A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Blue Mountains

Three days in Katoomba during the fires.

sunny 23 °C

We are on our train to Katoomba. The outskirts of Sydney sprawl forever. A lot of single and two story units. It looks very dry although this is their spring. One hour later we are into hills, young and rugged looking with a red tinge. The Jacaranda are in bloom and look wonderful. To the right we can see smoke from one of the Blue Mountain fires.

We found our accommodations. Located at Katoomba in the heart of the Blue Mountains - is ATELIER, the former studio of renown Australian artist Tim Maguire, winner of the Moet & Chandon Australian Art Fellowship in 1993. ATELIER is nestled in the grounds of historic Burnie Brae (Circa 1908) in a quiet suburban location and is within easy walking distance of the local main street with its shops, cafes and restaurants.

We enter a gate and follow a little path down to a wonderfully bright unit. The main floor is a kitchen living area with a fireplace. A whole wall of windows opens onto the yard. The bathroom is the size of the kitchen with a double tub/jacuzzi. Hmmm I am enjoying a soak as I write this. The bed is in a loft, big and snugly with thick blankets and a heating pad. I love it.

There is a fruit veggie market five minutes away and you can buy a bag of oranges for five dollars! The Coles grocery is one street over and we got groceries for our stay that cost just a bit more that one meal of hamburgers in Sydney. There are lots of places to get wine and the Dan Murphy is huge! We have tried a couple of Aussie wines already.

We hopped on the bus the first night to catch the last one of the day and get a feeling for the area. O my gosh it's beautiful. Jimmy our driver is funny and friendly and greets people like his new best friend. He can welcome people in their own languages, I think he said fifty. The fires are mostly controlled now, but they need rain to put them completely out. The forecast on Monday is a shower or two. Not enough, but it will help. So....the walks in the valley are still closed and the skies a bit hazy.


We get on the first bus on Sunday and get off at Scenic World. The old mine location was purchased by a brother and sister and has slowly become a huge attraction, however because of the media's coverage of the fire the numbers of tourists are way down. We get off at stop nine and take the Skyride across the valley. As it leaves the cliff side the opaque floor clears and you can watch the tree tops. From there we board the cable car which takes us down to the valley floor. We are the only passengers so we chat with Murray the operator on the way. What awesome views. Once on the valley floor there are kilometres of board walk that are still open for the public. We wander slowly in the quiet hoping for a roo or wallaby. Not today, but....we see an Albert Lyrebird scratching around for grubs. Even better we see a Superb Lyrebird dance and sing and shake it's plumage. They sing an elaborate song mimicking other birds and any other sounds they hear including camera shutters and chain saws. There is lots of evidence of the old mine.

We take the steepest cable railway in the world back to the top and then back to the bottom and find a quiet spot to eat our lunches. A few tours have arrived and things are a little noisier, but still quiet according to the staff.


We walk around and take the Skyride back up and start cliff walking with a couple of geocaches thrown in. The cliff walks are all open again along the top, not the valley ones, and they wind around the cliff face, down over the Katoomba fall, which is pretty quiet right now. The vistas are amazing! We work our way to Echo Point before cutting back through the town to Scenic World, to do all the rides again before the last bus.

A funny moment. We took the Skyride down and we waved at those waiting to come up, why not, they were taking photos of the car coming in. When they boarded a group of Taiwanese asked for our picture which soon became a string of photos with members of their group, so we took some of them as well. We get them to understand we were Canadian. We laughed, they exited at the top and we greeted them all as them came out of the car and....thanking them and wishing them a good day.


Did I mention the Cicadas?


Our time here is winding up. We spent yesterday exploring west. From Lovers Point back to the Three Sisters down the stairs over the bridge onto the first sister, the stairs that continue on to the valley floor are still closed. The view is amazing and the feeling is weird as you hang out over space. You'll have to see the photos. Again today it is quiet. Less people than Sunday and we are moving away from the busier area. We grab a geocache and move on to the next cliff walk. This is the Bridal Veil Falls and the Eurasia Cascade area. We climb up and get an awesome view and work our way down to the falls. As we arrive we are met with red tape and a closed sign that indicated the trail we were on was closed....however there were no barriers from the side we came from. We quickly scaled the barricade enjoyed this view point and went on. The water levels are low to the point that Gordon Falls has had no water for the last three weeks. We skip this walk intending to take a further walk....but it is closed so we head up a lane. Sitting off the side of the road is a snake....it is brown. Hmmmmm is it the deadly brown snake? Let's take a photo and leave him alone.

We catch the bus again and head to the EverGlades. It was a retreat for Henri Van der Velte in the 1930s designed by Paul Sorenson. It is a nice place to spend an hour wander the site and the house. Quite the summer house! With the lack of tourists we have the place pretty much to ourselves and the tea room is closed early.


Time to head home after picking up some chicken,DSCN2578.jpg potatoes, asparagus and wine. BBQ time followed by Hairspray.

Did I mention the flies?

Last day in katoomba. Today arrived hotter, but clouds began to move in. Here is hoping for rain. We took our time and packed and headed by bus to enjoy our lunch on the cliff top before returning to catch our train . By now the rains have moved in here and we learn Sidney had a terrific wind and rain storm.

We arrived at Penrith where Lou (from the ship) picked us up and gave us a tour of some of the smaller towns before taking us to the prison. Lou works in corrections and with parolees. She just showed her card and drove in to the correction facilities grounds with us in the car. Why....to see the wild kangaroos that live on the expansive grounds. We finally find them and of course are quite excited. When leaving the prison grounds again she shows her id and they search the trunk, but again no one asks who we are.


We swing by the house where, besides humans, the two dogs and five cats live and pick up Jo and head to meet up with Julie and Dave, again all from the ship. We have a good Vietnamese dinner before finding ourselves once more on a train. This one is an express so we are in Sydney in no time at all.


We are now on our train to Melbourne. We have a sleeper. We have a bathroom we share with the neighbours with a toilet that flips down. We have our little comfort bags, towels and a snack bag. Kailey our host takes our breakfast order that will be delivered to our room and we decline the dinner.

The rooms are three seaters with two berths that flip down. There is a toilet area shared between two sleepers. It is kind of cosy for a shower, but so close for a bathroom trip in the middle of the night.

It's a little bumpy and noisy, but I sleep pretty good. So that is why there are ear plugs in the comfort kit.

Posted by Mari Anne 19:17 Archived in Australia Tagged train walk fire snake katoomba kangaroos tram skyrail penrith Comments (0)

Sydney Australia

Three days to get organized and see some sights.

sunny 24 °C

We are in Sydney. We arrived at 6 am to partly cloudy skies and warm winds. The Aussies are happy, they have been cold since we sailed into New Zealand. I am sitting on our balcony enjoying the view of the Sydney Opera House where we will see South Pacific tonight. How amazing!


We debarked and followed Anne and David over to Manly on the ferry. We got them into a taxi with our luggage and went to enjoy the beach. It is so wonderfully hot and the beach is huge with great tumbling waves onto the shore. Roger gets his coffee, I get some stamps and a few more postcards then we pick up a cheap phone. We are glad we did as it has come in hugely helpful in fixing our rail pass and contacting people.

The ferries leave from Circular quay right between the Opera House and the cruise ship terminal. With our Multi three passes we are on and off the ferries, buses and trains including our two hour trip into the blue mountains. We take on afternoon just to ride the ferry down the Parramatta River to Olympic Park, we stay on and stop at Cockatoo Island that was once a prison then a ship foundry. It was very cool even the aggressive seagulls were entertaining.


The tour of the Opera house was pretty amazing. The guide was pretty knowledgeable, yet rather cold. We were the only Canadians among a bunch of Germans, Italians. Brits, Americans....it took 16 years to build the opera house. Even now it is not self sufficient, so we did our part by doing the tour and seeing the show. South Pacific has a weak plot, but some really great music. The vocalist were good, the actors were mostly good, with Bellus as my favourite. We had good seats, not the expensive ones and not the cheapest.

So about the train pass. I booked it in March and booked the train segments and was to book Queensland segments in April. April came and went and when I did get around to taking care of things I noted that the pass had not arrived by mail. So I called NSW Rail and worked everything out, called Queensland Rail and all was great, or so I thought. I was to pick up the passes at the station.

I brought my emailed tickets to the station and Danny the agent asked for my passes. I said I did not have them and explained what happened. He tried to track them down in the system... But no luck. We train back to our apartment and I pick up all my notes and a letter that to me confirms that all is good and we are to pick up the passes, but again... They can find nothing to prove I paid and I can't prove it...so we go with purchasing new passes... only the ones we booked don't exist any more. We end up with Backtracker passes good for two weeks. Then we contact Queensland and rework those segments on a Queensland Backpackers pass. When I get home I can get into my records and get a refund.

Our apartment is in Kirribilli on the top of the hill in a funky up scale community. It is a short walk down to the ferry and the train station. There is organic cereal, milk, bread, jam and Nutella and we are covered for breakfast and lunch.

Yesterday we made our way to Bondi Beach by train, train, bus and foot. What a great beach. The waves are big, but I guess not really big according to the locals. We stop to enjoy the view about 4 metres back from where the waves are fading on shore. We laugh as a big one comes in and the family playing in front of us run as they realize how big it was, then we realized we needed to run too.....we scooped up our stuff and ran. Lol.


The water is cold and most of the surfers wear wetsuits, I guess I thought the water would be warmer. After Bondi, we found our way back to the Quay and took the ferry to Manly where Anne and David picked us up. They took us the scenic route up to Newport where they belong to a co-op for the sailboat. It is a 40 foot...sailboat. We sailed out into the bay and headed to a favourite spot. As we tooled along a sailboat race came up from behind. We threaded our way through and around all the racing sailboats. It was kind of fun and I was happy that David really knew what he was doing. On the way back they fired up the Barbie for a simple meal of chicken, buns, lettuce and tomatoes. That and a glass of wine was perfect! They drove us back and we managed to lead them to our apartment.


We didn't do as much in Sydney as we would have liked, but now that phone and rail issues are dealt with we don't have to worry about that again.

Posted by Mari Anne 19:17 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney train ferry tickets manly passes kirribilli Comments (0)

Bay of Islands

Glow worm caves

sunny 22 °C

What a breathtaking site sailing into the Bay of Islands which is New Zealand's original capital. It is a resort town right near where the tenders land. We would have like to go to Russell across the way which is a more historic little town.

We board our bus to find one seat only. But at the back there is what looks like a cushioned bed. We settling laughing. The people on the bus are crowded. It is not long before one of the staff make their way up the aisle as I peek from behind the toilet. He laughs and apologizes as we should have been put on the other bus. No problem we make our way there And as we board they pull the reserved signs from the front seats and we sit there. Front row!

The driver keeps us entertained with all sorts of tidbits about many things.

We arrive at the caves and I quickly enter a small cave and find a geocache and unload a TB that wanted to get to Auckland. The caves are so cool. They say Bill gates came to see the caves arriving in an entourage with three helicopters.


They were discovered when a women who had run away from her husband had hidden in the caves, she had been stealing sweet potatoes from a farm, when they saw the smoke in the hills they decided to investigate and found her, the sweet potatoes and the cave.

We made our way through the caves with every forth or fifth person carrying a lantern. Of course at times we put them out and listened to the water running under our feet, the drips of water from the stalactites and watched the little dots of green light, the glow worms. The brighter they were the hungrier they were. They grow to only 2.5 cm and it is only the tails that glow. They are evenly spread out because they will eat their neighbour. They drop a thread down covered in their sticky saliva to catch other insects to eat. After exiting we had a bush walk up and over the hill back to our bus.

DSCN2272.jpg DSCN2276.jpg

Stop two was Kawakawa where we explored the bathrooms. They are a very funky design with the back walls made of wine bottles, curved floors and walls and def not wheelchair friendly. We had tea, er Roger had coffee, Tanika had juice and I had ginger beer, plus we sampled some local bakery items. Then onto the Koari forest.


They are huge trees, at least in diameter, but do not grow as tall as our Douglas firs. There were only three types of bats here originally. The rats, possums, pigs etc have all been introduced. There are no snakes. This area gets lots of rain but it is still classed a temperate rainforest. There is a very creative trap for the possum. It is solar and builds up a charge. At night it baits itself. When a possum enters the trap it is electrocuted and the trap expels the body and the whole process starts again. They don't have enough of these as there are still millions of possum.

It is hard to stay awake on the bus and we all doze. Again the roads are narrow and wind up and down and around the hills. Time for a nap when we get back so,that we can dance tonight and stay awake for the show.

Posted by Mari Anne 19:17 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


Coast To Coast and a Sheep Ranch

sunny 24 °C

What a day. I am sitting right now observing the action downtown. The days have gone from an early sunset, just after six to it still being bright out at 7:30. We arrived in port late so everyone was ready to get off at ten so it took a while.

Our guide was waiting and we were loaded on a very nice bus. 28 of us.

Our first stop was the Rain forest only they call it a bush. It's not tall enough to be called a forest. The views were great and the sun was in and out until it decided to stay out for the rest of the day. We took a gander at the different trees and flowers. One bird of prey, now extinct had been known to take off with Maori children.

The view was great. New Zealand was a surprise to me. The roads are narrow, very narrow and Auckland is spread out over a vaste area. They do not build up here, but out so that all can have their little green 1/4 acre.

Our guide, Stu, had so much to say. Something to say on politics, war, housing, roads, immigration, and more.

We stopped at Soljans winery and had a simple wine tasting. The grapes are grown elsewhere in New Zealand and brought here for processing. They had a string of bad years so they quit growing the grapes here. We tried Founders Tawny Port, Fusion Sparkling Muscat, Kumeu Pinot Gris, and a couple more. I liked all but one.

Then we were on to the farm where Stu's wife Donna was waiting. Donna is part Maori and part something, he was half Irish, half Dutch. The two daughters were also there, Emma and Mary. Donna gave us a Maori greeting and toured us through their home. It is the only home Stu has ever known. Spreading gloriously in front of,the house is a tree planted in 1922 by his grandmother. The farm was once 500 acres and now sits at 50. So they are a small farm and tourism company.

Lunch was all wonderful, home grown foods. Lamb chops,with a tamarind chutney, zucchini in a tomato based sauce, little quiches, sweet potatoes, green salad and fresh bread. The tables were lined along the deck that hugged two sides of the house. Doors led to the deck from four different rooms. The house is so bright.

We wandered out to visit with the sheep before we were introduced to the tree that would be planted to offset our carbon footprint. This is done for each tour. Our tree is E19 and I forget what it is. We met one of the dogs. This one is bred to bark at the sheep to get them moving. The border collie then takes over and herds the sheep. She very obligingly barked on command.


We made our way to the shearing shed stopping to talk with the sheep and a rabbit, a big big rabbit with lop ears, along the way. Stu said a good shearer can do a sheep in less than a minute, he takes about five minutes to shear one now. In sheep shearing contests competitors will screen the sheep first and choose only the ones that they can do the fastest. He demonstrated how a struggling sheep will calm right down once you flip it and settle it on its buttocks. It was like magic. Actually Stu said it is an acupressure point.

We boarded the bus again to head to the beach. A majestic beach....like long beach. Big rollers, some cliffs and a long black sand beach.


For a Saturday it was very quiet. We walked along a hard packed path to the cliffs edge to a Gannet Colony. Hundred of Gannets evenly spaced out on the level areas. They are loud and amusing. When they change position with short flights it makes me think of the bird flying challenge on the Wii.

DSCN2227.jpgThe black sand sparkles in the sun and is so soft and fine I want to run my toes through it.

We return to the farm for tea and Pavlova. Oh my the kiwis are have green and yellow flesh and the strawberries are huge and sweet….remember it is spring here.

We did not stop at the honey center but Stu gave us a lozenge from there. They honey is called Manuka honey and has antibiotic properties. I decided to get some for our table mates as a fair number of people on the ship are getting colds. Not me, I had a sore throat for a couple of days, but it is gone.

Last stop was at a local craft place, but we decided to make a run for a geocache, so far today we had not gotten close enough to one to make the grab. Of course we are on time and have to wait for shoppers.

Back to the ship and a run to McDonalds for internet....we have directions for our Sydney apartment, a flight time change of six hours for one flight and a train schedule change. I look forward to a little more internet time to post this and read my stack of mail.

Posted by Mari Anne 19:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland bus sheep tour geocache Comments (0)


We wandered a bit then picked up a taxi for a drive around the island.

sunny 25 °C

We closed the dance floor last night and planned on a laid be pack start, but when I awoke to such a beautiful site and the tenders already going I wanted to go to. I went to get tender tickets but ran into Tankia and she said she would just put us on a tender when we were ready. I don't really feel sorry for jumping the queue.

We wandered for a bit. Hid a geocache for future cruisers and then stood outside a Catholic Church listening to the wonderful singing. Sigh.


We were thinking about renting kayaks or going to a beach, but we had a lot of sun the day before. Albert's tour seem to be the big company, but they are all big buses or boats. Then we heard a quiet voice offering tours for a small van for six or eight. We decided this was our driver and it was only minutes until we had six people. I think we went with six as one of the fellows was quite big and would have made eight a tight squeeze.

Edgar Allen Poe was our driver. Okay, maybe not, but he finally admitted his real name was Edgar. We managed to see a lot even though it is Sunday and the Juice factory was closed. The views were amazing. We saw Cooks bay where Mel Gibson's Bounty was filmed. We saw Bali Hi where some of South Pacific was filmed.

The island population is about double that of Bora Bora which is 9,000. I think Bora Bora wins hands down for the water, but I think Moorea wins for dramatic valleys and peaks. It rains about ten feet per year here making it much greener. The beaches here require surf shoes because of the stone fish except perhaps at the Sofitel Hotel beach. Their beach hits rent at up two $2000 a night yet we saw some nice places that rent for so out 10 a night. Okay, they were not over the water with glass floors.


There was time to do another tour, but we are sitting on our balcony watching the beautiful scenery and the ship is swing back and forth giving us a changing view.


Posted by Mari Anne 19:18 Archived in French Polynesia Comments (0)