Saturday, 5 October 2013

Blue Mountains & Byron Bay

G'day folks,

I know it's been a while - so I'm just letting you know that this blog still exists and thought I'd write a little about my trips to the Blue Mountains and to Byron Bay last week.

As most of you will know, I'm here in Sydney on a DAAD scholarship. Before I came here, the DAAD organised a preparatory meeting for everyone to get to know each other and give us more information about what was expected of us. At that meeting, I also met Ninia who is studying in Melbourne and who came over to Sydney for a short holiday during mid-semester break.
F.l.t.r.: Ninia, me and Laura on the ferry in Darling Harbour
Ninia and me at Bondi Beach - starting our Bondi to Bronte coastal walk
Tamarama Beach
The coastal walk goes all along the coastline of Sydney's eastern suburbs, connecting Bondi Beach to Tamarama, Bronte and Coogee Beach. Besides the obligatory sightseeing tour of Sydney, also including Manly, we visited the Blue Mountains.
The eastern edge of the Blue Mountains is situated about 50 km (31 miles) to the west of Sydney and forms a part of the Great Dividing Range along Australia's east coast. Once a plateau, various rivers carved their way through the sandstone bedrock to form dozens of valleys that are up to 760 metres (2,490 ft) deep. As you will see from the photos below, this area is second to none in the world and as such is deemed worthy to be preserved. This is why seven national parks have been established in the greater Blue Mountains area. If you want to go there, it is best to visit during the week as weekends are always busy. We stayed overnight in Katoomba from Monday to Tuesday and explored the area (Katoomba, Blackheath etc.).

Cherry blossoms - Spring in the Blue Mountains =)
One of probably ten million cicadas, the size of a hand!
Panoramic view of the Three Sisters near Echo Point (click to enlarge)
Ninia & me at Echo Point
 As you can tell from the above photos, the Blue Mountains got their name from the tinge of blue that the mountains get if viewed from a distance. It is believed that this blue tinge emerges from scattering of light in ultraviolet radiation that may be enhanced in the Blue Mountains area by volatile chemicals emitted by the eucalyptus trees in the valleys.

From Echo Point, we went down the Giant Stairway that goes down behind the Three Sisters. 900 steps after that, we arrived at the valley floor where we took the Scenic Railway back up to Echo Point. This railway was formerly used to carry coals from the mines underneath the rocks to the top - but since coal mining in the area has ceased, the railway was converted to the world's steepest cable-driven train ride at a gradient of 52°.

View of Jamison Valley, 12 km (7.5 mi) long and 10 km (6.2 mi) wide - inhabited by humans for 40,000 years!
View of the Three Sisters from the Scenic Railway platform
The Scenic Railway arriving at the bottom
 Our way back to Katoomba took us past waterfalls and even more stunning scenery before we could finally go to bed around 9 pm - a very long day indeed.

A little creek that drops down into the valley
Artsy photo of Ninia at a waterfall
The next day with a quick breakfast at our hostel in Katoomba. The plan for the day: catch a bus to Blackheath to visit Govett's Leap Lookout and walk to Pulpit Rock. Besides the fact that the bus driver stopped wherever people waved at him (instead of actual bus stops), everyone seemed to know each other and started chatting on the bus before getting off again in the middle of nowhere - again, no bus stop in sight. At Govett's Leap, the views were breath-taking and the weather was fantastic so we decided to do the walk to Pulpit Rock. Estimated walking time: 3 hours return. Considering that buses only run every two and a half hours - challenge accepted! The walk took us down to a little creek that we had to cross and then lead up again to a cliff-top walk.

Ninia on our hike to Pulpit Rock
When we arrived at Pulpit Rock, we barely had time to sit down and have a rest before starting to make our way back to Govett's Leap to be there in time for our bus back to Katoomba. That day, it was so windy that people with small children were advised not to do the walk or to hold onto their children. The view, however, was so amazing that it didn't even matter that the yogurt we brought was blown off our spoons and into our faces.

Panoramic view of Pulpit Rock (click to enlarge)

Our way back to Sydney was exactly like our way to Katoomba - we fell asleep on the train =) When we arrived here in Newtown, it was already time to pack because the next morning, both Ninia and I had to get up early and go to the airport. Ninia went back to Melbourne and I caught a flight up to Byron Bay with Laura, Sarah and Lisette to spend a few days somewhere else before having to go back to uni.

Byron Bay is a very small town of about 5,600 inhabitants that is situated in the far north-eastern corner of New South Wales, more than 770 km north of Sydney. Even though NSW is one of the smaller states of Australia, it took us over an hour to get there by plane. Byron Bay is famous for its hippie culture, its beautiful beaches and good waves - the prime destination for surfers from all around Australia and even the globe.

Leaving Sydney for Ballina / Byron Bay
Scenic flight along the Northern beaches and Port Stephens
Arrival at Ballina Airport - as always, we had to walk over the tarmac =)
Because we had booked everything at short notice, we had to put up with what was left accommodation-wise. We stayed at The Arts Factory Lodge, a small-ish but cosy backpackers hostel outside of Byron Bay. As the name suggests, it was quite alternative and easy-going. Our double-bed private rooms turned out to be permanent tents on the edge of an estuary that smelled like rotten eggs due to the exceptionally high amount of sulfuric acid in the water. The showers were on the other side of the bridge that connected the "Island Retreat" section from the rest of the hostel facilities that included a bar, kitchen, reception, showers & bathrooms, laundry and several self-serve machines.

View of the estuary with a hammock on the right
Our permanent tents - accessible via a boardwalk to not disturb the
bush turkeys and lizards in their natural habitat
Presumably due to the remote location of the hostel, house rules did not seem to be strictly adhered to. But oh well - it's Byron Bay. Who would even bother to put that paragraph about "illegal substances" on their house rules blackboard. Utterances like "Oh man, those mushrooms were the best idea ever" in a conversation between two guys under the shower actually did fit into the picture.

House Rules at the Arts Factory Lodge - not to be taken seriously! =)
We spent most of our days at the beach and in town which was about a 15 minute walk away from our hostel. The souvenir shops and clothing stores were quite tempting, so we looked for good deals one afternoon. Another day, we hired bikes or watched the sunset at the beach with whales jumping out of the water in the distance.

Panoramic view of "our" beach
Cider at sunset while watching waves & whales - priceless =)
Sunset @ Byron Bay
Hippie-style cars and campervans everywhere!
But as always - unfortunately, every holiday must come to an end and so I caught my flight home to Sydney with a spectacular view of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge during our descent:

Sydney Harbour from above =)
After my mid-semester break, I will have to work on my big assignments as we're reaching the end of my second semester at Sydney Uni already. My semester here finishes at the beginning of November - but that doesn't mean that I'll come straight back home. More travel is yet to come so look forward to the following trips:

November: Fiji Islands, Mackay & Whitsunday Islands (Australia)
December: Adelaide (Australia), Christmas & New Year's Down Under, Cairns (Australia)
January: Christchurch & Queenstown (NZ), Nelson (NZ), Bay of Islands (NZ), Fiji Islands
February: Trip back to Germany

Till then - hang in there & take care!

Your Travel Hobbit =)

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