After a tumultuous ferry crossing back to the mainland we landed back in Melbourne as the sun set over Port Phillip.
The temptation to stick around in Melbourne was strong but we knew we had to resist as it’s a place where we spend our money far too easily. We stayed just one night with our friend in Carlton, grabbed a mandatory brunch in the morning and then started our journey onto fresh pastures.
The first few days were spent covering the short (by Australian standards) drive to Australia’s capital city, Canberra. We weren’t expecting much from the city, it’s rarely on any backpacker’s itinerary and has a reputation for being fairly sterile. It lies almost in the middle of Melbourne and Sydney and a simplified version of its history is that the capital city was essentially built as a compromise between the two bickering metropolis’s.
We were pleasantly surprised however. Although it did feel somewhat clinical it was an attractive sprawl of modern architecture and wide open green spaces. We only had the day but with all the free museums and galleries felt sure it would suffice for a long weekend.
We didn’t have long so opted for the two big ones, the Parliament House and National Gallery of Australia. Our first stop was a free tour of Parliament House. This building is the heart of Australian politics and houses both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But the most striking thing about it is the scope of its architectural design. The building and surrounding gardens tell the story of Australia, showcasing Australian flora and symbolising the chronology of the Australian people, from the aboriginal people to its colonisation and modern day.
The building sits on top of Capitol Hill with views over the city. At the bottom of the hill lies the Old Parliament House and sat in front of this building sits the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Although not considered an official embassy by the Australian Government it is a small assemblage of tents that is a stark reminder of Australia’s dark history.
When we saw it it was relatively ignored by passers by and tourists, but the fact it still remains is vital. Even today the country refuses to acknowledge the damages done to the culture of its ancient people and the site is at least a reminder that it is a long way away from reconciliation.
We were amazed by the National Gallery of Australia, which is home to some incredible works of art from international and Australian artists. We could have spent all day perusing the artworks but instead had to settle for a couple of hours. Our personal favourites were this Jackson Pollock and the walkable garden sculpture ‘Skyspace’ by James Turrell.
After our short stay in Canberra we journeyed on to the Blue Mountains National Park just west of Sydney. After Tasmania we though any mainland mountains would fail to impress us but the scenery here is truly unique. After driving through towns along a central plateau the views open up to the south. Canyon lands extend as far as the eye can see fading into a hazy blue on the horizon. We hiked a few cliff walks and marvelled and the sheer drops into the canyons below. As the day faded we setted down to camp on the valley floor and watched the sun sink below the mountains above.
Next we travelled into the city itself. We managed to find a camp site less than 5 KM from the city centre so opted to spend a few nights there. Unlike the last time we visited Sydney we were blessed with perfect weather and spent the day ambling through the suburbs of Newtown, Surrey Hills and Darlinghurst.
We headed to Darling Harbour for sunset. After a few drinks at Lord Nelson’s Brewery in the Rocks we headed down to the Sydney Opera bar to meet up with an old friend from home. I hadn’t seen Rob for 10 years and although we have lived in the same village on and off during that time we somehow only managed to meet up on the underside of the world!
We spent the next day exploring the northern beach suburbs of Sydney. We’d been to Manly and Bondi before but fancied somewhere a little greener. As you journeyed north through the suburbs of Dee Why and Newport it started to open up and the sub tropical rainforests started to seep back into the spaces. We kept driving the road to the very end, stopping at the unrivalled beauty of Palm Beach. We decided that up here was where the true Australian dream lived. Amazing houses dotted the hillside, covered by towering mangroves and palms. The beaches were immaculate and relatively quiet yet the city was not more than a 40 minute drive away. It took us a while to notice that this beach is famous as the set of Home & Away!
We walked up the trail to the Barrenjoey lighthouse and looked back across the beaches. The small strand of land lies between a bay on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other and is one of the best lookout spots we’ve been to in our year out here!
Our final stop of the day was to visit family friends in the lovely suburb of Davidson. Making the most of Sydney’s balmy evenings, we ate a delicious meal on the patio and caught up on our lives in Australia. We felt so welcomed and instantly part of the family – which is something we have obviously missed during our travels. It was hard to leave but we had a lot of ground to cover before we found our endless summer so we waved goodbye to our adopted family and hit the road once more.