Opera houses, drama and nature in 4 days!
The Greyhound journey to Sydney turned out to be considerably longer than published. In addition to the tardy start to our ride from Coffs I suspect that the driver got more than a little lost at one stage (judging by his many and frequent mobile phone calls to base) before the coach warning systems started making a constant and really, really annoying shrill noise culminating in our pulling over on to the hard shoulder. We were some 150km north of Newcastle from where a greyhound mechanic was sourced and despatched to fix the problem. Given that it took about 90 minutes for him to arrive at our stricken vehicle and then another hour or so to fix us up, our revised ETA in Sydney was moved to 4.15 AM!!!
Arriving in the dark with no idea of where the Base hostel was located was no problem for the Fool - he simply accompanied a couple of fellow bus-using backpackers to their hostel, secured a map of the city et voila, Base was identified. Given the early hour there was no chance of being processed and offered a bed so I dumped the bags and headed on foot towards the Circular Quay in search of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. After an extensive wander around the whole area, snapping so many pictures willy-nilly on the trusty compact digital that I got the red "low-battery" warning signal, which happened to coincide with how I felt, it was back to Base, still well before 8.00am, to await the check in staff.
After a shower and facial trim it was off to the New York Metro for thier American Big Breakfast to replenish the fuel tank then more "short term visitor, cram it all in" sightseeing, this time around the very commercial Darling Harbour area. My shopping for a travellers chilli was followed by eating the evening repast and then retiring to the dorm where the usual mix of Base's long and short term backpacker residents in city hostels was evident - those who are working in the city had their territory clearly marked out, with their detritus spread around "their" section of the floor, their bunk beds shielded from the room with hanging sheets (giving the room a bedouin tent look and feel - and also a not so faint camel dung smell) and all available plug sockets fully utilised.
Despite my now crushing need for some sleep I was "entertained" by various other locals dropping into our dorm, drinking their take-out goon and ciders and generally talking crap in overloud voices, completely unaware of anyone but themselves. When peace and sleep were finally delivered I was rudely awakened in the early hours by John (one of said long termers) and his newly acquired drunken fumble, who promptly fell off of his bed, laughed uncontrollably in that way that drunk people do when they do something stupid but think that they have got away with it and then they proceeded to talk in unhushed terms about "rim jobs" whilst she slobbered on his member. Fortunately we were spared the full 3rd party sex thing as the tramp suddenly decided she needed to find out where her friend was and left the dorm, after which she and John were thankfully absent for the remainder of the night. Other comings and goings followed until breakfast beckoned and I gratefully left the tarts boudoir that is dorm 205!!!
Given that I only had 4 days available to "do Sydney" it was off down to the the quay to board the ferry to Manly. These ferries are built for the extremely large commuter crowd and so are huge, with several decks and a capacity of over 700 passengers. The journey across the water was hassle free and when we disembarked I wandered round somewhat aimlessly trying to get some bearings. I know that Australia's (caucasian) roots stem from good old Blighty but imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner to come across a full bagpipe band complete with kilts, sporrans, long socks et al. Well I took a few snaps and hung around long enough for them to set up and play a couple of stirring scottish windbag tunes then headed to the fabled beach. Although busy and commercial, Manley beach is a pretty setting with a very relaxed vibe with the whole cross section of society represented in their brightly coloured beachwear. I followed the signs and soon found myself at the start of the coastal walk. The route is quite gentle in parts and it offers up some great views of Manley itself and the estuary. It was also blessed with a reasonable quantity and variety of wildlife (well lizards mainly) but they are pretty relaxed around people so some good close ups can be had! Later on the route you climb over the headland and the directions become a bit vague but you are never too far from civilisation. I returned to the ferry terminal by an up and down circuitous route and felt that the old legs had had a good test. Back at Base things had calmed down a little and John sheepishly offered his apologies for the previous nights performance.
Day 3 was a strange and yet strangely pleasant day. I struck out for the day to Palm Beach (supposedly a quiet and beautiful place and just around the corner from where they film the Aussie soap Home And Away). Well, the place fit the description a little too perfectly, it was lovely but very very quiet - I had trouble finding a beachfront cafe to muster up a cup of coffee! On my way towards the filmset beach (although I did not know it was there) a guy in a classic old sports car pulled up and offered me a ride. He knew the area and was pretty insistent about giving me a lift somewhere - anywhere really, as he was at a loose end for the day and wanted some company. Well I hopped in and we set off for a tour of some of the more "off the bus route" roads - it turns out he is an ex-pat Brit, a self declared computer operations "guru" and a frustrated novellist whose literary work continues to expand exponentially, thus making its chances of completion and future publication remote to say the least. As it turned out the day was a great mixture of eclectic conversation, motoring around the coastline and seeing some amazing views with no other tourists in sight. Despite a spectacularly unsuccessful quest to find an open tea or coffee shop, apparently few and far between when off the beaten tourist routes, it was an all round good afternoon, culminating in being dropped off at the ferry stop across Sydney harbour to paddle homewards.
My final full day kicked off with the bus ride out to the Blue Mountains. Only a relatively short drive from central Sydney this place is a must see venue. Even though it was a single day trip the tour managed to pack in a full day for sights and "activities" with an amusing and informative guide. After stopping at a random coach park by a river to pay for/collect our park/cablecar tickets we continued on to the mountains. My seating companion for the day was the wonderfully quirky PJ, also a Brit, who along with looking strangely like Aunt Sally from Wurzle Gummidge, had a mad sense of humour and a very loud, wierd and infectious laugh.
The tour comprised visiting scary clifftops for crazy "dangling your feet over the abyss" photos, waterfalls including the Wentworth Falls from the cable car (not the Fools favourite experience given the depth of the valley and the see through floor) and the worlds steepest railway where PJ's maniacal laugh reached even higher levels in pitch and volume. In addition to the above the days tour included a stroll around the interesting Katoomba national park (complete with discarded mining paraphernalia, massive fallen trees,termite mounds etc), aboriginal rock carvings, a trip to the Olympic Park and ended with the Captain Cook sunset cruise, returning to the harbour on a large boat.
The last few kms on the water seemed to take forever and when we finally docked I had to hot-foot it back to the Base hostel bar for a reunion with Mark, one of the three Essex lads I met in Peru in 2011 and who has emigrated very successfully to Manley. Catching up (and sharing beers) with him was a great end to a really enjoyable day and an all too brief spell in Sydney. Soon afterwards it was into the shuttle and off to the airport for my flight to the northern territories outpost that is Darwin. The 4 hour flight was improved by getting an emergency exit seat with the additional legroom the Fool so seldom enjoys later in his travels.
One bizarre postscript is that whilst the flight time to Darwin is a mere 4 hours it crosses two internal time zones totalling 1.5 hours which does play with the old noggin! Come on Australia - either sh!t or get off of the pot - have "full hour" timezone changes or none at all please.