Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blue Mountains, Australia

For my final installment of my Australia series, I'll take you to the Blue Mountains. This is an area northwest of Sydney, and it seems a lot like the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. There is one large cliff that forms a very long ridge with the Blue Mountains extending out from there. This big ridge makes for some amazing sweeping views of the region, some great waterfalls, and a lot of hiking trails. All the little towns along this ridge used to compete with eachother to attract tourists, so they all made very elaborate trails to get to the coolest spots in the area. So we are left with trails everywhere to go see everything this place has to offer.

Blue Mountains

Krista capturing the rolling hills.

There are a lot of lookouts that just beg you to get your picture taken.

This was a small waterfall in the area.

This is at the top of a very very tall waterfall there. After that little ledge, it drops a LONG way. I want to say 1000 feet, but we might need a fact checker for that. Either way, it was far. trust me.

This is some of the handiwork of those competitive locals years ago. They chiseled out trails like this to lure tourists to their town. all these years later, their ploy is still working.

this is that giant ridge I mentioned. We ran around all over this thing.

There is a park there that has a cable car, a tramway, and another skyrail or something that will take you across (or down) the valley. That yellow cablecar had a clear glass floor.

That rock formation is called the Three Sisters. We walked over to it.

Hundreds of other people had the same idea. From there you could continue on down to the bottom, or go back and take the tram. We thought we would take the tram in the interest of time. Turns out, it probably would have been faster to walk down. The lines were pretty long for the tramways.

I liked the pattern the trees made in the valley.
I final glance at the Blue Mountains.


Sydney, Australia

Now I'm not usually a big fan of touring cities. I feel like they all just kind of blur together. They all have a few cool monuments, lots of shopping, crowds, and maybe a subway system (that's still pretty exciting to me actually). But Sydney felt different than any other city I'd been to. Maybe it was the fact that most of the bigger cities I've been to have been in winter when I went there and it was really warm in Sydney? Or maybe Sydney is just way more awesome than most cities. I think that's probably it.

Three Amigos with Harbour Bridge in the background. Get ready for lots of pictures of the bridge and the Opera House.

Crazy Building. Coolest from far away so you can actually see all the points and curves. When you are close up, you don't really see much.

Sydney is very water-based. The harbour/river is very integral to the city.  Then there are the beaches... we'll get to those soon.

Under the bridge.

Lots of boat activity in the Harbor.

The Opera House was a popular spot in the city.

Krista getting her obligatory Opera House Photo. Everyone who goes to Sydney ends up with at least 25 pictures of themself with the Opera House in the background.

If you're lucky, one of your Opera House shots will also include me photobombing you. Sorry, not sorry, Annette! : )

Here's Mine.

Close-up of the roof of the Opera House.

Annette at the Opera House steps.

Beach Time!!! This might be Manly Beach. We also went to Bondi, Bronte, and another one that I don't remember the name of. All nice.

Very chill beaches. People just relaxing. And you can just take a bus from the city center to get to most of them. Manly Beach involved a ferry ride from the Opera House.

Bustling Place!

This was on the ferry ride back from Manly Beach. Cousins Pic in front of the opera house. Note the giant cruise ship in the harbor. We had to make room for it to get through.

then we saw this Pirate Ship appear out of nowhere. Very sneaky. At first, we were afraid they were going to rob us.

Then we realized they had their sights set on a much bigger prize.

Here's another beach pic, just because.

Time to go to the Zoo! The Taronga Zoo is pretty awesome. It has all the standard zoo creatures, but I'll try to feature the things we were really there to see. Starting with Kangaroos.

and this is a Tasmanian Devil. Would you believe they actually move by creating a tiny tornado around themselves and destroying everything in their path? No? Hmm. maybe that was just the cartoon version 'Taz'. I'll have to call in an expert. I don't know what to believe anymore.

And now for the main event: the Koala Bear. Sweet face, Ugly Claws. We did the Koala Encounter where you can go in their pen and stand right next to them and take pics up close and personal. This little guy just slept the whole time, which was fine with me. They apparently do know how to use those claws to fight, and the zookeeper said he's been scratched up pretty bad lots of times. No thanks.

But they're cute when they're sleeping.

And with a face like that, I guess I can see why the zookeeper forgives them for all the scratches.

Sydney City View from the Taronga Zoo.

I'm a fan, Sydney. Bravo.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Australian South Coast: Kangaroos and Beaches! Together!!!

When most of us think of Australia, we imagine beaches and kangaroos. Much to my surprise and delight, you can actually have both at the same time. For some reason, I never put the two together. I just thought the 'roos would be bouncing around on some grasslands in the Outback, far from the coasts. I was wrong. It turns out, if you go to Pebbly Beach, the kangaroos just chill at the beach with you.
  But let me rewind a bit. This chapter began when Annette, Krista, and I were on tour of the South Coast region of Australia (which is really the southern part of the West Coast...) We had planned this portion of the trip to mostly involve the beach. There is a place called Jervis Bay that allegedly has the whitest sand in the entire world - as in Guinness Book of World Records whitest sand. We were obviously excited about that, so swung through to check it out as we made our way south. This is what we saw when we got to the world's whitest beach:

Maybe it's whiter when the sun is shining on it really hard???

So that was a little bit disappointing. Our white sand wasn't actually that white. Oh well. We had an entire day of beach bumming planned for the following day. Disappointment numero Dos was that the next day was freezing cold. Not just cool for the beach. It was actually cold. We all started the morning going to a market in t-shirts and shorts, and all decided to go back to the hotel and put on jeans and jackets... so we were foiled again. I guess it just wasn't meant to be. Maybe there was a shark attack with our name on it that day, and we avoided it thanks to the frigid weather...  So plan B was to just drive somewhere until we found something to do.  On our drive, we stumbled upon this Winery:

I don't remember the name of this place.
I will admit that I was not excited about stopping at the winery, but it ended up being really fun. First we met a group of wealthy Cougars that talked our ears off for the first hour we were there. They were full of suggestions for things to do in the area, and they were pretty entertaining. One of them gave me her card, in case I ever need to publish a book. Annette got some digits to see if they could arrange a lunch date back in Sydney the next week.  
The next few hours at the winery were spent visiting with some awesome Aussies that were there just chilling. If I lived in Australia, these would be the people I'd be friends with. There were two couples with their young children, and they were just generally cool people. We talked with them for a really long time. They felt bad the weather was not cooperating with our plans, and gave use the tip of going to Pebbly Beach to see the kangaroos. After looking at some pics on one of the guys' iphone, we agreed that we had to check it out. So when we left the winery, we went straight to the beach. We got there at dusk, which was not good for taking pictures, but it was prime time for kangaroo spotting.
How many 'roos can you spot? Isn't it amazing that they just hang out at the beach?

That 5th Leg can be a little perplexing, I know, but it is the baby kangaroo's leg poking out of the pouch!

They got really close to us. I was a little worried about getting kanga-kicked in the guts, but they were nothing but welcoming.

Just hopping around, eating some grass.

Check out the baby, eating grass from the pouch! 

Look at him putting his foot down on the ground.  adorable.


Standing on the beach with kangaroos bouncing around all over the place was seriously one of the coolest experiences I've had. 

  We wanted to relive the magic the next morning, which was the day we were supposed to be scooting back to Sydney as early as possible, so we decided to get up extra early and go back to Pebbly Beach to see the kangaroos again. As luck would have it, the weather was absolutely perfect for a beach day (since we were driving all day, of course). The beach was gorgeous, but the kangaroos were sleeping in, apparently.
Pebbly Beach

Same view with pretty flowers in front.

Annette looking easy breezy beautiful at Pebbly Beach.

We went back into the woods to try and spot some kangaroos. This is the best we got. Still pretty awesome, really. 

So on to Sydney we went, and rushed around to get all our arrangements made with hotels, rental cars, markets, etc so we could have time to hit up Bondi Beach before dark:
The waves here were awesome to play in. The water was a little chilly, but I had a blast body surfing for a couple hours while the girls soaked up the sun (and got exfoliated by the sand-blasting breeze) on the beach.