Happy New Year Everyone and here's to a blinding 2008!
We officially left Australia this morning and arrived in Christchurch in the south island of New Zealand this afternoon.But before I go any further I think we need to back track and update you over our xmas in OZ. And I warn you now, this is a very long blog!
Just before arriving in Sydney for xmas we spent a day in Byron Bay, which was a bustling sea town that seemed to be stuck in the 70's and had more than a few hippy characters around the streets. We spent the day walking along the coastal path and took in some spectacular views around Byron Bay. Our stay in Byron Bay was short and that night we took the bus to Sydney.
We arrived in Sydney early Christmas eve day and took the train and bus to Bondi to check into our hostel. We spent some time on the famous beach and stocked up on food and booze for the coming day.However we finished the booze that night as the whole hostel headed out as a group for the evening to a local hotel bar.
Christmas day morning we were woken by some hard core Irish drinkers with the song 'wake up it's a beautiful morning' blaring from the sound system. Needless to say some of us still required some more sleep to recover from the night before. We slouched downstairs to investigate the 'free breakfast' that the hostel was putting on, which turned out to be a massive bag of frozen sausages and bread. Everyone seemed to be in no state to defrost sausages so like the mugs we are spent a good while trying to defrost hundreds of the w***s! At least someone else cooked them! After a sausage sandwich or two we went down to the beach with a couple of surf boards. Unfortunately the weather wasn't the best, in fact we might as well have been back home! So our stay on the beach was short lived. Christmas day dinner ended up being toast and crumpets as the BBQ the hostel were going to put on never materialised. Things were made worse after we rung home and our parents told us the roast potatoes were just about to go in the oven - torture!!!! We decided the best way to end the day was to have an early night and hope that our next few days with Steve and Liz would make up for it.
Steve and Liz have been our saviours!!!! They picked us up from the hostel on boxing day and we made our way to Steve's parents in Cronulla who had invited us to their family BBQ. On the way we stopped off to take a look at the harbour and also to visit Captain Cook's landing point.When we arrived at Steve's parents, we met his family and then we got down to some serious eating and that was only lunch, the BBQ wasn't till the evening! We really appreciated the Clarke's hospitality and it was great to spend time with a family as we were missing our own families a lot. All we can say is Rita and Peter were absolute stars, we felt really welcome in their home, so thank you to the whole of the Clarke family you really made our boxing day special!
The next day we were off again and this time we headed to Liz's Grandad's house at beautiful Lake Conjola for even more eating and drinking thanks to Liz's Dad Barry, his partner Gail and her Grandad Ernie. The house had spectacular views of the lake from the veranda and we enjoyed just sitting and taking in the peaceful atmosphere, it was amazing the effect it had on you, all your troubles just melted away. The next day Barry took the four of us out on his boat to show us the lake and also to try out some fishing!!! Our first task for the day was to catch some nippers for bait, this was almost as much fun as the fishing itself. Then Liz and Steve showed us how to cast our lines and after a few attempts we sort of had the hang of it. Gavin caught the first fish only minutes after but it was a bit small so we released it back. I was next to catch a fish and mine was a keeper. Barry prepared and cooked it up for lunch and we all enjoyed some - now you can't get fresher than that!!! We really enjoyed the fishing and want to say thank you to Barry for giving us his time to take us out and show us, we'll defiantly try it back home - especially if I keep on getting bigger fish than Gavin!!! (Gavin here - I like the fact Helen dosent mention she didnt catch another fish all day but I got another 2!!!!). On our last day before popping down to the beach Ernie took some time to show us the fire station and truck they use for the bush fires in this area (Barry and Ernie are part of the Volunteer bush fire service). We had a lovely time at Lake Conjola and we can see why it's so special to Liz's family.
We were off again this time to St Clare's near Penrith and the Blue Mountains to stay with Liz's mum Pam. We stopped half way to enjoy lunch in Huskinson, Steve and Liz had been raving about the burgers here, and we weren't disappointed they were some tasty burgers, and bloody huge! We arrived at Liz's mums just before dinner and met her partner Al. We stayed here the night (again we can't begin to say how grateful we are!) as we were off to the Blue Mountains the following day.
Gavin here, my turn to take over, are you ready... Sunday morning we were up earlyish to head up to the Blue Mountains which were around a 45min drive from Liz's Mum's.On our way she explained that the reason why they're called the Blue Mountains is because the trees here release a sap which, when the sun shines on them makes the trees in valley look blue.
After finding somewhere to park we headed to the Echo Lookout Point which gave fantastic views across a section of the mountains.From here we set off on our decent down into the valley below via the 'Giant Staircase'.After only a few minutes of walking we soon realised how it came to earn this name.The steps were at a ridiculous gradient with us seemingly almost walking vertically downwards at some points & to make things worse we did not seem to be making any ground in reaching the valley floor.We walked for ages and were soon nursing sore legs & aching knee's (get the violins out!).On the plus side we were rewarded at regular intervals with stunning views & were able to walk across to the '3 Sisters' which are the main attraction here.On eventually reaching the bottom we walked through the valley for a couple of km's until we reached the 'Katoomba Scenic Railway' which took you back up to the top without the need of walking back up the steps.This railway however has the steepest incline in the world with a gradient of 52% so this shows how steep the steps much have been!Although the railways was a lot easier, it was still slightly scary as it took you up the hill backwards through a cave they've dug out while your almost slipping out of your seat due to the angle!From here we caught the bus back up to Echo Lookout were we went back to Liz's in Penrith to pick up our bags before catching the train back into Sydney to our hotel we'd booked back in April for the next 5 nights.After a very small dinner we soon fell fast asleep after a couple of busy days.
The following morning was New Years Eve so we lazed about the hotel trying to get as much sleep as possible before the late night ahead.Around 4ish we met back up with Steve & Liz and walked to Mrs Macquarie's Lookout in the Royal Botanical Gardens to find a space to watch the fireworks.This was the largest lookout area in Sydney holding 22,000 for the night and also offered the best views around, except a small island in the middle of the harbour but tickets for that were going for $800 per person whereas Mrs Macquarie's was free!We managed to find somewhere with a view of the bridge but a section of it was obscured by a couple of trees. With 5hrs till the 9pm fireworks I set off on a walk to look around and surprisingly managed to bump into 2 people we knew which was scary considering there was 1 million people in Sydney to see the fireworks and 22,000 people where we were.The first was someone we'd met on our travels a month ago and I also bumped into a fellow Wycombeian and old school mate Claire.To make things even spookier we were even staying in the same hotel!After a chit chat I went back to meet the others where we watched the first set of fireworks (they're mainly for the children so that they don't have to stay up till midnight to see some fireworks).They were impressive although our view was hindered by people who stood on the path in front and by the overhanging tree's.Once they had finished we decided to try and find a better spot for the main fireworks.Amazingly we managed to grab a great spot with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge & Opera House.After a further 3hrs wait we finally saw in the New Year and the fireworks were out of this world.We stood for most of it open mouthed at how cool they were and so grateful for the view we'd managed to get.It was so beautiful seeing the bridge illuminated by the fireworks flying off it & the Opera House lit up by the fireworks that were going off above it.Our whole trip had been revolved around being there for New Years and it really didn't disappoint!
The following day we were up at a decent time - mainly as we hardly drunk anything due to the drinking restrictions, and the fact that if you went to toilet you wouldn't make it back for an hour!After some breakfast we headed to Darling Harbour where we were meeting Steve & Liz around 2ish.As we had a couple of hours to spare we went into the Maritime Museum which had an exhibit on Otzi the Iceman Mummy that was found in northern Italy 15 years ago.Although there was only a replica of the body it was still really interesting to learn about someone who died 5,200 years ago and still had so much of his body & possessions still intact.From here our plan was to go to the Sydney Aquarium with Steve & Liz but due to the massive queues we decided against it and went for a walk around Darling Harbour before going for a couple of drinks & eventually a meal in Chinatown which was delicious!
On the 2nd Helen & I met up with Claire & Kate and we all went for a drink which was nice to catch up.From here we headed to the Sydney Tower which is the tallest building in the city.Here you can go up to almost the top of the building and get great views across the city.Unfortunately it was at the wrong angle to see the Harbour Bridge & Opera House in their full beauty but it was still nice to see the rest if the city.Here we also went on the 'Oz Trek' which is a simulator ride 'around Australia'.Unfortunately we didn't have much in our stomachs and being flung around in our seats whilst staring at a screen made us feel really sick.Luckily Ralph didn't buy a ticket so that saved us some embarrassment!
From the Tower we headed to the Harbour Bridge to enquire about the bridge climb, which we ended up booking for that night at 11:30!As we were going to see the city by night we decided to head to one of the bridges Pylon's that you can climb up so that we could see the city by day.This was lovely and gave great views down on to the Opera House which became more and more impressive every time I looked!We then headed back to the hotel where we hung around till it was time for the bridge climb.We arrive around 11ish and found out that we were the last climb of the day which was cool.We had our safety brief before getting kitted up into our overalls and safety gear.From hear we gradually worked our way up one side of the bridge to the summit which was 130m above the ground below and then back down over the other side.From here the views were fantastic, especially at night, & it was so peaceful!Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take a camera up with us as your not allowed any 'loose' items with you in case you drop them.They do however take pictures for you which was a really nice memento.The whole experience took around 3.5hrs and we were lucky to have a great instructor who made it funny & interesting.We didn't get back to the hotel & to bed till 4 in the morning so were well and truly knackered but Thursday was our last day in Australia so we didn't want to waste it.As a result we were up and out by 9:30 and headed to the Aquarium.This was manic though due to the children's holiday's and the place was absolutely rammed with kids & parents who left pushchairs in the walkways creating huge queues throughout!The place itself was good though and had an awesome Great Barrier Reef exhibit at the end which was by far the best part.From here we walked to the Opera House where we had a look around & thought about booking onto to a tour but it was very expensive for what it was so we gave it a miss.After lounging around the house we went for a walk around the neighbouring botanical gardens which were very picturesque.By this point we were well and truly knackered and our feet killing us so we headed back to the hotel to pack our things up ready for the flight the following morning.
That evening we took Steve and Liz out to a really nice seafood restaurant in Darling Harbour to say thank you for everything they'd done for us over the past 2 weeks.Helen, Steve & Liz shared a seafood platter which was absolutely ginormous.They also forced me to try an oyster which you'll see from the photo I really liked ...mmm!Afterwards we had enough time for an ice cream before saying our goodbyes and heading back to our hotel.
All in all Australia has been really good, but Sydney has really stood out and it was a shame to say goodbye.However we're now in New Zealand and looking forward to seeing more fantastic sights and gaining more memories.
We would however like to say a massive thank you to Steve & Liz's Families who both took us in and treated us like their own, we're really grateful!And even more importantly we'd like to say thanks to Steve & Liz themselves for everything they did for us while we were in Oz.
Hope your are all well and that we haven't bored you too much with this mammoth blogs!We'd also like to point out that all of our recently added Sydney photo's have for some reason been added to the photos we posted when we first arrived so you will have seen the first few already.There are however 90 new ones for you to look through if this blogs hasn't sent you to sleep already!!!!
Gavin and Helen