‘West Island’

After my trip on the Great Barrier Reef, I flew back down to Syndey to visit family. Once again, I had great views coming into the city from the aeroplane – and actually had better weather too, which was great!! Although I say that I was visiting Sydney, my cousins actually live in Manly, so I ended up spending more time there – which is fine with me. There’s only so much time I can spend in the middle of a big city. Alex, Bill and Amanda were very helpful with coming up with ideas for what I could do during my week staying with them. Alex had saved a lot of leaflets of places that she had shown a friend around, and Bill let me know about some walks that I could do on this side of the harbour. My first full day with them was actually Easter Sunday (as you can see, this update is going up very late), so we all more or less just hung around the house and caught up, which was nice. Since we’ve been coming into autumn and winter, it was actually quite nice to be able to walk around in shorts and t-shirts for a bit longer – there’s no way I’d be doing that in Christchurch right now!! It’s far too cold for that.

I ended up going into Sydney the following day. I quite like getting the ferry over from Manly – and you get great views of the Sydney Harbour coming in. I have so many pictures of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House now. Sadly, we didn’t see any dolphins on the ferry. My plan for the day was to go on a couple of walking tours around Sydney, both of which started in the afternoon, so I had a bit of time to actually get my bearings and grab some lunch. The first tour I was on was just a standard walking tour of Sydney. We met outside the oldest cathedral in Sydney – which, fun fact, is actually facing the wrong way. The main street in Sydney used to be in front of the building rather than behind it, and now the area in front of the cathedral is more of a dead end than anything else. To be fair, the town hall nearby is built on the remains of an old cemetery that had been moved when the city started to expand, and they still find remains that didn’t get moved for whatever reason when they do any work on the building. The walking tour took us all over the city centre. We went around the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), which has a statue of her outside that, until about 30 years ago, was actually in Dublin before they decided that they didn’t want it any more. Whilst we were in one of the parks, we were completely deafened by a circling police chopper. We were shown some of the oldest buildings in Sydney, many of which were built and designed by convicts. In fact, the first architect in Sydney was actually sent to Australia because he was a forger. He was on their $10 bill until a few years ago, which they changed the money and decided that they didn’t want a forger in such a prominent position (especially on their money). We also found out that the reason why there is an emu and a kangaroo on the Australian coat of arms – it’s meant to be symbolic. Neither animal can walk backwards.

The tour ended opposite the Sydney Opera House, near the Rocks. This meant that I had about an hour to kill before the next tour – a tour of the Rocks – began. The Rocks is an area of Sydney that was almost pulled down a number of times over the years for a number of reasons – including being where the plague broke out and because of the, apparently, ugly buildings. Some areas are still under threat, while others are getting more costly because of the amazing views that the area offers. On this tour, we were told about some of the darker parts of Sydney’s past. One of my favourite parts was when we saw a flying fox. There was also a small area of land pointed out to us which is apparently the only patch you can legally graze sheep in Sydney, as this small (1x2m approx.) patch of grass was overlooked while people were making the laws. My favourite story was about one of the three pubs claiming to be the oldest in the Rocks. They used to give sailors a free drink, not to be kind, but to help them get completely wasted. When the sailors passed out, they were taken into a basement (where there were some shackles, in case they woke up too soon), and a passageway that lead all the way to the harbour. The sailers would be dragged onto a boat that set sail while they were still out of it. When they woke up, they would be forced to work, or they would be pushed overboard. Although you do feel slightly sorry for the sailors, I admire the thought and effort that went into making it possible. Both of the tours I went on were very interesting, and I would recommend them to anyone else who is in Sydney and would like to learn more about the city.

As you can probably tell, going on two walking tours in Sydney in one day meant that my feet were quite sore, and it was reasonably late when I got back. Not that I ended up having a relaxed day the next day. I went on a walk that Bill had suggested on the Manly side of the Harbour. I walked around North Head, which looks out to Sydney Harbour. The walk includes going through some of the native bush (including a swamp), through some old army buildings, including gun encampments, and accommodation blocks. It was a pleasant walk, even if I did end up nearly walking into several spider webs (which is something I’d rather not do while I’m in Australia – their reputations preceded them). I managed to make this into an almost-complete loop walk from the centre of Manly, and came out onto Shelly Beach after walking past some very nice rocks. I also found several large lizards, including a couple of Southern Water Dragons, which really were quite large! When you walk along the path by Shelley Beach, you pass several engravings of animals that you could possible see including octopus, sea horse, a couple of fish species, snorkelers, penguins, gastropods and divers. I thought they were very nice.

After two long days of walking, I did end up having a rest day (kind of). I really wanted to explore the rocky shores of Manly, which I had walked past a couple of times each day so fa,I but hadn’t really had time to properly check out yet. It was nice to see some of the species that I recognised, from New Zealand, including Neptune’s necklace seaweed, Hormosira banksii, and some littorinid snails. There was a large gastropod snail, probably about the size of my fist, with really deep grooves in its shell that got me really excited, as I’d never seen it before. According to Bill, when I told him about it later, it’s actually quite common, but I was still very happy to see it. I enjoyed my casual stroll into Manly. The rest of my day was fairly lazy. I sat and wrote postcards on Manly Beach, before going to the beach by the Wharf to watch the boats. In hindsight, while I was sitting here, I should probably have moved with the sun – sitting in the shade is possible what at least helped me get quite a bad cold which came on quite quickly!!

For my last full day in the area, I decided to get the ferry back over to Sydney. I wanted to get some good views over the city, and Alex had recommended the Pylon. You have to walk up 200 steps inside one of the four pylons that hold up Sydney Harbour Bridge. On the way up (and down) you learn about how the it was built, the process and the people behind it. At the top, before you go outside, there are some facts about the bridge. My favorite, by far, is the fact that the bridge was constructed in 7 years and 356 days. Maybe their aim was to get it done in under 8 years? Whatever the reason, I love how specific they were. The bridge also grows and shrinks by up to 180mm per day, which really is quite a bit. The views from the top were amazing!! The poster wasn’t wrong – “Don’t rid yourself of the best views in Sydney (or Melbourne, if you’re one of those)”. You had views of Sydney on both sides of the bridge, but I particularly liked being able to see the Opera House.

Alex had also recommended going over to Cockatoo Island, which is what I had planned for the rest of my day. I had to get a ferry over to the island, which is the largest island in the harbour. This island has been used for a number of purposes – a girls school, a prison, a school for female prisoners, but mostly a shipbuilding yard (and sometimes, several of those at once). At one point, it was the largest ship building yard in the Southern Hemisphere, and was actually only closed down in 1992, which was quite surprising. You can do a self-guided tour around the island which is what I did. I tried to get around the whole place in the most efficient way possible (though I’m not too sure how well I succeeded in that). Many of the buildings that you can look out were used for repairs and construction of ships, but (particularly in the upper section) there would be buildings used for rooms for the girls school, or for prisoners. The reason that it was used for a girls school is slightly funny, in my opinion. The girls school was originally in Newcastle, but there had been riots, noise complaints, and girls trying to run away. In general, this was a school for girls who did not have a safe home, or any home at all to go to. Someone has done their research, and quite a few girls were sent here because they were seen talking to a prostitute. Anyway, because of the complaints in Newcastle, people were looking for another place to have the school and saw that Cockatoo Island was mostly abandoned and so someone thought – oh heres an abandoned prison on an island, so there is already accommodation for the girls, there won’t be noise complaints because it’s so far away from anywhere, and they cant escape because most of them can’t swim!! To be honest, I don’t really know what made them think it was a good idea, but it happened. It was interesting to wander around, and made for a good afternoon out!

Since it was my last night with family I I didn’t want to get back too late (if you’re wondering why I spent so much time while visiting family not with them, it’s because they had work). We had a nice, relaxed evening eating pizza and watching television and chatting. All in all, it was a great trip over to Australia. My flight back to Christchurch left Sydney at about 9 o’clock in the morning, which isn’t too bad. There were great views of the Southern Alps as we came back into NZ, but sadly, I was on the wrong side of the aeroplane. I’m sure I’ll get some pictures some other time!



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