|Prince Of Wales Cliff Walk - Katoomba, Australia
The next day was hot and beautiful. I filled up my Platypus water pouch with three litres of water, filled another 600-ml bottle with water, stuffed my pack with two loaves of still-warm sourdough bread from a nearby bakery, and headed off to hike to the Ruined Castle rock formation. I got lost on the way from the hostel and wandered through the suburbs of Katoomba for a bit, but finally got to the trail head. The hike was rated as medium/hard, six hour return, and the park recommended bringing warm clothing and rain gear, so I picked up a souvenir fleece jacket and rain poncho (and some plush koalas!) from a gift shop before starting down the cliff.
|Down the cliff again
The walk was very pleasant. The trails were wide and well-maintained at firzt, although the lack of railings was again disturbing. In most places, the only think keeping you from toppling over the edge and down the cliff was the fringe of bushes clinging to the top of the dropoff. It was really great to actually see the geological eras in the rock layers as you walked down past them. The smell of eucalyptus kept intensifying as I walked down. It wasn't quite overpowering, but it was very noticeable.
I don't want you to think that there was just an incredible view. The variety of wildlife and vegetation was quite astounding. Everywhere I looked there was some strange tree, or some beautiful flowering bush, or a butterfly warming itself in the sunshine pouring through the trees clinging to the rock faces.
|Cable car modified for perverts
The trail passed under the cable car that I had ridden the day before. The sign for the car boasted that it had a "high-tech electro-transmissive viewing floor". This just means that it has a glass floor that tourists can look through, but with LCD panels over them. As the cable car nears either edge of the valley, the LCD panels turn from clear to white, blocking the view. Apparently locals used to climb the cliffs and look up people's dresses as the car passed overhead. After a few kids were hurt by falls, they installed the LCD panels.
Waterfalls are everywhere! Some of them are from streams pouring over the top of the cliff, while some of them seep out from sandstone layers partway down. Not all of them reach the bottom of the cliff, either - like this one, some collect in hollows partway down, and are reaborbed into the cliff to spring out elsewhere. This narrow fall plunges perhaps 100 metres through the open air before splashing to this set of ledges. Every few minutes, the wind blows so hard that the waterfall stops, and the cliff face for dozens of metres on each side is splattered with water droplets. This little trickle allows a small patch of amazingly green jungle to thrive here high up on a dry, windy rock face. I tried to time this for when the wind was low, but I still got my glasses and clothes splattered! The hot, dry, eucalyptus-scented wind soon fixed that.
These steps were hacked out of the stone cliff over a century ago. It wasn't until 2001 that they installed the handrail. Even so, there's been enough traffic over the past century that the steps are worn down in the middle, and slope downhill. Note that so far the hike has been quite easy (and mostly downhill), so I'm wearing only sandals. You can see my slighly sunburnt toe to the right.
|Off the main path
Switched to my hiking shoes as I moved off the "medium" path and onto the "hard" path, going to the Ruined Castle rock formation. About 3 hours each way, according to the guidebook. I had to register my name before going on this trail, and have to log back in when I return. Only one other group was booked for today.
First bit of level ground in an hour ... and it's still sloping downhill at 30 degrees. Really glad I brought a lot of water, really glad I spent months working on my calf muscles before coming here. I'm soaking with sweat, every muscle is burning, and it's only 10:30 AM! Utterly amazing views make it all worth it.
|Fuck fuck fuck fuck
Climbing across an old landslide. 150 metre drop to the eucalpytus trees below. The only other group on the trail today turned back and passed me a few minutes ago. Wind blowing really hard, whenever I hear the trees start to rustle I crouch low and grab the rocks with all limbs. Rocks keep shifting. My testicles have retracted into my abdominal cavity and are aching with a dull pain. I keep saying fuck fuck fuck as i slip from one handhold to another. Rushing to get across this section so I can rest my strained fingers.
|Sliding past sandstone spirals
These look like petroglpyhs, but are really odd spiral patterns in the sandstone. I saw several interesting formations as I slid past them on my butt down the landslide. I wasn't falling, it was more of an unplanned descent. I kept a degree of control, staying feet-first and moderating my speed with my feet. No way for me to go back up the crumbly, sliding rockfall though, so I kept going with the flow in hopes of finding stable ground. I passed one of the trail marker posts on my way down. It had slipped down too.
|Showing where I stopped
Remember that big house-sized rock from the earlier picture, that had another house-sized rock behind it? This is that second house-size rock, just to give you an idea of how far down I had to slide on my butt before I found solid ground. I'm actually off the cliff and almost into the eucalyptus forest in the hills.
|Oh, the melodrama!
I was trapped. This overhang kept me from climbing up the way I'd slid down. How embarassing - not even lunchtime, and I was trapped and needing help! I didn't even have any decent injuries to justify needing assistance, just a few scrapes and shallow cuts that were already scabbing over. I finally realized what Stephen Crane had meant by the title of his book "The Red Badge of Courage". Then it started to rain. I got all emo and Tara-like. Woe is me - I'm trapped here, never to get home! It'll be dark before the park service notices I haven't logged back in and come looking for me, and it will be so humiliating! I put on my fleece jacket and rain poncho, and started blowing my emergency whistle in sequences of three at one-minute intervals. I used the notebook Honey had sent me to inventory what I had (plenty of food and water, plenty of warm clothing, plush animals to use as pillows). I blew my whistle. I wrote several hideously embarassing postcards to my parents. I blew my whistle. It stopped raining, so I took off the poncho. It immediately started raining again. I blew my whistle. I dug out my testicles from where they had burrowed into my abodmen. They ached immensely. I blew my whistle. I dug a latrine and used it. I looked for edible food products, and found only eucalpytus. I searched for water, and found a small trickle that I could use when my supplies ran low. I blew my whistle, and for variety started shouting "CooooEEEEEEEEEEE!" the way a tour guide had shown me. It was embarassing at first, but less hard on my ears than whistling (it was a FoxPro emergency whistle, and LOUD). I grew adept at plugging my ears while blowing my whistle. I had earplugs, but didn't want to use them in case anyone called back. I blew my whistle.
This bird kept me company, following me wherever I went. It even started to make noises like my whistle when I blew it. I thought it was a Lyre bird, but according to Wikipedia only the males imitate other creatures, and the males are brownish. Phred-chan thinks it might be a magpie. Anyway, it kept staring at me, even when I used the latrine.
|FUCKITY FUCK FUCK FUCK!
After an hour or so, I got tired of blowing on the whistle. I reminded myself that I'm a professional engineer, I have a map, I have a reliable compass, I can do triginometry in my head, and I fucking aced my land surveying course.
I carefully navigated east, stopping to sight landmarks every 10 metres. I had to climb over some rather large rocks and scramble through some tough underbrush, but eventually I came to a scree slope that led up to a rock chimney.
My testicles snapped up into my abdomen again when I started up this slope. The rocks kept shifting, and if I slipped, the drop would be far steeper and more painful than my initial slide. Even the topsides of my fingers were sweating, and my fingertips kept slipping on the rocks - I now understand why professional climbers carry bags of chalk with them.
It wasn't even noon when I first slid down, but it was around 6 PM when I finally managed to get to the rock chimney. I had removed my pack and was using it like a grapnel, tossing it above my head so it would wedge between rocks and give me something to hang on to when stones shifted between my feet.
I sucked down three litres of water during this climb, but had no need to pee - it was all coming out as nervous sweat.
|Lyre bird or whateer following me home
I walked back as darkness fell. The same bird that had stared at me after I slid down followed me. I was cold and thirsty, but knew that there was a spring at the museum for the old coal mine back along the path.
Turns out that the "spring" is actually tap water squirted out of the rock for tourists, and they turn it off at 6:00.
The cable cars and inclined railways also turn off at 6:00, so if you're still in the valley, you have a two-hour hike to get to the top of the cliffs.
I came across two other hikers as I searched for a path. They first thought I was a security guard, as my whistle was still hanging around my neck, and I was wearing a reflective vest that I had put on when hoping for someone to come help me. I asked if they had a cell phone so I could tell the local police to ignore my whistle-blowing, but they couldn't get any reception.
They offered me a pack of Kleenex because my pad seemed to need changing. I explained that I was male, and that the blood running down my legs was from scratches and cuts. Turns out they were staying at the same hostel as me; one was from Ireland, one was from Germany, and they met up and got to liking each other during their travels.
I finally got to the top, and found a payphone. The police were glad that I hadn't been hurt in my little tumble, and thanked me for letting them know that they could ignore all the whistle blowing I had been doing - they had been planning on sending someone out to take a look in the morning.
I went back to the hostel, drank litres and litres of cold water, crossed off my name on the hiking register, and had a short, hot shower. The cuts stung furiously when the soap hit them, and it hurt when I flicked out the rock bits with my fingernails, but it felt good anyway. Certain fear-induced shrinkage was also reversed.
Supper came next - I was ravenous, as I had been too scared and thirsty to eat any of the bread I had brought in my pack. Unfortunately, EVERYTHING in Katoomba closes at 5:30 PM, even the restauraunts and grocery stores. The only place open was a Vietnamese fish-and-chips store, where I bought a hamburger with a slice of pickled beet in it.
Thence to bed, in a cozy dorm room full of naked athletic university students. All of them snored.
|Sydney Harbour by night
The next day, I hopped on the bus back to Sydney. Toured a few more beautiful spots (sticking to the easy paths!), bought some loose flowing Thai fisherman's pants and shirts at the Fleuria town street festival, toured the expensive Sydney Olympics site, and came back into Sydney on a fast catamaran. Beautiful views of the city at night from the water! Thanks to all of you who recommended seeing it from the sea.
|Sydney to Canberra
I arrived back in Sydney after 6 PM on a Sunday, and prepared to sleep in my pre-paid room in the Grand Hotel. However, as the hotel was also a pub, they were required to lock the doors and not let anyone in. Only guests with their own keys could let themselves in, but I wasn't allowed to get to the reception desk to get my key, as that was in the bar. After using all my change in a payphone to call the concierge, receptionist, night attendant, call centre, and janitor, the OWNER drove over to the hotel in his Mercedes to give me a key - but said that I couldn't tell anyone that he had done so or he'd get in trouble. Weird Australian laws!
The next day, I got on a bus and got to see a good chunk of the landscape on my way to Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.
|John Howard Monument in Canberra
This is a piece of public artwork in a plaza near the Canberra Youth Hostel. It's supposed to represent the relationship of the government to the governed. The people (represented by the sheep) look up to and follow their leaders (represented by the ram in the chair with its butt facing the sheep). The ram in the chair is draped with fine clothing made from the wool stripped from the sheep that do its bidding.
There are apparently deeper layers of meaning, too, but I don't know enough about local politics to comment.
A rather surreal experience happened. A homeless person in a suit and tie approached me, said he was a senator, and asked for $16 for dinner, as he had forgotten his wallet. I said that I was hungry and looking for a good place to eat, and would be pleased to buy for us both if he could show me a place. He said that he wasn't planning on eating just right then, and anyway I wasn't dressed properly for the place.
I instead ordered a pizza in the pub below the youth hostel. When they realized I was Canadian and not American, the locals became quite friendly. I ended up drinking one of each of the beers that they had on tap, for free. The head of a local engineering firm offered me a job, but then he got into a fight with one of his workers over one of the girls playing pool and was asked to leave. I was taught that you can tell someone's job by the beer they drink (Victoria Bitter, or VB, is for people who do heavy work, while the sweeter Carlton Draught is for doctors and lawyers; milder Little Creatures is for nurses, and then I got dizzy). My comprehension of Australian dialects actually improved the more that I drank.
Upstairs to the hostel room, this time to share with muscular New Zealanders touchy about being mistaken as Australians, and to sleep.
|Australian Parliament Building
Touristy shot, taken by a guy who guessed from my accent that I was Canadian, and from Toronto. He's an engineer too ... he invited me to a barbie in Melbourne if Phred-chan and I were available. I gave him a small bottle of maple syrup. The building is underground, surrounded by a deep moat cut in the rock. It's open to tourists, but when I went to the door a security guard was explaining to some women in hijabs that they might not want to visit, so I left. Interestingly, I had finished the book "Underground" the night before. It's an Australian science-fiction novel describing how a Bush-grovelling anti-Muslim Australian government suspends civil liberties and uses the parliament chamber to house imprisoned dissidents.
I've only occasionally wanted to hit people here. The other case was when a guy on the bus to Canberra kept telling me Canada's problem was that it let in too many non-white people.
|Southern Cross Train Station, Melbourne
Canberra to Cootamundra by bus, and then by train through Wagga Wagga to Melbourne by train. On the train I had traditional Australian meat pies with sauce. The sauce is just a small packet full of tomato paste instead of ketchup. I asked what kind of meat was in the pies, and they said it was best not to ask. They also had Anzac cakes, which contain wattle seeds and other Australian stuff. Several bottles of wine washed the taste away.
Oddly, no Melbourne taxi driver knows how to get anywhere. Even after giving them instructions from Google Maps to get to the local hostel, and thence to Phred-chan's house, the taxi drivers both took precisely three minutes (with the meter running) to trace the route using a street atlas. Surely they'd know where King Street is by now!??
|Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Australia
On the way along the Great Ocean Road, there is a series of rocks standing out in the water called the Twelve Apostles. They keep falling into the ocean, but new formations keep eroding away. It's REALLY cold and windy here, with the air coming straight from Antartica.
Just behind me on the beach is the body of a giant sperm whale - it died and drifted ashore here.