Blue Mountains of Australia

Trip Start Oct 26, 2007
Trip End Oct 26, 2009

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

March 3rd

My cousin Marie and I traveled west of Sydney to the Blue Mountains, where we spent a few days exploring.  One of the things we discovered was why the mountains are blue!  The blue mist that rises from millions of eucalyptus trees and hangs in the mountain air tints the sky and the mountain range blue.  You can imagine the scent of the mountains too, given the huge number of eucalyptus trees.  It's a very pretty area, although both Marie and I were surprised at how un-mountainous the Blue Mountains are! I've been spoiled by the mountain ranges in New Zealand, and Marie thinks that Australia is less about big mountains, and more about big spaces.

In 2000 the Blue Mountains became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after the Great Barrier Reef (I'll visit there in a few weeks).  The site listing came after abseiling/rock climbing was finally banned on the mountains' most famous spot, the Three Sisters, after 40 years of climbing had caused significant erosion. 

We stayed in a hippy town called Katoomba, which had a great feel to it.  There were lots of second hand book stores, street cafes and adventure sports outlets.  Everyone was so chilled and friendly.  We we did spy a few downright back woods-ish types, but didn't have contact with people from the way-out-there bush!  There was a bit of a run-down feel to the town, which was surprising to us given it's the main Blue Mountain visitor spot and boasts a modern mountain visitor centre.  Despite that, the town managed to retain a slightly detached and depressed feel.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit we made to a local art gallery.  We met the owner/director just as he was editing a video about the artist he was going to feature in the week ahead.  The young artist was Scott Marr, who specialised in pyrography, which is burning into wood and/or paper.  This guy found and used pigments from the bush, which happened to be his back yard. 

We had arrived in the gallery just as Geoff, the gallery owner, was about to edit the video.  Both Marie and I were drawn to and marveling over a painting on wood by Marr, when Geoff asked if we wanted to watch the un-edited video.  Naturally we did!  We gave some feedback as to what typical gallery-goers might be interested in, and what bits of the video he might change.  We really lucked out with our timing.. but then our luck got even better!  We had to rush out to make the Jenolan caves, which were an hour or so away, so Geoff invited us back the following morning to meet the artist, who was going to be hanging much more of his work the next day.  Excellent!

So off we went to spend the afternoon climbing, wriggling, sliding, and twisting our way through a series of underground caves that are New South Wales' "most spectacular limestone formations".  Rather than opt for a mere tour of one of the ten caves open to the public, Marie F, for whom one of her passions in life is adventure sports, convinced me to do the Plug Hole tour.  This involved suiting up in overalls, miner's hat with headlamps, and rock climbing gear for the abseiling necessary to reach the opening of the cave!  Can you picture it?  Haha.  Well, I'm happy to say we emerged from the caves alive, and feeling more alive than we had in ages! I think everyone should spend time in caves, sliding, crawling, and squeezing through tight spots as often as they can.. It puts you in touch with your inner child!  Anyway, we laughed and marveled at the extensive network of underground caves and rock formations that were just awe inspiring. 

Marie and I have really enjoyed eachothers' company on this road trip! 

After the caving, we would drive back to Katoomba after stopping at a park our caving guide told us of, where kangaroos were known to hang out.  As we approached the field, we saw loads of grazing kangas.  We quietly got out of the car, and tiptoed toward the herd.  Marie F got very close, and as the animals didn't seem to be threatened, or making moves of any kind, I thought it was safe to follow.  Ever the risk-taker, I waited for Marie F to be mauled, and when she wasn't, I ventured closer. 

We found ourselves in the middle of the field, at the childrens' playground, marveling at our luck that the kangaroos were seemingly so people-friendly.  All of a sudden the calm kangaroos turned nasty!  The secret kangaroo code must have been signaled, because the next thing you know they were hopping towards us.  These were not the cutesy cuddly toys you might conjure up from the toy shop shelf!  Rather they were raging 'roos!  They were severe looking, with small beady eyes, short but sharp-clawed front paws, and massive, powerful back legs that were boinging along towards us.  They were not happy.  They made no sound, except for the boing boing that I heard either in my head, or was actually coming from the ground when they hit. 

Marie and I made tracks of our own towards the car.  Fast tracks!   Marie F's prayer to Jesus, Mary and Joseph accompanied my vision of the kangaroos karate-kicking their way into the car before we could close the doors.  Of course the windows were down so please God we could get to the car and close the windows before they attacked!  And pleased God we must have, because we made it, closed the windows, and laughed with relief!

Funnily, the electric window sound made the kangaroos stop and prick up their ears.  We were feeling less awed and protective of the kangaroos now,  so we activated the windows to get their reaction.. and Marie snapped a few photos.  I foolishly left my camera back at Katoomba, so missed the camera in the caves, and with kangaroos!  But I snapped pics with Marie's camera, and will be able to copy them.  We hit the road, leaving the territorial army of kangaroos behind, and drove back to Katoomba.

We woke the next day feeling achy, and chalked that up to our exertions in the caves.  But I tell you, fleeing from the ferocious kangaroos probably took more of a toll than we knew!  We sprinted for that rental car!  haha

That morning we had a delicious breakfast at a cafe we discovered was run by a spiritual organisation called the Twelve Tribes.   As soon as we sat and noticed the staff (all of the men had full beards, the women all had long hair, and both men and women were serene, smiling and dressed simply) we knew we were in a different sort of breakfast joint!  But the food! the food was just gorgeous.  

I had wholewheat pancakes with yoghurt and maple syrup.  Marie F had a jam roll.  We both had delicious coffees.  The decor of the restaurant featured wonderful wood everywhere, polished and hewn in beautiful ways.  There were crocheted panels (sounds strange, but it really looked beautiful) in and amongst the woodwork.  On some of the wooden panel walls were murals and paintwork, as well as small flowers decoupaged onto some of the stairs.  Our small table for two was highly polished and featured a tiny stencil of two geese. 

I wish we had taken photographs.  There were three levels, and the wood on all levels was just beautiful.  The open kitchen hummed along.. clearly the twelve tribes was a harmonious group, and when we left Marie and I talked about spiritual organisations we have known! and whether there is one way.. I think we agreed there's a lot of disagreement on the subject!  And that many people flee the organised religion of their upbringing, in search of a better way for them. 

We then stopped back to the gallery, and did meet Scott, the artist we had seen in action on video the day before.  What a lovely guy!  We are all officially "mates" now.. and Marie F, being an artist herself, is a special mate who has been invited back, given her plans to spend a year in Australia. 

The gallery website is  Go down to current exhibits, or click onto Scott Marr's name.  His paintings are just amazing.  If I had a house (!) and money to burn (no pun intended on the pyrography front) I would be placing orders with this amazing artist.  Meeting him and Geoff, the gallery owner, further reinforced the impression I have of Australians being really down to earth, and nice.  Similar to Kiwis.. no worries and everything's easy.  I plan on sending my millionaire friends personal invitations to look at this guy's work.. Marie and I look forward to the day when he's rich and famous (on a par with Hockney or Van Gogh!) and we can tell our story of meeting him. 

Our time in the Blue Mountains was fab.  We drove back to Sydney, parked at Sydney Harbour and decided to go to the Opera House that evening to see Carmen!  Marie F's first time to the opera, and both of our first visits to the Sydney Opera House!  The performance was superb, I got such a kick out of Marie's enjoyment of the show.  And so exciting to be at the Sydney Opera House - where people still dress to go to the opera!  Marie and I wore the nicest clothes we had (having only one dress in my repertoire I didn't spend a lot of time agonising over what to wear!)  We enjoyed the intermission on the outer deck of the Opera House that overlooks Sydney harbour on one side, and the bright lights of the city on the other.  We were grinning all night!  After the performance we hung out on the quayside, listened to music, and just soaked up the excellent and easy Sydney atmosphere.  

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