Exploring the beauty Down Under
Story and Photos By Aubrey Goforth
Perhaps it is like riding a bike for the first time. Parents persuade you to get on the pear-shaped seat and encourage you to travel along the asphalt road. Shivering with fear, you play out all the horrors that could come with a failed attempt. What if you get on and don’t know how to steer, or worse, what if you hit the pavement with jagged force?
It is not until you ride the bike and attempt to hold the wheels and drive when you realize the experience is not all that bad. Brought to the brink of fear only to be greeted by the exhilaration of success illuminates a desirable ambition. This is the point where we discover that all things are possible.
Three Ramonans—Kerry Walker, Jenna Anderson and Parker Hayes did just this. They got on a plane and moved to Sydney, Australia. No reason other than to experience what life on the other side of the world would bring. They traveled a distance of 7,507 miles, or 12,081 kilometers, and jumped into a time zone that is 17 hours ahead.
Two months after their grand entrance, I trekked alone into the Southern Hemisphere to see how they were doing. The traveling experience of leaving what we know as familiar can feel like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. Your sense of home magically changes into a world of color, not to mention minor jet lag.
When San Diegans are sunbathing and playing volleyball in July, Australians are bundled up in scarves and carrying umbrellas. In May and June the weather is sweet, but the clouds are unpredictable. The air is breezy and there may be a chance of rain, so packing a rain jacket or a warm sweater would be advised.
Luckily, after leaving San Diego Airport 13 hours earlier, blue skies and golden rays of sun greeted a successful landing at Sydney International Airport. Feeling like a participant in the reality show Amazing Race, I got off the plane and scrambled my way through customs, baggage claim, the duty-free shopping center and a currency exchange kiosk. Luggage, blanket, pillow and a duty-free purchase in hand, I took a train from the International Airport to the Circular Quay Ferry Terminal. The train rate was $15.20 AUD (Australian currency, with the U.S. dollar equal to 1.22 AUD) and took about 20 minutes. Once at Circular Quay, I boarded Wharf 3 to get on the Manly Ferry, which cost $6.40 AUD.
As I took my seat on the ferry and looked out the window, I seized the impeccable beauty around me. The ferry drifted along the ocean currents as I gazed upon Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the steep coastal cliffs of New South Wales.
Once off the ferry and in Manly, I embraced my Ramona friends with smiles and hugs. We talked about the weather, the flight and the joy a new experience brings. After seeing where they lived and taking a quick shower, Kerry and I walked along the main part of Manly, called the Corso, and Shelly Beach.
Shelly Beach is along a beautiful walkway with spectacular views. It is one of the few on the east coast that faces north. It is protected from the surf and is an ideal safe spot to take the kids. The area around the beach is a protected marine reserve, so fishing is prohibited.
Scuba diving and snorkeling is very popular here as the area has a large variety of fish species. Free barbecue facilities are also located on Shelly Beach, which makes for an ideal spot for friends and family to get together and enjoy the radiant magnificence of the Pacific Ocean.
There are numerous walking paths throughout Manly. A wonderful Manly Scenic Walk takes several hours and is mostly easy terrain. The walk starts near the Manly Wharf and along the coastal lining of the cliffs. Diverse plant and animal life can be seen along the way.
Another walk starts near the Manly Corso and goes toward the north peak of Manly. On this hike you get a panoramic view of Sydney and the coastal cliffs that surround it. If you are lucky and there from mid-May to November, you may even witness the humpback whales migrating north.
For a different view of the whales, you may want to go on a whale watching tour with Manly Whale Watching, which starts from $90 AUD to $120 AUD. If you are on a budget, but looking for some water sports, kayaking is available for as little as $20 AUD.
Another great option, if you have a full day, is to explore Sydney. From Manly, you would want to take a ferry from the Manly Wharf to Sydney Circular Quay for $12.80 AUD round-trip. This will give you a chance to explore Sydney, the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, the Rocks, Darling Harbor and other majestic features that make Sydney the largest city in Australia.
If you want to escape the city life and make your way out into the country, the Blue Mountains, on the World Heritage List, are less than two hours west of Sydney by train or car in the town of Katoomba. You can stay in the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) hostel for $28 AUD a night. YHA is located close to the train station and other attractions like Three Sisters, Echo Point and Scenic World.
I spent two days in the Blue Mountains. I hiked the Three Sisters and went down the Giant Stairway, has 900 steps that are cut into the sides of the cliffs and finishes at Lady Game lookout about 400 meters from Echo Point. After two hours into the hike, my friends and I found ourselves standing in front of the Scenic Railway, the steepest railway in the world. The 415-meter descent, or ascent for those trying to get out of the rainforest, will take you through a cliffside tunnel surrounded by the ancient forest. A one-way ticket for scenic railway is $10 AUD.
The second day in the Blue Mountains Kerry and I decided to skip the hiking shoes and try horseback riding in Megalong Valley, just 15 minutes from Katoomba and the hostel. A two-hour trail ride at Megalong Riding Stables costs $80 AUD per person. The trail ride was nestled within the lush green rainforest below the high peaks of the Blue Mountains. The weather and horses were more than cooperative that day as we blazed the narrow and rocky paths. It was like a scene from Snowy River, minus the steep cliffs, and Tom Burlinson. Two sore bums later, my friends and I packed up our belongings and were back on the road toward Sydney. The splendor of mountains and coastal scenery enchanted my every thought.
The people I met and the experiences I had were unforgettable. I talked to a Brazilian about soccer and the passions he held for his team back home. I shared late nights with some people from Nepal and listened to their tales of adventure when they were young, riding elephants in the open plains of India. I shared many days and nights observing all the beauty that life has to offer. The idea of the unknown only brought high spirits, unforgettable memories and a desirable ambition to keep moving forward.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
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