Archive for March, 2012

Back in Melbourne

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Finally got back to Melbourne on Tuesday, it’s nice to be back!

The return trip was bit of an experience, though. I left Sydney late on Monday evening with three British girls and we drove through the night to cover the almost 1000 km distance between the two cities. We finally arrived to Melbourne just before dawn. As usual I had no luck sleeping in a car. Besides, it would have been rather difficult anyway in a crowded car with my arm in a cast.

The girls dropped me in the city center and drove on to their place in St Kilda. After spending couple of hours in the city library I headed out to check out a potential room to rent in the Eastern Suburbs. Not the easiest trip either, I was forced to carry all my luggage with a broken arm and I didn’t exactly travel light back from Sydney.

Still, with lifts on the stations the trip wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, the room wasn’t quite as advertised. The place was quite run-down and to make matters worse, the floor of the room was covered in dead and dying wasps. I was told that there was a wasp nest right outside the window! Even though the landlord promised that he had blocked off the holes the wasp had used to get inside I still felt that this was enough of a warning sign to look for accommodation elsewhere. Especially since I felt the rent was little on the high side, too.

After spending few more hours in the city one of my friends from the diving club picked me up and I have spent the rest of the week in their place. On Thursday I also had a chance to meet most of the other club regulars during the weekly club meeting. Next in the plans is to check out a couple of potential rooms over the weekend and hopefully get back to bit more normal life soon.

To keep things interesting I have also had some issues with my mobile phone. I didn’t find a suitable phone to replace my lost iPhone in Sydney, so I ended up bringing over an older phone I had borrowed from my Sydney housemate (I promised to mail it back, which I did it on Friday). I didn’t bring the charger over as I was planning to pick up my own spare phone from my former housemate’s place in Melbourne in a day or two. Big mistake!

Unfortunately, this plan didn’t quite work out. She has been away pretty much all week so I have been unable to pick up the phone. In addition, the phone I had borrowed ran out of battery on Thursday. And to make matters worse  a couple of people who promised to sell me an used iPhone bailed out at the last minute. I was finally able to find a reliable seller on Friday. The used iPhone 4S (64GB model) I bought was frankly more expensive than what I was looking for, but I did get it for really reasonable price and at that point I was getting slightly desperate anyway. And I don’t frankly mind having a really fancy phone for a change!

Back to the Blue Mountains

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

After taking it easy for the last couple of weeks after my accident I decided to get bit more active again on Friday. I took the train up to the Blue Mountains and spent the day hiking, this time my destination was Katoomba.

Katoomba is the main town in the Blue Mountains and it is also home to many of the more popular tourist attractions of the area. With my arm still in cast I felt it prudent to stick to relatively easy walking tracks frequented by tourists.

I decided to follow the Solitary Kiosk loop walk. This track covers a wide variety of terrain with the first half of the walk down in the valley and the second half up on the cliffs next to Katoomba. From Solitary Kiosk the track quickly descends to the valley below with some small waterfalls on the way. Down in the valley the track is relatively easy and follows a bushtrack surrounded by dense vegetation for several kilometers.

After a couple of hours walking I arrived to Furber Steps. These long and steep steps lead back up from the valley to the cliffs above. From the steps I got some great views down to the valley and I also caught my first proper sight of the Three Sisters, the most famous landmark in the area. In addition there was a great spot for  getting some closeup shots of a waterfall.

After the long climb up the Furber Steps I finally arrived to the top. From here on the track follows the top of the cliffs quite closely and also passes right next to the Katoomba Cascades, a really pretty small waterfall. There are also many lookouts on the way, the most famous of these is the Echo Point with a superb view of Three Sisters. This easily accessible lookout is the most popular spot in the Blue Mountains and for a good reason.

After Echo Point my track continued along the cliff tops back to the Solitary Kiosk. While the views were not quite as impressive as from the Echo Point, there were still plenty of great sights along the way. After getting back to the Solitary Kiosk it was time to walk back to the railway station and take a train to Sydney.

In addition to the walks the area also has quite a few other attractions for tourists. These include the Scenic Railway (the steepest incline railway in the world) and Scenic Skyway cable car. While interesting enough, I decided to give them a pass this time around.

I also managed to take quite a few shots along the way. While things were made bit trickier by the cast, it was still reasonably easy to get the shots I wanted. Luckily it was a sunny and bright day so minor camera shake was less of an issue.

It was definitely very nice to do something bit more active for a change. Blue Mountains still has lots of excellent walks left but I feel that my two days there cover enough scenery for my current Sydney trip. In a couple of days it’s time to head back to Melbourne, anyway. While I have greatly enjoyed my time in Sydney (for the most part, anyway), Melbourne is a much nicer city to live in and I’m quite happy to return there.

Diver down!

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

After my trip to Blue Mountains last week I decided to take it easy for a few days. Weather was pretty terrible anyway, particularly on Thursday it was just pouring non-stop. There was even some flash flooding in the city and traffic was quite a mess. There was still enough sunshine to go for a walk over the Harbour Bridge, the view from up there is quite spectacular.

Luckily the forecast for the weekend was much better, I decided to head back to the bush on Friday. I took the train to Royal National Park south of Sydney and started hiking along Otford to Figure of Eight Pools Circuit. The track was not quite as impressive as the one I did in the Blue Mountains but there was still lots to see and some impressive views out to the ocean from the coastal cliffs.

The track itself was pretty easy, there was still minor flooding in some parts from the day before, but apart from some poorly marked sections I had no issues. The path slowly winded down to the coast and finally entered a grassy open area. Soon afterwards I reached the Burning Palms beach and started heading towards the nearby Figure of Eight Pools.

Getting to Figure of Eight Pools involved some walking and climbing over small rocks along the shore, the path isn’t that difficult but it should still be attempted only in good weather. I felt it was pretty good day for a visit, the weather was calm and sunny, the swell was pretty low and I got to the area more or less exactly at low tide.

The walk followed a pretty narrow area between the shore on the other side and huge cliffs on the other side. There were also lots of small crabs but they kept skittering away and I could never get good shots. After stopping a couple of times to take some photos I finally got to the pools themselves. The waves were breaking on the shore well below the flat rocky area with the pools. I decided to take a closer look and take some photos of the pools themselves.

Then all of a sudden I was hit by a massive wave out of nowhere. There was nothing I could do, I instantly fell down and was carried several meters inland by the wave. Luckily the area was relatively flat and the wave didn’t try to suck me back to the ocean. Still, I was banged up pretty badly. The first thing I noticed was that my left forearm is broken, the forearm was angled in a very unnatural way. Luckily it was just a closed fracture but still nasty enough. I also ended up with bruises all over me, including one on my left knee that kept bleeding for quite a while. Additionally, my mobile phone was washed away by the wave and I couldn’t see it anywhere. At that point I felt it wouldn’t be safe to look for it, it was already flooded with salt water anyway and most of the area had no reception in the first place.

After making sure I had no other serious injuries I started the long hike back to get some help. Luckily I was still able to walk fine and had one functional arm left. Still, climbing over the rocks along the shore was somewhat challenging one-handed. I eventually got back to Burning Palms beach and headed for some nearby huts to see if there was someone there who could help me. I did meet one older guy but unfortunately he could’t offer me much practical help. He had no easy way to get back to civilization either and after some discussion we decided that my condition wasn’t serious enough to call in a helicopter evacuation.

We talked a bit about the best way to get out of the area and eventually I decided to head back the way I had come from. Soon enough I ran into a wallaby along the track which lifted my spirits quite a bit. Unfortunately the decision to head this was a mistake. Following the track in this direction was far more challenging as most of the way was uphill. I also lost the track a few times and eventually decided I couldn’t get back to the road.

I headed back to the beach and the huts instead, talked a bit more with the old guy and started following the walking trail onward. While going this way also involved some steep climbs, the path was clearly marked and I had no problems following it. After quite a bit of walking I finally reached a carpark. Luckily there was a young couple there who were just planning to head out for a weekend of  camping. Instead, they ended up driving me back towards the city and calling an ambulance once we got back to area with reception. This was quite lucky too, at this point it was already starting to get dark as I had wasted quite a few hours due to my injury.

Unfortunately, the response time of the ambulance was quite abysmal and I had to wait almost an hour before it arrived. At least the guys who had rescued me stayed there with me and I did eventually get to a hospital. At this point I was pretty sorry sight with my broken forearm and wet and dirty clothes. And I even had  several leeches on me.

At least things were looking up, after some quick x-rays it was very clear the bone was broken. At that point I was administered a strong sedative and the bone was set back in place. I have no memory what happened until I woke in a hospital bed next morning, probably a good thing too.

The doctors were supposed to operate the injury already on Saturday, but as it was the weekend and there were several more critical emergencies my operation was postponed to Sunday. The operation itself was relatively minor, I was put to sleep and the forearm was cut open and some small bone fragments were removed.

I might have gotten home already on Sunday evening, but as I had no one to pick me up they made me wait until Monday morning. After some quick instructions I was finally discharged and I took the train back home from Bankstown. With my forearm in a cast and strict instructions not to use the hand for anything I have taken it pretty easy this week, mostly just reading or spending time on my laptop. Which is a shame really, especially since the weather has been more or less perfect since my accident.

I got a followup appointment with a doctor and some repeat x-rays on Monday, hopefully I’ll get some good news. Even in the best case I’m probably out of diving and other physical activities for a few more weeks, the initial estimate for recovery was around six weeks.

Galleries still down

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

The photo galleries are still down, I haven’t been able to figure out what is the actual problem with them. It’s possible the database has somehow been corrupted in which case it will be quite tricky to get things working again.

At least if worse comes to worst I can always do a clean install and re-upload all the galleries using the Lightroom plugin. But I haven’t quite given up yet and will still try to get things working again. In the meantime I might come up with some temporary solution to make some of the more recent shots available.

Blue Mountains

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

On Tuesday I visited the Blue Mountains near Sydney. While they are not really proper mountains (highest peak is only little over 1200 meters), the scenery in the area is still quite breathtaking. And as an added bonus the area is easily accessed from Sydney by train. I followed a bushwalking track I got from Wildwalks site, the walk passed near many of the main attractions in the Blackheath area. The total walk length was 15.6 kilometers, I completed the track in around six and a half hours.

I arrived to the small town of Blackheath quite early in the morning and started heading towards the wilderness. After several days of heavy rains the weather was finally playing nice and apart from some clouds and few drops in the morning the day was sunny and warm. After walking quite a way from the railway station I arrived at the first proper part of my planned track, the Grand Canyon. To my dismay there was a plaque stating that part of the track was closed for repairs and there was no realistic way around either. I decided to follow the track anyway, I could always backtrack when I hit the closed off session as this was the part of the track I was most interested in beforehand.

Grand Canyon didn’t disappoint, after descending quite a few winding stairs I first arrived at Neates Glen, a small valley with a creek running in the middle. After walking for a while longer I entered the Grand Canyon itself, the path followed one of the sides of a deep canyon with a small river running at the bottom. After passing through a short tunnel and next to several waterfalls the path winded down the bottom of the canyon and crisscrossed across the river several times. Due to recent heavy rains this section was quite challenging, many of the stepping stones were partially underwater and at times it was bit hard to figure out where the path went next.

After getting my feet wet several times I finally got the end of the canyon and started the long climb up to the Evan’s Lookout. This part of the track was supposed to be closed for repair work, luckily the gate at the bottom was open and the workmen said it was ok to pass through. In practice they probably thought that it was a bad idea to send a crazy tourist back through the flooded canyon.

From Evan’s Lookout I got my first view of the Grose Valley several hundred meters under the cliffs. The cliff face drops around 200 meters vertically and then descends more gently to the forested valley below. With the sun in the sky the view was quite breathtaking.

From Evan’s Lookout I followed the Cliff Top track which offered some excellent views down to the valley. There are also several waterfalls on the way dropping from the cliff tops down to the valley. This section of the walk offered some great views and was quite easy too apart from some really steep steps near the end.

This part of the track ended at Horseshoe Falls and I started following the Pope’s Glen track away from Grose Valley and back towards Blackheath. The track follows the Pope’s Glen Creek quite closely and while the scenery here wasn’t quite as impressive as the earlier sections, it still had some really nice parts. There was also a small beach along the way, but the water in the creek was way too shallow and cold for swimming.

The path started to climb up and finally I arrived back to the streets of Blackheath. At this point I noticed that the next train back to Sydney was about to leave in a few minutes. Despite my best efforts (I still had some energy left for running!) I still missed the train. Unwilling to wait two hours for the next train I took the station attendants advice and took the train to Lithgow at the very edge of Sydney’s public transport system. After a short stop at Lithgow the train turned back towards Sydney, it was the same train I would have had to wait for anyway so there was no real loss. And there were also some great views down the valleys along the way.

This was an excellent day trip with some spectacular scenery and views. I’m heading back to Melbourne sometime next week already, but if I have a chance I might go for another walk in the mountains to explore some more of the sights. Assuming the weather behaves that is, at the moment it is more or less constantly raining in the Sydney region.

Second Week in Sydney

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

After the nice weather during my first week in Sydney things took a turn for the worse and for the last week or so it has been raining near constantly. Not so nice for walking around the city but at least there are some indoor attractions available as well.

At least the first few days of the week were quite sunny, on Monday I headed back to Bondi Beach with my camera and took some more shots along the coastal path. On Tuesday weather was still quite nice, I took the ferry up Parramatta River to Parramatta and did some walking in the city and surrounding areas. Parramatta is actually the first European inland settlement in Australia (founded in the same year as Sydney) and there are still some reminders left from the early years.

The main reason for my visit was Lake Parramatta Reserve, however. This freshwater lake lies around two kilometers north of Parramatta itself and contains some interesting wildlife and nice walking tracks around the lake. I did the full 4.2 kilometer bushwalk around the lake, there were numerous lizards and birds along the way and some nice scenery as well.

After finishing the walk I headed back to Parramatta and took the bus back to Sydney city. In the evening it was time to visit the Sydney Aquarium. The aquarium seemed slightly larger than the one in Melbourne and considering you can get half-price online tickets in off-peak hours it was pretty good value for money too. Highlights included platypus pool and the big shark pool with some huge rays as well.

Tuesday was bit of a recovery day for me, it was raining heavily for the whole day. I did end up visiting UNSW dive club’s annual general meeting in the evening though. The main goal of the meeting was to elect a new committee for the club. They even tried to make me one of the dive officers, but I had to decline as my time in Sydney is rather short. Still, it was a good chance to socialize with the members and enjoy a free barbeque.

On Thursday I visited the other animal attraction next to the Sydney Aquarium, the Wild Life Sydney. This wildlife park right in the center of the city is home to kangaroos, emus, koalas, a single crocodile and various other species. While most of the area is indoors there are several larger outdoor habitats as well. Some were open to public too, including the large outdoor area with emus and kangaroos. Occasionally the emus were running all around us, they are definitely not the brightest of birds.

On Friday it was still raining and I ended up doing nothing special. On Saturday and Sunday it was time for some diving again, I did a couple of dives the UNSW dive club. For more details of those dives see the previous post.

This week should be pretty busy as well, I already have few things planned assuming weather gets little better. And after that it’s time to start preparing for the trip back to Melbourne, I’m probably leaving Sydney sometime around 15th March.

Grey Nurse Sharks at Magic Point

Monday, March 5th, 2012
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On Saturday I did my first dive with the UNSW dive club. It was supposed to be a ‘rediscover scuba’ dive, but in practice it was quite an adventurous dive and definitely not the gentlest way to get people back to diving. Definitely a great dive though!

We met at Frenchman’s Beach (pretty close to Bare Island) and while waiting for our dive boat to arrive we started sorting out the day’s diving. I ended up in the first group of divers and after some deliberation we headed out towards Magic Point, a popular dive site in Sydney. There is a Grey Nurse Shark colony at the site and the area is also home to several other interesting species.

The trip there was an experience in itself, it was quite windy and this was actually one of the roughest boat rides I have experienced. I wasn’t that concerned for myself but I had to be really careful with my camera housing in my lap. This was also the first time I saw someone get really seasick, one of the girls had to sit out the dive after getting quite sick during the ride to the site.

The dive itself was superb, our anchor line lead straight next to the small cave the grey nurse sharks live in. There was three or four grey nurse sharks swimming around the area and large schools of smaller fish as well. While grey nurse sharks can be bit wary of divers, these ones let us get quite close. Unfortunately, at this point I noticed that my camera wasn’t firing! Most likely the internal flash had been knocked slightly off position during the rough boat ride preventing the camera from firing. Therefore I ended up shooting only video during the dive and even that didn’t end up that high quality.

After spending quite a while just watching the sharks my buddy and I decided to some more exploring in the area. We ended up finding a few wobbegong sharks and a couple of giant cuttlefish as well. At this point I was even more annoyed with the malfunctioning camera. Eventually we headed back to the shark cave, spent some more time watching the sharks and then headed back to the surface by the anchor line.

Luckily the way back to the shore was bit calmer. For some reason the second group of divers headed to a different site which was lot more protected from the winds. The rest of us enjoyed a nice barbeque while waiting for the others to get back from their dive and then everyone headed back home.

On Sunday it was Clean Up Australia Day. For us this meant a clean up dive near Malabar Beach. It was quite a mundane experience after the shark dive. The area was quite shallow and heavy waves made most of the dive somewhat unpleasant. There wasn’t much to see either apart from various fish. And even rubbish was quite scarce, the only major thing we found was a small car battery. While getting back to the shore I managed to lose a part from my fin strap as well, luckily I brought my spare spring straps with me to Sydney so might as well start using them from now on.

#159 Malabar Beach 2012-03-04

Sunday, March 4th, 2012
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#158 Magic Point 2012-03-03

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
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