A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013

Blue Mountains, Newcastle and Sydney

sunny 18 °C

Blue Mountains (8th June - 10th June)

After our adventure in Alice Springs we flew to Sydney airport, and then took a train straight out to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days. Quite a contrast to the 'Red Centre', with lush green vegetation, and stunning grey cliffs.

We were only in the Blue Mountains for two days, staying in Katoomba. Both days we went for fantastic, although very long, walks. On the Sunday the weather was good so we walked from the hostel and did the cliff top walk along the Jamieson Valley, then back along the valley bottom, about a 22km round trip ending in a really steep 45 minute climb out of the valley back to town! Some amazing sights along the way, including several waterfalls dropping 100's of meters, the Three Sisters rock formation and Mount Solitary. Revived our tired bodies with a big spag bol, wine and chocolate in the evening, yum! The next day we took the train further along the line to Blackheath for another 20km walk along the clifftops there. Did a round trip from the train station to Pulpit Rock, along the cliffs to Evan's Lookout and back to the station. The first part of the walk was great, with good views down the valley, but the weather closed in at lunchtime, so the afternoon walk back was fairly miserable, pouring rain and mist/fog obscuring the view. We were pretty glad to get back to the warm fire in the hostel.

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Newcastle (11th June)

Next day we left the Blue Mountains and spent the first part of the day on the train heading to Newcastle, North of Sydney, to go see the British Lions against the Australian 'Combined Country' team in one of the warm-up games. Duncan was extremely excited about this. He was not disappointed as we cheered the Lions on to a 64-0 win over the Aussie side, with seats so close to the pitch we could hear the players scream at each other. Newcastle itself was not a particularly exciting place, but the weather was bright and sunny in the afternoon so we had a nice stroll around the town, and even saw some whales, dolphins and seals off Nobby's Point, which I got excited about, and a stunning sunset!

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Sydney (12th June - 15th June)

Back to Sydney on the Wednesday, staying with Duncan's friends from uni, Sarah and Graham. They had a lovely flat in the center of town and made us feel very welcome. Arrived in the middle of the day, and went straight to Circular Quay to check out the Bridge and the Opera House...pretty impressive! Then had a wander around the 'Rocks' area, quite interesting history of this area from the original Aboriginals then convicts to the present day upmarket cafes etc - but I soon got tired of wandering round with our big backpacks and was glad when we could go to the flat.

On Thursday we took the ferry out to Manly to see my cousin Paul. The ferry ride was great, amazing sunny weather and stunning views across the harbour. I was a bit nervous about meeting up with Paul, having not seen him for over 10 years, but we had a great day with him. Paul and his partner have a great relaxed lifestyle, which both Duncan and I were quite envious of, living in Manly and going to the beach every day in Summer with the kids. Paul took us surfing in the morning, and both of us managed to stand up! Had a lot of fun, but I think Duncan looked a little more stylish than I did on his board, and I got exhausted after a while fighting to get out into the water past the waves. Then met Sarah and their new baby Rafferty for a nice lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manly. After lunch Dunc and I went for a walk around Northern Head, saw some more whales and some great views of Sydney across the harbour. Finished our day at Manly back at Paul's house for a glass of wine (or three) and more chat before taking the ferry home.

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Next day we were walking again, doing a big sightseeing tour of Sydney city centre. Walked across the Bridge, then around the observatory, opera house, botanic gardens, Hyde Park and Darling Harbour. Sydney is a pretty cool city, but we both felt like we had seen the main highlights on our first afternoon with just the Bridge and Opera House.

Posted by duncan-alice 21:54 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Red Centre

overcast 15 °C

After our two weeks on the farm we repacked out rucksacks and were back on the road again...well actually a flight to Alice Springs as it would have taken days to drive!

Arrived in Alice around lunchtime, picked up our campervan, bought some food for the trip and we were off. Took a little while to get used to driving the van, I don't think Duncan or I has ever driven anything so big and tall. The directions to Uluru from Alice were pretty straight forward, drive 200km on the Stuart Highway, turn right onto the Lassiter Highway and drive another 250km, given that there were no other proper road turn-offs even stupid people couldn't get lost on this road-trip!

The driving got boring pretty quickly, as the road ran straight the whole way, and there was only outback scrub-land to see. The most interesting, and scary, thing we saw on the first day was an accident in which a 4WD car and caravan had overturned across the highway, completely written off. Thankfully no-one was seriously hurt but the caravan was smashed to pieces...made us quite cautious about driving for the rest of the day. Stopped 100km from Uluru for the first 2 nights, a place called Curtin Springs, which allowed free camping. Our first night in the van was comfortable once we got to sleep, but whilst awake it was a bit cramped as there was only space for one of us to move about at any one time.

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Next morning we were up in the dark at 5.30am to get to Uluru for sunrise. We made it in time, but were disappointed as the day dawned grey and cloudy and the promised golden glow of Uluru in the sunshine never appeared. Nevertheless, Uluru is a very impressive 'lump of rock', rising up out of nowhere. With the clouds Uluru was a rusty orange colour, but you could really see the features of the rock. After breakfast in the van we went to the cultural centre where we had a very intersting chat to one of the rangers, she told us all about the local Aboriginal community living by Uluru. Next up was the 'base walk', a 10km walk all round Uluru. Despite a bit of rain the walk was great, and it was really cool to get up close to Uluru and see the different rock types and formations, and some rock art. By the end of the walk we were pretty glad it was a cool damp day, as walking round in 40C+ heat of Summer would have been awful.

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In the afternoon we headed over to Kata Tjuta (The Olga's), another rock formation 50km away from Uluru in the national park. We hadn't heard of this before, but it was anothe impressive red rock formation, but with more peaks and gulleys than Uluru's solid mound. We did the 8km 'valley of the winds' walk. This had some fantastic lookouts with views across the valleys behind Kata Tjuta. We had a couple more photo stops on the way out of the park, then headed back to Curtin Springs for the night after a long (but really fun!) day.

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Day three of the road-trip, up early again to drive 260km to Kings Canyon (another red rock formation). Didn't take too long to get there and we were off walking again by 10.30am, again in the cloud and rain. We started with the 'Creek walk' along the relatively lush, green, valley bottom, with good views of the canyon rim above. This was only a short walk (about 1.5km return), so next we walked the longer 'Rim walk' (about 7km), all the way around the Canyon edge. The climb up to the rim from the valley was tough, but the terrain evened out once we made it up. Again, I was glad it was a cool day as there were numerous warnings on the climb up about 'heat safety' in summer. The rim gave amazing views down into the valley and across the surrounding plains, and the top looked like I imagine a lunar landscape to look, with interesting rock formations all over the place. The walk was incredible, and probably my favourite so far on this trip as the landscape was so interesting. I took way too many pictures but I don't think any of them do it justice! We made it back to the van for a late lunch, then hit the road again back towards Alice Springs to get as far as possible while it was light, stopping on the side of the Stuart Highway about 200km south of Alice.

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The final day of our road-trip we went back to Alice first thing, then headed out West towards the MacDonnell Ranges, a mountain range starting just outside of Alice. We had a brief stop at Simpson's Gap to look around, but after Uluru and King's Canyon it was not all that impressive. Next stop Stadley Chasm - a sheer sided gorge through the hillside. This was more impressive, but so it should have been with a $10 entrance fee each! Also had a little walk into the mountains here, up and down a very steep path, with some great views of the valleys from the tops. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for free camping in the area...and failing miserably. First up we tried Ellery Creek Hole, camping was fine, but it was still 100km from Alice and down an unsealed road, which we weren't meant to go on. Next we tried a rest area on the highway slightly closer to Alice, but got a little bit scared by the group of local men there as we were the only tourists there and we had been told horror stories of lone campers getting attacked at night. Our third port of call was back at Stadley Chasm, where camping was cheap, but unfortunately we arrived after the gates had been locked for the night. Finally we gave up and headed back to Alice for the night...although this meant more of a lie-in before our flight out, it did cost a lot more. But, in the morning we had a relaxed breakfast and it was nice not to have another long drive ahead when we got up.

Overall we had a great road-trip. Clocked 1658km, and didn't get lost! Uluru and King's Canyon were amazing, and thankfully I haven't been put off living in a campervan again! Would love to do this trip again with some sunshine, and in a 4-WD so we can go to some of the other places en-route that weren't on the sealed highway.

Posted by duncan-alice 04:10 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Down on the Farm

sunny 15 °C

Our next adventure was on an organic hobby farm run by a single guy not far outside Melbourne where we did a few hours work everyday for two weeks in return for meals and accommodation.

It was a three hour train and bus journey to the nearest market town to where we were going. As we approached the town and realised the potential lack of communication over the next two weeks, we both had the same thoughts that it could be any loonie or murderer we were going to stay with, so we sent a quick message back home to let people know where we were going to be staying.

It was after seven when we arrived and were picked up by our host's friend (ex-CFO turned caravan living lumberjack) who took us the short distance to the farm. We arrived and were given a lengthy introduction to the farm by our host in the dark with a couple of torches. Our tour also included our accommodation which was a renovated old caravan which was definitely the most intimate place we have stayed with a view straight into the shower from the bed.

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The farm was bought in 2002 as a 2 acre plot of land and since then a small house has been put up, a shed with every tool imaginable, a carport for storing an almost unlimited supply of wood, a large pond dug, a chook house, duck house, hot room and over 400 (mostly fruit) trees! It was quite a sight when we saw it in light in the morning. On our first day we were on our own with responsibility to keep the fire going inside, pick all the rhubarb and look after the chooks (=chicken in Australia) and ducks. We were both paranoid we would lose an animal or collect too much rhubarb (we picked about 4 large boxes of it!) but our host was happy with what we had done.

For the rest of the two weeks we did a variety of jobs around the place from mundane boring ones like picking up feijoas (we picked almost 30 large buckets) to fun ones like feeding the chooks and ducks. Other jobs included putting up fencing, removing netting from fruit trees, chopping firewood, picking fruit and veg etc etc.

As the lady of the house, Alice also had to cook dinner (almost every) night. She did a fantastic job to make 2 weeks of organic tasty hearty meals especially given the constraints: vegetarian, no sugar or milk and a host of other things we would think essential missing and not allowed. Highlights included chestnut and mushroom pie and veggie homemade pizzas (definitely recommend roast pumpkin on a pizza!). For me it was amazing to have access to free food whenever I was hungry so I made a large dent on the supply of cashew nuts and scones Alice baked!

Our host was an interesting man who had put his life and soul into his land but was strange to say the least which made sure we never had a dull day. Once we mastered his way of doing things it got a lot easier but he still managed to annoy us in equal measures at different times. Nevertheless, he has inspired us to grow veg when we get back - we were both amazed when if we asked for a veg or a herb he would go down the garden and pull some out and bring it straight back.

Our only two excursions from the farm were to the local pub, which served as a store and coffee shop, as well where we listened to an amazing blues band (guitar, harmonica and drums) who were travelling the country, and the local market where we went for a nosy but it wasn't up to much.

I don't think either of us regret doing the two weeks on the farm - we have some interesting stories to share once back home and I definitely loved worked outdoors doing bits 'n' bobs but I don't think Alice looks back with such happy memories.

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Posted by duncan-alice 04:10 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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