The other weekend, I went on a hike with a few friends through the Blue Mountains.We took the train up to the quiet little town of Leura and began our hike around cliff edges, through lush fern groves, underneath rock overhangs, and through beautiful waterfalls. It was a warm, sunny day and for most of the hike we were sheltered from the sun by the enormous trees. I made everyone take the long hike which took us all the way to the iconic Three Sisters, and everyone ended up being glad they did it - even though we were a tad sore the next morning. Our hike started at the top of an enormous waterfall and about a third of the way through our hike we had made it to the base of it. We made our way down into the valley which was filled with tiny waterfalls and forests up to the top of the Three Sisters. We also rode up the mountain at the very end in the world’s steepest railway - which went 52 degrees in some parts!
Besides being a very environmentally conscious city - littering is unheard of and all the outlets have on/off switches - Sydney is a green city filled with palm trees, parks and beautiful gardens. You completely forget you’re in the city when you enter the Botanical Gardens, where they have rainforest walks, exotic birds, and quiet lakes. Unlike many public parks, the signs at the Botanical gardens encourage you to venture off the beaten path and explore the trees and wildlife tucked away in the heart of the city - you feel like you’re stepping out of the bustling city and into a otherworldly jungle. The place to see the best sunset in Sydney is at the very tip of the gardens at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, an old stone structure that was carved out for Governor Macquarie’s wife. From this spot, you can see the sun set over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Another great garden in the area is the Chinese Garden of Friendship, which houses a giant lake surrounded by waterfalls and oriental pavilions. When I went they were performing a show in one of the temples and people dressed in authentic Chinese garb were strolling the gardens.
Our final day! This was definitely my favorite day in the Outback. We woke up early again to beat the heat and began our hike as the sun was rising. We hiked up a steep incline to the top of King’s Canyon and were rewarded with breathtaking (literally, I was out of breath from the climb) views. The canyon was massive - steep red walls sloped down into green pastures that rolled on into the outback. From the top, we could really see how desolate the land was - there was no sign of people for miles. I loved that the view wasn’t obstructed by any railings or signs. Australians are way more laidback about that kind of thing, plus they don’t have as much to worry about as the Grand Canyon because so few people can make it out to King’s Canyon and even fewer can make the climb up. We hiked along the canyon’s edge over mini red rock mountains and interesting rock sculptures while our guide gave us the history of the area. In some parts, we could see where the ground had fossilized in the shape of waves or sea creatures, where the lake had once been. Then we made our way down to the very heart of the canyon to the Garden of Eden, a surprisingly lush greenery of ferns that gave way to a peaceful little river. After a quick break, our guide hiked us back up to the top where we yelled out over the canyon and heard our voice echo for miles. It was a long and rewarding hike that I was not ready to leave, even though the heat was getting intense. Afterwards, we made the six hour drive back to Alice Springs and hopped on the plane back to Sydney. Needless to say, it was a great way to end the trip and none of us were ready for that week to end.
The next morning we woke up bright and early at 4:45 am (ouch) to head off to Uluru for a beautiful sunrise - it was a great way to start the day. Then we went on a quick tour of the sacred aboriginal sites in Uluru. The aboriginal people are required by law to allow tourists to climb Uluru but it’s a sacred site for them and considered disrespectful to walk on it. The day we went the wind conditions were too unsafe for anyone climb anyway. Then we went on a walk around the entire base of Uluru and saw hidden little lakes, authentic aboriginal drawings and old teaching caves. Then we went to the aboriginal culture and arts center. At the end of the day, we switched campsites and had another beautiful night under the stars in the Outback. It was unbelievable how clear the sky was and how many stars we could see.
We loaded up into vans at 5 am and headed into the outback. Our first stop was a little farm where we got to ride camels in the outback and pet kangaroos. Ironic, since the dinner we ate that night was camel sausage and kangaroo steak. We drove for several hours through desert wasteland - there was literally nothing out there except miles and miles of red sand interrupted by the occasional red rock mountain. I don’t even think we passed any other cars on the road. Then we hiked through Kata Tjuta, an impressive red rock mountain with surprisingly green patches and interesting rock formations. We did the Valley of the Winds walk which, like all our other hikes, was done earlier in the day before the sun was completely overhead and the heat wasn’t too bad to hike in. Then we settled into our campsite, ate an authentic Australian meal in the outback, and headed off to Uluru to watch the most breathtaking sunset I’ve ever seen. Then we camped out in “swags” - massive padded sleeping bags that warded off the cold nights and mess of bugs.
On Wednesday we flew from Cairns to Alice Springs - a small town in the middle of the country. There wasn’t much out there except big red rocks and dry deserted land. A lot of aboriginal communities settled there after they were driven out of the bush. Our bus driver from the airport told us of this yearly river race in Alice Springs - he described it as the only boat race he knows of where it’s called off if water is actually in the river. They do the race Flintstones’ style - they cut leg holes in the bottoms of canoes and run down the river. Like I said, there’s not much to do in Alice Springs. We hiked up a little hill and saw some great views of the rocks, then went to bed early to get ready for our early wakeup for the outback the next day.
We spent more time this day trekking through the rain forests and swimming in the Atherton Table Lands. At the first lake, I was one of the few people who jumped in the water with the tour guide and spent a while jumping off the rocks and exploring the rivers. We saw incredibly beautiful waterfalls and views. The water was freezing, but we got to swim through a massive waterfall. My favorite part of the day was sliding down the rock waterfalls - they shoot you out into a lake and it was awesome. We also went by a little pond and got to see a few platypus in their natural habitat! They’re very shy creatures so people rarely get to see them. Our last stop of the day was a lake where we climbed up a tree and jumped in the water and swam around. Australia is forcing me to conquer my fear of heights. We returned to our hostel around 6 but were immediately whisked off to the AJ Hackett bungy jumping site. They had a barbeque with music waiting for us. A few people went bungy jumping, but I’m saving that for New Zealand (NZ has the highest in the world - 150 meters. The one here was under 50 meters.) We did get to go on the Jungle Minjin swing however - three of us were tied to harness and pulled up almost 40 meters up and when they told us to, I had to pull the cord that dropped us. Apparently we were the loudest screamers - even the staff back on the ground were covering their ears. Once we were pumped full of adrenaline, they dropped us back off at our hostel.
The day of the Great Barrier Reef! We started out at 7 am and cruised over bright blue water until we got to this little white, pristine island in the middle of the ocean. The ship was incredible - they even provided us with a gourmet lunch that was unbelievable. We got to lay out on the front of the boat and soak up the sun while we sailed. My three friends and I were the first group to go scuba diving. It’s crazy how heavy all the equipment is - they load you with a massive tank and rock belts to weigh you down and the breathing apparatus. I also was amazed at how lax the crew was about us scuba diving - they made sure we knew how to use it, gave us a quick demo, and then threw us in the water. That’s classic Australia though, they’re so laidback about everything. We went down with an instructor for about half an hour and it was unreal - it was like something out of National Geographic I couldn’t believe we were down there. We went right through the coral and saw eels and fish up close - we even saw little Nemo in his anemone! Once we got back up to the boat, we got to go over to the beach and snorkel unattended on the reefs over there. It was amazing - we could go right up to the reefs and fish would swim right by us. We even saw a stingray and a sea turtle! I was tempted to take a piece of coral back with me, but the lifeguard informed me there was a $9,000 fine for that. Woops.
After a 6:30 am wake up, we headed off in a van to the Daintree Rainforest with our aboriginal tour guide, George, who had grown up in the area and had some great stories for us. Having George was great - we learned not just about the rainforest but also the aboriginal history of the area. We drove up the coastline and saw some unreal sights that looked like fake backdrops - beautiful beaches surrounded by impressive cliffs and pristine blue water. Our hike was through the Daintree Rainforest, which is a beautiful green tropical rainforest filled with waterfalls and exotic organisms. George warned us of this one tree that was all over the rainforest - a poisonous tree that if you touch its leaf will cause extremely painful boils on your skin. He compared the sensation to “having boiling water poured on you for 36 hours straight.” Along our walk, he would pick fruit and have us try it or encourage us to feel certain plants. I ate a yellow ant that tasted like a lemondrop and tried some ginger fruit that George dug out of the ground. Our hike took us over a really cool suspension bridge and then into the pool of a waterfall where we went swimming. I even had a leech on my foot when I got out! Then George took us to a wild life sanctuary where emus and kangaroos were running wild and we got to go right up to them and pet and feed them. We also walked over the crocodile sanctuary, where massive 10 foot crocs were basking in the sun. He told us the story of one of their crocs, Jack the Ripper, who they had to remove from the sanctuary. The strangest thing kept happening - they’d put Jack in a spot with 10 or 12 other crocs, and in a month they’d all be gone except him. It took them a few more times before they realized Jack was eating his fellow crocs. Luckily we were safe from those sneaky bastards. We also got to see tropical birds and a kangaroo with her joey up close! Emus are nasty creatures they kept coming up to us and pecking us - they’re known for their nasty temper. Then George took us to the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen - it looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. We had lunch and stopped off at a rainforest ice cream shop, where they make their ice cream from plants grown in the rainforest. I had a coconut banana mix with some other plants in it and it was delicious. After that, he dropped us off at a lake where we cruised around and spotted crocodiles. The boat driver caught a bright green tree frog and was letting us pet it until it jumped on my friends shirt and wouldn’t let go. We ended the day back in Cairns, where they provided us with a free dinner.
I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t been on this in a while! Anyway, it’s about time I talked about spring break. It was the best week ever. I scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, slept under the stars in the outback, and hiked through canyons and rain forests. I did so many different things I’m going to have to document it day by day. We flew into Cairns - where the Great Barrier Reef is - on the first day and arrived at our hostel, Gilligans, which is also the biggest club in Cairns. For such a small, secluded town Cairns had a great night life and a plethora of activities in the day time.