Three Sisters and Back to Bondi

2 12 2016

I awoke to the sound of the car starting. It was still pitch black out, but I knew immediately that Bill had gone to the car to warm up. His sleeping bag is actually a camping quilt, overstuffed so that it is 40 degree bag. Despite all his layers, he was definitely not comfortable in this temperature.

I most certainly was not going to get out of my warm sleeping bag, so I closed my eyes and kinda fell back asleep. Soon, the sun arose and I joined Bill in the car.

“So, what’s the plan?”

I could tell Bill hadn’t gotten much sleep (I mean, look at how small the car is! He’s 6’4″!) so we opted to start heading back to Sydney. But first, we needed to stop at the Three Sisters again, and actually hike over to get up close and personal with the girls:-0

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On the way back to Three Sisters, we were able to check off another thing from our “must do/see” in Australia list: we saw wild kangaroos! Just like deer in the states, a few shot out in front of the car, and we had to quickly break. I was only able to get a shot of this guy, who was still hanging out in someone’s farm, separated from his friends.

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We got back up to the visitors center and boy, was it windy! We followed the trail, went down some steep steps and crossed wooden walkway that was just a bit sketchy. Don’t. Look. Down. I told myself!

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We grabbed some photos, watched the crazy cockatoos (which are wild there, and are obnoxiously loud!) before heading back up. Some other walkers stopped to chat with us and told us we should check out the falls that was just up the road a bit. It was still pretty early, so I convinced Bill to stop. Well, not after stopping at this super cute coffee shop where I had the most amazing fruit cake ever.

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Absolutely NOTHING like the boxed sticky stuff you get. This was clearly homemade and outstanding!

We didn’t spend a ton of time at the falls; we actually saw them from a distance but didn’t want to walk all the way over and down to the bottom. It was chilly and we were both ready for a nap.

On the way home, we found a safe spot to stop and pulled over to take a 30 minute nap. Much needed!

We still had plenty of time before we needed to return the car, so I asked Bill if we could go back to Bondi and do the Coogee walk to see the sculptures. He agreed and navigated us back to that special place:-)

Today however, was a completely different day than Tuesday. It was much, much cooler, cloudy, and rainy. The surf was much calmer and the beach was empty.

We waited out the rain at a noodle shop and though it was quite good, it wasn’t quite as tasty as roach soup place. With full bellies and drier weather, we headed to Sculptures by the Sea. On the way, we passed the Iceberg club, which to my dismay was closed. Apparently every Thursday the pool is closed for cleaning. Argh! I guess that just means I need to go back!

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The art walk was really rad- so many beautiful and interesting sculptures. Here’s a few of my favorites!

 

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After we had seen all the sculptures, we headed back to the main drag to a brewery that had caught our eye on Tuesday. We grabbed a beer sampler at the Bavarian Bier Garden and played some foozeball. I am absolutely terrible and Bill whooped my butt every game. Tired and over foozeball, we headed back to Sydney since it was certainly not a beach day.

We returned the car and walked in the rain to our AirBnB, a loft studio in King’s Cross. King’s Cross is definitely more of an interesting neighborhood than Circular Quay: eclectic, artsy, and just the right amount of seedy.

The rainy weather did not make it an appealing night to be out and about, so we grabbed some take out Mexican, bought a bottle of wine, and had a relaxing night in.

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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!

 

 





A Weekend in the Mountains

15 03 2013

I’m going to attribute my lack of blog posts over the past week and a half to my spring break. That’s right, I get a spring break! It’s one of the perks of working for the school district; however, it is technically unpaid (my salary is prorated throughout the course of the year to make up for it) so that is definitely a drawback. But, having a week off of work is pretty darn nice. Especially when you can spend some time here:

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photos courtesy of Meghann

Last week, I tacked on two extra days to my spring break to head up to northern Georgia for a long weekend with my friends. It was a needed break and a nice change of scenery from Tampa.

Me, Bill and 8 of our friends rented a log cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Man oh man was it gorgeous up there! The mornings were chilly, but when the sun came out it warmed up enough for us to head outdoors and explore.  On Friday, we drove about 30 minutes or so to a trail suggested by the guidebook in our cabin. It just so happened to take us to a section of the Appalachian Trail!

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We hiked for a short distance, maybe only 10 minutes or so, before arriving at pretty waterfall. Stopped at the waterfall were two women, one who was treating her blistered feet. I asked her how far she was planning on going and her response was “Hopefully, all 2000 miles of it!” Wow, what an undertaking! Since reading Wild, a book about a woman’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve had a heightened  interest in hiking, so my thoughts immediately started wondering about the trek that lies ahead. I can only imagine the things she’ll see, the people she’ll meet, the stories she’ll tell. How cool to have that experience! 

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After pausing by the waterfall for a few minutes, we continued to hike for about another half an hour. We paused for the obligatory group photo (sans Marcus, who took the picture for us), since we hadn’t really seen any other hikers since leaving the waterfall.

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Photo courtesy of Meghann

It was close to lunchtime (or past?) so we turned around and headed back to the cars. On the way back down, we spotted some more hikers making their trek north. Some were clearly day hikers like us, but some appeared to be in it for the long haul. What a journey! I wonder how many of them will make it the whole way?

We paused for some more photos to commemorate the day.

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Can I just say that I was so, so, so happy that Bill was able to come on vacation with me? With his busy schedule, it’s hard to plan a trip together. I was planning on going with my friends when we started talking about the trip months ago, but Bill was always a big question mark. As the trip got closer, Bill’s schedule was clear, but I tried not to get my hopes up. Thankfully, his schedule remained clear, and he was able to come too!

Being on the Appalachian was a pretty cool way to kick off the weekend in the mountains. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me! I’m a big fan of getting in some exercise in ways that are fun and different, aka not running, biking, or swimming. 🙂

On our second day, our group headed out to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.

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There’s a 2.5 mile windy, steep road up to a ridge where there’s a large parking lot before you can make the last .6 mile trek up to the very top. I was feeling a little car sick from the 45 minute drive to get to the base of the mountain, so when it was suggested that we hop out and run/walk up to the top, I agreed. I figured it was better to tough it out by walking up the 2.5 miles at an 11% grade than to feel miserable while driving up the mountain and trying not to puke.

Felipe and Bill decided they were going to run the whole thing, while Courtney, Jess and I decided to play it by ear. We’d start by walking and then run if we felt up to it. The other half of the group opted to drive up to the parking lot.

Holy hill! I felt like I was walking on a treadmill at the highest incline…and then some! We definitely got our hearts pumping and started to sweat.

It was still pretty chilly in the shade, and we spotted some remnants from the snow they received a few days prior.
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How odd to be warm enough to be in a sports bra while holding snow!

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We celebrated when we spotted the 1 mile marker…but the celebration didn’t last long, since we knew we were only a third of the way to the top. We started to challenge ourselves along the way, saying Ok, we’ll run to that next big tree. Or, when there was a relatively flat section, we’d try to run for 100 yards or so.


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After about 5 intervals or so, we made it to the parking lot, where we caught up with Felipe and Bill. Only .6 to go! Finally, we made it to top where we spotted some friendly faces 🙂

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It was beautiful up there! IMG_6376

We took a few group shots before heading down to the cars and back to the cabin for our last night. This was again an awesome way to get in some exercise, and I used some muscles I don’t get to use while running in flat as a pancake Tampa.

We wrapped up our last night with some fun games of charades and catch phrase, s’mores around the fireplace, and playing a few rounds of pool. So. Relaxing.

I’m going to be super cheesy here because honestly this was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I absolutely enjoyed the scenery and the activities, but I really enjoyed just spending time with my friends. We had meals together, played games together and just enjoyed our mountain experience together. I would happily vacation with these guys again…we’ve already begun chattering about the next trip 🙂

For more details about the trip, check out Meghann’s posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Mary’s post!

Question of the Day: Have you ever been on a group vacation? How was it?