The Cassowary Coast

From Sydney’s chilly winter we flew three hours north to Cairns in far north Queensland, where the Cassowary Coast begins.  The cassowary is a large flightless bird native to north eastern Australia.  They measure between 4’9″ and 5’9″ tall and have black feathers with a brightly coloured head.  They are a protected species and are seen as a sacred bird by local aboriginal tribes.

Cairns was something of a surprise to us.  After the hustle and bustle of Sydney, with its constant streams of traffic and skyscraper buildings, Cairns seemed so small and quiet in comparison.  The majority of shops and businesses seemed to be aimed at tourists, of which there were a lot.  The city just wasn’t what we had expected.  It was almost like stepping back in time to a seaside resort from a few decades ago.

I don’t mean to say that Cairns has nothing going for it.  It’s one of the most popular stepping off points to the Great Barrier Reef, especially for diving fanatics.  It is also home to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, one of the best sight-seeing tours we have ever done.

DSCN2426

Musical performance at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park

The Tjapukai people are one of the 600 or so aboriginal tribes that exist in Australia.  They don’t believe in writing down their stories, instead passing them by word of mouth, which made our visit to the park so much more interesting and interactive than we had expected.  Everything we learnt there was either told to us by an actual member of the tribe or demonstrated by them.   They enacted their Dreamtime story of creation, which for this particular tribe is that life came from a cassowary egg.  We watched them perform a traditional dance and listened to them play traditional music with drums and didgeridoo.  We even had the opportunity to join in with boomerang and spear throwing.

DSCN2485

View from Bicton Hill, Mission Beach, where the rainforest meets the beach

Three hours drive south from Cairns is the picturesque Mission Beach, where the rainforest meets the ocean.   Once again we were surprised by how green some parts of Australia are.  Our hostel, where we drove their 12 seater mini-bus in exchange for accommodation, was nestled amongst tall beautiful trees just a short walk from the beach.  It was so quiet and often the only noise around was the birds.

The city of Townsville, another four hours south, marks the end of the Cassowary Coast and this blog post.  To be continued…

Advertisements

Sydney Highlights

After 6 months living and working in Sydney, the time came for us to say our goodbyes and see what the rest of Australia has to offer.  But before we tell our tales of life after Sydney, here are some of the highlights from our time there.

Sydney Opera House

The Opera House is of course one of the must-see places in Sydney.  We went to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Force of Destiny, which was performed in the Joan Sutherland theatre.  Even if you’re not an avid opera fan, you can’t help but appreciate the vocal talent of the actors/singers and the emotion that they inject into their performances.

DSCN2260Sydney Fish Market

Found in Pyrmont on the harbour side, a short walk from Darling Harbour, the Sydney Fish Markets are open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.  It’s not a glamorous place, a little industrial looking both inside and out, and you can see the loading bays where the fish are hauled in on a morning.  However, we were amazed by the array of fish and marine life on offer, and also by the size of some of them.  We feasted on scallops mornay (delicious), oysters mornay and beer battered John Dory fillets, before purchasing a half a kilo of enormous meaty king prawns to cook at home later in the week.

Shopping

Sometimes on a Saturday morning we would head to the Glebe markets, which are fantastic for one-off vintage steals – I found an original 60’s psychedelic dress for only $5.  Also in Glebe is a vintage shop called The Works, selling everything from clothing to retro telephones to old-fashioned furniture.  Heading in a different direction on a Saturday, there are the upmarket Paddington Markets, with original handmade items of clothing and jewellery.  In the city centre is a beautiful shopping area called The Strand, ornate and old fashioned inside, with a range of shops including lovely jewellery shops with old, second hand pieces.  Over the harbour in our home suburb of Crows Nest, was another of our favourite shops called Title, which is a little treasure of a shop with a brilliant eclectic collection of books and vinyl.

Restaurants

Sydney is over-run with restaurants with cuisine available from countries all over Asia.  We developed a real love of Thai food during our time there, with one of our favourite restaurants being The Tall Lemongrass in Crows Nest.  Affordable and selling the most delicious pad kee mao, we visited this restaurant on a number of occasions.  Another of our favourites, although a bit pricier and therefore more for a special occasion, is Garfish.  The fish in Sydney is amazing, and not even Whitby cod can rival this seafood restaurant.

Bars

The Bavarian Bier Cafe is a chain, with bars in the city, Crow

s Nest and Manly, to name just a few.  Tom loved the beer there (including how you could buy in measures of a litre).  I’m not a beer drinker, but I really liked their ladies beer, with lychee flavour syrup.  In the CBD is The O Bar, on Level 47 in Australia Square.  With huge glass windows, the bar is in an O shape and revolves slowly 360 degrees, meaning you can sip your drink and take in the amazing view of the city and beyond, very impressive all lit up at night.

DSCN2390

Sydney Aquarium

The Australian coast is home to some of the deadliest marine life and also to some creatures which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  We saw some of these in the Sydney Aquarium, but most impressive of all were the underground tunnels where you can walk through and see sharks, dugongs and other sea life swimming around you and above you.  A great experience.

Fitness

I found the most fantastic yoga studio in Crows Nest called Mantra Yoga.  The teachers are brilliant, the people lovely and the studio has a great atmosphere.  It’s one of the things I’ll miss most about Sydney.  While I stretched away in yoga class, Tom practised jiu jitsu at Training Grounds, also in Crows Nest.  I know it’s one of the things that he will miss most too.

Sydney has so much more to offer than what I’ve written about here, but these were our highlights.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie

Spit Bridge to Manly

Constantly busy with everything Sydney has to offer, we have rather shamefully neglected our blog.  Needless to say we have a number of posts to catch up on, the first being about the scenic walk from Spit Bridge to Manly.

DSCN2167

The Spit Bridge to Manly (or vice versa) Scenic Walk is one of the most famous and popular walks in Sydney.  North of the harbour, the walk allows you to experience various bays, beaches and bushland areas.

One warm and sunny Sunday morning, we hopped on a bus which took us from our home in Crows Nest to Spit Bridge.  Taking steps down from the busy main road and under the bridge, we soon found ourselves in a peaceful wooded area.  The almost three hour walk led us from the leafy green shade to the quiet beaches of Clontarf Reserve.  From there, we came to Arabanoo Lookout, a fantastic lookout point.  Scanning 180 degrees, we could see the glistening of the harbour water in the sunshine and the thick, dense plant life growing in the more secluded areas.
DSCN2172

Tired at this point, but with Manly in sight, we continued from this beautiful vista along a dusty track, under the shade of the trees, eventually arriving at Forty Baskets Beach.  This landmark was named after a catch of 40 baskets of fish made there in 1885 and sent to troops at the Manly Quarantine Station after NSW’s first overseas military expedition.

North Harbour Reserve and Fairlight Beach marked our approach to Manly, with the clear water softly lapping against the stones.  Strolling alongside the harbour, we eventually arrived at Manly Cove, where we rewarded ourselves with the most delicious fish and chips and a ginger beer.

Blue Mountains

After a busy first few weeks in Sydney working hard, we decided to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend a weekend in the Blue Mountains.

DSCN2071

A mountainous region around two a half hours from Sydney, the Blue Mountains gained its name as a result of the oil from the many eucalyptus trees mixing with the water vapour in the air and casting a blue hue around the mountains and the skyline.

There are a number of villages in the region, but as we were only there for a short time we decided to stay in Katoomba.  From the rustic No14 Guest House where we stayed, we walked through the village towards Echo Point.  It’s autumn here at the moment, but we had perfect weather during our whole stay, with clear blue skies and hot sunshine.  Many leaves have fallen, and our walk was a multitude of greens, reds, yellows, golds and browns.

DSCN2092

Arriving at Echo Point, we were met with the spectacular view of the mountains spanning across the horizon.  It was a clear day, yet the vapour in the air created a haze around the mountain tops.  To our left, stood the Three Sisters, a rock formation which represents three sisters who according to legend were turned to stone by a witch doctor.  His actions were intended to protect them from the men by whom they were captured, but apparently the doctor died before he was able to reverse the spell, condemning the sisters to an eternity in stone.

The Giant Stairway is a path of 900 steps which lead from Echo Point, past the Three Sisters and down into the Jamison Valley.  Whilst some of the steps have been replaced with metal where the path has worn away, most of the steps were rocky and uneven, spiralling down into the valley.  To reach the bottom was hard work, and the walk back up was even more arduous!

With aching legs and tired from the day’s walking, we slept well, rising early the following morning to make the walk from Valley of the Waters to Wentworth Falls Village.  The path that we followed on this walk showed us some of the most stunning sights we have seen yet.

From Queen Victoria Lookout at the start of the walk, we had an incredible view of the mountains and cliffs, densely populated with over 100 species of eucalyptus trees and plant life which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  We descended amongst the trees and plants, following the path of chunky rocks, alongside the craggy stone face.  The path led us to Empress Falls; waterfalls flowing down the cliffs, splashing from one rock to the next, resulting in lush green life growing there and the stone colouring darkly from the continuous flow of water.

DSCN2129

We weaved in and out of the waterfalls, splashing through shallow pools of water and brushing back branches which grew in our way.  The stepping stones and rocky walkways led us along the National Pass, against the cliff face, battered and worn by years of exposure to the Australian climate with its extremes of intense heat and storms.  As we passed through the various waterfalls, we could feel drops of water splashing on us, cool yet refreshing.

Eventually we reached Wentworth Falls, the largest of the falls we had seen so far.  The water cascaded from high above us, bouncing off the uneven rocks, spray in the air from the gentle breeze.  After crossing over the flow, we ascended steep stone steps, an intense climb, until we found ours

elves at the top of the waterfall looking at the drop below and the valley around.

From the top of Wentworth Falls, the walk was easier on the legs, but just as beautiful.  Darwin’s Walk wound alongside the peaceful stream, the source of the waterfalls.  The quiet atmosphere was a contrast to the noise of the waterfalls which we had left behind.  The plants which grew on the river bed were thick and lush, almost tropical.  Back in the sunshine, out from under the shade of the trees which had sheltered most of our walk, we arrived at Wentworth Village.

DSCN2117

We have been fortunate enough to see some outstanding sights on our travels, with rich history, but in terms of natural beauty, Wentworth Falls is the most stunning.

Thanks for reading.

Sophie & Tom

Work & Wine

There is a lot of competition for jobs within the not-for-profit sector, so I was really pleased when my first temporary work assignment in Sydney placed me at the charity Relationships Australia New South Wales.

RA supports various communities in Australia, offering counselling and mediation services and education programs.  More information on the excellent work that the charity does can be found here.

I was delighted when, at the end of my week’s assignment, I was offered a 6 month contract within the finance team at RANSW.  The office I am working in sits in the suburb of Lane Cove, a leafy green area with a small collection of unique shops, some delicious eateries, and a small plaza where I like to sit and enjoy the sunshine on my lunch break.

DSCN1980Aside from my good fortune work-wise, that same week I was also lucky enough to win $500 worth of wine.  I hadn’t even remembered putting my name in the draw for a chance to win, so when I received the e-mail to tell me I was the lucky winner, it was completely unexpected. Given the choice of two cases of average wine, or one case of smashing wine, I opted for the smashing wine, which Tom and I agree was an excellent choice.  Meerea Park Hell Hole is a Shiraz from the Hunter Valley, priced at around $42 (£28) a bottle.  It has featured in our celebrations for my new job, and also for Tom’s birthday, and there are still a few bottles left!

New Home, New Job, New Beginnings

Today marks one week in our new home and my first week at work.

We moved in last Saturday, to the Sydney suburb of Crows Nest, in to a house share with 2 other people and 2 dogs.

Crows Nest is a lovely suburb in the north of Sydney, over the Harbour Bridge. It’s full of great restaurants, pubs, and plenty of things to do. With regular busses to the Central Business District, it makes my morning commute straightforward and stress free, being only a 15 minute journey.

We live with two women, Vikki and Dani, and two dogs, Boo and Jackson. Vikki first came here from London twenty years ago, and Dani is a real Aussie, who was brought up in the outback but now lives in Sydney. Vikki has two dogs and also works with dogs for a living so we can often have up to six dogs in the house. The dogs are all well natured and I really like having them around. We are especially fond of a pug called Henry, who can only be described as being so ugly that he is cute, and looks as though he has ran into a wall, squashed his face, and made his eyes pop out.DSCN1927

Rent in Sydney can be very expensive. Finding a place to live can also be really hard for couples on a working holiday visa, so I think we were lucky with what we found. Rent is $350 a week for a double room, including bills, which may sound like a lot compared to England, but is a lot less compared to accommodation in the rest of the city.

I started work on Tuesday at a school in the Central Business District called ELS, Universal English. The school is in a great location, and it’s much bigger compared to schools I have worked in before. The classrooms are large and air conditioned but have no windows. The lighting in the building is so good though, that I was blissfully unaware of the fact until somebody pointed it out to me.

I feel so lucky to have found a job so quickly on arriving, as I know how it can take some people months in Australia. Having full-time work means we don’t have to worry about running out of money, and we are going to start just enjoying settling into our new life.

Tom

Royal Botanic Gardens

On Wednesday we took the free city bus to Circular Quay.  Looking out at the water, you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge to your left, and the Sydney Opera House to your right.  As the weather was so beautiful, we decided to spend the day outside, in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The gardens are absolutely beautiful, sat alongside the harbour with trees bordering the remaining sides.  There are huge areas of perfectly cut grass, a lush, vivid green.  A collection of themed gardens house a vast array of different trees, plants and flowers .  Various paths wind their way around, sometimes leading you into a quiet sanctuary.

In the Oriental Garden you can find wild and cultivated plants from China, Japan DSCN1872and Taiwan, to name a few.  Flowers here include the highly perfumed Magnolia, and the plant from which tea is produced, called Camellia.  Dotted around the garden are stone oriental lanterns, which were presented to Sydney by Nagoya in Japan, to mark their sister city relationship.

The Herb Garden is full of delicious smelling plants.  Some are used in cooking, such as the curry leaves and lime-scented geranium.  Others are used in medicine, such as catharanthus roseus, which is said to slow down the progress of leukaemia, and prunella vulgaris, which has been used to treat wounds and cuts as well as fever and rheumatism.

The gardens are so tranquil and peaceful, one of the most quiet, relaxing places you could hope to find.