Friday, August 27, 2010

This is the past that's mine. (Australia pt. 2)

The next day, we set off west to the Blue Mountains near the town of Katoomba. We'd read about the area online and it seemed like most people weren't terribly impressed, but we went anyway. Listening to people on the internet is a stupid idea. It was awesome. Katoomba is a park town along the lines of Jackson Hole or Park City, with that nice outdoorsy atmosphere and shops and restaurants leading up to the park.

The park itself (Kanangra-Boyd) is beautiful and there are some amazing trails that run through the place. At the top of the valley, overlooking the dense forest, it's dry and temperate. At the bottom it's like a cold rainforest, kind of like you'd see in southern Alaska (no pine trees, though), dense and green and wildlife everywhere. It's really cool.

Above the valley.

We went down the Giant Staircase, which is a 900-step, super steep stone (and metal) staircase literally cut out of a vertical cliff, into Jamison Valley. It's tough enough just getting down, my legs were shaky and unstable by the end, we weren't about to try it going up (and from the looks of things, not many other people did either). At the bottom, we happily marched along the foot of the cliff for an hour or two to Katoomba falls, and then up we went.

It wasn't the Giant Staircase, but it was a tough climb up, especially after the descent and hike along the bottom. The climb back up took us at least an hour, at which point we found ourselves about a mile or so--across a deep chasm cut by the falls--from the road back to town. So we paid about $9 for a tram that took us over the falls--something like a 6 second fall to the bottom of the valley.

I ate the second half of my lunch on the tram. This excursion may very well have been the thing I loved the most about the entire trip. It was scenic, fun and exhausting. I'd do it again in an instant. Next time I think I'd like to take a crack at going up the Staircase.

The next day, Wednesday, was Darling Harbour day. We got on a ferry that took us from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour and then hit every place we could. We first went to this wildlife place. I can't remember what it's called--it's like an aquarium but for bugs and lizards and stuff. They also had some bigger animals there, various marsupials (kangaroos, koalas, etc), birds and a huge crocodile. Nice place, I liked it. I got to pet a stag beetle.
Ha! Who sleeps in a tree, am I right?
Then we went to the aquarium. That was pretty neat. Lots of fish.

And this turtle, who appeared to have fatally collided with the floor.
After the aquarium we went to what I think was the biggest IMAX screen in the world and watched a movie about the Hubble telescope. I really liked it. Very educational, and also: space.

By that time it was late afternoon. We'd wanted to go to two more places but both were closing at 5 pm, so we did a quick half-hour tour of the Maritime Museum and decided to save the Powerhouse Museum for another day. So there we were enjoying ourselves in the Maritime Museum with about 10 minutes left before it closed and some guy in a jumpsuit starts following us around like some kind of a jerk. He was trying to herd us out of the museum, like we were freakin' sheep or something. And I was like, no way I'm leaving an instant before I see the South Pole exhibit. So there we were leaving without seeing the South Pole exhibit, passing the gift shop. We considered buying some souvenirs but screw those guys. We left and headed around the harbor, looking at the menus of the restaurants along the way. Expensive, but not prohibitively. We went to McDonald's, though. Usually I love McD's but this time it was crap. It was this piddly little three-sided joint with an army of aggressive gulls and pigeons squawking at you, trying to steal your food and poop on your table. And the food was pretty terrible. The best part was when some kookaburra swooped in and landed on a lamp above this family and squawked so loudly that all the other birds flew away in a panic and the poor family thought surely Armageddon had begun.

From there we headed off to the "golden bucket" tower to see the city from above at dark. I forget the exact name of the place, but the views were beautiful. They would have been better if we could have gone outside ($50 extra to do so), but we made do with the inside.

Then we ate some ice cream and that was that.

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