Sydney, New South Wales - 26 to 30 June

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July 6th 2012
Published: July 6th 2012
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Well we have arrived in Sydney, New South Wales again and we were expecting warmer weather but it was still quite cold with grey skies - very similar to Victoria. Although as we flew into the city the clouds cleared and we got a lovely view of the Opera House and Sydney Bridge which brought back memories of our time here last year.

Len and Gaye greeted us at the airport - we had met them on a tour in the Outback, Western Australia last June and they were kindly putting us up for our few days in their home in Bankstown, Sydney before we headed north in a motorhome. We had spent quite a long time in Sydney last year, you may remember that we found it difficult to get out - as when we wanted to head north first the dreadful floods and then cyclone, Yasi put in an appearance! So we had visited most of the main touristy sites close to the city and were hoping to experience something different this time.

We soon settled into their home on the outskirts of Sydney which had lovely views over the Blue Mountains in the distance. We decided it would be good to go back to this area again as we had so enjoyed the walks there last year. So on our first day Gaye drove up to this mountainous region which borders on Sydney’s metropolitan area, with its foothills starting just 30 miles west. The road up was quite easy although there were major roadworks as they are improving access all the way into the mountains. This was no easy feat as some areas have no available space to enlarge the roads so bridges are being built out over ‘nothing’. Our first stop was Govetts Leap, where the waterfall plummeted about 180 metres onto black rocks at the base of the cliff an amazing vista. Apparently this was formerly known at Bridal Veil Falls and is the tallest single drop waterfall in the mountains. Even with the overcast skies the scenery was truly spectacular. We walked to several lookouts including Pulpit Rock Lookout where the view was unbelievable. The tracks were quite wet and slippery so we got quite muddy. However well worth it as the varying levels of the lookouts provided very different aspects of the 240 degree view into Govetts Gorge and the Grose Valley. The bush was alive with the lovely Banksia flowers that I had remembered from our last visit and also the Mountain Devil, although it has a glorious vivid red flower, the Mountain Devil is named after the woody ‘fruit’ it bears. The plant is mainly found around Sydney and adjoining ranges and grows up to two metres tall and each leaf has a sharp point at its tip. Pollinated by birds, a cluster of flowers usually produces only one ‘Mountain Devil’. However it is not uncommon for two, three and even four ‘devils’ to emerge, we saw many with two devils, which darken and harden like the wood it is - such an amazing plant. Gaye was lucky to grow one in her own garden in Sydney.

We later stopped in the township of Blackheath for yummy fish and chips (they do make them good here) which we ate ‘with relish’ in the bush - we did sit in the Ute though as it was rather cold to sit outside. Blackheath was first named ‘Hounslow’ by Governor Macquarie who, passing through the area on his way to the new settlement at Bathurst, declared 'it having a rather wild heath-like appearance’. However on his return only 16 days later he changed his mind because it had a more black wild appearance and renamed it ‘Blackheath’.

We then travelled on to Wentworth Falls a small town in the mountains which was originally called Weatherboard after the ‘Weatherboard Hut’ built in 1814. A year later later the town was named ‘Jamison’s Valley’ by Governor Macquarie. In July 1867 the historic first railway journey in the Blue Mountains left Penrith station and travelled through to Weatherboard Station where the train terminated. It wasn’t until 1879 that the name was changed to Wentworth Falls in honour of William Charles Wentworth, one of the three famous explorers in this area.

We really enjoyed out day out in the mountains and had viewed some different places than we had seen before and the waterfalls were great. On our way back to Sydney we passed the main town of Katomba where we had stayed at the Carrington Hotel a year ago and it only seemed like yesterday. You may remember if you have read our blog that this is where I saw the two ghosts - if not you will have to read it again, it was quite an interesting story.

The next day we all travelled south to the Southern Highlands which are halfway between the Moss Vale and Kangaroo Valley. We had a brief stop at Mount Gibraltar Reserve and walked to the Jellore lookout which overlooks the Mittagong and the surrounding countryside. We travelled on into Morton & Budderoo’s National Parks to see Fitzroy Falls, Belmore Falls and Carrington Falls. Flowing through the National Park is Yarrunga Creek, which drops 80 metres to the floor of the valley below and eventually makes its way to the Kangaroo River - such astounding scenery.

We undertook a couple of walks around Fitzroy Falls and our first view of the Yarunga Valley was breathtaking. We followed a track along the east and west rim of the valley walls. The walk followed closely to the cliff edge with several lookouts hanging out precariously over the valley far below. The tracks were a little slippery at times but generally it was easy going as we continued to the smaller Twin Falls where the track ended, so we walked back to the visitor centre. The views and waterfalls were probably the best we had ever seen and well worth a second visit if we are ever back this way (I am sure we will be one day).

Our next stop was Carrington Falls which we saw from various short lookout walks. On a plateau high above the rainforest, the park had excellent walking tracks although again a little slippery underfoot but with superb views across sandstone heaths and woodlands towards the Illawarra coast, way in the distance. The main lookout at Carrington Falls where the Kangaroo River plunged over the escarpment was just amazing. These falls were also great and again one of the best we had ever seen and all in one day.....

Not to be beaten our last waterfall was the Belmore Falls which was an impressive two-tiered waterfall with each tier having its own vertical free fall over the edge to the dark canopy below. Well we thought both the falls above were good but these were just as spectacular it was hard to decide which was best as they were all unique. Perhaps it was because there had been so much rain but we had so enjoyed our day out visiting these waterfalls in the Southern Highlands. Whilst having a picnic in the bush we noticed these large spiky plants in the undergrowth and Gaye said they were called Grass Trees. The Aborigines used every part of this plant; the stem for spears, shafts and making fire; the resin for glue; the leave spikes for weaving or their tender white bases when young for eating and the nectar as a sweet and energy rich food source. We also stopped in the Budderoo National Park to see the Blue Pool before heading back to Sydney passing through a town called Robinson and then stopping to see a blowhole at Kiama where large waves entered the mouth of a tunnel which compressed the air within the inner cavity. As the retreating water receded it was forced upwards and out on to the surrounding rocks to form a blowhole - not as impressive as some we had seen, but well worth the stop. We continued back to Sydney via the coast road and travelled along a section of road that had just recently been built as the original road had disappeared, the new road literally passed over the ocean an amazing feat. It was quite late when we finally made it home, Gaye was such a fantastic driver as some of the roads were quite difficult but she took them all in her stride - I think their huge 4x4 Ute helped though..........

Time passed quickly and soon it was our last day with Len & Gaye and we drove out to Botany Bay. In April 1770, Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook together with two botanists, Daniel Carl Solander and Sir Joseph Banks landed at Botany Bay, he and his Endeavour crew stayed in this area for eight days and had such a dramatic impact on Australian history. Botany Bay being named after the two great botanist on board who collected so many unique specimens from the area. The site is now part of the Kamay Botany Bay National Park, about 15 km south of Sydney centre. Botany Bay is where the English explorers were recorded as first coming face to face with the continent's original inhabitants, the Australian Aborigines - ‘all they seemed to want was for us to be gone,’ wrote Captain Cook. Formerly named Botany Bay National Park, the dual name ‘Kamay Botany Bay’ was to affirm Aboriginal links with the land, acknowledging the significance of the area for both the local Dharawal people and the later European settlers.

In the parklands overlooking the bay we watched several Laughing Kookaburras, there was an abundance of these lovely little birds and a couple kept jumping into the muddy ground before diving into a puddle to wash it off - it looked like they were having a mudbath. We strolled along the seafront, reading the colourful information signs outlining the unique history that had taken place in the area, several were etched on coloured glass panels and were very impressive. It was fascinating reading all that had taken place here and it was hard to image what the crew had thought when they first set foot in these lands. Various memorials to them were dotted along the shoreline and a stone plaque designated the very spot of the first landing whilst a lone buoy rocked on the waves where the Endeavour was moored, which was only 242 years ago - so much had changed - in fact things had changed dramatically within 20 years of that first landing.

We passed by a small creek where the crew had gathered water to take back on board and wandered along the seafront and saw a small concrete stone imbedded in a rock platform on the water edge. Paul and Len managed to jump over the rock and read the faded sign which said ‘According to tradition in the Cook family Midshipman Isaac Smith cousin of the wife of Captain James Cook RN afterwards an Admiral of the British Fleet was the first Englishman to land on this rock and on the shores of New South Wales April 29th 1770.’

Inside the Visitor Center nearby we wandered around a small museum which was extremely interesting - most people know of Cook’s voyage but there was so many things of interest we could have stayed all day. The information boards were very detailed and even gave a list of all the crew members, one poor seaman, Forby Sutherland had sadly died and was to become the first European buried in Australia on 2 May 1770. Amongst other memorabilia a single cannon gun was displayed which had been rescued from the Barrier Reef where it had been thrown overboard to lighten the load when the Endeavour hit the reef near Cookstown.

We decided to drive on to Cape Solander one of the capes at the entrance to Botany Bay and named after the botanist Daniel Solander. We were surprised to see so many cars - but whale watching season had begun. A small group of friendly locals were counting the whales passing through the bay - today they had seen 39 humpback and 1093 had been seen this season. They had been doing this for over a decade and it was always manned by volunteers. We stayed and watched and were rewarded with probably the best inland viewing that one could expect. Several huge humpbacks came within 250 metres of the shore, tails flapping and breaching and splashing back under the ocean - the sight will stay with us for a very long time. In the southern winter, whales from the Antarctic journey north past New Zealand and into Australia's northern coastal waters and come spring they return to the Antarctic. We had timed our visit to perfection as they were migrating north and one of the volunteers said that we were very lucky to see them so close up, as even the boats going out to them are not allowed to get that close. On our last evening we went out to a local RSL club and had a lovely meal it was nearly time to move on.

So it was time to say goodbye to Len & Gaye and we would like to say a ‘huge’ thank you to them both for making our second visit to Sydney so memorable (‘hey’ its not everyone who can even lay on humpback whales for you right close to the shore!!). We had so enjoyed their company and it was lovely to meet their son, Ben who is a policeman on the Sydney ‘beat’ - a very stressful job in a major city - but he obviously enjoyed it very much. It was lovely talking over old memories of our time together in the Kimberleys. Paul was also pleased to be able to see Len’s model railway at last which was located under their house and was huge with a number of trains, tracks and stations - many years of hard enjoyable work for him and Gaye who was ‘head painter’. As a child my father had built a model railway for my brother and sisters in our garden in Woodlands, Corsham which I can still visualize today.

In the morning Len and Gaye drove us to pick up our motorhome in the Sydney suburb of Thornleigh. We had booked the same one as we had last year, a 3-berth Hi Top with Around Australia Motorhomes (AAM). It was quite an easy process as we knew the procedure, so we said goodbye to Len and Gaye and were on the road again heading north this time at last - see you there.

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