Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Sydney


Ok, the reality is we've been back home longer than it is until i go off on another trip to Turkey. So this really is playing catch-up! (At this rate, expect a write up of climbing in Turkey over new year sometime late spring!)

The last 5-day leg of our trip to Australia was to the city of Sydney. Once again we were cursing our lack of research into this trip as our arrival in Sydney coincided with the last week of term and a whole host of school kiddies booking out all the cheap accommodation. After phoning around we managed to find a double bed in the city centre YHA for our first night, but there after it looked like we might have to swap dorm-room/hostels/hotels each night until flying home.

A last minute saviour was found in the form of my long lost cousin, Stacey. A Sydney resident for the last few years, but I hadn't seen face to face for many more. We were massively grateful to Stacey and fiance Dennis for offering to put us up for the remainder of our trip, but I was equally massively embarrassed to discover it had been 22 years since we'd last seen each other at Melanie's wedding!

Our time in Sydney was spent at a more relaxed pace than the previous 2.5 weeks with more museum/art gallery/stately home visits than you could shake a stick at. We walked a huge distance despite having bought 5day travel passes to the tube/train/ferry/bus network. These were a godsend and cheap way to travel, but Caroline managed to tear her ticket on the first day and for the rest of the trip had to wait in line to show her dogeared ticket to the attendant to be let through.

Our first use of the travel pass was to take a ferry under the iconic harbour bridge.

We simply got on the first ferry going that way and found ourselves at Ballast point. Here we found some bizarre art installations making use of the industrial detritus of the points previous function as a fuel storage depot. We also found numerous engraved padlocks fastened to the foreshore, perhaps celebrating a loving couple or commemorating the loss of a loved one?



Our top 5 Sydney attractions:

1) Maritime Museum: Lots of interesting exhibits including a 1960s destroyer and Submarine to go aboard and explore

2) The harbour - bridge/opera house and all that: Iconic views; need i say more?


3) Elizabeth Bay House: A 18th century folly that bankrupted the governor who built it. Needless to say it's a very fine example of Georgian architecture and the view from the lawn across the bay is almost peerless. We also enjoyed winding through the newer high-rise building to find a stoney grotto and koi pond which were part of the original house gardens.

Stoney grotto a short distance from Elizabeth Bay House, but now hidden in  away between high-rise blocks of flats


4) Fish markets: Dennis dropped us at the fish markets on his way to work one day, and we ate a massive fish supper of calamari  snapper, crab sticks and salmon all deep fried and served with chips.


We really could have done with a lie down afterwards, but carried on walking around town and found...

5) Sydney Art Museum: An unexpected bonus as we stumbled upon a late night opening to celebrate the life of Francis Bacon. I'm normally an art philistine, but really enjoyed the displays of aboriginal and modern art.


Some other photographic highlights of Sydney:

Coming second in the pub quiz; Australians seem to think that asking questions about Europe makes their  quiz difficult, when in reality it just means that ex-pat teams take the prizes... (Me and Caroline pictured with $40 certificate and Stacey in the middle)
$7 BBQ yourself steak - hmmmm....
Caroline viewing the 3 Sisters in the Blue Mountains - so named after the haze produced by Eucalyptus trees that often hangs over the valley

A spectacular waterfall seen whilst on our daytrip to the Blue Mountains - The one bit of climbing i did here on a boulder above the path quickly deposited me back on my bum with a broken hold in my hand.


Feeding the colourful parrots on Stacey's balcony on the last morning (Rainbow Glories?)

Eventually the trip had to come to an end, and much like all our previous flights, we turned up late for this one too. Checking in with 45min to spare on a 26hr flight is not to be recommended but somehow we made it through security in time and settled in for the long flight home, via a brief 1hr stop in Singapore airport.

Arriving back to a dark Heathrow morning and 2 Celsius was thoroughly demoralising, and work on Monday morning all the more so, which just leaves one question...

...When are we going back?





Thursday, 6 December 2012

Cairns

The reality is, that we're actually back home now, so in an effort to write up the whole trip, i'll try and condense the last 10days of the trip into just two final posts about Cairns and Sydney.

The main highlight of our 5night stay in Cairns was scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef (see separate post) but the remaining days also proved entertaining. We visited amongst other things:

Cairns Tropical Zoo: 


Salt water crocs are huge. Don't mess with them.


Petting Koala's and Lizards doesn't seem right - they're not fluffy lambs like at the kiddies petting zoo at Chessington world of adventures. This establishment definitely fell on the "zoo" side of the sliding scale between animal exploitation zoo & environmentally sensitive research/conservation zoo (ZSL as an example)

Cairns Museum:

This was an unexpected treat, with our own personal guided tour from one of the volunteers, Clint, who told us many anecdotes about the local history and made us pose for photos with some of the exhibits!



Koranda

Kuranda is an old gold rush town and was originally accessed via a trainline, that is now only used as a scenic route. The journey up took just over an hour and weaves its way through a multitude of tunnels, tight bends and cuttings. The train slows at each view point to maximise the photo opportunities  for the passengers with the best coming at a wide gorge crossing.


Barron Falls - as we saw it.... 

The train also stops for 10mins at the Barron Falls which claims to be the highest/biggest volume of waterfall in Australia - these claims seemed a bit far fetched for what we got to see of the falls!

...and how it looks in the rainy season
After arriving in Kuranda and having a light lunch, we split paths and Caroline went off horse riding for the afternoon.

I was then left to explore Kuranda at length;
- I went off on a long walk along the river side and through the rain forest which left me feeling very de-hydrated from the suffocating heat and humidity.
- Upon returning to the town itself, I sought out a refreshing banana smoothy in the "world famous"  hippy markets which were all CND insignia and brightly coloured tie-die fabrics - Think Camden Market with a heavy fog of blue smoke and "herbal" aroma. There was even a pipe-whistle dance troop that shuffled about with "far-out" look in their eyes... whilst occasionally tripping over their own feet
- Once I'd extracted myself from this stoner heaven I finally found some real culture (as opposed to the "alternative" culture scene that comes across as being identical in every hippy hang-out/traveler destination i've ever been too). This came in the form of a Aboriginal Arts Co-Op where i fought my natural philistine instincts and admired the canvases and sculpture available. Maybe I'd inhaled a bit too much of the herbal aroma earlier, as i even found myself buying a small canvas depicting a crocodile to bring home with me....

We descended via the Skyrail; which was a glorified ski-lift over the jungle with 2 stops/nature walks on the way down. We weren't allowed out at these stops due to a threatening electrical storm so had to ride all the way down to the road head and get the bus back to town. Both Caroline and I struggled to understand how this has been voted as Northern Australia's premier tourist attraction for the previous few years based on this experience.


A dinner of kebab/moussaka in  "Ala Turka" restaurant completed the day and Caroline claims this was our first official dinner date despite being together 8months!



Some other memories:
Caroline's favourite place - the Cairns Laguna. Here looking very disappointed on the first day not to have a bikini with her :-(

Reverting to childhood ways on the hotel water slide

Hand feeding Kangaroo's at the Cairns Zoo. The fence between the 'roo enclosure and the crocodiles looked pretty flimsy and i wondered if any of them had strayed in and been munched previously?


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

When planning this trip away, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef was one of the "must do" things both Caroline and I agreed upon. Logistically, this really shouldn't have posed any problems as there are a huge number of dive outfits operating from Cairns. However, for the following reasons we stacked the odds against ourselves:

1. The Solar Eclipse
When we booked our flights to Cairns, 6 weeks before flying we noticed a massive difference in prices between Tuesday and Wednesday, so plumped for an extra day in Melbourne before flying to Queensland. Once we'd gotten to Australia we started to hear brief radio and press mention of the upcoming Eclipse. However, it wasn't until a few days before we flew that we got online and checked when exactly it was going to occur. Yep, you've guessed it, early Wednesday morning, right when we were scheduled to be airborne. Mild panic ensued when we heard that Cairns was getting so busy with tourists/astronomers that supermarkets were running low on essential supplies. This last story was actually a bit of a media exaggeration, as it turned out that only bottled water and potato chips (crisps to the British reader) were the main items lacking stock.

We used up half a day in Melbourne arranging accommodation in Cairns, settling for the only available cheap hotel, which failed to mention it's out of town location and the fact that the airport shuttle bus didn't go there.

Overall, the Eclipse meant that Cairns and the surrounds were super busy and all the dive operators fully booked until the day before we flew. This was no good as you're supposed to leave 24hrs between diving and flying, so we were left with just one boat that had availability on the Friday. Thus, we plumped for Hobson's choice and paid our $175 each to join them for a trip to Hastings reef and Breaking Patches.

What we missed - the front cover of the local newspaper the day after we arrived

2. Proving we were capable divers
This should have been easy; I'd remembered my PADI card, but had slight concern that it'd been 3 years since i last dived. This wasn't a problem and i was allowed to dive with no issues. Caroline's qualification couldn't be located before departure and here parents were tasked with finding the documentation and emailing it to us on the road. This they did with a few hours to spare, but the dive outfit hadn't heard of BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) and hence once again Caroline's parents had to find further documentation in the form of her logbook and scan in pages of this and send to us. Phew, all sorted and Caroline was diving despite the operator over looking the fact her last dive was 9 years previously....

3. Sea-sickness
I have been known to turn a pale shade of green on-board small boats, so I made sure i had a supply of motion-sickness pills for this trip. Boy was i glad of these; paying $175 to spend the day filling up little brown paper bags as one poor chap did would not have been fun! (You're not allowed to spew in the ocean and upset the local eco-system).

The diving itself was wonderful with a massive diversity of coral and fish; so much more than my last dive trip to Cambodia were the visibility was low and seeing a dozen fish was considered a good dive.

Highlights were seeing "Frank" the resident Maori Wrasse (nearly 2m long - a whole lotta fish) and "Nemo" (clown fish) at the first dive site, and a group of a dozen Humphead Parrot fish and a white tipped shark at the 2nd site. I doubted the effectiveness of my waterproof camera for "proper" diving so don't have any photos on these dives. This doubt was proven well founded when i took said camera snorkeling and it managed just 7 photos before dying. Thankfully the baking hot sun dried out the camera on the return journey to Cairns while at the same time baking Caroline and me a brilliant shade of lobster pink!
A Maori Wrasse - Frank looked a lot like this (image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maori_wrasse )

Humphead Parrotfish - the same type as we saw on our 2nd dive at Breaking Patches (image pilfered from wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_humphead_parrotfish )

Another type of Parrotfish - the big teeth allow them to bite off chunks of Coral which is their staple diet. The last photo before my camera temporarily died.
JAWS! aka Triaenodon obesus the Whitetip Reef Shark (image from wikipedia again)
A wave before we hit the waves...
 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Melbourne

Monday 12th November 2012

Poor Karen had to get back to work, and she kindly offered us a 7 am lift into Melbourne. This, being a holiday we politely turned down and instead walked to her local train station and took a considerably later train into town instead.

The old Melbourne Gaol was our first stop. We cunningly blagging a 50% discount on entry for being National Trust members (without even being asked to provide corroborative evidence) and sallied forth into the main exhibit.

Cell after small cell, there was a unfortunate life story to embrace, that each ended on the prison gallows for their crimes. Gruesomely, each cell also had a eerie plaster cast "death mask" for each unfortunate courtesy of the then emerging science of Phrenology - the science of studying facial and skull shapes  in an effort to identify the characteristic features of the criminal mind.

The Old Melbourne Gaol is also famous/infamous for its part in the tale of Australis favourite anti-hero, Ned Kelly, who spent his final days here before being executed. We couldn't help imitating ...


his crimes...


and his punishment (on this very gallows).

A more interactive side attraction to the gaol was a recently decommissioned (1994) holding station for more weekend drunkards and other arrestees. Here we Caroline found her natural home in a padded cell, and soon after the actor playing our arresting Sargent released us, but not before having our mugshots taken.


Tuesday 13th November 2012

The next day we once again took the option of the later train in to Melbourne. Just outside the train station we discovered that a sunscreen company was offering free UV photos, just like you see on those terrible Channel4 "embarrassing bodies" type TV shows.

These allow you to determine the level of sun damage you'd done to your skin and the Aussies seemed well taken by this, which isn't surprising really, as the ozone hole means that the sun is fiercely strong "down under" and many Aussies sported leather hide like skin.

Not wanting to turn down anything that was free, we immediately got a place in the queue and starting debating which of us was more likely to have had high sun exposure in the past. Look at the photos below. Who do you think has the more damaged skin?





Slightly shocked by our results (slightly better and slightly worse than the average Aussie) we took  our free sunscreen samples and plastered our faces against the ravages of further UV exposure. This lead to all photos taken that day having an odd appearance as in my haste to protect my skin, I'd failed to realise that i was smearing my face in a not so invisible, "SPF30+ invisible foundation". Oops, not my manliest moment by a long shot!

Later that morning we visited the Immigration museum and tried to work out whether Australia would give us permanent visa's. I scored 90% on the citizenship test with no revision (75% pass threshold) and so would be allowed to enter if i had a company sponsor or desirable career profile.

We also sat through an interactive video quiz and correctly accepted the 1930s couple into Australia (a pair of teachers/aspiring farmers with growing family) and rejected another (actor and travel agent in 2012) according to policy of the day.

At the end of the day we popped into the Victorian Parliament and were enchanted by the gold plated chambers, decorated at the height of Gold Rush optimism. These were modeled on the British parliament system (green chairs for the lower chamber, red for the upper), but unlike the entertaining political barracking that occurs once a week in PMQs, here in Oz the politicians seemed strangely tongue tied for a nation not known for their quiet ways. (Think gentile village church committee AGM instead of jeering and foot stamping).



Just inside the entrance to the Parliament of Victoria - we weren't allowed to take photos in the actual chambers
We finished off the day with a trip down the Yarra, with some great bridges and view of the Rod Laver arena (of Australian Open fame).

Friday, 16 November 2012

Mt. Arapiles

After an early start to get the hirecar and get underway from Melbourne, i was finally making my way to Arapiles. The loan of Karen's satnav made the journey up to Horsham relatively easy, boosted along by a Cadbury's Dairy Milk and cola induced sugar high. From the outskirts of Natimuk, the satnav seemed to want to take in off down a side road so i reverted to my back-up plan.

The back-up plan was a fuzzy photo of the guidebook "getting there" pages I'd snapped in Outside, Hathersage whilst discreetly reading the book with zero intention of purchase (40 pounds on a guidebook for 2 days use didn't seem like good value!)

Arriving at the pines campsite i was hopeful of getting some tips of where was the best bit of the crag to find a partner. Precisely the first group i walk up to pick the brain of and i find not only the desired info, but a partner who's keen to get going there and then. Awesome! Julian was on "domestic leave" between jobs and had a whole month to climb in Oz. Unfortunately he'd not gotten to climb outside for a while, but gave the impression he'd be a capable partner.

First off we hit the Organ pipes and climbed a classic 2pitch grade 16 (VS?) before then walking over to Fang buttress to tackle what was previous Arapiles test piece. Julian took over the lead and battled valiantly with the roof crack. A quick slump on the rope was taken, but the impression given was of a tradesman at work; up and over with the minimum fuss - no need to get too pumped on your first day trad climbing in months.

After seconding this roof crack (soft E1 5c?) I took a shine to a line of bolts to the right. Now, this didn't turn out to be sports climbing by any definition; 1st bolt at 25ft and only 2 more in the remaining 45ft of the route. I racked up with a light rack of nuts and a couple of cams. The 1st bolt was a sod to clip up right of a sloping hold, so i was glad of the cam I'd slipped in below. I then engaged sport mode and cranked through a steep boulder problem before stopping again to place more gear. Another bolt and another boulder problem followed above before the route traversed out right. Here i was faced with a dilemma: Go high and clip the next bolt from slopey holds, or stay low and hope i could stretch back and clip it from the better holds a good distance out right? I took the pansies option and stood up, only to realise i couldn't get a hand off to clip. Faff ensued trying to reverse the tenuous, slopey moves I'd made before eventually pumping out and taking the ride. 25ft later (a good 12ft farther then i expected) my stretchy new skinny sngle rope came tight and i swung gently in the air.

Ergonomic (Grade 26, 7b+, E6 6b?) turned out to be a simple redpoint with the gear in place and after finding a hidden foothold on the low traverse option, but it taught me a good lesson about what Arapiles was all about - slopey holds that respond more to technique than thuggery, and bolts only where you need them. Elsewhere it was obvious where trad gear went with the placements frequently being bomber nuts or cams.

The next day we indulged in ticking as many 3* classics as we could:
Kaiser/Resignation
Scorpion Direct
Quo Vadis (best route of the trip, E2 5c ish and absolute class)
Missing link
Eurydice
Dramp (not 3*, but convenient to the campsite)

Bizarrely, as i returned to the campsite, i bumped into a friend I'd not seen since uni. At this point i twigged that the suspiciously familiar faces in of the Brits next door were exactly that; familiar because they'd all lived in Bristol at the same time as me (1999 - 2005) and shared many mutual friends without knowing each other directly. Blimey, it's a small world sometime!


The Organ Pipes - home of my first route at Arapiles
Morning view of Mt. Arapiles from the Pines campsite
 
 
Bluff buttress - home to the classic Quo Vadis (in the sun on the left) & Missing Link (hidden around to the right in the shade) 
Summit of the Bluff with new found friend - Julian
 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Guest blog - Caroline's girlie adventure

Girlie adventure consisted of:

Fri 9th November
Healesville Animal Sanctary with Karen's lovely family: Mum, Dad, sister Linda and star of attractions 2 year old Hudson and taking second fiddle for the moment (asleep) very sweet new born Reegan. Saw no end of Ozzie animals including: kangaroos, wombats, snakes, goannas, echidnas, emus, lizards, platapi, dingoes etc. Back to Karen's family house to feed her horse, visit her active Granma (feeding the 5 thousand) and be cooked yummy roast by her Dad, with sister's family.

Cute Wombat and Terrapin at Healesville
Sat 10th November
Late start (Caroline unusually read too late the night before) and off on bike ride on old railway line (apparently Beeching wasn't the only one at it). Then to Karen's sister's ranch to check up on Hudson and eat some delicious home grown cow cooked on all Ozzie BBQ and looking at outstanding view. Then to visit Karen's mum and walk to historic village and Karen's Gran in a home and back to see Ally home safely at midnight having met up with half his uni entourage.

Shorts on display in the 1908 vintage shop - who said fashions didn't come around again!
Sun 11th November
Leisurely start, what with Ally's midnight arrival and previous night in car and off to Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins via Inverloch to swim in blue, but chilly water, closed maze (moo) and amazing interactive chocolate factory.

Hmmm - chocolate...
Honey we shrunk the kids...
Waiting for the penguins on the beach. Shortly afterwards we were reminded that no photography was allowed...


Great Ocean Road - Road trip Aussie style

Bit of a quicker post to try and get content uploaded before loosing access to Karen's laptop when we fly up to Cairns tomorrowe morning:

Wed 7th November
Early start to miss the traffic at start of road trip down to Great Ocean Road.
At 8am we stopped Pancake breakfast – the first time Caroline had been awake on the drive – not missed much scenery up to this point.
We drove on down the very scenic highway which alternates between cliff-top and beach front driving. We stopped to dip our toes and write our names in the beach just short of Apollo Bay.


Skipping lunch we drove on to the highly photographic Twelve Apostles. Here, below one of the 12 sea stacks I scattered the ashes of Emily Goodman, my late partner who i was with for 9 years at and after we met whilst studying at Bristol Uni.

Fiddling with my camera whilst taking a photo of where i scattered Emily's ashes

Next we drove to a treetop walk, where we hoped to finally get some lunch. However, it now being 4pm this plan was scuppered and we completed the walk (along with kiddies dinosaur trail) with grumbling bellies. Caroline had warned me that she gets a bit snappy without food, but none of this character trait was present, and neither was the shades of green that had been displayed in Hong Kong.

Me verses T. Rex - No Match!
Karen high up amongst the trees whilst on our tree-top walk on the Otway Peninsula
After this, we finally found food in the form of delicious fish and chips and settled into an adorable little maisonette facing the sea in Apollo Bay for the night.
Thu 8th November

Drunk/stoned koala - they get high on Ecalyptus leaves!

The Otway Lighthouse
The next day we visited the Otway Lighthouse and enjoyed tales of drunken lighthouse keepers and their huge families (nothing much else to do in the wilderness apart from having "indoor adventures" as Karen put it!). We also found wild koala bears at the road side, who looked almost as drunk as the fabled lighthouse keepers... 
We then walked to Triplet Falls, which was impressive once found the right spot.
Then we drove back to Melbourne, arriving late and formulating our plans for the next few days.

Fri 9th November
Caroline and I went our separate ways. I sorted a hire car to drive up to Mt Arapiles for a couple of days climbing, and Caroline went off on a girlie adventure with Karen.