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Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains on a crisp spring afternoon

Just as Sydney enjoyed the first warm days of Spring, we drove two hours west of the city this weekend to a substantially cooler climate – the Blue Mountains.

Temperatures at this time of year (late September) reach just 11-13 degrees at most (compared to around 23 degrees in Sydney). But the chill in the air and the brisk winds provide the perfect weather to enjoy what the Blue Mountains were made for – walking.

1)   Three Sisters

First stop is the epic Three Sisters. We travel to the Echo Point viewing platform near Katoomba town which provides a panoramic sight of the mountains. It’s worth the effort to walk around halfway down the 500 steps of the Giant Stairway to get an even closer look at the rocks. Be warned the steps are steep, uneven and can get very crowded….that’s why I mention that the halfway point is fine!

Pulling on our walking shoes we then embarked on a two-hour return trip around the ‘upper pathway’. This was an opportunity to see some of the less busy viewing platforms, stretch our legs and enjoy some fresh country air.

Don’t worry about researching a walk to do before you go; a tip is to pop into the Information Centre on site prior to your walk for a tailored suggestion depending on how long you want to walk for and whether you have a car.

The Three Sisters viewed from Echo Point

The Three Sisters viewed from Echo Point

2)   Wentworth Falls

A short drive away is Wentworth Falls. Here, we took a five minute walk down stairs to another stunning viewing platform of the falls from across the valley. Again, you can choose to extend you walk to take in more of the scenery or even walk across the summit of the falls or the foot of the falls.

The view from Wentworth Falls

Wentworth Falls as a rainbow appears on the water

3)   Govett’s Leap

The Govett’s Leap lookout was my favourite of the day. Combining a magnificent waterfall and views of the Blue Mountains, it is also much quieter than the Three Sisters or Wentworth Falls which are packed with tourists. Access Govett’s Leap via the small town of Blackheath and stop off for a cup of coffee and a wander among the vintage shops and art galleries too.

Govett's Leap

The view from Govett’s Leap

Blue Mountains from Govett's Leap

The view of the Blue Mountains from Govett’s Leap

Where we ate, drank and stayed:

Kubbba Roonga Guesthouse: In the small town of Blackheath, Kubba Roonga is a comfortable guesthouse with full English breakfast, complimentary chocolates on arrival and complimentary newspapers and Port next to the roaring fire. A great choice for a cosy weekend stay.

Cabin and co.: As you travel through Blackheath on the way to the Govett’s Leap lookout, stop off on the high street (Govett’s Leap Road) for a coffee. Cabin and co. is a cute homewares shop with a hidden ‘snug’ at the back of the shop serving delicious homemade pastries and hot drinks. This family-run business had only been open three weeks when we stopped by, and the coffee was great.

Keep an eye out in Blackheath for Cabin and Co. serving great coffee in the 'snug' at the back of its retail shop.

Keep an eye out in Blackheath for Cabin and Co. serving great coffee in the ‘snug’ at the back of its retail shop.

Leura town: Avoid the bland Katoomba and stop off in Leura for a picturesque lunch overlooking the mountains. There’s plenty of delicious cafes to choose from and lovely shops to browse if you need a break from the mountains.

Hot chocolate

An indulgent Hot Chocolate and marshmallows from one of the many cafes on Leura mall

Dinner: Ashcroft’s restaurant on Govett’s Leap Road in Blackheath was the perfect dinner choice. It’s not cheap ($78 for two, or $88 for three courses) and you can’t do BYO, but the portions are huge, the wine delicious (even by the glass) and it’s a Sydney Morning Herald award-winning restaurant. Make sure to book before you go.

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The long road to Broken Hill

An epic road trip to Broken Hill

Anyone would think I was going to the moon.

That would explain the general reaction of disbelief from friends and work colleagues when I mentioned that I was going to the Outback city of Broken Hill last weekend.

Could it really be that bad?

Broken Hill sits in the very west of New South Wales, around a 12 hour drive from Sydney or a six hour drive from Adelaide.

We take the second option and as we leave the city behind, realise there is little to hold us up on the journey, no other cars, no other towns – Broken Hill really is in the middle of nowhere.

The motorways out of Adelaide soon turn to single lane country roads. Then the hilly landscape flattens and finally all flora and fauna disappears. Everywhere you look, in whatever direction you look in, there is just nothing. Dry, red and dusty land – utterly untouched – except for this road, our car and the odd tin can flung from a weary traveller, now rusting in its resting place.

This massive, empty beast of a country is sweltering in desert-like temperatures. And then us, slicing through it like we’re the very first.

I thought to myself, this might as well be the moon.

The road to Broken Hill

The road to Broken Hill

Out of nowhere, after six long hours, four Mars Bars and 500km of empty earth, there appears Broken Hill:

Broken Hill blue sky

A beautiful bright sky in Broken Hill. This looks out to the south of the city, where you can see just desert in the background

We check-in to our clean, modern motel in the centre of town, then lunch at Broken Earth, an imposing restaurant built on the top of the remnants of the mines and which overlooks the City. From up here you can see exactly where the borders of Broken Hill begin and end. It’s a grid-like formation, not sprawling, but quite compact. The architecture is quite impressive, dated but grand, and the wide open streets give a calm and elegant feel to the centre of town. Argent Street, the main street, forms the hub for the 20,000 locals who all live within 20 or so streets away.

Broken Earth restaurant from Broken Hill

The imposing Broken Earth restaurant as seen from Broken Hill

 
Broken Hill

You can see the edges of Broken Hill from the Broken Earth restaurant

Broken Hill

A close-up of one of the main streets in Broken Hill with the cathedral in the background

Later that night we decide to do a bar crawl, to get a feel for the town. Half a dozen pubs later, we’ve exhausted all our options (including two pubs we didn’t even bother going into) and feel utterly downcast.

We’re off to our final pub of the night – it’s a little off the beaten track even for Broken Hill – yet we’re assured this is where the party is at!

It’s empty. Not just not busy, not just quiet, but stone. Cold. Empty. We are the only two people in one of the most recommended bars in Broken Hill. And it’s 10pm on a Friday night.

At least we get a bit of chat out of the barmaid, a lovely local women who’s lived in the area all her life. For not the first time on our trip, she tells us ‘you need at least a week’ here. We smile and nod.

As we’re about to ask her about her top recommendations the door swings open and a group of nine enter the pub to join us.

“Game On” shouts the barmaid, clapping her hand. Never have we been more pleased to see a small group of randoms.

Young people are noticeably absent in Broken Hill. The city was created after the discovery of ore, and as a result most of the population have some sort of connection to mining employment. Ex-miners, the retired and visiting business or tourists make up the rest. Many of the young people are sent to Sydney or Adelaide for boarding school, a chance to discover the world out there. They don’t come back.

For the teenagers that haven’t been sent away to school, sitting in an empty Hungry Jacks outlet on a Saturday afternoon seems the best option when there is little else to do.

The high street is a ghost town by 4pm on a weekend afternoon because the few shops there have closed.

And later that night we discover the one bar open past midnight is little more than a converted community centre with a canteen in the corner of the room.

Anyway, back to those randoms we met in the pub. It turned out they were actually journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph, in town to record the visit of Princess Mary to the Royal Flying Doctor Service that morning.

Yes, the biggest day for Broken Hill since Fergie visited in 1990 and we missed it.

But it did put Broken Hill on the map for one day and gave credit to the importance of the Flying Doctor Service to isolated communities like Broken Hill.

To be fair, Broken Hill does get its fair share of visitors. It’s billed as ‘the accessible Outback’, and is a stopping point on the transnational Indian Pacific rail line. Tourists jump off for a few days, or fly in from Sydney, or drive in from Adelaide as we did. There’s over 30 galleries within Broken Hill and plenty of filmakers were inspired to shoot across the backdrop of this jaw-droppingly isolated location. You can see ‘the biggest canvas painting in the world’,  find out about mining history at the city museums, and even get to visit the locations for the filming of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mad Max 2. Both shot locally.

Photos of Mad Max 2

Images from Mad Max II, filmed near Broken Hill adorn the walls of the local pub

Setting for Mad Max II

The setting for Mad Max II, with souvenir shop for the tourists

 

But it is the mining which is the heart and soul of this town. It gave the city its fascinating history, dating back to the 1880s when the area was discovered. Broken Hill has provided the largest single source of silver, lead and zinc ore ever discovered on earth. The grand palatial buildings we see on the high street were founded on mining wealth and in the 1970s the draw of employment helped the population to peak at 30,000.

The Darling Hotel

The Darling Hotel - one of many of the large pubs on the main street

We visit the last remaining remnant of the biggest mining giant there is. BHP Billiton – which stands for Broken Hill Proprietry Ltd. BHP helped create this city and drew in the people by offer of work, which lit the economy and put Broken Hill on the map.

BHP has all but left the area now – gone as soon as the ore was – leaving just the chimney from its office as a reminder of the days gone by.

All that is left of the BHP chimney

This is all that is left of the headquarters of BHP - the company which first began mining in Broken Hill

mine machinery

Mine machinery on display at Broken Hill

And I think that’s what gets me in Broken Hill. Everything is a reminder of days gone by. It has a history and it seems that nothing has come to replace that history or to help it to thrive once more. The huge drive-thru fast food restaurants stick out as an awkward jump to the real world happening six hours away in the city of Adelaide.

The population has dwindled as the young leave the for work in the City and now sits at about 20,000.

“The Government want it to go down even more, to about 18,000 would suit them because then they can take away the infrastructure,” explained local businessman Tex.

“See that there,” he points, “that’s our hospital, it used to have hundreds of beds then they knocked it down, told us they were going to rebuild it, but it’s little more than a first aid unit now with just 70 beds.”

Broken Hill needs another boost, and soon.

I will never understand the desire to live in a place like Broken Hill. I couldn’t deal with the remoteness, the lack of choice that we take so for granted nowadays, the absence of people and the hustle and bustle that makes life.

But one conversation I had got me thinking that maybe, that works vice versa as well.

“I went to Sydney once,” said the man from Broken Hill we met over a cold beer in the local Hotel.

“Didn’t like it. Anywhere you have to wait at traffic lights behind more than three cars I don’t like.”

Maybe. Maybe he’s right.

 

Visit Broken Hill?

Do it! For one of the most thought-provoking, fascinating insights into what it’s like to live in the Australian Outback, give Broken Hill a go. It’s a weekend you’ll never forget….

For more information on Broken Hill, check out the Visit NSW site or this dedicated Broken Hill website.
Although in NSW, remember Broken Hill follows South Australia time, setting clocks half an hour earlier.

To eat and drink:

Eating options are fairly limited. We were disappointed by the food (and particularly the service) at Broken Earth, but very impressed with the food at The Astra.
Argent Street has the most food options (where The Astra is located), or you could eat in the restaurant of your Motel, which generally will offer a pretty good standard of food too.

Broken Earth Café and Restaurant
Astra
Mario’s Palace

dinner at the astra

Fine dining at The Astra, Broken Hill

To see:

I wouldn’t say there’s enough to keep you in Broken Hill for a week, but if you like art galleries, sculpture and museums and you are interested in the history of mining, then at least a weekend is good. Here’s a few of the options:

Line of Lode hilltop lookout
Silver City Mint & Art Centre (the main attratction here is the biggest canvas painting in the world: The Big Picture)
Silverton Hotel (setting for Mad Max 2) Note: Do not eat the ‘famous’ hotdogs!!
Royal Flying Doctor Service

The view from the Line of Lode overlooking Broken Hill

A proper Outback pub - The Silverton, around 20kms from Broken Hill

To stay:

Broken Hill now has lots of recently renovated motels to choose from, all within easy reach of the main centre of the city.

Old Willyama Motor Inn (where we stayed, very clean, modern and close to town)
All Seasons

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We’re enjoying a bank holiday across most of Australia this weekend for the Queen’s Birthday*. What a strange one – us Brits don’t even get that one!

Anyway, every public holiday, one initiative from the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is to ‘double points’ for the long weekend. Like me, you might be thinking this sounds like a promotion for a supermarket reward card. But no, this scheme deducts double the usual amount of points from your driver’s license if you’re found to have broken a range of minor traffic laws – such as not wearing a seatbelt, speeding and drink driving. Basically, if you mess up on a bank holiday, you’ll pay twice the penalty.

The background to this, is that like many countries, a public holiday in Australia means an increase in road casualties and car accidents. And Aussies are particularly concerned with road toll deaths (figures are regularly analysed in the media). So, it does seem a novel way to try and get people to pay more attention at a time when there’s more vehicles on the road and generally people are more relaxed and hence more complacent when it comes to driving.

But it hardly seems fair – why is a ‘crime’ more of a crime on a bank holiday than at any other time of the year? Surely, for example, if you are caught drink-driving the penalty should be the same no matter what day of the year it is? After all, the potential to run over and hurt someone remains the same? Can you imagine this idea being applied to any other crime – a burglar getting twice as long a sentence because he committed the crime on a particular day of the week? No, I thought not.

What do you think?

 

*And incidentally her birthday was in April.

 

 

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