It was time to leave the beach and head inland to taste some of Australiaâ€˜s fine wines that we have heard so much about. It has been since South Africa, back in October, that we have enjoyed good wine, so we were both really looking forward to our day in the vineyards of the Hunter Valley. It sounds like a salad dressing, but it is the original wine area of Australia, and for some reason, the locals always refer to it as â€œThe Hunter.â€J
A few of the Aussies that we met in Newcastle gave us recommendations on which wineries to visit. In total, we visited 5 ranging from the original, Audrey Wilkeson (who actually was a teetotaler), to a small family run estate, Tulloch. Each of the cellar doors (tasting rooms), that we visited had a good range of wines but specializing in Shiraz and Semillon. At Tulloch, we were given the chance to taste a bottle of Shiraz made using only the grapes from 100 year old vines and wow it was good! The wines were excellent, but the views and the little town of Cessnock were disappointing. It just didnâ€™t measure up to the beauty of the Willamette Valley at home. We did go out for an early birthday dinner for me to a little Italian bistro with a nice wine list. It was a nice way to kick off my celebrationJ
On February 17th, we hit the road and headed to the Blue Mountains. We took a scenic route, Bells Road, that followed a ridgeline through the mountains. However, just when we got to the exposed sections with the views, a massive lighting and thunderstorm hit, and we didnâ€™t see a thing. Upon our arrival in Blackheath, a little town in the heart of the Blue Mountains, we splurged on a cabin at the campground not wanting to suffer through another night in our leaky tent! Our cabin was a little home with its own kitchen, TV, and bedroom. It felt nice to have a little nest, and we ate dinner in and watched Forest Gump for the second time on this trip (awesome movieJ ) while enjoying some Hunter wine. The rain did clear up in the evening, so we drove to a lookout point for our first glimpse of the mountains. Wow, they really do give you the impression that they are blue–which is caused by the light reflecting off the oils of the Eucalyptus trees. It made a nice contrast to the big red cliffs and waterfalls. What a view!
The next day was my birthday, and Mike woke me up with coffee in bed and a Twix bar for my birthday cake. Improvising is half the fun on this trip! The weather was perfect, so we headed out to hike the Grand Canyon Circuit. Right out of the parking lot we saw two Crimson Rosellas, which are stunning birds with bright red and blue coloring. The trail descended into a small canyon with a swollen creek that we had to cross several times by rock hopping. Our wildlife spotting continued, and we saw a big lizard and peacock. At the end of the hike we came out of the canyon and were treated with more breathtaking views of the red cliffs and blue hued forests.
After our hike, we cleaned up and headed down the mountains to Sydney. We did stop at a few other viewpoints, including the famous Echo point with the view of the Three Sisters rocks. It was a great view, but over-run with tourist buses.
Sydney was our first big city to navigate, and we were using only free maps–which donâ€™t have the best details. I navigated while Mike dodged aggressive drivers and narrow lanes. After 45 minutes of driving through city center, we finally arrived in Bondi Beach to check into our hostel. Bondi Beach didnâ€™t make a great first impression, but we did find the perfect place for my birthday dinner – Moos – which served amazing cheeseburgers with brie and caramelized onions!
The next day it was time to explore Sydney and we headed straight to the harbor via the bus which was a lot less stressful than driving! Our first glimpse of the harbor was awesome with the Harbor Bridge and tons of boats sailing under it, plus the opera house too. After taking a gazillion pictures, we went to explore the outside of the opera house. I was surprised as it was actually 4 different buildings, not just one. The outside is tiled with cream tiles that get whiter as the sun shines. It was pretty awesome and looked impressive with the bridge and harbor too.
It was Sunday, so tons of locals were chilling out in the botanical gardens, which are located right on the harbor next to the opera house. The gardens are beautiful with lush green grass, tons of different trees, and flowers. Mikeâ€™s favorite part, and my least favorite part, were the flying fox bats which were hanging in the trees. There were at least a thousand of the furry buggers. There wing span was impressive at 3â€™ or so, and they did look really furry, but I was glad to not be there at dusk when they swoop down to eat the fruit flies!
In the botanical gardens is the Gothic Governorâ€™s House built in the 1840â€™s. We took the free tour through the mansion and learned about its architecture, as well as New South Wales history. The governors lived in this mansion until the 1990â€™s, and now it is their official office and also used for state events. However, next year, the governor is going to move back into the garden house. The mansion was designed by the same architect who did Buckingham Palace in London, so it definitely had a palace feel to it. Also, there are 120 fireplaces which are never used, but since the guy had never been to Sydney, he didnâ€™t know the climate differences! We toured the main office and also the 3 main entertaining rooms, which had incredible views of the harbor. Our guide also told us that the master bedroom had the best views in town, and that Queen Elizabeth slept there back in the 1950â€™s on her first tour of Australia! Oh, and Prince William had tea in the drawing room last year, which I thought was cool!
Next, it was time to walk across the Harbor bridge, which was pretty incredible. The bridge was built in the 1920â€™s and has over 6 million hand drilled rivets! The views from the bridge were unbeatable, and it was fun to see the sailboats and Opera house.
Finally, we wrapped up our day by enjoying a beer at the Lord Nelson pub in the Rocks. The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney; it used to be the poorest part with lots of brothels and pubs. The Lord Nelson is the oldest remaining pub, and the beer was pretty good too!
On February 20th, it was time to enjoy one of Sydneyâ€™s famous beaches, Manly. It is a 30 minute ferry ride from downtown Sydney through the Harbor to get to Manly. The scenery from the boat was awesome and a nice perspective of Sydneyâ€™s skyline with the bridge, opera house, and high rises. Manly Beach is known for its surf, but Mike and I decided to just chill and read our books and swim. It was a nice way to spend the day while still getting to see Sydney before heading south.
We both really enjoyed these few days, and it was definitely a birthday celebration that I will never forget! The beauty of the Blue Mountains and Sydney Harbor were both amazing and I really liked the low-key days wine tasting and at the beach. Now, it was time for the final leg of our Australian road trip to Melbourne.