Having said my goodbyes to everyone including the lovely Bear, I set off in my little white Hyundai for Sydney some 900 plus kilometres. I was a little later setting off than I intended, I don’t know why, probably enjoying me freedom before two days driving in my little car. But before I leave Brisbane entirely I must mention the birds. Becky and Shannon have a big garden and it is full of birds everything from cockatoos to the Australian magpie which is much more black and white than the English version. In England we talk about the dawn chorus, but believe me you haven’t heard anything until you have been woken up at five am with this lot in full voice, what a racket. No lie ins possible there until you get used to that. So that wasn’t my reason for being so slow that morning!
Anyway I loaded my car and as I was leaving I could see Bear watching me go from under the back gate, so sweet I could easily have dog knapped him. The route took me out through the centre of Brisbane so I was driving on all the roads I had been looking at when walking in the bank of the river, there is a sort of highway built alongside the river bank and it looks very impressive from the opposite side. Once in the centre it was five lanes, and as we left the metropolis it became four then three then two and eventually a single lane carriage way. The road is called the Pacific Highway and I was looking forward to seeing the Pacific. How wrong could I be! All I could see was bush, sometimes the bush was even in between the carriageways. It was still very scenic though and I enjoyed the drive. I was going to stop at some services but I missed my chance, I hadn’t distinguished between a sign which genuinely meant a service area and a sign pointing to amenities in a small town often some way off the main road. So I went on a few wild goose chases looking for something decent for lunch and eventually settling for an ice cream and a bottle of water and a bag of crisps from some shop at a camp site. Oh well you live and learn.
I had booked a night stopover at Coffs Harbour and towards late afternoon started to make my way from the main road down the this coastal town. Before I talk about that I must mention that there is a huge project going on rebuilding the Pacific Highway so there were lots of roadworks all the way long the route. At first I didn’t really understand the scale of what was being done. Obviously they are increasing the number of lanes which is generally one or two. There were often signs about flooding and in areas where there were big rivers or bodies of water and a lot of these roads where being raised significantly to overcome these issues. I went over one bridge where they were building new bridge alongside the current one and they had most of the pillars in the water, at its apex it was at least twice as high as the bridge I was on. The other thing about the roadworks was that once you got off the main road, there were more roadworks related to the same project elsewhere so it was as if the road is being completely rerouted in places. There were also lots of entrances and exits for working vehicles to the roadworks which seemed to be miles from the roadworks themselves. I would have loved to have see the overall plan and how it all fitted together.
As well as travelling through the bush, I was staggered by the sheer size of some of the rivers I crossed, and the enormous bodies of water which there were, the beauty of these areas was fabulous, really you need about a week to really explore this whole route. I suppose this journey started to give me a feel for the size and scale of the country. When you consider in New Zealand you can take a train from Auckland to Wellington in a day, all right that is not the full length of the island because you have the northern area as well, but here it was taking me two days to get from one city to the next. Much more like America, but you look at America on a map and you can see the scale more, you might not appreciate it completely until you travel some of it. But in Australia you don’t really get the scale until you are here, and there is so much of it which is just bush. I am sitting on a train as I write this and all I can see is bush, mile after mile. And it was the same for this car journey. Bush with a bit of water thrown in, just going on forever.
Anyway back to the journey as I made my way to Coffs Harbour I passed a small local airport, they are everywhere too, and I came over the top of a hill at one point and caught a glimpse of the sea. The one and only time I saw it in the distance. Even when I got to Coffs Harbour, the sea was still hidden by bush, trees everywhere and you have to make your way through these to get to the beach. I was booked into a motel which had what was described as a pub style restaurant and bar. The accommodation was pretty basic, but you get what you pay for and it was only one night. I put my nose into the restaurant which was laid out pretty much like a school dining hall. And it was already packed with overwhelming noise. I should say at this point I had been unable to have any music on in my car because the satnav was plugged into the usb and so it thought I was playing multimedia. So I had spent a day in virtual silence. I thought I would go for a walk along the beach to blow the cobwebs away first and then go back and try and face the noise. It took me a while to work out how to get on to the beach but eventually I found a little pathway and found my way down there. White sand, blue sea, almost deserted what more could I want. I wandered along for quite a way and then back again. I then ventured a little nearer to where I thought the hotel was before finding a way through the trees I was still a little shy of my destination, but not far off. I made my way into the bar and ordered a drink, this place was really big and clearly catered for far more than just the motel which was only a few rooms. I asked about eating and was told to place my order over there in the dining area and then they would call me to pick it up. So off I trotted only to stand in the wrong queue to start with. Anyway in the right queue I ordered the steak, mainly because I had read a review about the place and the guy said he had the steak and it was really good! Am I too easily led I wonder.
I found a table nearby and was guided by a couple at the other end as to where to find a knife, fork and serviette. All self service there I am afraid. My buzzer went off, the sort you get in Marks and Spencer when you eat in their cafe. I went to collect my steak and it was enormous. Anyway I hadn’t really eaten much during the day so I ploughed on. Meanwhile another lady who had just collected her food asked if I minded if she joined me at my table. Please do I said glad of a bit of company and hopefully a good conversation. I am glad to report it was both, she and her husband had moved to Australia a few years before , having visited for a holiday and fallen in love with it. The we’re currently living in Brisbane and she worked for a Credit Union, they seem to be big business in Australia, far more so than the ones we have in the U.K. She had flown down a couple of days before for work. Her motel didn’t have any restaurant and this had been recommended to her. I had looked in google and everywhere else nearby was a car journey away or had poor reviews. I am relying quite a lot on reviews the more I travel. We had a great chat about the country and missing home and how easy communication was these days. She does multichannel chats with her mother and sisters at the same time, and probably speaks to them more often now then she did when she was living at home.
Early night for me because I wanted to be at a particular cafe by the harbour for breakfast at 7 before I set off the the second leg of my journey and my dinner companion had work the next day too and still had some work to do before the morning. Thank goodness those days are over for me.
I got to my cafe and had a big pile of pancakes, don’t know what possessed me to order that, but it was quite nice and made a change but was unable to finish them. I then googled the nearest petrol station, upon arrival I found it was derelict, so I looked up another one filled up and set off down the Pacific Highway again. I stopped after a couple of hours at a proper services this time and went into a fabulous outlet with all really healthy food options, I got a chicken salad for my dinner and had a light lunch and a much needed cup of coffee. Off again, eating up the seemingly endless kilometres. The suddenly the scenery changed in an instant and I was surrounded by rock. Yellowish rock on both sides of the carriageway, huge rocks as though the carriageway was cut out of the mountain, which it probably was. Then I was passing Newcastle and almost in Sydney. It was a little like when I left Colorado and entered New Mexico the terrain changed in an instant.
I was a little nervous about driving through Sydney, but it was ok, I had to drive through quite a few tunnels which is always a little worrying when you are relying on a sat nav to get you into the right lane, but I knew the place I was going to was quite near to the airport so if all else failed I would just follow those signs. I had of course hit traffic by now, the first time on my journey, the joys of commuter traffic, just like being in London. So the journey was much slower and I was glad I hadn’t stopped again because time was marching on and I had to have the car back by five pm.
I had planned to make another stop but had decided as I was making good time and was feeling ok to just bat on regardless. But by now I was actually wanting to go to the loo, sorry restroom if you are reading in America, or Ladies. However I made it to the car rental place which wasn’t in the airport area but not far from it. I had to fill the car and hadn’t seen anywhere I could do that. So went to the rental place used their facilities and went off under some sort of direction to fill the car. That’s when the trouble started. I couldn’t find the place he told me about, and I ended up driving around in circles, I saw one petrol station on the other side of the road took a right turn but then could not do any sort of turn to get back to it, and ended up in a nightmare traffic jam with roadworks. I was trying really hard not to get stressed or crash the car after my so far successful journey. I got back to the car place and tried again. I was also trying to use my crappy phone to find a petrol station but the signal kept cutting out so it was completely useless. I followed the original instructions again and this time carried on a bit further and lo and behold there it was, still on the wrong side of the road, but I managed a right and then a u turn in a small road to get back to it. Phew. Some forty five minutes later I deposited the car in one piece and got the all clear that I hadn’t done any damage. Uber ordered to take me to my apartment I was standing in the forecourt and there were two cars identical to mine which were completely written off. I wondered how many that happens to and I was wondering how the occupants of those cars ended their journey. Doesn’t really bear thinking about.
My Air BnB wasn’t too far away, that’s was a lucky accident and nothing to do with my planning I have to say. My host had told me he would be out celebrating his birthday but had given me instructions to get in. It was a little confusing because the complex was made up of a few units. And I made my way up there with all my luggage only to realise the letterbox with the keys in it was back downstairs. Oh no, please don’t make me cart all this stuff back down there. Luckily a girl came to the door and I explained my situation and asked if I could just leave my luggage inside the door whilst I go and get the key which she was fine with. Finally into the apartment only up two small flights of stairs and into my room. It was so hot and I was wet through and tired and quite stressed. It was early evening by now, so I had a bite to eat and was in bed quite early. There was no air conditioning and just a fan in the room. I spent a very hot and uncomfortable night I have to say, the next day I was just shattered and not really in the mood for anything. I think this was the first time in my travels when I felt that I wanted to just go home now. The day I arrived in Sydney was three months exactly since I had set off from home. I am afraid I just mooched about all day and apart from going to Woolworths, yes Woolworths for some groceries I didn’t set for outside. It was so hot out there. In retrospect I realised it was a combination of tiredness from the journey, the heat in Sydney and lack of air conditioning that really changed my mood. For those of you who don’t know Woolworths in the UK went into liquidation a few years ago, having been the stalwart of many high streets in the U.K certainly all my life. It sold a variety of goods from sweets and toys to kitchen equipment and general household stuff. My very first job was as a shop assistant on a Saturday in Woolworths. I earned the princely sum of 10 shillings and sixpence for the day, wore a green overall thing and was on the counter that sold luggage and records. In those days each counter had their own till. No checkouts like we have today. Woolworths in Australia is a food supermarket.
The next day I decided I needed to get out or Sydney was going to pass me by completely. It was the shortest stay I had booked in any city. I was staying in a place called Wolli Creek which was really very central. On the train the next stop was the airport and it was about eight stops to get to the harbour area. So I got myself a travel card and set off for the Opera house. Coming out of the station you are straight into the harbour area and there are many ferries going to all sorts of places around the harbour. Its part of the public transport system, so as long as you have your card topped up you can get on and off any train, boat or bus. I made for the Opera house, and the first thing that struck me was that colour. I expected it to be white for some reason but it is more of an off white or cream colour. There were many restaurants along the way all packed with office parties celebrating Christmas. So there I was in the midst of office celebrations and I realised I don’t belong to any organisation any more. It was quite interesting watching all the different groups all afternoon, the hierarchies the Christmas drunks, the marginalised, the bosses, the leaders, the gofers. It brought back a few memories of Christmas parties past. Big and small from the recent do it yourself twenty pound a head parties, last years was a curry, back to the sumptuous dinner dances with black tie and posh beautiful gowns which required a visit to the hairdressers.
I was still in a bit of a mood and couldn’t be bothered to go downstairs to gain access to the Opera house, but walked up the steps to the top, all the doors guarded by security guards, no access points up there it seems unless by invitation.
The botanical gardens are right next to the harbour and they had a tour on a little train, so I opted to do that. I sat on a bench until it was time to board and was visited by an Ibis. The tour was actually very good, it is a really big garden and it goes past the Conservatoire, which of course made me think of my son Asgeir who attended such an institution for many years first on Saturdays and then studying for his BMus Hons in Classical Double Bass.
After the tour I decided to go and find something to eat and chose one of the restaurants close by. The Seagulls were terrible waiting for any opportunity to swoop on any food that was available. There was one sitting above me on the umbrella keeping an eye in my plate, cheeky blighter.
Then back to Wolli Creek and another night fighting the heat. The next day I took the ferry to Manly Beach and this was were I bought my Australian souvenir a Manley Beach, beach towel in bright pink, from a closing down sale. I was fed up of not having anything to sit on on the beach so decided to bite the bullet and spend a few dollars.
My host had told me I should get fish and chips and eat them on the beach, so I found the fish and chip shop, just like everyone else, queued and eventually took them down to a table on the seafront. Some kids decided to feed to seagulls their leftovers right next to me, birds everywhere, I had to ask them very politely of course to shove off so that I could eat my food without fear of it being stolen. As for the fish and chips they were ok, but wouldn’t have them again and quite a few went in the bin. The bins were, I am pleased to say, seagull proof.
I then sat for ages on the steps by the beach wondering if I could bare my body in front of all the body beautiful people on the beach, in the end I managed to summon up the courage found a spot and went for it. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours laying in the sun and then made my way home.
Crossing the water back I was struck by the huge variety of boats on the water, ferries of all shapes and sizes, there was an enormous cruise ship docked there whilst I was there, tiny sailing dinghies, huge motor boats, water taxis, luxury cruisers. You name it it was in the water and I was amazed that accidents weren’t happening all the time. I did hear the next day that there had been an accident involving two boats. All the men in my life love sailing so I am sure they would have been fascinated by this spectacle.
The next day was a Sunday and an early start because I was going to go to the Blue Mountains. That entailed catching a train to the central station which was five stops away and then from there catching a bus to Penrith as they were working on the track. So the good old replacement bus service. At Penrith we got on the train which was a nice double decker job, as indeed were the local trains, but this one had better seats because it was an inter city train. On a Sunday the maximum fare you pay if is 2$60, so for that massive amount on money I travelled all the way there and back probably about two hours in total each way, Sunday is a very cheap day to travel in Sydney.
When I got to Katoomba I first went to a little Art Deco restaurant and had egg on toast with mushrooms for breakfast and a lovely cup of coffee. I then bought a ticket on the local red tour bus. The stops were pretty close together a lot of the time but it took you to some good viewing points as well. There was quite a lot to do there and as I wasn’t staying over night I opted to do three things, the Three Sisters, the Leura Cascades and Leura itself. Before hoping back in the train to Sydney.
They are called the Blue Mountains because there is a blue haze across them from all the Eucalyptus trees growing there. The mountains just seem to go on forever and it is quite beautiful, I would describe it as serene.
The Three Sisters are three rocks which stand side by side. They were used as an area where the indigenous women taught the younger women, indigenous men were not allowed near the area it is a sacred woman’s place. To this day indigenous men will not go there. The three rocks stand proudly side by side and of course for me my thoughts were with my sisters, sad that we will never stand side by side again in this life, but hopeful we will again in the next and wondering if they are watching over me still on my travels or off on adventures of their own. I miss them so much. You could walk down to get a closer view which I did, you could also walk right the way up to them and across to them somehow, but when you see the pictures you will understand why that wasn’t for me. They were a fabulous sight standing tall and proud, so worth the visit.
Then back on the bus to the Leura cascades. This was a brilliant walk down into a valley following this small waterfall . The only thing that really got in the way of my pleasure was the tourists taking endless photographs of themselves and each other from every available angle at every available viewing point. Which reminds me that was one thing that really got on my nerves at the Opera House, just everyone taking selfies, I don’t know why it irked me so much, it was as if they didn’t look at the Opera House itself they just photographed themselves with it. It was the same here. When you got the the bottom of this walk you could go up in another direction but I decided not to, however there was a wonderful sort of staging point here to look over the valley below.
So having walked all the way down, there was nothing left for it but to make your way up, I was amused that the guidance said there were some steps involved, it was steps all the way down and of course up again.
Back up to the road and hopping back on the bus I went on to Leaura itself and was pleasantly surprised what a lovely town it was, I had some lunch outside under a huge tress which provided the canopy for the whole courtyard, and browsed the shops many of which had vintage goods in them, then back on the bus and off to the train station and home. It was a fab day out, good to get out of the city and good to be in the mountains again. My batteries were well and truly recharged after my outing. I had also by now got my sleeping sorted out, using a sheet instead of a duvet and keeping the fan on all night. So things were looking up.
The next day was a chores day and packing ready to move on the Melbourne with an early train st 07:32. On Monday evening I met up with Clare, who I worked with twenty years ago, at the same time as I worked with Montse who I met up with in Denver, we all worked for Daiwa in the city. We had a lovely dinner at Milsons Point on the opposite side of the harbour so I got a different view of the Opera House. Then we caught the ferry back and went to the Opera House bar which is of course outside. It was a good evening and a great catch up, were does twenty years go, I have no idea. A fitting end to my Sydney visit.
Well that’s Sydney. See you in Melbourne.