Big Question Marks

Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Ups *updates that is!

We can hardly believe it's already more than a week into the trip, and we're 2000 kms along. We've been excited to do the New South Wales east coast for ages, after having to speed past it last year to make it to Melbourne to meet our friends for Xmas last year.

After having a few days in Sydney, we've started to wonder if we should have given this gorgeous city a chance to be our home. It's definitely a prettier city (sorry Melbourne), being on a gorgeous harbour and having really old buildings like The Rocks district, and fantastic beaches like Bondi. But Sydney's really expensive-- like if you want to cross the harbour by ferry you'll pay (perhaps not as a local) $5.20 one way. There's a great train system, sort of a multi-line subway mixed with an aboveground train, but it's pricey and confusing as well. Melbourne's definitely got it figured out there-- your ticket is good for 2 hours in Melbourne, and you can hop on as many trains, trams, and buses as you want... none of this no-option one-way crap! Nightlife-wise, Melbourne seems to have way more of our scene (as people had told us prior to our move there)-- little eclectic, hidden bars and drinking spots... and there's definitely more of an artsy vibe in Melbourne. Sydney seems to be more about flash and appearance (you wouldn't believe how much people get dressed up for a Friday night!) while perhaps with not as much substance (sorry Sydney!). It's a real toss-up... no regrets though!

But since we don't have enough time to plant roots in the great city of Sydney, we channelled our inner tourist and hung out on pretty Bondi Beach, drank cocktails on the fifth storey of a pub/nightclub in Kings Cross, strolled through the green Botanical Gardens, had an overpriced breakfast right on the harbour (like, next to the railing!) with a great view of the 'Coathanger' (the bridge), and did the walk across the Harbour Bridge to the northern suburbs. And what a fantastic city it is for a tourist...

On Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Sydney and head for the hills... er, the Blue Mountains, that is. First order of business was to locate a new camping fridge (while trying to dodge Sydney's mnay toll highways!), as ours had the great timing to conk out just before we left Melbourne. We scoured the first K-Mart we found and lucked out-- so we have cold food again, this time in a round fridge (which is surprisingly easier to pack than our previous box-shaped fridge). Not that we needed so much refrigeration in the Blue Mountains... it was quite cool as we travelled higher into the mountains.

On Monday we visited the Three Sisters, one of the famous sights in Oz-- three sandstone pinnacles carved naturally out of the sandstone cliff, high above a tree-covered valley which once would have been a great river system. The size of the valley was huge-- kind of like a green Grand Canyon! We camped in a very remote spot in a national park that night and found we were steps away from another Grand Canyon scene-- just amazing. We did some hiking along a few trails but unfortunately didn't find any wombats, and fortunately did not find any deadly funnel-web spiders (they're only found in Sydney & the Blue Mountains and they're the deadliest ones in the country... venom which kills in a few minutes, if I remember correctly). We did see one wombat, belly-up on the roadside-- they're pretty tubby and almost bear-size!-- and some Huntsmans, where else, in the campsite's dunny! Old news... though Dayle has to get used to them all over again. Eeek! Eeek! Along the way, we also visited the Jenolan Caves, a spectacular cave network which snakes through the mountains (ie. you even drive through a cave to get to the office), as well as a little ghost town called Hartley... just a wee bit spooky.

We were meant to make Coffs Harbour on Tuesday, but didn't realize the length of the drive from the Blue Mountains up the coast. More dodging of toll highways (not so successfully!) and then northward along the Pacific Highway, which despite the name isn't really close to the ocean at all. If we had more time we'd probably explore more turnoffs and little beach towns along the way... but we're trying to keep on schedule the best we can so we can time our Christmas and New Years well around the centre. We made it to Port Macquarie that night (too far to Coffs Harbour, our original plan), which is a large beach town and the second-oldest prison colony town in Oz. We watched what looked like it would be a cool lightning storm-- but fizzled out to sea, and got our first mosquito bites of many to come. It already felt like the tropics!

Wednesday morning we visited the oh-so-cute koalas at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, where injured/sick koalas are cared for (usually injured as a result of dogbites, car collisions, falling out of trees, and burns from bushfires, but also some suffer from cataracts and others from chlamydia!). We watched a baby koala have surgery done on a dogbite wound through a window at the hospital, and cruised around the enclosures where the rest were being pretty lazy. We still thought "Koala Hospital Unit" might make a pretty cool reality TV show! It was then onwards to Coffs Harbour, where we've been relaxing ever since... great surf but no koala hospitals...
Yes, that's koala boogers.

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