Lookout for dolphins!

Byron Bay promised rain but delivered glorious sunshine every day. Well, to be honest, the first full day we were there, it was due to be sunny and get up to the late 20’s, so we figured that if we were going to spend a day on the beach, we should probably do it then. It actually got up to 30 and we got through a massive amount of sunscreen! We’d spent the previous day travelling from Sydney to Byron, which was an excessively long journey, so we were pretty tired and a lazy day snoozing on the beach was definitely what the doctor ordered. But before we rested, we wanted to earn it, so we arranged to do a trek to see the sun rise over the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse.

We’d done a little bit of research about our route up to the lighthouse, and some people had said it was a half an hour walk, some people said it was a 45-minute hike, Google maps said 25 minutes. We decided to err on the side of caution, so for a 5.40am sunrise, we left the hostel at 4.45am and walked in the general direction of the rotating light. I’m not trying to be funny, but if you’re going to be walking about in the dark before the sun has come up, a lighthouse is a great destination. It was a hike. A serious trudge up and down natural hills at the most eastern parts of mainland Australia, sometimes fairly close to the edge of the cliff, sometimes we were so enclosed by the trees, that we couldn’t even smell the sea nor feel the breeze. There were stretches of steps that just looked like they went on as far as the eye could see and I was struggling. I was just so tired. Thinking back, it was a hard walk, but I reckon I was finding it so difficult because my body was getting ready for a full on cold. Throughout the time we spent in Sydney, I’d managed to keep it all together, my immune system was happy, but a 14-hour bus journey with good A/C and wet hair from the sudden torrential downpour we suffered through on the way to the bus station at Sydney Central was taking is toll but I just didn’t know it yet. 

We got to the most eastern part of Australia and I thought that was it. We took some lovely pictures and marvelled about how bright it was before the sun had actually risen, there was a little bench and I chomped through a cereal bar and drank some water, as the sky dappled white and pink to red and the deep night grey gave way to the brightness forcing its way through the clouds. 

Having got my breath back, I trudged the last few flights of steps up to the Lighthouse lookout point to see the brilliant sun poke its head up above the horizon and it was so beautiful. I sent some pictures back home to my parents and Dad sent me a message back saying it would be nice to see the sun at any time of the day at home! Bit of an exaggeration I think, since the UK had their warmest Christmas since 1920. Apparently in December, some parts of the UK were hotter than Tenerife! They’re paying for it now with snow and temperatures in the minus figures, but 15-17⁰C in December? That’s warm enough to crack the shorts out come April.  

We’d been told to keep walking past the lighthouse to other lookout posts further along the trek, plus an incredible and secluded beach on the other side. Honestly, this little stretch of sand was truly beautiful, and first thing in the morning there was no one there either which made the experience even nicer. It was my granddad’s 80th birthday coming up and I wanted to send him a personalised card (sidebar, no matter where you live, you need to get a hold of an app called Touchnote. It turns your actual photos into postcards or greetings cards, they print them in your home country and post them from there too, so you don’t pay any more for postage. Best app I’ve had for travelling!). So there I was, discarded branch in hand, writing my message in the sand before 7 o’clock in the morning. Made a great picture though. Here you go – I’m never gonna get to use it again, so why not immortalise it on the interwebs as well as in print form? img_3385

This little beach is called Watego, and we ended up going there twice; the second time was in a kayak in the sea. Not on the dry land. Yup, we went kayaking in the sea. For those of you who have read all of our adventures to date, you’ll know that I’m not the most active human being. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I am really quite unfit. Well, maybe not majorly unfit; I do my fair share of walking, it was my primary method of transport whilst living in Cambodia. But sports? Not really my forte. I’ve kayaked before and I know it is really hard work. Plus, that cold I was talking about/ It was just about to get going full blast. I was really lucky that I didn’t sneeze once whilst I was out on the sea, but all morning before and then for the remainder of the day, I was a walking talking snot fest. Lush.

The kayaking was totally worth it though, because we got to see dolphins up super close. And loggerhead turtles. Obviously, we weren’t able to take our phones or cameras out in the sea, but the tour group took a whole bunch of pictures on the GoPro, posted them all up on Facebook and they’re all free to download and use. Oh yeah, and even better? The guys who were running the tour took one look at Helen and I and said he wanted to split us up! Worked for us, it meant we both had an experienced kayaker on our side. Helen was with the tour leader, so was heading up the group and I was with the photographer who kept to the back of the group, making sure everyone was okay. What this meant though, was that we got to each location late. It wasn’t a problem, as the guy I had gave me a running commentary about what is where and where to look and everything. What it did mean though, was that we were at the back every single time so we had to kayak like crazy to catch up to the next check point. We then got to chill out until everyone else was off on their way, and then kayak like crazy again. Tell you what, your abs get a serious workout. I ached for days afterwards! On one of the occasions where we were hanging back and waiting for everyone else to go, we spotted a loggerhead turtle, and before I knew it, he’d jumped out of the kayak to go get some decent pictures. When he got back, effortlessly climbing back into the kayak, he said he’d been trying to get some good shots for ages and when I saw the pictures he managed to get. Man… the quality of a GoPro surprises me every single time. img_3387

The rest of our time in Byron was split. We either spent time trying to organise our New Zealand leg of the trip, which is now all booked in terms of transport, but we still need to look at hostels and try to book some stuff in, or we spent time on the beach. Honestly, one afternoon of sleeping on the beach turned my skin a health shade of deep cocoa. I’m not kidding when I say that Helen said I looked black. In the evening, after I came out of the shower, I caught my reflection in the mirror. It’s a new record on the tanning front. I am using factor 50 and I’m truly grateful that my natural skin colour prevents me burning, a luxury not shared by a lot of people that I’ve met along my travels. That doesn’t stop us having a crazy amount of sunscreen bottles! We’re having to make sure we have enough for certain trips, so we have a lot of almost-empty bottles that we’re making our way through. As Baz Luhrman says. Wear sunscreen. 

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Blue Mountains and Broccoli

On New Year’s Day, we’d planned to go to the Blue Mountains, not because it’s a great way to start the year, (being at one with nature and doing some good exercise) but because there’s a $2.50 max limit on the public transport system on Sundays, no matter how far you travel within New South Wales. That meant our 4-hour (return) journey, plus the extra bus ride and all the rest of it was only $2.50. Even if I wasn’t conscious of how much everything is costing right now, that is a seriously good deal! In the beginning, it was just going to be Helen and me, but a friend of mine has been travelling through Australia in the last few weeks and I knew he was going to be in Sydney this weekend gone. Theo made our group up to three and it was a really lovely day.

The Blue Mountains are about 2 hours north-west of Sydney and are actually blue. Well, when you see them from a distance, there is a distinctly blue haze around and above the mountains. When you look directly at the trees though, of course they’re green. In fact, they look like broccoli. It’s unreal how much these trees look like broccoli from an aerial view. And we did get an aerial view! There is a brilliant attraction called ScenicWorld, and they have three different methods of travelling through the forests. There is a railway, a cable car, and a sky train thing that has a glass bottom! You can use these methods as much as you want on any one day for a standard ticket price, and in between there are all sorts of different walks of various lengths and intensities. img_3323

The railway has the title of the steepest passenger railway in the world. Whilst we were queuing up for this, there were photos of the railway in years gone by. Now, I’m not scared of heights at all, but let me tell you, if the carriage was as creaky and temperamental-looking as it was in this picture, I don’t think I’d have wanted to ride it either. Of course, Helen was feeling a little anxious, but it was actually Theo who surprised me with his fear of heights. You could actually adjust your seat so that you are either “laid back”, original, or “cliffhanger” as you go hurtling down the mountain. And it did go pretty fast. The seat that we had was already adjusted to the “laid back” gradient, and we didn’t touch the controls. It was over quite quickly, and we hopped out and got going on our way.img_3308

The cable car was pretty standard. Being a small person, I should have been in the very top of the box with the guide who was explaining where everything was, but it’s all good. She pointed out the bits that we should make a point of seeing, but to be honest, they were sign-posted everywhere and there were so many guides who were more than happy to point you in the right directions. The main thing to see are the Three Sisters, which are made up of an eroded cliff face. Across the canyon from the Three Sisters was another similar looking formation, but only in the singular. Of course, they kept with the family theme and this rock is affectionately known as the Lonely Orphan. It reminded me of one of the islet formations in Halong Bay from a year ago called the Lonely Man. In any case, it appears that there are four “stumps” in between the three existing formations, so the experts reckon there used to be seven sisters in years gone by, but nature has eroded them away. img_3312

Another item of interest was Katoomba Falls, which is a natural waterfall (as the name suggests) that you can see through the clouds. There were quite a few impressive waterfalls throughout the Blue Mountains National Park that we walked past. On a warmer day, it may have been possible to walk closer, and maybe even behind them, but we didn’t even entertain that idea at the time!

We took loads of pictures and spent a long time trying to capture the perfect shot in a few locations. There was a brilliant spot that I wanted to sit on that literally was the edge of the land. For fear of dropping Thierry, I didn’t let him out for this one, but I think this is such a brilliant picture that I couldn’t not post it here. It’s also worth noting that whilst I was getting ready for this picture, Theo literally had his head in his hands and refused to look!blue-mountains

Once we were done wandering around the park, we headed back up to Echo Point, which is the closest point that you can get to the Three Sisters; it was the last place we wanted to see, but we knew the weather was going to turn. Unfortunately by the time we made it there in the afternoon, we couldn’t see anything at all due to the fact we were walking through a cloud. Yes, you read that correctly. The Blue Mountains are so high that we were above cloud level. img_3347

It was absolutely fine though, because on our trekking around the rest of the mountains, we had multiple views of the Three Sisters and we got photos from all different angles, so I was happy that I’d seen them. At least we weren’t posing in front of a barrier where (ordinarily) there would have been a beautiful and unobscured view of the Three Sisters, but in actual fact, the cloud was completely opaque. All around Echo Point, we were met with the same sight – generally speaking, Chinese tourists, all lipstick and fake smiles, leaning up against the railing. All three of us sort of looked at each other and vocalised the same thought at pretty much the same time… “What exactly are they taking pictures of?!”. I guess if you’d spent that much time on your hair and makeup, you’re gonna want to have some photos taken otherwise it’s a bit of a waste, hey?

Conscious that it was Sunday, we checked the train timetable and headed back to the station just as it started bucketing it down! Riding on the severely air-conditioned train back to the city, we found it a little too cold, but all three of us managed to pass out for a good hour or so, the toils of New Year’s Eve, an early morning for New Year’s Day and an entire day of trekking through mountains finally taking it out of us. img_3328

Out with the old and in with 2017

I’ve seen in the New Year in two different capital cities in my life to date. Firstly, Kiev in Ukraine a few years ago, just as the Ukrainian Revolution was kicking off. It was my cousin’s first birthday, and my Mum and I went over to stay with family for that awesome little birthday bash and New Year’s too. Then, just last year, I was in Bangkok to ring in the New Year. I didn’t really appreciate that one all that much as I had spent the majority of the day on a long-haul flight, but did physically stay up to see the clock change into the best year of my life, and then passed out on my very comfortable hotel bed.

Last time I told you all about the awesome touristy things I had gotten done in Sydney in a week. Well, I hadn’t gotten to New Year’s yet, so I’ll let you know how that went down. When we climbed the Harbour Bridge, our Guide had given us an interesting description of where we should go to see the fireworks. From the highest point on the bridge, he pointed over to the North bank of the river “You need to take the direction of the wind into consideration. Fireworks make a lot of smoke. You see that cliff-face over there? Well, you can rock up there at 11.30pm and still find a good place to see them. None of this camping out all night kind of rubbish. I’ll be there with my wife. I go every year and the view is incredible.” I mean, this dude was going to take his wife there? It must decent then. “Okay, so you want to get the train to Waverton Station. Exit the station and turn left. Take the next left and take the road immediately on the right. Walk all the way to the end and then down to the bottom of the steel steps. It’s legit, I promise!” Well, with that fool-proof description, of course we were going to check this place out before we committed ourselves.

On 30th December, we decided to go out to Manly Beach. It’s a world-famous beach and one of the only ways you can get to Palm Beach which is where they film Home and Away (which will always hold a special place in my heart, since it’s the only soap that my dear mother watches religiously!). Whilst I really wanted to go visit the set and take pictures in the diner, Stand on the stage in Angelo’s where Ed Sheeran performed a couple years back, trek up to Stewart’s Point and catch the cast filming and maybe meet them, the tour was a hundred bucks, I’d have had to go by myself. Plus, what with it being so close to Christmas/New Years’, I didn’t think they’d even be working, so I let that one slide. Another time. I’ll take Mum one day.

Anyway. The point here is that Manly is on the north side of Sydney. We figured, we could take a bus to go see this lookout point. Judge where the best spot is, and whether we should leave it until 11.30 or if we should go earlier. We arrived mid-afternoon, and found a few benches and looked around the area. Scouted out where the toilets were and figured it was a good place to be for the following night’s festivities. Clear view of the bridge, you can see the Opera House in the background. What a dream.img_3265Helen had spoken to her Aunt who’d been out in Sydney to see the midnight show a few years previous. We found it on a map, looked up the route and found it wasn’t too far away. We hopped on another bus, and by the time we arrived at the other place, it was getting dark. It was right by the water. There was definitely a ferry wharf, but we weren’t sure if it was right where we were standing or a bit further down. Looking at a map, this Birchgrove Park area looked more accessible to a lot more people, so we decided to stick to Waverton.

New Year’s Eve rolled around and we grabbed some nice snacks and packed our Coles cool-bag with fizzy pop, water and a cheap bottle of cava. We took out beach towels and headed out around 2:30pm, arrived around 3ish and there were people everywhere! It was due to get a lot busier, but we weren’t to know that. In hindsight, if we were to arrive later, we would have absolutely have found somewhere to see the display. I mean, fireworks happen in the sky, so you can’t exactly miss them, but turns out we managed to snag a brilliant spot to see the main show in the end.

In fact, I don’t know about anywhere else in the world, but in Sydney, they have a kid’s show at 9pm. I mean, it’s still eight minutes’ worth of entertainment, and it makes the kids feel like they’ve seen an awesome show and then they can go home. We were standing behind this barrier, and our view was a little bit marred by a few trees. The thing is though, that the fireworks weren’t all by the bridge. There were other displays across the city skyline and we could see one of them right in front of us. Amazing. We were stood next to this older Australian couple whose son and English daughter-in-law had brought their two little boys to enjoy the kid’s show. The Dad was looking longingly over the barrier where there was a little perch past the trees, with a completely unobscured view mumbling a couple of times along the lines of “If I didn’t have kids… kinda dangerous… oh, but the kids… if we didn’t have the…” Well, the young Dad jumped that barrier with ease, still mumbling about the burden of his own flesh and blood. He turns back to his wife and says, “This view is spectacular. Pass me Billy.” Poor Billy got handed over the barrier. Wife hops over like it’s the easiest thing in the world, the other kid gets passed over from Grandad and they crouch down literally by the cliff edge. Granny and Grandad are all but tearing their hair out and helen and I start chatting with them. “Oh know, we’re absolutely fine behind this nice safe barrier” we say to each other.

The show finishes, the kids are passed back over the fence, faces glowing and chattering in rapid Australian accents and the couple tell us we NEED to be there. Such a good view. Come on. Helen and I look at each other and it’s decided. Dad sits at the spot whilst we grab our stuff, we pass it over and ungracefully fall over this fence. We settle in for the next three hours knowing we had a wicked view. It was not comfortable. I sat on a rock with my beach towel shoved into a ball in an effort to stop my bum going numb (it didn’t work). Actually, the noise was a little less too, as we were just that little bit away from the hustle.

Spoke too soon. A bunch of Chinese tourists hopped the fence and proceeded to sit DIRECTLY BEHIND US. Shrieking and giggling and just being ridiculous. At one point, Helen stuck her fingers in her ears and I actually told them they were too loud; I’m not kidding, they were joking in Chinese and sitting right next to each other. They didn’t need to be screeching at that tone or volume. I might not be an alcoholic party girl and I do prefer a night in with hot chocolate and slipper socks over shots and stilettos any day of the week, but this was just inconsiderate. They kept it down after than though. Win!

Sitting still for three hours is actually really quite a long time. Played a few games on my phone, managed to take some really beautiful pictures of the city skyline and then edit the bejesus out of them! img_3271Spent the time thinking about the year that I’ve had and the next one and feeling exceptionally lucky to be able to take this time out just for me.  As the clock inched closer to midnight, we decided to crack the bubbles out. Plastic cups and $7 fizzy wine that tasted a little bit like vinegar. Classy! The fireworks were epic, but the only complaint we had was that there was no music! Apparently, there was a soundtrack broadcast of some radio channel, but this wasn’t advertised, so we didn’t know anything about it. We had a wonderful view though. img_3288-1