'Settlers' was clean and spacious, with a comfy bed and a friendly welcome from the manager.

Today we checked out the Holbrook submarine - yes, that's a real submarine with an interesting history that you can look up yourself because it's just a bit odd. Hopefully its oddness will draw a few cars in from the highway to keep the town traders viable.

After another 6 hrs driving today we were home. Thanks to some very good friends, our old dog was looking fine, the fish and the chooks were still alive and the cats were pleased to see us.

Time to get back to the real world for a few months before our next adventure.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Blue Mountains

On the map it looks like a long and windy drive to the Blue Mountains. In fact it’s a really simple, one hour run along the M2 from Lane Cove to Katoomba, so leaving at 9am gave us a full day to take in the rugged beauty of this area.

We based ourselves at ‘Scenic World’. This is an apt, if unoriginal name. Scenic World boundaries the gorge with amazing views out to Echo Point, the Three Sisters and Orphan Rock. For $35 per person you have unlimited use of the cable car, gondola and scenic train (the steepest in the world, apparently).

I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to the day; my overwhelming fear of heights doesn’t really sit well with cable cars,  gondolas suspended over gorges, or trains that plummet at a 52 degree angle down the mountainside! However, I was determined to enjoy myself and with a bit of mindfulness and self talk, I managed the day quite well – I even did the train ride twice!

From the bottom of the train track there is a fantastic boardwalk that takes you right down into the valley and up again, past the old coal mines and through the rainforest. It’s quite stunning.

The view from the other side of the valley, at Echo Point, is equally stunning; Australia’s own Grand Canyon’ish’ view. At the end of a long day we didn’t do any walks from there but if you had a few days to spend in the mountains you would certainly walk out to the Three Sisters.

By the time we got back to Lane Cove there was just time to pick up food for dinner and admire the super moon leering down on us through the gum trees in the park.

This morning we woke up early with our friendly parakeets joined by a couple of kookaburras wanting to share our breakfast.

We have kids from our school riding at the National Interschools’ Equestrian Championships so we headed over to Hornsby for a quick look at the horses. What an amazing venue the Sydney Equestrian Centre is! Built for the 2000 Olympics, it covers many hectares with beautiful indoor and outdoor arenas, and a cross country course built into the natural bush, just metres from the Motorway. We were lucky enough to see Lizzy and Asha both ride clear rounds and place 3rd and 6th in today’s event. It was quite thrilling to hear them read out ‘respresenting Mortlake College’ twice in the one presentation ceremony!

From there it was back to the Macquarie Shopping Centre to pick me up a new iPhone. It’s hard to believe how quickly those two contract years come and go but Taine is now the happy recipient of my hand me down and I’m pretty happy with the improved camera and extra 64 gb of storage on my new 6s.

Back at the park we finally found time to venture into the national park. The path from the caravan park wends its way along the river and is populated with lots of little BBQ and picnic spots. We saw a variety of birds and several huge lizards who were very non plussed with our appearance. Taine and Geoff had a very quick swim ( the water was freezing) and then we enjoyed Lyle’s home cooked chicken casserole for dinner.

Unfortunately it will be time to go home tomorrow. I’d certainly come back to Lane Cove. You could easily spend a week here.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Saturday was one of those bittersweet days when you can’t be in 2 (or in this case, 3) places at once. Thanks to the AFL Grand Final being played a week later this year, so were the Hampden and Geelong netball finals and, as luck would have it, both our girls made it to the big game this year, played on the middle Saturday of the school holidays. It was never going to be possible for us to be in Warrnambool and Geelong on the same day so we decided to put our holiday plans first and miss both games. Those of you who read my personal blog will know that this was a big deal for me!

Thanks to friends watching at both venues sending me updates, I was able to keep track of the games as we drove from Queanbeyan to Sydney.
The trip up the Hume from Canberra to Sydney was uneventful, albeit boring
(except for the netball updates). Jaime’s game was first and it was close enough to raise my anxiety levels. Finally the message came through that they’d won and I could breathe a sigh of relief until Sophie’s game started an hour later.

This was always going to be a close game and the scores were pretty much level the whole way through. By the time the last quarter came we were arriving at the park and I’m sure the check in lady thought I was completely mad as I tried to explain to her why I was watching my phone and jumping up and down and clutching my chest at the same time as I was filling in the resident details.


In the end Soph won too (by 1 goal, on the bell!) and I was sorry I wasn’t around to celebrate but glad I hadn’t had to choose between games, relieved that I hadn’t had the courtside stress and grateful to Wendy and Laura & Lisa for ‘live’ streaming for me. Also pretty proud that at three different clubs the girls and I have achieved a hat trick of premierships this year. I’m sure that’s some kind of record; go us!

Lane Cove Tourist Park is wedged between the cemetery and the crematorium and under a flight path. None of that looks particularly inviting on the map but the park is actually beautiful with the other boundary opening up onto the national park. After the cramped, cold and sparse conditions of the last couple of nights, the spacious 2 bedroom log cabin, complete with a full fridge and oven, lounge room furniture, split cycle air con, a queen sized bed AND pillows is palatial! We have a lovely outside deck that overlooks the national park and (with the exception of the planes overhead) no noisy neighbours or roadside noise. There is a prolific and friendly bird population, including a few huge bush turkeys who roam about at will.
Of course the birds chose Lyle as a landing post!
Yesterday we ventured into Sydney on the train. North Ryde station is only a 10 minute walk from the park and, as luck would have it, there’s a special family pass available on Sundays that gave us unlimited travel, all day, for just $2.50 each. Bargain!

I think Sydney Harbour is spectacular and it doesn’t matter how many times you see it, it’s always an ‘ahhhh’ moment when you get a glimpse of the bridge and the Opera House. This was Taine’s first visit and he was suitably impressed.

We went for a walk through the market at the Rocks, where, unless you are an overseas tourist there’s actually nothing to buy. I think every last ounce of Australianism has been wrung out to capture the tourist dollar; racing wooden kangaroos, 3D postage stamps, soap in every imaginable bush scent, gilded gum leaves, dubious health products derived from various native animal organs….
We tried for a cup of coffee in a couple of hip/retro coffee shops but the wait time was 30 minutes just for coffee and the Devonshire tea (best scones in Sydney) was $14 a person.

We pushed on to Circular Quay and used our bargain Sunday pass for a ferry ride around the harbor. This took us past Kirribilli House and Luna Park and gave us the money shots of both the bridge and the Opera House.

For lunch we ate a little bit of food for quite a lot of money at the Opera House Kitchen on the water’s edge. Location, location and the food was pretty good too. A walk around Farm Cove and Government House presented an opportunity to give Taine a history lesson about European settlement and then we jumped on another ferry to Darling Harbour where we wandered around until it was time for an early dinner before making our way to the theatre to watch “ Matilda”.

Matilda was every bit as good as we expected it to be. Tim Minchin is a genius and the young cast pulled off his lyrics perfectly. We had learnt a couple of the songs for State School Spectacular last year so it was fun to sing along with ‘When I grow up’ and ‘Revolting Children’.

To get home we had to take the light rail to Central and then wait awhile for a train back to North Ryde. Not quite as efficient as the Metro or Underground but much cleaner and an easier to use system than Myki and our Sunday pass meant that each of our trips for the day worked out to be 50c each. Pretty good value!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ride the Capital

On the way out of Beechworth we made a stop at the bakery to grab a few supplies for the trip and then drove via Wentworth Falls for a squiz. This is a picturesque little spot, no doubt a summer haven for locals and tourists alike.
Wentworth Falls

We had a pit stop at the Dog on the Tuckerbox, 9 (or 5) miles from Gundagai to polish off the family sized bee sting we’d bought at the bakery. With Lee Kernaghan blasting from the café and bus loads of tourists flooding the area, I felt quite at home in my uggs and the Akubra I bought in Alice Springs. A little oasis of Australiana right there on the side of the highway.

Accommodation is scarce in Canberra at this time of the year so we had booked into the Queanbeyan Riverside Caravan Park. Canberra is a beautifully set out, abeit kind of empty and sterile, city. Queanbeyan is like it’s bogan cousin who lives just down the road. The park brochure said the tourist park was ‘tranquil and leafy’. I guess we are just coming out of winter so I’m prepared to reserve judgement on the leafy bit and there are definitely pockets of tranquility here. A river runs through the back of the park. It has a lot of signs; no swimming, no boating, no fishing. It looks very dodgy so no one goes down there. I can, therefore, imagine that it might be quite tranquil by the water. Up here where our cabin is parked – I say parked because it’s sitting on blocks just waiting to be carted away – beside the major road, it’s a bit (very) noisy. Most of the residents are weekly permanents and Thursday must be pay day. When our neighbor arrived home at 4am, you could almost taste the tranquility!

Plenty to do here!
The plus side is that the local shopping mall is right next door so we were able to walk there last night to pick up a few necessities not included with the cabin; pillows, a fleece rug because we’re freezing at night, some duct tape to cover the draught coming through the hole in the wall and a heater for Lyle and Mark because there isn’t one in their motorhome. Unfortunately there were NO heaters for sale at K Mart or Target because ‘Winter is over, we only have fans’. Dudes, it was 0 C here last night. Run your stock by the weather, not the calendar.

This morning we drove in to Canberra and parked (for free) beside Lake Burley Griffin, unloaded our bikes and did almost the entire lake circuit. What a beautiful place for riding, with 28kms of bike path taking plenty of Canberra’s monuments in their stride. We stopped at the Old Parliament House for our first coffee stop and then at Floriade for a peek at the flowers.

Floriade is lovely and the admission price is excellent (it’s free). We were able to park our bikes at the entrance and just wander in. There’s a bit of everything at Floriade. It’s a bit like the Melbourne Show with flowers instead of horses, no crowds and reasonable prices for food and drink. We showed our appreciation by buying things; beautiful hanging chairs for Lyle & me (but shoosh because they’re being delivered for Christmas), hemp hats, again for Lyle and me and a lavender heat bag for Taine. Mark and Geoff bought a ridiculous amount of gourmet nuts and challenged each other to eat increasingly hot chilli samples. Small things ……

From Floriade we rode ALL the way back around the lake through picturesque little groves of trees that I could not identify and past a mob of collared kangaroos who barely glanced up at us as we rode by. I was pretty impressed with my own survival of such a long ride and I would certainly recommend it to anyone else traveling to Canberra. The city is made to be seen by bicycle.

A trip up the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain gave us the chance to see just how far we’d ridden. I guess a trip up the tower is important to get a bird’s eye of the city but it’s pretty tame compared to the Eureka Tower or Sky Tower (or Eiffel Tower – excuse my tower dropping).

On the way home we stopped at Parliament House to see who was in charge today. It was closed for the business and there was no sign of Julia/Kevin/Bill/Tony or Malcolm but Taine did get to see the view down ANZAC drive toward the War Memorial.

For dinner we walked across to the Canberra Raider’s Leagues Club. I had a parma that I think came from the breast of a pterodactyl; great value for money.

Now it’s time to hunker down in our little cabin of serenity and watch the footy before we drive to Sydney tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Road Trip- Beechworth

We haven’t had a road trip since our big adventure to the Red Centre last year, and we haven’t been to Sydney since before Taine was born, and our September holiday buddy, Lyle, was desperate to try out a motorhome so this seemed an appropriate time to pack up the Kluger and head north for a week.

Our first stop was Beechworth, Lyle’s old home town. Traveling around the ring road and out onto the Hume Highway, Beechworth is an easy 3 hr drive from Melbourne. We are staying at Lake Sambell , in a quaint little caravan park reminiscent of somewhere from a Lampoon’s pitstop. It has a home made mini golf course, a badminton net and a fascinating ‘hayride’ where a guy drags a cage full of kids around behind his four wheel motorbike! We’re staying in a cabin – having cured our own motorhome itch in NZ many years ago– 9 days (on our honeymoon) with a 9 yr old- I still shudder when I think of it!

The cabin is great, apart from the rock hard bed and the overnight temperature of .5 (weather app told me it felt like -3.5 at 6am). Unfortunately we didn’t find the spare blanket in the cupboard until after we’d shivered through the night but we’ll be good as gold tonight.

Traveling in our own vehicle has the added bonus of allowing us to bring our bikes on holiday and Beechworth is a beautiful place to ride. We set off this morning for a short ride down the Gorge Road, which Lyle assured us was gentle on both the descent and the ascent. Clearly her memory of this ride is a hangover from her teenage years, when no doubt it seemed like a gentle ride. By the time we reached the bottom my fingers were cramping from squeezing the brakes. At the bottom of the gorge is a lovely little pool fed by a waterfall, which in turn is fed with the icy water flowing down from the snow capped mountains. Maddy, Taine and Geoff all stripped off for a swim. Taine chickened out after 5 minutes but the others braved it long enough to get under the waterfall and out again.

The (not so gentle) ascent gave me plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of the gorge because thigh burn forced me to walk the second half and by the time we reached town a trip to the famous Beechworth Bakery had well and truly been earned. The reputation of the bakery is well deserved. I had a Ned Kelly pie (oddly named because for sure Ned ate his meat pies topped with an egg, cheese and bacon!) and a bee-sting pastry that was more deliciousness than I could manage on my own, washed down with a bottomless cup of coffee.

From there we spent a leisurely hour in the shops. The lolly shop was tempting but we were still too full from lunch so we feasted only with our eyes. The main street is book ended by honey shops, both full of all sorts of interesting honey products. I bought lots of honey. We also strolled down to the old convent, now a fascinating , 3 story, labyrinth of a guest house. If we weren’t at the Lake Sambell caravan park, that would be the place to stay.

By the time we got back to the park our legs were a bit weary but we went for a walk around the lake anyway. Lake Sambell is a leftover byproduct from the Spring Creek gold diggings and the area around it has been lovingly landscaped by the local community. There’s a great playground and some interesting indigenous art work woven amongst the walking and cycle tracks. I imagine it is a really lovely place to be in the Summer.

Taine made the most of the afore said activities, we sat in the sunshine and relaxed with our books and then we went to the bistro at the Hibernian Hotel for dinner. It was nothing special, an ok pub meal in pretty ordinary pub décor.

Back at camp we hired a fire box, bought $15 worth of wood and shivered our way through a bag of toasted marshmallows and a bottle of red.

Beechworth is very pretty and an interesting half way stop over on the way to Canberra. Hopefully we’ll have time to pick up another bee-sting on our way out tomorrow.