Our first activity of the day was a climb to the summit of the Sydney harbour bridge through a company called BridgeClimb. It’s not a very long walk from Pitt Street to the harbour bridge and surprisingly it wasn’t that hard to find the entrance.
As we arrived early we were able to go on a slightly earlier climb at 8:45. The first thing you do is to fill in a form that declares yourself fit, and then you are breathalysed to make sure you’re not a danger to yourself or others. After this you are issued with a one-size-fits-all overall and told to remove everything from your pockets and that watches are also removed. If you want to wear sunglasses or prescription glasses then a strap for them is attached to the overalls before you go into the next room. In this next room you are issued with a belt with attachments for clipping onto the safety line and for stowing a radio. There is the a quick practice ascending and descending ladders similar to what can be found on the bridge.
Once everyone has been geared up you then walk into a room where you attach your belt to the safety line and begin your walk out onto the bridge. The first stretch runs underneath the bridge to the south pylon and at the time had a small diversion onto a temporary walkway due to work being done to remove the lead based paint that was corroding and to replace it with a fresh coating of paint.
After going through an area known as “the squeeze”, a narrow passage way you have to duck and climb over you finally get through the pylon and take a walk across “see-through” walkways to the ladders which lead up through the road surface and onto the outer shell of the bridge. Once there it is a steady walk over the arch to the summit. Along this trip there are various points where your photograph is taken and you are told about the history of the bridge.
Once we’d done the bridge climb we headed back to the Circular Quay station to get some food. One of the places there sold filled cobs at a decent price so got one with a chicken and cheese filling. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best of sandwiches as it contained bits of tomato, carrot and even a bit of bone.
We then double backed to the bridge to find the pylon lookout. Sadly the road signs aren’t the best in Sydney as even outside BridgeClimb there was a sign for the place sending pedestrians in the opposite direction, just as there was for the Opera house. Eventually we found the pylon lookout and climbed the stairs to the top. We may not have been able to take our cameras on the bridge climb but here it was no problem. On the way up there ate exhibitions telling the story of the bridge’s construction and on the top floor there is a great view of the city.
Following the Quayside around the edge we made our way to the Opera house. By this time the temperature had risen to the mid thirties (Celsius). The tour of the Opera house felt a little overpriced at AU$35 as you’re limited with what you can photograph due to the copyright of stages in the rooms, there only being 3 rooms on the tour, and it consisting mostly of video. The entire tour lasted for around an hour and has the option of including a badly photoshopped photo of your tour for an extra AU$10. The quality of the photo is bad enough to make me wonder how they ever manage to sell them.
At the side of the world famous opera house are the Royal Botanical gardens. What is strange about these is it’s a public park on the waterfront which actually closes at 18:30. If it had been a place with an admission fee, or closer to sunset then it would have been understandable. It would have been nice to get a sunset shot of the opera house and bridge from there though.
For an evening meal we went to the Ice House, which is a worldwide franchise though in Sydney it does have seating which is not frozen. Nevertheless the service was a little shocking.
After 15 minutes of waiting our order was finally taken even though the restaurant was practically empty. Five minutes later the waitress came back to take my order again as she had forgotten what I wanted. Again I thought I’d go for a well done steak, and just over 45 minutes later we started to wonder where it was. Asking the waitress for an estimate of how long we’d need to wait she then returned with our meals as if they’d magically been finished that moment. My steak however was not cooked well done, and was not cooked as well as my friend’s medium steak. Their inability to cook steak properly and to keep it warm is pretty shocking.
Another early start for our first day in Sydney, though the 07:15 pickup turned up 10 minutes late. The meeting point at the corner of Angel Place and Pitt Street was actually a very short walk from the Medina. As we headed over the harbour bridge and out of the city some sights were pointed out such as a pub with a notorious past due it having an underground tunnel to the harbour. It was said that some unlucky people used to be knocked unconscious and carried down that tunnel and cast aboard boats which set sail before they awoke so they’d have to work on them to get passage back to Sydney.
The first stop on our Sydney Wilderness Tour of the Blue Mountains was the Featherdale Wildlife Park. If you’ve already seen other parts of Australia then chances are you won’t think of it as anything special as most of the animals in captivity there aren’t too hard to find in the wild. About the only animal there I hadn’t seen in the wild were kangaroos.
Wentworth Falls was the next stop but we only had 15 minutes here, not nearly enough time considering the available walks there. Some of the available walks could have lasted up to an hour.
The next stop seemed pretty pointless and no one on the trip knew why the tour operator chose to go there. Leura is a small town started by British settlers wanting to escape the heat of Sydney and is known as the “Garden Village”. When the settlers arrived they also brought with them a lot of English vegetation which is evident as you look around. They made a specific point of taking us to the candy store and to a really small Christmas shop – both of which we looked round swiftly. I did however take advantage of this stop to get some band aids due to a blister from walking around Cairns after some soreness from wearing fins on the boat. This seemed like a stop just to delay our arrival at “Scenic World” due to it being a busy place.
At Scenic World we started off with an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch with a nice choice of desserts such as Black Forest gateau. All the restaurant tables were on a revolving platform which made it a bit disorientating when going to and from the buffet.
From the restaurant you could see the “Three Sisters” rock formation, a better view of them than from the viewing platform. To get to the viewing platform we took the train down which is basically like a steep rollercoaster ride with the Raiders of the Lost Ark overture in the background. On the way down you don’t get to see much until you reach the viewing platform. Around this area you could easily spend an afternoon, but we had 45 minutes to get back using the cable car. The story we were told of these rock formations on the way back up was that an Aboriginal shaman had 3 daughters and that whilst out hunting they were attacked by a bunyip and to save them the shaman turned them into stone. Having realised what the shaman had done the bunyip turned on the shaman so he turned himself into a lyre bird.
Our next stop was at the Eagle Hawk lookout where we got another look at the 3 sisters. From there we went to Narrow Neck lookout but didn’t stop – we just paused for a moment then carried on to a place called Govetts Leap. Apparently it is named such due to a highwayman who committed suicide there. From this lookout you can see a very weak waterfall called Bridal Veil falls. Unfortunately whilst here I managed to lose the eye piece off my camera.
After a few hours later we arrived back in Sydney and at the Olympic Park. This was another stop I don’t feel was entirely necessary and could have just been pointed out on passing. Everything in this area was built for the Sydney Olympics back in 2000.
It was then a short drive to the ferry crossing where we caught a catamaran called the Rivercat – this took us through the harbour, under the harbour bridge and past the opera house. As it turned out it was then a reasonably short walk to the hotel.
After dropping off our heavy backpacks we didn’t give our weary feet a rest but went out into the city to look for somewhere to eat. After going round the night market at The Rocks twice we eventually decided to go to an Italian place that sold steak. A 250g Scotch steak there cost AU$34 and if you want it well done it’s a 25 minute wait due to the thickness of the meat. It was a good meal but sadly after the 25 minute wait it was only cooked medium.
After a night on dry land it felt good to be back on terra firma – no more constant rocking or sudden jolts whilst you’re trying to sleep. For the first couple of hours we repacked our bags and made sure they were in a condition for flying. Once we were checked out out of our accommodation we stored our luggage there and headed out onto the city.
Our first planned stop of the day was at the Casino as they have a wildlife dome above it which we thought might be worth a visit. On the way there we took a walk down the Esplanade – another place infested with green ants. Along this waterfront there is also a lagoon – a public swimming pool which is free to use. The beach and decking around this area is littered with warnings that the sea there contains stingers (jellyfish) and crocodiles. It being salt water would mean any crocs in there would potentially be quite big.
Just across from the lagoon is the Cairns Casino. As you enter the building the lifts in the lobby take you up to the wildlife dome. Entry is AU$22 and the ticket implies you get to have your photo taken with a Koala and a python – you don’t though, those stubs aren’t for anything and the photos actually cost between AU$15 and AU$30 a time. Throughout the course of the day the dome has various “shows” in the middle of the dome but they’re not really anything special.
We watched there 11:30 reptile showing but found it to be quite pointless. The number of animals in the dome are quite limited due to the confined space. There are about 5 species of bird including the Kookaburra, and other animals such as freshwater crocodiles, one salt water crocodile called Goliath, and iguanas. The gift shop there is pretty much a waste of time as most of the items look quite tacky despite some if them having high prices.
For lunch our aim was to find Subway as it meant we could get a sandwich to take away and eat at the airport. It turned out to be trickier to find than expected – we had to resort to asking at a tourist information place. Once we’d bought our food we didn’t pause to eat it, we made our way back to Grosvenor and got a taxi to the airport. Before checking in we quickly ate our lunch and reorganised our bags a little better.
Amazingly the domestic flight was considered a domestic flight and allowed us to take food and drink through the airport security – something we hadn’t experienced up until then. The flight left on time and actually arrived on time 3 hours later in Sydney Airport. It being a domestic flight meant it was straight into baggage claims and a 15 minute wait for the luggage to start coming through.
The taxi seemed rather useless again – the driver didn’t recognise the name of the road so asked us if we were sure that was the right name before checking his satnav. Once we got dropped off he then charged AU$12.50 extra for a toll road which cost him less than AU$5.
The Medina Classic apartments looked nice on the inside, but awful on the outside. Our balcony overlooked a narrow alley with a car park. The apartment itself wasn’t as nice as the one in Darwin, but nicer than the one in Cairns.
This was our last day onboard the boat. It was a very early start for the first dive, this time my friend went out diving but decided he wouldn’t try it again. I didn’t bother going out snorkelling this day due to the incredibly big waves that were crashing around the boat. Apparently they were nothing to do with the inbound cyclone being reported on the news. After the second dive of the day the boat began it’s 3 hour journey back to land. Once again the waves were a menace and caused havoc with anything not tied down in the boat – even some things which were ended up moving with the crashing of the waves.
Those 3 hours passed quite quickly and before we knew it Cairns was in sight. Our backpacks had to be loaded into the main decks diving area ready for them to be unloaded and all passengers were to remain in the saloon or on the top deck. We were then driven in bus loads back to the Pro Dive shop to pay the AU$15 a day reef tax and to get the refund on the mask deposits. The strange thing about the reef tax is that it also includes GST tax.
Whilst we were in the Pro Dive shop we collected emails and found there was an email from British Airways warning us that some flights between 27th – 30th March would be affected by the industrial action. Fortunately after an email back to England we found that our flight on the 27th would not be affected.
We were in Scuba Steve’s second bus load and hot dropped back at the Grosvenor. Amazingly not only did we get the same apartment as before, but the food we left behind was still there! It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the first thing upon arriving back was to get a shower to wash all the salt out. It was so good to not be limited to a 3 minute shower any more.
It is customary for Pro Dive customers to meet up at the Rattle & Hum for a last meal and drinks. It being Saint Patricks day meant there were a lot of people pretending to be Irish by the time we got there, but a long table was already reserved for us.
It wasn’t a bad evening and one of the options on their special “Irish” menu was a steak pie – not bad, but I’ve had better. After a short evening we eventually found our way back to the apartment.
For the second day I went snorkelling again before breakfast but didn’t see a great deal – mostly the usual jellyfish. After the dive however I threw up over the side of the boat but still managed to eat breakfast. For the rest of the morning I relaxed and after the midday meal I went for another snorkel – this time seeing a massive shark and a stingray. I even had a fish swimming round my head whilst I was down there. The rest of the day went fairly easily onboard the boat with a nice lasagna and seeing a shark stalk some large fish.
This was a really early start so we could be picked up at 06:05 to be taken to the ProDive boat. Once aboard the boat we were assigned safety numbers and quarters. It was then a really rough 3 hour journey out to the Great Barrier Reef. Even with seasickness tablets my friend didn’t take the trip too well and spent most the day hung over the railings.
Eventually I got to suit up and get took a giant stride into the water. Unfortunately I just couldn’t equalise the pressure in my ears so decided not to proceed any further. I returned to the boat having lost my chance to get a PADI certification. Later in the afternoon I did get to go for a snorkel and swam with jellyfish, a school of fish and a shark. It was pretty disappointing knowing I wouldn’t be able to get certified.
Whilst on the boat there is always something to eat after every dive so that those who have been diving can get some energy back.
Our second day of training in the classroom and the pool started with us preparing our equipment and then getting a talk about the different masks, snorkels, and fins available. After this we then tried the other basic skills which are required such as the CESAR – a last resort ascent to the surface when you’re out of air. This technique took me four attempts to get right which was a pain as until then everything had gone quite smoothly (other than the pressure problems with my ears). That afternoon we took another quiz and the final exam both of which I got all the correct answers for – a very pleasing outcome.
That evening we attempted to cook some kievs and roast veg but found our apartment didn’t actually have an oven. We attempted to boil the vegetables and microwave the chicken kievs but it was a disaster and meant we had to resort to another meal at Wildfire. Their Ravioli Wildfire was a very tasty dish and didn’t even cost that much. That evening we had to pack our suitcases once more so we only had the bare essentials in our backpacks.
For our first day of diving the morning was spent watching DVDs and being told about Scuba diving along with 3 quizzes. It looked pretty fun, but also quite serious at the same time as we had to learn about things that can go wrong such as decompression sickness (DCS) and other serious injuries from exceeding safety levels. After a good sandwich which was delivered we learnt how to setup our equipment and proved we could swim 12 lengths and tread water for 10 minutes. This was then followed by some basic skills such as clearing your mask underwater, recovering your respirator, using a buddy’s emergency respirator and what it’s like to be out of oxygen. By the end of this I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be able to apply these skills in the open water as I had problems equalising pressure on the descent.
After we’d done learning these skills we went to Reef Teach which is a AU$15 talk on what to expect on the reef. The talk covered things like how the different animals behave and which ones are venomous. At the talk we were told there was about a 10% chance we would be going out on the boat due to an inbound cyclone. As we were pretty pushed for time we decided the best option for dinner was the nearby Subway. That was the first time I’d ever eaten at one so I went for a footlong steak sandwich.
As the night drew to an end our flight to Cairns was finally upon us. We had taken two hour “shifts” at sleeping so there was always one of us awake to keep an eye on luggage. It was a bit of an oddball flight, you go through security with the X-ray machine and metal detector as normal and then go through another X-ray machine with a frisk down you have to agree to if you want to go on the flight. After this there is then a passport check for leaving the territory! For some peculiar reason a flight to Cairns is considered an international flight as it’s an international airport, yet a flight to Melbourne international airport is not. I think the only good thing about this airport is that the departures lounge had free Wi-Fi access.
We got in to Cairns at 07:15, 15 minutes earlier than scheduled and got through the airport into a taxi very quickly. The Grosvenor didn’t seem as well maintained as the previous rooms, but at least it was all ready for us when we got there.
Not long after arriving we found a nearby restaurant that is popular with the locals and served a good breakfast with friendly, helpful advice for going around the city. Refreshed but not rested, the Skyrail bus then took us to the start of our next tour – through the rainforest to Kuranda on cable cars.
The journey to Kuranda was like being in “April showers” back home – moments of sunshine punctuated by either spots of rain or torrential downpours. I guess seeing rain in a rain forest shouldn’t be too surprising really, but it was actually nice to have rain as it made Barron Falls quite impressive.
At the two stations with boardwalks you do get umbrellas to use while you’re unsheltered so that you can remain dry. There is a lot of wildlife to on this protected forest, and one particularly pleasing sighting was the Buff-breasted Kingfisher which I saw at the Barron Falls stop. The stops along the Skyrail are Caravonica at the bottom, then Red Peak, Barron Falls and Kuranda. At Barron Falls almost every support pole had orb weaver spiders on it, or some other massive spider.
At the Kuranda stop your photo is taken which is their chance to make another AU$20 out of you should you wish to have a poorly photoshopped image of you being in the middle of the Skyrail rather than where it’s taken. Unsure of how far away the village then was we took the free shuttle bus run by the locals up to where the Kuranda Koala Sanctuary is located.
In the sanctuary it’s not just Koala they also have some crocodiles, wallabies, snakes, turtles and a couple of other reptile species. You can also have your photo taken with a Koala for the price of AU$15. The entry fee for the Koala Sanctuary is around AU$15 but you can get a combo ticket which includes the bird sanctuary for AU$28. Even if you’re not a keen birdwatcher it’s still worth seeing due to the exotic birds they have there. You can see birds like the Scarlett Macaw, blue and yellow macaw and Mandarin duck.
There is also one main street through town you’ll pass through which is lined with high-priced shops and food places for tourists. It seemed on average the prices were about two thirds higher. It’s not just souvenir and food shops though, you can also send postcards from there local post office. An example of the prices you can expect is a range of AU$3.50 for a single scoop of ice cream and then the next shop might be selling the same for AU$5.50 which I think is quite a difference.
From a souvenir shop I managed to find a nice Aboriginal style mask for AU$29 which I thought was a reasonable price.
The last train of the day was 15:30 and makes one short stop at Barron Falls for people wanting to take photographs. It does slow down at various points also but does not actually stop. Along various points there is also a pre-recorded guide over the speakers to explain the history of the rail road.
If you bought bus tickets you can get off just outside town to take the bus back, otherwise the final stop is in the middle of the city. Our bus took us back to our apartment at the Grosvenor so we could unload our bags to go to the supermarket.
From where we were it wasn’t a bad distance, just several blocks away but there were intermittent torrential downpours. There then comes a point where you have to accept you’ll get wet and just get on with what you’re doing – there’s no point in wasting time with waterproofs as the temperature is too high and you’ll dry off fast anyway.
The supermarket there is a Coles so has a fairly recognisable layout which makes it reasonably easier to find things. We got enough food for a few breakfasts and an evening meal and headed back through the rain to the hotel and the Wildfire restaurant.