Mountains and Harbours

After roaming Canberra for a few days, including a visit to its first rate science centre, we headed to our final Australian destination, the stunning Blue Mountains. We spent the better part of a day whipping through New South Wales, reaching the snug city of Katoomba near dusk. We settled into a great camp ground and took a quick look around. Within minutes we were confronted with one of the most gorgeous mountain views imaginable. We were looking out over the 900 metres high cliffs of the Jamison valley. This weathered sandstone gorge, formed over thousands of years, surrounds a deep, densely forested bowl with a rocky plateau of mount Solitary in the centre. The visual sense was of a hidden world in huge proportions. The next day we discovered that the best way down to the forest floor was a ride on the hugely popular funicular, the world’s steepest railway. The cool, tree covered walkway below made for a lovely stroll and provided a glimpse of some interesting historical artifacts related to the once thriving coal mining operations of the 1880s.

On our final day in the Blue Mountains National Park, we tracked around the Wentworth falls trail up to some spectacular lookouts. This part of the valley, near the 200m mark provided excellent views of adjacent cliff faces and into the abundant parklands below. It had the added bonus of being a heart-poundingly narrow walkway right on the cliff face thus producing ample measures of awe and panic at certain abrupt turns. Thankfully, well engineered railings and steps prevailed in most of the tricky bits so despite the kids best efforts, Carolyn’s cortisol levels generally leveled off with scenic familiarity. This walk was easily in our top five coolest views (and that is saying something as we had already been to the mountain laced lands of Peru, Chile and New Zealand).

The big highway out of the mountains and down to Sydney was all too quick and we got installed into a semi affordable suburb of the sprawling state capital. The main benefit of our modest motel was proximity to the efficient regional train service that whisked us into the heart of the city in about an hour, discharging us right into the heralded harbour front district.

To behold the Sydney Opera house for the first time was a bit surreal. Being one of the world’s most iconic buildings puts a lot of pressure on a place. I am happy to report that the multi-shell-shaped wonder did not disappoint and like all exceptional architectural works, the structure can be admired favourably from almost any vantage point. It was also very rewarding to gain an up close inspection, allowing full appreciation of the tone and texture of the site. From a middle distance, the form appeared surprisingly less shell-like and much more inspired by a bishop’s mitre. Closer still, the exterior hue was more almond than white and the finish, rather than appearing smooth, looked scaled as a result of a fetching tile pattern. Regardless of whether being taken in from mere meters or from a distance, the opera house is the kind of building that grabs and holds visual attention. It is elegant and interesting and a place that sits among a rare few for its universal appeal and uncanny familiarity.

A nice surprise for us near to the opera house was the adjacent botanical gardens. This place was huge and impressive. It was also a bit eery with massive bats swooping overhead welcoming visitors. We loved the leaping fish in a the central pond, the huge variety of trees and shrubbery, the undulating pathways but we really didn’t like getting unexpectedly locked out of the damn place. We had used it as a shortcut along the water, strolling unhurriedly and enjoying the parklands. It didn’t occur to us that a set of gates we passed through while going onward to a jutting peninsula might actually be slammed shut, clanging hinges and all. At dusk we intended to reverse course but ended up peering longingly through the iron bars not really knowing how to get back to our starting point. Oh, and did I mention the bats? Well our alternate route was through the rapidly darkening back way around the park with an ever increasing volume of bats munching on winged insects (of which Australia is extravagantly endowed). We did make it back to the transit hub but only after a long detour filled with amusing bouts of crouching, arms protecting heads from what felt like impending aerial bombardment. We arrived back to our lodging after a full day darting about the city feeling content and satisfied with time spent in such a well organized, lovely place among busy but happy looking residents.

After only the briefest look around Sydney we were suddenly out of time and had to make due with having gained only a limited sense of what Australia offers visitors. As with all the lands we had visited so far, departing Oz left us with the wish to spend more time, see more things and generally know more about what we had experienced. Such is the life of wandering people. We are learning to appreciate our experiences without feeling overly regretful about what we might have missed. We had to say goodbye, but as always, that meant saying hello to somewhere new; in this case beautiful Bali.

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