Back in Sydney

Jump Sydney

My week of sleeping in the boot of my car was over – I was back to a nice bed, regular shower, and good food in the comfort of my auntie and uncle’s house in Sydney. Since I arrived in Perth in August I aimed to be in Sydney for Christmas and, even though I had to skip the east to make it happen, I’d made it and was really happy to be somewhere where I could spend the time with family, and hopefully spend New Year with some of the people I’d met along the way here.

The fortnight surrounding Christmas was pretty laid back: quite a few mornings I’d get up and head to Bondi Beach for a swim before it got too busy then spend the day checking out the city or covering some more of the coastal walks with my auntie. My favourite stretch of the coast was on a walk to the north of Bondi, trecking through quite secluded sections of woodland between alcove beaches, looking out across the bright green waters of the harbour to the CBD. If I had a canoe I’d have happily spent hours out on the water there, and then probably suffered the inevitable dose of sunburn in the evening.

Being in Sydney gave me a chance to meet quite a few members of my family for the first time, in particular one my cousins who has never been back in Scotland since I was born, as well as some more distant relations who all originally hail from Scotland. Originally, some of them were going to be round for Christmas but we ended up having a quiet Christmas, instead having them round for New Year’s Eve. Carrying on a routine I started at uni, after a family Christmas, I caught up with a couple of friends I’d made on the west coast. Jorrel, a Swiss guy I’d met in Kununurra had spent Christmas in the Blue Mountains and was taking the train back into Sydney just in time for New Year so I cut my family dinner a bit short to catch up with him before we caught up with Henrikka at Circular Quay.

Hard to miss

I was a bit late getting away from Bondi though, as a few days earlier I’d ordered a copy of The Art of Paragliding – the recommended reading for novice paragliding pilots – and it arrived literally as I was about to leave. I’d been dreaming of taking up this form of free-flight for months now and receiving the book started to hammer home the fact that I was going to learn to fly soon, very soon..

I didn’t make many plans for New Year, partly as there were far less people around Sydney who I knew than I expected and mainly as I didn’t know enough about what was going on. The botanic gardens, with their panoramic views of the harbour, Opera House, bridge and CBD seemed like the place to be for the night so we headed there fairly quickly as Henrikka heard that the number of people through the gates had hit about 75% of the limit. The queues were long but fast-moving, so by 6 we were sitting on a grassy hill in the middle of the gardens watching the flying foxes flapping around as the sun dipped behind the skyscrapers of the city centre, casting a beautiful warm glow over the park.

At 9 there was a fairly big fireworks display so parents didn’t have to stay till late for their kids, then on each hour, and on the quarters of the last hour before midnight, each of the batteries of fireworks would send up a single burst of firepower, leaving everyone listening in awe to the rumbles of explosions from up and down the river, rumbling like thunder all round the city. Even then, the crowds were so dense that we couldn’t get within about 20m of any of the decent vantage points, so I improvised and climbed what was nearer to a sapling than a tree, that was within a few minutes precariously supporting 3 girls and me. The improvisation didn’t work that well though, as by removing all the people from my view, I’d added a few dozen branches, which were just about as hard to peer through as the people, and not quite as comfortable to hang on to.

Sydney Harbour

As midnight approached, we tried to get a better vantage point for the main salvo and found a strangely quiet spot near Mrs Macquarie’s chair. That said, we were still about a minute too late to bag a spot right up at fence, but we were still close enough to look in awe at the harbour, packed with hundreds of boats, many with people on them enjoying the evening from their own unique bobbing vantage point. The show was obviously great, but, having been to Edinburgh for Hogmanay the year before, didn’t find them truly spectacular, but then I’ve probably seen enough firework displays now that I’d only be really impressed if I ended up with sore ears after the show.

It was great that the city’s public transport network was running so it only took about an hour to get back to Bondi, where the gig on the beach was still going in what looked like a fairly epic fashion – if I’m in Sydney for another New Year then I think I’ll go there instead.

New Year’s day was spent getting packed and ready to head south towards Bright, as well as pouring over The Art of Paragliding, getting ever-more excited at the thought of what I could be learning to do in a week. And so my time in Sydney was up – I still didn’t feel like I saw that much of the city so it’ll probably be worth a revisit some other time, but for now I had bigger plans..

Finishing the Blue Mountains

Clarence Station

Now that I’d spent a few days charting the less travelled corners of the Blue Mountains, it was time to hit the main drag and see the big ticket attractions, not that I was really sure what they were. I’d came to rely on the CAMPS road atlas as, not only a great source of sleeping spots but also, having a not bad bunch of tourist attractions and beauty spots marked on it, so I made Katoomba and the Three Sisters my next stop.

Katoomba, although a quaint town, didn’t spark much interest from me on the way through – I probably could have spent a bit more time exploring it but wasn’t really in the mood at the time, and I the main reason I hate driving as a means of seeing an area is just because it’s conducive to that ‘ah, I’ll just keep driving’ attitude – and after seeing the slightly steep parking prices, any interest in seeing the Three Sisters was lost. After all that unmotivated driving, I headed round to Leura and spent a while at the quiet but quite impressive lookout at Sublime Point.

I took a drive through Mt Victoria, on the Bell Line Of Road, doubling back at Bell towards Lithgow to try to get a view of the Zig-Zag railway, but the road never seemed to open up any views of the line that I’d seen and heard a bit about. I checked out the station at Clarence then got distracted by yet more dirt road that promised some caves and camp grounds, but after maybe half an hour and a few not very well signed junctions in what felt like never-ending forest I doubled back just in case I got lost or ran out of fuel, or both.
Back on the main road, I headed east, now fairly intent on making this my last full day of driving – I think the consistently hot days, lack of showers, banter and good food combined to make getting a hot shower and a good bed to sleep in at my family’s house the next night seem like a very attractive option.

Londonderry fires

There was quiet rest area tucked just off the road at Bilpin so I had yet more 3 minute noodles there for lunch then kept going towards Richmond. I saw a lookout marked on the map on a road SW of Kurrajorong Heights but the road got a bit rough, and private, so that joined the growing list of missed or avoided attractions for the day. On the main road there was a lookout to the SE which gave an impressive view of the sprawling flatlands of the Hawkesbury Plain hundreds of metres below, as well as large bushfire and the massive plume of smoke rising from it.

Descending into the plain to Richmond, I dipped below 1000m above the sea for maybe the second time in 4 days, and the heat was borderline unbearable. After getting some supplies from Coles I closed my curtains, opened all the windows, and had a very sticky late afternoon nap in the carpark, not that I felt any better for it afterwards, or indeed for the rest of the day. Somehow I ended up deciding to drive to Hawkesbury Heights and ended up at the lookout there, which also looks down over the plain from the edge of the Blue Mountains Tablelands, to find that the bushfire I’d seen hours early was still raging but now, in the fading light flashes of fire crews’ vehicles and helicopters’ strobes could be seen everywhere around Londonderry.


If I was unsure of the severity of the fire, the dozens of other people at the lookout watching the fire, as well as fire fighting personnel confirmed that it was a bit serious. Just as the fires seemed to be getting reigned in, a big storm rolled in from the west, looking set to deal the final blow to the fires, but instead it missed the fires and even brought some previously subdued fires back to life with its draughts. As night fell, everything was eventually brought under control as I watched the brilliant lightening show head towards the distant glow of Sydney.

Now that it was dark, and I wasn’t feeling great either, the car park had to make do as my sleeping area for the night. Annoyingly the whole car park is sloped, making sleeping in the boot pretty uncomfortable, and that’s before the added humidity because of the rain all night necessitating the windows being shut. It turned out that the lookout was a popular spot with the local hoons so I had to put up with engines of varying calibres being revved outside my window for the first few hours of the night.

I wasn’t looking forward to trying to find my way back to the Bondi, in the Eastern suburbs, from the west of the city so I cut my, already short, sleep short at 4am so I could hit Sydney before Friday’s rush hour kicked in. After my sunny escape from the city on Sunday, this rainy drive in the dark before sunrise seemed like a bit of a depressing end to the trip, which only got worse when I bashed the left wing of my car into the side of a pickup truck. Half asleep, driving a car which I didn’t yet legally own and without my driving licence on me, this was not an ideal situation to be in at 6.30 in the morning, but to my disbelief the truck didn’t stop, so I kept going with the lane-change that had me in the debacle in the first place before the other driver had time to reconsider that bump he’d just felt, and that was that. The rest of the drive through the city was thankfully a lot less eventful, although I still needed to stop a few times to check where in the ridiculously big city I was before I found myself on the familiar stretch of road from Bondi Junction to the beach.

Megalong Valley

Kanangra-Boyd Dawn

After the lack-lustre dawn at Kanangra Walls I headed back through the Jenolan caves and onto Rydal where there was a campsite which offered a much needed shower. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have bothered paying the day-entry rate of $4 and just ran to the showers while I used the free 15 minute parking bays. Once I had paid to get into the site, I figured I may as well get some of my money’s worth and hung around to take some shots of the very low reservoir and to talk to a German guy who was having a slow day at the campsite and taking the time to write some Christmas postcards – I doubt at that time any of them would have arrived on time.

Megalong Valley

I headed through Lithgow for fuel and some food supplies including a massive stir-fry (4 days of noodles and cereal is a pretty good way to build up an appetite for a meaty meal) then on to Blackheath and the Megalong Valley. It was a hot day and the heat seemed to be taking its toll on my car: even the slightest hill was causing the engine temperature to nudge over the point that kicked the fan in to full throttle and drain half the power of the engine, so I wasn’t too happy that the amount of descending into the valley I was doing meant that I was almost certainly going to have to do a very slow crawl back out of shortly after. The valley was beautiful, with a few interesting photo spots, but there didn’t seem to be a lot to do so I made it back out and decided to take a chance on driving to Hargraves lookout

Bow View

The lookout is on the end of a spur-plateau that juts out between the Megalong Valley and some other valley, giving near 360 degree views of both. There’s a stone-walled shelter at the lookout which made cooking in the exposed shot a lot easier, and so I ate my stir fry overlooking the valleys far below, and then watching the sun go down. I couldn’t pass off on the chance of an amazing view of the sunrise over the valleys the next morning so slept in the car at the lookout. I think the night was one of the first that had been clear enough to see the stars so I tried a few long exposures (including my longest to date – 3550 seconds) but the longest exposure showed some bizarre noise/sensor artefacts so that was a bit of a flop. The sunrise was nice, but unlike Kanangra-Boyd National Park there was no mist to burn off so it wasn’t as compelling as hoped.

Blue Mountains Roadtrip

Lake Burragorong Even though I’d been given a driven tour of the route I should take out of Sydney the night before, I still – as expected – somewhere near the CBD didn’t find my way onto Broadway, starting 15 minutes of stopping, reading the map, heading off for a few minutes and repeating until I found myself on the road out to Paramatta. It probably didn’t help that I hadn’t slept a huge amount the night before, combined with a late night packing and getting up at 5.30 so I could slip out of the CBD before it got busy. As with most of my excursions, prior planning was minimal. The idea was to head in the direction of Penrith and on to Katoomba but once I got as far as Penrith – and finally had a rough idea where in the world I was again after taking a fairly obscure route to avoid the freeway tolls – I started getting distracted by signs for tourist attractions to the South that I hadn’t heard of and so I ended up at the Lake Burragorong Dam.

Wombeyan Caves Road Tunnel The dam at Warragamba was, well, a dam, with not a huge amount of water in it – although the info on how it was built was quite interesting – so I headed on fairly quickly and ended up at a lookout a little to the south at Nattai. Now this was more like it: a deep torquoise lake stretching out for miles in 3 directions, mirrored by a clear blue sky and flanked by rocky plateau on all sides. At the Yerranderie end of the lake there were unbelievably intense green patches of either marsh or some sort of algae that looked like a lush paradise at the end of an already beautiful lake hiding under the fairly barren landscape above. By this point I’d run out of distractions to the south of Penrith but had caught my eye on a road which appeared to wind round the southern edge of the Blue Mountains and I felt compelled to check it out even though it was over an hour’s drive in completely the opposite direction to my original ‘plan’ and might not even be that suitable for a normal car (especially one I’d just bought and hadn’t driven enough to trust taking on a fairly remote road).

Hills & Valleys Soon I was in Mittagong trying to work out where to get on to the Wombeyan Caves Road as – in what is fairly usual for my driving experience in Australia – the sign I required seemed to be non-existent. From the map, it looked like I had about 60km of driving along the road till I got to some possible camping areas. It looked a bit winding so I figured 2 hours would be fine, and after the first 20km of sealed and not overly interesting road that was looking like an OK target. Then the road turned to dust and started cutting round the side of steep hills, with nothing but a sheer face on one side and a precarious looking drop on the other. Hardly a kilometre in and I spotted two cars through the trees, lying at various angles, wrecked and abandoned and once again wondered about how smart it was to be on this road. But on I went, way slower as I couldn’t see what was round any of the tight corners and didn’t want to test my brakes on the rough and loose road. Apart from the slight fear of throwing the car off any one of the hundreds of treacherous and un-fenced corners, the drive along the Wombeyan Caves road turned into one of my favourites in Australia so far. As the road climbed up the sides of the hills, each corner opened up an even more spectacular and unique view of the edge of the Blue Mountains and, as the drive was now taking considerably longer than first expected, the sinking sun added yet more beauty to the landscape. Countless stops on countless corners, peaks, lookouts and a tunnel later and I’d arrived at the Wombeyan Caves campground, with just enough time to make some supper and get settled down for my first night sleep in a car. Arriving late did mean there was nobody around to charge me for using the campsite, or the hot shower, and so my week of avoiding paying for the priviledge of sleeping started.