Big Question Marks

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sydney... Whirling Around Oz Part 1

We're probably somewhere above a schoolies party on the northern New South Wales coast as I write this, as we flee the grey skies and pouring rain of the Sydney spring, hoping to trade it for a little sunshine and tropical heat in Cairns and Port Douglas, Queensland.

It's hard to believe I'm spending the next two weeks hopping around Australia on jets and rental cars with my parents, who I haven't seen in eight months (but honestly doesn't feel like more than about three weeks). It's a bit of effort to visit Oz from Canada, and so when they started to mention that they were thinking, sort of, as a possibility, of maybe taking a trip out here sometime this year, I didn't think it would happen so fast. It was the next day when I got an email from my dad, telling me the flights were booked. That was the middle of September.

So after a couple months of sniffing out domestic flight deals, booking cars, snorkel trips, and planning a whirlwind two-week itinerary to see as much as possible, we all met in the Sydney airport on Sunday morning, a little bleary-eyed (them from the long flight across the Pacific, me from spending the day before at the beach and spending all night packing....) but we got right into it. No time to waste! Within a few hours, we'd wandered Sydney's CBD, lunched on pies, snapped photos of old churches, marvelled at the plants in the Botanic Gardens, and reached the harbour and the Opera House. Now, I've only been to Sydney twice, and it's always exciting, but it's just so fun to travel with people who are seeing a new country for the first time-- things I'm starting to take for granted a little (but still think are pretty cool), like the ibises in the park, the bats in the trees, the massive plants and the sounds of rainbow lorikeets flying overhead-- all those things that amazed my parents on our first day are the exact same things that made me totally excited to be in a new country.

On the flip side, there's also the hefty Aussie prices for coffee and food, which I'm well used to, but comes as a bit of a shock when you first land (I think we're starting to shake that a bit, as a $3.50 coffee is now what we consider a "good deal"-- in Canada a regular Tim Hortons coffee is just over $1). I do remember spending my first few days in Melbourne eating "Fantastic" brand cheesy instant noodles and fearing we'd never go out for a meal at a restaurant. Ancient history now!

We've done lots of great stuff already in our first three days in Oz-- in fact, plenty of things I'd never done because I was already kind of a local by the time I travelled the country, and possibly too much of a cheap backpacker, too-- like a tour of the Sydney Opera House which was pretty awesome, dinner around Darling Harbour, taking the Scenic Railway in the Blue Mountains, and of course, crashing in hotels, rather than a tent, van, or hostel.

On our second day, we met up with my parents' old friends, the Isbisters, whom they had met on a bus tour of Europe in the 1970s and had been in touch since (they visited Canada a few times since, but had so far been unable to convince my side to visit Oz). Keith & Ena took us all around the north part of Sydney, to beautiful beaches and lookouts around Manly, Curl Curl, Collaroy, and Mosman. Later we cruised around the harbour on the city ferries (best harbour cruise deal in town!), walked the Harbour Bridge, and dined on pancakes in The Rocks. And yesterday, we took a train out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, only to find the iconic Three Sisters cloaked in a THICK fog. We walked around the rainforest below, hoping the fog would clear (spotting an elusive -so says our guidebook- lyrebird for the first time in my Oz travels!), but no luck. We returned to the top of the cliffs via the insanely steep and rollercoasterish Scenic Railway, only to find we couldn't even see to the opposite side of the parking lot to find our bus... the fog was that dense. It was suggested to go check out the nearby Leura Cascades, which flowed right beside a pathway and would be easy to enjoy, even in fog, and we were halfway down the trail when the misting rain became a downpour and soaked us and the pathway... we dodged huge puddles on the way back up and had to, just four hours after arriving there, unfortunately give up on the Blue Mountains, which were more like White Mountains that day (not that we could even really see a mountain!). And so my parents learned (and I relearned) the power of the Australian weather to completely alter carefully laid-out plans...

And so, onward we go, first to Far North Queensland, then to Uluru (if Qantas doesn't strike again and ground us!), Melbourne, and back to Sydney, where Adrian will meet up with us. It's a pretty full-on schedule and we're realizing we probably can't do everything we want to do (or visit everyone we want to see) but it's definitely fun to do a family road trip all over again so many years on! -Dayle