Time flies when you’re planning to write a blog post! Before you know it, two whole weeks have passed. Today is a good day to write something, because it’s raining! All of Australia is delighted, although the news is now warning about flash floods and mud slides. There’s always something…
There’s one website that I have checked every day for the past two weeks: the NSW Rural Fire Service website. Where are the fires, is it safe where we want to go? At the start of the month there were more than 130 active warnings, today the number has dropped to 80. Hopefully that number will fall even further today and there will be no new fires due to lightning.
We are already at our third address in NSW. The first week we got to know the north of Sydney from our base in Neutral Bay. It is nice to spend some time in such a truly residential area, figuring out where the best supermarket is, which route to public transport has the least height difference, and what the daily rhythm of the neighbors is.
After we welcomed the New Year appropriately (with lots of bubbles and fireworks), on January 2 it was time to take a walk across the Harbour Bridge, into the city. At the foot of the bridge a nice, albeit touristy, neighborhood has appeared that was not there yet when we were last in Sydney ten years ago: the Rocks. It’s an area with many cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries. We had a nice lunch there, and went home by ferry later in the afternoon. Definitely more fun than the bus or metro. And super convenient: you do not have to purchase a public transport card, but you can just check in and out with a credit card and the amount due will be automatically debited. We should have that in Amsterdam.
Because we had never been to the Taronga Zoo, which apparently is a fun thing to do in Sydney, and because we now lived close by, that became the next day’s destination. Not our smartest decision, because it was extremely busy. We mostly saw a lot of Australian children, but truth be told, it was quite a nice zoo.
The next day the temperature rose to a balmy 37 degrees and thanks to a tip from our hosts we decided to take a coastal walk that day: the Spit to Manly walk. Again not a very brilliant idea, because it was really hot and we didn’t leave as early as we had planned. The walk was incredibly beautiful, leading past cliffs, through forests and parks and along beautiful, hidden beaches. Manly Beach was of course super busy, especially with surfers, because of the strong waves. We went swimming at Shelly Beach instead. That is much smaller and therefore even busier, but it is in a corner and so the water is calm there, making it possible to swim. I still had the bath water around Lombok on my mind and was somewhat disappointed: at around 20, 22 degrees, the sea water just felt COLD. Which was not really a bad thing during this hot day. At the end of the day we went to the city with a fast ferry, where we had a bite to eat on the sweaty terrace of The Rocks Cafe before we returned to our own spot by regular ferry.Sunday it was time to explore downtown, namely the Newtown district. That is a fairly dilapidated part of the city, but very hip. Or it could be a hip part of the city that is quite run down. It is known for the many large graffiti drawings. Among those is one of Martin Luther King, which is well known, partly because Coldplay has recorded the video of Sky full of stars there. Very nice to walk through. After a long walk through King Street and its surroundings, we looked up how we could get home from the coffee shop we were at. The bus stop with a direct bus to Neutral Bay turned out to be right outside the door. Sometimes things turn out ok…
That brought an end to our residency at Neutral Bay. On Monday we took a Uber to our new home, an Airbnb in Bondi Beach, 500 meters from the beach. What a nice neighborhood! The beach is a great surfing beach, the promenade looks a bit mweh and cheap, but the streets behind it are bursting with nice eateries and a great supermarket, the Harris Farmers market. Think Marqt or Landmarkt, but with a much more extensive range. Yum!
By now we knew how beautiful the Sydney coast is, so the next day, we immediately went for the famous Bondi to Coogee walk. It was a very nice walk, but secretly we both thought Spit to Manly was more beautiful. This walk was much busier, shorter and slightly easier. That’s why we did it the other way around, too.
After a quiet day with some work and a few short shopping walks, we decided to go back into the city center on Thursday. We wanted to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (we were not very impressed) and we still had to use the Light Rail once (it is just a tram! With a sexy name) and then we walked through Chinatown, to the new Darling Harbour library, on to Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral, and then to the Botanic Gardens and the Opera, because they are both very nice see from up close again. The bus took us back to Bondi.From Bondi you can walk south along the coast towards Coogee, but you can also venture north towards Watson’s Bay and the Hornby Lighthouse. That became Friday’s trip. It was a beautiful walk again, with really high cliffs in some places. There were sturdy gates, there was camera surveillance and there were a lot of information signs and even telephones for people in spiritual need. From that, and from the little monuments that were placed here and there at the gates, we could see that several people had chosen to make this place their last view. And sometimes that happens by accident: two days after our walk, a British tourist, an Instagram model, was knocked off the cliffs after she scaled the fence with her friends. I can’t feel very much sympathy for her, it’s a fine Darwin award example if you ask me.
As it was a hot day again, afer our walk we went to cool down in the famous saltwater pool of Bondi, the Icebergs pool. Apparently, it is the most Instagramed pool in the world. And it is spectacular, perched against the rocks and with a beautiful view of the beach. You’re still swimming in sea water of course, which regularly floods in over the edges during high tide, so it is pretty cold. For the first time this trip we swam another kilometer!
The following day it was time to go to our next HomeExchange destination: the home of Sue and Ken in Green Point, about 80 km north of Sydney. We are warmly welcomed with lots of tips, a home-cooked meal waiting for us in the fridge for that evening, and coffee on the fantastic wooden deck overlooking the Brisbane Water – a huge, weirdly shaped bay. What a nice way to travel this is!
Since we now have a car again, we decided to explore the area the next day. Via the small town of Hardy’s Bay and the beach town of Terrigal we drove to “The Entrance”: a very narrow passage from the sea to Tuggerah Lake. We saw many fishermen and many pelicans during our walk along the southern tip of The Entrance. The latter is not very surprising, because the animals are fed here every afternoon at half past three. But it is fun to see the huge birds. Along the coast we continued to Newcastle. At first I didn’t think much of the town, but on the way back we drove through a quite cute old town centre, so I changed my mind.On our way to Green Point we had already driven past the signs – and an ugly big yellow dinosaur – advertising the Australian Reptile Park. We had to visit that, of course! The park is not that big but very friendly, and in addition to reptiles, they also have quite a few koalas and stray kangaroos that you can pet. It was a lot less crowded than in Taronga, so we could see the animals up close. And we were lucky because the koalas were quite active. We have not only seen sleeping koalas curled up to a ball, but also running, nibbling and even jumping koalas. And now I know for sure: koalas cuter than pandas. Unfortunately, they are also quite rare. After our visit to the park we went for a walk in the Strickland State Forest, and although it is full of Eucalyptus trees, we saw exactly zero koalas.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: spotting koalas, there must be an app for that. One that indicates where in your area wild koalas have recently been seen, so that you can go there to view them yourself, because these animals are quite stationary. But there’s no such thing! There are plenty of apps and websites from governmental and non-profit organizations that would like you to let them know where you have spotted a wild koala, but there is no app that you can use to search where they might be right now. Personally, I find this a huge missed opportunity. Erwin thinks koalas probably would not enjoy getting many more visitors, so we should not produce such an app. He might be on to something … but I want to spot a wild koala again this trip. New mission!
Tuesday is my regular working and Chinese class day, so we mostly stayed close to the house. In the afternoon we took Ken and Sue’s kayaks out in the bay. It was a nice trip, although it was quite hard work to make it back to the house due to the strong headwind.
Green Point is an hour’s drive south of the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s oldest wine regions. The area is best known for the Semillon and Shiraz varieties that are grown here. Thus, Wednesday became wine day. Most wineries in Hunter Valley are small family businesses, and they look very different from the French castles or modern, sleekly designed wineries in Argentina and Chile. They look like unassuming, small farms – you would not be able to tell you were looking at a winery if it wasn’t for the ‘cellar door’ sign or the surrounding fields of grapes.Few wineries here export wine, most of them don’t even sell outside of New South Wales. Only Tyrrell’s is a name that we might come across in the Netherlands. At Hungerford Hill we had booked an “epic tasting” by way of lunch. Six wines were paired with canapés from their restaurant Muse. Delicious! The sparkling blanc de noir we started with was very tasty and we also liked the Hunter Valley Shiraz from 2018. But the most spectacular combination was with dessert: an Eton Mess-like dessert with coconut and rhubarb (!), with the 2016 Riverina Botrytis Semillon. Brilliant! The wine really brought out the flavour of the rhubarb and went amazingly well the with delicious dessert.
We took a different route back than the highway we had taken on the way there, one that apparently crossed kangaroo country. We saw an excessive amount of flat kangaroos on the side of the road, as well as one that was fortunately still skipping. The road also led through areas that had fallen prey to the flames in recent months. Very strange: pieces of forest with blackened trees with brown leaves still on their branches. Quite randomly interspersed with pieces of forest that seemed untouched, and parts where the fire had caused damage close to the ground, but where the tops of the trees were still green. To me, the strangest thing was that the different pieces were all mixed together: as if the fire had followed a very erratic path. And I always imagine a big, scorching sea of flames that destroys everything in its path. Apparently, that is not always how bush fires work.
Coastal walks are beautiful here, we now know, and so we walked part of the Bouddi Coastal Walk the next day. Nice and quiet, this is also a beautiful walk over rocks, along cliffs and through forests, with an almost empty beach at Maitland Bay at the end of our walk. Afterwards, we drove home via “the other side” of Brisbane Water.
On our last full day as Green Point residents we had planned to go sailing in Sydney with Ken and Sue. However, after months of drought, it rained heavily, so we had to cancel that plan. Too bad! I would have loved to see the beautiful coasts and the city from the water. Anyway, at least now this blog post is finished. As Johan Cruyff used to say: every disadvantage has its advantage.