Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb as a tourist attraction has been operating for 17 years and it had been on our bucket list for quite some time.  Together with four of our friends, we made a booking for mid-afternoon that would take us into the twilight hours as we climbed the bridge. 

It was a late winters’ afternoon, as we stepped out into the daylight, onto the criss-crossing girders of the arch of the bridge, the rays of the sun were radiating like a fan, through the white clouds, spreading its rays over the Gladesville Bridge and Parramatta in the distance. Standing on top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the waters of the harbour were silver and the gentle shafts of sunlight painted a moving masterpiece on this magnificent harbour and the suburbs lining its shores.

The scene before us was spectacular. Looking into the late afternoon sun, the suburbs were in shadow and the bright silver water of the harbour snaked its way in all directions like the tenticles of giant octopus.

We had had lunch at the Walsh Bay Pier Café and watched the ferries, and small craft sailing beneath this beautiful “Giant Coathanger” that Sydneysiders lovingly call the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From a distance we could see the climbers in single file on the bridge, looking like a line of ants heading to their nest. 

We spent an hour getting our kit on, jumpsuit, radio and head phones so we could hear our directions and commentary from Chloe our leader. We also were given a rain jacket, a warm jacket, and  we needed to leave behind in lockers, cameras, phones, watches, rings, earrings and anything that we could drop down onto the traffic below. For safety, our attachment lead around our waists was to be hooked up to a steel rope that trails our route on our journey.

The most difficult part of the climb, are the ladders which take us from ground level underneath up to the beginning of the arch. As we step out onto the east side of the arch, the view of the harbour and city is spectacular. The Opera House with its sets of sails looking out of the Harbour is below us and we watch as the ferries berth at Circular Quay.  Chloe our tour guide, points out Kirribilli House, the Sydney home of the Governor General. The Sea Princess cruise ship sails below us out through the Heads, on her journey north. What an experience as a “Tall Ship” sails into the harbour and passes beneath us, all the while helicopters are flying above us.

Unfortunately, a climber is not permitted to take anything loose on the climb with them, that includes cameras. These photos are not taken by me but are part of the package that we purchased. We did participate in the sunset climb, and this is exactly what we witnessed, a beautiful sunset over Parramatta.

Opal Mining at Lightning Ridge Outback NSW.

With Chris as our guide, we were priviledged to be able to inspect a professional opal open cut mine, being operated by a corporation, rather than individual fossickers. With large digs metres deep, and huge machinery used in the operations, you wonder about the economics of the exercise.

The sludge from the agitator as it washes the gravel to separate the precious stones, has filled in a swamp

My Fuji xeII is a fantastic camera for capturing large scenes in a panorama setting

Agitators lined up above the sludge filled swamp.  Chris would bring his gravel to this agitator by the truck load and have the gravel and sludge wash away and hopefully leaving a gem, maybe even a rare black opal.

This area looked like a tip, however, fossickers would bring their machinery, trucks, caravans to this compound and pay a fee for storage. However, a good number of disillusioned miners would never return and the owner of the compound would auction off the equipment

Camping at Kapunda Tourist and Fishing Park at St George

The Kapunda Fishing and Tourist Park on the Balonne River at St George, is not free, but worth the fee. Camping on the banks of the River with the water held back by the Jack Taylor Weir, creates a back water, that in front of us was beautiful, deep and still, the sun setting over the river gums and the white cockatoos flying in in their hundreds to make their roost for the night was spectacular. The galahs, herons, kookaburras and smaller birds that have made their home in the area were keeping us amused and fascinated.

A cute little possum entertained us at night as we sat by the campfire sharing a coffee and port. We spotted him in the tree above us, we could pick him out with our head torch and gradually getting up the courage, he climbed down the trunk of the tree, found himself a piece of apple we were using to coax him toward us and scampered away to eat his treat.

Just a few minutes drive from St George in Central Queensland, the park is well off the main road and being peaceful and quiet, the sites had power available, however, water is not connected. We were all self-sufficient with water, showers and toilets. There is an amenities block with hot water showers and washing machines and also a  kiosk, but they were a good 5 minute walk from the bank of the river, which would not be suitable for some folk.

Lightning Ridge, a private opal mine

Lightning Ridge is famous for its black opal, the rarest and most valuable of the opal colours,  in fact it has become known as the black opal capital of the world.

The attraction of finding a rare opal has found private owners as well as large corporates digging for this beautiful gem.

Chris, our friend has promised us a day tour of his private opal mine in outback NSW, near Lightning Ridge. We arrange to meet Chris and Denise for breakfast at Monillas Cafe in the Ridge, (that’s the locals affectionate name for the town) the food was great, even if it was a bit cool outside. We then follow Chris and Denise the 40kms out to his own private opal mine. He takes us to his camp which is a couple of caravans set up with added wood stove in the tin shed attached between them, wash up facilities, with water from the tank and surrounded by old machinery and vehicles that are well past their use by date. The buildings and equipment are all recycled, nothing is thrown away, there is so much land around the camp so that it is easier just to abandon an item than pay for it to be disposed of .

Down the mine shaft. The hole which Chris and his partner share their passion is 3ft x 3ft and they bucket the rock up and then send it to be washed and sorted hoping to find the precious opal.
Outside dunny
Wood stove, used for heating and cooking
Bringing the gravel from below, hopefully containing an opal, the rock is then placed in an agitator to wash the soil away from the gems

The mine is located on a private property, the farmer is happy to have the miners take up their lease on his land as he is paid a yearly lease fee. Travelling to the mine, we are passing through a massive depression, kilometres wide, that is normally dry, however the previous year had been extremely wet and the farmer planted a crop in this rich soil that stretched as far as the eye could see and was so thick and rich, that after harvest the straw looked like a raised mat, half a metre high

Home sweet home
Mullock heaps
Checking the vin number

Club in the Scrub, Grawin and Sheepyard Inn, Cumborah, watering holes near Lightning Ridge, Outback NSW

Chris’ history lesson on the opal mining at Lightning Ridge, highlighted the number of displaced persons, including Vietnam vets, who have made the Ridge their home.  But they have not lost their sense of humour. Everywhere we travelled, there were whacky signs, gardens with old tyres painted in bright colours, pieces of machinery and household items left abandoned and recycled and used for decorating pieces.

Chris took us on a pub crawl through the scrub. The closer we got to an establishment that catered for its patrons, who favoured a little or a lot of refreshments, we found we were being informed of the attributes of the watering hole with an assortment of colourful, artistic signs, all made from old vehicle parts. Car bonnets, boots, doors and anything that could be painted, and decorated was used to lure the weary traveller through the doors of the establishment.

The Grawin Club in the Scrub, was our first port of call. It boasted a nine hole golf course,with gravel fairways and sand greens, it being highly decorated and being patronised by golfers during our visit. The fairways wound through the forest trees and if you could hit around corners, your ball would bound along on the dry clay, but inevitably a tree would find your ball to put a stop to it.  The Club house is constructed of cut timber poles and corrugated iron

Our next location was Sheepyard Inn, where the locals were gathering on the back verandah telling yarns and sharing jokes. Inside there is a war vets wall, with names, service numbers and years of service of our veterans who served their country during World War 11, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, The Falkland Islands and recent conflicts. This was of particular interest to us as Woolly had done National Service.However, after our huge lunch at the Club in the Scrub, we just wandered around fascinated

Singapore Sightseeing City Tour

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore Momentum Sculpture, Little India Hindu Temple, Alsacoff Arab School, Fullerton Hotel

With only one day available to explore Singapore, we found the City Sightseeing Bus, or as we fondly call them the ‘hop on, hop off bus’. We found the bus stop in Orchard Road, near our hotel. The day ticket is around $30 USD. We spent three or four hours driving around, stopping at the Singapore Botanic Gardens for lunch and to explore this beautiful tropical oasis, driving past Marina Bay Sands and enabling us to appreciate this diverse city

Raffles Hotel, Masjid Sultan Mosque

Architectural contrasts, colonial shopfronts with residences above and modern highrise, Singapore Flyer

A cute little clock tower on top of a traditional market is dwarfed by highrise. Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Customs House

Marina Bay Sands, Theatres by the Bay, MICA building, Riverside Point

Marina Bay Sands Lightshow

A spectacular light show, with strong vibrant colours and a story set to classical music. A brilliant nights entertainment in a perfect setting on the water at Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands Lightshow

The shopping centre was still busy late into the evening.

Gardens by the Bay

Canoeing Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park,BC Canada

There was not a breath of wind, the water of Emerald Lake was still and reflecting the magnificent mountains and stately pine trees behind it. The sun was shining and it was a perfect day. However, there was just a glimpse of snow on the peaks, which made me yearn for some cold weather.

The lake was so serene and  peaceful and watching the canoes glide past, I wanted to join them. Unfortunately there were so many tourists visiting, that their chattering shattered the experience.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

When travelling to new cities we will often find our way to the “red” bus or “hop on hop off” bus. The second day of our stopover we found the bus and stopped at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Both our friends and we are avid gardeners and always are looking for new ideas or will visit a garden just to appreciate the plants and landscape artistry.

The gardens are magnificent and we found a little cafe for lunch and were entertained by the resident rooster, who was after a free feed and scooted in and out of the tables to see what rewards we would give him

The Orchid Garden is spectacular, with huge displays of Singapore Orchids in all shades of white, purple and lilac. Not to be outdone, the Cymbidium Orchids were showing all their elegance. The dramatic heliconia’s were standing in all their glory with strong red and green lobster claw like flowers

It was early afternoon when we had walked our feet sore, and we needed to get back to our hotel in time for our hire car to pick us up and get us to the airport to continue our journey to Europe, we didn’t wait for the bus to arrive, we hailed a taxi and sit in air conditioning comfort.

Singapore Stopover

Our stopover in Singapore is always an experience. We are on our way to Hanover and then Prague to begin our European Gems Tour with Travel Marvel and then join their European River Cruise at Budapest

Our pickup at the airport for our ride into our hotel took us along the most beautiful landscaped roads, with gardens, trees and parks lining the busy thoroughfare.

After a freshen up we started exploring the old town and enjoyed its historical architecture, with a mixture of Chinese, French colonialism and Indian.

The Masjid Sultan Mosque with its gold dome and beautiful decorated windows dominated the skyline. We wandered the narrow streets and we found beautifully coloured shop fronts and vendors all waiting for the evening crowd to arrive.