We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather this weekend when the group of 7 of us tripped down to Kangaroo Valley for a spot of kayaking and camping. The skies were clear, the air crisp and cool, and there was not a hint of breeze. A complete opposite of our January experience really.
As we sluiced our way down the river, we gawked at wombats, eagles, and kangaroos, and reveled in the delightful chirping of birds. The water was a perfect mirror of the stringybarks along the riverbank.
Fall is definitely here though. By 430pm, the sun had already dipped below the line of trees up Yarrunga Creek. But we were already comfortably set up in our sheltered campsite, and the beginnings of a merry campfire going.
In the morning, well, pre-dawn really, we clambered out of our toasty sleeping bags and eased our way into the water. The fog was thick, enveloping, mysterious. The perfect ambience for our quiet sojourn up dead tree gorge. As the sun rose and warmed up the air, the fog slowly dissipated, leaving behind a steamy film on the water surface.
If anything, these past few days just showed us how much Western Australia has to offer, and what little we’ve seen of it. Back in Sydney now, but already dreaming of going back and exploring all the other nook and crannies, including Broome, all the way up north in the further reaches of the state. Oh well.
In descending order, our highlights:
Biking and snorkeling around Rottnest Island. I huffed and puffed my way around the island; it’s been too long since I got on a bike! But the weather was glorious. Hot sun with a steady cool breeze, and if we got too sweaty, we just cooled off in the water.
Kayaking to Penguin Island where, along the way, we paddled up close to lazing sea lions and a pod of dolphins
Walking short sections of the 135 km Cape to Cape trail. Stunning coast line. Oh to walk the full distance!
Sneaking in a cheeky 2 hour SUP along Cottesloe Beach just before our flight. The water was soooo clear and inviting
We also managed to get in a bit of wine tasting in Margaret River, but for perhaps the first time ever, our heart wasn’t really into it. We just wanted to get back to the beach!
We were looking forward to breaking out our skis for a weekend in Queenstown, New Zealand, but couldn’t quite justify the cost for a short trip. So instead we looked northwards, to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, where we could go snorkeling in the midst of winter without fear of jellyfish stings.
Great long weekend getaway. Our chalet rental came with a golf buggy, which we used to explore around the island. We were definitely grateful to drive it up and down the steep One Tree Hill peak multiple times over the course of our stay for the cheap $10 cocktails and the beautiful sunsets on the peak.
Our one grouse about staying on a resort island – limited and overly strict regulations on sport rental. There was a single kayak rental on the island (!!!), on the long Catseye Beach, but we were restricted to paddling within a 1km perimeter. Same with the catamaran rental. Gah. So we rented a dinghy instead to explore the nearby islands. Even then, we weren’t allowed to wander too far off, or even circumnavigate Hamilton Island. On hindsight, we should have brought our own kayaks. But hey, it was fun driving our own little dinghy.
Unfortunately, the snorkeling leaves much to be desired around Hamilton Island. We’re not sure how much of that is due to Cyclone Debbie that ravaged the area in April, but there were barely any coral around, nor much fish to see. So we booked ourselves on a snorkeling tour to the Outer Barrier Reefs on a day trip. Happy to report that the reefs there are still really healthy and abundant, if not the most colorful. Tons of fishes.
We were supposed to go camping in Kiama a couple of weeks ago with a bunch of friends. It was a new-moon weekend, perfect for astrophotography. Alas, I caught a cold at the last minute, so Jeff and I regrettably had to drop out. From the pictures, everyone else looked like they had a blast, so we had a huge case of FOMO. So this past weekend, we loaded our car with snorkel gear and kayaks, and drove down the coast.
It was swell. Although it was quite chilly out, snorkeling at Bushrangers Bay in Shellharbour was awesome. Right at the start of our snorkel, we spotted a giant cuttlefish – maybe a foot long. We followed it for quite a while, taking our fill of photographs and videos, then spied another resting by a clump of sea grass. We spotted 3 more cuttlefish by the time we got too cold to continue – plus a humongous Australian Short Tail Stingray gliding by below us.
We caught the sunset by the famed Cathedral Rock, where I crouched down in a teeny tiny nook between huge boulders, with the tide fast lapping at my feet. A couple was watching the colours (a bit too muted, alas) near us too, and Jeff ended up helping film the guy’s proposal. 🙂
In the deepening twilight, we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming the length of the beach just offshore.
After dinner, under the full moonlight, we ventured down to Bombo Quarry for a bit of exploration. Our mind was blown by how much light the camera could pick up. Even with just a couple of seconds’ exposure, everyone was lit up, almost as bright as day. Initially, I’d been a tad disappointed at not being able to take pictures of the milky way, but I think I’m a full moon convert now. Granted, the milky way isn’t as prominent under the full moon, but I love how everything else just jumps out.
And before heading back to Sydney and real life the next morning, we went for a bit of a paddle up the coast, squinting out in the horizon for those tell tale spots. No luck alas, even though we’d spied two active pods the day before. Can’t complain though, it was still a very awesome weekend. 😀
At the end of last year, we resolved that we would try an open water swim in Sydney. The 1.5km Manly to Shelly (and back) swim seemed like the easiest bet.
Last weekend seemed a good time to check off that bucket list. Winter is fast approaching; already, the water temperature is a fresh 20 Celsius. We’d a string of sunny days too and gentle swell in the weather report, so we asked a couple other friends keen to check off that swim as well and off we went!
Our friend Nicola has done that swim hundreds of times in the past 4 years. She did it again that Saturday morning at 7am, and messaged us soon that we just had to do it today. I’ve never seen conditions like it, she said. So many fish and sharks and awesome visibility, all the way through.
That was all the encouragement we needed. And indeed, what a swim! We’d brought snorkels in anticipation of gawking at the marine life, but it still blew our minds. We could see the bottom the entire length of the 700m swim from Manly to Shelly Beach, where we saw dozens of baby dusky whaler sharks lazily swimming about, schools of SBT (shiny bright things), three wobbegongs, groupers, sting rays (including a banded stingaree). We had so much fun, we forgot we were supposed to be swimming, and instead spent minutes hovering over the coral beds staring and pointing and grinning. Why had we thought it was a scary swim???
The next morning, Sunday, Nicola messaged us again. She’d gone out to swim again, and conditions were just as stellar. Rose and Lisa had other commitments, but Jeff and I didn’t need much prodding. This time, we brought the GoPro along too.
It was glorious. And we checked off our big 2017 resolution, twice. 😀
(Addendum: We went back to swim a week later – yesterday. The visibility was still quite good, but we learnt first hand that yes, the ocean won’t always be so nice and glassy. After battling the choppy waves for a while, we abandoned the effort. Oh well, the water was still nice and refreshing though.)
We spent the past week on the Stella Maris Liveaboard, plying the remote Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Seas. Belonging to the Philippines, this 130,028 ha atoll was designated a UNESCO site in 1993, and can only be reached by liveaboards 3 months of the year (mid-March through May) owing to rough seas at other times.
Despite trying to tamper our expectations, we went with high hopes of seeing tons of pelagics. Whale sharks, hammerheads, manta rays – these were all supposed to be par for the course. In the end, we did not check any of these boxes off, due in part to light currents, and in part to strong winds and huge swells that restricted us to diving the same site 8x over the last three days (there was a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in the northern Philippines).
Nonetheless, the diving was top notch, and one of our favorites so far. The corals were mostly in pristine conditions, and there was always a ton of different fishes, rays, turtles, and sharks to feast our eyes on. Everyone’s favorite dive was, hands down, the Deslan Wreck, where, when we descended to a gap between a wall of corals, we could take a respite from the current and gawk at the dozens of circling reef sharks. This was pretty much the only site on our trip where we enjoyed a current that swept us along the coral wall, past schools of juvenile barracudas and trevally, resting turtles, yet more sharks, and tons of other reef fish.
We had good company too. Cristalle and her friend Alan from Hong Kong organized the trip for a total of 7 of us, and we were joined by a Chinese group from largely from Shanghai and a couple from Hai Nan. Our group of 7 dove with the couple from Hai Nan, and we past many happy hours in between diving and snacking and sleeping laughing together and practicing our Mandarin. That helped make the hours just fly by, especially on the unbearably long ride back from the reef to Puerto Princessa, through rough seas of up to 21 feet that sent whatever that wasn’t bolted to the floor tumbling across the boat.
After two entire weeks of dreary rain in Sydney, we could not wait to escape to Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains. Sure, the forecast still seemed plenty gloomy, but we weren’t camping this time, but staying at the comfy Wolgan Valley Resort, courtesy of Jeff’s company. We figured we would have a blast come rain or shine. 😉
As it turned out, the rains stayed away. The skies even parted for a few hours on late Friday night when we arrived, revealing the stars behind.
It was a most relaxing weekend. We spent it mostly eating, enjoying the culinary delights the restaurant served up, and trying to work off the meals in between by checking out the trails surrounding the property. For the first time in a couple of years since moving to Australia, we went biking, and our rustiness showed, since we both wobbled on the muddy trails. But it was a great way to explore the valley, and we delighted in riding alongside hopping kangaroos.
It was the annual Hunter Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival this weekend. Nicole and I decided to drive up for the festivities this weekend, electing to head up on Saturday despite the certain rain forecast. After all, Hunter Valley is NSW’s premier wine country, and what better excuse to indulge in an afternoon of wine tasting?
We hit up 5 wineries, and walked away with 1.5 cases. Mmm. Thankfully, the rain stopped by mid afternoon, and we set up our tent with no incident.
By the time we roused ourselves at 420am Sunday morning, the voluminous clouds from the day before had completely cleared out, leaving in its wake a blanket of quiet glittering stars. It was chilly out. 4 degrees C. But we were on a mission, to take pictures of lift off!
There were dozens of other likeminded photographers (although I don’t think anyone else camped), so we quickly formed a convoy to drive towards the launch point. But in a classic case of blind-leading-the-blind, the leading cars one by one got felled by spotty GPS and everyone ended up driving in circles for a while. Thankfully, Nicole persevered in her quest for the elusive cell tower signal, and we made it to the paddock in time to see the balloons fire up.