|Our five days visiting Sydney and a
bit of New South Wales felt like an epilogue to the
Papua New Guinea trip: Tim headed home, the challenge
and cultural overload slowed down considerably, and we
just enjoyed ourselves as Emily's last high school
summer vacation came to a close. Not that we didn't make
the most of our time in Australia -- back to that in a
When we checked into our first Air Niugini flight way back in Brisbane, a wrinkled notice was taped to the counter: "Air Niugini launches campaign to be more timely with its flight service." (The English was actually much worse than that, but we don't remember the exact wording.) We laughed about it at the time, but we shouldn't have. We took six Air Niugini flights (photo 1), and every one of them was on time. United has much to learn! (Incidentally, astute readers of the previous travelogue may have figured out that "Niugini" is the Tok Pisin word for ... take a guess.)
We spent two nights in Sydney, enjoying a spacious and modern two-bedroom Meriton Serviced Apartment at a ridiculously low advance-booking price. Every once in a while we snag a literally unbelievable travel bargain -- Barcelona, Bangkok, and recently Todos Santos come to mind -- and we certainly don't complain. It was especially nice to have all the amenities (including a much-needed clothes washer & dryer) and some space to spread out. A modern high-rise apartment in the Sydney suburbs was a bit jarring on the heels of our modest bungalows in under-developed Papua New Guinea, but it didn't take long to settle in.
We've been to Sydney a few times, and somehow we always end up doing exactly the same thing: eating at our favorite pancake restaurant in the historic Rocks district, walking around Circular Quay, taking the obligatory opera house snaps (photo 2), visiting the Botanic Gardens, and eating Thai food for dinner. Sydney is always fun to visit, but since we're not really city people, it doesn't feel all that different from San Francisco
We did spice up our Sydney visit this time by getting around in a car, since we'd rented one for our post-Sydney driving trip. Driving in Sydney is on par with other big cities, adjusting to driving on the left compounds the excitement, and parking can be upwards of $25/hour. Next time we'll leave the car at the apartment.
We didn't have specific plans for our four-day driving tour out of Sydney, though we remembered liking the Blue Mountains (photo 3) on two previous visits, the Hunter Valley wine country seemed like a natural stop, and after enjoying some pretty beaches during a training run near Sydney, Emily suggested a day on the coast. Those destinations ended up filling our time. Had it been summertime, all of them would have been overrun with tourists (local and otherwise), but in the winter they were pleasantly empty, with temperatures a bit brisk at times, but quite good weather on the whole.
We kept our drives short so we could spend most of our time on a variety of activities. We took a couple of excellent hikes (photo 4), enjoying colorful and varied bird-life, as well as plenty of kangaroos and wallabies (photo 5), and a few shy wombats (photo 6). One highlight was hiking through an abandoned train tunnel (photo 7), which now has colonies of glowworms on its ceiling. We sipped wines and tasted olive oils in the Hunter Valley, reminiscent of Napa Valley in density of wineries and popularity among weekenders. Port Nelson delivered some stunning ocean views (photo 8). Every morning all three of us went for a run -- though not together given our rather varying abilities -- which was a nice way to explore our new location.
All told, it's hard to claim our Australia experience was exotic when compared against PNG, but the twists of culture were enough to keep things fresh, and there were ample activities for us to stay busy and have fun.