Our first full day in the city began with a gentle tour of the northern suburbs and fringe, up as far as Palm Beach, courtesy of my aunt. A decidedly chill wind kept us from walking much as we explored the local surrounds, and a bout of heavy rain around lunchtime dissuaded us from exploring the Lindfield area at first. However, a bit of cabin fever threatened to set in, and the prospect of a good walk sent us scurrying out onto the Great North Walk route. The trail led us along the forested banks of the local river, serenaded by Rainbow Lorikeets, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Galahs - quite an overpowering racket at times. As soon as the rain eased, the wildlife began to emerge: we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a mixed flock of fantails, scrubwrens and honeyeaters, with White-throated Treecreepers and Variegated Fairy-wrens tagging along for variety's sake.
Having recovered and reinvigorated ourselves, we headed into the city first thing the next morning, to do the obligatory tourist thing and ogle the opera house, look at the harbour bridge and shop for some bring-home souvenirs. The harbour bridge was duly stared at and photographed; the opera house ogled and perambulated (it's much smaller than I'd imagined, and the roof has a rather nice pattern in it), but the overcast skies meant that it wasn't a great day for photos. Moody lighting, in the main.
|Can you guess what it is yet?|
We continued into the botanic gardens - immediately next door to the opera house - and spent some time admiring the Grey-headed Flying-foxes roosting over the information centre. Serendipity struck: when I went to ask about the bats, there was a photo of a Powerful Owl on the wall, so I asked - jokingly - if they knew where it roosted, to be told 'we'll take you over there if you like'. So we had an impromptu tour across the gardens, taking in some of the more interesting trees, the history and context of the gardens - straight over to the roost of the owl, which looked at us with some horror, then over to see a fine Tawny Frogmouth at it's nest and finishing with a visit to the memorial to the children deported from Britain under the 'Child Migrants Programme' - a practice which ended not long before I was born.
|Powerful Owl in the Sydney Botanic Gardens. Ask at the information centre: they tend to know where he is, or where he may be.|
After this, a visit to Lady Macquaries Chair was a little bit of a let-down, but we struggled on manfully. By this time we'd had about enough of wandering, so a 30-minute ferry trip across the harbour to Manly and a wander out to see the sea seemed like a good idea. It was a good idea, but for various reasons we were flagging a bit by this stage. We made it out to the lookout at the end of the harbour, where we viewed with some disdain yet another couple of Humpback Whales sporting in the surf. As the wind freshened yet further and the rain began to spit in earnest, we headed for the nearest bus-stop and retraced our route into the city to buy gifts for our homecoming.
|Making the opera house look much larger than it is.|
We decided we had enough puff to head across the city the next day, to the world's second-oldest National Park: Royal NP. We hopped off the train at Engadine and headed into the park, following the walking tracks towards Heathcote through yet more dry sclerophyll forest. By the time we got to the park it was mid-morning, so the birds were getting few and far between: the best of them at first perhaps being a confiding party of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos stripping branches to get at sap. We then started following a trail towards Audley, which in retrospect could have been a bit of a mistake! The track led through increasingly rugged countryside - and as we trailed down into the base of a small valley we disturbed a large Red-bellied Black Snake, which uncoiled with alarming rapidity and headed straight for my feet. I executed a strategic retreat in quick time, and watched with some relief as it headed quietly into the hole under the stone I'd been standing on. Soon after this, the day improved even further with a brief burst of song from a Superb Lyrebird (if you don't know this bird, you should: watch this YouTube clip. Ours didn't have quite as varied a repertoire, but just as fine a songster).
We finally found ourselves traipsing down to a picnic area: to an eager audience of Purple Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens, kookaburras and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos: all waiting for a scrap of food. We disappointed them by only having a couple of apples to eat, though the swamphens were quick to take the cores off us and dispose of them tidily. By this stage, however, we weren't quite sure where we were, nor how long it was going to take us to get back to the railway. There was a road opposite with regular traffic, but which way led out? Fortunately there was a small boat-hire shop open just across the creek, so we trotted over the bridge and asked, to be told that it was about 20 minutes to Loftus, headed 'that way' along the road. Hooray, we thought. Twenty minutes later we were still climbing the hill out of the valley, and began to think that the owner of the boat shop might not have suspected we were travelling on foot. Ten minutes later we reached the National Park offices, in the carpark of which a kindly man put us right, pointing us to a traffic-free path to Loftus and explaining that it was about half an hour further to the railway line. We eventually trudged into the station - after taking our lives in our hands by crossing the Princes Highway on foot - dog-tired and in the perfect state for a chunk of restorative mud-pie from the bakery across the road. Perhaps the best piece of cake I've had in ages: hunger is by far the best sauce around.
|Purple Swamphen poses for a photograph...|
|...then gets down to some essential apple-core recycling.|
Our final day in the country was spent taking a short walk around part of Garigal National Park; another of Sydney's urban national parks. We were dropped at one end of a little trail, meandered through along the riverside and eventually ran out of energy and enthusiasm somewhere in East Lindfield. Although relatively quiet and non-wildlify, we still managed to see a final new species for the trip: a pair of Dollarbirds which appeared with startling suddenness on top of a dead tree whilst we had a drinks-break. This walk was perhaps most memorable for the incredibly confiding Eastern Water-dragon who basked in the path in front of us, and then refused to be intimidated by us, posing for some beautiful portraits of what is, unarguably, a stunning lizard.
|Unidentified, but rather fine, flower|
|Eastern Water-dragon auditioning for The Return of the Son of the Mask of Zorro.|
|Eastern Water Skink. I think.|
Unfortunately, that's the end of our Australian adventure. I suspect we won't be going anywhere exotic for a little while now, but you never know what life may throw you. Watch this space...