Sunday, June 23

Wet, wet, wet

The apartment directly under our rooftop balcony has suffered water peneration problems for more than a year.  Nurmous attempts have been made to solve the problem.  This included lifting balcony tiles in several locations and repairing the protective water membrane unerneath.  These efforts proved fruitless. 

The building's Body Corporate has finally decided to resolve the issue by replacing our balcony's entire water membrane.  However, sitting on top of the membrane is tonnes of terracotta tiles and supporting scree.  The scree a solid mix of sand and cement. It keeps our tiles stable and provides an optimal incline for drainage. At it's highest point it almost 15cm thick. Removing it requires a jackhammer.

As a result, our balcony became a building site last Monday. Furniture, plants and accessories were transfered to the smaller balcony at the back of our apartment.  For four days, three workers jackhammered away.  The rubble they created was then scooped into sacks and precariously winched down the side of our building.

By Friday we were left with stark grey concrete shell. All was proceeding to plan. That is, until 8:00am on Saturday morning when the heavens opened. A large high pressure zone has stalled off the coast of New South Wales trapping wet, moist air over Sydney. 

As a result, rain has fallen continually and is forecast to fall for another two days. As of 8:30pm this evening almost 83mm had fallen. That's more than two thirds of June's average rainfall in 36 hours.  By the time the sun appears again on Tuesday, more than 80% of the monthly average is predicted to have fallen.

Without doubt, its the sort of weather you don't want when your roof's protective water membrane is missing.  We think our neighbours are dripping wet.

UPDATE: 8.00am June 24
Overnight rainfall reported over the last 24 hours rose above 50mm.  This means that more than 106mm has fallen in 24 hours with more to come. Since records began June's rainfall has averaged just over 120mm per month.

UPDATE: 9.30pm June 24
It's official. Since Saturday morning we've had June's entire average rainfall dumped on Sydney.  So far 123mm of rain has fallen in less than three days.  The forecast predicts more rain ovenight.

Saturday, June 15

Been there! Done that!

My Auntie Pam has completed her first Sydney vacation.  It's been a wonderful time sharing so many of my favourite local sights with her and my mother.

Friday, June 14

Back to the Blue Mountains

Mum and Pam’s penultimate day in Sydney was spent in the Blue Mountains.  The day dawned with surreal, ghostly fog flowing across the city skyline.  Morning news stories said the mountains were also covered by a heavy blanket of fog.  However, with a two-hour drive ahead of us we felt confident it would burn away before we arrived. 

To give us the best possible chance of clear skies I made a detour to Homebush, for a leisurely circuit around Sydney Olympic Park.  I only venture this way when there’s a major sporting venue on.  On these occasions, many of the area’s roads are closed and access is highly restricted.  We were delighted to find every road open, giving us intimate access to the Olympic stadium and nearby arenas.
We arrived in the mountains shortly after 11:30am.  Our first stop for the day was Wentworth Falls.  I think it’s the ideal location for introducing first-time visitors to the Mountains.  This proved to be spectacularly true for us.   We discovered a lingering finger of fog snaking its way up the Jamison Valley as we made our way to the day’s first scenic lookout. 

I even convinced my guests to take a ten-minute walk down dozens of jagged hand-crafted steps to Pulpit Rock.  This is a small lookout that sits on the edge of sandstone cliff.  It offers photogenic views of Wentworth Falls and surrounding valley.  We had the entire scene to ourselves for almost 15 minutes.
Our second stop was my favourite mountain vista. North of Blackheath township the Grose River cuts through the mountains on its way to the Hawkesbury River.  The resulting gorge, known as the Grose Valley, is simply stunning.  It’s best viewed from Govetts Leap, about 15 minutes west of Katoomba.  It’s a quiet lookout as tourist buses rarely venture this far.

I had planned to take Mum and Pam for lunch at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in nearby Medlow Bath.  This Edwardian venue was the mountain’s most popular entertainment venue when it opened in 1904.  Well heeled patrons would sip their brew while soaking in breath-taking cliff top views down the Megalong Valley.  
However, we found it closed.  Its entrance was fenced in and the grounds were clearly derelict. I later read that it’s about to undergo a $30 million renovation.  Many of its iconic rooms, including the casino, ballroom and wintergarden will be painstakingly restored to their former glory.

All was not lost. I took Mum and Pam back to Katoomba for lunch at another historical venue, the Paragon Café.  It opened in 1916 and claims to be Australia’s oldest café.  It’s reputation was built on back of delicious hand-made chocolates, attracting the rich and famous for decades to its popular art deco furnished function rooms.

Our final stop for the day was Echo Point.  This is home of the Three Sisters, easily the Blue Mountain’s most photographed location.  It’s also the one location that’s guaranteed to be filled with tour buses, tourists and tour guides.  However, the local council has worked hard to keep commercialization to a minimum, leaving the location open and accessible.  Cars are forced to park well away from the area keeping it surprisingly pedestrian friendly.


Tuesday, June 11

Manly for lunch

Today's excursion was a ferry ride to Manly for lunch by the beach.  We picked a perfect day to see the harbour in all of its glory. We arrived early at the wharf to ensure we got seats outside facing towards the Opera House and the harbour's southern shoreline.

Our luck continued to hold after we arrived in Manly. We found a fantastic seafood restaurant overlooking the beach.  As we rocked up a table became vacant on the footpath.  Everyone ordered the fish and chips and he sat soaking up the view, enjoying a tasty meal and a fine glass of wine. Bliss!

Sunday, June 9

Cool Canberra

It's been almost 25 years since my mother last visited Canberra. At the time, her visit was a last minute addition to a travel itinerary that had been thrown into disarray by the infamous1989 airline pilot's strike.  My parents were part of larger New Zealand contingent that found themselves stranded in South Australia.  Their original itinerary was meant to take them to Queensland before departing for home from Sydney. Their transport conundrum was ultimately resolved by hiring a car and driving across New South Wales to Sydney, stopping over in Broken Hill and Canberra.
This month, while my Auntie Pam in town, I decided to take Mum back to Canberra for another tour.  We couldn't have picked a better weekend.  It was an unusually pleasant period of winter weather with plenty of sunshine temperatures in the mid-teens. We made our way south on Saturday morning stopping for a compulsory photo at Golburn's Big Merino and a delicious late-breakfast at Grandma's Little Bakery, Fedra Olive Grove.
Grandma's Little Bakery has a hugely popular outlet in Inner Sydney so I was keen to road test the original cafe near Collector.  The main building sits on a low hill overlooking a young orchard of olive trees.  It's a delightful location, less than 50 minutes north of Canberra.  All three of us ordered the delicious Shakshuka; a classic Mediterranean dish of baked eggs cooked over a tomato and capsicum base.

We began our tour of Canberra with a tradition stop at Mt Anslie.  I always take visitors here first as the view down constitutional axis is an unforgettable introduction to Canberra's carefully crafted landscape. From here it was on the the Capital Exhibition Centre to learn more about the city's design and development before joining a guided tour of Parliament Hill.  .

We finished the day with a brief driving tour of the diplomatic zone before visiting the National Gallery. Our touring route naturally included a brief stop to photograph the colourful corrugated iron cows outside the New Zealand High Commission. 

The National Gallery currently has an exhibition of artwork by Turner, the British landscape artist. While we were at the gallery I also took my guests down to the Sidney Nolan gallery to see his famous silhouette depiction of Ned Kelly on horseback.  Auntie Pam later told me the Turner exhibition was a personal highlight of her Canberra weekend.

Our final day in Canberra began with a visit to the National Archives. As part of the city's centennial celebrations, original documents from the town plan design competition were on display. It was fascinating to see Walter Burley Griffins original drawing for the city.  Today's layout remains surprisingly true to his original vision.

 We then made our way to the Australian Museum for a little Australiana before making our way to the National Carillon to listen to a rousing bell recital.  The complex has a video screen at its base where you can watch the Carilloneer playing a rather daunting wooden peg keyboard. The 50 metre tall carillon tower was a gift from the British Government in celebration of Canberra's 50th anniversary.

Our next stop was Old Parliament House for lunch in its popular cafe, before making our way to the National War Memorial Museum. The sight of the infamous Japanese mini-sub was made all the more poignant given the tour of Fort Denison a few days earlier.  You'll recall that during this tour we learnt about the American "attack" on the fort that was triggered by the discovery of Japanese mini-subs in Sydney harbour.  At this point, with all of the classic sights now under our belt, it was time to head for home.

Friday, June 7

Fort Denison

Where do you take a regular international visitor for new and interesting experience of Sydney harbour?  As the years pass, this challenge grows each time my mother comes into town.  Over the years we’ve taken scenic luncheon cruises, climbed the Harbour Bridge and enjoyed lunch at Aria, on the edge of Circular Quay. However, there’s one spectacular venue, I’ve never tried.

Fort Denison is an island fort situationed in the middle of Sydney Harbour.  It offers unrivaled views of the harbour from its battlements, most notably an elegant Martello Tower.   I booked lunch for Mum and my Auntie Pam, taking a chance that the weather would be suitably warm and sunny on Friday afternoon.
My gamble paid off.  We awoke to clearing skies and increasingly bouts of sunshine.  A short harbour ferry ride took us directly to the island.  We arrived shortly before noon, just in time to join the daily Park Ranger’s tour.  As luck would have it, there was only one other couple on the tour, making for a intimate experience.  The ranger regaled us with a series of amusing anecdotes, including the only time the fort was fired upon in war.
This anecdote is best told once you understand the fort’s origins.  In 1839, two American warships entered the harbour at night and dropped anchor.  The fledging colony was stunned that vessels, even those of a friendly nation, could enter the harbour undetected.  The Government reviewed the inner harbour’s defenses and decided to fortify Pinchgut Island, a rocky outcrop off midway between Garden Island and the North Shore. 
Fortification of the island began in 1841 but stalled when funds ran out. Construction resumed in 1855 during the Crimean War as the nation feared a Russian naval attack.  The fort was completed in late-1857.  However, it never saw action until the Second World War. 
In 1942, three Japanese mini-submarines ventured into the harbour.  One was sighted by an American warship berthed a nearby Garden Island.  The Americans fired on the sub.  One charge skipped across the water’s surface and slammed into Fort Denison, exploding on impact.  The irony wasn’t lost on the locals.  A century after friendly American warships prompted the fort’s construction; the same friendly nation became the first and only one to attack the fort itself.
Our Ranger’s Tour ended with a firing of the 1:00pm gun.  We then ventured to the fort’s restaurant for a magnificent meal, dining on succulent fresh fish and chips while basking in the afternoon sun.  The service was impeccable and the menu was sublime.  I’ll definitely be returning to Fort Denison soon.