Hunter Valley – Sydney
27 November – 4 December
We continued our tour of the nation’s wine areas with a day in the Hunter Valley. Without knowing the area well we picked out some random places on a map – some well-known names, others based on their outlook or logo, and then to round off the day a recommendation from some of the previous cellar doors. Here you were invited to sit down at a table, given a complementary cheese plate poured four tastings at a time and given space to relax and enjoy. Must say their approach worked well with lots of bottles walking out the door. After restocking our cellar we headed on up the Hunter Valley stopping off at road side rest area for the night.
We continued driving inland to Dubbo and its well-known Western Plains Zoo. The zoo has a 6km road that winds its way through large open style exhibits. Given it was a hot day we decided to self-drive and took the Troopy on its very own safari. Being a week day outside of school holidays the zoo was really quiet and we were one of only a few groups making our way around. The zoo is known for its work with conservation and breeding programs in particular with rhinos. The zoo has three different species of rhinos – the Black, White and Greater One-Horned Rhinoceroses. It was really neat to see them all and to get close to a one year old Greater One-Horned calf, they really are big strong animals! Another highlight of our trip to the zoo was seeing a 26 day old Asian elephant calf – so cute snuck up amongst mum and aunty’s legs.
Next stop was Mudgee to see Marcel’s cousin and her family. It was lovely to catch-up and to spend an evening and morning relaxing and chatting. From Mudgee we thought we’d head to Bathurst to give the beast a blast around the Mount Panorama track. Unfortunately when we got there the track was closed for a BMW event so no lap for the old girl. It was a good thing that we had been able to drive the track when we passed through 4 years ago, albeit in our trusty Mazda.
From Bathurst we headed to the Blue Mountains. The most well-known of the lookouts is the Three Sisters which is always teeming with tourists, so we also headed to Pulpit Rock & Anvil Rock lookouts from Blackheath. Wow, walking down to the edge of pulpit rock, a blade of rock jutting out into Grose Valley and taking in the views was quite incredible. And the strangest / best thing was that we were the only folks there!
Another well-known attraction in the Blue Mountains is Jenolan Caves. The road to the caves drops down winding through bush, when you round a corner and are suddenly faced with a large arch rock passage which the road actually drives through to the Caves House on the other side. We decided to take a tour through the River Cave which was discovered in 1905 which took us past underground river pools, climbing up and down step ladders and generally following the cave around for 1.2kms. It was neat to wander through the cave system trying to build a 3d map in your head.
The next morning we went for a walk along the National Pass track from Wentworth Falls to the Valley of the Waters. This path first opened in 1908 and includes a zig-zag staircase cut by hand into the cliff which is known as the Grand Staircase. 173 steps climb 90m down to the mid-level of Wentworth Falls, where the track follows the claystone ledge that runs along through the middle of the sandstone cliffs to Empress Falls. It was a very impressive walk.
With the Blue Mountains behind us, it was down through Sydney’s Western Suburbs as we battled our way through Sydney traffic to a National Park run caravan park at Lane Cove. Here we parked up the car as we were only a kilometres walk to a train station. Think it will be back to Public Transport for the next few days.
You can’t come to Sydney and not go for a walk around the waterfront, so that night we picked up our tired legs and headed into town – down to Circular Quay, around under the Bridge before stopping for some yummy dumplings in the Rocks. On our way back to the train station we wandered past the Sydney Observatory, the gates were open, a few lights on and the domes were open and moving. We cautiously wandered in but couldn’t find anyone, maybe there was a tour happening inside, so after reading a number of the info signs (always a weakness) and having a good look around the grounds we headed on our way.
The next day dawned fine and warm and we headed into town for … the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It was a bit of a treat but we figured we probably weren’t going to be back in Sydney any time soon, and it was always something that we wanted to do. After donning our jumpsuits, making sure we had nothing left on us that could fall off onto the road below, we headed out on the walkway under the approach ramps to the bridge. Next it was time to head out onto the ‘catwalk’ some of the narrow maintenance access platforms that wound around the pylons. On these narrow passages you were 55m above the water and it took a couple of deep breaths to get used to the height. Next a series of ladders took you up through the roadway to the base of the big steel arches. From here we strolled up to the top of the bridge taking in the magnificent views. From the top you could see out to the Heads, across the city, up the Parramatta River with the Blue Mountains in the background. We rather lucked in with the weather with clear skies giving us a great view. Although it was getting rather warm out on the bridge, so the iced flannel when we got back was fabulous. One fun fact from the tour was the fact that the NSW Government only paid off the entirety of the loan in 1988.
Our bridge climb also gave us access to the South-East Pylon which had a lookout area at the top. After a long day of climbing up the bridge then up the stairs in the Pylon I was pretty pooped so eyed up a bench seat and promptly fell asleep for half an hour. Taking in the views and generally relaxing Marcel fielded some rather odd glances cast our way.
We spent three nights in Sydney and caught up friends and family. It was great to see them all again and soak up the big city. We wandered around some new suburbs for us (Newtown and Glebe), were introduced to some amazing fried chicken, and got out on the water with some ferry rides.
One neat place we went to was Cockatoo Island – a heritage listed island in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Over the years it had served as a convict penal establishment and general gaol, before becoming the naval dockyard in 1913 where they continued to build and refit ships until 1992. It was really interesting wandering around the old buildings and ship building areas. The island is now often used as a base for TV series, and when we were there a good half of the island was off limits as the filming for the new Australian Ninja Warriors was starting that night. Apparently there were still crowd tickets available, but didn’t really interest us.
Another stop we looked out was the Bourke St Bakery. We were given their baking cookbook as one of our wedding presents and having drooled over the photos of their bread and pastry we hunted out the original shop in Surrey Hills. The pastries did not disappoint with the almond croissant absolutely scrumptious! Now just to perfect them in our own kitchen …