Christmas in Oz

With our last couple days in Airlie Beach being decidedly rainy, we fled back to Sydney just in time for the holidays. We landed on Christmas Eve and while most people had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, we dreamed of Bondi Beach’s sandy shores. It may not be snow, but it is still white so that has got to count for something, right?

Finally a beach day! Wrong…

We were well prepared not to wake up to softly falling snow, but what we did not expect to see out the window was grey skies and a steady downpour. Looking back, we think that maybe Sydney was trying its best to make us feel at home by supplying cold weather in plenty. If that was the case, better luck next time Sydney. Anyways, to make a long story short, we needed a new plan. We were already planning to meet up with some Finnish friends we met during our time in South Africa who were now living and working in Australia for the next couple months so we got in touch and decided to outsmart the dreary weather together and have ourselves a merry, little Christmas at their apartment. Together we fixed ourselves a regular Christmas feast complete with steak, cookies, some strange Finnish shots, and a nice rainy day movie. It may not have been your typical Christmas, but with our over-filled bellies and time spent celebrating with friends, it was a good one! Mission: Christmas was deemed a success although it did have us Ho! Ho! Hoping for some better weather for the rest of the week.

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Thankfully, our Christmas wish for better weather was granted when we peeked outside the hostel window Boxing Day. (Boxing Day is the day after Christmas that Australians celebrate…for cricket I think?) It was a tad windy, but not raining so things were looking up. We spent the morning strolling around downtown Sydney, through the botanical gardens, and up and down the streets of various chic neighborhoods such as The Rocks where we tested our taste buds with an official meat pie. (Not our favorite Australian delicacy we must admit.) This fabulous city instantly gives off an incredible vibe. It is a terrific city that you really could spend days and days wandering around without fear of boredom. Finally, we made it to the world famous Sydney Opera House. After spending the better part of the afternoon people watching on the Opera House patio (which I might mention rivals any people watching stage worldwide) it was time for our Opera House tour.

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Let me preface by saying that the Sydney Opera House deserves every ounce of praise it has ever received. The architecture alone is enough to render you completely speechless. Then layer the story of the development and life of this outstanding Australian landmark on top of its appearance and you have yourself more than just a building, but practically a living, breathing being. The interior was just as spectacular as the exterior. We toured a few of the backstage areas in addition to the various performance spaces. Our favorite was definitely the Main Concert Hall with its expansive seating (designed to react to sound as if there is always a human body occupying the seats so that the sound never fails to be consistent) and the immense organ serving as a stunning, yet slightly imposing background. It is no wonder that this venue has attracted performers and world leaders alike for decades. The Sydney Opera House has been, is, and will continue to be a masterpiece for all the right reasons. It is phenomenal!

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Last on our busy Sydney agenda was the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. To break it down, essentially we set out to walk to the top of the towering Sydney Harbor Bridge scaffolding. Setting out just after an early dinner, we strapped on our harnesses and ridiculous jumpsuits and began the seemingly arduous task of climbing to the top of a bridge. Really, the walk out under the belly of the bridge was the only sketchy section. Once we passed that checkpoint, we climbed up several steep ladders until we reached the actual metal arch of the bridge. From there it was smooth sailing all the way to the tippy top. We reached the summit just in time for sunset. Perfect! This was a truly breathtaking way to see the city. Watching the ships docking and the hubbub of city life buzzing below us as the sun turned the sky all shades of purples, pinks, and reds was absolutely priceless! Not a bad way to end our day in the Wonderful World of Oz…errr…Sydney.

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With the plan being to head to out of Sydney and off to the Blue Mountains for our last few days in Australia, we awoke to a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. That being said, we immediately rescheduled for a BEACH DAY!!! Off to Bondi Beach at long last. We arrived to find this quintessential Australian beach absolutely crawling with people. This would usually turn us off from a beach, but for whatever reason this made Bondi Beach that much better. There was such an impressive energy…plus the people watching was great. (A real sampling of Australia’s finest leather and ivory…that is, sun damaged skin versus skin cared for with meticulous sunscreen application.) The water was so clear and the sand so pristine and white that I don’t think you can help but love this place. As the giant waves crashed in we found ourselves a spot right in front of the surfers and watched in awe. It seemed that everyone from 5 year olds to 90 year olds were out on the water and surfing inland in style. Once we had our fill of surfer spectating, we took everyone’s advice and strolled along the Coastal Walk to Bronte Beach. The views were incredible with wave polished cliffs and practically glowingly blue water as far as the eye could see. From there it was back on the bus towards Central Station where we picked up our original itinerary and caught the train out to the Blue Mountains.
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On a trip such as this, we have learned that it is always when you least expect it that something interesting happens. With that said, one such situation arose on our train to the Blue Mountains. While most everyone was more or less minding their own business, reading books, dozing, and/or doing any number of other normal things one might do on a two hour train ride, one woman was excessively drinking. Talking over her booming voice (which you really had to listen carefully in order to confidently distinguish as English due to her heavy slurring) her husband was trying his very best to quiet her down. When it dawned on her that she really was being rather noisy, she took it upon herself to wish everyone on board a HAPPY NEW YEAR! It was not long after that, that she promptly threw up into her now empty beer can. Thankfully, the Blue Mountains were a lot better than the train ride leading up to them.
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We were pretty excited to get to spend a little quality time outside hiking after all this time travelling and this was our chance. With an awesome looking route picked out we started our walk to the trailhead…which the receptionist at our hostel failed to mention would talk close to 1.5 hours. We basically walked ourselves straight out of town and then some. Classic. Our warm up successfully behind us, we finally reached the trailhead and began the day’s hike, or “bushwalk” as it is known in Australian vernacular. It did not take long before we reached our first destination, the Ruined Castle. This rock formation that can be found on the ridge overlooking a deep, green valley was a perfect lunch spot. The views were expansive and with the sun warming the rocks we were sitting on I think we could have stayed their all afternoon. Alas, it was time to head out again. We backtracked a bit and then worked our way farther on down the trail in the direction of town. While the bulk of this hike was rather flat, it surprised us a bit at the end when we had to hike up close to what must have been one million steps to reach the plateau on which the charming town of Katoomba, where we were staying, was located. The good news is that not only did we get to spin the legs a bit and earn our dinner that night, but that final section was by far the most beautiful of the day. The hike up and out of the valley was chuck full of massive ferns, waterfalls, and rocky overhangs that we had never expected to find in Australia. It was so cool and without a doubt, the perfect way to end our time here as we head eastward to be the first to ring in 2013…well, with the rest of New Zealand that is.
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One thought on “Christmas in Oz

  1. So glad you got to experience ‘my’ Blue Mountains… my bushwalking spiritual home! Ah yes, and of course, you found it as most Blue Mts walks are… down hill to start into the Jamison Valley (where you hit the track to take you to the Ruined Castle), then up, up, up the 400m or so to get you out again at the end of the day.
    I hope you find some time for some ‘tramping’ in NZ too!

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