Saturday, October 26, 2013

A visit to Darling Harbour

No visit to Sydney is really complete without seeing the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and a visit to Darling Harbour.  In fact Pete doesn't think that he is actually in Sydney until he goes into the city!

We caught the bus into the city.  The outer suburbs have transit ways - separate roadways that only the buses can travel.  These transit ways certainly make travelling on the bus quite fast as they are not slowed by the traffic and get priority at the lights.  The speed limit on the transit ways is 80 kilometres per hour so the buses get along them quite quickly.  Coming from the west the bus travels to north Sydney and then crosses the harbour bridge.  There were two cruise boats in the harbour and they looked quite spectacular.

We got off the bus in the centre of the city and walked the two blocks to Darling Harbour.

As we walked we were discussing the monorail as it has been on the news quite a bit lately.  The single loop monorail connecting Darling Harbour with the central shopping area was originally opened in July 1988 but was closed in June 2013.  The transport system had been purchased from the private owners by the State Government in 2012 to enable extension of the light rail system and the to use the land for an extension to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

So the monorail ceased operating in June 2013 and is in the process of being dismantled and this work is continuing.  However, two carriages and about ten metres of tracks is being preserved at the Powerhouse Museum.  Some of the stations are being demolished but those which are privately owned may be renovated for other use.  It certainly seemed strange to see some of the rails still in place but abruptly finishing.

We walked the full distance around the harbour, stopping for lunch at one of the many restaurants and eventually walking until we arrived at the ferry terminal.  There is extensive building construction proceeding, with a lot of apartments being built in the area.  There is also a navy base and there was a lot of activity as the international fleet review with the arrival of about 40 visiting warships and 16 tall ships to participate in the commemoration of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy's fleet into Sydney in October 1913  (we had initially planned to go into the city to see some of the ships but the weather turned foul so we gave it a miss).

We decided to take the ferry back to Circular Quay and as there is a very regular service we didn't have to wait long.  There are only about four stops between Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, the first being at the Maritime Museum within the harbour, then Balmain, and before too long we were stopping at Potts Point adjacent to Luna Park.
 Luna Park

There were two P & O cruise ships moored and the Pacific Pearl looked pretty impressive moored at the overseas terminal.  The other ship was moored much further around the harbour - perhaps it is a cheaper cruise and you don't get down town convenience.
Cruise Ships
After a full on day in the city it was time to head home, so we caught a train out to Blacktown and then the bus to our street.  We are pretty impressed that we have adapted to using public transport wherever possible, and for just $2.50 per person why wouldn't we?

Cumberland State Forest

In our efforts to go somewhere new we decided to take a picnic lunch and visit Cumberland State Forest which is in Pennant Hills which wasn't that far away.

This park is amongst the residential area and is forty hectares of walking trails, picnic areas and barbecue facilities, an information centre, nursery and cafe.

We initially visited the visitors centre which is unmanned but provides information about the types of tree in the park and the timber milling processes used over the last century.  The mainly outdoor cafe was a very popular venue, with live music as it was Sunday.
Visitors centre and cafe

It was very tempting to join but we had bought a lunch with us and Peter had decided he wanted to barbecue some lovely sausages for himself (I never eat sausages so he only needed to cook two) so instead we set up with lots of other family groups and really enjoyed the facilities.
Peter at BBQ
The nursery is quite large and grows and sells native plants only.
After lunch we completed two of the signed walks - the trails wander up and down the gullies through the forest and the rainforest.  There were lots of birds about and we understand that the park management runs lots of activities including guided walks and talks, early morning bird breakfasts, and night time animal spotlight tours.


In addition consent has just been given by the Council to establish a tree top adventure high ropes course.  There has been a lot of public disagreement over the establishment is facility a many people think that Cumberland State Park should be retained in its natural setting without the increase in commercial activity with the accompanying increase in traffic etc.

It had been hoped that the venture would have been completed by mid 2013 but building has not been started as yet.  This adventure park, along with the Wet n Wild we saw being built in Blacktown will provide families and visitors with great entertainment opportunities, albeit at quite a cost.  We will have to pay another visit next year or soon after to see if the park has been established.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A day in the city

Of course, no visit to Sydney is complete without a day in the city.  We decided to catch the bus into the city rather than the train so that we could go a different route.
After a wander around the city for a while we took the train down to Circular Quay and decided to take the river boat up the Parramatta River.

This gave us great views again of the Sydney Opera House and also the Harbour Bridge - age old shots of Sydney.  It was a really windy day, although quite warm, and the water had lots of white caps and was very choppy.  I don't have great sea legs but I was surprised to find how stable the ride on the river cat was.  We initially stopped off at Lunar Park and then headed up the harbour to the Darling Harbour stop.  From here we headed up the river.

We took the RiverCat has lots of stops on the journey up the river and we took it until the last stop, where the boat turns around, at Rydalmere.  We had asked whether it was possible to walk to a train station from there to return to Blacktown, and had been told it is about a seven minute walk.  Sounded great, so that is what we did.  I don't know who timed the seven minute walk - the ferry wharf is situated in mainly an industrial area that was serviced by an hourly bus.  We saw that pass as we walked along the jetty.  So we followed the bus route from bus stop to bus stop and kept walking, and walking, and walking.  Remember it was warm and very windy and not very pleasant even though we asked one guy, he wasn't certain where to go.  Eventually we decided to head off the bus route to a main road in the distance, and surprise, surprise located a train station.  Fortunately the station was manned, and we were able to ask for assistance.  So we soon learned we had to catch one train, then change at another station and get on another to go to Blacktown.  Not quite what we expected, but we had enjoyed our day out exploring and who could complain - for $2.50 each we had again experienced public transport in Sydney and eventually got to where we wanted to go.  Not bad for us - bus, train, rivercat, train, train and then bus.  Don't anyone try to tell us that we don't take public transport.  The trip on the RiverCat was lovely and we can highly recommend - perhaps just take it up and down the river.

In Sydney again

We have visited Sydney many times over the years, and of course this means that we have visited the majority of the "usual" tourist spots.  As we were staying near Blacktown in a home we stayed in last October it was not that long ago that we had visited.  We decided this year to try and check out some areas we had not previously visited, or it was a long time since our last visit.

We arrived on a Thursday and had a quiet couple of days staying very local to the house and just reminding ourselves what was in the local area.  Stanhope Gardens is a large newish housing area, with many new homes built over the last five years or so.  It is well services by buses that connect with the local train station at Blacktown and there are also buses that go directly into the city via the harbour bridge.

A check of the local newspaper advertised a regular Sunday market at Blacktown.  As usual the commence early, and in this case 7 a.m. but we didn't leave home until around 10 a.m.!  The market is not in the built up area and until a short time ago would have been considered quite rural.  Now there is significant building underway as a new water slide adventure park is being constructed - we understand that this is a Wet n Wild complex similar to the one on the Gold Coast.  It is certainly going to be big when it is completed and will become a very popular outing for locals and visitors.

Adventure park construction
The market was on land adjoining an outdoor drive in movie complex - we are not sure if the drive in is still used very often but may even get a face lift with the opening of the water park.  Parking was at a premium and we parked on a side road and walked.  We were surprised to find that we had to pay to enter the market - not something that we have encountered previously.  We were disappointed with the market.  There were lots of people there, and many stalls but 90% of them would have been junk and we are not into buying junk sourced from garage sales, second hand shops, commercial sale ends etc. We had more expected a farmers market and were disappointed.  I could have left in five minutes, but Peter was happy to wander the rows of the stalls for a while.  What did we spend our money on, in addition to the entrance fee?  A large pumpkin from one of the two fruit and vegetable stalls we saw. I was cheeky enough to ask the stall operator to cut the pumpkin in half so I could confirm that it was mature before I handed over my $4.  It was, and I have to say we ate every last bit of that pumpkin as it was dry and had plenty of flavour so was a good buy.

We then spent the balance of the day pretty much relaxing - just like our two household companions.

Patra and Cleo
Monday we decided on a day out.  Back in the early 1980's my friend Pauline Cave and I had visited Sydney and Toowoomba together and stayed with friends of Pauline's.  While staying with Lorraine and Roy in Camden we had a day trip to Warragamba Dam.  We decided that as the dam was just fifty odd kilometres from Stanhope Gardens a return visit was due.  We packed a picnic and off we went initially following the freeway and then rural roads.

Warramgamba Dam is one of the most visited tourist destinations in western Sydney and attracts thousands of visitors every year.  It is the primary reservoir for water supply for Sydney.   In November 2009 the grounds and visitors centre were upgraded and now you can take a self guided tour.  When we visited it was school holidays so there were quite a few family groups and a couple of buses with school holiday program participants.  We were surprised that there were not more visitors as the grounds are huge and there seemed no one about.  We parked in the lower car park near the visitors centre so that we could park under the trees as it was very warm, and we were the only vehicle in that carpark and could count on one hand the number of cars in the other carpark.

We had our picnic first and then visited the visitors centre which overlooks the dam and spillway.  The dam was constructed between 1948 and 1960 and is one of the largest reservoirs for urban water supply in the world.  The visitors centre has been built with an environmental design and appears to blend in with the dam.  We initially saw the dam from one of the viewing decks below the visitors centre and then after seeing the displays inside the centre we climbed the stairs down to a lower viewing platform.

Dam and visitors centre

Dam from lower deck with visitors centre on top of wall
Inside the visitors centre there are a number of exhibitions with photos taken during the build and lots of technical information.  There is one room set up for lectures and as it was school holidays they had holiday activities available for the children.
Dam from lower deck with visitors centre on top of wall
After viewing the visitors centre we followed the road through the town to see the dam from further down the river where there is another viewing platform.  It was certainly interesting and the work undertaken to complete the build was enormous.

Dam from down the river further
The township of Warramgamba was built as housing for the dam workers and at the completion of the build a number of workers purchased their homes.  The majority of the homes are very basic and we were interested to note that a lot of thought went into naming the streets - 1st Street, 2nd Street etc.  I guess it made it easier when a workers was allocated a home - number ..... in 5th Street would have made it easy to find it.  There is a public school and a few shops and small industrial area.  Many of the homes are still occupied by workers from the dam and there was a population in 2006 of around 1200.

After visiting the dam we made our way back towards the freeway through the small rural villages. We saw one of the brown visitors information signs pointing to a river viewing platform so decided to take that but after driving for about half an hour with no further information, and by then on a gravel road, we came to a fence and advising walking tracks only.  We parked, and locked up the car but after commencing the walk there was a very small sign saying that there was still five kilometres to walk so decided that walk wasn't for us late in the day.  So a quick view of the area, with no river in sight, we headed back to the car and home.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our time in Port Macquarie comes to an end

Wherever we visit we always seem to find a market on at least one of the days of the week-end to visit.  It is always a good time to mix with both visitors and locals and of course there is the added advantage of fresh produce (normally) and the opportunity to view the handiwork of various local crafts people.

Port Macquarie was no different and on the second Saturday in each month there is a farmers and artists market on the foreshore.  The market commences at 8 a.m. but we are never out of the house that early (it is lucky if I am out of bed!) so we made our way to this market around 11 a.m.  The market is situated behind one of the sports clubs in town and has the marina behind it.  There were lots of people about and although it was a huge market it was interesting to wander.  It was a much cooler day and the wind was blowing so we didn't stay too long.

 Market and marina behind

Later in the evening we enjoyed a lovely dinner out at The Stunned Mullet above Town Beach.  This restaurant is a highly regarded dining destination in Port Macquarie and an early booking was necessary.  The food was beautiful and we really enjoyed our evening.

Before we knew it our time in Port Macquarie had come to an end, have our last breakfast on the deck and it was time to say good-bye to Penny and Cleo and briefly met the home owners on their early morning return from Darwin.  We had had a great time, but it was time to move on with only one night before we were due in Stanhope Gardens in Sydney.
  View from deck
We left Port Macquarie around 11 a.m. and drove to Forster/Tuncurry where we arrived in time for lunch.  We had previously camped next to a couple from this area and they had said how picturesque the area was so it was good to have time to visit.  Forster and Tuncurry are actually two separate towns with a long bridge joining the two towns.  It is a popular holiday area, four hours drive north of Sydney, with popular long beaches.

Forster is the larger of the two towns and is across the bridge from Tuncurry.  We drove out to Cape Hawke where there are stunning views, and again people were watching out for the whales (but we didn't see any).  We continued walking along the track and down the stairs to very sandy One Mile Beach - we could only but imagine how crowded this beach must get in summer.  There were quite a few swimmers out in the waves, surfing as well, and the ever present sunbathers.  Unfortunately we had some camera difficulties and all our photos from this area were not on the disc - just have to have that beach recorded to memory.

Back into Forster and we went to Main Beach and found a very popular cafe for lunch - it is five years today since my diagnosis with cancer and the commencement of my treatment.  However great it is to be able to have that period of time behind me and to be well enough to be out enjoying life with Peter and indulging in our shared passion for travel.  I will be forever grateful for this second chance.
Main Beach, Forster

  Cafe at Main Beach, Forster
We continued on the Central Coast Highway and stopped overnight at The Entrance.  We visited this popular holiday spot last year when we were travelling the East Coast.  We stayed overnight in a motel and next morning we were able to spend a couple of hours enjoying the waterfront park, with lots of cafes and restaurants.  There were lots of people about - mainly those in similar age to us with time to explore.  Fortunately we were just ahead of the school holidays - it would be much busier next week when all the local schools are closed for the holidays.