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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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St George Open Air cinema

St George Open Air cinema

A beautiful evening in Sydney last night to watch the film ‘Carnage’ at the St George Open Air cinema in Sydney.

The recent heavy rain had us worried that we’d have to forfeit our tickets (the cinema doesn’t refund for bad weather). But with mostly clear skies, perhaps someone should have told us to watch out for the other liquid falling from the sky – bat poo!

The Open Air cinema, temporarily established during summer in Sydney’s Domain, is home to a huge number of ‘flying foxes’, large bats weighing up to 1kg. According to the Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain Trust website:

They sleep during the day and feed on pollen, nectar and fruit at night. In the wild they are important pollinators and seed dispersers of native trees. Seeds are discarded in the faeces or fall where the fruit is being eaten. These seeds germinate when conditions are suitable and ensure that dispersal occurs in a wide area.”

And ‘disperse’ they did, with hundreds of pellet-shaped poo drops being missile-launched onto the unprepared crowd as night fell. The most under-attack seats are at the back of the auditorium, under the trees, as the bats settle in the branches above. Within a 15 minute gap whilst we bought drinks before the show, our seats became covered in their droppings. Thankfully, this gave us time to move to safer ground at the front of the auditorium. The intermittent yelps from (mostly females) indicated that a lot of people hadn’t been so lucky to escape the poo. When you consider that a single bat can disperse up to 60,000 seeds in just one night, this isn’t a surprise!

Bat circle the Domain

A view of the bats circling overhead as they descend at nightfall in The Domain

The bats provided more amusement during the film, from time to time flying through the vision of the projector screen, adding an eerie touch to visuals and a random and unwanted ‘extra’ to the scenes of the film.

Great film by the way – ‘Carnage’ is based on a play and tells the story of two sets of parents who meet to deal with a fight which has taken place between their sons. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, it’s a great comedy which is unusually set in mostly one room for the entire duration and features just the four main characters and a couple of extras.

St George Open Air cinema is one of the highlights of the summer season in Sydney, with gorgeous views overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Doors open early and you can sip champagne as the sun sets over the city. 

Just remember to choose your show seats carefully – and watch out for the ‘Domain rain.’

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Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Bondi Open Air cinema screen

Yesterday was opening night of Bondi Open Air cinema 2012.

Held on a grassy bank overlooking the beach, the Open Air cinema is scheduled through until early March, taking advantage of the warm summer evenings and everyone’s inclination to get outside as much as possible.

We watched Bill Cunningham New York, the story of New York Times fashion photographer Bill and the life he has dedicated to his work. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen; I knew nothing of Bill before I sat down to watch the film last night and left feeling like I’d known him for years and heart-warmed by the passion he has for what he does.

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

Ben and Jerry's ice cream, a picnic blanket and biscuits...

We were given free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the movie, along with a goodie bag to take away filled with Sonoma muesli, Aesop body balm and the latest Time Out Sydney magazine. Not bad for a $12 ticket!

There was also live music prior to the film and a random magician act which was a bit pointless as by the time he came on it was dark and no one could see anything!

Okay, there were a few technical hitches with the sound and the lighting, but there’s plenty of time for this to all be ironed out over the next few weeks.

It’s a different story for the wet weather Sydney is currently experiencing as this now looks set to play havoc with the success of the Open Air cinema. Even last night, a few people left the film because of the blowing wind, before crowds got up to exit several minutes before the end when the rain did finally come. Films will go ahead in the rain, so it’s best to be prepared unless you’re happy to leave without a refund.

By the time summer is over I will have experienced all three of the main Sydney outdoor cinemas: this one at Bondi, along with the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park and finally the most popular – St George Open Air cinema in the Domain where the screen rises from the water and the audience overlooks the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. What better way to watch a film!

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picture of rain

Is this all we have to look forward to this weekend in Sydney?

It’s December in Sydney and the sun should be shining!

But sadly, our plans for the beach, barbecues and outdoor beers are on hold as the rain is predicted to set in for the second weekend in a row.

So, what to do? Here’s my top five suggestions for making the best out of the miserable weather this weekend:

1)      Sushi and songs

For the perfect all-in-one dinner/drinks/late-night entertainment venue that saves you having to bar-hop through the rain, head to Mizuya on George Street. This underground restaurant serves up delicious, fresh sushi in cozy surroundings, far away from the disappointing weatheroutside. The hot pot with wagyu beef is a favourite of mine, and the various meat and fish skewers are addictive. Better still, you get to order your dinner on a touch screen at your table, meaning you can keep going back for more until you’re stuffed!

Oh, and once you’re full of sushi and sake, simply head down the corridor to the real reason Mizuya was created – karaoke booths where you can gather all your mates into a sealed room, belt out your favourite songs until the early hours and even order more sushi if you wish!

2)      Head to an Irish Bar

That’s right, what better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, than settled down in a traditional Irish Pub with some hearty grub, a live band or two and perhaps a pint of Guinness. There’s plenty of options in central Sydney including PJ O’Brien’s, Durty Nelly’s, Scruffy Murphy’s and Paddy Maguires.

For the ultimate Irish experience however – and a venue I can’t recommend enough – head to Mulligan’s restaurant in Chippendale. You’ll enjoy the best comfort food in Sydney, in surroundings which feel like you’re in the living room of a cuddly older relative.

3)      Pretend you’re in the UK

For an ex-pat, Christmas in Australia has meant swapping many of the traditional wintry fayre for light, summery bites in reflection of the warmer weather. So this weekend, why not head to Lindt Cafe at Darling Harbour and indulge with a warming hot chocolate and marshmallows, or snuggle up at home with a hot mince pie, brandy butter and your favourite Greatest Hits Xmas CD.

4)      Get cultural

Time to explore all the museums, art galleries and other interesting parts of Sydney that it just seems wrong to visit when the sun is shining. First stop could be the new Picasso exhibition now open at Art Gallery New South Wales where you’ll get to see more than 150 pieces of his work.

5)      Get out of Sydney and catch a flight to Melbourne

Four words that need no further explanation: Topshop is now open. What better reason do we need to escape Sydney for the weekend than a chance to explore one of the UK’s most successful fashion chains now open at its first location in Australia. Prepare yourself for chaos and queues, but it’ll be worth it when you get to swan into work on Monday in your brand new Topshop clothes.

Who needs sunshine!

What are your weekend plans?

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Palm Beach aka Summer Bay

Palm Beach aka Summer Bay

I think Australian daytime soaps have a lot to answer for.

As an ‘80s child in rainy Britain, I grew up on afternoons of Neighbours and Home and Away, glued to the land down under where every day was spent on the beach and summer was always the season.

Twenty years later, and now living in Australia, I took a trip out to see the real Summer Bay, located just an hour’s drive north of Sydney at Palm Beach, to see for myself this glorious world.

The soaps are deceptive. The ‘year-round summer’ you see in Home and Away is a manipulated form of the real weather. Whilst the sky might be clear and bright, it can get windy, really windy. And, for our trip (in Australia’s spring time) the wind was positively chilly. I don’t envy the actors having to stroll along the beach in their swimwear, giving the impression on screen of hot temperatures.

There’s really not that much to see at Palm Beach, apart from the beach itself.  The area is surprisingly uncommercialised. Forget a barrage of memorabilia to cash in on the beach’s fame. A simple display stand on a wall shows a limited range of souvenirs with a few notes printed from a type-writer about the area. They’re faded in the sun, really unprofessional looking and quite easy to miss.

The only place for food and drink directly on the beach is a run-down kiosk selling instant coffee in polystyrene cups and a small selection of tired looking fast food.

Palm Beach kiosk

The tired looking kiosk area at Palm Beach

Whilst the adjoining surf club is fully-operable, it’s not open to the public, and the only nod to the soap is a sign stating that the Club Official is one ‘A.Stewart.’

Summer Bay Surf Club

Summer Bay Surf Lifesaving Club

After a nice walk along the beach, the obligatory photo taking, our trip to Palm Beach was over fairly quickly.

Interestingly my Lonely Planet Australia guide (2009 edition) barely mentions Palm Beach at all, just one sentence under a ‘Northern Beaches’ heading. Now I can start to see why.

I will go back, but in a few months once it’s warmed up.

Instead, we spent the afternoon a short walk away, drinking great wine and eating some delicious seafood at Beach Road restaurant, one of just a handful of eateries in the vicinity. It was worth the trip alone.

Below is the ‘Beach Road maritime mezze’ which is for two people to share and is highly recommended. Try and catch an afternoon when the acoustic band are playing on the grassed area too.

Beach Road seafood

Beach Road restaurant Maritime Mezze

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Before my travels around Oz, I had no idea that in 1974 a devastating cyclone decimated the northern city of Darwin.

Cyclone Tracy wiped out 75 per cent of homes in the area and killed 65 people. At the Museum of the Northern Territory, on the outskirts of Darwin’s CBD, there is a fantastic exhibition dedicated to Cyclone Tracy, full of newspaper articles, news broadcasts, photographs and even pieces of peoples’ homes and street furniture which were rescued from the debris.

You can step into a special recreation of the cyclone, standing in a room which jerks violently from side to side as a recording of Tracy is played at loud volume. I found it a pretty eerie and frightening exhibition and it really brought to life the terror and devastation of a cyclone.

Tonight, thousands will live through that experience for real when Cyclone Yasi hits the northern part of Queensland overnight. What’s most terrifying is that Yasi is now classified as a category 5 cyclone – Tracy was an upper category 4. Yasi is likely to have winds of around 300kmh, whereas Tracy had winds of about 217kmh. Yasi has an estimated spread of around 800km, whereas Tracy was much smaller in comparison.

Having seen the devastation caused by Tracy, albeit at an exhibition, it’s still hard to comprehend that the potential of Yasi is so much worse. Tragically however, it’s becoming pretty clear the state is likely to experience the worst cyclone in the whole of Australian history.

Image of a cyclone

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