Category Archives: travel

Jenolan Caves

After a somewhat abortive attempt to see some of New South Wales’ national parks, we decided to drive to Jenolan Caves, which Brendan had visited on a school trip as a child. I was dubious. Somewhere along the way I had spotted a poster advertising the caves, which showed formations lit in garish colored lights. Read More…

After a somewhat abortive attempt to see some of New South Wales’ national parks, we decided to drive to Jenolan Caves, which Brendan had visited on a school trip as a child. I was dubious. Somewhere along the way I had spotted a poster advertising the caves, which showed formations lit in garish colored lights. It looked, well, …cheesy. But we decided to take a chance.

Brendan did not remember that the final piece of road approaching the caves was narrow, winding, and barely two lanes, carved into a mountainside. We also didn’t know that the time we were arriving – late afternoon – was when the big tour buses were leaving. So we had some excitement trying to get past a bus on the road. Italians have more practice at this.

You can only visit Jenolan Caves as part of a guided tour, one to two hours per cave. We arrived in time for the last tour of the day of Chifley Cave, led by a long-time employee, John. Neither my words nor my photos can do justice to the weird beauty of this ancient limestone (340 million years – the oldest known open cave complex on Earth). You’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

John did show us the room lit in colored lights, near the entrance of Chifley. He told us that they kept it to demonstrate how caves used to be lit for tourists (I remember this being the case in the US during my childhood as well), but now they use white LEDs so that you can see the beauty of the cave’s natural colors. In fact, all that we saw of Jenolan is very tastefully done, with well-designed lighting making the most of what nature has put there.

We were fascinated enough that we decided to stay overnight (there are several lodging options right there at the caves) so that we could go on another tour in the morning. We were tempted to also join that evening’s tour, but it had been a long day of driving and an hour of walking and climbing lots of stairs in the caves. We opted instead for a quiet walk around nearby Blue Lake, where we saw and heard wildlife, including the resident platypus (video here).

The next morning we toured Orient Cave, where I shot the video you see above which, again, can give you only a partial impression of the size and splendor. (The photo at top is also from Orient.) The tour guide you hear in this one is Ann; yes, she’s American.

The “very sparkly” bit you see in the beginning of the video is fresh limestone crystal that has formed in the 60 years since the new entrance tunnel to Orient cave was dug through (causing damage that you learn about on the tour). Old as they are, these are living and growing caves.

NB: This was a 90-minute tour with a lot of up and down stairs. Some parts were very narrow, and overall it was quite strenuous – my legs were sore the next day. The Jenolan Caves site lists a “fitness level” for each tour (Orient is listed as “average”); I suggest that you take that seriously!

 

Australian Candy

Australians take candy very, very seriously. Except they call it “lollies”, even when it’s not lollipops. This is the candy section from just one grocery store that we visited. Photos by Brendan Gregg, who also takes lollies very seriously. Advice to Americans: stay away from “musk” flavored anything. You won’t like it. You might also Read More…

Australians take candy very, very seriously. Except they call it “lollies”, even when it’s not lollipops.

This is the candy section from just one grocery store that we visited.

Photos by Brendan Gregg, who also takes lollies very seriously.

Advice to Americans: stay away from “musk” flavored anything. You won’t like it.

grocery store candy

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In and Around Newcastle, NSW

(NSW stands for New South Wales, not, in this case “not safe for work”!) Perhaps my favorite part of the Australia trip was the week we rented an apartment overlooking Newcastle Beach. Going to sleep and waking up to the sound of waves every day, taking walks and exploring tide pools along beautiful beaches, cooking Read More…

(NSW stands for New South Wales, not, in this case “not safe for work”!)

Perhaps my favorite part of the Australia trip was the week we rented an apartment overlooking Newcastle Beach. Going to sleep and waking up to the sound of waves every day, taking walks and exploring tide pools along beautiful beaches, cooking for myself (eating out was a problem, more on that later) – it was all glorious. I need a month of just that, every year.

Backyard Wildlife in Australia

One thing that amazed me in Australia was the variety of birds, especially parrots, that are common around where people live. And, of course, no Australian yard is complete without a child playing cricket! You might also like: Watching Cricket in Sydney First Days in Australia Australian Beaches The Twitter Diaries: 2009-07-19: Brisbane

One thing that amazed me in Australia was the variety of birds, especially parrots, that are common around where people live. And, of course, no Australian yard is complete without a child playing cricket!

First Days in Australia

Leaving SF on Thanksgiving evening, we flew (via Auckland) to Sydney, rented a car at the airport, and drove to Brendan’s parents’ place near Newcastle, New South Wales. After two days to recover (and a first look around Newcastle), we went back to Sydney. I had never been there (except passing through the airport once), Read More…

Leaving SF on Thanksgiving evening, we flew (via Auckland) to Sydney, rented a car at the airport, and drove to Brendan’s parents’ place near Newcastle, New South Wales. After two days to recover (and a first look around Newcastle), we went back to Sydney. I had never been there (except passing through the airport once), so all the famous sights were new to me.

The Opera House was a bit dingy and yellowish, not its usual pristine white. It may be discolored by soot from the bushfires that devastated nearby areas last October.

I thought the best way to see the inside of the Opera House would be to attend a performance of some sort. At the box office, I swore in astonishment at the coincidence: Leonard Cohen was playing that night – and that night only. Standing room was available, at $198 (Aus) each. Then, as the box office lady was looking at her screen, she exclaimed: “Two seats have just become available, very good box seats, at the same price!” I was sorely tempted, but we had seen Leonard Cohen on the opening leg of this same tour in Oakland, back in February (at about the same price, but sitting down). That concert had fulfilled a longtime dream of mine, and I didn’t need to repeat it.

poisonous fruits of a cycad

^ More for the “things that will kill you in Australia” catalog: these colorful fruits of a cycad are poisonous (yes, there was a warning sign).

We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, which weren’t terribly impressive this time of year (it’s summer, I guess most things have finished blooming), but still a nice walk. Rounding Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, we came upon a group of Chinese tourists laughing, talking, and posing for the usual photos with the Opera House and bridge as a backdrop. I reflected that, in my lifetime, the dominant breed of tourists around the world have been, successively, Americans, Japanese, and now Chinese. Herd behavior seems much the same, only the languages differ.

Hanging out near the group and trying to intermingle were two women of Chinese descent, evidently residents of Australia, carrying large signs in Chinese. One had a line of English translation: “You can leave the Communist Party”.

We did many other things in those first two days in Sydney, most of which involved a lot of walking. We walked across the Sydney Harbor bridge (very windy) and down to the Luna Park on the other side (it was closed). Took the train back, at least!

Sydney pub, beer

When you get tired walking around Sydney, it is very easy to find a pub to sit down in and recover with a cold beer. Brendan has long insisted that Australian commercial beers are better than American ones. Australia is now developing a craft beer industry as well, of which I found several tasty examples from James Squire.

As I had discovered back in 2009 in Brisbane, and also applies to Sydney: a good way to see the city while taking a load off your feet is to hop on the commuter ferries. In Brisbane, these ply the river. In Sydney, they go all over the harbor. On the second evening, we enjoyed the half-hour ride from Circular Quay to Darling Harbor, and eventually found dinner at one of its many restaurants.