Wind of Change: Mum in Sydney (Part Three)

Friday 3rd January
We had been going full pelt since the first day and after late nights and early starts we needed some time to unwind. Mum had postcards to write and I the penultimate leg of my walkabout to plan because it ended somewhat abruptly in Perth. Thanks to Karen on my New Zealand tour I had a recommendation for Kakadu and Litchfield National Park right up in the Tropical North though I knew I’d be travelling out of season. I’d also been toying with the idea of doing part of the west coast since planning the whole trip and obviously there was Uluru and the ‘Red Centre’. After about 2 hours of looking at tours, greyhound coaches, flights and the ghan (the train right through the centre of the country) a rough plan began to emerge. It would however take many more hours and we had exploring in the here and now to do.

There was a company that offered free (you can pay a tip at the end if you want) 3 hour walking tours of the city and whilst Sydney had been the base to explore from I felt mum hadn’t really seen much of the city itself. As it was a nice day this therefore seemed the perfect way to capture all the main sights and to get a better understanding of the history.

The guides were all very friendly, and the one we had was one of those who had started the concept. Throughout the day they do two 3 hour tours of the city and one 1 hour 30 minutes tour of ‘The Rocks’, the cities original settlement. Considering all of this he still appeared enthusiastic to share his knowledge of the city and to give his own opinions. We started off at St Andrew’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Sydney before passing the Town Hall and through the Queen Victoria Building. Somewhat bizarrely the clock here on the stroke of the hour showed scenes from English history, including one of Charles 1 being beheaded. I made a mental note to see this for myself at a later date to check it wasn’t a joke. There was also a letter from Elizabeth II which can’t be opened until I’m 100 and It’ll be interesting to know what she has said to the people of Sydney that means it needs to be secret for so long.

Leaving the QVB we headed past the Sydney Eye Tower which mum and I were doing that evening to get a birds eye view of the city. We headed on up to and through Hyde Park towards St Mary’s Cathedral which was only finally completed in 2000 having been started in 1868. We then carried on past the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital, The Mint, NSW Parliament House and the State Library. The final 3 buildings had all originally been part of the hospital which had been commissioned by Governor Macquarie to provide better care for the settler’s. The funding for this had mainly come from a tax on rum as the British Government was not prepared to provide the resources. The hospital when finished was to big for what was required which is why some of its buildings were converted to other uses.

We then headed down a random side street where bird cages were hanging down from strings above and a recording of various bird songs played. This was a piece of modern art. A recently married couple were having some photographs taken and can’t have expected a huge group of sightseers to pick that side street to explore at that moment but we did. We carried on down the somewhat now misleadingly named ‘Bridge Street’ which one would expect to lead directly to the Harbour Bridge or at least a bridge but doesn’t before reaching Customs House and Circular Quay.

We now headed ‘The Rocks’, passing Cadmans Cottage which must be one of the oldest buildings in Australia but unfortunately like in London some of the oldest buildings have been lost. Fortunately despite attempts by the strate government to clear what was left, the general public and various groups protested and the remaining buildings seen today were saved and have been developed for other purposes. I want to do a more atmospheric evening tour of this area at some point and It’ll be interesting to hear a few more details. Also 3 years ago I took myself on a self guided walk using my Lonely Planet guide and to this day I’m not entirely sure if I saw ‘The Cut’ a tunnel dug by convicts despite searching at least 30 minutes for it.

The tour finished on top of the Overseas Passenger Terminal which offered a nice view of Circular Quay and the Opera House to one side, the Harbour Bridge and the Rocks to the other. Thanking the guide and giving him a tip we headed back towards the Sydney Eye Tower. It looked like it was going to be perfect weather.

We were a bit early so I collected the tickets and we then went to find some food eventually settling on a place selling savoury pancakes before making our way back to the entrance. Although we were still a bit early we were allowed in to the 3D cinema and took up some seats near the front. Mum therefore suggested we move as it appeared as though we were going to get wet. The movie was really just various bits of nice video footage of Sydney converted in to 3D and as we passed along Bondi beach the sea waves came out towards us and real water was sprayed at us. I appeared to bear the brunt of it.

We were then directed to the lift and it wasn’t long before we were inside. The lift was triangle shaped floor and the shape of it meant only 6 people at the very most could fit in; the crowd below us would be waiting a bit longer yet. We got to the top and exited. The view that met us was unexpected.

The windows were all misty, art first I genuinely thought maybe the windows were dirty, then I thought maybe it was like Scenic World and someone would press a button and the beautiful view of the city below would be displayed in all its glory. Then I accepted it was actually cloud swirling all around us which meant visibility was pretty much zero. We looked at the visual displays and straining my eyes I could just make out the Anzac memorial directly below but any further than that was just mist.

The queue of those to get back down was already big when we arrived and continued to increase as those that had probably only just come up realised there was no view so opted to get back down to do something else. There was however a problem which meant the lack of a view was the least of everyone’s troubles. Although we had got up ok the lifts had I assume almost immediately broken due to the high winds outside which meant no one could get back down.

There wasn’t much point in just standing in a queue so mum went to buy all her souvenirs and I offered my advice which meant between us we’d got something for everyone. Mum also decided to buy our souvenir booklet because it gave a information on Sydney and the surrounding area and the photo shopped picture of us and a oversized Koala was funny. Whilst we’d been in the shop the lifts had reopened and after being at the top for an hour and 30 minutes we were back at the bottom. Looking up the top the tower could only just be made out through the mist. Arriving back at the hotel we saw some bats flying around and mum tried to make a recording of the insects that make such a racket in the trees.

Saturday 4th January
Out of all the tours we had planned, a trip to the Jenolan was last minute, so last minute we’d only booked it two days before despite it probably being the one we were both interested in doing most (maybe Port Stephens just edged it for me).

Luckily mum was on the ball and awake before my planned alarm because whilst I had set one, it was for the following day! We actually ended up leaving the hotel before I had planned and arrived at the pick up nearly 30 minutes early. This was however better than being 30 minutes late…

We had the very from seats however unfortunately I don’t feel I fully utilised the position because as had become the norm I fell asleep. In my defence so had the person behind and they get snoring and waking themselves up. For the first part of the journey to Echo Point I felt this was acceptable because I’d done the journey twice and once already that week alone. I’m sure the commentary would have been similar as well because it was the same company.

It was however on this tour I began to appreciate just how ridiculously big Australia is. Here we were doing a day trip to some caves, considered to be within the Sydney area and they were 3/4 hours away. Would you travel 3 hours in the UK and consider it local? Only if you were in a traffic jam outside your house for all that time probably.

We arrived at Echo Point where I remembered from 3 years ago that there was a walk down to the 3 sisters so that you could stand in front of one of them. We had about an hour but by the time we’d grabbed a tea for mum and a pastry we had 45 minutes. Unfortunately in my haste I took us to the wrong viewing platform as neither of us saw the path I was looking for. The view was however very nice and a bit closer than the one from scenic world a few days before. It was only after we got back to the top we saw the correct sign.

We had 25 minutes and the walk advised a 30 minute round trip but I knew once we were back on the coach mum would agree it was worth it even if we were going to tire ourselves out in the process. We walked incredibly quickly even jogging at one point. I mentioned a few blogs ago each walk seemed unbearable and I felt I wasn’t getting fitter however I think I’m over the hump now. I think I’ve got my old walking pace back though my general fitness is probably still only average at best. It’s a bit of a joke that I’ve had a gym kit with me most of the trip and still not used it…

We made it to the steep steps and whilst we’d made good time, it was going to be pushing it to get right to the bottom (only because of the crowds in our way). We therefore decided to go down about half way. This was still impressive and I’d forgotten just how big the formation is when you get up close (and how steep the steps coming back up are). Taking photographs meant we had to continue our fast pace and we even made it back to the bus with time to spare.

Once we were back on the coach we commenced the long journey to the caves. We were told to watch out for wild life and a wallaby very nearly decided to jump out in front of us. The road down to the caves was very narrow, steep and winding so the guide had to stay alert. Apparently the company that owns the caves has considered spending money to have a chair lift from a car park at the top to the caves at the bottom but the plans have not developed. Therefore the current solution is for no road traffic to return up from the caves between certain times and it is during this window of opportunity which allows coaches to get down without any issues.

After getting some lunch we had an hour to explore before we had a guided tour of the Lucas Cave. It appeared as though many of the footpaths were closed but we were not aware of that when we set out to find the platypus that lives in the blue lake near the caves. It appeared from the map that there should have been a simple circuit but when we got to the reservoir the bridge over it seemed to be closed off. We therefore carried on walking thinking at some point there would be another crossing.

Gradually the crowds decreased as the majority had remained by the main lake. We passed a number of nice waterfalls and mum gave me a geology lesson on why the formation was unique. There were 2 guys that were climbing over of the waterfalls and I love that out here it is possible to risk getting totally wet safe in the knowledge you’ll probably be dry within the hour rather than catching hyper-thermia.

The next path crossing over the river was also closed so we decided to head back along the path we had taken. Still the platypus was in hiding but as it was around mid day with lots of people making noise the odds of one making an appearance were against us. I then attempted to go up one of the other paths to get a look of the lake from above but that was closed as well. Giving up we took our seats in the waiting area for our tour of the Lucas Cave.

At one point the guide turned off what lights there were that had been on and played some dramatic music whilst I light display attempted to portray what it was like for the explorers who first discovered the cave. It was quite amazing to see what appeared to be a candle (due to the way the lights operated in sequence) slowly winding its way down from the original entrance before the whole room was lit up with atmospheric lighting.

Whilst I was walking along a bridge over an underground river I hit my head slightly as I got to the other side then as I instinctively ducked (obviously a bit late for that) I heard the dramatic sound of plastic hitting the ground and disappearing in to the abyss below. My first thought was that I’d hit the lens of the camera but it was safely in the bag, then my next thought was I’d dropped my mobile as someone else had done earlier at a viewing platform but that was also ok. I began to think it was the person behind but as I checked the front of my camera bag realised it was my old UV filter that I’d taken off with the intention of cleaning later that day. I suppose it will turn up one day and possibly create a archeological question as they attempt to figure out what it was once used for.

Everyone was back on the coach on time except for the group that had gone caving even though they should have been back before us. Our coach guide was informed that their guide hadn’t returned either and I think there was a bit of worry that something bad had happened so another guide was sent to find them. Eventually they all returned to the coach however we never did receive an explanation why they were so late.

The drive back up the hill was fairly eventful as a number of cars were coming down the hill as we were going up and this surprised the coach driver. We made it to the top in the end and as as we began the long drive back to Sydney without any breaks we saw another wallaby. As we got in to the outskirts of Sydney the guide pointed out a “dirt track?” to us. He told us he was meant to have been going to watch the event but unfortunately it was clear that the stadium was already filling and he knew that he was going to have to miss it. Once we were back in Sydney we brought some more fresh cheese, olives, sun dried tomatoes and baguettes and enjoyed that with the wine we had brought at the Hunter Valley.

Sunday 5th January
Checkout was at 10am and the plan was to leave the bags in storage at my next hostel so we could explore Manly. It was amazing just how much we had done over the previous days and it was amazing that even on the day of departure (22.15) we had a whole day planned. Once we were ready I again made another unsuccessful call to the taxi company. I walked back to the hotel and asked reception if they could help. Maybe they spoke to someone else because they had no problems and didn’t have to give a street number (see previous blog if you missed the background).

Arriving at the YHA I was told it wasn’t possible to check in but luckily after two girls kindly shared a locker it meant there were some available. My new hostel was located right next door to the train station so it would be easy to get to the airport and I was staying in a carriage converted to sleep 8 people. Considering 2 months ago I was on a similar sized coach sleeping 48 or more this was luxurious.

The free bus to Circular Quay arrived just as we got to the stop so we caught that and it quickly filled up. The bus driver refused to open the back door because people were getting on there as well as the front but I don’t really get the issue in that because it was a free bus. It also meant, because people didn’t move right down that the front was packed. If we were cattle the front was like a battery farm whilst passengers at the back were free range. It was reassuring to know that jobsworths don’t only work on the London buses and I’m saying that as a neutral because I had no strong intentions to use the back door.

Once we arrived at Circular Quay the queue for Manly was huge. Luckily a ferry came in not long after we arrived which meant that the line moved quickly and it wasn’t long before we had been let on to the pier to wait for the next ferry. The ticket machine seemed to be counting down how many spaces were left and it was quite surprising how many people they could fit on.

We managed to get a seat on one of the sides and were promptly joined by 2 backpackers that were staying at the hostel on the island. Mum went to find some food whilst I saved her seat using my bag. it wasn’t long before someone tried to take it. First I was asked if I could put my bag on the floor and when I explained someone had been sitting there only a minute before they said “what all that space?” Now I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt a small day pack is probably about the width of the average human. It isn’t like they stick out at the side is it? Then during the 5 seconds between the bag being taken off and mum sitting down someone tried to nick which nearly resulting in tea being spilt over them. I must add neither of these were locals, as the Australians I’ve encountered so far seem a lot more laid back and respectful of space. The first gentleman was British and i don’t know about the second.

Manly was also busy but I had expected that. A hot Sunday, a beautiful beach setting where else were all those tourists that were still in the city after fireworks going to go? I can’t imagine a single person living in Manly was there though – considering there were boat loads heading towards Circular Quay they’d probably made a mass exodus to somewhere more secluded.

Despite the main beach being busy I wanted to take mum on the small walk I’d done 3 years before. On our way to the walk we saw a ?? Lizard sitting on a wall and carrying on we saw 3 more of them sitting on some rocks including a baby. The walk itself really started from ?? Before we then took a path that looped through a very small bush area around ??.

After the walk mum had one more final swim in the sea before we headed back to Manly Wharf. The return trip wasn’t such a mad scramble for space though it was still surprisingly busy considering the population on the beach seemed to be growing rapidly.

We returned back to the hostel and I was finally able to one of the 8 beds. We also had to store mums bag in the locker for another hour so we ended the session and left the bag in the locker thinking it would give us the choice of “free lockers” available. It didn’t, it randomly allocated one and we then realised the locker with mum’s suitcase had locked itself. As far as the machine was concerned empty and available wouldn’t unlock until it was randomly allocated. We had been trying to be discrete about mum using the locker so when I asked the reception for help I said it was my suitcase. They made no comment when the locker was opened to display a bright pink suitcase and a bright blue day pack.

The journey back to the airport was much less eventful and I helped mum check in. Her suitcase that I’d commented on the first day which had felt fairly light now felt like it had put on weight. Eventually it was time to say goodbye. Mums down under adventure was over. For me I was just under halfway through. Next up is a trip along the East Coast where I should finally see some dolphins up close.

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