Sydney side shows

Arriving into Sydney was a bit of a weird one for me. Not only did it herald the final leg of my east coast tour, but when seeing the Sydney Opera House whilst driving over the Harbour Bridge, it was the first time that, despite having been here so long, I was in the presence of a singularly iconic Australian landmark. And when going to see it up close, I used it to shelter from the rain with a friend from back home.

A familiar skyline. And dark clouds.

A familiar skyline. And dark clouds.

Although Simon and I know each other not just from living in West Somerset but also as we both went to university in Aberystwyth, thus making him the friend I am most used to seeing in different countries, after two months on the road it was still somewhat surreal visiting an internationally famous monument halfway round the world and still seeing someone so familiar. Considering he came to Australia before me, but chose to work in Sydney before going backpacking, I had always known I’d see him there (as quite frankly it would be rude not to) but it’s still a day that stands out somewhat. And this from a period in my life when everyday is pretty much different from the last anyway.

Having been in contact with him throughout my way south I’d heard about the storms Sydney had been having, and by watching the lightning through the Harbour Bridge, it was obvious they hadn’t left in their entirety. They may not be quite as iconic, but luckily Sydney has a number of museums and galleries that allowed me to carry on my sightseeing in the dry:

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A nice break from the city. When you can’t see it.

The classical looking Art Gallery of New South Wales isn’t normally one that would be top of my list, but as it was not only free, but also right there when the steaming rain started falling, it was rather convenient. Historical landscapes and portraits might not be my thing, but there was also an exhibition of asian art and artefacts that I did enjoy, but generally more my kind of art was the Museum of Contemporary Art. I also chose to visit the Powerhouse Museum, which focuses on science and Technology, from the earliest of steam trains to the marvels of space exploration. The Chinese garden was also well worth visiting, which as the name suggests is open to the elements, but luckily it wasn’t raining for my entire time in the city.

Located on the other side of Darling Harbour is the Sydney Aquarium which I also visited, and was more my kind of wet. Thanks to being lucky/knowing some really kind people, I also had the added bonus of getting in for free. Once inside I finally got to see some Platypus, as well as a whole host of other weird and wonderful creatures, including crabs, lobsters, and not one, but two underwater tunnels. The first takes you under the tank which houses the aquarium’s two manatees (which are actually different from dugongs), and the second being more stereotypically Australian with the chance to see sharks swimming around you, albeit in a safe environment.

Before I arrived I was told by many people that they weren’t that impressed with Sydney, it was just like any other city with nothing (other than the Opera House) that stands out, but I have to say I enjoyed my three days here. Perhaps it was because I didn’t stay for too long, and although I didn’t get out to Manly or Bondi, my time was just enough time to see the city centre which I enjoyed more than I thought I would, even despite the setbacks.

Afterall, I can’t blame Sydney for losing my debit card. That one was my own fault.

Falling about all over the place

When I got back to Cairns the first thing I did was collect the debit card I had been waiting a little over a week for. Naturally the second thing was to spend well over a week’s worth of money. Not that I was just squandering it because I could, now it was time to book trips and tours and do the kind of things you come to the East Coast of Australia for.

The first of these was for the very next day with a company called Barefoot tours. The driver/tour guide of which, Brett, was indeed barefooted. Not far from Cairns is an area known as the Atherton Tablelands, and this was where our small group would spend the day exploring, sightseeing, and most importantly, swimming. But not before picking up our final passenger however, Steve the pet rock.

Inside the Cathedral.

Inside the Cathedral.

After a quick stop at the rather impressive Cathedral Fig Tree we arrived at Lake Eacham, which had formed in the crater of a long since dormant volcano. Dipping my feet in the almost cold water I decided the only way to immerse myself was indeed by jumping in at the deep end. Maybe the water by the pontoon wasn’t quite as deep as the deepest point of 70m, but deep enough that I could dive in, not reach anywhere near the bottom, and still take a much longer time than expected to surface. While not everyone joined me swimming in the refreshingly cool water there were others who decided to jump in via the overhanging tree off the shore. The tree that Brett told us we weren’t allowed to jump from, whilst nodding his head somewhat emphatically. This carefree swim was followed by a brunch of fresh fruit, muffins, and Tim Tams, before we drove on to our next destination, Dinner Falls and The Crater.

Not needing much more of an explanation, it is also known as the Mount Hypipamee Crater, but pretty much is The Crater. Like Eachem it was a dormant volcano that had filled with water, but the lookout at the top of the crater is as high above the surface as the Sydney Harbour Bridge is above its own harbour.

Dinner Falls is served cold.

Dinner Falls is served cold.

Somewhat colder than Lake Eachem, at Dinner Falls we all took turns cringing at the yelps of those in line ahead of us, before adopting comical poses and jumping in ourselves. We then swam across to the waterfalls, sitting underneath which was not unlike receiving a massage from someone with cold hands.

Really cold hands.

So perhaps not that fabulous afterall...

So perhaps not that fabulous after all…

Millaa Millaa falls was next, which despite not actually being the waterfall from Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl video as we had been told (I checked when we got back, that one’s in Thailand), it was still the one from the Herbal Essences advert. As much as I couldn’t gloat to all the Peter Andre fans I know back home, at least my fabulous hair flick photo was still valid.

Before reaching our final waterfall however, there was an unplanned stop that surprised all of us when the bus ran out of fuel. It would have been nice if the bus had done this at one of the waterfalls we came to enjoy instead of by the side of a road in-between, but I guess you can’t have everything. A few of us got out to stretch our legs whilst at the same time letting them get bitten by mosquitos, and waited for the RACQ to come and lend a hand. One with a Jerry can in it. As much as it was an inconvenience, I merely adopted my attitude of not worrying because it’s no worse than anything that’s happened back home, and still smiling because at least I was in Australia. And not just Australia, but north Queensland also has some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen.

Despite being so near the coast, the Atherton Tablelands actually reach up to 1,200 metres above sea level, and are part of the world heritage listed Wet Tropics. Our day consisted of driving through pasture lands and rainforests, and more than one national park. We only stopped in the middle of a patch of tall grass that wasn’t that exciting, but was still tall Australian grass.

Luckily there was still enough light to enjoy Josephine Falls, and the small natural water slide that had formed on one of the smooth rocks. Not as long here as we had hoped, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless, as was having our afternoon tea on the party bus back to Cairns. It had neon lights and everything.