Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Corner of the world I

For my next few blogs, I will be accompanied by my good friend and partner in crime Vicki who had come from England to stay with me for a month. 

New Zealand

New Zealand, a small island country sitting quietly on its own in the corner of the world.  I always planned to drop by New Zealand whilst I was living in Australia but I had recently cancelled this planned excursion because I wanted to focus on getting farm work and get my second visa. 

However I came to learn that an old friend of mine from England who emigrated to New Zealand was getting married next month and that Vicki and I were invited to the wedding.  What are the chances?  It was a once in a life time offer and I could never turn it down.  The farm work would just have to wait a bit longer.

Corner of the world

So what did I know about New Zealand?  Well, what do most people know about New Zealand?  Unless you are from New Zealand yourself or have a special interest in the country then the average person’s (myself included) general knowledge regarding this country is usually very limited.

New Zealand rarely shows up on the international radar of gossip and it seems its only recent claim to fame is that a very popular Hollywood fantasy film was shot there, a fact that never fails to come up in New Zealand related conversation. 

“I am going to New Zealand next week” I would say talking to someone, “oh, that is where they filmed Lord of the Rings isn’t it?” the other person would ask, “yes it is” I would answer and that would pretty much be the end of the New Zealand related conversation.  Either that or the other person would make some poor joke involving Orcs.

To me I liked the fact that New Zealand is very much unknown.  I have it in my mind that New Zealand will be a temporary escape from the restless and media obsessed city of Sydney that had been my home for the past 8 months, I felt like I needed a holiday and maybe here I can get some peace.

First sight of New Zealand, note the absence of Mordor.

Beyond the Tasman sea

I thought the flight to New Zealand would be short.  New Zealand and Australia are right next to each other, right?  Well compared to other nearby countries yes but a good look at a map and you will realize that there is a lot of blue sea between New Zealand and Australia.  It took around 4 hours before the Orc infested lands of New Zealand began to appear in my small cabin window.  First impressions of New Zealand?  Well it is certainly a lot greener than Australia.

Another thing I quickly noticed after getting off the plane was the air here was a lot cooler and fresher compared to the air in Sydney.  It had that fresh feeling you notice in the air after a heavy downpour of rain, only here it seemed to be the norm.

The journey from the airport was relatively uneventful but it is always exciting getting a bus into a new city that you have never visited before.  At the hostel we were greeted by the receptionist who was a big young Maori looking bloke wearing an American style sports jersey and a flat rim baseball cap.  He seemed like a nice enough guy and gave us the keys to our room.

Cool room bro

Our room was basic, dull and had a cool feeling lingering in the air.  The walls, furniture and even the bedding was cold to the touch.  I attempted to turn on the electric radiator but there was no life in it.  The radiator was old, tired looking and was covered in dents.  It looked like someone had previously tried to get it working by repeatedly hitting it.

Along with the broken heater the large window that sat above it was single glazed.  Touching this window was like touching a sheet of ice.  In fairness it probably wasn’t that bad but I had just come from Sydney where the climate was a lot warmer.  Here across the Tasman Sea everything was a lot colder.

I went back down to speak to the receptionist.  “Yes, I reported the broken heater last week” the baseball cap wearing Maori man said “I tried to get it working for you before you arrived”.  Maybe he was the one who had assaulted our radiator in an impatient and uneducated attempt to get it working.  “I would move you but unfortunately all the other rooms are booked” he said with a concerned look on his face.  Looks like Vicki and I would just have to acclimatize.

But anyway Vicki and I didn’t come here to sit in an uncomfortably cold budget hostel room.  We were only had a few days before the wedding and then shortly after we would be heading back to Sydney.  There was much to see and I couldn’t wait, I had that new adventure feeling.

Our home away from home away from home.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Change of Direction

12 months, what could you do in 12 months when you are on your own, with no one to answer to and no one to gain permission first to do something?  Those people are literally on the other side of the world.  Here you are in a foreign country that has a buoyant economy and everyone speaks your language (give it with a slightly odd accent).  I am in this position and I could do, see and go pretty much anywhere I wanted. 

However looking back at my time here in Australia, I really haven’t done that much.  Sure I have done the snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef with Olivia, the swimming in ancient volcanic lakes in the Atherton Tablelands and the hiking across the Blue Mountains whilst drinking vodka.  But I fear most of the past 8 months was spent in bars drinking overpriced Australian cider. 

I didn’t climb aboard a plane and get flown to the other side of the world to get drunk?  I guess I am having what I have dubbed as a “mid Australian life crisis”.
I simply needed more time here in this great and vast country.  I needed to get a second working holiday visa and there were only two ways of getting one.

The first way is to do 3 months worth of farm related work in designated rural areas of Australia.  Fruit picking is the most popular farm related work such as picking cherries or apples.  However the only time I had done rural work before was when I used to mow the garden and the only experience I had of handling apples was when I was handling my cider.

The second way was to simply pay a farmer to lie to the immigration department and claim that you have done your 3 months at their farm.  Finding a farmer to do this was not difficult, there was always someone you knew who knew someone they knew who knew a farmer who would do it.
Of course this shady method of getting a second working holiday visa carried inherent risks.  I have heard that the immigration department only investigate 1 in 7 visa applications however the ones they do check are checked very thoroughly.  If you withdraw cash from an ATM in the city when you should have been picking apples they will know.

Being the honest person I am I decided to take the first option and began looking into farm work.  My mission to get a second working holiday visa would result in me leaving Sydney and eventually I will end up in Tasmania.  Here I will do many cool things including working on a farm, becoming a night manager of a hostel, try surfing for the first time, buy a car, live in a motor home like a gypsy and encounter a ghost with a friend (plus many more things).

Looking back, my 8 months in Sydney I consider to be more of a gap year.  I had just finished 5 long years of university and I needed a break.  But now that was all over, looking forward I had no idea what was going to happen or where I will end up.  I was looking into the unknown.  But it was okay.  Remember, I had no one to answer to and no one to gain permission first to do something.  I am in this position and I could do, see and go pretty much anywhere I wanted.  

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A day at the races

I challenged myself to draw a summary of this post in Paint in 5 minutes.

A day at the races

Horse racing is one of the oldest known sports with events dating back to 600ishBC where it was a regular event in the ancient Greek Olympics.  This very much outdates other sports such as Football, Rugby and the world’s greatest sport Badminton.

Horse racing is still a very popular betting sport in many parts of the world and has taken Australia by storm, mainly thanks to Australia’s slightly unhealthy obsession with gambling.  You can walk into any sports bar or bookies in Australia and find a wall of TVs dedicated to showing various horse racing events happening across the country and overseas. 

To my surprise they even have virtual horse racing as well.  These virtual races are set up to look like the real thing but fail miserably due to poor graphics.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bet money on a virtual horse race.  In the event of losing how would you explain to your other half that you just lost money backing a horse that never existed and was composed entirely of poorly rendered pixels?

Look at those virtual horses go!
Image from:

Anyway, why am I talking about horse racing I hear you ask?  Because this weekend the house and I were going to dress up smart and go to the races for the day.

The man in the mirror

The day started off with everyone getting dressed up and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol in the backyard.  Putting on my suit alone in my room for the first time since arriving in Australia gave me mixed feelings. 

Before I even left England I had my whole year of living in Australia planned out.  I was going to get a well paid job as a Civil Engineer and I would wear my suit every day for work, I would then come home to my expensive apartment overlooking the Harbour Bridge and drink red wine.  However my real life in Australia consisted of me working in a call centre taking abuse from idiots on a daily basis and coming home to a cockroach invested windowless room inside a poorly maintained dirty house.  Although I do drink a lot of red wine so at least I got that bit right.

Had a dreamed a bit too much?
(Image from:
My reality, and if I had a choice I'd probably pick this.
Despite these slight shortcomings I was really enjoying my time in Australia and to be honest the life I had fantasized about was unrealistic.  But putting on the suit for the first time made me realize how my life in Australia didn’t turn out anything like I had expected it to.  Just looking into the mirror and seeing me wearing a suit was like looking into an alternative dimension that I created in my mind, it was a very surreal moment.

The sport of kings

After several drinks in the backyard we got into taxis and headed to the races.  It was a very hot day, the first hot day for several months and the first sign that the Australian summer was on its way. 

A few people in the house took the races very seriously and had done research beforehand on odds and which horses the racing pundits were backing.  This research however didn’t seem to be working as a witnessed my house mates systematically lose race after race.

It was amusing watching them fruitlessly shout at a giant TV screen.  It seemed real horse racing wasn’t too different from the virtual horse racing after all, both involve shouting at a TV screen showing horses.  You only saw the horses in real life for a few seconds whilst they galloped past us during the final straight.  The only house mate who was winning anything was Irish Mick, who obviously had the Irish luck with him that day.

Inspired by the success of my house mates and not wanting to be left out I decided I would place a last minute bet on a horse in the next race. 

Whilst I was approaching the bookies I realized I had no idea what I was doing.  I was confronted by a wall full of odd horse names and confusing fractions.  Western Symbol 4/6, Fruity Loops 10/5, Comment on my blog 16/4.

What the hell did this all mean?  They might as well have written the whole wall in Brail.  I was never good with fractions at school either; I was always more of a decimal kind of guy.

After a few minutes and with some guidance from the nice girl behind the counter who at this point had become slightly concerned about me, I managed to find the list of horses taking part in the next race.  Looking through all the odd names the name “Destruction” seemed the best choice.  A horse called Destruction obviously sounded like a winner, certainly better than backing a horse called Fruity Loops.

The lads.

A horse called Destruction

My race was about to begin.  I took position in front of the giant TV screen, the same position my house mates had occupied before.  I was now involved, my money and a very small part of my pride was on the line.  

The clap of the starting pistol signalled the start of the race and amazingly Destruction got off to a flying start.  While the other horses were stuck in the pack Destruction had managed to break in front.  Had I had the incredible good fortune of picking the Usain Bolt of the horse world on my very first race?  I was told the odds were good on this horse as well, whatever that means.

Destruction maintained the lead for the first half of the race and was doing well.  However towards the final straight Destruction began to fall behind the other horses.  I found myself shouting at the TV screen along with everyone else. I was desperately trying to urge Destruction on but it was pointless.  By the time they reached the final straight Destruction had disappeared behind the pack and ended up finishing 2nd to last.

I was disappointed not to have won, especially considering that Destruction was winning for the majority of the race.  Considering I was pretty broke after my holiday in Cairns some extra money would have been really useful as well.  But at least I could say I have tried horse racing and for a brief moment it was fun and exciting, just a shame about the end result.

The rest of the evening consisted of drinking.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Coogee by day and by night

Coogee by day

Every iconic coastal city should have an equally iconic beach to go with it.  Miami has the Miami Beach, Los Angeles has the Manhattan Beach, and Blackpool has the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. 

So what about Sydney?  Well the obvious answer would be the famous Bondi Beach.  However since coming here I have heard mixed reviews about Bondi Beach.  The general gist I got regarding Bondi was it is a nice looking beach but is very popular with tourists and consequently is usually very overcrowded.  

Luckily Sydney does have a few other less well known beaches to offer and one of them is Coogee Beach.
The house* and I decided we would drop by Coogee beach for the day.
*Referring to the gang of people living in the house, not the house itself.

Put another shrimp on the barbie

Our plan was to buy food and alcohol and have a barbeque on the beach which is something I felt I had to do at some point whilst in Australia.  Before I arrived in Sydney everyone I discussed Australia with mentioned barbeques.  People seem to think that having barbeques is a necessity of Australian life.
I believe this stereotype is a result of a popular TV advert that ran back in the 1980s where you saw some old guy burn food on a barbeque whilst inviting you to Australia and telling you how great it is.  This advert used the tag line “put another shrimp on the Barbie”.

Luckily you don’t even need your own here as it seems most popular beaches in Australia come equipped with public barbeques for everyone to use.

They are a good idea although they do have their issues, the main one being there are never enough of them.  We arrived at Coogee beach around midday but it wasn’t until mid afternoon that one of these public barbeques became free.  But even then we had to share it with a small group of locals and a large group of Koreans. 

The second issue with these public barbeques is that they don’t get very hot.  I slapped on a few Waitrose value burgers onto the small corner of the barbeque I managed to occupy but it took a while before they started to sizzle.  I think I would have been better off placing my burgers on the bonnet of hot cars left out in the sun.

Overall Coogee beach is nice though, with its white sand and clear blue waters.  Since it was September (Australian winter) it was too cold to venture into the water.  I could imagine that during the heat of the Australian summer Coogee beach would make an excellent retreat, especially when everyone else is flocking to Bondi beach in their masses.

Everything you want from a beach.

 Coogee by night

On a separate occasion I was invited to attend a roof top party with the house in Coogee.  The venue for this shindig was on the rooftop of a rather fancy hotel near the waterfront called the Beach Palace Hotel.
Since buying alcohol at bars in Australia is usually very expensive we made an early start and had many drinks at the house before setting off.

I didn’t go into much detail about the town of Coogee last time because the bus dropped us off right at the beach, but just like it’s beach Coogee is clean and generally a nice place to be.  Most of the streets here are lined with small cafes and bars.  It seemed the biggest building in this small town was the Beach Palace Hotel.

The roof terrace was separated into two areas, the area where the party was happening and another private area for hire.  The other area had been hired out for a kid’s birthday party by some obviously wealthy parents.  “How could they have a kid’s birthday party and an adult rooftop party full of drunks, alcohol and loud music?”  I thought to myself.  Luckily the kid’s party was just ending when we arrived.

We were amongst the first to arrive and I had that awkward feeling of when you arrive at a party and no-one else has shown up.  However it didn’t take long for the rooftop to fill up with variety of colourful characters.

Say hello to my little friend

For this event I decided to bring my DSLR camera rather than my compact.  I was worried that I’d get bored of having to carry the heavy camera around my neck all night and that people would give me funny looks, but in the end I was really glad I bought it.  I was surprised how good of an ice breaker the camera was, random people were just coming up to me wanting to talk to me and have their photo taken.  

I did make it clear that I wasn’t the event photographer but they didn’t seem to mind.  It just seems people at parties like to have their photo taken and I don’t really know why.  Perhaps it is because they have spent ages on their appearance and feel good about how they look, or maybe it makes them feel important, or perhaps it was just because they were drunk.
Random people love their photos taken.

Overall the roof top party was great.  When I usually go out on nights out I always end up in some converted basement with black walls sticky floors and annoyingly loud music.  But this was completely different.  I was on the rooftop of a nice hotel watching the sun set over the Tasman sea.

Not only was I feeling good because I was at a good party, I also felt a sense of achievement, a sense that I “had made it”.  Moving to Australia was difficult at first, I arrived in the not so nice area of King’s Cross a few months ago with a suitcase and no friends.  But now I was living in the nice and upcoming area of Surry Hills, had a decent job and a group of friends who I was at this awesome party with.  Despite the noise party and all the drunken people dancing, I felt a sense of peace within myself.

A better view than a basement wall.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Blue Mountains (part 3 / 3)

“Right, here is the plan!  We start off at Echo Point, then walk the Prince Henry Cliff walk, down the appropriately named Giant Stairways, visiting one of the 3 Sisters on the way, continue down until reaching Dardannelle’s Pass, walk through the eerily quiet Leura Forest then pass the amazing Leura Cascades then up the cliff face along the punishing Federal Pass, then finally walk along the appropriately named Megalong Street back to Katoomba in time for the late evening train back to Sydney.”

Trust me, this walk was a lot bigger than it looks on this map.


We started off at Echo Point, a large concrete platform area with amazing panoramic views of the Blue Mountains.  Along the edge of the platform were metal plaques that had engraved a map of the panoramic view with highlighted areas of interest including “Mount Solitary” a lone standing hill that dominated the centre of the panoramic view and “ruined castle” a rock formation that on closer inspection does actually look like the ruins of an old castle.

Sri and Marten

The generation game II

To the very left of the panoramic view are a set of 3 protruding rock faces that form the Blue Mountains most iconic landmark; “The 3 Sisters”.  The name I guess comes from the fact that the rocky outcrops look somewhat similar to each other.  It seems the theme of looking like you are from the same family is present in the rocks here as well as the local people.

On second thought, they don't really look alike...

After taking in as much of the amazing views as we could Marten, Sri and I headed along the start of the Prince Henry cliff walk towards the 3 Sisters.  It was a short and somewhat uneventful walk until we reached the appropriately named Giant Stairways.

This was just the start of a series of very steep stairways that led down the cliff face.  Early on in the decent we reached a bridge that led to the first of the 3 Sisters.  This area was surprisingly busy with 20 – 30 odd people crowding around this small bridge, “I wonder how many people this small bridge is designed to carry” I thought to myself as I watched Sri and Marten cross first.

Sri and Marten on the bridge.

The descent

After our quick visit to the 3 Sisters we continued over the cliff and down the Giant Stairways.  These steep stairways were absolutely relentless.  There were a few benches placed along the way on small rocky outcrops along the cliff face but these temporary reliefs were placed few and far between.
Eventually after a knee punishing 15 – 20 minutes of steps we reached the base of the cliff and the edge of the forest.

It was like this for a solid 15 - 20 minutes.
It had been quite busy with people going down the Giant Stairs, especially around the bridge.  However as we descended down the steps we started to see fewer people, and now on the forest floor it was quiet, very quiet.

At the end of the Giant stairways we had a choice of heading right to the scene railway or left towards the Leura Cascades.  Since none of us had any money and we didn’t know anything about the scenic railway we headed left towards the cascades.

The final stairway!
The echoless forest

Initially I was worried about spiders in the forest.  Before heading off to Australia everyone told me to “beware of the spiders, BEWARE OF THE SPIDERS!”  It seems to be the first thing most non Australian people associate with Australia and it left me initially feeling worried about walking through the forest, especially when Marten wanted to leave the path to explore deeper into the forest.  I just had visions of me walking round a corner and getting a face full of a black widow’s web.

But we didn’t encounter any spiders in the forest; to be honest I don’t think they are very common in the southern areas of Australia like New South Wales.  I believe they are more common in the hotter northern areas like Queensland and the Northern Territory.

If I was to come to harm via spider it would have happened when I was staying in Cairns, but the only danger to my health I faced in Cairns was self-inflicted alcohol poisoning.

Sri and Marten (note Marten's ridiculous walking stick).
The only thing we encountered in the forest after an hour of walking was a small picnic area.  Here there were some benches and a small tin roofed building with moss growing all over it.  The picnic site looked abandoned and almost post apocalyptic.  Together with the quietness of the forest the picnic site was almost a bit eerie. 

Just beyond the campsite however the sound of silence was replaced with the distant sound of rushing water.  I guess we had finally reached the Leura Cascades.  I was expecting just one very impressive waterfall but in reality there were lots of smaller waterfalls before we reached the cascades.

Leura Forest was very quiet.
The ascent

Between these small waterfalls we also started to leave the forest floor as the path began to lead us up the cliff face.  Like the Giant Stairways our pathway was made up of a seemingly never ending series of very steep stairways.  However these were a lot more spaced out than the Giant Stairways and there were nice waterfalls to stop and look at between the series of stairways.

An amazing waterfall that filled the air around it with a refreshing mist.

I believe these are the actual Leura Cascades.
This leg of the walk was my favourite part.  It had the best views with the waterfalls and the views of the valley below.  There were also a lot less people around here compared to Echo Point and the Giant Stairways which were too crowded for my liking.

Half way through our ascent the sun began to approach the horizon which gave all the protruding rock faces across the valley a fantastic golden glow.

Awesome views.

Around here we found some graffiti that dates back from 1910! 

Good place for a rest

Returning to civilization

After we finished our ascent we ended up on the somewhat appropriately named Megalong Street that led us back to Katoomba and from here we headed to the train station and waited for the train back to Sydney. 
The sun had just set over the railway lines, it was the perfect end to a great day.  If you are ever in the Sydney area you must go to the Blue Mountains.  I think every major city should have their own Blue Mountains nearby because they are the perfect city escape.

Some locals of Katoomba.

"A perfect end to a great day"

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Blue Mountains (part 2 / 3)

As the night rolled in over the Blue Mountains and the sky turns from deep blue to pitch black, what would become of this small mountain town?  As the cold night air fills the streets we headed to one of the local pubs, it was here when I noticed something rather strange about this place.

(Sorry no photos on this post)

A night out in Katoomba

Returning from Echo Point we first headed to our youth hostel.  We initially had some issues with our booking but the very nice lady who owned the hostel (who also owned a little bakery in town) made a few phone calls and got us booked into a room in another hostel just down the road called The Flying Fox.

The hostel seemed to have been converted from an old Victorian house with very high ceilings and tall doorways.  The best part of the Flying Fox was the lounge which contained large comfortable sofas, a big wooden table and a very well stoked log fire.  The floor in front of the fire was covered by a brilliant large red and gold rug that matched the colour of the large sofas in the room.  The fireplace consisted of a medium size metal wood burner sitting in a rustic brick archway.  Considering the outside temperature was plummeting and the other rooms in the hostel weren’t very well heated because of the high ceilings, this lounge was the perfect place to be.

Sharing wisdom

It is in social areas in hostels like this where you may catch the travel bug.  I remember sitting in this very comfortable room listening to the travel stories from an American university lecturer who was over here on work.  He told me that there were stages in life. 

  • Between the age of 20 and 30 you should be travelling and experiencing life and the world. 
  • Between the age of 30 and 40 is when you should be settling down with a better half and starting a family.
  • And between 40 and 50 is when you should be at the top of your career, whatever field of work you have been doing before by this age you should be at the top of the ladder. 

But this of course this isn't relevant to everyone, it is just one man's opinion.

The pubs

After this we headed to a pub across the road.  It was an old style English pub with lead windows and a dark wooden bar area.  Towards the back was a stage where a local folk band were performing.  The pub was pretty full with everyone sat down around small circular tables.  Everybody had turned their chairs to face the band towards the back.  I guess this is what passes for a entertaining night out here in the mountains.

The music was quite good though and I loved the rural feel of the pub.  It is exactly what you’d expect from the pub in a small town high up in some mountains.  After a while many more locals began cramming themselves into the pub.  It seemed this pub was part of a local bar crawl.  It was at this point I started to notice something very peculiar.  

The generation game

Whilst looking around the bar people watching I got a strange sense of Déjà vu, and then it hit me.  I noticed a lot of the locals here looked very similar.  Basically I first noticed somebody had a distinct shape of nose, keeping that nose in mind I would look around a spot several other people nearby with the exact same nose (not literally).  The same was true with other prominent features, such as people with matching ears, or eyes etc.  It was more than just a coincidence; these people had obviously inherited these distinctive features from the same person several generations ago.

I have never seen anything quite like this before, it was almost surreal.  I grew up near a large and very diverse city (Manchester) but I’m guessing something like this is not uncommon in more rural towns.  Here there are less people coming and going and therefore less variety in the old gene pool.
(I am not trying to be rude and say Katoomba is full of inbreds, it is just the resemblance between so many people was just uncanny.)

The pub we were in was getting very busy so we moved to another bar round the corner.  There was a fancy dress party here but I couldn’t spot a theme.  The bar was just a sea of typical fancy dress outfits you could buy from a cheap shop.  Here I continued to play my new game of “spot who has the same grandparents”.  This was fun for a while but again this place started to become rowdy with locals.  I couldn’t help but feel like a bit like an outsider here so we finished our last drinks and headed back to the hostel.   

I guess most travellers who visit the Blue Mountains stay for the trekking and sights but don’t go out to the bars at night.  Tomorrow was the day we were going to do the trekking and I was very much looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Blue Mountains (part 1 / 3)

A posey picture of me and the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains (part 1 / 3)

The Blue Mountains, a beautiful region where impressive rocky mountains and deep ominous gorges sit among a calming blue haze that lingers in the air.  Apparently the distinctive blue haze is a result of organic chemicals released into the atmosphere by the large number of eucalyptus trees in the area.

The Blue Mountains acts like a rocky shield that separates Sydney from the barren mainland of Australia, the bush or the outback as they call it.  Of course civilisation does exist beyond the Blue Mountain barrier.  Small cities like Orange and Bathurst quietly get on with their small city life.  Beyond these places still and further into the outback exists towns such as the beautifully named Broken Hill. 

I’d love to go beyond the Blue Mountains and visit Broken Hill and explore more of the outback, though financial and work commitments prevent me from undergoing such an adventure.  For now, I can only go as far as the edge, the Blue Mountains.

I have actually been to the Blue Mountains twice, but I will focus on talking about my first encounter with the rocky blue giants.  I was travelling with Marten (Dutch housemate) and we were going to meet up with Sri (Indian housemate) in Katoomba which is the main town in the Blue Mountains region.  Here we would have a quick glimpse of the mountains at Echo Point then stay the night in Katoomba followed up a full day of exploring the Blue Mountains in time to catch the late evening train back to Sydney.

Katoomba is where A is.
Image courtesy of Google Earth
Mountain town charm

The first thing I noticed when getting off the train in Katoomba was the drop in temperature.  Here up in the mountains it was bitterly cold.  I stupidly thought that because Australia was a hot country anywhere I would go in Australia would also be hot.  My University of Bolton hoodie did very little to keep me warm.
The high streets around the town were very clean and lined with rows of small local shops, bakeries and cafes.  There were no flat roads in Katoomba, all roads were either heading up hill or downhill.  With its hilly side streets, deep blue skies and small rustic local shops Katoomba really had that rural mountain town feeling about it.

Downtown Katoomba

For a small town, there were a lot of flyers on the lamp posts
A taste of the mountains

Before heading to Echo Point we stopped off at a small Asian restaurant for some lunch.  The mountain rustic feel of the town was very much present in the restaurant, if not more so.  The inside of the restaurant was lined with wooden decor and decorated with Asian ornaments of bright colours of red and gold.  The air like outside was cold and fresh inside the restaurant.  It felt like we were having lunch in a small restaurant in the Himalayas.

After our explorer’s lunch of authentic Asian curry we headed to Echo Point to capture a glimpse of the famous Blue Mountains that we would be exploring the following day before sunset.
As I was really not equipped for the cold weather I dropped by a small clothes shop on the way to Echo Point and bought a crochet bobble hat to keep me warm.  The guy said it was a cool and fashionable hat and he had one himself but looking back at the photos of me wearing the hat it was evident that the hat he sold me was exclusively for old women.

The small Thai restaurant
“This is why we came here”

Echo Point arrived in 20 minutes from leaving Katoomba.  We kept catching a small glimpse of the Blue Mountains between trees and building until we finally reached the end of the road where the ground disappeared over a cliff and we had our first unobstructed view of the mighty Blue Mountains.
It was very satisfying to finally see the Blue Mountains.  What we saw was golden cliff faces in the distance emerging from valleys of deep green forests, all within a cool blue haze.  The sun was starting to set when we arrived which gave the exposed cliff faces in the distance a warm glow that made them really stand out against the blue mist.  Overall it was an amazing spectacle.   “This is exactly why we came here!” I thought to myself.  The views were definitely worth enduring the bitter cold and wearing a stupid looking crochet bobble hat.

We spent a good hour walking along the edge of the cliff where Katoomba ended and the Blue Mountains began before heading back to town.  Katoomba had all the charm of a mountain town, but what would this place be like at night?  What would the night life be like up where in the mountains?  For a small town it certainly had its fair share of pubs and bars.

Walking down the appropriately named Blue Mountains Drive to Echo Point

At the edge, we drank a lot of wine and vodka which helped with the cold

The 4 of us, Sri, Marten, myself and that stupid hat.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A week in Cairns (part V/V)

 In a few paragraphs

Cairns, you would have probably gathered by my previous posts that I didn’t really think much of Cairns at first.  With it being a coastal city close to the Great Barrier Reef I had imagined a small tropical paradise with golden beaches, clear inviting waters and friendly chilled out locals.  In reality Cairns was pretty much like any remote Australian city.  Dusty, sparse and a bit tired looking.

I suppose coming straight from Sydney (which is ranked in the top 10 of the world’s most liveable cities) to Cairns was a bit of a shock to the system as well.  Basically what I’m trying to say to Cairns is probably a nice place and not nearly as bad as I may have made it out to be.

I really enjoyed my time at the hostel Asylum.  The atmosphere was always great, though I didn’t get much sleep during my stay.  The same could be said about Captain Matty and his barefoot tours.  Both were awesome because the people involved went the extra mile.

The Great Barrier Reef was the only reason we went to Cairns and like Cairns it wasn’t quite how I imagined.  Brightly coloured photos from brochures and leaflets let me to believe the reef would be an underwater jungle of colour and life in warm tropical waters.  The reef I saw and swam in was a much more modest affair and the water was deep blue and cold.  But the experience of swimming in the Great Barrier Reef was a great one and definitely worth the trip.  Especially if you listen to environmental nutters who say there will be no reef in the future.  Don’t you just hate pessimistic people who bang on about the negatives?

So on our last day we said goodbye to the awesome people at the hostel and headed to the airport via shuttle bus (which was late).  Overall, our holiday in Cairns, was pretty damn good.

Someone had obviously tipped off the media that I was in town
The typically Cairns highstreet
Much goon was drank here


Cans, in Cairns, get it?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A week in Cairns (part IV/V)

Barefoot tours
Cairns, the tired little coastal town filled with backpackers and unfriendly locals (probably a slightly unfair statement).  Cairns is only a destination on the traveller’s map because of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, but surely there must be more to Cairns than just the reef?
Whilst booking our excursions to the reef the people at the hostel recommended a day trip to us called the “barefoot tours” or “Captain Matty’s barefoot tours” to be more precise.  The trip was highly recommended not only by the people in the hostel but also on Trip Adviser where it has been voted the 1# attraction for several years along with a heap of excellent reviews.  The day trip was not expensive either so Olivia and I booked ourselves on the trip.  The plan was that Captain Matty (who wears no shoes hence the name barefoot tours) would pick us up from the hostel, drive us inland and up into an area known as the Atherton Tablelands.  Here we could swim in some old volcanic lakes, swim underneath some waterfalls, slide down a natural waterslide, have a good Aussie pub lunch and generally enjoy the views and company of Captain Matty and his bare feet.

No friends of mine
Captain Matty pulled up outside our hostel bright and early as promised in his tour bus.  He was a medium height friendly looking bloke with no shoes and dreadlocks, though he didn’t look much like the cartoon character on his website.
After Captain Matty picked us up we headed out of Cairns and towards the tablelands.  On the way to the Atherton tablelands some idiots driving a ute  (Australian for pickup truck) came speeding past us beeping their horn and waving frantically at the tour bus.  Matty wasn’t sure if he knew them or not so waved back out of courtesy.  After the idiots overtook us the passenger threw an empty drinks carton onto the side of the road.  Matty who was obviously a man who enjoyed the great outdoors disapproved of this, “they are certainly no friends of mine” he said.
The long steep road up to the tablelands

Captain Matty was a legend
The tablelands
The Atherton tablelands were a stark contrast from the somewhat dry and arid Cairns.
Swimming in the natural waters was one of the main activities of the bus tour, however I found that the majority of people on the trip had no intention of swimming and didn’t even bring any swim wear.  I could understand why though, all the waters were not heated and therefore were going to be very cold.  But this is what made swimming in the natural waters fun.
When we stopped off at the first body of water I was reluctant to go into the cold water at first, I was quite happy being a wall flower (or edge of water flower) and take in the beautiful scenery like most of the other people. 
But I changed my mind, I remembered some advised the guy from the hostel gave me before going on the trip; he basically said that in order to make the most of the day we had to get involved as much as possible.  I guess you could say that is a good metaphor for life in general.  I was standing at the edge of the cold natural water doing exactly what the guy at the hostel told me not to do.  Also Olivia was in the water having an awesome time and was requesting my presence in the water.  So I thought “fuck it, I am going in”.
And yes, the water was painfully cold, but only at first.  After the initial shock you quickly get used to the low temperature and you start feeling great.  It is a little hard to describe but the cold water is just exhilarating!  We stopped off at several swimming locations including a small mountain stream, a large and very beautiful waterfall and the famous natural waterslides.  All of them were not only beautiful to look at and to take in but awesome to swim in.

A calm and tranquil lake

Fresh mountain water

More fun than any heated swimming pool

Hidden crater
We also stopped off at a very deep hole in the ground called Mount Hypipamee Crater.  This very sizeable hole in the ground was apparently first discovered when some guy who was exploring the area apparently fell into it.  Looking at the sheer cliff faces that made up the hole you’d had to feel sorry for the guy.  The crater was actually an old volcanic vent and Captain Matty said the flooded lake of the crater was extremely deep and no-one knew the true depth of the water.  However Wikipedia suggests the depth of the lake is actually 82metres (which is still pretty deep).

Mind that step
Overall we had an awesome time.  The scenery was amazing and swimming in the natural waters was exhilarating.  But I guess the real hero of the day was Captain Matty himself.  He was cool, fun and generally a great bloke to be around.  It is amazing how he can run these tours day after day and still maintain his energy and excitement.

Olivia, thanks for dragging me into the water, it made the trip