January 23, 2011

In which the Totemites go ashore, and last one night before retreating boat-wards.

In our first foray off the boat overnight since the summer of '09, we headed for the mountains to do some camping with Mike & Hyo from s/v IO. Mike lived in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, for a year in his early 20s- leading canyoning trips and becoming a rockclimbing and abseiling (rapelling) guide. It's a treat to be introduced to this place through his memories and favorites.

Katoomba is on a plateau in the mountains, close to state and national parks and the hub for activities. The town has a blend of history and outdoor orientation with a dose of New Age kitch that make me love it immediately... shades of one of our favorite haunts back at home, Port Townsend, but in a 'turf' instead of 'surf' way. We get lunch and snacks from a bakery on the main drag: Siobhan chooses a cream filled bun that's almost the size of her head.

huge cream bun

A short walk from the main strip of coffee shops and boutiques is the spectacular vista that draws most tourists to the area- sandstone pillars named The Three Sisters. They're more stunning than the picture can show!

obligatory landmark photo

What the picture doesn't show, though, are the hordes of people piling off tour vans and charter busses to gasp at the vista from behind the railing of a concrete platform. Glad they get to see the wonder of nature but it's really not the way we like to experience it ourselves.... and it was kind of a madhouse.

Mike has better plans, of course. After our obligatory stop at the monuments he has us winding down a back road that turns out in a dirt track- a few hairpin curves later, and we're at a trailhead. It can't have been more than a 15 minute drive but we are far from the crush of crowds. Leading us down the trail, we get to see the places he took rookie climbers on their first climbing experiences. We wind up at the climb that was the first one he ever set as a new guide. He named it "wonderland"- and it is, truly, awesome.

visiting Wonderland- Mike's wall

Winding our way to the site, we pass tea tree plants in bloom. This isnt' the tea you drink (I don't think,a nyway!) but the plant we use for antibacterial properties... a tea tree essential oil is one of the ingredients in my everyday spray cleaner.

tea tree in bloom

Large black cockatoos swoop over the canyons, then sit loudly cracking nuts in trees overhead. Wish I could have gotten a better pic of them...

black cockatoo

A few hours later, we find a campsite and set up for the evening. The children are popping with excitement over their gear. They share a simple tent and carefully laid their sleeping bags out inside. When the air mattress acquired for Jamie and I to rest our (cough) aging bones on doesn't fit inside our borrowed tent, they are truly ecstatic to find it fits their perfectly. The little blue dome finds a double life as a carnival bouncy house.

We were prepared for a little drizzle, but optimistic about the weather overall. As it turned out, things were really wet and pretty chilly... and our gear was not adequate for extended wet weather. We threw a tarp in the car at the last moment that turned out to be pretty helpful. For some reason I chose to observe from inside the cozy tent instead of out in the damp, though.

nice view from the tent

Until the leeches showed up, anyway! Eeewww.

cue the psycho music

On our second day, we planned on canyoning- riding through water-filled canyons on air mattresses (in wetsuits. It's chilly!) but the air temp and rainfall steer us another way. Instead, we hike a well-trodden trail to a cave filled with glow worms, and are amazed to find that it really is like being under a canopy of tiny blue-green stars.

Just getting there is a journey through a very primeval feeling forest. I kept waiting for the velociraptors to come out from behind one of these massive fern trees.

jungle greens

We scour the treetops for koalas- allegedly all over this area- but come up empty. We do find some other critters, though. I think this one would be good with butter and garlic.

checking out the stream critter

Ultimately we are rained out. Our 4 day trip dwindles to 2 days and just one night. But we're all happy to fall into our warm, dry bunks for a good night's sleep- and I'm thrilled to see the children get the bug for camping. Niall is already hinting about rock climbing lessons...

Settling in to a place, but not a routine...yet.

We found a sweet little marina in Sydney's Middle Harbour. OK, so we didn't exactly find it on our own- our friends on Quartermoon had recommended it back in French Polynesia. Long time Sydney residents, they said it was the best place to be for cruisers, and one of the few (only?) marinas in the area to openly welcome liveaboards. Because we're planning to stick around for a while, earning some shiny coins for our cruising kitty, having a fixed slip to call home was important.

We might not be getting in the water to commune with fish any more (aside from the murk and muck, bull sharks come into this bay), but there are plenty of critters keeping things interesting. These two geese are long term residents of the bay- we've named them Peter and Paul. Victoria, from the marina office, says they've both male and have been here for many years. They love apple cores, but we have to feed them from the main dock and not off the boat... or they'll come around and honk and tap on the hull to get our attention.

our new neighbors

It's really hard to believe we've been here about two months now. Time has flown: my whirlwind of interviews gave way to what Aussies pretty aptly call the "silly season". The day after Christmas, we joined the fleet in the harbor to watch the Boxing Day start of the Sydney Hobart race. Our friend Brian, of the m/v Furthur, is making his way around the world "one party at a time"- and graciously hosted a group board.

good times on Furthur
I'm the shortest here, why did I feel the need to duck?

It was pretty insane on the water, and we were happy to be on the big powerboat with stabilizers! The size of the maxiboats out there racing made even some of the megayachts look like plastic pool toys. Jamie got to drive Further for a stretch on the way back.. I have pictures for blackmail at some later date.

A few days later, we braved the crowds on the water in Totem to anchor out and watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. Heading out in the morning of the 31st, we staked out a prime spot with views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, then wiled the hours away.

Wiling away hours until the big show
spectacular summer weather!

Things got a little hairy as the day progressed and the wind piped up. Everyone with a boat seemed to be out to party, and anchoring skills were severely lacking... but there weren't any mishaps, and everything was handled with plenty of good humor.

As for the show? I could try to put it in more descriptive words, but I can't. It was simply the most spectacular fireworks display we've ever seen.

completely wowed by the display
the eyes say it all

Sydney Harbour bridge fireworks
the bridge was one of 6 coordinated sites for launching the pyrotechnics

I don't think we would have braved the crowds if we hadn't had the capable hands of Hyo & Mike on board. They came down from Brisbane to start their land travels in Australia with us. Knowing we had the extra help on board made it less daunting, especially after seeing the madness of the harbour for the Sydney-Hobart start. After getting a half-decent night's sleep anchored in the harbour (oh, the party boats... just as things slowed down- the sun rose. another excuse to crank up the tunes! *sigh*), we played tourist and did some waterfront sightseeing.

view- 1280

It hardly felt like the waning days of our spectacularly unstructured life. I've started work now, and there's a chance the children will start school before long. But we're trying to keep taking things one day at a time, and keep our cruising spirit fresh.