Travelling & Sydney – day 290

Woke up with the sound of the wind pounding against the window and decided it was far too windy to spend another day walking out in the Blue Mountains, especially as my ears were already hurting from yesterday’s exposure! So, after breakfast, we headed back towards the train station and caught the train back into the city. There were planned engineering works on the line so we could only get half way before we were put in a rail replacement bus service to take us the rest of the way into the city. Was kind of nice navigating the streets from the coach window, recognising places we had been to! At the central train station, we walked the 20-metres to our hostel – the Railway Square YHA. Actually it’s not just central – it is actually in Central Station! The nouveau-industrial renovation turned a former parcel shed (complete with platform) into a hostel. You can even sleep in a dorm in one of the converted train carriages. Unfortunately, we weren’t in one of these dorms, but our dorm window looked out onto them. They looked incredible and when we are next in Sydney we will make sure we are in one of those rooms!

Had some lunch in the hostel before deciding to walk Sydney’s most famous, most popular and (so we are told) best walk – the Bondi to Coogee Beach coastal walk. We jumped on the bus and used the last of our Opal credit to get us to the beach. We started at Bondi Beach, watching the surfers (and wanna-be surfers) ride the waves in the crystal clear turquoise waters. We then headed up the steps at the south end of the beach, passing the Icebergs Swimming Pool (a lovely outdoor pool nestled in the rocks). As we continued south, we were treated to views of stunning sandstone cliffs next to never-ending views of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, due to storm damage from earlier this year, some of the coastal path was closed but there were clear deviation signs to show us where to go. We passed through Tamarama beach (which was small but perfectly formed) before descending into Bronte beach, full of young people drinking beers next to a sign that said ‘alcohol prohibited’. A little bit further along the coast, we walked through the Waverley Cemetery where some famous Australians are buried. 

The views from the cemetery were stunning and we looked out to sea in an attempt to spot whales or dolphins but no such luck. We walked past the bowling club towards Burrows Park and Clovelly Beach before we came across Gordons Bay – a place that may have stolen a piece of Jayne’s heart! It has an underwater nature trail for scuba divers and clearly is an amazing place to do shore dives, especially given the amount of divers in the water and dive vans in the car park. Finished our walk by passing through Dolphin Point before arriving at the gorgeous Coogee Beach. Feeling slightly tired after our walk, we jumped on a bus and headed back into the city. Stopped by a supermarket to pick up some snacks for tomorrow’s bus journey before grabbing some take away food from China Town to eat back at the hostel. Ended up sitting outside on the terrace as the dining room was incredibly noisy! Went upstairs to pack up our stuff so we wouldn’t have to do it at 6am tomorrow morning (and be hated by our roommates!) when we got a video call from Ed. He was keen to show me Ben’s obsession with the Hoover, however as soon as Jayne came on the phone he stared waving and making noises (not happy that another Park child prefers Jayne to me!!! Lols). A quick shower before climbing into bed, falling asleep with the sounds of the railway station slowly closing down next door.

Saturday 23rd July 2016

Blue Mountains – day 289

Although the name Katoomba is used as a name for a crater on the planet Mars, it is not specifically commemorating the town. Kedumba or Katta-toon-bah is an Aboriginal term for “shining falling water” or “water tumbling over hill” and takes its name from a waterfall that drops into the Jamison Valley. I’m sure it was this waterfall we saw from Juliet’s Balcony and Rainforest Lookout yesterday. Today, after a nice lie in and breakfast we went off in search of more ‘shining falling water’. We headed back down to Echo Point and saw The Three Sisters more clearly than before. We went down to the Honeymoon Bridge Lookout which is a small joining bridge between the headland and Meehni. Then plodded down The Giant Stairs to the valley floor and the start of a more relaxed, quiet adventure.  We followed the Dardanelles Pass in to the Leura Forest. With occasional views of the cliffs above us and the dense temperature rainforest around we soon reached ‘Lady Carrington Dining Hall’. The original tea house built in the late 1800’s was destroyed by a falling tree, but walkers can still enjoy the historic rotunda, foundations and enjoy a picnic in the area. We carried on for a bit off the beaten track. We planned on going as far as Wentworth Falls on the routes marked on MapsMe. With none of these paths becoming apparent, even after crossing streams, we gave up and went back for a spot of lunch. Under the shade of the lilli pilli and coachwood forest we were watched by some magpie-like birds for any tid bits we may have dropped. 

On a less adventurous, but significantly more signposted route up to the cliff top, we went past a number of quaint little waterfalls and through an area named Fern Bower. Protected from the heat and providing a great environment for fern trees, bracken ferns and moss to thrive, the area was different shades of lush green with moisture in the air. It was a beautiful area to discover and with only a handful of people spotted for the entire day it was blissfully isolated from the frantic life up top and by the famous landmarks.  Up on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, more towards the starting point of this route, we came across yet another memorial to Lady Carrington. Lady (Cecelia) Carrington was wife of Lord (Charles Robert Wynne) Carrington. The couple explored parts of the Blue mountains in the late 1800’s and had a number of places named in their honour. Lady Carrington Lookout is long, narrow and fenced (twice). The lookout is perched up on a sandstone block and provides views over Jamison Valley. We got uninterrupted views of the forest below, undisturbed by tourists but visited by a few Crimson Rosellas, Eastern Spinebills and New Holland Honeyeaters – none of them being interested in a photo.

Back at Echo Point before we realised it, we could easily have started another trail or stayed longer for different routes. Alas, back to the hostel via a new road, we had a lovely meal of fish, baby potatoes and broccoli bake. All thanks to the fact that the YHA had an oven and there was free goon in the fridge to make the cooking easier and the last blog writing that bit smoother and less tedious. Friday 22nd July 2016

Travelling & Blue Mountains – day 288

Our drunk dorm room buddy Nathan, the Canadian girl in the room used to work here so looked up his info (not sure she’s allowed do that), was up to his usual antics of arriving late in the night but made no attempt to get in to anyone’s bed. He proceeded to bang around in the early hours of the morning when he left the YHA. So, with everyone else in the room now suitably disgruntled, we crept around like threading on broken egg shells, got our stuff, had breakfast and left. 

Down the alleys and streets of ‘The Rocks’ we found ourselves a quick direct route that doesn’t come up on MapsMe or Google, and got to the railway station at Circular Quay just as a double decker train was arriving to take us back to Central. Quick chat to the lady at the info desk, we worked out that our Opal cards needed $10 top up and it would get us both up and back to Katoomba. Being a lot cheaper than buying an actual train ticket, we were delighted with the saving, but there’s no clear cut way of finding out the fares between stations or journeys like some of the other cities we’ve been to. Sydney… you need some more info boards, get your act together!

Having sat facing the wrong way on the train, we were amazed at how versatile and clever the train seats are – they slide like a fold out bed to face the other way. We of course didn’t find this out until other passengers boarded the train and did this straight away. Soon, we were on our way, passing a beautiful building designed by Florence Mary Taylor, Australia’s First Architect. Although reading about her on a Wikipedia page, she was born in Somerset, England, so not too sure if the big poster next to the building in Sydney can be taken as gospel. A lovely journey up to Katoomba, occasionally listening to the jerk across from us argue with his electric company, we went through some quaint towns, canyons and forests and wandered down the street to our hostel with loads of time in the day to have an adventure. 

We strolled down the road to Echo Point. Deciding that because a) we wanted to save the money and b) we didn’t want to be stuck/restricted on a bus, we didn’t opt for the Hop On Hop Off tourist bus of the area. We weren’t really able to see the infamous ‘Three Sisters’ with the weather obscuring our view. The commonly told legend of the Three Sisters is that three sisters, Meehni (922m), Wimlah (918m) and Gunnedoo (906m), lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. They fell in love with three men from the neighbouring Nepean tribe, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters. A major tribal battle ensued, and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them, but he was killed in the fighting and no one else could turn them back. This legend is claimed to be an Indigenous Australian Dreamtime legend.However, Dr Martin Thomas, in his work “The artificial horizon: imagining the Blue Mountains”, clearly shows that the “aboriginal” legend is a fabrication created by a non-Aboriginal Katoomba local, Mel Ward, presumably to add interest to a local landmark. The story originated in the late 1920s or early 1930s and is unknown prior to that date.

Whatever is fact of fiction, the clouds drifting over the valley added a sense of fantasy and tranquility to the cliff top walk. The sun made some rare appearances during our promenade and we got to see the sights with different hues and colours changing the landscape and stone to various shades that were all captivating and breath taking. There were quite a few ‘Wow’ moments along the walk and we didn’t feel we missed out once by skipping the cable car across the headlands. 

We finally reached the Scenic World lookout points and took much longer than the suggested trail markers to reach our destination. I don’t think the paths covered in water and muddy patches were to blame, but the scenic backdrops of every lookout we passed. But, we did call a halt to the day, walked back to the hostel via Aldi. Cooked a nice peanut butter paella-like chicken concoction and watched some Friends before snuggling up in a dorm that felt a lot more cosy than the one in Sydney. Thursday 21st July 2016

Sydney – day 287

The entire dorm woke up around 2am when the heavily intoxicated bloke came back from a night out and then proceeded to try to get into everyone else’s bed rather than his own! The Canadian girl gave him a swift kick to the face and then shouted ‘Dude! Go left!’ as he started stumbling over to Jayne’ and my bunk… Needless to say that every slight movement from then onwards woke me up in a panic that I would not be in bed alone!! Leaving the rest of the room snoozing, we headed up to the kitchen in the morning to discover it was free (cook them yourself) pancake day!!! Jayne befriended a nice American family who gave her butter so that the pancakes wouldn’t stick to the frying pan. Absolutely content with pancakes and coffee, we headed out into the wet and miserable day that was Sydney… Such a contrast from yesterday. Had planned to get the Circular Quay to Manly ferry as it is considered ‘Sydney’s best ferry journey’ as it gives superb views of the Sydney Opera House. We braved the cold wind and rain for some photo opportunities before sheltering inside! Decided to use the free ticket to visit the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary which was just down the beach from the ferry terminal. The sanctuary was small but lovely with underwater tunnels to allow us to see the 3-metre grey nurse sharks up close. We were fascinated by ‘Maurice’ the octopus, since we never usually see the one residing in the London aquaria. Had been given a food ‘puzzle’ (Perspex box with different tubes coming off of it) as an enrichment exercise and we watched him for ages trying to figure it out… Having watched him several times trying to locate the entrance to the puzzle (and having stuck his arm down the tube on several occasions), we gave up and headed upstairs to the penguin enclosure. A really interesting display as the roof was exposed to the elements, allowing the penguins to ‘experience’ the weather. Lots of displays to educate people about little penguins as Manly has one of the last mainland colonies of little penguins in Australia. 

A quick check to see if Maurice had solved the puzzle (he hadn’t!!) before we descended into the basement for the shark and turtle tank. All the animals have been rescued and are either rehabilitated and returned to the sea or, if deemed unsafe to return, remain in the sanctuary. There was a turtle with weights on his shell as the injury from a boat meant she couldn’t sink. We were there in time for the shark and ray feeding. The rays seemed incredibly fussy, spitting out whatever they didn’t like, although it was the Port Jackson sharks eating the squid that was most interesting – the squid would come in and out of their gills as they ate it! The divers then tried to feed the nurse sharks by tapping the fish on their noses… Not one of them were interested in the food! In fact, it became comical watching the divers swim after these massive sharks, tapping their noses and get absolutely no reaction.Stopped by Maurice a third time on our way out (still hadn’t figured it out!) and headed back to the ferry terminal. Had about half an hour until our ferry so used the time to pop into Aldi to do some food shopping for tonight’s dinner. The ferry back to Circular Quay was as cold as it was earlier but enabled us to get some good, unobstructed views of the Opera House as no one was stupid enough to go on the outside deck (except us!!). 

On the dock, we headed to a different wharf and immediately caught the ferry out to Cockatoo Island. Another one of the UNESCO convict sites, the island is studded with photogenic industrial relics, convicts architecture and art installations. As it was still raining, we decided to skip the audio guides (not sure how long we were going to last!), opting instead to read the information boards that were dotted around the island explaining the islands time as a prison, shipyard and naval base. There was a spooky tunnel that passed through the middle of the island (used as an air raid shelter during the war) and we also got to explore the remains of the prison. There were some solitary confinement cells that have been uncovered here recently after being filled in and forgotten in the 1890’s. There was also a walk along the upper island cliff to see the silo pits used to store food and water for a time. 

After about two hours of wandering around the island, we decided to head back to the hostel to dry off and warm up. Went via the Opera House booking office to purchase some tickets for the piano competition tonight (if you’re going to visit the 46th UNESCO site, you might as well do it in style!!!). Jayne made a beef curry and we ate some more of the left over cakes from last night before we headed out to do a free 90 minute guided walking tour of The Rocks, with plenty of not-so-tall tales and interesting facts. Led by a very enthusiastic young woman, the site of Australia’s first European settlement is unrecognisable from the squalid place it once was, where ex-convicts, sailors and whalers boozed and brawled in countless harbour side pubs and brothels. Really interesting to walk past the three ‘oldest’ pubs in Sydney as well as seeing how the open sewers and foul alleys have been transformed into an ‘olde world’ tourist mecca. The tour finished with enough time for us to make our way over to the Opera House and find our seats for the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia. Considered one of the worlds most prestigious piano competitions, it was incredible to watch three of the six finalists perform an 18th century concerto (all of them chose a concerto composed by Mozart) with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra accompanying them as they played on beautiful grand pianos. Each piece of music lasted for at least thirty minutes although it seemed to fly by! Before we knew it, we had listened to all three musicians and were on our way back to the hostel with some free chocolates that were being handed out post performance. 

Back in our room, we had a giggle with the other three people about the drunken guy from last night and all swapped horror stories about other hostel experiences. Apparently, last night was not the worst by a long shot!!!

Wednesday 20th July 2016

Sydney – day 286

Woke up from a really good nights sleep, although we both probably could have slept for a couple of hours longer! Showered and dressed before heading upstairs for breakfast, avoiding the school groups who had clearly been put on the top floor away from all the hostel users. Having eaten muesli for breakfast and made ourselves some cheese sandwiches for lunch, we started walking towards Darling Harbour. Dotted between the flyovers and fountains, this former dockland, and now purpose built tourist hub, is undergoing major redevelopment as the area gradually becomes a strip of visitor amusements, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, waterside parks, office towers and casinos. First stop today was the Sydney Sea Life aquarium. As well as the regular wall mounted tanks and ground level enclosure, the impressive complex has two large pools with walk through tunnels with an impressive array of sharks and rays. There was an interesting Jurassic world tank full of fish I’d never even heard of as well as platypues, moon jellyfish (always a favourite of mine!), seahorses, clownfish and an impressive two-million-litre Great Barrier Reef Tank. The aquarium also has two dugongs (although one was away having its annual health check up) which were rescued after washing up on Queensland beaches. Attempted to return them to the wild failed, so the aquarium built an enclosure to house them and have four members of staff dedicated solely to feeding them every 15 minutes for 12 hours a day! As sad as it was to see such large marine mammals in captivity, it was a really fascinating and rare opportunity to see them up close. Plus, the dugong we saw seemed so happy munching on the lettuce stacks and messing around as the staff member tried to feed her. They are also in the process of developing a new penguin enclosure attraction where you can float through on a dingy to see the penguins so there was a fair amount of building work going on but it didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves – we both love an aquarium and could have easily stayed for longer in front of the shark tank.

With our aquarium tickets, we upgraded to a five main attraction pass, so we popped straight next door to Madame Tussauds. Having done the one in London, which is always ridiculously busy, we only really visited because it was essentially free and right next door to the aquarium… However, we are really glad we did. We had so much fun! The museum was practically deserted and, with constant opportunities to dress up, we were able to pose with the hyper realistic waxwork dummies without feeling harassed or rushed by other people – don’t think either of us have laughed so much in ages!Back out in the sunshine, we found a quiet spot on Darling Harbour to have some lunch. Were descended upon by a couple of evil seagulls who were splitting their time between staring us down for a piece of our cheese sandwich and scaring off any other seagull that dared to come close to us!! Another neighbouring attraction to the aquarium is the Wild Life Sydney Zoo which hosted an impressive collection of Australian native reptiles, butterflies, spiders, snakes and mammals.  The kangaroos and koalas were equally as beautiful as the cassowary bird and the nocturnal section was particularly good, especially the quolls, potoroos, echidnas, possums and bats feeding on dead mice! Watched as people spent time looking for the crocodile despite there being a sign on the enclosure saying that the crocodile had passed away…

Leaving the zoo we walked through the streets toward the Sydney Tower Eye which is a 309m-tall tower built in 1970-81 which offers 360-degree views from the observation level 250m up. The visit started with a 4D cinema experience which showcased a birds eye view of the city, surf, harbour and what lies beneath the water before we were put into a horrifically creaky lift to take us up to the observation platform. The views were incredible – the weather was perfect and we could see as far as the eye could see. Jayne even managed to be brave enough to go to the window and look down at the streets below! We had a popping candy Freddo chocolate bar as we sat on the window ledge looking out over the city. Back on solid ground, we walked though the manicured gardens and tree formed tunnels of Hyde Park, watching a Japanese man zoom around on a handlebar less Segway before crossing the road to visit our 45th UNESCO site – the Hyde Park Barracks Museum.The convict architect Francis Greenway designed this squareish Georgian structure in 1819 as convict quarters which has now been turned into a three storey museum. The ground floor focuses on the barracks history, whilst the first floor is dedicated to the archaeological artefacts that have been found there. The final floor is set up as it would have been when, between 1819 and 1848, 50,000 men and boys did time here after being sentenced by British courts to be transported to Australia for petty crimes. It later became an immigration depot, a woman’s asylum and a law court. We got free audio guides which further enhanced the fascinating museum, we got so entranced by the history of the building that we had to be asked to leave after almost two hours as they were closing!!!

Walked through the streets, passed a live news reporter, towards the Sydney Opera House. Still can’t quite believe we are here, we spent time walking around, taking photos and touching it! Don’t think I ever realised that it was covered in tiles. Went to the box office to enquire about shows for tomorrow night before beginning our walk back to the hostel via the supermarket and avoiding the crowds of people searching for Pokémon…

A slight change to our dinner plans when the supermarket didn’t have the ingredients we needed but Jayne managed to cook up a lovely lamb casserole and we had a great night catching up with Vanessa. We had dinner before heading up to the rooftop to tuck into the insane amount of cakes that she had brought for dessert!Walked her to a taxi rank so she could go home before we both passed out in our bunk beds. 

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Travelling & Sydney – day 285

Woke up relatively refreshed, despite being in a 10 bed dorm full of smelly boys (and us)!! Showered, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast, leaving one roommate still snoring away on his bed. A well needed vanilla latte (from a sachet – we’re on a strict budget!!) and supermarket pain au chocolate, which weren’t actually too bad, before heading back upstairs to the now empty dorm to pack up our bags and head over to the coach station. Having torn my new ripped jeans in one section a bit too much (can’t get used to putting them on and off!!), I set to work sewing up the additional and accidental hole with bright pink thread to make it stand out… At least that is my excuse for the random and slightly poor needlework skills – although, in my defence, it was cold and I was wearing the jeans at the time!! 

The coach was quite quiet and relatively painless as we used and abused the free wifi and in-seat USB plug sockets to catch up on writing and uploading blogs as well as some FaceBook stalking and research for things to do in Sydney. Jayne was so fixated and determined on uploading photos that she did it all during lunch – precariously balancing iPhones and hotdogs as the coach speed along the road.
Arrived in Central Station Sydney after 3.5 hours and headed up to the information desk to find information and train times for our visit to the Blue Mountain region in a few days time. All sorted, with shiny Opal cards in our pockets (the Sydney version of Oyster cards for TfL) and we started making our way towards our hostel. 

Decided to stretch our legs and walk the 3km to ‘The Rocks’, enjoying the weather and the views as we passed through the city. Walked past the beautiful Queen Victoria Building. Built in 1898, the Victorian building was repeatedly put up for demolition before it was restored in the mid-1980’s. It now occupies 200 speciality shops but it’s the wrought iron balconies, copper domes and stained glass windows that really make it stand out. Unfortunately, there were road works in front of the building so none of our photos really do it justice!

As we stood waiting to cross the road by the imposing statue of Queen Victoria, a little boys scooter rolled into the road. Several cars drove around it before a guy in a white van drove straight into it and dragged it off down the street to the astonishment and yells of the people waiting at the traffic lights. The mum of the little boy used it as a lesson to her son about not chasing his stuff out into the road…
Arrived at the Sydney Harbour YHA and checked in, the receptionist flabbergasted that we had walked from Central Station!! This hostel is an usual building as it is built on stilts above an archaeological site. In 1994, the remains of over 30 houses, two laneways, shops and pubs were excavated here along with over a million artefacts. 

Dropping our bags off in the spacious dormitory (with private bathroom!) we headed up to the rooftop to see the million dollar view of Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House (not too shabby based on the fact we are only paying $23 each per night!). After a while of soaking up the view, we separated out to complete different jobs. Jayne headed out to find a supermarket to get some food and wine for dinner and I set about washing our clothes in the attached laundry. A couple of hours later, Cheryl turned up and the three of us had a fantastic evening catching up, swapping travel stories, drinking (too much) wine and eating dinner in the hostel. The evening passed too quickly and, before too long, we were walking Cheryl to the train station. Got ourselves an ice cream as we walked back up to the hostel and chatted to our Canadian roommate before falling asleep. 

Monday 18th July 2016

Great Ocean Road to Port Fairy – day 281

The American lady sharing the dorm with us awoke early. While I have no issues with someone wanting to hit the road as dawn breaks and the sun rises, I think she could have planned it a little better before bed. Not a single item was packed and with a half dozen little bags I think she was trying to rustle every single one. Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and it meant we were waiting for her to leave, hopped out of bed and got ready for the day. Thus, we hit the road at a nice time and squeezed in loads to our day.

The Cape Otway Lighthouse was charging a ridiculous amount to go in to their grounds and we weren’t sure if that included or excluded being allowed climb the lighthouse itself. Not wanting to climb it, nor spend so much money we walked up the path a bit to a lookout where we saw the top of the lighthouse… for free!
We contemplated visiting the Tree Top Walk and Otway Fly in the car when I shouted “KOALA!” Katherine did ever so well to pull over somewhere sensible and we walked back to the place where I saw the fluffy ball of grey fur. I spotted another, but, it was Kat, hopping up and down with excitement like a kid in a sweet shop, spotting a third one that was the best. Definitely the more photogenic of the three, Katherine was beaming and was trying to suggest how the poor lill’ guy would be warmer in the car with us and we could harvest all the leaves it would need. You can start to get a feeling of how much she loves them and would do pretty much anything to have one as a pet.IMG_0040So, having laughed at all the cars passing, straining out the window to try and glimpse a Koala, nobody stopping to ask us, the joke was on us. Around the corner a Koala was sitting low down in a tree, next to the road, munching away. We spent ages watching him and Katherine was encapsulated by the furry guy even when it started to rain. Finally relenting, we drove out of the Otway headland forest and decided to skip the tree top trail and head for the Apostles.IMG_0066IMG_0072IMG_0087There have never been 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road. In fact, for a long time they were just called Apostles, some unknown gentleman naming them such to make them more popular. The Twelve Apostles was named some time later, their original name being ‘The Sow and Piglets’. And why not, a bit of publicity for such an amazing landscape is why we have turned up along this stretch of Australia.IMG_0167Stopping at yet another lookout, we strolled along the cliff top trail between lookout points to get different views of the coastline and each view was spectacular. The changing weather; at times bitterly cold, other times the salt water blowing horizontally cutting in to our face, sometimes sun blazing (for very short periods) and all the time mesmerising.We spent hours driving to new landmarks, waking different trails and soaking up the experience. We visited ‘Gog & Magog, ‘The Twelve Apostles’, ‘Loch Ard Gorge’, ‘Broken Head’, ‘Thunder Cave’, ‘London Bridge’, ‘The Arch’ and ‘The Bay of Martyrs’.

IMG_0196IMG_0231IMG_0264IMG_0306IMG_0340IMG_0355IMG_0370IMG_0440IMG_0466IMG_0509IMG_0546IMG_0572IMG_0575Dragging ourselves back to the car at each stop we finally called it a day and headed to Port Fairy. A cozy little YHA, we did Chilli Con Carne for dinner, cuddled up in the living room with the heater making the place all snug and warm. Katherine read one of her Chat magazines while I tried to clear our phones of some of the photos and videos we took during the day.

Total distance driven: 217km

Thursday 14th July 2016

Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay – day 280

An early start to catch our 6.31am train from Shepparton to Melbourne. Tracey very kindly dropped us off at the station and it was an easy (and quiet!) 2.5 hour journey through the countryside, catching up on writing blogs and continuing our ‘spot-the-kangaroo’ game. Arriving in Southern Cross Station just after 9am, we headed straight to Thrifty to see if we could pick up our car rental early. A couple of signatures later, we had the keys and directions to find our small automatic car… It’s bright pink!!
Navigated our way out of the city with no problem and we were on the highway heading towards The Great Ocean Road. Driving through quaint villages, calm seaside towns, pockets of rainforests and vast expanses of green, the views of the sheer limestone cliffs were a perfect background to the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean. We stopped at several places along the route to Apollo Bay to look at the viewpoint and take photos, timing it carefully to avoid the sporadic downpours of rain.IMG_9721After about two hours of driving and photographic detours, we ended up at our first ‘official’ stop of the day – Split Point Lighthouse. Since both of us grew up watching the children’s television programme ‘Around the Twist’, it was a must-see for both of us to see the lighthouse and house that was used during filming.IMG_9725 The walk up to the lighthouse was beautiful, even though it was slightly soggy and windy! I did a tour of the lighthouse, climbing to the top and looking out whilst Jayne decided she’d rather keep both her feet on solid ground, especially after she scared herself last time she climbed a lighthouse in Cuba.

I learnt about the history of the lighthouse on the walk up to the top, ranging from the four different ways that they had lit the torch over the years, to where the lighthouse was made (Birmingham, England). I also learnt how they communicated with ships in the olden days, including a network of underground telegraph networks between lighthouses along the coast. I also learnt that this particular lighthouse had a special design of having 2 metre thick walls at the bottom and half metre thick at the top (something to do with sustainability and protection from the elements). The cast iron staircase was beautifully ornate and the lighthouse itself was in great condition. The view from the top was stunning – could see for miles, although the female tour guide assured me that the view wasn’t very good today. Looked out to sea in an attempt to spot a passing whale but the water was too rough to spot any definitive shape. Waved down to Jayne who was walking around the pathways taking photos.IMG_9835Back down at the bottom, we walked to various viewpoints nearby, looking at the cliff formation and admiring the volcanic rocks jutting out from the water. A walk along the beach exposed some caves in the cliff that the lighthouse guide said were safe to visit but the tide was still too high to go exploring. A quick mess around in the playground attached to the car park and we were back in the car and on the road again.IMG_9751IMG_9888IMG_9906IMG_9919Had been told to head towards Erskine Falls as, not only was there a beautiful waterfall, there was a chance to see koala bears and they had also had snow yesterday which made the place even more magical. The windy road though the forest canopies revealed no koalas but we had plenty of snow – we even made a new friend… Augustus the Australian Aboriginal Snowman – the twin of Henry the Himalayan Snowman Sherpa from Nepal.IMG_9931The road down to the falls were barricaded with signs saying ‘do not enter’ (which some people were ignoring). Decided that neither of us had decent enough shoes to navigate icy snowy paths that were already labelled as ‘dangerous’, so we got back in the car and continued on our way, still searching for koalas. Jayne got me to do a u-turn in the town of Kennett River as she saw ‘koalas’ flash up on her MapsMe app. 5 metres down a side road and we got out of the car and found four koalas hanging out in eucalyptus trees. They were so cute and fluffy, with gorgeous shiny black noses – I want one!! There was also an array of birds (cockatoos, king parrots, rosellas), clearly tame from tourists visiting the area as they perched on people’s heads if they stood still for too long… (e.g. longer than 2 seconds!).IMG_9963IMG_0006Drove the rest of the way to Apollo Bay and checked into our YHA hostel. Feels very weird knowing that we are going to be sharing a room with strangers after so long of being able to afford private rooms (thank you SE Asia for turning us into princesses!!!). Dropped the bags off in our dorm and headed over to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I think it is going to be kind of nice popping into the shop everyday to get something for dinner, although we are going to have to be careful that we don’t use each supermarket shop as an excuse to impulse purchase useless items, especially whilst we have the car and don’t have to carry our backpacks much!! Jayne made a lovely Thai green chicken and vegetable curry for dinner which we ate chatting to a Chinese girl who had decided to stay at this hostel for a month for free in exchange for work. Sat in the lounge warming up and watching the wood fire then heading up to our dorm to watch a couple of episodes of Modern Family before climbing into our separate bunk beds.

Total distance driven: 211km

Wednesday 13th July 2016

Shepparton – day 265 (K)

Now that my travel scholarship competition entry is finished and entered, I’m back to the job of planning our trip around Australia. Expecting my credit card to get a serious bashing today was thwarted by my first successful job… After spending time looking at all the places we want to travel in the East coast and Central Australia, it was clear that YHA hostels were everywhere we wanted to go! With the option of members being able to get 10% of all accommodation and buy prepaid accommodation cards too, meaning we could get a bed for $23 each per night (even in Sydney!), I ordered membership cards for all three of us to the hostel chain – $25 ASD each. However, the membership numbers didn’t come through so I can’t order anything else or even book our coach tickets (since we get a discount on those too with our cards!). Had to email the company to ask them for our membership numbers and then waited… And waited… And waited… Filled my time with finalising planning and researching, car rentals, different day trips to the Whitsundays and Fraser Island as well as looking for the best place to do some scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef – we are going to be practically destitute at the end of this trip!!! I even looked up some sky diving but I really think HSBC might have a heart attack…
Was just about to head out to the nearby supermarket to get some ingredients to make dinner when Ashleigh came home, saving me the walk and driving me to Coles instead. Made my famous halloumi pasta with garlic bread for dinner and watched some TV before bed. 7 days to go.Tuesday 28th June 2016