A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Canberra - Capital of a Nation.

So we've left the mountain town of Katoomba and have toured the Nation's Capital.

rain 25 °C

Where to begin. We get a campsite a few K's from the town centre, yeah that's right camping a few K's from where the government of an entire nation happens. After we unpacked the tent I ventured forth for supplies and about 5 minutes of driving and I was going over Lake Burley Griffin, which is the man made lake with divides the city in two. Then I took a left and parked on a grassy lot and walked over to the Parliament Building. No traffic, no security, no anything to give it away that I was here. I can't believe that this is a city of 300,000 people it felt like 4,000 the entire time. The city reminds me some of Washington DC because there is an axis of sight venturing from Parliament to the War Memorial straight across the lake to the to bridges and then roundabouts and all that. I stopped at the shops picked up some tucker and some wine and studied my map for tomorrow. The next day was Saturday so the Gov't wasn't in session but we still were able to park under Parliament and then tour it. To tour Parliament all you have to do is go through a really low sensitive metal detector and then you're in, never took off my belt or my shoes. I thought that this was because it was the weekend but when we came back on Monday to see it in session it was the same routine. I guess they figure that everyone likes Australia so there isn't any need to be super intense. Parliament and Canberra are relatively new, the Australian Capital Territory which is like Aus's DC is a small plot of land where the city of the Government resides independent of the other states it governs. It'll be celebrating it's Centennial (that's 100 years folks) next year. Parliament is new, it overlooks Old Parliament down the lawn and is supposedly a billion dollar building. Just heard the slogan the building was nice but I think I could have do it for less than a billion. Got to tour the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers and see the Magna Carter as well as a nice bust of the Queen outside of the aptly named Queen's Terrace Cafe. From there it was to the National Library and then I went to the National Museum which is on the opposite shore of Lake Burley Griffin. The lake's shoreline totals 28 KM so even taking the bridge it took me almost an hour to walk there. It was worth it though, very cool exhibits showcasing Australian culture and history. Then I has to hustle back because the Nance had punctured his air mattress so he wanted to replace it. "My back hurts...I barely slept...wah wah wah" The next day was spent perusing the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. Both of which were spectacular. Spent a few hours then wandered down along the lake before checking out Canberra's premiere shopping Centre. Monday we went back to see the Capital Exhibition which explained how Canberra was a planned city right from the get go and how Walter Burley Griffin, an American Architect, designed the winning proposal with help from his architect wife. Very cool stuff. Then it was back to see Parliament in session. Parliament in session is best seen during Question Time which is from 2-3p everyday where all the elected leaders congregate and debate. To me it seemed like just a lot of bickering/yelling at opposing members of opposing parties. Though I should point out that Monday was also an election day. From what I've gathered you elect a party not a prime minister and the winning party is the one who elects the PM. So Julia Guilliard is the current PM but she was getting heaps of flak from other members of Parliament so she called an election to put it to rest. Please note that the current PM can call an election any time they want if they feel they have the majority and so she called for an election about a week prior. Monday the voting happened and she won so I can understand why some peeps might be peeved but seriously one guy that actually got ejected from the Chamber was ejected for asking a long winded statement followed with the question, "Is there any promise you are not willing to break?" It might be that I am foreign to their politics or it was an odd day, either way very little Governmental business was discussed during that Question TIme. From there we went and looked at the ANZAC War Memorial. Now you can see the monument all the way across town at Parliament but it still is awe inspiring when you walk inside. We wandered around the Memorial for a bit and then saw a sign for a museum underneath. I was not prepared for how great this museum was. I expected it to complement the Memorial but it is by far one of the best museums I've ever had the pleasure to tour. It goes through all the wars and details Australia's part and has mementos and small theater shows throughout as well as whole aircraft and full military camp reenactment setups. I was there for a few hours and still felt like I rushed though much of it. Tuesday we spent the morning in a coffee shop job hunting and discussing the future of this trip until we were getting ready to leave and I found one last number to try. As it turns out this was the first real lead all day and if the weather cooperates we shall be working on a grape plantation putting up bird nets and then picking the grapes next week! Then we took the rest of the rainy day to go find out where Keilley and Kirstyn were born and the house that Uncle Denny built in the suburb of Kambah. No signs depicting it as the 'BIRTHPLACE OF AN AUSSIE GREAT!' or 'HOME OF THE NATIONAL ICONS The Owens' Girls!' or anything but as Keilley mentioned it is the offseason for tourism.

Since we have to wait until next week to work and it's rainy and gross in Canberra we've decided to do a quick inland jaunt to Wagga Wagga (Wah-Gah Wa-Gah) and then go down through the Snowy Mountains and back up to Canberra this weekend. Wagga Wagga is a nice city and even though it's rainy here too it's not as built up as Canberra so it's alright. That and the campsites in Canberra weren't the best so it's nice to move on for now.

Posted by owensj11 00:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Yeah I know we have covered waterfalls already.

We have made it to the Blue Mountains and I am absolutely blown away by the place. Also between yesterday's cave hike and today I may have blown a knee or two and rolled three ankles or so. Though, think about how good for the glutes it is!

sunny 23 °C

Whoo we've left behind the inland hotspots of Young and Dubbo and are going back towards the coast! Spending two nights in Katoomba and have spent a very enjoyable day just hiking all over the edge of a spectacular valley. I started the day thinking about paying for a trolley to take me to the highlights and skip all the walking between them. I'm cheap and I was on the phone when I walked past the shops selling tickets so instead I was hiking! Then 10 minutes of walking and BAM! you find yourself over looking the Three Sisters rock formation and the Blue Mountains National Park. I was stunned. At the same time I was on the phone with Mom and was trying to look and explain and grasp the enormity of the view, it was tough. That and there was this Aboriginal man chain smoking and getting his photo taken with a mass of Asians. He had a didgeridoo and a beard Santa would be proud of, which coupled with his loincloth attire made him, scary beyond all reason. Then it hit me that I was staring at one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world AND I was on the phone, with my Mother who is thousands of miles away. How interesting is that?! I started walking down the edge of the cliff and lost reception. That's to be expected I suppose. From there I headed towards Katoomba falls only to find that route closed. So I went back stared at the three sisters again and noticed that there were PEOPLE walking from the cliffs TO the three sisters. So as any person would do I started down a path I hoped would take me there. Soon enough I was there and walking down a set of rickety stair to an even smaller platform that bridges between the mountain and the sister. Seriously though the views are unbelievable. I was trying to think of a way to describe them and decided that if someone asked me which was more impressive, Niagara Falls or the Blue Mountains, I would go with Blue Mountains. Then I turned right and started along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. They don't rate these walks like they do in Queensland so I had no idea that it was going to be a three hour hike one way with a low chance that everyone who starts the walk comes back from the walk. This became apparent as I kept passing people who were plodding along trying not to step in the mud but then I realized they were letting me go first to see if the trail was safe. Quite a few times I had to bush walk around the actual path because it either was washed out or a tree had blown over. I brought my water bottle but after who knows 4ks? It was getting empty. Then I passed a park and it seems everyone else has ditched the walk and headed back. I see a sign for Gordon Falls and I'd come this far so I had to go for it. It's here that I start being able to let my mind wander because it's more exposed so I'm not dodging mud puddles or passing people. Then I come upon two other go getters. One I labeled Asian Sock Man because what I took to be at first those socks you're supposed to wear on long flights were actually just regular tube socks pulled up to his knees which were looking good with his shorts. Best part was that he was prancing, yes prancing, through the mud. He must've been 50 because he took the many stairs like an old guy, you know where you turn to the side and then gently put one foot down then the other. That and he'd go as slow as you'd expect on the dry stretches and then prance/run over the mud. It was hilarious. Then the bloke in front of him was named Ike, short for Hike, because he had the hiking boots, the hat, the pack, AND a store bought walking stick. It was the walking stick that interested me because I never saw him use it other than to set it down gently and then fling it behind him, perhaps to stab anyone who considered trying to overtake him. Then I saw the Gordon Falls, nothing on the other set I got to see but seeing any amount of water flowing off a cliff is pretty cool. Then I got to a park where thankfully I was able to fill my bottle and start the trek back. It was sooooo far. I seriously thought my legs might just give out after a while but I persevered and made it back a little tired but feeling accomplished.

Posted by owensj11 01:58 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Deadly Lizards, Killer Platypus and Caves

After a week of really doing nothing we jump right back into dodging death at every turn!

semi-overcast 25 °C

Left Young, we weren't getting anywhere there on the job front and it was time to see something new for a change, maybe some mountains again. We packed up ol' Cory headed for Katoomba, the gateway to the Blue Mountains, or something like that, I didn't really pay much attention to the sign as we came into town. But before we get there, I found the most peculiar shop in Young. Now I had heard of this particular establishment before, Bill Bryson mentions it in is book “In a Sunburnt Country” but it had been months since I read that last and I had forgotten exactly which town it was in, only vaguely aware that we may come across it. It was shop that advertises from the outside that it sells all manner of pet needs, pet food, pet supplies, you name it, they've got it for pets. Alongside that on the marquee they also advertise they have all manner of items befitting needs of a more adult variety. Yes, they sold porn. And pet supplies. You could go in, pick up some food for the goldfish and something a little more interesting for yourself. I didn't go in, I couldn't bring myself to enter the adult shop. Maybe that's why it's mixed with the per store, anyone asks, you were just going to the pet store, but really, you were going to the “pet store.”

Back on the way to Katoomba, which is only about four hours from Young, we get to travel through the bustling burg of Bathurst (is it pronounced Bat-Hurst or Bath-Urst? We couldn't decide) and into the mountains. Starts out well enough, we left Young the way we came in earlier up to Cowra, which when we turn right instead of going straight on back up to Dubbo, its a surprisingly larger town than I thought previously. We pass out of town and up to a wind farm, which has a scenic lookout? Of course we check it out. You can drive up to a parking lot with a small shed with a few plaques about the turbines and sit and look at the turbines. It was nice actually, from what I read, the turbines operate at peak in 60km/h winds and produce 660V of electricity I think. I took a photo I think.

From there it was on to Bathurst where for the first time we encountered terrible drivers. Not terrible in the sense of “holy crap that person can't drive and is swerving all over the road” but more of “holy crap that person just cut someone off!” and “where do they think they're going? We all have to merge over, they can't shoot up the left lane and pass everyone.” It's the first time we've really seen such rushed driving since we've been here. Jeff is used to it back in Ann Arbor and such but it's the first time it's been really noticeable here to such a degree. We continued to be plagued with drivers like this until outside of town.

Outside of town Jeff reads a sign about a tourist drive that takes you out through the town of Oberon (regardless of what the actual definition is, after drinking their fine beer back home we refuse to accept it as the name of the King of the Fairies and instead think it should be German for Autumn) and to the Jenolan Caves. I remember reading about them and wanted to check them out, so we turned off and headed down the mountain. It starts out well, some road works outside of Oberon and gentle sense of decline, but as we get closer holy crap does the road become steep and winding. It has a sign saying no buses or trucks, but later we past a sign saying buses and trucks must use low gear, so which is it? The road winds around for many turns, each one being an extremely sharp U where we hope that we don't meet another car. Before we reach the end we pass a car park with signs about “Path to the Caves” we park there thinking its where to go. The lot is empty. Seems we picked a happening place to be. We get out and walk down the path which takes us past a really cool rock arch and then down the rest of the way to the bottom. We get there and see that there is a little town here, some houses, a bistro, a gift shop, a bus stop. We totally could have driven down and parked there. It's also where you go to get in on the cave tours. $30 some dollars, for the first level entry? Could pay more to get, um, more caves (really, what else could we be paying for?). We'll pass. We check out a map though and see some hiking trails and the like, we climb back up to the car, stopping to admire the arch some more (it was really cool) and passing a bull ant on the way. Holy crap bull ants are huge; they have these really nasty looking mandibles. Um, let's put on real shoes before we do anymore walking. We walked down again, this time a different track that took us into the Devil's Coach House (a big cave open on each end, which we passed through into the Grand Arch. Along the way Jeff spots every lizard and skink we pass. The lizards he says, look like they could sink their teeth and rip out some flesh and the skinks are poisonous. I don't know if they are, but I agree, I didn't want to get too close to them either. The Grand Arch is enormous, with entry ways branching off into the other caves that we could pay for and tour with people milling around waiting for each tour to begin. We noted back at the Nettle Cave off the Devil's Coach House that there's some barcode scanning thing before you can get in so we don't waste time trying to sneak in but instead start along the river trail. It starts out along blue lake which is crazy blue and surprisingly clear; the blue coloration comes from limestone dissolved in the water (or so we read). The hike is some 1.5Ks or so, doable, its not even four o'clock yet and we booked our accommodations in Katoomba online already so we don't even need to worry about that. Along the way there are signs about the local hydroelectric plant, that uses water from the river that is funnelled through pipes to a turbine somewhere at the end of the walk. The walk takes us along the river and over a few neat bridges, my favorite was a suspension that was all steel and slightly rust colored so it gave the total sense of possibly falling to your death. It was great. Along the way Jeff read something about platypus being in the river and we kept an eye out, but no sign of any. Which was for the best, they could come out and attack us at any time (Jeff was concerned with being attacked by things today, except the snakes really, which also are seen around the river “Snakes? Those are common, so you're looking for them. Platypus are less common, so you aren't watching for them, those are the ones that'll get you because you don't see them. And then the lizards and ants eat your remains”). We saw some fallen rocks that had bashed the safety railing and trees that had bent it, it really made the walk more exciting. The hydroelectric plant wasn't all the impressive, but it had an external light switch that would turn on the lights inside and you could see two old disconnected turbines and just barely make out the new one off to the side. The trip back to the Grand Arch didn't take to long, but we meet up with a couple where the woman turned around and made the “shh” gesture and pointed to a lizard chilling by the lake. Lady, I saw a lot of lizards today, it's not really a reason to be quiet. From there it was only a leisurely stroll back up the Devil's Coach House. But back up the stairs to the car park, that was anything but leisurely. It was another 600m to a look down (as opposed to a look out, difference? Not really sure, where you point your head I guess). Jeff continued on, but I stopped to drink water and catch my breath (the thin mountain air, really, yeah...). He comes back sometime later and says it was not worth it, it only takes him back up to some little stopping bay off the road and he rolled his ankle or something coming back down.

Back in the car, the maps says we should be able to continue on through Jenolan Caves and reach Katoomba without having to back track. We hope the way out is easier than the way in, but who are we kidding? (Jeff's thought for the day, besides the persisting “Freaking NSW!” is “Why do we do this to ourselves? We know driving and walking through the mountains is tiring and wrought with danger, remember the last time and Cory died going down the mountain?) But we push on. We get to drive through the Grand Arch (which is only One-Way it says, what it really means is that its narrow but traffic still comes in both directions, a trait the whole road up to the little town of Hampton shares) which is really cool, but now we're tired, sore, and nonplussed about caves we pass through and up the winding road to Katoomba. This road is crazy and we saw a bus back at the caves so they must come down it! Its only wide enough for one car to safely traverse at once, it really is only a One-Way, but Freakin' NSW, it has two way traffic on it. We navigate around turns even sharper than coming down and all the while we do pass cars going the other way! We barely have enough room to get over for them and don't always get much heads up that their coming around a curve. We have to change CDs in the car to something else, something good to die to. We decide on Adele, it's somber enough to actually be played at a funeral. And along the side of the road overlooking the drop off back down the mountain there is only wooden posts covered in moss with chicken wire stretched between them; we feel very safe and secure up here. But after many heart stopping events with other traffic and finding out Cory really isn't a fan of spending too much time in first or second gear, we made it back onto real roads and into Katoomba. From what we've heard and read there is a lot to see and do around here. The town itself is nice so far, chilly (isn't it supposed to still be summer?) but we're staying at a Lodge of some sort, so we are indoors on real beds, nice after a week spent in a tent on an air mattress.

Posted by owensj11 15:19 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Surprisingly Classy.

Well we are in Young because we thought we were going to pick zucchini but that fell through so the search for a new and exciting job continues. At least I found a few op shop treasures today.

sunny 24 °C

We've given Dubbo almost a week with which I basically did nothing. I applied to some jobs every morning/called on some more and the rest of the day was spent reading or catching up on a few postcards or introducing a new traveling game(?) where who ever is on dinner duty also has to go and find the cheapest bottle of wine to complement the dinner. I must say that wine tasting in Hunter Valley really gave me a new found interest in wine. We're only a week into it but it's proving to be fun and wine is CHEAP! I've yet to break the $6 mark on any bottle and I think the Nance is right around there. Even found a port for $5.50 the other day. Though they're not quite the caliber we had in the Valley we haven't had one that we couldn't finish either. Which brings us to the lovely town of Young. Remember when we worked for Peter Smith back in St. George? Well that was the first and last time I heard of Young. One of the guys was from there or they were based there or whatever they mentioned Young a few times. I swear I even saw ol What's-His-Face that we worked with in town driving around today. So today the Nance was looking for jobs and I went foraging for supplies in Young. First stop, the information building which is in a restored train depot. The woman saw me come in and preceded to stay on the phone with what at first I took to be an important call but as I wandered around perusing the brochures discovered to be her husband and they were having a bit of spat. Deciding that my query as to the location of the post office was not on the top of her list I just took a map and went off to see Young for myself. Turns out the Post Office is about a block and a half from there so I didn't need her help anyways. Feeling elated over my assumed innate sense of direction I went in and posted my post cards. On my drive over I noticed the Young Public Library. Never missing the chance to read magazines fo free I walk in and see a small table with a small selection of books for 55 cents. Not expecting any winners I gave them a cursory glance and to my surprise I found three promising titles. One set in Melbourne with the tagline of "Lunching in public with a prostitute is not the way most Baptist pastors begin their ministry", another set in NYC, and a third about Watergate all for $1.65 how could I pass them up? Feeling even better about these finds I make my way back to the car to drive to Woolies, I pass a Vinnies (St. Vincent de Paul's) and what should be prominently displayed in the window? Two wine glasses! We were just discussing last night that out ever popular coffee mugs do not let our wines aerate and let their aromas really breathe and when you're paying $5 these things are important. So I walked in willing to pay a dollar EACH. As I flipped one over it's only 50 cents! Could this day get much better? And then I saw their rack of movies. Again not expecting any winners I see what looks like Sean Connery and my interest is piqued. It's Entrapment! Quite possibly one of the worst films I've ever seen. And it's a DOLLAR?! Whoa let's call it a day while we are ahead. So I go buy my 5 dollar bottle of red wine named "Sweet Lips" and head back with my $8.60 worth of treasures. I just finished dinner and having it served on glass plates ($2 Boxing Day sale) and having wine in my exquisite finds from today I don't quite feel like a povo backpacker but clearly I am not a high brow traveller either. We are just happy Men of Leisure.

Posted by owensj11 00:28 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Where to begin...

sydney. Sydney. Sydney! SYDNEY! My side of the story.

semi-overcast 23 °C

Well cross it off the bucket list now. I have been to Sydney. Ol' Cory the Corolla was feeling too confident about taking us through the city so we left him in Maitland where we grabbed a train heading back towards Newcastle then transfered at Hamilton and took another train down into the city. All in all about a 4 hour trip but it only cost $8 and it wound along the coast so we got to take in some beautiful country. Then we cruise into Central Station, the station that almost all trains go in and out of, and it is so calm. Since Sydney is the largest city in Australia, home to over 4.5 million people, I'll admit I expected quite a lot of hustle and bustle. The station is like most train stations, a huge arch but there isn't much security. We bought our ticket in Maitland and then I put it in my pocket and never looked at it again. There was absolutely nothing stopping you from just walking onto the train in Maitland or Hamilton without a ticket. Oh while on the train into the city a coupe of police walked through and asked to see a ticket but I'm pretty sure I could've held up an old receipt and they wouldn't have noticed. Then you need to use the ticket to get out of the station but even then it was all pretty much an honour based system. We took the trains a few times while in the city and yeah never really needed the ticket that we bought. Anyways the hostel I booked was called the YHA Railway Station, because it is literally attached to the station it is located just down the terminal and even has a few converted railcars that you can stay in. Whoever designed and did the work was amazing because even though you can see the trains you can only barely hear them. So location was prime. We checked in dropped our bags and then took off to see Sydney. First stop, botanical gardens, via Hyde Park and the ANZAC War Memorial, St. Mary's Cathedral, and then you're there. This the park where all of the famous photos of the Opera House are taken from and it is quite the park. Is huge and we probably walked around in it for 20 mins before we got to that view of the Opera House from Macquaries Point. Was nice to really see something that I've see all my life, in person. Kind of had a bit of a moment where you're not sure how you feel about moments like that and then I was back to reality. Another 20 mins of walking then it hit me again as I walked up the steps. I hate to admit it but I've been enjoying my current architecture free lifestyle but when we got there I was of course sizing up everything in an architecture sense. The curves, the structure, the paving, the pattern on the shell, all of it and it was magnificent. Really quite the design and I can understand why it has morphed in an icon that is synonymous with Sydney and all of Australia as a whole. Anyways then it was on to the Rocks which is the old area of town directly adjacent to the Harbour Bridge. The weather was a bit crap so we decided to wait on walking the bridge and instead just toured around the Harbour and then went to the Observatory which offered great views over the city. Then we were on the side of Darling Harbour which has the aquarium (too expensive), the Maritime Museum (too expensive), and Wildlife World (too expens...wait where does this lead? Oh it's the exit to Wildlife World. Do you suppose we should turn around? Nah see how far we get. HOLD UP! You guys know you're heading towards the entrance right? Ummmmmm oh is it? We just wanted to look at the Kangaroos again... OoooKaaayyy well enjoy the exhibit. Thanks for your help!) And that's the story of how we accidently got free entry into Sydney's Wildlife World. Which let us see some emus, kangaroos, koalas, all manner of spiders, a croc, some bats, and heaps of other animals up close. Since we'd gotten into the city around 3p and we'd put in a full days walk in just 6 hours we headed to the hostel and got some shut eye. I woke up extra early to get to the 6:45a service at the cathedral and it was me and about 40 oldies but was very cool to be inside of a building of that scale. Then I grabbed a coffee in Kings Cross which aside from allegedly being the most densely populated place in all of Australia, is also the alleged home of organized crime in Aus AND is the red light district of Sydney. Really loved the area anyways and felt like it was a slice of NYC here and could certainly see myself living there. Then I walked to the station and grabbed a train out to the Olympic Park Complex and toured there. While I was going into the Aquatic centre some girl noticed my U of M shirt and asked if I went to school there. Proudly I said yeah just graduated last year GO BLUE! and then we got to talking and she graduated in 2010 and was here holidaying. So cool to meet a fellow wolverine down under! The aquatic centre was smaller than I thought it would be and if London's is anything around the same size I can understand why I didn't get any tickets. Very cool though. There was also a place called the ring walk which consists of a large walking track suspended over an old brick pit about 150 feet in the air. Surprisingly enough there is no fence, no nothing to stop you from careening off this track and falling all the way down into the brick pit except a waist high wall. That being said it was still awesome. Then went and saw the torch and a list of all the medal winners. Once back into the city I walked up and down George Street and Pitt Street which is the 5th Avenue sector of Sydney. Was chock full of Asian tourists but still had nothing on NYC. Then met up with the Nance and we walked the Bridge, which unlike the ring walk had 8 foot high screens topped with barbed wire and two security personnel to prevent you from careening from your doom. Not sure why that is so protected and the ring walk wasn't either way you are not walking away from a fall like that, but suppose the Bridge would be a bit more bad publicity. Then because it was Valentine's Day there was to be some fireworks over Cockle Bay in Darling Harbour so we went and watched them. Very nice fireworks, had some music accompaniment and everything. Was pretty cool to have the city as a backdrop while watching them. Then being absolutely buggered from walking at least 30 kms in the last two days went and crashed. Woke up and just soaked up the city vibe in the morning before we caught a train back to Maitland and picked up Cory who was no worse for wear considering his abandonment. Having no real heading except the Blue Mountains we made the call to head to Dubbo, which is inland and chill, look for work, and then work our way back through the Blue Mountains to the coast when we are ready.
Dubbo - basically located in the Centre of NSW it is the largest city for 300 kms so it has pretty much everything you might need but still has a small town vibe. Found a nice camping spot and are going to just relax and get our bearings before we make the next leg into the mountains.

Posted by owensj11 22:57 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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