Aussie Wildlife and a Night in the Bush

30 11 2016

Wednesday morning we woke up not quite as early as the previous two days, but still earlier than most people when they’re on vacation. That gave us plenty of time to pack up our things because today we were headed out to the Blue Mountains!

As if Sydney couldn’t get any more awesome, there’s a mountain range about two hours outside of the city center with national parks, beautiful vistas, waterfalls, and of course, camping!

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Before skipping town, we grabbed breakfast at this Venezuelan place on the corner. The arepas and tequenos (fried cheese sticks)  were delish and the guys running the place were incredibly friendly. Highly recommend!

We were initially going to take the train out to the mountains, but I am so glad we decided to rent a car. The flexibility it afforded us was totally worth it. Especially because we were able to stop here on the way:

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It was totally worth the $30 entry fee (per person). There were so many animals and a number of opportunities to pet and feed them. For instance, just after paying, you walk through the gate of a chain link fence and immediately there are what looks like tiny kangaroos hopping towards you.

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No joke, this was 15 seconds after we had walked into the park. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of what these guys were (perhaps a wallaby?), but there were several out and about, and a few others were in their designated habitat, which was set up so that they could come and go freely.

We also got to see koalas and we even got to pet one named Victor. Unfortunately, they don’t let you hold them. Just pet his bum and pose for a photo while he sleeps. Quite glamorous I tell ya.

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Since I can’t remember all the names of the animals we saw, I’ll just post some of the pics.

We spent several hours at the park before our growling tummies told us we were well overdue for food. Park food was not appealing, so we hit the road in search of something tasty. Unfortunately for us Americans, Yelp does not seem to be their app of choice for rating and reviewing places to eat. They’re more Trip Advisor people it would appear. Anyhow, we found a small Thai place with decent Pad Thai and then we hit up a grocery store to get some supplies for our night/morning in the bush (oatmeal, some krumpets, and some water).

(Other fun things we found at the grocery store but didn’t buy)

I knew we were going to camp at/near the Three Sisters, but I hadn’t done much more research than that. Normally, I’m the planner and Bill’s the lax one when it comes to figuring out our itinerary,  but it always seems to work out when he wings it. So, this was my experimentation with “winging it” – I figured there’d be signs telling us where to go. Unfortunately, when Bill typed “Three Sisters” into the GPS 50 bajillion hits came up. Ok, not 50 bajillion, but definitely more than a handful. We picked one and off we went.

Soon, we arrived at what looked to be a restaurant in the forest. Someone who clearly worked there was just closing the door as though business was done for the day, so I ran out and asked where Three Sisters was. Surprisingly, she wasn’t quite sure, but directed us back towards the highway and Katoomba. We searched again in Google Maps, and found another “Three Sisters” in the general direction the woman had pointed us. Thankfully this time there were clear signs directing us to the Three Sisters at Echo Point Katoomba.

When we arrived, it was really windy and starting to get chilly. We ran out to the overlook to get a few photos before I went into the information center to ask where we could camp. It was late afternoon at this point and I knew we would run out of sunlight in the next few hours, so time was of the essence. I was thankful they were open- 45 minutes later and we would have been out of luck! I told the woman at the desk we wanted to camp and she asked if we were bush camping or in an RV. When I confirmed bush camping, she gave me a sheet of paper that listed a number of free (YES!!!!) campsites we could drive to. She told me two of her top picks and off we went (for another 20 minute drive!)

Finally, after a lot of twists and turns and downhill, we made it to the Old Ford Reserve.

We immediately got to unpacking and setting up our tent. Correction: we didn’t bring a tent; we brought a tarp, a ground cloth, and our trekking poles for our shelter. This would be my second time tarp camping, and to say I was a bit nervous to do this in the Australian bush was an understatement. We were in the land of crazy wild and dangerous creatures and I was not going to be surrounded on all sides by an enclosed tent?!

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NBD, just a little skink.

Why, you ask, did I agree to do this? Well, for one, this would be our only night out in Australia. In New Zealand, two of our nights would be in the Department of Conservation’s huts and there was one other night where I thought we’d be camping out, but we had the flexibility to get a hotel room if we wanted. So, for one real night outside, Bill and I agreed that the weight of the tent wasn’t worth bringing all this way. And, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you, right?

Novices in tarp tenting, we spent a bit of time setting up our A-frame abode. I’m sure an experienced boy scout would have had a good laugh at us, but hey, we got it set up. Unfortunately, our campsite of choice was covered in these prickly things that poked through our ground cloth. Worried about puncturing our inflatable sleeping pads, I went in search of a new campsite.

We found one on the other side of the paved road, along a dirt road that didn’t seem to get much use. We were now further away from all the other camper vans than we had been previously, but at least this one didn’t have the prickly things!

Attempt number 2 at setting up camp was more successful. We decided to go with the lean-to this time, since it would have been a tight squeeze under the A-frame because our tarp isn’t a full-size tarp.

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Winner winner, campfire dinner!

Before we actually made our dinner, we explored our surroundings a little more. There was a hill just across the dirt road, which led up to what I believe was a horse farm; but if there was a stable, it was nowhere in sight. There was also a creek down the paved road in the other direction, but there were signs warning that it was unsafe to drink. How unfortunate, because it sure was pretty!

Finally, we made our dinner as the sun set. As it got darker, it got cold! We went for another walk (with headlamps on) back up to the top of the hill where the sky was absolutely full of bright stars. It was stunning! I don’t think I have ever seen that many stars- it makes you realize how small we truly are in our great, grand universe. Our star gazing didn’t last too long because I was needed another layer! Jeans + short sleeve shirt + fleece was not enough for this Florida girl.

Back at the tent, we changed into warmer sleeping clothes and curled up to watch a movie on the iPad. Yes, I said we watched a movie. I needed the distraction so I didn’t think about what might have been lurking beyond the tree line. Eventually, I was tired enough that I could fall asleep. I closed my eyes and prayed nothing would come get us!

 

 





We made it to Sydney!

11 11 2016

One of the main reasons we were able to make this trip happen was that we used Delta miles to buy flights. Virgin Australia is their partner airline and what we’d take to get from LA to AUS. It was my first time on any Virgin branded plane, and I was quite pleased with the plane and the service.

img_6438Our plane left LA on Saturday night (October 22nd) at 10:35, which to my east coast body felt like 3:30am. We had been awake since 5:30am EST, so to say we were exhausted was an understatement.

 

One of my well traveled friends recently told me that the key to surviving the flight and not having terrible jet lag was to stay awake for the meal plus 1 movie and then sleep. I barely made it through dinner (I selected the vegetarian option, which was a nice mushroom stuffed ravioli, by the way) before I could barely keep my eyes open. I was in the middle seat (in coach) between Bill and a very nice woman who I’d chatted with briefly at the start of the flight, so I wasn’t expecting the best sleep, but I popped on the complementary eye mask, my ear plugs (they provided some too), adjusted the seat and headrest, and surprisingly, I was able to sleep! It wasn’t the best sleep of my life, but it was definitely a longer sleep than I was expecting!

I woke up a little before they served breakfast (which I believe was 2-3 hours before we landed), read for a bit (Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country) and before I knew it we were landing. OMG OMG OMG we are in Australia!!

We arrived around 7:30am on MONDAY, October 24th. Thank you international date line. I never experienced October 23, 2016. Hope nothing important happened!

We cleared customs and immigration with no hiccups (but we made sure to declare our camping knife and food!) and headed to the CBD (central business district) to drop off Bill’s cases at a storage facility (he was heading directly to a gig from this vacation and needed to bring all that stuff with him). Obviously I needed to get a doughnut when I passed this window:

 

It’s Doughnut Time!

Raspberry with a coconut sugar on top-it was super sweet but also super tasty!

Sugar rush complete, we scurried off to drop our backpacks at our AirBnB, in the Circular Quay/Rocks part of town. Our place was like 4 blocks from the Harbor- perfect location for tourists like us!

Today’s goal was to fight the tired and enjoy as much of the day as possible (since it wasn’t even noon yet!), so we started by walking to the harbor and wandering around.

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When I first saw the harbor up close, with the opera house to my right and the bridge to my left, I thought to myself, OMG I can’t believe I’m actually in Australia! We strolled around for only a short bit before realizing our stomachs were telling us it was about time for a proper meal. So we hit up a little cafe just outside the harbor where we shared some eggs and a slice of lemon merengue pie, after seeing the foot tall pie in the window. So much for a “proper” meal I guess!

The rest of the day consisted of:

  • Visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art, and experiencing virtual reality. img_6449
  • Wandering around the Harbor Bridge. That thing is massive!

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  • Learning about astronomy at the Sydney Observatory and lounging for a bit on Observatory Hill

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  • Walking around some more, including a stop at the local Lululemon to find out where we could do some yoga.
  • Stopping for a mid-afternoon margarita and table side guac at a hip place called Mejico. YUM!
  • Getting our OHM on at a yoga studio called YogaBar. The studio was in the mall, which was interesting, but it definitely felt good to move! I wish we had taken the later class, which was a more traditional yoga class; the one we took was part yoga/part weights, but we took it because we weren’t sure we’d be able to fight the jet lag long enough to make it to the later class.
  • Enjoying some dumplings from a dumpling bar close to the AirBnB.
  • Crashing HARD at 8:30pm.

PHEW. That was a LONG day! We packed a bunch of stuff into our first day, thanks to such an early arrival. I was so excited to see more!





The Trip Of A Lifetime (Part 1 of ?)

10 11 2016

Howdy my long lost readers! If you’re still with me, thanks! I had a race report from the Crystal River Sprint #3 half written before I went away on a 2 week vacation. Because vacation is much more exciting than a sprint triathlon, I’m going to tell you about my trip to Australia and New Zealand!

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I’m blogging about the trip mostly because I want to remember as much as possible; it’s not every day one gets to hop on a plane, fly for 15 hours and spend two weeks literally on the other side of the world. So, grab your coffee, this is gonna be a long series of posts!

 

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Bill and I left Tampa bright and early on Saturday October 24th (like 7am early) to fly to LA. When we arrived, we had about 13 hours until our flight to Sydney; because we had > 12 hours until the next flight, we weren’t able to re-check our bags. So, rather than finding storage for the day, we opted to rent a car and explore!

First stop, In N Out Burgers, obv.

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Normally, I eat vegetarian as some of you may know. But, when it comes to these burgers, I make an exception! Animal style all the way!

After our heavy “brunch” we headed to the Santa Monica Pier. Oh LA traffic, you certainly are a pain!

img_6394We wandered around what I think was the downtown Santa Monica area on our way to the pier and walked through a lovely Saturday Farmer’s market. Gosh, I really miss the farmer’s markets from when I lived in DC! I sampled some yummy tomatoes and pears before we finally headed to the beach.

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Santa Monica is beautiful if you haven’t been there- the ocean and the mountains, all in one place. Gosh, if it weren’t so stinking expensive, I would love to live there!

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We walked some more and then decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.

img_6403If you’re unfamiliar, the La Brea Tar Pits are an incredible archaeological site that is currently active! Thousands upon thousands of bones from the ice age have been dug up already, and they’re still discovering more. Back in the day (WAAAAAAY back in the day) animals would come to drink/eat at the tar pit. Well, the obviously didn’t realize it was tar, because when they stepped in it, they got stuck! The poor animals couldn’t move and eventually died. And dead animals = easy dinner for predators, so they came and explored. They too got stuck! That’s they theory of how SO MANY bones were found in such a small area. We wandered around the museum for a bit (it’s not that big, so easy to do in a few hours) and gawked at the all the fossils.

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We worked up an appetite, so we needed some food, stat!

I was craving something a bit healthier than this morning’s meal, and thankfully we found Mendocino Farms. This place was great! Order at the counter, sample the beers and side salads (like potato salad, or the yummy shells with almond romesco sauce I had), and then sit down and enjoy your meal when your number is called. Bill got a BLT with tempeh bacon and I had a delicious salad. I wish I had written down what was in the salad because it was amazing!

 

After dinner (or was it lunch #2?) we still had time to kill, so since it was nearing sunset and we were on the west coast, back to the beach we went (duh). It was a stunner of a night, and a great way to wrap up our day in LA!

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And now, back to the airport, return the car, check in to the flight and we’re headed to Australia Baby!!!