I’ve been in paradise, I swear it. The last fews days have continually garnered more and more activity and adventure here in Australia. It started with my Dad and I venturing off on our own into Sydney. We started the day out by catching the morning ferry across the bay. The weather was immaculate, in the mid 70s F, without a cloud in the sky. After disembarking at Circular Quay, we traversed our way through the waves of morning commuters, tourists, street performers and kids on their way to school. We quickly made our way to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which I just learned recently held the worlds largest pair of underwear for the Guinness World Record.
Upon the entering the garden, one is struck by the variety of flora and fauna. At one moment you can be walking through a small trail of tropical rainforest, and the next be sitting on the edge of enormous fountains, amongst perfectly trimmed hedges reminiscent of French palaces.
Large birds with long, curved beaks patrol the grounds and eagerly find interest in any food you may be eating. This became evident while my Dad and I ate a lunch of chicken sandwhiches and iced tea on the massive lawns. As we explored the gardens more, we encountered the famous bats of the gardens. These bats, called Flying Foxes, are about a foot tall, with wingspans that must have been almost three feet. Hundreds of them live in the trees of one particular part of the garden and are constantly swooping about.
We continued walking around the permiter of the gardens along the water. As we did this we encountered hoards of wedding photographers, the filming of a Japanese soap opera, a large flock of Cockatiels (one of which decided to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to eat my shoes), and finally the New South Wales Art Museum. We purused the museum for a while and then headed to The Rocks.
Sydney is an extremely modern, civilized and clean city for the most part. The Rocks are the oldest part of the city, with a much more colonial feel. We took in the sights a bit and then settled on a pizza for dinner and then an old pub to watch Rugby and have a few pints. We made our way back via the night ferry and although it was cold and windy, sat on the bow, enjoying the crashing waves, gliding gulls and salty breeze.
The next day while Javier and Julie worked and Lulu was at school, we spent the entirety of the day at Manly Beach, sunbathing, reading and then hours bodyboarding. Even on a week day there were a decent amount of surfers and bodyboarders out. It was hot and the water was perfectly cool with just the right sized waves. I figured myself in pretty good shape after working at the Lair all summer, hiking and playing sports for 3 months, but the culture here makes me feel almost slobbish and wanting to excercise and be active constantly.
Later in the day after everyone had returned home, we packed our bags and Julie, Javier, Lulu, my Dad and myself headed to the bus stop to begin our trek to Pittwater Youth Hostel. Neither my Dad nor I knew what to expect from this place, but Julie was very enthusiastic. We took the bus for about an hour, then got off and headed to a small pier. We had missed the last ferry and had to call for a water taxi. As we waited we went into the resturaunt/general market on the pier to eat fish and chips and chat with the owners. The water taxi arrived as a small pink motor boat driven by a burly man. We got in and he immediately hit the throttle, speeding off across the water. As we raced through the night, the hills surrounding us blinked with light from the houses that dotted them. I examined the night sky, just having realized that being in the Southern Hemisphere meant that their was an entirely new set of stars and constellations that I had never seen before. The most recognizeable being Scorpius.
We got off the boat at a small, dark dock. Javier handed us all flashlights, or torches as the call them here, and we began walking along a pitch black trail, up a decently sized hill. After about 15 minutes we reached the Hostel, got into our rooms and immediately passed out, barely knowing where we were. I woke up to the squawking of a very loud Kookaburra. When I came out of my room I was greeted by an incredibly view with valleys into the bush on the left and valleys down to the water on the right. The large verandah, filled with picnic tables, bird feeders, a hammock, and benches, found everyone already out snacking on breakfast and drinking coffee.
As I sipped my coffee we met the guy we were sharing a room with. His name was Luke and he was in his early 30s. We talked with him over breakfast and he told us about growing up in Sydney, living in Paris, being a lawyer, and going back to school to explore his intellectual side. There were several other familys there for the weekend, but the hostel was small and at full capactiy, there were only around 15 of us total. One of the first things that is striking as soon as you get away from the cities is the wildlife. We had gotten mostly used to seeing tropical birds, but up at this hostel, we got to meet several Wallabies who liked to hop around the lawn, looking for a snack. Accompanying them were several Lace Goannas which are reptiles which look much like Komodo Dragons but are smaller. Most of the ones we saw were about three to four feet long. These guys constantly scrambled around the lawn and the deck looking for food, and would walk right up to your feet. They aren’t aggressive though and would constantly run away at any sudden movements.
After breakfast we headed up the hill behind the hostel for a bush walk. We walked for a couple miles on a trail flanked on the right by amazing views of the bay and surrounding areas. We found a big hill off the trail and scrambled up it into some rocks. As we got to the rocky cliffs at the top, we realized it was one of the highest points around. To the right was the water, but to the left you could see for miles, and miles off into the Australia outback. It was mesmerizing. We could see just 1/100,000 of the country, and it was still almost to massive to take in.
We eventually returned back to the hostel, had lunch, and rented kayaks. We got into the water and paddled across a corner of the bay into a grove of Mangrove trees. Behind this we found a small beach and got out for a swim in the crystal clear water. After returning to the kayaks we headed off towards another secluded beach, paddling around the many sailboats and small yachts filled with sunbathers and partiers. After we ran our kayaks ashore, Javier and I headed back behind the beach and found a dry creek bed that wound back into the forest. We followed it back until it got too steep, but where we ended was the most tropical place I had ever been. It seemed like we were in the middle of some magnificently rich rainforest. Everything around us was so lush and green. The sun was starting to set behind the hills so we got back in the kayaks, paddled back to the dock and headed back up the hill to the hostel.
Upon returning, we found the verandah of the hostel bathed in orange from the setting sun. The 3 other families there had begun to prepare their dinner and little kids were roasting marshmellows around the firepit. I fired up the grill and Javier brought out a whole red snapper to cook while Julie toiled away in the kitchen.
My dad and I shared a couple pints of a dark Australian beer as we waited. Eventually we all crowded around a picnic table outside near the fire and dove into a feast of fish, vegetables, couscous, olives and white wine. After the food coma subsided and we sat around the fire for a bit, I made my way to bed and slumbered away.In the morning we packed our bags and headed out, stopping for breakfast on the edge of the water at a cafe that greeted us with an incredibly fitting sign that read, “Just another day in paradise.”