Blue Mountain Biking

Naval inspired lobby of the Sydney Opera House

First thing in the morning we took a tour of the Sydney Opera House in all of its splendor. We watched a video about its construction and unique history. There is no denying that this is an engineering marvel. Inside the lobby it feels as if you are on a ship out at sea. The actual theaters (one for the orchestra and one for opera) are smaller than I had imagined. Also, they don’t fill up the full space of the shells which I guess is a result of acoustic issues. Yet, it would be quite an experience to hear music in that grand location.

We found out the hard way from the security guard that, yes, the official-looking cars in front of the Government House indicate that the governor is there...

Not something you see everyday in Georgia

We then strolled over to the Royal Botanical Gardens to have a look at the Government House, which is the ceremonial home of the Governor of New South Whales. It looks as if it was lifted from England and plopped back down at this location by some storm. We took a tour where I learned a little too much about the history of the house and government in NSW, but it was still interesting. Afterwards, Greg and I took the ferry back to Manly to “hire” two off-road mountain bikes for a biking adventure to the Blue Mountains which surround Sydney. Before heading back to the city we decided to take a ride around North Headlands Park which ended up being a great idea.

The views of the Harbour were fantastic, but leaning over the cliffs that bordered the Pacific gave me vertigo. I looked out to sea for migrating humpback whales but only saw whitecaps. For the first time it felt like I was halfway around the world with the foreign bird calls, the accents, the cars on the “wrong” side of the road, and the astonishing scenery.  After a crazy, heart pounding bike ride through the city back to the hostel it was off to the Blue Mountains the following morning!

Dramatic cliffs near Sydney Harbour

After the 2-hour train ride out to Blackheath, Greg and I went to the supermarket to pick up lunch (I had crumpets for the first time) and rode over to the visitor center.   After deciding on the trails we wanted to explore we glided down to Govetts Leap Lookout, which offered a vista of the Blue Gum forest below, sandstone cliffs above, and the tall, lanky Bridal Veil Falls. Afterwards, we rode our bikes to Evans Lookout to see another view of the magnificent valley.  We then ditched the bikes and took a three-hour hike down into the Grand Canyon (not quite as grand as the one we all know, but still impressive).  The ecosystem changed to a rainforest at its depths with ferns and eucalyptus trees hugging the river and serene waterfalls around every corner.  The path was brilliantly laid out with perfectly cut stones and curved staircases carved out of rock. We entered a deep glen that had an endless bottom before hiking back to the top.  In town, we met some nice locals at the pub before catching the train back to Katoomba –  a quaint town at the edge of the mountains.  That night I ate kangaroo loin for the first time and enjoyed it!  It doesn’t taste like chicken…but it does taste like steak. I’m a little disconcerted that I ate kangaroo before actually seeing a live one!

Govetts Leap Lookout (notice the falls on the right)

Greg on the graceful stone paths in the Grand Canyon (Image source: Greg)

One of many waterfalls in the Grand Canyon rainforest

Following that fun day was a rough, but ultimately satisfying mountain biking excursion out onto Narrow Neck Ridge. We picked up a beacon at the local police department to be safe before riding the most difficult trail I have ever encountered on bike. Some of the hills were so steep it was difficult to even push the bike up them on foot. Riding down the rocky trail was sometimes quite treacherous with any wrong turn spelling disaster. Luckily we made it there and back in one piece after seeing a world heritage wildlife refuge, magnificent landscapes, and losing a few pounds along the way. A stop at the Three Sisters Echo Point overlook (a rock formation sacred to the Aboriginal people) rounded out our trip before heading back to Sydney by train. We estimated that we had ridden over 40 miles on tough terrain that day alone. My aching body was quite alright with returning the bikes the next morning!

Narrow Neck Ridge Bike Path (Image source: Greg - can you tell he has a better camera than me?)


The Blue Mountains live up to their name

Me and my very heavy mountain bike (Image source: Greg)

The Three Sisters ("Meehni", "Wimlah" and "Gunnedoo" from the Katoomba tribe) were turned into stone by a witchdoctor to protect them. But before the witchdoctor could reverse the spell he was killed and the sisters remain there to this day...

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My Australian Adventure Begins….

My first week down under has been a whirlwind! After saying goodbye to everyone in the States I left for the airport with everything I would need for three months abroad – clothes, toiletries, electronics, reading material, and also 15 pounds of fly ash for research. Luckily, after nearly 24 hours of travel I arrived safely in Sydney with no quarantine issues. I attempted to stay awake for as long as possible to fight the jet lag. I met up with Greg, another student in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (NSF EAPSI) program, at the hostel.  Our rooms are old railway cars!

Sleeping Quarters at the Railway Youth Hostel, Sydney

We then shopped for a cellphone and opened our Australian bank accounts. The money here is plastic making it highly durable as was demonstrated when the guy at the airport help desk had me attempt to rip it. I find using their coins quite confusing because smaller coins have a higher value which seems quite backwards to logic. Afterwards, Greg and I rode the train to the CBD (central business district) to catch the ferry to Manly Beach. I finally felt like I was in Sydney after riding through the breathtaking harbour. It was surreal to see the iconic structures (the bridge and opera house) in person after seeing pictures of them my entire life.  The sunset lighting was just right so we took pictures galore.

Sydney Harbour at Sunset

Sydney is a very beautiful city – it certainly lives up to the hype.  It sort of reminds me of a sunny San Francisco (similar demographics and geographic location with a famous bridge). The dramatic coastline surrounding the harbour is also impressive, but I will talk more about this later. After taking the ferry back to the city, we walked around The Rocks which was the first European settlement in Australia and now contains many eclectic pubs and restaurants. Then we headed back through Town Square (Sydney’s equivalent to Times Square), before hitting the sack early after a long few days of traveling. Sydney has a cool, laid-back vibe and its diversity truly makes it a cosmopolitan destination. The Australian people I have met so far are very open and kind. The quality of life is high but it comes at a price, literally. Food, entertainment, and accommodation are sometimes outrageously expensive!  I would say that this is the only culture shock I have experienced thus far. Nevertheless, I certainly can see myself living here which makes me very excited for this adventure in Oz to begin!

The Sydney Harbour Bridge on a Clear Night

The iconic Sydney Opera House, a testament to reinforced concrete

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