Greetings readers! Taking some time tonight to capture some thoughts on the next installment of our journey through Australia. This chapter will focus on the Blue Mountain National Park Range as our “last day” in Sydney (we come back to Sydney at the very end for a day trip before home), and then our journey onward to Cairns.
Day 3 – Blue Mountains (Sydney)
For this day trip, we opted ahead of time to do a guided tour for this option. Located about 2 hours outside of the Sydney central downtown area, there were really only two ways to get to this destination – either by a guided tour, or by renting a car and making our way there. We were a little too nervous to drive a car in Australia for the main reason that you drive on the opposite of the road, so we felt a guided tour was best. Looking online, I can’t pinpoint the exact trip we chose on Viator, but there were several to choose from that pretty much did the same thing — full day trip of a scenic drive through the park, a few bush walks, and then a cruise back to Sydney.
The morning of the trip, we woke up a little after sunrise to wait for the tour bus to pick us up at the hotel. While waiting we learned a few other hotel guests were also on this trip for the day, and got the chance to have some light conversations with them. Once the bus arrived, we hopped on for about an hour drive to stretch our legs at an Australian Trading Post (it’s basically like a Walgreens), and then another hour to our destination. At the Trading Post we tried some unique junk food AKA chicken-flavored Lay’s Chips. Another fun oddity – in AUS, Lay’s Potato Chips are actually called Smith’s Chips. They had pretty much the same flavors as we have back home in the states, but there were a couple out-there flavors. Trying them out, you’ll probably be disappointed to hear that they didn’t really capture the chicken flavor – it really just ended up tasting like sour cream and onion (still tasty).
Once we got to our destination, Mother Nature started playing some games with us by providing on and off downpour. As result, we actually never got to go out to our first destination because the storms created a lot of fog and our scenic view was pretty much…unseeable. Our tour guide was smart enough to call a few other drivers to see which areas had at least half visibility, and headed over to another scenic view that was deemed visible.
When we got there, it took a few minutes for the fog to roll through, but finally got a clear look of a side of the mountain and a reaaaaallly tall waterfall. An interesting fact – the Blue Mountain Range got its name for the sheer fact that when people look at the range, the mountains emit a blue hue. We tried looking for the “blue” in the mountain range but the fog made that really hard. I have to imagine on a clear sunny day it’d be much easier to see.
Waiting for a raincloud to pass, we then went for a bush walk. Prior to this trip, I thought a bush walk was something special…but I probably should have googled what a bush walk was (lol) because there is no difference between a bush walk vs. a normal walk. It’s just that when you walk in the Australia forrest scenery, it’s just automatically a bush walk (figures). We took a short (bush) walk to another scenic view, snapped some photos, and then the bus pulled up and took us to the next destination, which was lunch. We were taken to a close-by town for a bite to eat, where we got to try a kangaroo burger. This was the first time we’ve ever had kangaroo, and in reflection it was good, but it’s not beef. It tasted more like turkey in my opinion; the restaurant we went at did a pretty good job dressing it up though with veggies and sauces (beets pair really well with roo meat).
Another fun fact – exiting lunch, our tour guide provided an insight that apparently Australia has a major camel overpopulation problem (wait for the connection here). A while back a bunch of camels were brought into the country, and like what all animals do, they reproduced resulting in a lot of camels living across the lands. Aussies, however, don’t want to just killing camels for sake of population control, so they have been creative in the last few years on how to control numbers and to utilize the animal as a resource:
- The first one is of course for transportation (utilization)
- The second one is for textiles (common utilization)
- The third is actually for food (the tie! Camel burgers apparently are popping up as a meal option around the country. Our tour guide said it was good, but he needed a lot of BBQ sauce to finish the job)
And then finally (and the weirdest one), people have been getting really into camel-based fashion competitions. Apparently there are extremely popular beauty pageants held annually where individuals choose their prettiest camels and head them against other camels (the contest is held in Abu Dhabi and Aussies will bring over their competing camels). They focus on things like the hump size, how plump the lips are, etc. What’s even crazier is that our guide said apparently a couple years ago some camels were involved in a scandal for their owners injecting cartilage into their lips, disqualifying them from the pageant. Talk about cut-throat!
Anyway…back to the day details 🙂
After lunch we made our way to the main attraction of the day, which was a scenic world package to see the blue mountains in a couple unique ways. The first way was a scenic skyway several thousand feet above one of the main valleys. At this point, fog had pretty much cleared and with having some intermittent rain we were lucky to get a good view of the area as we cleared the gap.
Hopping off, we then took a scenic railway into the actual valley. At the time I thought this was going to be an easy ride down, but was definitely mistaken the second they put on the Indiana Jones theme music. Hearing that classic line we immediately were rolling down like a roller coaster into a mine shaft. It was a heart pumping 5 minutes! I really should have paid more attention to what was going on, because inside the car, you had two choices of seating angles – relaxed, and cliffhanger. We did not put two and two together, and was closer to the cliffhanger seating…which pretty much meant i was holding up my arms against the next seat in front of me while trying not to drop my backpack. Mom – if you’re reading this, I’m fine and nothing was lost. I promise I’ll read the instructions more closely next time.
Once we got to the valley, we had a short scenic “bush” walk, and then a slow-moving cable car back up to the visitor center. Once off, we took a few minutes to gather everyone and headed back home. A nice treat to end the day, our guide got everyone Tim Tam biscuits to share. A couple things to note on this:
- Biscuits in AUS (and England, and anything British related) are cookies. For example, we noticed in a couple stores that Oreos were called “Oreo biscuits”. Tim Tams are the same – they are chocolate covered cookies with chocolate filling inside.
- Tim Tams are delicious and if you go to AUS you have to try them. Seriously.
- We learned (but never got to try) that if you bite one corner of a TT and then the opposite corner on the other side (so it makes a diagonal) it’s supposed to create an easy pathway to drink milk through the cookie like a straw. I’m very tempted to buy very overpriced Tim Tam’s on Amazon to try this out at home.
Overall, I think we had a few things out of our control with the weather, so for what the day was, I think it was a pretty good trip. In retrospect, however, I personally felt (Ted will probably disagree with me) that we should have just bit the bullet and tried driving. This was just a kind of trip that I wanted to spend more time in certain places than the tour guide wanted us to. Being frequent hikers, I’m a big fan of walking and smelling the flowers (or in this case…bush wildlife), and this day trip was just not for that.
One thing I always do appreciate about guided tours though is that if you have the time (and people are friendly enough), you get a really unique opportunity to connect with individuals around the world. During this trip we got the time to get to know an older married couple from Chicago (not too far from home), and a young backpacker from Germany. The Chicago couple was taking 6 weeks to travel all around Australia, so it was cool to talk with them about what they had already done, and what they were planning to do after Sydney. The biggest insight I got from them is that they started their trip with the 3 day Indian Pacific train tour from Sydney to Perth, which is apparently a very iconic ride. We didn’t do a lot of research about it back when we were planning this trip because taking 3 days out was a lot for our already tight schedule. Hearing about their experiences, however, it’s on the top of our list when we return someday.
The young backpacker (let’s call her Mia) was a definite pleasure to talk to. On the ride back to central Sydney, we had the opportunity to chat with Mia on the bus as we ended up sitting together. Getting to know her, she was taking a gap year between her primary school and university, which is apparently a very common tradition for german youth today (and maybe in the past too). She was currently in month 6 of her 7 months total we was planning on backpacking, and had spent all of her time traveling across all of Australia. To keep her going, she would stay at working youth hostels and of course share common dorms. She told a few stories of her experiences, from her times working in Tasmania, to even dealing with being stranded on one of the remote island for a few days during the monsoon season.
Something that was the most insightful from taking with Mia, however, was getting her perspective on the world today. I’m always interested (and a little scared) on hearing what outsiders perceive the environment/temperament of the United States. These questions always come up organically in conversation, as I asked her at one point in the conversation if she had ever considered backpacking in other countries that Australia, such as the US. Her response to that question was that there is a very clear fear of her and her friends and classmates of traveling to the US when there are so many violent gun shootings with little to no regulations. I don’t blame her for that reaction, as it’s extremely frustrating and at the same time deflating that we live in a country where there are so many mass shootings with no progression forward resolving the situation.
For example (citing source – http://time.com/4965022/deadliest-mass-shooting-us-history/) since 1982, there have been 91 documented “mass shootings” that have occurred in the US (and i’d like to note that this is a dated article from 2017, sadly this does not include documented shootings in 2018/19 such as the Tree of Life incident and the Jackson Landing Video Game Tournament Incident). And due to the volatility of our government and heavy involvement of the NRA, there just hasn’t been a major bi-partisan agreement that has moved forward on handling this issue. A couple small victories, which is always a good step in the right direction, was the banning of bump stocks after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and certain states raising minimum age of purchasing a gun (as well as large business chains removing specific guns from purchase in their stores), but my personal opinion (not fact), is it’s not enough to stop there.
The idea of banning ownership of any automatic rifles is a primarily strong direction I feel we need to take, though I’m not sure how realistic that choice will be given the balance of members on our Supreme Court. A positive direction towards this concept being theoretical is that with New Zealand’s prime minister effectively banning all AR’s after the tragic mosque shooting could create a case precedent to be taken into closer consideration by the court. Individuals may argue that it’s lawful to own these types of machinery for hunting, target practice, and other field based scenarios. However, the biggest argument I always hear is for sake of self-defense, which I feel may be either the barrier or tipping point for our country.
The most iconic case tied to this argument is the Heller case in 2008 that was deliberated and eventually voted to retain the belief that the Second Amendment aligns to the practice of possessing firearms to protect oneself in their home, specifically for self-defense. The ruling does not provide much criteria on types of guns, however, other than handguns being constitutional, so that’s where that grey area exists and if another landmark case comes in the upcoming year(s) it may either overturn or strengthen the precedent this ruling has created. (Other cites for reference — http://time.com/5556964/assault-weapons-ban-us-new-zealand/)
Getting back on topic, it’s just overall sad to hear that our newest generation that is moving into adulthood holds this image/heuristic/whatever you want to call it of our country. This could hurt us in the long run from a tourism standpoint alone if individuals are too afraid to visit, which if you boil it down, is a $ impact and impacts our economy (to the simplest of simplifying things). And above all, I personally love our country and the natural beauty it has to offer. So my immediate knee-jerk reaction was to tell Mia about all the amazing National Parks we have across the country. Hopefully she will someday feel safe and comfortable enough to journey here and make it to Yosemite or Shenandoah to see it for herself.
OK back to the fun travel stuff! I hate to get all political sometimes in these posts, but again a major benefit of traveling internationally is the essence and value of human connectivity and community. This is just something invaluable to the wonders of travel.
Getting back to our hotel, we grabbed a quick bite and packed for our early flight out to Cairns in the next morning. One last thing to note because I can’t remember if I stated this in the last article — the morning of the flight, I finally got another real coffee at the local coffeeshop. In our walk along the rocks the day before stopping for an afternoon coffee, I learned that drip coffee doesn’t really exist in AUS. There’s also like no Starbucks (It’s kind of eerie, but somewhat freeing). The closet thing they could give me was a long black, which is essentially an Americano. I also learned that it’s pretty common to not put a lot of caffeine in their coffees, so it was a lot weaker than what I was used to. This time around, I opted for a cappuccino with two espresso shots. It was the correct balance, and have been drinking cappuccinos for the rest of the vacation.
Day 4 – Travel/Introduction to Cairns
I’m going to make this section pretty short as I spent a lot of type on the day before. Just a couple interesting things on our travel day.
- We got to try that other unique chip flavor in the airport – Spag Bol (which is Spaghetti Bolognese for short). This really tasted like spaghetti
- We discovered the Spirit of Australia – JetStar. If you ever use them, make sure you read all their fine print. On the night before in our check in I had to finagle my baggage to avoid any overweight fees. It’s not as bad as Spirit…but it’s up there.
Driving into Cairns, it was a stark contrast from Sydney. Located in Queensland, it was an incredibly small city that prided itself on tourism. The city was majority hotels and summer home/apartment rentals, and many tour shops were open for your pick of reef, rainforest, wildlife, etc. tours. We came right at the end of the season so not everything was open, but the main attractions were, so we had a nice blend of quiet atmosphere with open attractions. As well, we got a great deal snag for a nice hotel on the esplanade and moved up to a bigger room and a King Size bed to spread out for a few days (Mantra Esplanade) We mostly spent our first day walking around and getting acquainted with the area, stopping at a couple local breweries for a long sit. My personal favorite was Hemmingway’s Brewery – we frequented it during our time in Cairns.
During the dinner time, we opted for some local seafood cuisine as well, which was pretty fantastic. I tried for the first time, coral trout, which was a very tender white fish with a pop of citrus-y flavor due to its garnish accompaniment. The waiter said it was his favorite dish on the menu. Ted tried barramundi, which was another local white fish to try. His was much more seasoned, so it was a more peppery taste. Overall, both were fantastic and if you ever get to the region you need to try both.
That’s it for tonight’s chapter. Hope you enjoyed this chapter, or interested you in starting any thoughts. I welcome any dialogue. I believe I stated this above, but again, the views in this blog are entirely my own. I referenced a few sources above for reference, but I am a sole individual that has formed her own opinion from her view of the world. You may agree or disagree with me, which is the beauty of opinion – it is individualistic. Cheers!