Blue (Sky) Mountains

Monday, April 09, 2007

The next morning I awoke with the others at 8:00. Dave was to pick us up at 9:00 or so and take us canyoning, which was largely the reason I’d spent 17 hours the day prior getting myself through train, bus, and car down to Katoomba from Brisbane. When I had last been in Katoomba, by the way, Brad and I checked out this really cool YHA with a life-sized chess board, art-deco stylings for the lounge area, pool, a theatre, and other fun stuff. This was where we were staying. But enough about the hostel. Dave came and grabbed us and we finally got out of Katoomba around 10:30. Two of the girls had to get back by 3:30 to catch a train up to Byron Bay, so this didn’t leave us a lot of time. Plus, getting to the canyon itself was something of an adventure. I followed Dave’s car in Betsy and we wove up dirt paths through the forest in what most certainly would’ve been specified a 4x4 track were there any markings at all, but we dogged along and finally got to a sign that announced we were in some national park.

Dave led us down into the canyon, where we walked, climbed, slid down natural waterslides, jumped from ledges, and basically did everything that makes canyoning so much fun in the first place. Sadly, it was over before we knew it and we hiked back up to the cars to return the girls to the train. Then we went out for dessert and hot chocolate as the canyon was a little chilly, returned to the hostel and showered and got some things done, and then went out for Thai. Dave loves Thai, it turns out. Afterwards, Katie, Dave, and I hung out in the lounge and I played a couple of games with Dave before we retired for the evening. Which, I should point out, was somewhere around 10:00. And man, was it chilly up in the Blue Mountains. Those back home will scoff at me, but it was only 7 degrees in the night and the wind sucked the heat right out of you.

The next morning, after getting our room straightened out, Dave took Katie, Kylie, and myself up to the Three Sisters. We’d seen them before, but today we had much more favourable weather and it was a beautiful view. We also walked onto the one sister and Dave showed us where he used to take groups climbing before they put a stop to it. I can understand not allowing commercial climbs but individuals? It seemed a bit much to me and Dave was likewise inclined, rather hilariously. Dave and Kylie were also Sydney bound that day, but they walked us partway along and then turned around, leaving Katie and I to walk the trails up to Ruined Castle. We walked all around the valley until we were on the opposite side of the Three Sisters and then up, some 7km. Ruined Castle is basically some rock remnants that you can scramble up, offering a full 360 degree panoramic view of the valley. I obviously took this opportunity to take such a panorama and several other shots on the rocks before Katie and I headed back down. In total, it was a 5 hour hike and well worth it. We went back, sat in a pub for a while and had burgers and beer, then went to the hostel where I attempted to outline the general strategy for chess on the big chessboard. Then, both of us tired, we returned to the dorm and went to sleep.

The weather was even better the next day, and we set out to find a hike that Dave had told Katie about. I’d also been asking around and heard good things about a hike of Wentworth Falls. We drove looking for a ‘C’ sign, found a fruit stand instead (mmm, fresh mangos, cantaloupe, and peaches), and then decided to do the Wentworth Falls hike. There are several tracks one can do, but I have to imagine that we chose the best of them. We hiked down to Wentworth Falls, which was absolutely beautiful (rivaling Earland Falls on the Routeburn) and hung around there for at least half an hour just watching the water mist and wisp and catch the sun. Then we set off on the National Pass track, which took us on a ridge midway up on the sheer cliffs that make up this valley. The cliffs themselves were spectacular and it was an amazing walk just to walk alongside them. Being halfway up meant that, essentially, every moment was a terrific lookout onto the valley below and the distant mountains.

We came to the end and found some people abseiling in another waterfall and that looked like a lot of fun, too. Then up a lot of steps where we found Conservation Hut, which was apparently the hut Katie had been on the lookout for in the morning. She had seen a place on the maps called Edinburgh Castle Rock and, I thought, had been hinting that she really wanted to see it, so we set out for that. It was a long hike to basically nothing, and we were both getting pretty tired by the time we encountered the rock, so we trekked back, taking the Shortcut Track instead of the Overcliff Track and went back to the car. I have no idea what we did for dinner that night, but I do know that I was in bed and ready to sleep before 9:00. It had been an exhausting few days since coming down from Brisbane on 3 hours of sleep, and I was paying for it. I would, it seems, pay for it with the equivalent of jet lag for the next few days.

Finally, we left Katoomba the following morning, or at least got in the car to do so. It wouldn’t start at all. It seemed to be a dead battery, though we’d left nothing on, so, since we were on a hill, Katie and I pulled a Little Miss Sunshine and pushed it down the hill and popped the clutch. Betsy was revived by our little ECG and we decided to drive to Syndey and hopefully charge the battery again, but as we were coming into Sydney, I gave the car a test and it still wouldn’t start. Another bit of CPR and we rolled on until we came to a sign for a Children’s Hospital. Katie postulated that anywhere that fixes kids must have a place where they can fix cars, so we hopped off the 4 near Wentworthville and hung a left at Olympic Batteries, where we found a small service station. Sydney Auto Repairs (for my reference, 02 98963599). Paul Raj, the manager of the shop, took a look at the car with me and changed the battery out, he was convinced that was all it was. He also pointed out a few things for me to keep an eye on and showed me some things I could try if the car died in the middle of nowhere. I mentioned the car had been hesitating a bit and he checked the fuel filter with me, which was disgusting. He did it all for pretty much nothing and I decided I’d come back and have him look over the car more thoroughly and give it an oil change before setting off south. It can be hard to find people who aren’t out to rip you off.

New battery and fuel filter installed, we made our way further into Sydney. We stopped on Bondi Beach and were laying in the sun when the lifeguard drove by announcing there'd been an earthquake in the Solomon Islands and there were tsunami warnings for the east coast. The beach was closed and all of us were there at our own risk. Very few people seemed bothered and he added a final, "If you see the water being sucked out, run." Needless to say, it wasn't a problem and we were on the beach for a few hours before heading to Manly, where we pulled into Dave’s and stopped for a shower and rest while waiting for him to arrive. He had said he might be able to take us climbing somewhere in Sydney, but he came in looking pretty beat and frazzled, so we didn’t bother to ask. We all went out for Thai again with Kay, a nice woman/semi-retired teacher, and then went back to Dave’s to get our stuff. Then we made our way to Diane’s, another friend of Katie’s who’d done Pacific Challenge sort of unofficially with Katie a few years back, having some trouble finding it on account of fatigue and more importantly, Dave’s directions. Quite tired (though it was only 10:30), we finally arrived at Diane’s to find she wasn’t home. We tried to call her but only got voicemail, and then decided to take a walk along the waterfront while we waited. Sydney harbour was on the horizon with the Harbour Bridge arcing over the Opera House and Sydney’s downtown reaching for the sky on the right and we strolled down to Luna Park, watched the boats for a while, and then walked back.

By now, it was almost midnight and we couldn’t even reach her voicemail. Of course the hostels would have shut down reception and we were kind of in a spot. Katie called Dave to ask if he knew where she’d gone or remembered where she’d put the key exactly, and as luck would have it, Diane came to the door, hearing Katie’s voice as she’d gotten up to use the washroom, and let us in. What a view she has. Her house sits right over the water and the living room faces in towards Sydney. We sat for a little bit with the lit up skyline of Sydney out the windows and then went to sleep. The next morning, Katie’s last in Australia, we walked to downtown, and what a great walk it is. You walk around the waterfront, past Luna Park and with Sydney’s opera house just across the bay. Then up, crossing the Harbour Bridge and into the heart of downtown. We walked around, along George St. and Pitt St. and, passing by a cocktail bar called Establishment, popped in to see how much a drink was. $13, and it looked it. We went further on to a place called the RSL club that the bartender had recommended for more reasonable fare. We had to fill out a day membership card, but drinks were $3 for a pint and we could sit on the fourth floor looking over George St, so we stayed there. It turns out, by the way, that RSL is a fancy acronym for veterans here, but it was actually a good time. We ventured back to Diane’s via train and had dinner with Dave, Kay, and Diane up the road, and then when Dave and Kay left, the three of us sat in the living room with some wine and chatted until midnight, which I really, really struggled to stay awake until. Tomorrow, after all, I’m on my own for the first time since leaving.

And that happened rather smoothly. Dave and I dropped off Katie at the airport the next morning and then went downtown. He had a doctor’s appointment so I got dropped off after an unsuccessful parking spot search, and there I was, on my own, on some street in Sydney. That’s how it happened, almost without me noticing. And now that I was alone, it was time to begin catching up on things. That day, I bought myself some new shirts and shorts and a pair of jeans. I got myself a long overdue haircut. And I got my pictures uploaded as far as I had captioned them while taking care of some internet stuff. Then I went to a movie, Hot Fuzz, starring and by Simon Peg, that was pretty hilarious. I didn’t know he had a new one coming out. I found my way back, eventually, up on the Harbour Bridge and crossed back home. The next day was equally busy. I did a whole bunch of laundry in the morning, then found my way to Paul the mechanic’s (no problem), and got my car looked at and serviced. New oil, new filters, new spark plugs, and the brakes seem to be good for some time. I also got it clean, finally, getting rid of all the dirt and sand and dog hair in the back seats particularly. I also had no problem finding my way back to Diane’s from there, though the traffic in both directions was pretty heavy. I picked up some hot cross buns for Easter and some supplies for Greek salad, did a last load of laundry, made dinner, and chatted with Diane for a while. Good Friday, and a hearty chunk of Saturday I caught up on my journal and photos some more, and also managed to watch Chinatown (great movie with Jack Nicholson), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (also good, Kevin Spacey and John Cusack), Dark City (I watched this one with Diane), and 300 (a movie about Persia's failed attempt to rule Greece). Molly Maguires and Presidio (both Sean Connery flicks) as well whilst captioning... it takes a loooong time and I almost gave up more than once, but it's done and I feel good.

Wrapping up the weekend, I spent one afternoon exploring the southern harbour, basically from McMahon Point to Watson's Bay (go ahead and zoom on the little map on the left sidebar), then met Dave for some juice in Bronte. I went out for breakfast with Diane and Terry. And I discovered that Mike, from Christchurch, is coming over to Australia this week, most specifically Sydney. He's coming for the Sydney Cup (horse races) and then doing a Hunter Valley Tour. Which, given my plan was to leave Sydney on Tuesday for the south, means a bit of a tweak. I will leave tomorrow for Canberra and check it out for a few days and then come back into Sydney to meet Mike on Thursday. I'm not sure if I'll stick around for the Cup or even go see it (I saw coverage of the Melbourne Cup, it looks like horse racing is HUGE here so maybe I should), but if it works out I'd love to do the Hunter Valley tour with him and his family assuming they don't mind a stray backpacker. If not, I head south and can skip over Canberra on my way down since I'll have covered it already.

And now we're up to date and you may have missed some posts. My pace has been rather frenetic and you could hardly be blamed. How do you go back and view older ones, you ask? Well, there are a few ways, and they're all on the left sidebar. You can go and select the month you want to read from the archives section. If you didn't get too far behind, the Previous Posts section might be enough. Or, supposing you want to just start from the beginning and read your heart out, you can use the labels (AKA tags) to read posts related to Pacific Challenge, New Zealand, Australia, and so on. Those are also on the left and the labels for each post are at the bottom of the post itself as well. Hopefully that's not confusing, there are lots of ways to find the post you want! See you in another week or so.

Blue Mountains Photos
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DarrenLB said...

God I hate you

Dean said...

Haha, why don't you come over here and say that to my face?