31 Oct 2019

31/10/19: Happy Halloween from New South Wales!

After a weekend of boat maintenance (think cleaning, polishing, fixing) we hired a car yesterday to start to explore the area around Pittwater and further inland. Our plans to visit West Head in Ku-ring-gai National Park didn't materialise however as we had to wait for a marine engineer to come and look at the generator which had decided to stop working .. no raw water intake. The culprit turned out to be a faulty impeller and now replaced everything is functioning properly again, thank goodness.

So this morning, bright and early, we jumped into the car to head into the Blue Mountains National Park, a vast area (think the size of Switzerland or two and a half times the size of the Grand Canyon national park) a couple of hours west of Sydney. The area is covered in blue gum trees, some as tall as 70 meters, and the eucalyptus oil they release into the air is the cause of the blue tinge to the rock faces. Apparently back in the 1930s the gum trees were almost all felled to facilitate the planting of walnut trees and it was only the endeavours of a small group of bushwalkers who raised $130 to buy the land that saved them. Twenty or so years later the area was established as a national park.

Various lookouts provide incredible views out over the valleys that bisect the area ... Jamison, Grose, Megalong ... far below the escarpments ringing the valley floors. The geology is fascinating with the harder sandstone having not been eroded by the rivers like the softer shale beneath it, forming dramatic cliffs towering hundreds of feet high. Breathtaking.

In places the sandstone has been undercut and the trail runs underneath huge rock overhangs.

The trails were created by man in the last century to enable human access to the waterfalls and valley floors, encouraging early tourists. Stone steps were carved into the sheer rock by lowering men down the cliff face on ropes and these are still evident today, although new steps and handrails have been added to keep walkers away from the drop.

Being the end of the dry season the waterfalls are not very impressive in terms of flow but we hope to revisit again in January when we will climb down to the bottom of the falls. Wentworth Falls are 187m high and when in full spate the spray from the bottom apparently rises halfway back up the falls! Quite a sight.

There are a surprising number of reasonably sized towns in the area lying along the mountain ridge, Leura (the prettiest), Karoomba, Blackheath, Bell, Bilpin, all connected by the trans-highland highway and railway. Close to Leura is the famed 'Three Sisters' rock formation, very impressive towering over the Jamison Valley floor, but far too big a crowd for our liking!

There was a definite haze over the mountains today, in fact over the coast and city too, a result of the fires blazing slightly further north at Port Macquarie. The news reported that while there have been no human victims, sadly many koalas in a reserve devastated by the blaze have perished. Poor things, asleep in the top of their gum trees as the fire rages below them. It's hardly surprising we haven't managed to see any in the wild ... fire, dogs, cars and chlamydia are wiping them out.

Spring has arrived in the mountains with new leaves on the deciduous trees and wild flowers blooming. It's beautiful. 

We were lucky enough to see a few waratah plants in full flower and very tall bull rush like grasses.

The views out over the Grose Valley from Govetts Leap at Blackheath were stupendous, somewhere else we would like to revisit and walk the trail around the rim. So many things to do when we return in January!

Running out of time we missed out on visiting Mount Tomah, the Blue Mountain Botanical Gardens and other natural wonders but we did round off the trip with a homemade apple pie from the 'Pie in the Sky' bakery in Bilpin, a big apple growing area. Delicious!

26 Oct 2019

26/10/19: Bayview, Pittwater

We spent a couple of nights at Towlers Lookout and did find somewhere to go ashore to get our daily exercise! There is a defunct public wharf in neighbouring Morning Bay and we were able to tie up the dinghy and climb the woodland trail up to the Morning Bay lookout, a stunning view with Tumi in the background.

Our walk up was a somewhat noisy affair: the sulphur-crested cockatoos were rather agitated, squawking and making a racket. One in particular just alongside the trail itself put on quite a visual display ...

Throw in a couple of kangaroos (wallabies?) and it was a great nature hike.

We're now on a mooring ball deeper into Pittwater bay where we will leave Tumi while we return to the UK. Not a bad spot!

We're hiring a car midweek to drive up into the Blue Mountains, visit a friend at Bondi Beach and then start a leisurely drive north to Brisbane, via winetasting in the Hunter Valley, in readiness for our flight home on 6 November. Packing in things right until the last minute!!

23 Oct 2019

23/10/2019: Towlers Lookout Anchorage, Morning Bay, Pittwater

We had a rocky night in Coasters Retreat last night when the wind died and we were crossways to the swell ... it doesn't make for a good night's sleep! Anyway, before thinking about relocating, we wanted to head across to Palm Beach on the eastern coast of Pittwater and climb up to the lighthouse on Barrenjoey Head. And it was well worth the climb: the views over the Palm Beach peninsula with beaches on both sides of the spit were spectacular.  It turns out that the beaches are where the Home and Away Aussie soap is filmed, not that we would recognise it as we've never seen it!

For tonight we're tucked up in a sheltered little bay called Towlers Lookout, part of the wider Morning Bay, and it is sheltered and lovely. I don't think we can get ashore here but we're happy to sit out in the cockpit in the sunshine and read for the rest of the afternoon, watching other boats come and go out of the corner of our eye!

22 Oct 2019

22/10/2019: Coasters Retreat, Pittwater

We've loved Sydney but aren't leaving Tumi there when we come home for Christmas and New Year and so have been looking at the weather forecast for heading back a short distance north and, with the exception of yesterday afternoon, the winds all week are from the north. Typical! So with a morning to spare we wandered back through the botanical gardens, past the Opera House into the Rocks area to pick up a painting we've bought. Our return route took us a little way into the central business district where, like Brisbane, heritage buildings vie with modern skyscrapers for the best address.

Returning to Tumi we enjoyed our last sail of the year, heading fifteen miles north of Sydney to Pittwater, a deep bay which forms part of the Hawkesbury River estuary. It was almost a perfect sail, enough wind to move us along at a reasonable speed but not too much, from the right angle, sun shining and a gentle swell. It was what sailors dream of! Throw in the whale activity and scenic coastline, then it was pretty much perfect and we both enjoyed the helming and sea air.

Pittwater is home to numerous boats, many on moorings but with a few marinas too. It's quite the sailing mecca being a protected stretch of water and significantly cheaper than Sydney Harbour itself. As we have found elsewhere in Australia, there aren't that many crusing yachts and last night was typical ... a beautiful bay with one or two other cruisers enjoying the tranquility. The bay, on the western flank of Pittwater, is surrounded by the Ku-ring-gai Chase national park with a number of hiking trails that we're off exploring this morning!

7.5km and two hours later we're making a lunchtime pitstop aboard before heading over to Palm Beach on the eastern, ocean bordering side of Pittwater. As part of our hike we visited an aboriginal site covered in etchings/petroglyphs depicting man, fish, wallabies and tools. The aboroginies didn't have a written language, communicating by dreams and pictures instead, and this site was an important hub back in their day and it still revered today. It's a bit hard to decipher from the photos but was impressive in person.

Zoom in to see wallabies in flight. And the next photo even has an explanation!

Besides the petroglyphs we were lucky enough to see a wallaby and goana enjoying the sunshine alongside the lake. All in all a very pleasant morning!

20 Oct 2019

20/10/2019: Sydney

We're now berthed in the CYCA Marina, home of the Sydney to Hobart rally, in a very nice part of Sydney Harbour called Rushcutters Bay.

It's lovely, very smart and in a great location for walking in and out of Sydney via the Royal Botanical Gardens, so named because the new Queen Elizabeth II first stepped ashore there in 1954. The gardens are a beautiful green space within the city, bordered by the harbour itself along one side and with the famed Opera House at its head.

Standing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House was one of my Dad's three big travel ambitions in life and sadly he never made it, so it was a rather poignant moment for me to walk up them, almost in his memory. It's an intriguing structure, all made from concrete and the legacy of an eminent Australian architect who apparently told the city council it would only cost $10 million to build while knowing full well it would be many times that! When challenged about the final cost his response was supposedly along the lines of 'well if I had told you what it would actually cost, you would never have given me the go ahead to build it!'

Walking across the sydney Harbour Bridge itself has been recommended to us so we made our way to Milsons Point on the north shore and climbed up the steps to the pedestrian walkway. It's an imposing sight, four stone pillars supporting a cobweb of steel girders all riveted together. Apparently the rivets were heated to red hot temperatures before being thrown to the workmen who effectively caught them in their riveting machine while straddling the girders. Modern day health and safety officials would have a field day! The bridge carries pedestrians,  cyclists, motorised vehicles and trains, all along designated sections. The pedestrian walkway is on the east side of the bridge and affords spectacular views of the harbour from the caged in pathway.

Underneath the southern end of the bridge is an area called the Rocks, the old heart of Sydney's maritime history and home to many heritage buildings lining narrow streets. It's a nice area to while away a bit of time.

Yesterday we had a fun day with some of the other WARC fleet and some of their crew on a scenic trip around the harbour, skirting in to Darling Harbour, sailing past the Prime Minister's residence and upstream passing some of the fabulous waterside properties. It was great to catch up again and hear Sydney residents' views on this incredible city. All in all a first class day!

Our highlight today was a late afternoon trip to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Great Operatic Hits in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the second largest venue in the Opera House seating 1500, and the home of Opera Australia.  Apparently Joan Sutherland was a famous Australian soprano and on a tour of Australia in the mid-sixties was accompanied by a then unknown young tenor named Luciano Pavarotti!

Neither of us is a great lover of opera but the chance to attend a performance in one of the world's best known theatres was too good to be missed. The repertoire featured such operatic classics as 'Nessun dorma' from Turandot, the 'Flower Duet' from Lakme (probably best known as the music used in the British Airways advert), the Toreador Song and the Habanera from Carmen and quite a few we didn't recognise! But it was a great opportunity to see inside this iconic structure and we largely enjoyed it!!