A small bus/large van (same as the others) came to pick me up from my hostel at 7:30. I met my tour guide John, who seemed quite talkative and awake at the early hour. We proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes collecting the other people going on the tour, totaling 18 others in all. Heading west, we went towards the Olympic Park. Along the way John pointed out all sorts of interesting things in Sydney, as well as mentioning the different suburbs and their history and interesting facts as we moved through them. Then we came upon Olympic Park, the location of the 2000 summer olympics. This site is outside the city, and massive. With broad avenues and sidewalks, a gigantic stadium, and many other large buildings that were used during the games. Today, the park is still heavily used by Sydney for different sports complexes such as for tennis and swimming, as well as using the main few stadiums for sports, concerts and events. We had half an hour to wander around this beautiful area. I can't imagine what it would've been like during the olympic games, buzzing with excitement and packed to max capacity.
Next we drove a little farther to Featherdale Wildlife Park, here we had an hour or so to explore. The park was like a cross between a zoo and a wildlife reserve. There were a good number of animals that were allowed to roam freely in certain parts of the zoo, mainly kangaroos. So you could be walking along and a kangaroo would hop by! They were all very friendly and happy (but not particularly interested) to be pet (this is because some people were feeding them, that's what they really wanted). There were a great number of animals at the park, especially kangaroos and wallabies. But there were also most other famous Australian animals, some I had not been able to see up to this point. I got to see the Tasmanian Devil, which were kinda gross, nothing like looney tunes, and reminded me of the rats from the fire forest in The Princess Bride.
Dingos, which seemed to just be dogs (I'm told their more like wolves though). Wombats, emus, cassowaries, and bilby. Also all sorts of birds, from huge eagles, to parrots, to storks, and small penguins. Along the way I got to pet a koala bear, which was pretty soft, and very sleepy. This park was a lot of fun, if not a little bit overwhelming! There were so many animals and pens, and everything was very close together. On my way out of the park, I bought myself a boomerang as my souvenir to remember Australia, and hey, maybe I'll figure out how to throw the thing.
Once we'd seen our share of animals, we went up into the Blue Mountains, on an hour and a half drive to Katoomba, one of the most prominent towns in the mountain range. There I had a really good lunch at Common Grounds Cafe, which was a really cool little cafe suggested by John. Most
notably, I had one of the tastiest strawberry smoothies that I've ever had. After this we drove on to echo point, where we were able to see a famous rock formation called the three sisters. They are three large rocks, and they're named based on a myth explaining how the formation came to be. These are in Australia's "Grand Canyon." We also got to see a didgeridoo player.
Following this, we went to a place literally called Scenic World. It's at one end of the grand canyon, and has three different "rides." The first was a cable car ride at one end of the valley that we were at, and on one side was a waterfall. Next we took a very steep railway (almost 90 degrees) down into the subtropical rainforest that covers much of the Blue Mountains. Scenic World has a huge boardwalk going through the rainforest.
I spent 45 minutes or saw walking through the forest, where it was very pretty and a nice comfortable temperature. It was interesting seeing the differences between this forest and the tropical rainforest of the daintree. After I had walked the entire boardwalk, I took cable car back up to the top of the cliff, showing some beautiful views of the valley and waterfall.
After we were all sceniced out, we began our trip back towards Sydney. On the way we stopped to see Boer Rock, although I thought that it looked more like an eagle. Once we'd made the pit stop, we headed down to Parramatta River, where we boarded onto a ferry that took us into Sydney Harbor by water. This provided many beautiful views, and also helped give me an idea of just how huge and sprawling Sydney truly is (about the same population as all of New Zealand!). When we reached the wharf, our tour was over.
I decided that I wanted to go visit Manly Beach, which is across the harbor, and one of the most popular beach areas for Sydney residents. I went here with one of the people that I met on the tour who was also going here for dinner, Mark, who is from Philadelphia. We got to go by downtown Sydney as the sun set, which was beautiful. Manly was just how you would picture an expensive beach area, near a major city. With many high-end bars, cafes, and ice cream shops. We explored the beachfront, and then went off of it to a cool looking Indian restaurant. After a tasty (and pretty spicy!) meal, we caught a ferry back to Sydney. This view was also great, since it was night with the city, opera house, and bridge lit up! By the time I got back it was 11:30, and I was very ready for bed.
I once again had a great tour guide, who excelled at getting everyone in our large group involved. I got to meet to some extent most of the people on the tour. John was also very good at conveying his excitement about both Sydney and the Blue Mountains. This made the tour well worth it, not to mention that there were many great views to see as well. Also this helped me meet some more great people, and led to many fun conversations along the trip. Today marked the most pictures that I've taken at one point by far, so those will take awhile to get posted.
But all my pictures from Kangaroo Island are now up! I'm off to Wellington, New Zealand in just a couple days time! Australia has been great, but I'm very excited to check out where I'll be living for the next 5 months. Thanks for the continued support, I'm glad that people back home are enjoying these blog posts, as much as I'm enjoying writing them!
I didn't do much yesterday after my easy noon flight into Sydney, but I did book a tour for today, seeing how enjoyable my other tours had been. I originally had planned to skip the Blue Mountains, but based on discussions with travelers and tour guides during the past week, I decided to reconsider. So once I did a little research, I booked a one day bus tour of the mountains. The Blue Mountains are a World Heritage Sight (just like the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef), marking the western boundary of sprawling Sydney, and are part of the Great Dividing Range.