It’s been a few weeks since my last update, mostly because I’ve been having such a great time that blogging has been at the back of my mind. That should serve as a forerunner for the following posts…

From Melbourne, I caught a 12-hour coach through to Sydney, where I stayed with Iain and Alice. You might remember them from such adventures as getting drunk and singing Madonna in Yangshuo and racing around the walls of Xi’an. The bus arrived an hour early, and so I was left sitting at the bus stop in Sydney until they woke up! Once they did and I got inside, I fell into their spare bed and fell asleep, possibly while making little “Vroom vroom” noises. It was a long coach trip.

Sydney has a lot to recommend it – probably. By this point I was beginning to think about saving money for the big expenses up the coast, like the Barrier Reef, and so was trying to budget hard. This wasn’t as challenging as you might think, as like any city there are plenty of free/cheap activities that kept me entertained for three or four days.

Unfortunately I was there for a week and a half, so there was a bit of repetition!
One of the first things that I did was visit the Blue Mountains in Katoomba, which despite being two hours away on the train, cost less than $3 to reach.

The scenery here is stunning. The land falls sharply away from the town; you can even look over the edge of the path and see birds flying below you – which is not for the faint-hearted. Far below is a wide valley floor, covered by forest, which stretches for miles away from the Echo Point lookout near Katoomba. 

Katoomba: where sleep walkers have been Darwinned out of existence.

Ramblers will love the Blue Mountains; it is easy to find solitary trails with views across the valley, and I spent three hours hiking here. As well as the views, the Katoomba Cascade is definitely worth a visit, as is the cable car across the valley. 

Back in Sydney I visited the Opera House (perhaps the only building that has won an award while looking like a box of Kleenex), Circular Quay and Bondi Beach.

I did Sydney’s beach walk, which goes from from Bondi in the north to Coogee in the south. It takes a couple of hours and passes four other ‘beaches’. I use inverted commas because I’m not convinced that the spit of sand at the end of Gordon’s Bay counts. 

The day that I did the walk was the second of the annual Sculpture by the Sea festival. Artists place installations between Bronte and Bondi beaches: there are several hundred, ranging from a carpet pattern painted on bare rock to intricate wire pieces that spin with the wind and a reconstruction of a coral reef using crochet. Definitely worth a visit.

Sydney is closely tied to the ocean (as I found when I visited the Maritime Museum with Alice and Iain): the harbour is another tourist attraction, with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, both near or over the sea, as instantly-recognisable landmarks. Considering that, I couldn’t miss the chance to do something nautical in a boat while I was in the city, which is how I found myself heading out on a whale watching cruise ($35 on Groupon). 

Pods of whales, usually humpbacks, often pass the east coast of Australia. In September and October, many of these are mothers and calves heading from their northern breeding grounds to the south. That’s what we were on the lookout for.

We found our first whale after about 15 minutes on the open ocean, but didn’t stay with it long. We broke away after it went down for a long dive, and found a mother and juvenile (like a teenager) shortly after. We stayed with these two for the rest of our time, and were treated to a real show. Young whales are usually the ones that like to show off, and the juvenile breached the surface, slapped down with its tail flukes and blew water from its spout. The mother got caught up in the excitement and copied it, which made for a great sight.

The only downside to the day was the choppiness of the ocean, which didn’t sit well with some of the passengers. In fact, it didn’t sit at all with a few of them, with one woman throwing up from the top deck and spattering the lower passengers. Good thing we were all in waterproofs.

Other places to visit in Sydney proper include the Botanical Gardens, the Writers’ Walk on Circular Quay and the 24/7 restaurant, Pancakes on the Rocks! Two of these will make you feel pretentiously snobby and the other uncomfortably full. All are within a few minutes of each other

My last two nights in the city were spent with Claire and Tom, family friends who live north of Manly. They helped me feel at home right away, although I think that was in the nature of a bribe; the last day was spent readying the house for Tom’s birthday party. Didn’t think I’d be cleaning windows on holiday! Claire, who deserves a medal for her organisation, made sure that the party was well supplied with alcohol and spit-roast meat and the little nibbles that everyone gravitates to as soon as they arrive.

The next day I was up at 5am – just two hours after most people left the party – to get a bus to my first stop on the Gold Coast, Port Macquarie.

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