Tag Archives: Sydney

Ranger Duck Weekends: Down Under Edition

My humans insisted on finishing their stories about Sydney before I got to tell mine.  Now they’ve told all the good stories, and there’s nothing left for me but pictures.  Here’s my photo album from my first time crossing the equator!

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When In Sydney

Finally, the conclusion to the Great Sydney Caper!

A good friend of mine once said, “When in Rome…do … something!” She had a momentary brain lapse and couldn’t remember the end of this famous phrase. That is how I like to remember the phrase now, “When in [fill in name of city here], do something!” This post is about all of the “somethings” we did in Sydney that haven’t been addressed yet: the Opera House, sailing on an America’s Cup class yacht, and seeing a cricket match.

The Opera House

OperaHouse3WM

One of the most iconic buildings in Sydney is the Opera House, so this was clearly a must do. We decided we would take a tour, and since neither of us had been to an opera before, we thought this would be a great opportunity to enjoy that particular experience. We bought “tour and tasting” tickets for the same day as our opera tickets. We understood this to mean that we would have our tour and then go to the in-house restaurant where we would order dinner from some kind of a tasting menu, which I assumed would be small plates, similar to tapas. It turns out that they have a set menu for the tasting. You don’t have to choose anything, they just bring you a huge array of food! (It was all delicious.)

The tour was really interesting. You learn a lot about the building, of course, but you also get access to a lot of spaces that you wouldn’t see without the tour. That’s the best part for me- behind the scenes stuff!

Rather than quote the entire history of the Opera House, which you can find on Wikipedia, a few things that struck me:

  • Jørn Utzon, the guy that designed it, didn’t have any clue how to make the structure actually work. It took years after he won the design contract for him to figure it out.
  • The roof tiles are self-cleaning. They are glazed ceramic and when it rains they clean themselves. There’s also more than 1 million tiles.
  • There are multiple theaters inside. I had no idea. I assumed it was one performance hall. Nope. The opera company has one hall and the symphony has another hall. Plus there are three other stages for plays and other types of performances.

So after the tour it was time for dinner. We had made “reservations,” such as they were, before the tour so they would have the food started for us. One thing the website doesn’t tell you is how much time to leave between the end of the tour and the opening of the show. We left ourselves an hour and we had just enough time to eat. Another half hour, or full hour, would have been good to enjoy our drinks and digest a little before going to our seats. Since the tasting package is listed on the website, I would have assumed that a lot of people take advantage of it. Apparently not, or at least apparently not that day. Everyone who walked by did a double take at our huge tower of food. They were probably just jealous.

The opera we chose was La Boheme. We chose it because I was obsessed with the musical Rent in high school and college and could probably still sing all or most of the words on the soundtrack. I have seen Rent at least half a dozen times, and Micah has seen it twice with me. For those not in the know, Rent is a modern day retelling of La Boheme. We thought La Boheme would be a good choice since we were both familiar with the basic story line. And it was. The set was gorgeous, the costumes were wonderful, and the performers (singers and orchestra) were fantastic. We really enjoyed our first opera experience!

Finally, we closed out the night with some decadent desserts. Because why not? We did the opera house tour on our first full day in Sydney. Why not kick off vacation with amazing chocolate creations?

America’s Cup sailing

On board The Kookabura, pre-race.  Notice Micah's sweet new hat.

On board The Kookabura, pre-race. Notice Micah’s sweet new hat.

The next “When in Sydney” thing that we did was supposed to be for Micah’s birthday. I talked before about this trip coinciding with a big birthday, and our quest for something “uniquely Australian” to do to celebrate.  Before we found the Blue Mountains tour, we found a sailing excursion on an America’s Cup yacht. We could choose a regular cruise around the harbor, or go on the race day and participate in a race! We both enjoy sailing and being on the water in general. I wouldn’t call either of us sailors by any means, but we know the basics of how to use a sail to propel a boat. So we appreciated the opportunity to be on a real America’s Cup yacht and get to try our hand at grinding (turning the cranks to let in or take out sail). And racing one sounded even cooler! So we booked that for the day before Micah’s birthday (the race day is once a week), with the intent of that being “for” his birthday. I’m glad we did both the race and the hike.

I wasn’t sure if the race would be “real” or not, but it was an actual race, probably 30-40 boats. I guess Wednesday afternoons in Sydney in the summer they have sail races. It seemed pretty friendly to me, more of a “something to do” than a cutthroat competition. (The sailing equivalent of a Fun Run?) I would say there were less than a dozen boats and crews, probably about a half dozen, that were very serious about racing. Everyone else looked like they were just out for the fun of it.

The boat we were on was called The Kookaburra. As we left the dock, the crew did a safety briefing and gave us instructions on the grinders and how to move across the boat and such. There were 5 crewmembers, 3 were obviously life long sailors and 2 were college aged. One of the older guys, Bruce, explained that this was an actual race. He said, “There’s a guy out there who built a $2.5 million boat specifically designed to win these Wednesday afternoon races. We are going to try to beat him.” Someone asked the name of the boat, The Black Hand, and who wins more. Sounded like The Kookaburra wins at least from time to time. So we cruise out to the starting point and Bruce yells, “Ladies and gentlemen! THAT is The Black Hand!” Obviously most of us had never seen that boat before, but all of a sudden we wanted nothing more than to beat it. It was a great way to get us involved in the competition and really invested in the day. The Black Hand crossed the finish line before we did, but The Kookaburra won due to the various handicaps the boats were sailing under. If I remember correctly, they would have had to beat us by around 5 minutes to actually win, and they only beat us by 2 or 3 minutes.  I don’t think anyone actually wins anything, except for possibly bragging rights, so I can’t believe a guy designed a multi million-dollar boat just to win these races. I guess he didn’t have anything better to do with $2.5 million…

It was a really great afternoon. It looked like most of the people on board had at least some familiarity with boats and sailing but most were probably on the beginner end of the range, like Micah and I.  After the race, when we were just cruising back to the dock, we got in a conversation with some college aged guys. They had a friend who was studying abroad at the University of Texas, Austin, so we talked about that a little, and then talked more about general “what’s it like to live here/there” kinds of things. One of the guys was suitably impressed with Micah’s new hat, which we had actually just purchased that morning. The day before, we had done the Manly Scenic Walk and got sunburned. Micah’s ears and the back of his neck were really badly burned, so he wanted something with more sun protection than his ball cap. Especially being on the water all afternoon for the race and then hiking the next day. We had read about a great hat store in The Strand, an old arcade-style mall, so we went there. After looking at all the options, and discussing his wants and needs with the sales guy, he picked out an Akubra hat. Apparently this is similar in history and street cred to a Stetson cowboy hat in Texas. So we felt good that he had “chosen wisely.”

We kept our camera stowed during the race, so unfortunately we don’t have very many pictures of the sail or boat. The sail was massive though. I don’t think I could have envisioned the scale relative to the size of the boat. If you are someone who enjoys sailing, and you have the opportunity to go on an America’s Cup class boat, do it. It was really different from the other sailboats I’ve been on.

Cricket

The fancy members-only area at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

The fancy members-only area at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

The last “when in Sydney” thing we did was see a cricket match. Neither of us have ever seen cricket, and neither of us had a really clear understanding of the rules beyond the basics. We do love sports though, especially baseball, and we wanted to see something “uniquely Australian.” It was not Australian Rules Football season (our top choice), or rugby season, so cricket won. As it turns out, there was going to be a “One Day International” match between Australia and England, so we got tickets for that. I mean, go big or go home, right? If you’re going to see a cricket match, why not see an international match! And the benefit is that it was a one-day match, rather than something that would be stretched out over multiple days. I didn’t even know that was the normal type of cricket match until we got to Sydney and started talking to people about it.

We were advised that the match probably wouldn’t end until 9pm or later, so there was no real reason to be there for the 2pm start time. So we walked the Bondi to Coogee cliffs walk that morning, and got to the game just after 4pm. This was really excellent timing because our seats were in the shade and, as it happened, we got there for the last 30 minutes or so of England’s innings (their turn at bat). We got to get a feel for the game and figure out what was going on without having a real rooting interest in the play. We only had to ask the guy next to us for clarification on something a couple of times, so I’m going to call that a win.

Of course almost everyone else in the stadium was rooting for Australia, so when it was Australia’s innings, it was easy to get caught up in the action and know when to cheer or be upset. Australia won, and one of the players scored a century– which is a big deal in itself, but it was an even bigger deal because it was the first century Australia had scored against England in Australia.

CricketGrounds1WM

Australia was gearing up to host the Cricket World Cup, so Micah bought a jersey. It was fun to follow the headlines as Australia won, and cool because we felt a small connection since we had seen the team so recently.

All in all, we had a wonderful vacation in Sydney. It was a very welcome change from KL for a week. We had intended for our week in Sydney to be our “big” trip during our expat year, and it did not disappoint at all. It’s easily among my favorite places that I’ve ever been and Australia remains on my list for future travel destinations.

Sunset over the Anzac Bridge.  Sydney's

Sunset over the Anzac Bridge. Sydney’s “other” bridge.

Coming Soon: The beginning of the end. After 8 months in KL, we are beginning the final countdown of our expat year!

Blue Mountains Hike

Part 4 of the Great Sydney Caper

We specifically planned our Sydney trip in January to coincide with Micah’s birthday. It was a pretty big number, the one that is typically associated with hills in the U.S. I had been looking for a unique way to celebrate, something that would be an experience, and something we could only do in Australia. I was perusing the Trip Advisor recommendations and found Blue Mountains Eco Tour. They offer a few different tour packages at a reasonable price, including one that gives you the opportunity to see kangaroos in the wild. Wild kangaroos with some hiking?  We knew immediately this was the experience we were looking for!

We booked the tour over email and Paul, the owner, and Jenny, his partner, were incredibly easy to correspond with.  Booking the tour couldn’t have been smoother.  On the day of the tour, Paul picked us up at our hotel in the morning. We drove about an hour out of Sydney to get to the first overlook point. On the drive, Paul told us a lot about the history of the area. We knew the basic history of Australia and of Sydney, but hearing more about how Europeans settled the specific area we were driving through was really interesting.

We spent about 10 minutes at the first overlook point, to get oriented to where we would be spending the rest of our day. It was an amazing view and a great way to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape. At several points during the day, looking at the valley really made you aware of how small you are in the world. How big a place the world really is can be easily masked in cities sometimes. Being confronted with something like these views does wonders for realigning your soul.

First overlook, into Jamison Valley.

First overlook, into Jamison Valley.

The first “real” stop and hike was to see Katoomba Falls. We parked at Scenic World, which is a very touristy place that offers train and gondola rides and things like that. But they also had some very nicely maintained trails. It was an easy hike down to the falls through a beautiful rainforest. (The hike back up was only marginally more difficult because it was going up, otherwise it wasn’t bad either.)  The scenery was amazing, and even more amazing was that there was no one around. We didn’t see people until we got to the Falls, and even then there were only a few others. This was in contrast to the parking lot at Scenic World which was pretty packed with other tourists.  I guess the train and gondola are a big draw.

Next up was lunch in Leura. Leura is a very quaint town, I believe built as a railroad depot. There were a lot of great restaurants to choose from, we picked a place with great sandwiches based on Paul’s recommendation. After lunch, we went to Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is situated at one end of the valley so we had an incredible view of nearly the entire valley. The overlook point is down a little bit from the ground level where you walk in, it’s easily accessed on a small boardwalk and stairs. It was really windy! The difference of maybe 50-100 feet was astonishing. At the ground level, our hats were in no danger of blowing away. At the overlook point, we had to take them off or risk losing them.

View from Pulpit Rock

View from Pulpit Rock

After Pulpit Rock, it was time to find some kangaroos. We drove into the valley to a secret spot that Paul knows about, called Shipley Plateau. (Actually, I have no idea how secret it really is.  It just happened that there was no one else there when we were there, so it felt like a secret.) To reach the specific area we had to pass through some privately owned farmland, though the Plateau itself is on public parkland. I think that’s probably why more people weren’t there to check it out, unless you know the drill it is easy to think you aren’t supposed to be there. On the way in, we were on the lookout for kangaroos and wallabies who were just starting to stir. Apparently they are nocturnal; I didn’t know this but it makes sense given how hot it is in Australia during the day. Our first view of kangaroos was magical. This is not hyperbole. It felt like that scene in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern’s character sees the live dinosaurs for the first time and she is astounded. We saw about 3 of them hopping through a field; it was such a quick glimpse of them, but even so it was wonderful. I felt like I had seen something amazing.  We saw some wallabies and a few kangaroos on our way in, but we didn’t stop because Paul said he knew a good place where we would probably see a lot of them. He wasn’t wrong! In the middle of a small valley, we saw probably 30 kangaroos lounging on the grass. Some of them were getting up and moving around, some of them were staying put. It was so peaceful to be there, with no one else around, and see so many kangaroos going about their day and basically ignoring us.

We elected to enjoy our afternoon tea break while we pondered the kangaroos. Paul had a thermos of hot water to make tea and coffee, plus fruit and biscuits (known to us Americans as cookies) for a snack. I had also arranged for a birthday surprise for Micah. Jenny, Paul’s partner, handles the communication for the business. When I was emailing her to get our tour set up, I asked about the possibility of getting a small cake for Micah. She got in touch with Louise at Cake Love by Louise, who makes custom cakes, about making something for us in Micah’s favorite flavor (Red Velvet) which isn’t very popular outside of the American South. Louise came through and Cake Love was able to make it for us, and I had a choice of a standard birthday cake or cupcakes with fun Aussie decorations. Since the theme of the day was “doing something uniquely Australian,” of course I went with the cupcakes! They were adorable, and more importantly very delicious. Micah was surprised by the cupcakes, and I was thrilled to have pulled off the surprise. A very big thanks to Jenny and Louise at Cake Love for their extra work to make it happen!

Our last stop was at Echo Point for sunset. We arrived just in time and found a great spot. It was easy to access, it didn’t involve much/any hiking, and had a parking lot near by. I was really surprised that there weren’t more people there, since it was so easy to get to. There were some, probably the most we had seen all day, but we didn’t have to elbow our way to a good view or wait for an opening in the crowd to get nice pictures with no one else in them. It was a great way to end the day.

On the drive back to Sydney, Paul talked to us about cricket. Seeing a cricket match was on our agenda for the next day, and we didn’t have much of an idea about the rules. So it was really helpful to get an intro from him before diving in to the game the next day!

If you find yourself in Sydney and you’re interested in some (relatively light) hiking in the Blue Mountains, I cannot recommend Blue Mountain Eco Tours enough. It was a great, private tour for a really reasonable price. That alone would be reason enough to recommend it. However, Paul and Jenny went above and beyond to work with us on the birthday surprise and were all around wonderful people to deal with from a business perspective. Paul was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. He had an incredible knowledge of the history of the area and his knowledge of plants and animals was beyond what I could have hoped for. Like, he knew a truly impressive amount of diverse things. On top of all that, he has an interest in photography so he very frequently pointed out great vantage points for pictures and even shared with us some tricks and tips for taking better pictures (in terms of camera settings). I think this was above and beyond his strict job description as a tour operator, and it made our experience with him that much better.

Great tour, great experience, great birthday for Micah.

Coming soon: The final installment in the Great Sydney Caper – “When in Sydney…” The Opera House, racing on an America’s Cup class boat, and our first cricket match.