Under the open sky
One of the first things you notice about Australia, anywhere you land, is the sheer vastness of it, especially the sky. Whether you arrive at night and see the inky stretch dotted with clusters of stars or the broad blue openness of the morning sky, you get the feeling right away that it’s a wide and open country. Well, to be fair, you work that out just by watching the Kris Flyer screen on Singapore Airlines and realise just how long it takes you to fly across. And because the land down under is a lengthy flight from almost anywhere, most people arrive a little bleary eyed. But not me, not us! Though of course I was already in Sydney, awaiting the arrival of the other gal from “two gals, one world, a million adventures” and was not only thrilled to have her in Sydney but pleasantly surprised that even with the late night arrival, her eyes were as sparkling and awake as a cute little furry nocturnal ring-tail possum. Most of Australia’s native animals come to life at night, unlike the city which seems to still be hanging on to its English heritage and closing up shop so early that after about 8.00pm, it’s hard to get a bite to eat. But hey, when you come to Australia you probably don’t come for the nightlife and it was the million and one outdoorsy, adventurous, sight-seeing wonders that I couldn’t wait to share.
Being one of three sisters, this just had to be the first stop to take her in the Blue Mountains about an hours drive west of Sydney. The Three Sisters are three upright jagged rock formations representing three sisters who according to Aboriginal legend, were turned to stone. Why this happened is part of an unrequited love story between the sisters of one tribe and three brothers of another who were forbidden to marry and so for their own protection, the local Witchdoctor cast them into beautiful eternity where they now attract significantly more attention that even the most doting of husbands could have given. Their basalt and sandstone edges stand flooded in fluid golden sunlight against the escarpment of the Jamieson Valley and they’re a picturesque start to a day’s drive around the mountains. On their lower side are the majestic Wentworth Falls and if you don’t think about the climb back up, the descent into the lower pools of the Waterfalls are a serene and peaceful way to drink in the bushland. We soon discovered it’s also an ideal location to leave your backpack and take photo’s of it; we were a little perplexed though amusingly reduced to fits of laughter watching a mum and her teenage daughters strategically move a bright purple backpack around the rocks surfacing from the water. After watching this for about 10 minutes we finally concluded it was for a school assignment and by then even the mum had to concede it must have looked comical.
With the Aussie bush behind us, and no sight of a brown snake or fat blue tongue lizard creeping up on us (oh wait, that happened in the garden at home), we dusted off our walking shoes and headed for the refined ambiance of the dazzling harbour at the Opera House Foreshore. It’s 5.00pm on a sparkling Sunday evening, the sun with full warmth in its summer glow presses into our backs as we sip bubbly and people-watch the parade of friends, lovers and tourists soaking up the ambling spirit of the city at its best. For the next couple of days we zig-zagged across the city by car and seaplane, enjoying the postcard landmarks of the sheer cliff-faces plunging into the ocean, the historic Rocks Village, the tall glass facades of the CBD and the chance to fight off flocks of seagulls all vying for our lunch while sitting on the grassy slopes of Bondi Beach. And then I got to see first hand just how much birds may, or may not, feature in our adventures. I knew that some past karma’s with greedy eagles stealing school lunches had meant that birds are absolutely no friend, but all of a sudden Sydney seemed to be full of them. Not only the seagulls pecking away at empty food boxes, but those ugly grey-white Ibis with their long bent beaks circling the edge of trash cans, pigeons scampering everywhere on the footpaths and squawking cockatoos screeching as they flew inches above our heads making her duck for cover. I shouldn’t laugh…but we did. One afternoon, still with an itch to discover Sydney by more than land, sea and air we looked up towards the Harbour Bridge with her silver arc beaming in the sun and said,“let’s do it!”. Having climbed the bridge before I knew what I was in for but that never detracts from that pinnacle moment when you stand victorious after combatting the 1,332 steps (some-how it’s just the last 2 that bring on a sweat and heavy breathing) and take in the crisp fresh air and the panoramic view of a vibrant city carved into a beautiful web of waterways, leading all the way out to the Sydney Headlands facing the Tasman Sea. It’s the first few days of autumn, midday on a clear sunny day and the view is simply sparkling. As it turns out, the most daunting thing about the whole climb is the pale grey onesie equipped with straps,hoists, chains, clips and a radio, not our best look but well worth the laughs and the experience.
As a Sydney must-see, Bondi Beach is iconic, with the Icebergs Pavilion at one end and the cliff-top coastal walk serenading you along the coast, its sea-water pool carved into the rock platform and sun-kissed bathers and joggers filling up the 1 km stretch of city beach. But it was the beaches up and down the coast that I wanted to show most of all; sprawling, wild, open and endless blue, so big that you hardly even notice the few tourists taking it in. So up to Port Stephens and down to the seaside village of Hyams Beach boasting the whitest sand in the world, both just 3 hours drive either side of Sydney. They’re a magnificent mix of national parks, bush walks, emerald tropical palms and mile after mile of sandy beaches and the open oceans, with waves and rips and sandbars so exposed you wouldn’t swim beyond the frothy crash of playful waves. The sand is so bright and the water so blue, illuminated and intensified by the clear lambent light, lustrous and radiant it makes you feel like a kid again, burying your feet, making sandcastles with water channels and moats and at night sitting beneath the star filled charcoal sky. I’m sure from Corlette Beach one night we even saw the Milky Way.
And really, this is the beauty of travel. Having lived here and overseas, I feel connected to more than one place and seeing them through new eyes, there’s clarity and beauty to the uniqueness that each place brings. This trip was just two weeks, but what with snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, whale watching as the Humpbacks chart their northern migration along the coast, the barren outback of ochre coloured dust and mountains and the sprawling wetlands of Kakadu added to the list of adventures, we’re going to need more time…