Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sydney's surrounds

Our excursions outside of Sydney's CBD were courtesy of my two classmates (from elementary and high school) who are residing in the Sydney suburbs. One, I had not seen since our high school graduation (some 37 years ago!) and the other I had not seen since our high school 30th anniversary! We certainly had a lot of catching up to do!


We took a short ferry ride (about 18 minutes) from Circular Quay to Manly, a thriving cosmopolitan coastal village. Leaving the quay by ferry afforded yet another view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Manly was named in 1788 by Captain Arthur Philip; he was impressed by the “confident and manly behaviour” of the local Aborigines and called the town “Manly Cove”. We disembarked at the Manly Wharf where there was a small stretch of sandy beach. A short walk away was the main beach and the Corso. Lots of shops, restaurants and lots of people, all enjoying the very pleasant day (sunny with a cool breeze). We had lunch at a Mexican place and I had my first taste of crocodile meat in a burrito! Quite good actually, tasted somewhat like chicken.

The wide stretch of white sandy beach was very inviting and there were so many people strolling, basking in the sun or enjoying the water. Then an announcement came over the public address system “Shark sighting, please get out of the water!” Sharks! Well not to worry, there are nets that are supposed to keep the sharks out but still it’s best to stay out of the water. Also another thing to remember is to “swim between the red and yellow flags.” We did not go near the water or even walk on the sand; we just enjoyed the view from a distance.

Bondi Beach

We wanted to see Australia’s most famous beach, Bondi. After the crowds of Manly, we sort of knew what to expect and we were right; lots and lots of people. I just took photos from the car as we were driving around trying to find a place to park. Beautiful golden sand and the turquoise water, very hard to resist! But no parking available. So after a few minutes of driving around and taking in the scenery, I had to be content that I had captured some of it in my photos. A few days later when I was trying to organize the hundreds of photos I had taken for that day, I was dismayed to find them missing and that’s when I realized that when I was transferring the photos from my camera’s memory card to my netbook (so that I could delete files from the memory card), I had apparently missed those Bondi shots and all had been deleted from the memory card! Lesson learned – do not delete photos from the memory card until you are absolutely certain that you have copied all the files. My only consolation now is that I can still picture Bondi beach in my mind.

Featherdale Wildlife Park

I’m not much of a zoo person but I enjoyed Featherdale Wildlife Park (west of Sydney). This park is said to have the world’s largest collection of Australian native animals including endangered and rare species (like the ghost bat, bilbies, wombat, red-tailed black cockatoo and native quolls). Here you could hand feed and carefully touch some of the animals that roam freely within the park. The wallabies we encountered quickly snatched at the cone that held the food, so did the emus. I also saw a joey in its mom’s pouch. The Tasmanian devil was nowhere in sight at the time of our visit (mid-morning); it was probably still snoozing inside the hollow log in its fenced area and would not come out until feeding time at 4pm.

Blue Mountains

Also to the west of Sydney is the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains region. This is a bushwalker’s paradise with its beautiful scenery, rainforest and wildlife. One of the must-see stops is Echo Point from where you can view the famous rock formation called the Three Sisters. It was just after New Year that we visited the area and we were among the throngs of people enjoying the holiday season. We had wanted to take the scenic railway, the steepest incline passenger railway in the world, which takes you to the historic mining attraction at the base of a cliff, then up again via the scenic cableway. However, due to the crowds, waiting in queue would have taken up most of our time. So we moved on after taking numerous photos of the view from Echo Point and a quick picnic lunch.

Mount Tomah Botanic Garden

Away from the madding crowds is Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, still located in the Greater Blue Mountains. This 70 acres area is 1000 meters above sea level and many plants not suited to Sydney’s climate can be grown successfully here. One can take short (half an hour) walks from the Visitor Centre to the Residence Garden, the Formal Garden or take the rainforest walk to the viewing platform. It would take longer (an hour) if you wanted to linger and see the Wollemi Pines, the Gondwana Forest or visit the Rock Garden. Half a day gives you enough time to walk the entire Garden and stop for refreshments at the Restaurant. If you prefer, there is a shuttle bus that takes you on a tour of the Garden, the driver also serves a guide, providing useful commentary.

On the way up from Echo Point, we had noticed the sky getting darker and when we were ready to take the guided shuttle tour, the thunderstorm began, complete with rains (actually hail). The shuttle was making trips to different parts of the Garden rescuing stranded visitors. Knowing how quickly weather could change in those parts, the personnel advised us to wait a while. The view was spectacular so we did not mind the wait while having coffee; there were also art exhibits in the Visitor Centre as well as a gift shop, so we were kept entertained. After an hour or so, the rain stopped, the sun came out and we were off to take the shuttle tour. We were driving through the Garden at a nice pace and were happily clicking away. When we were almost back at the Visitor Center, the sky started pouring again. Wow, nice timing!

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