Along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

The trip to see the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, near Melbourne, Australia started at Federation Square (across from St. Paul’s Cathedral) where I got to see the possible tour options at the tourism office located there.

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station, across from Federation Square

I returned there to take the bus on the day of the tour and a long but rewarding day began.  Along the way we stopped to see some of the flora and the wildlife (koalas, kangaroos and birds).  It was amazing to see koalas and kangaroos just freely roaming around, not in a zoo or animal park.

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Close-up of a fern in the park where we stopped to see the koalas

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Kangaroos roaming (or hopping) free along the Great Ocean Road

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Colorful bird!

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Koala doing what they do best: sleep. Tons of sleep.

The Twelve Apostles (who knows if there are really 12 at any given point, one of the more famous ones had collapsed not long before my visit) are fascinating as they “show” the process of water and wind shaping our landscapes.

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, Great Ocean Road, park

A nice park has been set up to help see the Twelve Apostles

As the water washes away softer terrain, these “islands” of stone become separated from the mainland.  Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

You can tell where new ones will appear:  any of those fingers or peninsulas are apostles-in-the-making.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

At some point, the underside of a finger begins to hollow until an arch forms.  The arch eventually collapses separating part of the former peninsula from the mainland (see next photo).  In turn, an arch may form on the newly-formed “island” and, when the arch collapses, it will just leave just a column which over time will also collapse leaving nothing behind.  The cycle of life!

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Here is a finger where a part collapsed creating an “island” arch

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

By now, this “island” has become quite isolated and is developing an arch that will further weaken it

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Columns in the water: former arches, former fingers, former mainland!

Now, the park has very easy trails to walk and get good vantage points, and the tour goes to other interesting spots such as Loch and Gorge.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Loch and Gorge

But what really captivated me was the brief helicopter ride to see the apostles from above.  I had never ridden a helicopter before so there was a double thrill aspect to the experience for me.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Viewing them from high was a real treat

Finally, if you decide to drive the Great Ocean Road and you are not from Australia or the U.K. (or some other places like them), please mind what this sign says as you explore this beautiful road!road sign, great ocean road, australia, driving, photo

Getting Up High in Sydney- The Amazing Bridge Climb

When I got to Sydney, Australia to visit friends and finally explore that land down under, one of the first thing my friends told me was I HAD TO do the bridge climb.  The Sydney Harbor Bridge climb.  I was immediately mesmerized at the thought.  Normally, I try to go up any structure that allows me birds eye view of a city.  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Christ Redeemer in Rio, the medieval towers in la rossa Bologna, St. Paul‘s in London, Sacre Coeur also in Paris, the Peachtree Westin in my hometown, … you get the point.  Nothing like being high up and looking down at man’s urban creation.  I had crossed the bridge on foot and snapped a photo I really liked looking at the Sydney Opera House (and you are already high from the bridge level) but a higher vantage point… THAT would be awesome.

So the Sydney Bridge climb was right up my alley.  Of course, I had to be OK parting with a good amount of dough, well north of US $100 (truth be told, around $200…).  But WHEN would I return to Sydney to do this?  I am not scared of heights when I feel secure and being on a walkway was good enough for me (vs. walking out on some diving board-like piece of something hanging of a needle or other such skyscraper structure).

A friend of mine who is also a travel blogger (Erin, from The World Wanderer) was telling me she wanted to do the climb.  I encouraged her to do it and she encouraged me to write about my experience (it was on the long to-write-about list).  The bridge climb is a fairly recent offering having been started in the mid 1990s or so.  They claim over 3 million participants so far – become one, like Erin will some day, and help them get to 4 million!

The prep

So I made my way to the place where they brief you on the entire process and suit you up on this very not glamorous attire.  The important thing, though, is that you part ways with ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY fall off you during the climb.  It is not only that you would lose the whatever-it-is.  It is that there are likely cars right under you that could be hit by anything falling off!  If it is not covered completely by the suit – it comes off.  Your sunglasses, mercifully, are given a contraption so you can keep them and they won’t fall off – whew.  They go through some instructions and -voilà- off you go!

Modeling the jumpsuit used in the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb

Notice all the gear on the model

The hike

Once you are ready to go, the first step is to hook yourself up to the “cord”.  This cord thing runs the ENTIRE route you will walk and you will be hooked to that cord the ENTIRE time you are out there either UNDER the bridge or climbing up.  Yes, that is why you should not fear doing the hike.  You are tethered to the bridge.  The only way you are falling to your death is if the bridge falls into the harbor hundreds of feet below.  And then it does not matter if you are climbing the bridge, on a bus crossing the bridge, or a pedestrian on the sidewalk on the bridge.  So no fear!

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Notice how I am strapped to the bridge

Once you start climbing, yes, the effort could be significant for some.  I exercise frequently so the physical effort was not extraordinary.  But I think you don’t have to be in great shape to go up.  Just don’t have serious heart issues or other serious illnesses.  Oh, and don’t be intoxicated.  They check and won’t let you go up!

The guide will make stops along the way but she/he is explaining things along the way.  The headphones you get are AWESOME.  They don’t go in your ear but over the rear of your cheek close to your ear – the sound vibrations emitted by the thing get to your eardrum and you hear perfectly fine – how cool is that?!  Our guide was phenomenal – great explanations, great humor (I am sure the same jokes he  and his peers say every tour but nevertheless funny), and great Aussie attitude and friendliness.

Say cheese!

As you hike the bridge, they will be taking photographs.  Remember the bit about not being able to bring a camera?  (You leave your stuff in a locker.)  Well, they know you want a picture or two.  And they know we will buy them so they won’t be cheap.  But since you already dished out a couple hundred buckaroos, what’s another limb, right?  The photos will be great – admire mine but do not laugh at the suit cause you will be wearing one too!

Climb of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia with Opera House in the background

One of the worst smiles I’ve given in a photo but, overall, I can’t complain!  And it’s windy up there if you can’t tell!

“Closing arguments”

If I ever return to Sydney, I am likely to splurge again – but this time to do the night climb which I hear is also phenomenal (and cheaper!).  Hopefully, I’ve had enough time by then to save up for the cost of another climb.  But one thing I know, it will be WELL worth it!

I give this a completely certain thumbs up even if it feels gimmicky.  Gimmicks like this, though, have to be gone for (here is where English teachers cringe).  They pay you back with an incredible view of this great city by the water!  Did I convince you to do it??

Photo of the Week – Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Bridge

I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand.  It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!

One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor.  Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.

The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor.  Here is to returning some day!

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge in Australia

Photo of the Week – A Piece of Great Architecture

“You may normally see me in bathrooms but here I am among friends in this spectacular piece of architecture with a slightly different coating than my bathroom brethren.  I hear the blogger will be re-issuing some writeups about our site, our host town and the neighboring area.  You will see me and my buddies in all our glory!  Stay tuned!”

– Tile

Close-up of the Sydney Opera House's architecture


(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel)

Along the Great Ocean Road and within Melbourne

Distances in Australia are enormous and, perhaps, they feel more so because there are a lot of vast empty lands in the middle (as opposed to us in the US where we have Kansas in the middle!).  Yet my trip to Melbourne from Sydney felt short indeed as it does not require traversing the country.  I wanted to get a good feel for Melbourne and no better way than visiting people who actually live there.

My friends in Melbourne lived in a penthouse pretty much in the central business district of town, enjoying a view of the Yarra river and the Crown casino.  I think my friend Matt chose this apartment for a reason…

Melbourne, Australia, CBD, Crown casino, Yarra river, travel, photography

The view from the pad!

The next morning after my arrival I made my first stop the information center in Federation Square, a relatively new and modern square next to the Flinders train station by the river.  There I found way more information than I needed but that would have been very helpful had I decided to spend 2 months in Victoria, the state where Melbourne is… I wish I had had all that time!

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station

The information office was very well organized and the folks there were extremely helpful.  My first objective was to see the Great Ocean Road that heads out west from outside Melbourne by the ocean so I scheduled it for the following day.

The Great Ocean Road and my first helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles

The tour on the Great Ocean Road ends at the Twelve Apostles which are remnants from the mainland that water has eroded over time so they look like massive columns of rock coming out of the water, no longer connected to land.  The number 12 is just used ’cause it sounds cool but now there are <>12 (I don’t even remember how many they said).  In fact, 2 days before I went, one collapsed so I missed ever seeing it – well, I saw it in a pile of rocks.  Hence, it is safer to say <> 12 since the number could change any day!

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, Australia, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The Twelve Apostles (well, some of them)

I decided that a neat way to see the apostles was to get in a helicopter for a 15 minutes and fly around.  I had NEVER been in a helicopter so the exhilaration went beyond seeing the Twelve Apostles.  I soon found out how hard it was to admire the view and take pictures at the same time while trying to look around fellow passengers and also not blocking their own view!

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An apostle as seen from the helicopter! Great vantage point!

Wildlife along the Great Ocean Road

An unexpected surprise in the drive along the Great Ocean Road was seeing kangaroos, koalas and birds.

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Koala in the wild – asleep!

Australia, wildlife, bird, colorful, Great Ocean Road, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

One colorful Australian bird along the Great Ocean Road

Using the free city bus is a great idea

After booking the Great Ocean Road tour, I took advantage of the free bus the city has for tourists to hop on and hop off at the various important sights in the city. Taking a bus is a great way to orient oneself in a new city, to see some places that one may have decided “check, don’t need to come here”, and to actually get off and visit places that seem interesting or make a note to come back another time.  With this, I discovered the Victoria Market which sold just about everything but, unfortunately, as closing right as I got there.  I did manage to get a couple of souvenirs and fruits and made my way back to the city center proper.

I did not get to visit the art gallery in Federation Square which I was hoping to see but got to see the Immigration Museum where I gained a good understanding of the Australian immigrants’ story.  What a long-ass and possibly horrible journey to make it to Oz through the roaring 40s!!

Some food was enjoyed too

Other things I did was enjoy chocolate at the chocolate stores in the Arcades (the city center has this beautiful arcades from early last century with shops and that’s where this chocolate shops are).  I also, based on my friends’ recommendations, enjoyed great soup from a little chain store called Blue Bag – the red lentil soup was excellent.

Witnessing a sports match – with all that it entails…

On my final night in Melbourne (and Australia), I got to go to a football/soccer match at the MCG between Australia and Japan.  It was great to be able to watch such a match with the local crowd though that required being careful on leaving as we had to walk through a minefield of a kind…  Let’s just say, there seems to have been over-drinking during the match 🙂  I got to try one of the famous meat pies during the match which was good but by the time we were done with the match, I was hungry again – should have had 2!   That’s when I tried vegemite – on the salty side but the butter made it better.

I can help but compare…

Anyway, I have struggled in my mind to compare the cities of Sydney and Melbourne but can’t find a way to properly explain how they felt.  Sydney has the harbor right there which was more in your face than Melbourne‘s proximity to the ocean.  Sydney felt fast-paced, Melbourne more laidback.  I enjoyed them both and feel like I need to go back to keep studying what makes them different – how conveneeeeenient!  🙂

Of Mountains, Caves, and Wine – Leaving Sydney Is Hard to Do

So today I leave Sydney.  I have greatly enjoyed seeing friends and getting to know this awesome city.  I am actually sad at leaving it and wish I can come back some day soon.  But I am off to see other friends in Melbourne and that is helping me depart.  I have packed all the stuff I brought plus all that I acquired here (souvenirs).  It all fit so now let’s see how I do taking the bus and then the train to the airport.  It will save me like $50 so I am willing to do a little work.  Fortunately, the bus stop is very close to my friends’ apartment.

Of course Sydney has a Chinatown

One of the final explorations of the city itself started with a trip to Chinatown where, after enjoying a stop at a Chinese bakery :), we went shopping for souvenirs.  Paddy Market (not to be confused with Paddington) has an incredible amount and variety of stuff for sale, including souvenirs, the same you find around town but much much cheaper (thanks Kelly for the tip!).

I got to do some good shopping which, of course, wore me out (I really do not enjoy going shopping) so we went to the Lowenbrau restaurant at The Rocks to recover by sampling their pork knuckle and enjoying some beers.  It was a great place to sit outside on a beautiful afternoon, relax, and soak life in.


Awesome a city and a setting as Sydney is and has, beyond the city proper are some really neat things to see.  I explored those before wrapping up visiting this corner of Australia

A quick getaway to wine country!

How could I let Sydney end without seeing wine country??   Sunday we went to the nearby wine country:  Hunter Valley.  We visited 4 wineries and enjoyed sampling wine (oe swallowed; well, except the driver – thanks Dave for taking one for the team!).  It wasn’t  a bad drive heading over though we did face some roadwork traffic delays.  Folks at the wineries were very pleasant and eager to talk about the wine – and pour for free. The most common wine as Semillon, which is fairly unfamiliar to me.  It seemed a good summer wine or good for fishy fish (salmon comes to mind).  We did also sample Pinot Noirs, Cab Merlots, Cab Sauvignon and Moscato.  The latter was my favorite!

Tyrrell’s Wines in Hunter Valley

I felt like a tree hugger… This is a fat tree!

And leaving Sydney to see mountains and caves

Tuesday I visited the Blue Mountains and the Jenolan Caves.  I went on a tour since the places would be about 3 hrs away.  Unfortunately, though, we did not get to spend enough time doing the hikes around the Three Sisters area which I would have loved – I only got to spend like 45 minutes walking around the tropical forest near the old mines. Having now explored it, if I get to return to Sydney, I will plan to spend way more time in the Three Sisters area!

Driving on the Blue Mountains gave me a good view of the local mountain towns and I also wish I had gotten to spend time in these small towns.  They look like a delightful place to live.  The Jenolan Caves were pretty spectacular (we visited the Lucas cave; I liked the “slide” cave).

The tour we took was 1.5 hrs which was about the right amount of time to spend in caves.  The temperature inside, as in any cave, was in the 60s which was extremely nice given it was much colder outside where I wore a cap and gloves!  The Jenolan Caves also deserve more time so one can explore other caves (though I am told usually in this time of year there is only one cave open per day).  Some other day…


My final night in Sydney

My visit in Sydney ended with a dinner at the Belgian Beer Cafe in Harrington St. in The Rocks.  A former school dining hall, it has a lot of charm and you can see the ruins under the building which probably date to close to the founding of Sydney by the British.  There we enjoyed good Belgian beer as well as kangaroo loin, and mussels in white wine and cream sauce.  The kangaroo meat was quite tender (cooked medium rare) and the sauce was delicious.  I highly recommend it!

Now, I will wrap up my writing and posting of pix so I can head to the airport to my next stop in this great trip:  Melbourne.  I close this post with one of my favorite pictures of Sydney…

View towards Harbor Bridge and the Opera House

Thanks to my Sydney friends for a truly memorable time and for the hospitality.  Til next time!

A Perfect Day with Friends – Human and Animal – in Sydney

Saturday was a perfect day.  Blue skies without a single cloud and a nice temperature neither too hot nor too cold.  Just right for a day at the zoo with friends!

The Taroonga Zoo on Sydney Harbor

The Taroonga Zoo is blessed with a location like no other zoo that I have been to:  it sits sort of on a slope on the north shore of the Sydney harbor looking towards the city center, the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.  It has a magnificent view that, by itself, is worth the visit to the zoo (the giraffe exhibit seemed to have the best view).  Of course, the zoo has great displays of all sorts of animals including the native ones (koala, kangaroo, etc.) which are worth seeing.

Amazing view for these zoo residents! Rough life!

I went with friends whom I had not seen in years and their 4 kids aged 12 to 2.5.  The little ones (twins), of course, made the visit even more fun as I got to live the excitement of seeing the animals through their eyes.  Oh, and the excitement at taking the sky lift!  The zoo goes to show that any destination can have something for everyone if one is willing to look for them!

Balmoral Beach

After the zoo we visited a small beach called Balmoral close to where they live.  It seemed a very local place which was nice after days of having been doing the “tourist thing”.  We had ice cream and sat at the pier enjoying a gorgeous day with no other care (except making sure the twins didn’t jump in the water!).  This is exactly the type of place us tourists need to get out and see:  where real life is happening, areas of town different that the more central ones.  A charming place, Balmoral Beach!

Balmoral scene

At the pier in Balmoral Beach

The End to a Great Day with Friends

That evening we got together with another friend and headed into the city for dinner.  It must have been night out for many as it took several attempts to find a place that would take a reservation.  As with the night before, the meal, the wine and the company did not disappoint!

It was neat to get to see my friends (who are American) and hear about their experience living in Australia.  One has been here about 5 yrs and the other about half that time.  It made me a little jealous they had gotten to live in such a magnificent place but I was glad they got such an opportunity!

So, a perfect day ended in Sydney.  Let’s see what the next one brings!

Getting to High Places in Sydney – The Harbor Bridge

Alright, so I didn’t really rough it or suffered, but I did climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge today (134m from the top to the water). A pricey outing, but well worth it if you can part with the money!

10 years ago, this landmark bridge was opened to visitors who wanted to climb it.  The RTA (local agency that manages many things including the bridge) apparently was very reluctant to allow this venture to be carried out but local businessmen addressed all the obstacles raised (e.g., where would people walk, how would you keep things from falling onto cars below, etc.) and launched this unique experience for those inclined to go up and get good views of this beautiful harbor and city.

They prep you well including a mock climb indoors.  You also need to leave in a locker most everything you have on you:  watch, wallet, items in your pocket, jackets, hairpins, etc.  It is imperative nothing falls out from you.  Sunglasses are allowed and they provide you a thingie that pins them to your suit.  Oh yes, you just don’t go dressed as you are.  They give you a jumpsuit you are to wear over your clothing that zips up completely.  As far as caps, gloves or cold-weather headgear, they provide them to you and they also hook up to your suit.  You may ask, “what if I need to blow my nose?”   I am glad you ask:  you can’t bring your little baggie of tissue either.  They issue you a handkerchief that, you guessed it, hooks up to the sleeve of your very sexy (not!) jumpsuit.  Cameras are also not allowed but they will take your picture (and your money) at a few spots along the route – but the pix are worth the money.

All dressed up and making my way up!

The climb, I found, was not terribly difficult but there are plenty of warnings for people with health issues, etc.  I personally think you do not have to be in the best of shapes to do the climb but if you feel you are really out of shape, perhaps do a couple of days of walking around the city to get yourself stretched before the climb.

The views from up there are just magnificent.  You could also go up the telecom tower (I forget its name) which is taller but you don’t get the same angle to view all of the harbor as you get from the top of the bridge. It was definitely weird looking down at 6 lanes of traffic plus extra lanes for buses, cycles and pedestrians!

The climb really drives home the beauty of this natural harbor and the impressive city that has grown up around it.  For that reason, I highly recommend it!

Atop with the incredible Opera House behind me!

How to Explore Sydney’s Outlying Areas

Day 2 of my Sydney visit began with many options on things to do.  However, my legs felt like they needed some rest after all the walking on day 1, and it was alternating between rain, drizzle, and no rain.  So I opted to get on the Explorer buses that go on two different routes and that allow you to pay one fare and get on and off the bus at any of the designated stops along the way.  I love taking buses get acquainted with a city (since you can observe things vs. an underground train, for instance) so I went for it. While the red route stays close to the city’s center, the blue route heads to the outskirts towards Bondi Beach (the most famous of the Australian beaches).  See this link for more info.

The bus has a recording which highlights key city sights/sites along with some history and such things so one really does get good value from taking them (the bus drivers usually add more commentary as well).  For me, the Explorer bus rides helped me identify areas of town that I definitely would want to explore more during my stay.  The bus tours also allowed me to get out of the rain for a good bit of time (each route runs a 2-hr circuit)!  So I went off on the blue route.

First Stop – Watson’s Bay

Along the way to Bondi, I got off the bus at Watson’s Bay to have lunch at Doyle’s, a famous fish and chips place on the waterfront (Doyle’s website ).  It was very good and I had been hungry for a bit so the combination was a success.

I did a short hike from there along the cliffs in that part of the coast which was good because 1.  it was not raining, and 2.  I got off the bus and got to stretch my legs… From this vantage point, one can see the entrance to Sydney Harbor from the ocean. This ships look puny next to the cliffs on the far side!

Entrance to Sydney Harbor, Australia

Bondi Beach and Surfers

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Once I got to Bondi Beach, we were told there was a scenic trail connecting it to the next beach town over (where I could catch the next Explorer bus) so I decided to get off the bus again though it was drizzling (I was wearing a rain jacket).  The coastline was beautiful and the waves were roaring due to the weather.

Of course, surfers were out in full force.  I have never really paid attention to surfing before.  It does seem a lot of fun if you don’t mind waves thrashing you about.  However, by watching I realized surfers spend a lot of time just hanging out waiting for the right wave.  As I was trying to take some action pix, it seemed to take forever for them to get on a wave.  It seemed to me like it could get boring.

I stood on the roadside above one of the beaches (like 50 – 75 feet high) and I noticed how cars would slow down as they approached where I was standing.  After a few of those, I realized those were surfers checking out the conditions of that beach to see if they would surf there.  Some parked and changed right by their cars and some just kept going (I assume the conditions weren’t up to par for them).  It was about 2 PM on Thursday so I wondered if these guys just take a break from work to surf, if they are on vacation, or if they just don’t work.

End of Day 2!

So it’s the end of day 2 and my impressions of Sydney have gone from architectural & engineering awe after seeing the the Opera House and the Bridge  to awe at the beauty of the city and its natural setting.  The architecture can range from ultra-modern (Renzo Piano’s famous building) to the quaint buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century that you see not only in The Rocks area but elsewhere.

Typical homes in The Rocks area

The neighborhoods due east of the Central Business District all the way to the beaches all have distinct characters and unique charm.  How would one choose where to live??  (Of course, property prices would take care of that as many of these seaside areas are quite pricey, precisely due to the seaside location and charm”.)  I was expecting Sydney to be a modern city that was made pretty by its seaside location but my perspective changed dramatically today as I got a broader view at the different parts of town and realized there is a lot more to the beauty of the city than the seaside aspect to it.

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