My second last day in Australia was dedicated to a trip up into the blue mountains west of Sydney. Unfortunately given that it was low tourist season for most of NSW, the tour I wanted was only leaving once a week and not before I left so I was forced to look for an alternative. Whereas the one I’d originally chosen had been very nature focused and had included a number of 15-45 minute hikes in the itinerary, I was eventually forced to go on one that was pretty much bus only. I was picked up at 7:30am and taken over to the Casino where we all redistributed into our various buses for the destinations. One was a city sights tour, another was heading up into the hunter valley and mine headed up into the blue mountains. Unfortunately, most of my bus was of the older tourist or non-english speaking asian family tourist variety and I ended up sitting by myself and didn’t really speak to anyone for the entire drive.
The driver himself was a fine driver and nice enough, but an absolutely terrible commentator. He knew his stuff, but he also pointed out the most mundane crap. For example: on the way out of town he pointed out a bus depot and told us that there were many more like it and that at any one time Sydney could have 2500 buses on the road. Which is fine, not really what I came on the tour for, but whatever. It got weird for the second and third times we passed a bus depot when again he pointed them out excitedly and in both cases gave us a preview: “Soon we’ll be coming up to another of the Sydney bus depots, I’ll be sure to point it out as we pass.” Not sure exactly why he thought we’d be quite that interested. His repetition was also endless, each time he’d bring up a topic he’d re-explain the entire thing so you’d get comments like “back in 2000, for the Sydney 2000 Olympics” about 50 times whereas anyone else would just say “the Olympics” after the first time. He also had incredibly annoying habit of using the words of “of course” constantly. “We’ll be heading up to Echo Point, which of course overlooks the three sisters, though of course the valley floor is far below. Of course you’ll be able to head down there after lunch of course.” ARGH! Add to this the fact that he had a cold and was constantly stopping to cough or sneeze and I was getting very tempted to put my noise cancelling headphones on. He was a nice guy when talking to him, just needed to work on the guide portion of his job.
Once we got up into the blue mountains I really wished I’d been able to do the other tour. The area was beautiful. Big sudden valleys seemed to spread in every direction from every viewpoint. Cliff faces in the distance faded into the hazy blue that gave the area its name. I did cheap out when we went to the “scenic world” though, an inclined railway trip down into the valley to the “rainforest” floor was a fair bit of money and smelled of tourist ripoff. Instead I enjoyed the lookout, ate my lunch then did an hours walk along the cliff rim and some of the houses nearby. I’m sure it was just as nice since I’d done many rainforest walks up north in the real rainforest. We did a couple of other stops before starting back to the city.
On the way back into the city we actually did a wildlife portion of the tour where my limited Kangaroo exposure was suddenly rectified in a big way at the Featherdale wildlife refuge. We were greeted getting off the bus by one of the staff carrying a rescued baby wallaby in a blanket. Her name was Honey and she so adorable and soft. It was just a hint of what was to come inside. They have just about every type of roo and wallaby, all of which are very friendly. I believe they’re all rescued animals and most will come over and sniff your hand and let you touch them. Each area does have a fenced off area where only the animals can go if they’re sick of you as well. I wandered through the park, taking about 50 more pictures than I should have and leaving myself with limited time to see the rest of the park. My next stop was to watch the penguins being fed. They were Australian fairy penguins, teeny little guys and girls who are apparently part of a very successful breeding program. As she was leaving the keeper told me she’d be feeding the Tassie devil next if I wanted to follow so of course I did. They try to keep their diet similar to carrion they might find in the wild, so it was a lovely pair of chicken legs still covered in feathers. Their two devils are both male so they’re kept separate but they’ll likely be part of Australia wide effort to create a safe breeding program to hopefully keep the species going after they go extinct in the wild from the bizarre face cancer wiping them out. They’re oddly adorable despite looking rather vicious and ugly.
Moving on to other animals, sadly the Echnida were hiding but I got to meet some dingoes that were very similar to the fraser island look so they’re probably from that stock. They’re such beautiful animals, very dog looking but with an unmistakable wildness about them that’s punctuated by the mournful howls they let loose from time to time. The bird collection was quite impressive as well, in addition to the previously mentioned Cassowary (every bit as intimidating as their stuffed versions) they had a number of native owl species including one called the barking owl that I’d actually thought was dingoes in the distance at first before I remembered that they don’t bark. I managed to snap a quick video of him before the battery in my vid camera went dead, so hopefully I can post that later. Sadly after a tour of the reptile house it was time to go get on the bus, I wish we’d spent more time at this place and less at scenic world. I left them an extra donation on the way out and hopped back on board.
The tour concluded with a quick spin around the Sydney Olympic Park (The guide was quick to point out at least 5 times that this was in 2000 and how many buses were needed) where most of the bigger venues were concentrated. At that point we had the choice of the bus into town again, or taking a chartered cruise down the river for an additional 7 bucks. Since I was staying all of a 5 minute walk from the circular quay jetty where it would stop I opted for the boat. Despite the fact that it was dark (and boy is it nice to be back into later sunshine again) it was a nice tour. A commentary track gave history and current background for many of the places we passed and we probably only arrived about 20 minutes later than the bus would have been. I’d noticed a tour brochure on the bus towards the end and when I read it noticed that my backpacker tour had been merged onto one of the parent company’s buses (which explained the crowd.) I have to say I thought $90 was a little much honestly for what was actually included in the trip, but the minimum cost to most of the other people on the bus was $168, more like $200 if they’d opted for one of the lunch packages.
On the way back up through the rocks I stopped at the pub with the $10 steak salad and chips and sat on their rooftop patio, looking at the Opera house and bridge and watching the harbour traffic flow. The meal itself was fantastic, especially for $10 and I knew I’d be thinking about coming back the next night as the deal was tough to beat down in the rocks.
The next morning I said goodbye to the guys staying in my room as they were all heading out, two of them heading home, one heading on to Thailand to study Muay-Thai before moving on to china for Kung Fu (aspiring UFC guy.) While the wildlife park had been nice, I’d been told repeatedly that Taronga zoo across the harbour was very good and it seemed like a good relaxing activity for my last day since I wanted to be in bed reasonably early. Handily enough there’s a ferry that crosses directly from Circular to the zoo and you can then hop on a cable car to get a birds eye view of many of the animals as you cross to the front gate.
I started off with the wild Australia area, figuring that given recent excursions I’d likely cruise through it. On the contrary it was quite well done and I found myself really enjoying the open flight bird enclosures. Their roo area wasn’t quite as populated as the Featherdale one (and they were being lazy since it was the warmest it had been in Sydney in a while) but had the humorous juxtaposition of an emu and roo hanging out together and looking as if they were taking a break from posing for the Australian coat of arms. More excitingly, multiple echidnas were out and about. Such a bizarre animal even without knowing the odd details of their internal works. They’re (along with the platypus) one of the only egg laying mammals and look like a bizarre hybrid of a porcupine and a kiwibird. Speaking of the platypus, the zoo had a number of them, one of which was incredibly active in a well designed habitat that let us all have a good luck at him. Around the same area were a number of great flying squirrel exhibits and I actually got to see some of them gliding about. The croc exhibit was quite good as well with the female loomining menacingly close to the window with just her snout above water and a big 5m bull towards the back but with his mouth wide open.
Once I’d wrapped up the aussie section I moved on to see their elephants and managed to arrive just as they got their treat for the day. The staff brought each of the ladies a jerry can full of peanuts (the bull has a separate enclosure with occasional visits to simulate wild behaviour.) Each of them would grab the can with their trunk, flip it upside down to shake out some peanuts and even wedge the can in so she could place her trunk directly on the opening and grab a nut or three. Once she’d cleaned up everything that had fallen out she’d do it again. Those with calves would let them share as well as the cans were a little too big for the little ones to handle well. I also really enjoyed the Gorilla exhibit, especially the massive male they had. While I’ve always known intellectually how big they can get it was the first time I’d seen one in person. Another animal I was really surprised by the size of was the Tapir, something I’d always assumed weren’t cow sized. Perhaps caused by the terrain the path system was somewhat confusing and (in my opinion) badly designed but I’m fairly sure I covered pretty much everything in the zoo.
As I hoped it was a good relaxing day to finish off my trip and as I journeyed back across the harbour on the ferry I was treated to a sunset behind the bridge. I decided not to go back for another steak and instead had a thin crust pizza to finish off the trip. Sadly I was in bed and asleep by about 9 as I needed to be up and packed by 7 to catch my train to the airport.
My bag was heavy, borderline too heavy for the flight but I had it just low enough to pass. Unfortunately it was heavy enough to topple me when my ankle rolled walking down one of the ancient stairs in the rocks on the way to the station. Once I was planted in the train station I had the unpleasant task of rubbing sanitizer on the scratches and cuts, practically screamed. The train to the airport was painless at least. Thankfully my airplane luck continued on the flight from Sydney to Auckland as I got another free space next to me. Not so lucky on the long haul this time though but at least my seat mates were pleasant and didn’t grumble when I needed to pee. God that’s a long flight though. I didn’t sleep much, which in the end will make the readjustment easier, but made for a pretty long day.
Once back in Canada it wasn’t long after landing before I’d picked up an apple fritter at Tim’s and was sitting watching a bit of the hockey game. Quite the change from only being able to occasionally get a highlight package when the internet connection was up to it. Of course, back to Canada meant back to Air Canada, which meant a nice hour long delay in leaving the gate followed by a taxi so long it felt like we should have gotten to Medicine Hat by road. Still, eventually I arrived back home had a nice reunion with the parents and the dogs and finally managed to fall asleep around four.