March 31, 2013
Today we were picked up by AAT Kings from our hotel at 7:20am for our Blue Mountains Wildlife and River Tour. After picking up the rest of the group we were en route to the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region in New South Wales outside of Sydney. Just as we arrived at Echo Point two hours later, the rain started and Gianna and I ran to quickly get our pictures before it down poured. Echo Point is a 170 meter cliff and has a spectacular view of the Three Sisters.
When we were done we rushed back inside so we did not miss the Aboriginal performance and legend of the Three Sisters.
Long, long ago, the mystical land of Gondwana was beautiful, peaceful and untouched. In Gondwana, there lived Tyawan, a Clever Man of the Gundungurra people. He had three daughters called Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo, whom he treasured above all else.
In a deep hole in the valley there lived a Bunyip, a huge evil creature who loved to feast on human flesh, particularly that of young girls and women. Its cry was harsh and horrible and if you heard it, the only safe thing to do was run away as quickly as possible. Everyone feared the Bunyip.
If you needed to pass its hole, it was important to creep very quietly so that it was not disturbed.
When Tyawan had to pass the hole, he would leave his daughters safely on the cliff above behind a rocky wall – just in case!
One day, waving goodbye to his daughters, he descended the cliff steps down towards the path near the Bunyip’s hole. While the girls were waiting and chatting on top of the cliff, a huge centipede suddenly appeared. Startled, Meenhi screamed, jumped up, picked up a stone and threw it at the centipede.
The stone missed the centipede, but rolled over the edge of the cliff and, picking up speed, crashed into the valley below. The sound echoed all around the mountains. Birds, animals and even fairies stopped still as the rocks behind the three sisters, shook and split open, leaving them perched together on a thin ledge.
The Bunyip, angry at being awakened, roared and dragged himself through the split to see the terrified sisters cowering on the ledge. His evil eyes widened in delight at the feast before him.
Tyawan looked up and saw the Bunyip reaching for his daughters, so he pointed his magic bone at the girls and immediately turned them to stone. They would be safe there until the Bunyip had gone and then Tyawan would change them back to their former selves.
But the Bunyip, angered at being deprived of his prey, chased Tyawan through the forest and up a mountain where he found himself trapped. So Tyawan used his magic bone again and changed himself into a Lyre Bird and glided away. Everyone was safe. But then, in dismay, Tyawan realised that he had dropped his bone whilst changing.
After the Bunyip had gone back to his deep dark pool, Tyawan glided down to the forest floor and searched and searched for his magic bone … where he can still be seen to this day, in the shape of the Lyre bird, scratching and searching the forest floors of the Blue Mountains, looking for his bone, calling to his daughters above and feeding on insects whilst he searches.
The Three Sisters stand silently watching him from their ledge, hoping and hoping that one day their father will find his magic bone and be able turn them back to Aboriginal girls.
The Aboriginals are the indigenous people and original inhabitants of Australia 50,000 years ago. After they spoke about how they migrated across all of Australia they began to talk about their different weapons and musical instruments.
The didgeridoo and clapping sticks are the most commonly known Aboriginal instruments and they performed with both.
It was then time when they needed help from the audience for an Aboriginal dance, and I was the specially chosen one. I was a little uncomfortable standing in front of the crowd performing a dance I had never seen and only learned 30 seconds beforehand but it was also a lot of fun and special to be immersed in the culture even more.
Once the performance was over we got back in the bus and went to Scenic World, another part of the Blue Mountains. I was a little upset by Scenic World because this was the first time, in New Zealand or Australia, that a natural landscape was so commercialized. Scenic World had a “Skywalk,” “Cableway” and “Railway” to see the different views. We opted for the natural way and we took the hiking path down to see the waterfall.
After the short hike we went inside the very overpriced and overpopulated gift shop to the café. Earlier we picked up Tim Tams, the best cookie in the world and although I have been eating them since I have been here, never like this. A bystander informed us that the best way to eat them was by biting off the ends, dunking them in coffee, and sipping the coffee through the cookie- they were right on! Tim Tams just got 100 times better.
Before we left there were a bunch Scenic World employees outside holding different animals. I got to play with a Bon Owl and Southern Boo Book, put a Stimson Python around my neck and hold a bearded dragon. It was awesome!
This was just the introduction to all of the animal fun we were not prepared for that we would get to experience later in the day at Featherdale Wildlife Park. After taking my pictures with the different animals we got back on the bus and we on our way to Leura for lunch. Leura is a very small town with a number of antique and boutique shops. After lunch we had some free time so we strolled into a Christmas shop and were completely overwhelmed by the amount of decorations, sparkles and wreaths. We then went into The Candy Shop which was filled from floor to ceiling with different sweets; it was a child’s fantasy.
When we got back on the bus it was time to go to Featherdale Wildlife Park. I was so excited to finally be able to see a kangaroo and koala. When we arrived it was better than I ever imagined. When we stepped off of the bus we were immediately greeted by a baby brush-tailed rock-wallaby and as soon as we walked through the entrance there was another wallaby hopping around.
We walked through the park and there were kangaroos everywhere. We stumbled upon the Koala Sanctuary and I ran onto line to get to touch one. I got so close to the Koala that I felt its fur on my face.
After taking a hundred or so pictures, we said our goodbyes and went to feed the kangaroos.
In the Kangaroo area there were also Emu who were very hungry and on the prowl. We had to cover our food because the emus could reach around from any angle with their long necks and snatch it out of our hands.
When we got over to the Kangaroos I was surprised that they did not move as we petted them and took pictures with them. They were very calm and friendly.
It was so awesome having the opportunity to get so close to a Kangaroo and Koala but the Park has so much more to offer. We then walked around to see the Tasmanian Devil, dingos, greater bilby, different types of wallabys, turtles, snakes, and a crocodile.
We had so much fun playing with and learning about all of the different Australia animals; it was an awesome experience. This was sadly the last stop of our trip and when we loaded the bus it was time to head home. We were taking the ferry back to Sydney Harbour and before we reached the station we drove through Olympic Park which was the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The Park is still used for over 5,000 events each year and is huge!
The River Cruise took us home on the Parramatta River and the trip was a little over a hour stopping in Darling Harbour along the way. When we got back to our hotel at 7:30pm we hung out and enjoyed dinner and each others company in the hotel lounge. Today was a great day!
March 30, 2013
Today started with an incredible walk that allowed us to get a panorama view of Sydney. At 9am mom, Gianna and I walked down to the Harbour Bridge for our 9:25am scheduled Climb. I have been looking forward to this for a very long time and after seeing how beautiful the bridge was yesterday, my enthusiasm multiplied. At 9:20 they called our group. After recording our information and signing the standard liability documents, we were suited up in our Bridge Climb jumpers. When we were all dressed and our belongings were locked in a locker, we were required to walk through a metal detector to make sure we were not carrying anything onto the bridge. When we were all cleared we had to get our “accessories.” This consisted of: a belt/harness that would secure us to the railing of the bridge, a hat, a handkerchief, a fleece and a walkie-talkie with an accompanied headset. Everything on our body needed to be strapped and double strapped so there was no way it could fall off of our suites. We were checked by a number of different people and when we passed the test we started our practice run. The practice was to make sure everyone knew the best way to climb up the ladders on the bridge. When everyone was ready we walked through a tunnel and out onto the bottom of the bridge. We walked underneath the bridge for a couple of minutes and then reached the first set of stairs which took us up 20-30 feet. Getting higher and higher and nearing the water we kept walking. Then we reached the ladders. The ladders were much steeper than the practice ones and after the first one we were out in the open and level with the roadway. We were walking up between lanes 7 and 8, and we kept on going. Three more flights would bring us to the base of the curve. Once we were all up we stopped for our first photo op.
Now we were climbing the arch of the bridge all the way to the top. With each step the view got more remarkable and we were completely surrounded by stunning views. Another 20 minutes and we were at the highest point on the bridge, 134 meters above the water.
As we were walking our guide told us about how the bridge was built and we stopped to imagine how scary it would have been building a bridge in the 1920-30’s without any of the equipment and technology that is used today. We learned about the special laws protecting the bridge and about the opening ceremony in 1932.
At the summit we crossed to the western side of the arch and descended down: back down the ladders, now coming through two train tracks, underneath the bridge and back to our starting point. The climb was one of the most spectacular things I have done so far and I was so proud of my mom and sister for doing this with me. When we got back we had to strip down and return all of our gear and then wait to see the pictures we took. While we were on our climb the systems crashed so our photos were not ready for viewing and we decided to come back later.
We were all very hungry so we walked around the corner too Pancakes on the Rocks for breakfast/lunch; hands down best pancakes in the world. I could have tried every single one they made, I obviously did not but I wish I could have. After our extraordinary meal, we walked around the Flea Market that was going on in The Rocks. There were a lot of vendors, people and hype and I was intrigued by everything as we walked through this very large outdoor flea market.
After doing some UGG shopping, we went back to our hotel and relaxed before our night at the Opera House. At 5pm we went to the Opera Bar which is located on the lower concourse level of the Sydney Opera House. There were hundreds of people enjoying dinner and drinks along the water but I had no doubt my mother would find a table for us. Two minutes later I saw her signaling from afar and I knew that was our cue to hurry up.
At 6:50 we went into the Opera House, picked up our tickets for Light & Gold at the Box Office and found our seats. The inside of the Opera House was everything I imagined it would be. It has been a dream of mine to see a show in the Opera House for years and I was thrilled to finally be here. Light and Gold was a philharmonic choir performance of Eric Whitacre’s work. I did not know what to expect prior to the performance but the sound and music was beautiful. When the performance ended we went to The Cut for dinner and then I met up with Caroline and Meghan for the evening.
March 29, 2013
At 4:30am we were out the door and on the way to the Auckland International Airport. We got there so early that security was not even open yet and we had to wait for 30 minutes before they lifted the gates. At 7:15am we touched down in Sydney and I was so excited to be in Australia for the first time. We grabbed our luggage and hailed down a cab to take us to our hotel, the Mariott on Circular Quay (pronounced key). After unloading our luggage in our room we agreed that the best way to see the city would be on the Hop On Hop Off bus and the first one started at 8:30am- we were on it! It was way to chilly to sit outside so we stayed on the first indoor level. We listened to the history of all of the different parts of the city we passed through and the first place we got off was at Bondi Beach. Bondi is an Aboriginal word meaning “water breaking over rocks” and I understood why the beach got this name when we began on the cliff top coastal walk: the Bondi to Coogee Walk.
This walk extends four miles on a rocky cliff overlooking the water from Bondi Beach to Cogee. The view along the walk was spectacular and it was surprisingly calming listening to the violent waves crash into the rocky wall and then bounce back. The water was a dark, rich blue and looked angry.
We passed The Bondi Iceburgs Club which is an Olympic Swimming pool located in the ocean and the waves are very persistent about making their way into the pool. Waves continued to crash into the pool wall and overflowed into the pool. It looked like a great and very cool concept, but the water would be a little too cool for my liking.
As we continued on our walk the sky continued to get darker and darker until the clouds opened and we were trapped in a downpour. We quickly ran back and found shelter underneath a rock. We stayed there for about ten minutes until the heavy rain turned into a light drizzle and we called it quits for the walk and went back to Bondi.
By the time we were back on the beach the rain had stopped but the wind was not giving up. We sat down and tucked ourselves in our airport blankets, shivering and hoping the chilling wind would pass. After 45 minutes the weather was not looking in our favor so we packed up and went shopping for sweatshirts. Gianna and I came out of the store bundled in our new Bondi Beach pullovers and we were very excited about our new apparel, and that we were no longer freezing.
After shopping we went for lunch at Hurricanes, a very good BBQ restaurant along Bondi. We enjoyed our lunch and sat for a while hoping that when we were done the sun would be beaming. This was not the case, too cold to make it back down to the beach we hoped on the next bus and headed back, continuing along the loop we interrupted earlier. In an hour we were dropped off in front of the hotel and we decided to go back up to our room to relax before doing more exploring. I had made plans to meet up with my friend, and sorority sister, Chelsea so I was eager for the time to pass so I could see her for the first time in about a year. Chelsea had studied abroad last semester as well so it has been a long time since we have seen each other last. When the time came for us to meet on the stairs to the Opera house, I was so giddy that my smile stretched from ear to ear on the walk over. I immediately spotted her on the steps; I ran up to her and we exchanged a huge hug. It is hard finding a place to begin catching up when you have not seen someone for a year but we took ample time to make sure we covered everything.
We walked around for an hour before we realized we were very lost and should ask someone where we should go. Because today was Good Friday, serving alcohol passed 10pm is illegal and many pubs or restaurants were not even open. We walked down George Street until we found Star Bar. The venue looked like it was ready for a large group of people to come in and have a party, but there were very few people around. The crowd consisted of a couple of people playing pool and young couples in booths, and then Chelsea and I sitting at a high-top table. We stayed and talked for a while until the DJ turned the music up to an obnoxious level and we could no longer hear what each other was saying. We walked down George in search of a new place and settled on the Cheers Bar. When it neared 10pm it started to get quiet and I had the pleasure of introducing Chelsea to Kebabs. Kebabs have made it onto my top 3 favorite New Zealand foods. There is nothing Kiwi or cultural about kebabs but they are delicious, inexpensive and everywhere. After Kebabs we tried to figure out where in the world we were and after doing a lot of loops we made it back to the harbour. We stayed by the water for a while looking out at the illuminated Opera House and Harbour Bridge and their reflections on the water, this was a view I could look at forever.
The night was sadly coming to an end and we had to say our goodbyes. Chelsea’s mid-semester break starts tomorrow so we would not be seeing each other anymore this weekend but have started talking about her trip to New Zealand, and I cannot wait until she comes to visit!