The Final Countdown

After leaving the Blue Mountains we arrived in Sydney, where we were met by our friend Karin, who we travelled with in Mongolia at the very start of our trip nearly 10 months ago. It was great to catch up, and also really nice to be out of hostels for a few nights!

 

  The sights of Sydney

 

  City skyline

 

Sydney is one of the worlds major international cities and needs no introduction, though it is worth mentioning the bitter rivalry with Melbourne. Following Australian Federation in 1901, the two cities each argued that they should be the new capital, and with neither willing to budge they eventually built an entirely new capital city, Canberra, halfway between them. The enmity continues to this day, with Melburnians considering themselves the home of Australian art, fashion, sport and culture, whilst Sydney “has a nice bridge”.

 

We spent a couple of days exploring the city and seeing the sights, in particular the aforementioned Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Conveniently for the lazy tourist, these are located right next to each other. We caught up with a friend over lunch in Chinatown, and also spent a couple of hours on a guided city walking tour, where we learnt about the history of the city.

 

  The iconic sails of the Opera House

 

  A stroll through Hyde Park

 

  ‘Il Porcellino’ – guess which part you rub for good luck?

 

  In the Guylian chocolate cafe with Amy (we didn’t make it to the end of the city walking tour…)

 

Just beyond the city borders there are a number of beautiful natural areas. We spent a day in the Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney, which covers a large area of coastline and rugged moorland. The track we followed was stunning, over sandy beaches and along cliff tops, with a waterfall falling straight from the cliff into the sea at one point.

 

  Garie Beach, in the idyllic Royal National Park

 

  Cliff cascade

 

Our stay in Sydney coincided with the two week Vivid festival, an annual light show which takes place near the harbour. From 6pm, a number of buildings are lit up with video projections, including the white sails of the Opera House. There are plenty of arty light sculptures and loads of interactive displays, even one where you can take turns to control the light projections across the city skyline. It was a fantastic event and we had a great evening exploring the various installations.

 

  Vivid Festival 2015

 

  Animations on the Customs House

 

  Bright lights in the city

 

  Controlling the skyline lights

 

  Charlottes green and purple colour scheme

 

  Luminous trees framing the Harbour Bridge

 

  David Attenborough documentary under the bridge

 

After one last night bus, for old times sake, we made it back to Melbourne where we spent our final night of the trip. We are now in Melbourne airport waiting for our flight back to London in just a couple of hours.

 

  Last night drinks in Melbourne

  

L

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Climbing in the Blueys

The Blue Mountains, or “Blueys” as it is affectionately known to climbers, is a vast sandstone plateau with eucalyptus filled valleys and towering red cliffs, a 2 hour drive west of Sydney and our final climbing destination. The name comes from the blue haze which blankets the mountains, supposedly due to the mix of eucalyptus oil droplets in the atmosphere mixed with water droplets and dust particles. With all the eucalyptus forests we had assumed that we would see wild koalas – unfortunately it turns out that koalas are fussy eaters, and the trees here are the wrong kind of eucalyptus.

 

  Skyway

 

  Katoomba Falls

 

  Eucalyptus forests in the valley

 

  Luke and The Three Sisters

 

  Cliff top lookout

 

Climbing isn’t the only sport which draws an international crowd, and for the past two years the Blueys has hosted one of the North Face ultra marathon events. Participants come to challenge themselves by running 50km or 100km, and that evening our hostel was full of athletic folk strutting around in running gear. Being mistaken a couple of times for runners made us feel flattered but lazy; instead of running we put all our efforts that day into cheering the real competitors over the finish line!

 

  A sight for sore legs

 

Unlike the Grampians, which boasts Australia’s finest trad routes, the Blueys is primarily known for its sport climbing. The access is easy, with no dirt roads and short walks to reach the cliffs. Each crag has hundreds of consistently high quality routes, however they don’t quite reach the standard of the very best Grampians routes. The Blueys does go some way to making up for this with spectacular scenery.

 

  Throwing shapes on ‘Radioactive Man’ (20 / 6b)

 

  Luke grappling with ‘Dragon’s Egg’ (23 / 6c+) at Porters Pass

 

  Knees up, hands down!

 

  Looking across the Megalong Valley (its real name) to Shipley

 

  ‘Loop the Loop’ (26 / 7b+), a Shipley Upper classic

 

  One of many log starts

 

  Charlotte projecting ‘Lardy Lady’s Lats’ (22 / 6c)

 

  Chalking up on ‘Dance Like a Mother’ (25 / 7b)

 

During our time here Luke tried as many of the harder classics as possible, and I tried to push my leading grade. We have had a great week in the Blueys, and it is with mixed feelings that we look ahead to our next climbing destination, Cheddar Gorge!

 

  Dorm life – we won’t miss sharing rooms with strangers!

 

With sore muscles and finger tips in tatters we move on to Sydney, and the final week of our trip.

 

C

Blissful Brisbane

As we boarded a train from Melbourne to Brisbane, a journey of over 1000 miles, we wondered what on earth had possessed us to do such a thing. Perhaps, when we booked the tickets back in the UK, we hadn’t grasped quite how big Australia is. Perhaps we harboured romantic notions of travelling overland and watching the scenery roll by. Perhaps we didn’t realise that you can fly from Melbourne to Brisbane in just 2 hours, for less than the cost of a train ticket.
 

And so it was that we arrived in Brisbane at 5am on a Sunday morning, 2 days after leaving Melbourne, and after 2 nights of trying (and failing) to find an adequate sleeping position in a train seat. Luckily my friend Ben was kind enough to offer us his spare room, and so we spent the remainder of the morning revelling in the luxury of horizontal slumber.

 

We had several days to explore the city, and we decided that the best way to do this was on two wheels. On the first day we headed out on a tandem which Ben had borrowed for us, and travelled along the excellent riverside cycle tracks and boardwalks. Although novel, the tandem weighed a tonne, making it impossible to ascend anything more than a slight incline, and so the next day we switched to two regular bikes. This made life a lot easier, though it was still a hard grind up to the city viewpoint of Mt Coot-tha, particularly with one of us on a fixie! Our efforts were rewarded with a superb view (and ice cream).

 

  The obligatory tandem selfie

 

  Our hot ride

 

  City panorama from Mt Coot-tha

 

Overall we had a really pleasant, relaxed time in Brisbane, after a fairly frantic couple of weeks. It was brilliant catching up with Ben, staying in a house rather than a hostel for once, and getting to know his lovely housemates. There are several good museums and art venues which we had the chance to visit, and we soaked in the city’s laid back atmosphere and plentiful sunshine. We also managed to catch up with some other old friends during our stay, which was really nice.

 

  Ok, so we don’t know what this is either…

 

  The Powerhouse – Brisbane’s Tate Modern

 

  New Zealander Michael Parekowhai’s exhibition at the Queensland GOMA

 

  Leafy South Bank

 

  A quaint church in the heart of the city

 

From Brisbane we are moving south to the Blue Mountains, a world famous climbing area near to Sydney. Unfortunately we won’t be travelling by train this time, so will have to make do with just one hour of passing scenery, 30,000ft below us.

 

L

Tasmania

Tasmania, an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, is known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas, largely protected within parks and reserves. Tasmania is slightly larger than Ireland, and with almost half of the population residing in Hobart, large regions of the island are virtually uninhabited.

 

  Wineglass Bay

 

With just 6 days in Tasmania, we designed a circuit which took us through the two largest towns, the famed Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair National Park and also the Freycinet and Tasman national parks. The easiest way to see Tasmania’s stunning scenery is on foot, and with so many national parks there is a plethora of walks to choose from. Our favourite was a tricky scramble up beautiful pink granite slabs to the top of Mt Amos. From the summit you are rewarded with stunning views over Wineglass Bay, generally assumed to have been named due to its shape. We later discovered that the name actually derives from the time when this was a whaling station, and the blood stained sands made the bay look like a glass filling up with red wine. We were really lucky to manage any walks at all in the Freycinet National Park, as on arrival the area was experiencing high winds, torrential rain and power cuts; I felt like I had been transported back to my homeland of North Yorkshire!

 

  Rocky coastline in the Tasman National Park

 

  Meandering boardwalk near Lake St Clair

 

  Pademelon

 

 Wineglass Bay, regularly hailed as one of the world’s top ten beaches
 

  Driftwood on Hazard’s Beach

 

  Streaked pink granite on Mt Amos

 

  Definitely a scramble!

 

Hobart and Launceston are the main settlements on Tasmania, and were the two urban stops on our loop. Launceston reminded us of Bristol with a gorge running through it, however with kangaroos and pademelons on the path that is where the similarity ended. The water was also a beautiful blue, in stark contrast to the sluggish brown of the Avon. In Hobart our time was spent visiting the museums and galleries, and exploring the pristine botanic gardens.

 

  Hobart Bridge

 

  Botanic gardens

 

  A dose of culture in Launceston

 

  Cataract Gorge – much prettier than its Bristolian cousin

 

  Harbourside

 

Tasmania is bursting with the usual strange Australian wildlife, including some animals not found even on the mainland. The most famous is the Tasmanian devil, which until recently was a common sight in the wild. However a facial tumour disease, first identified in the 1990’s, has since wiped out 85% of the population. The best way to see a Tassie devil is by making a visit to one of the wildlife reserves which play a vital role in protecting native species.

 

Not so long ago Tasmania lost one of its iconic native species – the thylacine, more commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger. These resemble large dogs with distinctive tiger stripes above their tails, but have strange marsupial features such as a backward facing pouch to carry their young. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, and the last thylacine died in captivity at Hobart Zoo in 1933.

 

On our final day we paid a visit to Bonorong wildlife reserve on the outskirts of Hobart, where we saw Tassie devils, wombats, koalas, a 100 year old sulphur-crested cockatoo, and hand fed some of the kangaroos roaming the park! It was markedly different from a zoo, and we felt like our entry fee was going towards an important cause.

 

  Tasmanian devil!

 

  Feeding the roos

 

  Joey on board

 

  Making friends with ‘the least intelligent member of the marsupial family’

 

After a whirlwind tour around the island we are now back for an overnight stop in Melbourne, before heading up to sunny Brisbane.

 

C