A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

Happy New Year!

sunny 90 °F

Happy 2009!

Sydney is an awesome place to be for New Year's. The Sydney Harbour New Year's Eve Fireworks are held every New Year's Eve over Sydney Harbor centering at the Sydney Harbor Bridge. They take place in two shows, a smaller show at 9pm (the show for the families) and the major show at midnight. Over 1.5 million people were expected to crowd around the harbor to watch the show. Sounded like a great way to ring in the new year.

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One of the best ways to view the fireworks is to take a harbor cruise. But since those are booked completely 4 months ahead of time and cost ~$500, that was out of the question. We then thought we'd head to the Botanical Gardens (park right next to the Opera House) or to a park on the north side of the harbor so we could see the Opera House and Bridge when the fireworks were going off. However, both of those required you to get out and claim your space by noon and fight 20,000 other people for lines at the bathroom. Dawn began looking at other options and surprisingly the city provided several resources to help you figure out your New Year's plans. First they sent out mailers to everyone letting them know where people can go for the best views. They also provided a web site showing all modes of public transportation, location of toilets, and where the boats that launched the fireworks were going to be located. Here is a view of the map:

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The red dot in the bottom left is the park next to our house. The Harbor Bridge is marked by the fourth blue fireworks symbol (and the largest road spanning the harbor). We toyed with the idea with just going to the local park to watch so we wouldn't have to fight the crowds, but we wanted to be as close as possible to the action. Dawn ended up calling our friends Rob and Hailey who have an apartment downtown near the harbor. They had a rooftop pool that we could hang out at until it got dark and then shoot down to the harbor. Rob and Hailey liked the idea, so we finally had our plan for New Year's.

I bought a case of beer for the men, Dawn bought some wine and champagne for the women. I made some shrimp and some chicken shish-kabobs. We slapped on some sunscreen (since it was HOT), put on our hats, and made our way to Rob and Hailey's place. We immediately when up to the pool, cracked open a beer, and began soaking in the rays. We met an Australia guy, Adam, and his Swedish girlfriend, Jenny, at the pool. They told us that we wouldn't be able to get close enough to the harbor if we tried to leave at 9 because the streets would be packed by that point. He invited us to come with him to a friend's place right near the bridge to watch the fireworks. It sounded like a fantastic idea, especially when he mentioned he'd buy us another two cases of beer and some wine to repay for the shish-kebabs we shared. We sat in the sun for another 6 hours, went down and showered, and then went over to watch the fireworks.

Adam was right, the streets were PACKED. We had to weave our way between thousands of people and finally reached the building where the party was being hosted. We got the security guard to let us up to the 6th floor and went in the party. Before I go into details about the party, let me say that Australians can be some of the nicest people. Adam had only known us for an hour before inviting us to come with him, the host of the party didn't know us at all, but everyone made me and Dawn feel extremely welcome (it probably didn't hurt that I was carrying a case of beer into a party either). I went straight out to the balcony to check out our view. It was great, we were only 200 yards from the bridge! We partied until the fireworks went off, and then partied late into the night.

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We finally drug ourselves away from the party at 3am. It was going to be a long walk home, and I knew the longer we stayed, the harder is was going to be to get home. We walked back to George St and began looking for taxis. It was then I remembered, when looking at the vacant streets, that they had shut down the central business district for New Year's. There were no taxis, no buses, no cars, nothing. We were miles away from the rail stop we use to get home. We had no choice, so we started hiking. The streets were still teeming with people (borderline madhouse). An hour later we finally got home and slept like babies.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 22:44 Archived in Australia Tagged event Comments (1)

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

sunny 85 °F

Since 1945 an event called the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race takes place on December 26. As the name suggests, the event is a yacht race that begins in Sydney's harbor and ends at Hobart, Tasmania. Eager to see the start of the race, Dawn and I headed out to Watson's Bay to watch.

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The distance between Sydney and Hobart is about 730 miles. Bass Strait (area of water between Tasmania and the rest of Australia) is renowned for its high winds and difficult seas. Even though the race is held in the Australian summer, storms often make the Sydney-Hobart race cold, bumpy, and very challenging for the crew. It is typical for a considerable number of yachts to pull out of the race before the Bass Strait crossing. The first year the race was held it took over 6 days to make the trip. The winners of recent races finish in about 2 days. The same boat (Wild Oats XI) has won the last 4 years (including the race we saw).

As you can see on the map above, Sydney's harbor narrows as it connects with the Pacific Ocean. We were on the southern point at Watson's Bay. On the bay side, you are rewarded with beautiful views of the harbor with a backdrop of downtown Sydney (you can see the Harbor Bridge and part of downtown in the picture below). We arrived about 40 minutes before the race started, so we got to see the yachts begin to jostle for position in the harbor. We put down a blanket, ate a packed lunch, and enjoyed the beautiful day with the many other people who made it out to view the beginning of the race.

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At 1pm the race started and we watched all the yachts open up their sails and make their way out of the harbor. We walked to the ocean side of Watson's Bay to watch the yachts hit the open sea. Luxury and motor boats circled the yachts, helicopters swarmed like bees, and people lined up 4 deep along the coastline to try to get a good view. Watching the yachts head off into the ocean was nice, but the most impressive view was of the entrance to the Sydney harbor itself. Watson's Bay's ocean side was made of tall cliffs that looked out over the ocean. If not for the race, I probably would have never known that such a scenic view of the ocean existed here in Sydney.

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20 minutes after the start of the race, Dawn and I had seen enough boats. We decided to take a leisurely walk back towards the city along the harbor coastline. One of the best parts about Sydney is that you are constantly presented with stunning views of the city. The Harbor Bridge and downtown skyline are visible from almost anywhere close to Sydney (you would be able to see the Opera House if Dawn's head wasn't in the way). As we walked back to the city, we took several breaks just to enjoy the beautiful view.

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Our "leisurely" walk turned into a workout. The sun was searing and the path seemed to be almost entirely uphill. We finally made it back to Rose Bay and stopped in a bar for a beer. Boxing Day is one of the biggest days of the year for cricket as it marks the beginning of an international match. Australia was hosting South Africa at the MCG (we were there!). We split some fish-n-chips and watched part of the game before finally making our way back home.

PS - If you put the timeline together from my previous post, you'll notice that we went home and played some cricket ourselves :)

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:13 Archived in Australia Tagged boats event Comments (2)

Christmas In Australia

sunny 87 °F

Merry Christmas! We are missing all of you!

Dawn and I went to the children's mass on Christmas Eve at the church here in Glebe (all the children came dressed up as either shepherds or angels so that they could all be in the pageant). We had wanted to make it to the Cathedral to hear the choir there, but due to time constraints we decided to see the kiddies all dressed up. To our surprise, there was an Aboriginal choir in the church and they were fantastic!

After church, we rushed back home for dinner. Dawn made a beef roast for us and our flatmates. I was in charge of decorations, my mom would be so proud of my flowers and vase. We made a big salad, potatoes, and brownies for desert. It was absolutely delicious. We pulled our Christmas crackers (like a wishbone competition on Thanksgiving and the winner gets to keep the prize in the middle) and put on the hats. Of course we followed dinner and desert with a sporting game of UNO (I think I've mentioned it before, we are addicted to the card game UNO). We had planned on going out to see Jeff while he was working (he works at a bar downtown called 3 Wise Monkeys), but the games of UNO went late into the night.

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The next morning we made a big Christmas breakfast of sausages, onions, capsicums (Australia for green peppers), and hashbrown potatoes. We exchanged gifts (I got Dawn a window box and some herbs, a new notebook, pictures of Shadow and Nanette for her picture frames, and a book. Dawn got me a cricket set and an Australian calendar) and then went down to Bondi Beach!

We made our way out onto the beach and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We had purchased tickets to a beach party, but it ended up that the party wasn't actually on the beach but in a building next to it. Needless to say, we didn't spend a whole lot of time at the party. After the sun set, we made our way back home and played more UNO.

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The next day the weather was beautiful again, so we decided to head down to the park by the house and break in the cricket set. It was actually even more fun than I expected. Dawn, Jeff, Andy, Anna, and I had a great time batting and bowling to one another (and I actually took 5 wickets!). I fully expect us to be frequently making our way down to the park.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 23:15 Archived in Australia Tagged beach Comments (1)

Carols In The Domain

sunny 80 °F

For the last 26 years an event called the Carols in the Domain has been going on here in Sydney. It is traditional for everyone to come out to the Domain (a park near the Sydney harbor), light candles, and sing carols together the Saturday before Christmas. Dawn and I warmed up our singing voices and headed out to "spread Christmas cheer by singing loudly so all could hear."

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The Christmas holiday officially kicked off 2 days earlier when we went to the IEP Christmas Party at Coogee Beach, but that was just a bunch of people getting hammered near the beach. The Carols was more of a traditional way to start the week of Christmas.

The Carols is a day long event with the main televised event starting at 8:30pm. We heard there was going to be 150,000 to 200,000 people there, so we decided to get out there by 3pm to beat the main crowd. Well, apparently the other 200,000 people had the same idea because the place was PACKED when we arrived. There was hardly a square inch of sitting space that had not been claimed by a blanket or person. Eventually we squeezed in between two blankets and staked our territory. At this point we were 3/4 the way back from the stage, but I think it was the best spot available.

A choir competition was going on and some groups of dancers were performing on stage when we arrived. You couldn't really hear or see what was going on, so Dawn and I just took in the beautiful day. We had bought a candle bag, which is a canvas bag full of free food & toiletry samples along with 4 candles. Among the free samples were a roll of toliet paper, dog biscuits, dog collar, jelly beans, vinaigrette peanuts, Women's Health magazine, facial wash, dried pumpkin soup, pancake flavored breakfast crackers, chocolate covered tea stirrers, "brekkie" juice, and much more. Dawn had also scored a free Red Bull upon entry, so she began reading the celebrity gossip magazine and sipping Red Bull. I opened the vinaigrette peanuts and the Women's Health magazine. It certainly felt like Christmas.

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Once the sun started to set, Dawn pointed out heaps of birds flying in the sky over the park. She is always mesmerized by the birds in the parks and kept commenting on how many there seemed to be in the sky. I told her they were actually bats coming from the Botanical Gardens, but she was insistent that they were large, black parrots. It wasn't until they all started flying back towards us when the opening fireworks went off that we got a clear picture of a giant bat. Dawn no longer liked all the birds in the sky.

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Everyone began lighting their candles. The host & hostess for the evening started the show on stage. Night slowly came over the park. You could feel the holiday cheer in the air as we began singing the first Christmas carol. The way the show worked is that a new celebrity would come on for each song and lead the crowd. Eventually the celebrities began singing by themselves to let the crowd take a break and just enjoy the show. The relaxing evening suddenly changed when The Wiggles came on to the stage. Everyone jumped to their feet and began cheering excitedly (and I mean everyone, including the drunk 40 year-olds in front of us, the teenagers behind us, everyone). The Wiggles are a kids' TV show (I guess) where they lead kids in dance and song routines. Here'a video of Hailey and Dawn dancing to the Wiggles.

Overall we had a blast. The red candle light (and blue light sabers) created a really cool atmosphere. We got to sing some carols and attend one of the most popular Christmas events in Australia. Christmas was coming.

Here's a video of the finale where all the celebrities came back on stage. They sang one last composition, of course led by the Wiggles at one point. There are fireworks at the end as well.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 17:33 Archived in Australia Tagged event Comments (1)

Grampians

overcast 74 °F

After running along the Great Ocean Road, our group moved northward to do some exploring in the Grampians in the Grampians National Park. However, we didn't actually reach the Grampians until the last day of the tour. Meanwhile, we stopped at a couple places to get a taste of the local culture.

After leaving the Great Ocean Road in the late afternoon, we worked our way north to Cavendish. Here we stopped at a local pub and were given a free round of beer by our tour guide Steve. Eager to wet my whistle, I stepped up the bar to order a pint of VB. The bartendress looked at me a little weird and said "A pint? Surely you mean this" and held up a middie glass. I corrected her and reaffirmed my desire for a man-size glass. She then had to dig through a cabinet under the sink (and I mean really dig) until she pulled out a pint glass that looked like it hadn't been used for years. It held beer just fine so I didn't have a problem with it. Eventually most of the group ordered pints as well, and the bar ran out of pint glasses (1 guy had no choice but to drink a middie). The German guy noticed a jukebox in the corner and began flipping through the songs. He grinned widely, made his selection, and then took a step back as Baby Got Back blared out through the speakers. Never missing an opportunity to sing along with Sir Mix-a-lot (especially after the 3,574 times I heard this song on my senior spring break), I busted a move. Midway through the song, two of my tourmates, the guide, and a local at the bar were all filming me with their cameras. Apparently the rough weather made even me singing Baby Got Back worth recording. Look for my debut on YouTube.

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After the stop at the pub we made our way to our stop for the night, the Asses Ears Wilderness Lodge (Q). We drove through many fields of sheep reaching the lodge, and rarely had I felt so far away from a large city. If the night sky hadn't been cloudy, I'm sure we would have been able to see every star in the sky. Our host told us stories of the great fire in the Grampian National Park in 2006 while we made dinner in the bush kitchen.

We left early the next morning and finally reached the Grampian National Park. The Grampians are sandstone cliffs that rise sharply out of the flat surrounding area. The sandstone was once the floor to the Southern Ocean 380 million years ago and has since been pushed up as the Earth's surface buckled under tectonic stress. Since these mountains were created by tectonic stress, they form very steep and jagged cliff lines. This means that a lot of the mountain face is exposed giving a very striking view.

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Our first stop was Hollow Mountain (R) for a 3 hour hike. I had assumed a 3 hour hike meant a long distance hike, but as it turned out, it meant a difficult hike. Our tour group had progressed beyond the easy walks through the rain forest. Our hike started innocently enough as we made our way along a sand path to the base of the mountain. We started climbing over rocks and boulders, nothing more challenging than some steep steps and slight inclines. Eventually we were scrambling over boulders and reached a flat spot that dead-ended into a series of vertical walls. I thought we had reached the end of the hike when the guide announced that this would be a good place for a break. Steve then lead us up one of the walls and up a steep incline to another plateau. Some parts of the climb were very nerve racking as we stared over the edge of the cliffs to very steep drops. Even the flat inclines felt steep enough that one slip would propel oneself off the edge of the mountain. The trip up the cliff was worth it as we were rewarded with a beautiful view (the first picture is the mountain face we climbed, the second picture is the view from area directly in front of the red cliff).

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After a quick break, Steve announced that we would now be climbing up a small cave to reach the top of Hollow Mountain. Squeezing in through the gaps in the cave, we shimmied further up the mountain. Dawn (who apparently is half mountain goat) bounded fearlessly to the most top portion of the mountain. The group started to make their descent when I heard the guide yell "Mike, where are you?" I was at the bottom of the cave when I heard the distinctive tone of Baby Got Back, he was playing the video he recorded of me so that it would echo down the cave. Thank goodness for cell phone videos.

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We had a quick lunch and then drove through Halls Gap (S), the central stop for activities in the Grampians. Halls Gap only has a population of about 400, but due to its popularity as a tourist destination it has enough beds for 3,000. We made our way to Mackenzie Falls (one of the largest waterfalls in Australia) and Reed's lookout. Once again we were rewarded with many outstanding views. The entire area seemed unspoiled by the influence of people.

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As we were driving through the Grampians, you notice that a lot of the trees were scorched black. As I mentioned before, in 2006 a great fire roared through the Grampian National Park. The fire burned 50% of the park, a very substantial area. The interesting fact is that the eucalypts actually encourage forest fires by dropping leaves and bark to serve as tinder for starting fires. Since the eucalyptus trees can resist the affects of the fire, they benefit from the fire as it clears the undergrowth and destroys competing trees invading their forest. It was amazing seeing how fast the forest had recovered from the devastating fire. You can notice in the above picture that the left side of the forest looks thinner (as the fire thinned out the undergrowth) and compared to the more green right side. Below is a picture of a scorched tree.

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After the stop at Reed's Lookout it was time to head back to Melbourne. Our tour was over, but it had been a very rewarding trip (despite the rain).

Posted by Mike.Flynn 05:37 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains hiking national_park Comments (1)

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