| Entry 29 of 46
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Having managed to negotiate my way across the Harbour Bridge and (thanks to the wonders of the satnav) drive through the city centre instead of going the direct route, I finally arrived at ‘the Reoch’s’ (my cousin Jill, husband Jonathan and daughters Kate & Holly).
Their house at Little Bay was a wonderful mixture of ‘traditional’ Ozzie architecture with an ultra modern but sympathetic extension to the rear giving an open plan family orientated living space. One thing we have both noticed coming down through Australia is just how much life revolves around the children compared to home. This was especially obvious at Little Bay where Kate and Holly seem to spend almost as much time on extra curricular activities as they do in school.
After spending my first day doing some much needed ‘admin’ (updating the blog and posting photographs to Faceook), Jill showed me the now famous in our family, ‘clifftop walk’ giving spectacular views of the famous surf beaches along Sydney’s suburbs.
Little Bay itself, as the name suggests is, built around a small secluded bay which is protected from the prevailing Pacific waves and offers a clear calm swimming area with beautiful sandy beach. At least that’s what it looked like – August not being the warmest month for swimming in Oz.
Once Jonny had advised me on the wonders of Sydney public transport, I ventured out to the local newsagent and bought a weekly travel pass which allowed me to spend the next few days utilising buses and local ferries to investigate and chart the city and sights of Sydney.
Arriving at Circular Quay for the first time, despite how many times I had seen pictures or film footage, it was an amazing feeling to walk round to the Sydney Opera House and see in real life both it and the bridge – two icons of Australia that suddenly were in three dimensions in front of me.
Having come in small steps without any mammoth flights, it felt as though Sydney almost crept up on me yet suddenly here I was sitting in front of two of the most recognised symbols of Australia.
It’s got to be said though, the Opera House does seem a lot smaller than it looks on TV and when you get up close, it’s actually a sort of creamy colour rather than the brilliant white it appears. Despite that, it is still a structure that symbolised, to me, being on the other side of the world and brought home just far we had actually travelled to get here.
Jumping on the Darling Harbour Ferry, I was then able to get a closer view of the Bridge while passing under it on the boat. In contrast to the opera house, the bridge actually looks far bigger up-close than I expected.
Sydney city centre is pretty much like any other large city but with probably the largest shopping district I have seen yet. It appeared that every time I went in, I discovered another shopping centre or road full of shops. The business district is crowded around the harbour area, mostly in modern high-rise office blocks, yet the city still retains large tracts of open space, parkland and the famous botanical gardens next to the opera house.
While Vicki was down in Melbourne, I quickly settled into the Reoch family life; the hectic rush to get school bags packed, gourmet packed lunches prepared (at least compared to the Scottish Cheese piece) and arrangements for post-school pick-ups made, before the lull in the middle of the day and the post school de-brief / homework session in the evening.
Once Vicki flew back up from the deep south however, it was back to our normal pace. Despite having a foreign taxi driver from the airport who got lost on his way to the house and charged us about twice the expected rate (some things never change), we established our base camp and started exploring Sydney in earnest.
Since I had already done a lot of the preliminary investigation work, we quickly established exactly what we wanted to see and set forth. Using the excellent ferry service from Circular Quay as a cheap harbour cruise, we ventured out to the highly expensive suburbs for a look at the yachts and multi-level, multi-million-dollar houses of the rich, if not very famous.
We had also decided to visit the Blue Mountains to the north west of the city so after investigating the various options and comparing prices, we settled on hiring a car and staying in cheap motels for three nights. As usual, we tried to squeeze as much as possible in so after many fights with the world’s most useless satnav system (which decided to re-calculate routes every time you turned a corner or entered a city – don’t ever buy a Navman!) we found ourselves in Katoomba.
Since time was tight and we didn’t really have two weeks to get lost in the bush, we decided to do a few short walks on marked paths but thanks to great weather were able to see some spectacular scenery. The mountains themselves have fantastic views towards the coastal areas but the cliffs and gorges on the inland side are like the grand canyon with a forested floor.
Intending to do a loop through the Hunter Valley wine region (via some rather obscure roads, across a small river ferry and several hundred kilometres in the dark) we eventually found our way to the town of Cessnock. Arriving at about half nine on Saturday night, the only thing missing from the town was some tumbleweed blowing through the deserted streets. I have no idea what Australians do for entertainment on a Saturday night but from what I’ve seen so far, in the small towns, it certainly doesn’t involve going out.
The next morning though, we headed up to the various wineries and sampled some of the local produce. Recognising some of the names from the supermarket shelves, we then discovered that they only export to the UK the rubbish that nobody else in Australia wants.
On thing that we did notice in Australia is that alcohol isn’t sold in supermarkets – apparently to prevent it being too readily available. However what I found highly amusing was that, despite this attempt to improve public health, the alternative arrangement is the ‘drive-through-liquor-store’. Instead of buying a six pack of beer at Woolworths (the Aussie supermarket), blokes drive into an open-fronted shop and have a pallet load put on the back of their ‘ute’.
Working our way across to Newcastle, we dropped in on David Perry (erstwhile of Faber Maunsell’s process engineering department) and discovered just how advanced the Aussie sewerage industry is compared to ours – a rather sad engineer’s chat was enjoyed by all….
Staying our last night in a motel before returning to Little Bay, we discovered that the establishment was run by a distant relative of mine: a Riddell who had come to Australia via New Zealand where his ancestors had emigrated from Scotland.
‘Doing the Bridge Climb’ was something that had been recommended to me by several people although it’s not the cheapest. Vicki opted to check out some shopping (a dangerous way to try and save money in Sydney) while I signed up for the tour.
The Bridge Climb organisation is a very efficient human conveyor belt process for getting tourists to the top of the bridge and back yet despite being so busy, each small group, with their individual guide (complete with radio link commentary) is so isolated from the rest of the world while on the structure that it is a truly great experience.
Having gone through the safety briefing, removed all loose objects from pockets and been issued with clip-on jacket, hat, glasses and hanky, we walked around the first bridge pier on the south side, climbed onto the walkway and connected our safety lanyards to the guiderail to which we would be attached for the next two hours.
Walking out onto the bottom level of the approach structure, the sheer size of the structure suddenly became very obvious. Although only about thirty metres above the ground at its highest, the walk along the narrow timber planks and open mesh flooring to get to the central arch was probably the scariest part of the climb. As an engineer, I know I should have faith in the structure but equally I kept thinking of designers I know who have designed structural elements on guess and judgement.
Climbing the stairs and ladders to the start of the main arch takes you up through the road deck which gives a wonderful chance to inspect the steel structure which (fortunately they don’t tell you this until after you have finished) has already been standing longer than its design life.
Due to maintenance works on one of the trusses, we had to walk up one side, cross over to the opposite side at mid height then cross over again at the top before coming back down. This for me was when, if I hadn’t been secured to the bridge by safety belt, I would have wimped out. Crossing a flimsy looking open mesh walkway about thirty metres above the roadway, knowing that there are another forty metres below that to the water, and feeling the bridge rock as a train passed over it created a battle of wills between my legs which wanted to stand still and my brain which was trying to force them to move forward.
Despite the nervousness, the experience was well worth it and standing on top of the iconic structure on the other really made me feel that I had achieved something in my travels. I had in fact worked my way to the other side of the world and stood on top of the bridge. It was a strange feeling of achievement but also made me realise just how small the world actually is.
As usual, time was against us and the more we looked at, the more we discovered attractions that we hadn’t seen. We only managed a quick walk around the maritime museum and missed the chance to go on the naval destroyer and submarine berthed next to it but did go to the top of the Sydney tower for wonderful panoramic views of the city.
Discovering the Sydney Aquarium was open until ten o’clock, we made the most of the day and had an evening visit. Initial impressions were that it was just another display of fish tanks but the further we went, the more we were surprised. Not only does it have a Perspex viewing tunnel in a shark tank but it had both above and below water views of giant turtles and manitee like creatures which we were able to watch grazing lettuce leaves from the tank floor.
A popular TV series in Australia is ‘Rescue Special Ops’ – similar in format to ‘Casualty’ but based around the police rescue teams that invariably manage to get involved in a major disaster every second day. For some reason, the production team decided to film the series finale just down the road from Jill and Jonny’s house in Little Bay. So, just in case they were looking for any walk-through’s by Scottish tourists, we paid them a visit to discover an artic ‘fuel tanker’ lying on its side having ‘crashed’ into a fertiliser truck coming in the opposite direction. Some interesting photographs but sadly no acting experience.
The last day was as usual, a mad dash around the city to try and visit the sights and activities we had missed which was finished with a guided tour of the opera house by a rather camp ‘luvee wannabee’. Despite his appearance and demeanour the guide was very knowledgeable not only about the building itself but actually knew the details of all the current shows and performances.
What surprised me most was that the building actually has two main venues (the largest and most often used of which is actually the concert hall and not the opera hall). Some of the engineering facts and figures are also very interesting – if you like that sort of thing….
After a few more photographs around the building, we headed back to meet ‘the family’ who took us out to an Indian restaurant for a farewell meal – thanks again for that and your hospitality in general.
The following morning, it was once again bags packed and head for the airport. Despite having some great experiences in Australia, we were both getting itchy feet and looking forward to hitting the road again. Despite the impending cold and probably rain, of an Auckland winter, we headed off for a camper van adventure in New Zealand.
| Entry 29 of 46
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