Playing With Fire

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Apr 27, 2008

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

It's been a while since I last wrote and today we've moved onto New Zealand where we'll be spending the next 3 weeks or so travelling around in a campervan.

However, I last posted on here from Byron Bay, where we left about a week ago and moved onto Surf Camp. 

Surf Camp is a little campsite right on a beach which lies in Limbo halfway between Sydney and Byron Bay. There's nothing else there except the camp, white sandy beaches and the open ocean. We arrived early afternoon and went straight out for a surf lesson. It took us a while to find our feet but within a few hours we were standing up on the board, and then we were allowed to go into the sea. It was really cool trying to ride the waves, and I saw dolphins swimming around in the swell. Apparently there was a tiger shark circling some of the surfers just a few weeks before, but they didn't tell us that before we got in (nor the fact that a few months ago a great white shark attacked a kayaker in Byron Bay close to where I was scuba diving). They like to play shark attacks down low!

That evening the whole camp descended onto the beach to watch the sunset and then party into the night. The camp had fashioned a stereo out of an old wheelie bin which was rammed with speakers and everyone sat around a "campfire" which had been made in a wheelbarrow. After a while, one of the Oz Experience drivers brought out his "fire toys" and gave us an amazing show of juggling fire and I managed to get some awesome photos of it all. It was a really clear night and the stars were out in full force so it was nice to just lie back on the sand and take it all in - our last evening travelling down the East coast.

The following morning we left the camp at 7.30am for the 8 hour drive down to Sydney. It passed pretty quickly and by 4 o'clock we were driving across the famous harbour bridge into the city, with views of the famous Opera House to our left.

Wake Up! hostel was to be our home for the next five nights and we were like kids in Activity World when we arrived. Used to modest hostels and little camps, Wake Up had 7 floors, lifts and even keycard doors - it only takes little things to please backpackers! Apparently it's been voted the World's best large hostel for the last few years in a row.

We decided to take a walk around town to get our bearings and headed to Circular Quay, where all the famous sites are - the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and ferry terminals. A dinner in Wagamamas was on the cards and then we headed back for an early night, ready for another early start.

At 8.30am the next day we arrived at Bridge Climb ready for yet another adventure. After getting kitted up in giant grey romper suits and harnesses, we started the 2 hour bridge climb experience. The start is pretty exciting as you're walking over walkways suspended by cables about 50m above the ground, which you can see straight through to the roads below. Then, after negotiating a series of ladders up to the arch, you begin the final push up to the top. It was great to climb early to see the city waking up, and also to climb before it got too hot.

On our way back down we spotted a couple about 50m below with a chisel trying to prise open a car window. They got quite a shock when we shouted at them and they turned round to see 12 people glaring at them - they looked pretty embarrassed! We could only assume they had locked their keys in...

After taking a trip to see the malls and shopping streets in the afternoon, I took a walk to visit a swimming pool in the botanical gardens which had glowing reviews in Lonely Planet. It was definitely the nicest pool I've ever swum in - 50m long, and surrounded by a glass wall it was perched on the edge of the gardens with amazing views over the swanky Woolloomoolloo harbour. Swimming in Westminster Lodge will never quite be the same again.

The walk back was equally great through the Botanical Gardens. The park was pretty empty and above my head were hundred of flying foxes flying into the night. I walked back the whole way with a big smile on my face which was stuck there for pretty much the whole time I was in Sydney - it really is an incredible place to visit.

That evening we went down to the hostel bar with some people we met in the room. They had a guy playing the acoustic guitar who was great and got the whole place dancing and it turned out to be an awesome night.

On our second full day in Sydney we woke up late and then met up with Katie Harrison who we went to school with and took a ferry ride across to Manly where we spent the afternoon sunbathing on the beach and walking around Manly - a nice little seaside suburb of Sydney where all the surfers hang out.

That evening we took a walk down China Town to Darling Harbour where all the trendy bar and nightclubs are but, after a heavy night the night before, we were happy just to take in the view of the city at night.

The next day I took a 2 hour train ride out to the Blue Mountains. They're called so because all of the eucalyptus plants give off an oil which makes the whole place look really blue. My main destination was a place called Scenic World where they have 3 attractions to give you a different perspective on the mountains. Firstly was the scenic skyway - a horizontal cable car which traverses a 200m gorge. However, as soon as the cable car had left the station the operator flicked a switch which made the floor which seemed opaque suddenly turn to see-through glass, and everyone was left with amazing views down to the canopy below.

Next up was the funicular railway which takes you right down into forest below. It's 450m long and is the World's steepest railway, in some places going seeminly near to vertical as it passes through tunnels and gorges on it way down. At the bottom was a 15 minute boardwalk which showed you remnants of the area's history as a mining area with mine shafts disappearing into the mountains, and then a 5 minute cable car (the steepest in Australasia) took visitors back up to the start.

That night we took another trip down to Side Bar which ended up being another awesome night...

On our last full day in Sydney we took a trip in the morning to the Imax cinema in Darling Harbour which has the largest cinema screen in the World. We watched a film called Deep Sea which was a 3D documentary about life in the oceans. The quality of the film was amazing at the 3D effects were used really well - at one point it looked like you were surrounded by jellyfish and so many times it felt as if you could reach out and touch the animals.

After our trip to the Imax we went to a Sydney classic - Bondi Beach. Being a Saturday, the beach was jammed pack and it was cool just to watch everyone going by and watching the hundreds of surfers trying to find space to ride a wave in the Ocean. On our way back to the hostel we stopped in the Botanical Gardens to watch the sun set over the city. Sydney has just been voted the "World's best city" again and Lonely Planet describes it as being "outrageously good looking". From our viewpoint, it was easy to see why.
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