Saturday, 30 May 2015

A Day at the Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains is a world heritage area and gets its name from the blue haze that is developed when sunlight is refracted from the droplets of the Eucalyptus oil exuded from the trees within this forest area. It is this oil that fuels the massive and dangerous forest fires that occur in the Blue mountains Region.

We chose a bright and sunny day for our one day trip to this much talked about place. At the Blue Mountains, just outside a station called Katoomba is the visitor centre from where we collected our unlimited tickets for the the rides in the scenic world, as well as, for the services of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and a booklet containing information about the region with a map detailing the route and the timings of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus.

This bus had drops and pick ups close to the different attraction points. Also, the bus driver gave an entertaining commentary on the Points that the bus was heading towards. We chose the Scenic World as our first stop, which had four attractions, the Skyway, the Cableway, the Railway and the Rainforest walk.

The Scenic Skyway

Our first ride for the day was the Skyway which is said to be the highest cable car in Australia, from the scenic world top station. There are a limited number of persons that can be accommodated on the Skyway and since Del and I were the last to get in, our ride was rather crowded.

The cable car on this journey travels for a short distance but very slowly; our ride lasted for less than five minutes, nevertheless, we did manage to catch beautiful glimpses of the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley.

To be in a glass bottomed, glass enclosure gliding over trees, a valley and a waterfall is a feeling hard to describe!!

Once out of the Skyway, we walked towards the Jamison valley lookout but since it was very crowded, we instead chose to take a short but refreshing five minute walk along the cliff.

Scenic Railway

We returned to the Scenic World Top Station via the Skyway and geared ourselves for the Scenic Railway ride. This railway line which has been operating since 1945 has a 52 degree incline and is said to be the steepest passenger railway in the world! It descends about 310 meters while passing through a tunnel!

The seats of the train could be adjusted for an adventurous or a laid back kind of journey. During our descent, at one point, I was feeling very nervous and felt my heart pounding hard against my chest! The ride however, was very short, just lasted for a minute or two; it was a sheer thrill for many but scary to me since I am not much of an adrenaline junkie. However, it must be said that the ride may fall short on the thrill factor for those who are accustomed to adrenaline-rush themed park rides.

Rainforest Walk

After our train ride, we chose to go for the 2.4km boardwalk through the rainforest. There are walks of various duration which are clearly sign posted, most of which were wheelchair accessible.

Our walk started with a brief introduction to coal mining in the area which included information on the kind of work and the life of the miners. Some of the tools that were used by these miners were on display. There were audio recordings too, simulating the sounds of the environment of the coal mines, with recordings of the sounds of both the engines used to carry coal and the mining activity. The laborious and hazardous nature of work that these miners were involved in was highlighted.

As we walked further, we were greeted by the tall trees in the valley, a few of them were sign posted.
The boardwalk was dotted with benches and a couple of gazebos where one could relax, breathing in the fresh air while at the same time biting into a quick snack.We had our lunch in a so called 'rainforest room' which had a number of benches to choose from. Eating in such quietude among trees with the occasional call of the birds was an experience we would like to replicate more often.

None of the points on this boardwalk were really spectacular, however, we did learn a lot and it still remained the highlight of our day because it is indeed very rare to walk in a forest in such comfort! Having said that, it cannot be denied that such a kind of walk would be a disappointment for seasoned trekkers who enjoy the challenges that one associates with a trek.

Scenic Cableway

Our rainforest walk terminated at the bottom station of the cableway; we chose to use this ride in order to reach to the top of the escarpment. Once inside the glass enclosure which made up the cable car, it was a steep ascend to the top, the ride that lasted for not more than two minutes. We found the views from this cable car to be far more enchanting than those from the Skyway. Del was so lost in the beauty that encapsulated us, that it was one of those rare instances when he actually forgot that he had a camera in his hand!

We exited through the Scenic World top station which housed a souvenir shop, as well as, toilets and a cafe.

Other Points

Our next stop was at the Chocolate factory where handmade chocolates were made and sold. It also had a cafe where Del enjoyed munching on blueberry muffins along with his evening cuppa while I watched a Chocolatier at work! This was my first, seeing a professional chocolatier busy
with the chocolate!

With a box of chocolates in our hands, we opted to walk to our next stop, the Echo Point.With the sun beating down hard, I didn't quite enjoy this point from where we could view both, the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters (a different angle of the same attractions). I took a seat which unfortunately too was under the wrath of the scorching sun and, gobbled on my left over wrap from lunch while Del kept clicking away, trying his best to get a panoramic image of the view. Luckily, for me, the sun had his way and soon enough we were walking towards a cafe for an ice cream, double scoops for both of us!

Being our last stop for the day, we hopped onto the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, took a seat at the upper deck and enjoyed the round to Katoomba station. We were fortunate to have chosen Katoomba station as our starting point for the return journey instead of Leura cause at Leura the train seats filled up leaving a few of the passengers standing for about an hour!
Above collage : our view from the hop-on hop-off bus, 

Our one day at the Blue Mountains helped us to connect to this beautiful country that we had only read about. We realised Mother Nature always makes you feel at home, she isn't really concerned about the imposed regional and geographical divisions;  though in Australia, we felt loved just the same!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Cliff hangers.

Sam Fiszman Park

It was delightful to see this space created on the cliffs, for the public, next to the residential apartments and houses, offering panoramic views of the Ocean and the Bondi beach. This park is created in levels, starting from the top of the cliff and extending nearly to the base of the cliff. Although, this park is small, the beautiful views, especially, that of the waves breaking onto the rocks is rather spectacular!

The wall of the raised circular lawn within this park reads, "I am better than no man and no man is better than me". It is a quote by the late Sam Fiszman who was a migrant to Australia.

Sam Fiszman was a Jew residing in the Nazi occupied Poland. His mother and sister were murdered by the Nazis. With such kind of setbacks, Sam served in the Red Army and was awarded for his services.
Later, he migrated to Australia with his wife and baby and, eventually, became a successful businessman and a prominent figure in Australia. 

Bondi Beach

It was not the sunniest of evenings at Bondi. Once we reached the beach, it started to drizzle.

The beach was crowded with a number of families with little children. Some of the kids were surfing, a couple of others were building castles, a few of them were relaxing on the sand and still others were simply standing in the shallow waters.

While we walked over the grainy sand, taking in the view that surrounded us, a shark alarm was sounded! It was for the first time that we ever heard one! Everyone hurriedly rushed out of the waters while the lifeguards with their powered boats went rushing in. For a little while, we did watch the manner in which the lifeguards conducted their search, scanning the waters for a possible shark sighting or a shark attacked victim, we couldn't tell. Since the rain got heavier and we hadn't carried our rain gear, we didn't wait to know the outcome of the search.


P.S. : This was the first time I drove in Sydney city area. After years of driving on Indian roads, it was a pleasure and delight to be driving in Sydney- Utopia of driving kinds. ( they tell me Melbourne is even better than Sydney- Sigh!) 


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Lazy Sunday in Sydney

The Gap Park

Sunday noon’s can be quite lazy and this one in particular was! However, we felt it was time to get ourselves moving to learn more about this beautiful city of Sydney. So, we set out to the Southern Headland near Watson’s Bay, our first halt being “The Gap”.

The Gap which lies on the cliffs of the Watson’s Bay has quite some history to it, ranging from being a signaling station to give warning of an approaching ship towards the Headland to becoming a military garrison while later being used as a gunnery school by the fledgling Royal Australian Navy.
The walk along the cliffs and the views from it were breathtaking. The cold wind hitting onto our bodies made walking even harder.

We didn’t do the entire stretch, however, we did walk up to the point where the anchor of the ship “Dunbar” was displayed. The Dunbar was a vessel trading between London and Australia. In 1857, during very bad weather, the ship wrecked at the foot of The Gap; the possible cause attributed to the erroneous judgement of the Captain who either could have mistaken The Gap to be the port’s entrance or misjudged to have crossed the southern Headland. Only one crew member survived the wreck.

Macquarie Lighthouse

Our next stop was at another place which is steeped in history, the Macquarie Lighthouse.
The structure of the lighthouse that currently stands there is the second lighthouse of Australia that was constructed in 1883, however, it was the first one to be lit for navigational purposes.

The first lighthouse of Australia was constructed in 1818, about four meters away from the present structure, but it crumbled down within a few years.

As the lighthouse was closed to visitors on a Sunday, we didn’t get to see the inside. Nevertheless, it felt good to be part of such great history.

It was truly nice observing the kind of efforts that both the people and the Government make in preserving their history! We sincerely hope that our countrymen too, value and preserve the monuments and structures that form part of our rich Indian history, and not resort to make themselves infamous through their scribbles on the walls of these structures, thereby defacing them!

Christison Park

From Macquarie Lighthouse, we walked towards this park, a space created for both the two and four legged friends to exercise and take in some fresh air together. Being on a cliff, it not only provided lovely views of the ocean but also, soothing wind, as the force of the wind was greatly reduced by the tree breaks.

It was thrilling to see so many breeds of dogs at one place. Most of them were free and running around, while a few of them were walking to heel and still fewer were on the lead.
Some of the dogs were very friendly and walked right up to us with their Masters following closely behind; there were still other dogs who looked very very very ferocious and kept good distance from both people and the dogs.

It was great watching everyone exercising with their most loyal friends and companions. It did make me go weak in my knees, hoping to own a dog that I had always desired for since I was a little girl!

Above : A view of the bay from the park. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A walk in the park- Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

This garden located next to the Opera House at Farm Cove does have an interesting history.
In 1788, it was the first farm ever to be cultivated on the Australian Continent. This corn farm was a failure and so were the subsequent farms that were cultivated, mostly, due to poor soil conditions. In 1816, the Governor, Mr. Macquarie founded the Botanic Gardens at this very location for his family while keeping it open to the privileged class of people. In 1817, the appointed Botanist, Charles Fraser began acclimatizing plants brought in from different regions into this Garden. However, it was Charles Moore, who in 1848, as Director of the Gardens worked on the soil conditions, water management issues and converted it into much of the present day Garden that stands today at Farm Cove.

The Garden is now used as a place for relaxation, walking, picnicking, wedding venue, activity center or simply, a tourist spot.

It has huge lawns from where we could view both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Walking along the waters at the Farm Cove was indeed refreshing. There were sections in the garden which housed many trees around which benches were arranged. We spotted some very unique looking banana plants, on which, the banana bunch was growing upwards instead of the more common downward direction that we see in our home garden.

Through the morning, we saw the residents busy with their workout, some practicing Pilates while still others practicing Yoga. It truly was a walker’s paradise! As the day progressed, the lawns began filling up with picnickers; a couple of family celebrations too were in order.

Del enjoyed the company of his winged friends who seemed rather excited to be photographed by him, considering they flew across the lawn and began chirping as if talking to him!

It was interesting seeing Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair which is a seat that was carved off a rock for Mrs. Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the then Governor to enjoy the view of the ships passing by.

The garden houses the St. George Open Air Cinema (the screen of which looked really massive) which screen shows seasonally. Again, we missed out on making for any of the shows.
There is also a Herbarium which we did not visit.

The Royal Botanic Garden Restaurant, which is a café had both vegetarian and gluten free sandwiches. We chose to have our lunch on one of the benches on the lawn. While at it, a couple of sea gulls and an ibis began inching closer to grab a bite of food. Looking at the huge beak that the ibis has, I was scared that it would peck me, so I could barely enjoy my delicious sandwich. Having said that, I was so taken up and lost while eating the flourless chocolate brownies that I looked up for the recipe on the internet and made these brownies on two occasions while still in Australia!
The Garden also ran a toy train of sorts, “Choo Choo Express”, a facility which could be availed for ten dollars.


P.S. : The park houses some lovely sculptures. From modern day works like this 'Mirroring' from Danish artist Keld Mcseholm

to some aboriginal art work on tree trunks. 


Friday, 22 May 2015

Sydney's Iconin Opera House

In 1952, the government of NSW wanted to build two concert halls which would put the city of Sydney on the world map. In 1956, it organised an international competition for submitting designs for the same. Jørn Utzon, an architect from Denmark, won this competition for his design of the Opera House and was chosen as the main architect and went on to receive the Pritzker Architecture prize in 2003.

The construction of the Opera House began in 1957 and continued right up to 1973 on the Bennelong point  close to Sydney Harbour.

It is a performing arts centre which has become a world heritage site and houses concert halls, opera and drama theatres; it is also one of the busiest and much acclaimed performing art centres in the world.

A wonderful walk on the promenade from Circular Quay Station took us to this magnificent piece of Architecture.

The monumental stairs from the Forecourt that lead to the two main halls are about 100 metres wide! The sheer size of this stairway had us  enraptured! There are elevators too by which one can reach the theatres. Within the Opera House, the foyer has glass walls through which one can view the harbour.

The only way one can visit all the theatres is through the guided tours. Once a day, tours are also conducted for a group of not more than ten differently abled individuals where elevators are used instead of the stairs.

There are shows running through the day which can be pre-booked or booked on arrival depending on the availability of seats. The act that we wanted to watch was to be showcased late in the evening, but for various reasons, we decided to return home.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Auburn Botanical Gardens

This is a Japanese style inspired garden spread over nine acres and houses an aviary, a fauna reserve, plenty of flora, a scented garden, a lake, and a reflection pool. We were told that the best time to visit the place was in Autumn when the leaves change their colour and the garden is simply in a riot  of colours.

We were suprised to be greeted by a peacock and a peahen at the entrance, these of course are introduced species to the garden. The aviary housed a couple of species of birds with different kinds of parrots. One of the enclosures also housed an Emu which seemed to be having a delightful conversation with a Raven. There were Ibis and ducks too in plenty.

There were boards put up informing one about the various snakes in the area, but we didn't manage to spot any.

The fauna reserve housed wallabies and kangaroos. It was amusing seeing the way the Kangaroos sat on their tails.

The reflection pool was lined with pine trees, one of them being a progeny of a pine tree from Gallipoli.

Overall, the garden had a good shade cover and was dotted along with benches. It also housed a lake which had big stones resting on the bed on which one could walk to go to the other side.

The colourful rose garden was indeed a treat to the eyes.

We also witnessed the arrival of a groom and his groomsmen on their Harley Davidson for the wedding ceremony that was to be conducted in the Japanese tea house.

The garden had barbeques, toilets, drinking water taps, but no cafe.