Day 18: One for the road

Well, here we were with a day with no plans. Nothing we had to do but pack before we left the next day. We had a whole day in Sydney, one of the world’s great cities, to do whatever we wanted. So what would we do? What could we do?

Eat and drink more stuff, naturally.

The brother dropped me off at the Bourke Street Bakery to pick up some tasty breakfast. I walked home enjoying the sunshine (actual sunshine!) and woke up Nellie. We decided to do a little shopping (Nellie bought a new bag) and then hit up the one last beer place on our list: the King Street Brewhouse.

We enjoyed a few pints on a beautiful sunny afternoon by the water…which, I think, is how all last days in Sydney should be spent. I did have to fight off a few seagulls (and one managed to nick a fry even so) to protect our lunch…our last wildlife encounter.

We stopped for one more pint at the Redoak, then jumped a train home and got our bags packed. We enjoyed our last afternoon and evening at home with the brother, eating a nice meal in the back yard, drinking wine from the Margaret River, chasing away feline interlopers, looking up at the stars and listening to something rather substantial creep stealthily along the fence.

Boom. Australia. That happened.

Day 16 & 17: …le déluge

Rainy. Windy. Grey. Nothing doing this day except to relax.

We considered a swim in the sea, but it was a little too rough. Pretty, but rough. We settled for wading along the edge of the surf.

We even went for a dip in the pool; everyone thought we were nuts, but wet is wet, and we might as well get a swim in. Apart from that all we did was drink wine on our deck, read, nap, write and hang out in the bar. It’s too bad we didn’t have nice weather, but it was probably good to have some forced relaxation. We needed it.

The following day was even greyer, rainier and windier…too wet to even sit on our deck. So: shuttle back to Cairns, beer at Blue Sky Brewery in Cairns airport, flight back to Sydney, et voila: home (kinda) again.

Day 15: Après moi…

Slept in. Awoke to warm breezes and strange bird sounds. Ate breakfast here. No big deal.

Went for a bit of a hike down to the second beach, much rockier and wilder than the other. We climbed around the rocks, and saw tidal pools with crabs and cuttlefish scurrying about. We’d hoped to kayak around a bit that morning but the wind was too high.

Windy or not, we were still getting pretty damned warm and sweaty. By the time we walked back up the hill to the main lodge we knew we needed a dip to cool off, so into the ocean we went.

After a bit of relaxation back at the room, we thought…what the heck, another swim? Why not, right? This time we went to the pool just up the hill, sprawled out and read for a bit, and then had a swim. Not a bad venue either.

After drying off from that excursion we had a leisurely lunch of meats, fruits and cheeses on the front deck of our cabin. The weather was perfect…sunny and warm, but with shade and a cool breeze to keep things bearable.

Still, it did get quite warm by the afternoon so we turned to the water once more, this time opting for a smaller, shadier pool near the beach. It was deserted, and incredibly refreshing.

The rest of our afternoon was spent sitting on our balcony, cleaning sand from our feet, drinking wine, enjoying the views, getting ready for dinner and listening to bush turkeys scratch around in the scrub below. That evening the plan was to take the shuttle into Port Douglas for dinner.

We walked around the town, which took about…oh, ten minutes. Not an enormous place, Port Douglas. We sat at Iron Bar and had a few schooners, listening to a great chattering flock of birds shriek from the trees at the oncoming night. We walked down Wharf Street and chose a spot on an empty patio. Just one glass of wine later the restaurant we were in, and practically the entire row of restaurants on the street, was overflowing.

For our part, we had dinner at Harrison’s, one of the nicer places on the strip. Our server (who was from Montreal!) was a little slow off the mark — we guessed that she was new — but the meal was wonderful. It accelerated a little toward the end as we had to dash to catch our shuttle back to Thala, though.

By this time the wind was really starting to pick up — it had blown several coconuts off the trees and on to the roof over us during dinner — and spoiled our plans for one last swim when we got back to the lodge. Whatever, though…there was no way around the fact that we’d just had a vacation day for the ages.

Day 14: bienvenue a la jungle

We got up early, but we had a very good reason: we were flying to Cairns to stay at Thala Beach Lodge. We’d decided to build some downtime into our schedule, and booked in at this quiet lodge near Port Douglas.

It was quite unlike the other very beach-y, very tourist-y resorts we passed on the way up. In fact, someone in our shuttle (bound for one of those beach-y, tourist-y places) sniffed, “It’s a bit jungly, innit?” as we pulled up.

We had lunch in the restaurant and a drink in the bar while we waited for our cabin to be prepped. This, by the way, is the view from the bar:

By the time we got to our cabin I was pretty much dying from the heat. It was practically tropical here, and I was still dressed in the jeans and shirt I put on in Sydney that morning. Once we got into some cooler clothes we headed down to the beach. Our cabin was a few minutes’ walk up a hill from the beach, but what it lacked in sandy nearness it made up in convenience of getting to the main lodge. Not to mention the view:

Not that the beach wasn’t worth the walk. We got to see lots of lizards on the way down. We also saw lots of animals on the beach: tiny molluscs of some kind that would wash in on the surf and immediately bury themselves in the sand. We could see it happening as we walked up and down the beach (during which time Nellie suffered another soaker). What a beach it was too…just incredible.

We walked back up to the cabin; I stayed in and cooled down while Nellie checked out the pool. I wasn’t good looking enough to hang out at that pool. It’s where all the resort’s hot people were hanging out. We did return to the sea for a quick swim at sundown which, it turns out, might not be the best time to swim there given the potential for sharks and saltwater crocodiles. But man, if you could have seen that sunset, you would have swum out there too.

After the dip we watched a bit of the Rugby World Cup semifinal and went for dinner. Dinner was quite good, even if the starter showed up at the same time as the mains for some reason. No matter; the food was good, the wine was good, the setting was extraordinary and the walk home barely stretched our legs.

Now this was vacation.

Day 13: What's that glowing yellow thing in the sky?

Finally, a warm sunny day in Sydney! Unbeknownst to us we were at the tail end of what would later be named the coldest first half of October in Sydney in 45 years. But on this day it was sunny, and we decided to bask.

We drove over to Mosman with the top down, in search of some breakfast. It took us a few tries to find a place still serving breakfast at noon, but we did, and it was excellent, and right on the beach. We went for a stroll down said beach afterwards, where Nellie once again got soaked by a wave. This was becoming a pattern.

We drove back home — still avec open-top — and chilled, just watching the new Blu-Ray Star Wars. Side note: George Lucas needs to stop fucking with his best shit. Han shot…simultaneously?

We had plans to meet up with some friends of the brother for dinner. We took the train down to King’s Cross to scoff at the ridiculousness, then hit the Old Fitzroy for pre-dinner drinks. Their music selection led me to opine as to the best American (classic) rock band ever. I put forward CCR; others disagreed. Much debate ensued. Good beer + music geekery? It was uncertain I’d ever leave.

But leave we did, for dinner at Cafe DOV. We met up with the brother’s friends, discovered the secret path to the washroom, and nearly broke a camera. My dinner was good; everyone else’s was — reportedly — fantastic. Dessert was superb, though I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Note to self: write these things down. Another of the brother’s friends joined us late, and came with us when we returned to the Old Fitzroy rather than be guestlisted into what seemed an extraordinarily douchey club. Even the pub had gotten quite out of hand by this point — Aussies like to dress up for parties apparently, even if they’re offensive…we saw a Hitler and an Arab suicide bomber — so we had just the one and buggered off home to pack for the next morning’s flight.

Day 12: Tea party & pork

I really thought my calves would be better the next today. Man, was I wrong. I think they got worse. I was stepping rather gingerly.

My brother had arranged for a harbour cruise thingy, so we went back to Circular Quay and met our ride. The water was pretty choppy and we weren’t sure how well we’d fare, but everything turned out fine. In any case we were only headed to Goat Island, right there in the harbour, for a bit of history. It was fairly interesting, but the poor tour company employee’s routine was marred by the unexpected appearance of the Kids Crazy Island Tea Party. Seriously. It was hilarious and awful at the same time. Here he was trying to recount the interesting and oft-bloody history of 19-century Sydney while standing in front of the Lindt Teddy Bear’s Picnic. He did his best but you could tell he was getting pissed off.

After leaving the island the boat went on a longer ride around the harbour. The rest of the group sat inside and listened to trivia; Nellie and I walked out to the front of the ship, stood on the bow and enjoyed the sights. It was grey and a little cool outside, but we loved it. It felt like we were in Halifax for a minute. Except for a few key landmarks.

We went back home, got changed, then jumped back on the train downtown to stake out a spot at Porteno. It’s a very popular spot in Surry Hills. How popular? Well, we got there ten minutes before it opened and we were about twentieth in line to get in. Because our entire party wasn’t there we waited upstairs in the bar. Nellie had single malt; I had a pork slider and some kind of delicious bourbon, vermouth and smoked maple syrup concoction. The rest of the party showed up and downstairs we went. We didn’t bother with anything fancy: just two giant plates of slow-roasted meat and some wine to go with it. Us: pork. Them: lamb. It was SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOD. The place was very cool too…very Spanish/South American vibe.

We left, stopped at a drive-through beer store (seriously!) and somehow, once home, drank another four bottles of wine between us. What a day.

Day 11: Back to the land of proper beer

Ow ow yiggity yow. That was the sound our legs made the day after that hike. I guess we didn’t stretch enough to prepare for the 2000+ steps we faced. Either way, Nellie’s knees and my calves were entirely unhappy with us. So it made walking a bit of a ginger exercise.

We ate breakfast and caught a train back to Sydney (more crazy people on this train; pro tip for traveling to the Blue Mountains: take earplugs) needing to find a way to kill most of a day until we could meet up with the brother. We stashed our bags at a storage company and took the train down to Circular Quay once again. We spent an hour or so at the tiny Museum of Sydney, then killed a few hours back at Harts Pub. My brother was nice enough to come pick us up, collect our bags and take us to The Local Taphouse, reportedly one of the best beer bars in Sydney. Our beers were, indeed, all quite tasty, as was my excellent pizza (note: it was only while typing all these blog posts that I realized just how much wood-fired pizza I’d been eating on this trip) and everyone else’s food. Top marks to The Local.

We left there and had a drink at some basement bar, Downtown at the Commons, and then zoomed home on the train. We went no further as the next day brought work for the brother and a harbour cruise for us, and it wouldn’t do to be hung over for either.

Day 10: Leap et canyon

Our B&B did a very good &B, giving us full bellies as we prepared for a day of hiking. We began the long walk along Govett’s Leap Road to the lookoff, and were rewarded with some spectacular views. The Blue Mountains aren’t really mountains;  they’re a plateau with valleys that were carved out over millennia.

We decided to follow the trail along (roughly) the edge of the valley, heading up and down hills to occasionally emerge at a number of superb lookoffs, eventually reaching Evan’s Lookout.

Interesting note: nearly everyone we encountered on the trail was French. Not sure why that was, but my brother said it was much the same when he visited the Blue Mountains. Even one of the two couples at our B&B was French. Weird. Anyway…having completed a supposedly 90-minute hike in 60 minutes, we were feeling confident that we could do the moderately difficult “grand canyon” hike. The only elements which gave us pause were Nellie’s knees — the perils of short legs — and the probably-insufficient water we carried with us. Still, we thought we’d give it a shot, and descended into the canyon. We knew it would be one of the few opportunities we’d ever have to descend from the top of the canyon wall down to the floor and back out again.

We were hot at first — it was the first hot, sunny day we’d had in/around Sydney since arriving — but cooled down as we got to the valley floor. We began criss-crossing the stream, climbing over slippery rocks and fallen trees. We walked through a tunnel in the rock, ate lunch in front of a waterfall and then hiked behind it, looked up and saw innumerable streams of water dripping over the canyon walls and onto our faces.

Finally, after nearly two hours, we began the long ascent out of the canyon. Something strange happened on the way up, something we were barely witnesses to and so have trouble describing. As we walked we heard a number of birds sing strange songs. Urgent songs, we realized later, because suddenly — just above our heads — we heard an incredible rustling. We looked up and saw a small tree being shaken violently. I saw a reptilian head extending from a rock outcropping and into a huge bird’s nest; Nellie saw a tail. It took us a few seconds to register than we were watching a very large lizard eat a bird, or perhaps a bird’s egg. I did see more tail feathers peek out from a neighbouring nest, in what seemed like a defensive position, but no further action occurred. Of course, it happened so quickly that neither of us got a camera out and up, but a little googling later on led us to believe that we’d seen a goanna attack the nest. Excitin’!

We spent the next half hour or so ascending, getting warmer, and getting thirstier. We emerged in a cark park well south of Blackheath, thinking it would be a short walk back. We drained our water and started hiking. After half an hour we were still nowhere near our B&B and were considering hitchiking. Suddenly an SUV pulled up and asked if we needed a lift. A very, very, very nice Scottish lady named Mary gave us a ride into Blackheath, telling us we weren’t the first poor souls she’d rescued after hiking the canyon. At least we didn’t knock on her door asking for water or to us the toilet, as many others had! So, three cheers for Scottish Mary. We raised a glass to her that night.

Our dinner was pizza and pasta made at a place around the corner, along with the truly excellent Cabernet Sauvignon we’d gotten from Knee Deep the previous weekend. Then home we did go, to rest our weary bones.

Day 9: Into the blue

We took our time on this morning, needing only to catch a noon-ish train. We re-packed for a two-day trip and walked to the train station.

Once we’d cleared the city and gotten into some nice scenery the train ride to the Blue Mountains was quite enjoyable, despite the presence of some fantastically annoying and obnoxious kids in our car. We checked into our B&B, the Glenella Guesthouse, and explored Blackheath…which took all of five minutes.

We had a very tasty lunch at a little place called the Wattle Cafe, and went back to our room to relax, have a nap, plan hikes for the next day and generally enjoy a pleasant day on our veranda with the bottle of Swooping Magpie Shiraz we’d picked up in the Margaret River.

Our dinner options were quite limited that night, as most restaurants in Blackheath close during the week, so we ended up at a trattoria down the road. It wasn’t swish, but it was simple and hearty and tasty and our server was fun. He also claimed to have made half a million creme brulées in his life, so we had to put him to the test. I’m happy to report that we had no reason to refute him.

Day 8: Transit

This day wouldn’t really amount to much. Between the three hours’ drive back to Perth (during which I slept, mostly, missing the beach we stopped at on the way), a five hour flight to Sydney and a three hour time difference, the day was all but gone once the transportation ended. A quick batch of pasta and we were all off to bed.