Australia last part...for now...
Christchurch Central, New Zealand
Wednesday 8th February
It was a cloudy day but still hot. Laurie was working (having taken time off when her family were visiting before Christmas), so Sam gave us a quick Sydney tour; we took the bus to Watson's Bay, passing through what seemed to be an affluent part of the city where the houses were large and had views out to the harbour. After getting off the bus we walked the few minutes to Gap Bluff, a cliff top viewing area looking out to deep sea. Apparently this was a good place to watch the migrating whales as they passed right by this point…but it was the wrong time of year. We took a short walk around the headland (saw some big fat spiders with bodies the size of a 2p piece and skinny legs) and back down to the harbour side at Watson's Bay, where we had lunch at Doyle's famous Fish & Chip Café.
A lovely ferry ride took us from Watson's Bay into Circular Quay right past the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, giving us brilliant views of both, even on a cloudy day. We walked round the outside of the Opera House taking it all in…we were really in Australia!!
Then it was a few steps straight into the Botanic Gardens where there were some superb specimen trees in wide open spaces and plants & flowers from different areas of Australia. There is an area of Palm Grove in the park where Flying Foxes (huge bats) roost during the day. We could see them hanging in the trees with their black wings wrapped round their red furry bodies. They eat the flowers and fruit of lots of native species, aiding in the pollination and dispersal of seeds of these plants. Someone clapped their hands loudly and the bats moved about and chattered like small monkeys.
We sat down outside the café in the gardens with drinks and a huge Danish pastry between us. As Martin took a bite a bird (a bit larger than a sparrow) swooped in and also took a bite! We stayed a bit longer while a rain shower ran its course and then walked through part of the city centre to get to our next destination past the building where Sam worked on the 15th floor. The streets were full of skyscrapers surrounding old buildings, just like in Perth. Sydney was the first 'white man' settlement in Australia in around 1788. Stopping at The Rocks - a cobbled, historic area of the city - we had a drink in a German bier keller, but Martin and I had coffee as we were about to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
Laurie met the three of us at the Bridge Climb start point at 6pm where she and Sam waved us off as we disappeared up the stairs to the waiting area. Sam and Laurie had given us the Climb as a Christmas present and we elected to do the Twilight Climb - up in daylight, down in the dark - to see the sunset and view the city lights as they illuminated the city.
There were 10 of us in the group that evening. We were kitted out in blue & grey jumpsuits, headlamps, and a waist pack off which hung the cable clip, a lightweight fleece and rain jacket in small packs, and a radio. We were also fitted with headsets so we could hear instructions and commentary from the Group Leader. We had to leave watches, bracelets, hair clips, large earrings, bags and cameras in lockers as you were not allowed to take/wear anything up on the bridge climb that could be dropped off it. All the equipment we carried was clipped to the back of our jumpsuits. We had a quick practice on a ladder and walkway set up and off we went. The cable clip went onto the cable that ran the whole length of the walk we would take over the bridge. It wasn't possible for it to come off the cable and so we were attached to the bridge (but not each other) for the next 2 hours. In our group we climbed metal ladders and walkways, along, up, over, down and through the structure of the bridge, interspersed with commentary from the Group Leader Mike as we went along. He took photos of us at a few strategic points (for us to buy later of course). At the top of the bridge we looked around and the car lights were on, streaming both ways on the road platform below us. The lights were coming on across the city and as we watched for several minutes the daylight faded completely, the city lit up and The Opera House was illuminated too by several floodlights. We had missed seeing a sunset as it was too cloudy, but we had still had a fantastic time. I would highly recommend it. Time to turn on our headlamps for the climb down. We had been gone three hours, and it had gone by very quickly. Changed out of our jumpsuits we collected our Certificates, free group photo and 1 purchased photo and met Sam and Laurie for the taxi ride home. What a superb day!
Thursday 9th February
Today Sam took us to The Blue Mountains. Up early to catch an 8am train 10 mins walk from Sam and Laurie's flat. 2 hours later we arrived in Katoomba, having passed stations named Croydon, Lewisham, Penrith and Clyde plus others along the way. The return train fare was only $12 each - around £9! On the journey the weather had got duller and mistier the closer we got. From Katoomba it was 20 min walk to The Blue Mountains. At the high viewpoint over the Three Sisters peaks we were confronted with a white wall of mist. As the weather changes so quickly we continued our day hopefully. We took the Giant Steps down to the valley floor - a long 900 steps on metal and stone staircases & walkways hugging the cliff face, I was glad to be going down and not up! No idea why it was called Giant Steps as they weren't big at all, but there were lots of them! When we got to the bottom the mist in the valley was clearing and we could see some of the features of the mountains. They are called The Blue Mountains because the Eucalyptus trees on the mountains cause the air to have a blue haze as the oil from their leaves is released and evaporates in the heat. We walked the 3 mile path through the valley floor, passing through semi-rainforest jungle, complete with leeches (not many) reaching out for our legs, thick vines hanging down (strong enough to hold a car up in the air, the information boards told us), tree ferns, parrots and other exotic birds calling to each other, and glimpses of waterfalls. The valley floor was cool but very humid. We could see the Three Sisters peaks high up in the mountains as we got to the cable car platform. We took the cable car back to the top and I managed to get some photos of the peaks and the Katoomba Falls in the distance as we went by. At the Information Centre we admired the postcards of the views of the Three Sisters and the surrounding countryside on a fine day (we had seen the Three Sisters but due to the mist the countryside all around was hidden from view). We walked walk back to Katoomba to catch the train and all had a snooze on the journey back!
Later, when I took off my walking shoes one of my socks was soaked in blood. I had been leeched! The leech was nowhere to be found so it had obviously had its fill and dropped off. My ankle continued to bleed for several hours due to the anticoagulant that had been injected into it from the leech. I bound it up with a wad of kitchen towel under Elastoplast and that seemed to do the trick. Just in case it bled through I wore my bright red linen trousers out to dinner that night! After we had got back from a lovely meal with Laurie and Sam at a local pub, the heavens opened with a torrential downpour for an hour or so. It was so heavy it was reported on the news the next day.
Friday 10th February.
The forecast for today was warm but with more heavy rain in the afternoon. Sam had planned another walk for us in the afternoon from Bondi Beach to Coogee along the coastline. We decided not to do the walk in the afternoon with the risk of rain, but went to Bondi and had lunch and then walked along the beach watching the surfers. Sam said the beach was pretty empty for a cloudy weekday, but it looked full enough to us! Back to the flat, where Sam cooked Spaghetti Bolognaise and we played Scrabble; Laurie was the winner…this time…a rematch next month I feel!
This was our last night, for a while, with Sam and Laurie - we were off to New Zealand in the morning!