New Year and the East Coast by Baz
After our very enjoyable Christmas we made the 12 hour bus trip from Melbourne to Sydney.Our accommodation was booked at the last minute (and at considerable expense) but was centrally located and with the bonus of a room to ourselves.Once we settled in to the hotel we went out to get a feel for the City.
We walked up the lively shopping thoroughfare of George Street to The Rocks.The Rocks is a fascinating area where in 1788 Australias first European convict settlers build their camp and endured disease, drought and brutality in the early years (minor in terms of the devastation inflicted on the indigenous Aboriginal community, but that's colonialism for you). Now The Rocks is one of Sydneys top boutique and café areas.Its certainly a pleasant place to stroll and find out about Australias most recent history. We also visited the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Either of these attractions in isolation would make an excellent tourist feature for a City, but together they are most impressive, making Sydney harbour area just spectacular.We walked back to the hotel through the sizable Botanical gardens where visitors are invited on an entrance notice to "walk on the grass and hug the trees".
With a few days to kill before New Year we had no difficulty occupying ourselves.On one evening we took a trip to the well known Bondi Beach where we met Seonaids former colleague, Clare and her partner for a lovely bite to eat.
On another day we took the ferry from Sydney Harbour to Manley Beach, one of Sydneys most popular. We sat by the beach and enjoyed a picnic and before I got a chance to reveal my pale torso and go for a dip I was enthralled to hear that the surf had been closed due to a shark sighting.How dramatic!
On another day we took a ferry to Taronga zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos, and I don't really think Seonaid is all that bothered about them either.But there was an animal there that Seonaid had been becoming steadily obsessed with and she wanted a photo with it. The focus of her adoration was a Koala Bear and I suspected she had plans to steal one and take it home with her to live in Ireland, but she agreed to settle for the photo for now.Koala Bears are native to Australia and are without doubt one of the cutest creatures in the world.They eat eucalypitas leaves, which don't contain much energy and sleep for around 18 hours per day.
We had visited during the holidays and the zoo was particularly busy. We made our way quickly through the zoo and directly to the Koala enclosure. Seonaid was delighted to see that they were even more cute in real life, and joined the other 50 or so observers in a chorus of oooo's and aaaaa's as the dozing bears hung from branches within their enclosure, seemingly oblivious to both their audience and their own cuteness. We then queued to pay an extra 20 dollars to get a photo with a Bear.I had my concerns about this as it would put Seonaid within snatching distance of the little mammal and I noticed she had brought her extra large bag with her, with what appeared to be eucalypitas leaves sticking out of it. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there was a large backlog of people to have photos and despite Seonaids returning to pester the lady in charge on 2 further occasions, there was no room for her to get a photo.I thought she was going to well up and cry there and then.We left the Zoo disappointed and the photos we got of Seonaid with a giant Koala teddy were little consolation.
New Year arrived quickly.We met Elaine and Simon, Seonaids friend from University and her boyfriend. Simon had lived in Sydney before and advised us to head to the botanical gardens to spend the day and wait for the fireworks at 12.00.You could spend any amount of money to watch the fireworks from various vantage points around and within the harbour, but Maquaries Point was free, close and could fit 20,000 people.Unfortunately you could not bring your own drink and they were very thorough about checking people on the way in.So thorough in fact that we queued for 4 and a half hours in the sweltering sun.I wondered if they were conducting full strip searches way up there at the front of the queue. At least that would explain our painfully slow progress.We got in sometime around 6.00 pm and sat and had what was left of our picnic (we had eaten most of it during our wait) a few beers and a bit of craic.
As 12.00 approached we made our way forward to the fence and stood waiting for the countdown.With a few minutes to go a decent crowd had assembled behind us. Then a lady beside me made a high pitch screeching noise and pointed upward.I followed the invisible line from her finger and joined her with my own, slightly deeper screech as I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen perched on the fence only a foot above my head.I informed Seonaid, Elaine and Simon and a few others in the vicinity and we quickly formed a 5 foot semi-circle from the fence with the spider at the centre.I am aware that some time after our discovery of this beast there were fireworks, only because I could see the lights reflect off his beady eyes and hairy legs.I dared not take my eyes off him to enjoy the show. He seemed unfazed by everything, and only moved when someone rattled the fence. Apparently he was a huntsman Spider, not deadly but capable of giving you a nasty nip.I was told by Seonaid and numerous others afterwards that the fireworks were terrific.Overall we had a very nice evening, and felt refreshed enough to go for a run in the Botanical gardens the next day.
A few days after New Year we went to the Blue Mountains to stay with Seonaids relatives.It was on the train on our way there that we met an interesting young man.He must have been about 19 years old and got on the train with his bike.He sensed Seonaid and I were not local and asked where we were from.We struck up a conversation with him and found him informative, amusing and charming.He was particularly interested in our traveling exploits and mentioned that he would be keen to do something similar at some stage, but for now he was a 'Stoner'. A Stoner, I understand is someone who has dedicated their life to the smoking of Weed. He talked about it in terms of a career choice.I perceived career weed smokers to be too paranoid to open the door to the pizza delivery guy, let alone charm strangers on a train. As he stepped off the train I considered joining him in his temporary escape from life, smoking weed and chatting to strangers on trains, but we were in the middle of our own temporary escape from life and couldn't seriously consider such distractions.
In 1957 Seonaids Dads Uncle emigrated with his family (wife and 5 kids) to Australia.Helena was one of those kids, and we stayed with her and her husband, Jim in the Blue Mountains for 3 nights.They were both extremely warm and welcoming and genuinely glad to have us.The heat in the area was incredible.At 42 degrees it was the hottest weather in 3 years and there were bushfires all round the state.The Blue Mountains themselves were just spectacular, amongst the most impressive scenery we have seen on our travels.I was also fascinated by the extensive monorail in the blue mountains area, which Jim informed me was build at a cost of around 20,000 dollars before they realized it wouldn't meet basic safety requirements and was abandoned before it even opened. Im quite sure someone lost a job over that one!
Upon hearing of Seonaids Koala obsession and disappointment Jim took us to Featherdale Australian Wildlife Sanctuary. It was a fantastic place where there and wallabies and Kangaroos bouncing all round the place.You can get as close as they will allow and feed them.There was also a big croc that I got a few photos of from a safe distance. Despite my need for a size reference for my photos Jim wouldn't climb into the croc enclosure. Also, they had Koalas, lots of them. Seonaid didn't only get a photo with one of the little guys, she also got to pet him. She was delighted, and I think the little Koala enjoyed the scratch he got as well.Before we left Jim bought Seonaid a Koala teddybear from the sanctuary shop.Im quite sure she would have preferred the real thing, but she was more than satisfied with the stuffed version.
We had a great dinner with Helena and her 2 sisters, Mora and Geraldine and rather than being bored by the family talk between Seonaid and the relatives, I was enthralled by the stories of the girls traveling the 4 weeks on the boat from Ireland to Oz, their fears and anxieties and how they have developed a life for themselves here, but missed the extended family that both Seonaid and I enjoy at home.
We managed to go for an early morning run in the local park before we left Helena and Jim, where I got a taste of the Aussie humour.Much to my amusement, on all the bins in the park people were encouraged not to litter with a notice saying "Don't be a tosser".I thought this was great. You just wouldn't get it at home. Helena mentioned that in a similar vein there used to be a sign as you left the airport that said "Welcome to Sydney - GET STUFFED" and then below, in smaller letters "At Pizza Hut".This turned out to be a step too far and was removed after complaints, presumably by some stuffy Europeans.
Off we went up to the Gold Coast to the brilliantly named Surfers Paradise, which is a bit of a party town. Seonaid and I have been here for a few days now and enjoyed a relaxing time and a pleasant run along the impressive coastline with its miles of golden beaches.Anyway, I must go as I need to research our sailing trip on the Great Barrier Reef.