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!

 

 





Playing Tourist in Sydney

28 11 2016

(plus a little surprise at the end)

At 3:30am, Bill and I woke up. Hello jet lag! Thankfully, we were still exhausted from the past two days, and falling back asleep for a few hours wasn’t terribly difficult. Around 6, I woke up again, and decided to go for a run around the harbor. It was a beautiful, brisk spring morning- perfect runner’s weather.

I ran around the Opera House, stopping to take the obligatory selfie in front of the impressive structure. img_6456Then, I made my way into the Royal Botanical Gardens where I spotted a kookaburra and stopped again to take a photo.

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I made my way to Mrs. Macquarie’s point, took even more photos, before heading back to wake Bill and get our day started. #tourist

 

We decided that today we’d take it a bit easier than yesterday, and instead of doing a crazy amount of walking, we’d play tourist on the Sydney and Bondi Hop On Hop Off tour bus. The other priority we had for today: heal our still-feeling-cramped-from-a-14hour-flight bodies with a massage!

Apparently the bus was the thing to do, because we had to wait for the 3rd bus before we made it to the front of the line. However, this gave Bill time to find us a reputable spa and book a massage!

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It was turning out to be a stunning day- bright blue skies with not a cloud in sight. And, it was actually getting pretty warm out! We sat on the open top of the bus and started to get a feel for the layout of the city, the places we wanted to check out, and planned where we needed to get off to make our spa appointment.

img_6478The famous Coke sign at King’s Cross

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Beautiful public library!

Soon, my tummy was growling. I was dead set on grabbing lunch in Chinatown, so we hopped off at the Powerhouse museum stop, headed over a few blocks, and walked into the first noodle shop we saw. It was TINY, there were hardly any English signs, and a woman was hand-making noodles only several feet away. Perfect! We skooted our way into the last two seats, and soon a woman delivered our menus and some fresh hot tea. Bill and I didn’t have a ton of time to dawdle, since our spa appointment was rapidly approaching, so we spotted some vegetarian stir-fried noodles on the menu and ordered 2 of them.

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The steaming bowl of noodles arrived and I knew we had made a very, very good decision.

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OMG these were by far the most delicious noodles I had EVER eaten. No joke, I am still dreaming about them. I really, really wish I lived in a city with something remotely close to these. The slightly chewy texture, the sweet sauce, the crunchy vegetables. Ah-mazing.

We paid our bill and then hit it- we had about a mile or so to walk and 20 minutes until our  appointment.

As we walked through the city Bill asked me nonchalantly, “So, did you see the family of roaches living above the kitchen?”

Disgusted, I said “WHAT?  Gross. They were dead, right?”

“Nope.”

Now I was even more disgusted, but thankful that Bill didn’t tell me while were were there! We then proceeded to joke about our “roach soup” for the rest of the day and the remainder of the trip. And despite being really grossed out, we seriously considered going back at least once more before we left Sydney because the noodles were just that good!

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We made our way to the Ayurve spa for our massage and it was OH SO NICE. The spa was actually in the Westfield Sydney. Yes, that same Westfield brand that I’m sure many of you recognize from suburbia. It was a little weird to go to a spa in a department store at a mall, but hey, the massage was awesome!

Fully relaxed, we walked to the closest stop for our tour bus that would take us to Bondi Beach. I was so looking forward to this beach because I really, really wanted to go swim at the Icebergs Club.

As our bus made the final turn to head down the hill to the drop off stop, we caught our first glimpse of the beach. Not gonna lie, but I got a little giddy when I saw the beautiful beach below and the surf rolling in. img_6485Something about the ocean just makes my heart flutter! When the bus stopped, I’m pretty sure Bill and I were the first ones off. We high tailed it over to the beach and stood on the grassy area for a few minutes just watching the waves roll in, mesmerized. The surf was up and there were loads of surfers in the water. I could tell that Bill was excited too- he used to surf a lot when he lived in California and he’s a water person just like me. It made me happy to see him happy.

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We walked closer and made our way onto the beach. Of course I put my feet in the water, and man was it chilly! We walked to the north end of the beach, and along our walk we saw a group of kids learning about water safety, and then a little further up there was a group of high-school aged girls with paddle boards, ready to tackle the open water. I’m pretty sure both of these groups were organized by one of the lifesaving clubs that calls this beach home. If I lived here, I can guarantee I would be part of one of those clubs.

 

We probably could have spent hours just staring at the ocean, but we didn’t have a ton of time before the last bus picked up and I really wanted to check out the Icebergs.

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We walked to the south end of the beach, and to my dismay, the lap pool was closed. It was too rough:(

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I was a little bummed (but maybe a little relieved too, because man, it would have been one cold swim!!), but hopeful I might get another chance later in the week if time allowed.

The other thing I had wanted to do while at Bondi was the Bondi to Coogee walk, which is this beautiful 4k walk along the shore/cliffs from Bondi down to the “suburb” of Coogee. This week there was an added bonus: Sculptures by the Sea, where artists installed their works right along the path. What better background could you ask for?

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I checked my watch and knew we didn’t have a time to do the entire walk, so Bill and I found a big rock that overlooked the ocean and some of the path to sit and relax for a bit.

Shortly after we sat down, Bill gave me a present. It was a small rectangular box, wrapped in some polka dot tissue paper. I tore open a little piece of it and saw a familiar red box. Um, this is the box for my pearl necklace. A little confused as to why I was being gifted something I already owned, Bill told me to put them on. Then he gave me a smaller, square box, also wrapped in the same polka dot tissue paper. Is this what I think it is?

Inside, there was a beautiful silver ring with a single pearl in the center of 6 sparkly white sapphires. He looked me in the eyes and expressed his love for me, and told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. ❤ Yes, me too!

As I put the ring on, Bill asked me if I knew how pearls were formed, and explained that when an irritant gets into a clam, it creates this protective coating, which eventually becomes the beautiful pearl. “So, if you put up with an irritant long enough…” he trailed off and we both started laughing.

After some kisses and some cuddling, we realized it was time to head back to the bus and back to Sydney.

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Back in town, we switched to the city hopper bus and snuggled up close to each other as we enjoyed the cooler evening air and some more of Sydney’s sights. I was still on cloud nine, and couldn’t stop looking at/touching my ring. It’s beautiful. Bill’s not the most traditional guy, so I was over the moon that he had gotten me a ring. (Yes, that’s very superficial of me, but I don’t care). We ended our night with a beautiful sunset at Darling Harbor where I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. What an absolutely perfect day.

(Side note: I didn’t actually take a ton of pictures of my ring; I wanted this to be our little secret, at least for a little while! And now, well, I guess the secret is officially out!)

Bondi will always have a special place in my heart!

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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!