Lord Nelson, Indian Ocean, sunrise
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Early mornings around the world

Mist in the hills around Cairns.

Mist in the hills around Cairns.

For someone who insists she is not an early bird, I have a remarkable number of photographs taken very early in the morning! I haven’t inflicted them all on you, but there are quite a few, from various travels. They are in no particular order other than alphabetical by place name.

A man on the beach, Durban.

A man on the beach, Durban.

The pier, Eastbourne.

The pier, Eastbourne.

Boats in Galle harbour, Sri Lanka.

Boats in Galle harbour, Sri Lanka.

The grounds of the Park Hyatt, Goa.

The grounds of the Park Hyatt, Goa.

Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef.

On lookout during the 4am-8am watch, 'Lord Nelson', Indian Ocean.

On lookout during the 4am-8am watch, ‘Lord Nelson’, Indian Ocean.

'Sudarshini' and 'Tarangini' of the Indian Navy, off Kochi.

‘Sudarshini’ and ‘Tarangini’ of the Indian Navy, off Kochi.

Fishing boats near Mauritius.

Fishing boats near Mauritius.

Sailboats at Opua, New Zealand.

Sailboats at Opua, New Zealand.

Mt Fishtail seen from Pokhara, Nepal.

Mt Fishtail seen from Pokhara, Nepal.

San Luis de Potosi, Mexico.

San Luis de Potosi, Mexico.

Sunrise over Sydney harbour (from my bed at the Shangri La hotel).

Sunrise over Sydney harbour (from my bed at the Shangri La hotel).

Rising sun captured in a gum tree, Sydney.

Rising sun captured in a gum tree, Sydney.

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New Year’s walk – a giant stairway and a miniature train

Blue Mountains near Leura - no crowds and no parties here!

Blue Mountains near Leura – no crowds and no parties here!

New Year’s Eve in Sydney – either you embrace it, or you escape it. As much as I love the fireworks, I hate the crowds. I also hate being subjected to the parties going on until the early morning in the back yards of the houses down the hill or in the flats adjoining mine.

So, in a decidedly “bah humbug” frame of mind, I left Sydney after work on 30 December to spend two days in the Blue Mountains. My base for two nights was the Leura Gardens Resort.

On New Year’s Eve day, my plan was to walk the roughly 10km (6 miles) from Gordon’s Lookout in Leura to Scenic World in Katoomba.
First, though, a stroll around the resort’s gardens was called for. The grounds incorporate the Lady Fairfax Garden, created by Paul Sorensen for Lady Mabel Fairfax in 1933. (more about the gardens here)

Then I caught a cab to Gordon Falls Lookout (no point adding extra kilometers!) to begin the first leg of my walk. I followed the Prince Henry Cliff Walk as far as the Three Sisters in Katoomba.

The path, as you might guess from the name, runs along the edge of the cliffs and offers sweeping views over the hills and valleys, and also lovely, tranquil paths through the forest. The path was constructed in the 1930s – spare a thought for the men who built this trail with pickaxes and shovels, carving steps from the rock, building metal stairways, fencing off the lookouts perched at the edge of thrusting spurs with vertiginous drops. The walk was named in honour of a son of King George V, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who spent 20 minutes at Katoomba railway station in 1934. (source)

This walk is rated “medium” for difficulty. My book of walks (Blue Mountains Best Bushwalks) breaks it into two sections: from Gordon Falls to Leura Cascades, you descend 110m and ascend 150m; from the cascades to Echo Point (the Three Sisters), you descend 170m and ascend 90m.

link to map 1

click for larger image of Bridal Veil Falls

At Echo Point, it was time for a toilet stop and a cold drink. There are also fantastic views of the Three Sisters (a series of cliffs that jut out in a point), but I’ve seen them a number of times so skipped the view, although I have included an older photograph in the gallery below for reference.

Now came the fun part: the stairs.

Oh pooh pooh, you say, how hard can stairs be? Well, it’s not called the Giant Stairway for nothing. It’s 540m long and descends around 300m (or ascends, if you’re coming up!). Some 900 stairs are cut into the side of the cliffs making up the Sisters, or, in places where that is not an option, metal stairs are bolted to the rock. According to the book, there are “910 stone steps and 32 steel staircases of almost vertical descent”. These are not stairs for the faint-hearted or those who have a problem with heights. At times, there is only a metal grid between the soles of your shoes and the valley floor hundreds of metres below. Looking at the Three Sisters photo below, the stairway is on the other side; the path then runs out around the base of the cliffs and back.

Construction began in 1916 but was halted two years later. Work resumed in 1932 and was completed that year.

link to map 2

Once at the bottom, in the cool dappled shade of the forest, it was time to sit for a while until my leg muscles stopped trembling. I’ve gone down the stairway a number of times, but never up! I can’t imagine how a person’s legs feel after slogging up those stairs and ladders. The rest of this walk is a tranquil stroll among trees and ferns, past little waterfalls and over tiny streams. The sounds of birds fill the air, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a brightly coloured parrot or two.

Of course, at the end of the walk you’re still a few hundred metres from the top of the cliffs. There are two options: walk back up to the top, or take the train. Yeah, you know what I opt for!

The Scenic Railway ascends 310m and is the world’s steepest passenger railway, at an incline of 52 degrees (click on the first picture below, I’ve circled the top and bottom points). When you get into the cars you are uncomfortably sprawled backwards, but as the train starts moving up that cleft in the cliff you are pushed forward. Hands shoot out to grasp the overhead rails and knees press against the padded rail in front.

The walk from Echo Point to the base of the railway is graded “hard” due to the stairs, but the actual walking is easy. After all that, I felt that I deserved a cool refreshment back on my balcony at the resort.

A well deserved cool beverage.

A well deserved cool beverage.

The next day, New Year’s Day, I had time for a short walk before returning to Sydney. I settled for a 4km jaunt from the resort to Inspiration Point and back. (I couldn’t find a map of this walk on the National Parks site, so the one in the gallery below is a rough approximation.) This little walk is graded easy, with ascents and descents both of 70m over gradually rising (or falling) stairs.

The two lookouts offer more stunning views of weathered cliff faces and gum trees sweeping to the horizon, all under the deepest blue sky imaginable. Then it was back to the resort to take a cab to Leura station for the train to Sydney.

click for larger image of the stunning view

Oh, and in Sydney, one of my neighbours had a party that started mid-afternoon and went on into the night, so my cunning plan to avoid the doof-doof-doof of music and the shrieks of drunken delight was not entirely successful.

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This post is my first contribution to Jo’s Monday Walk. You can find interesting walks by Jo and other bloggers on her site each week.

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Barking mad


(click any image to view full size)

Like a snake sloughing its skin, the gum tree in front of my balcony sheds its bark in spring. Never before having lived 10 feet from a gum tree, let alone one that towers above even the six stories of my apartment building, I am fascinated when this tree’s smooth bark begins to wrinkle and crack. After a few weeks, the fresh new bark appears.

This post is my entry for two challenges: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Bark or Leaves and Sunday Stills Shallow Depth of Field.

(post edited on 11 November to include link to Sunday Stills challenge)

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Chillin’

1 Day 1 World Project: 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

balcony flowers gum tree wine candle

1 Day 1 World: 7:11pm, Sydney.

After a few hours spent wrestling with a villain, or just unwinding after a day at work, this is where I like to be.

This post is called Chillin’ for two reasons. One is that this is where I chill out, and the other is that now that Sydney is into winter it is indeed chilly on the balcony!


This post is my contribution to the excellent 1 Day 1 World Project (7:00pm – 8:00pm). It’s a fascinating example of how our blogs can bring us all closer together.

Leave it be

It’s raining in Sydney. A lot. It’s good for the gardens, and it’s the answer to the prayers of everyone fighting the bushfires: that’s what I tell myself as I gaze out the rain-spotted windows, dreaming of summer sun. And, of course, the raindrops add an interesting touch to the bright red of the new leaves on the gum tree. You can see the streaks of falling rain in these photos, which are my entry in the Festival of Leaves Weekly Challege: Week 8.

New gum tree leaves in the rain.

New gum tree leaves in the rain.

New gum tree leaves in the rain.

New gum tree leaves in the rain.

Jungle life

I live in a jungle. Well, no, I don’t; I live in the largest city in Australia. But my apartment faces what seems like a jungle, with three massive old trees crowded together like commuters in a rush-hour train. The one closest to me is a gum tree (eucalypt), at which I generally curse because it blocks my view. Sometimes, though, it has a beauty even I can’t deny, especially when rendered in black and white for Cee’s most recent challenge.

Sunrise on a foggy winter morning.

Sunrise on a foggy winter morning.

New growth. I took this photo this morning, specifically for this challenge.

New growth. I took this photo this morning, specifically for this challenge.

A Word a Week Challenge – Bisect

Bisect: to split something into two parts.

Take part in this week’s challenge here.

Palm trees and beach huts (Goa).

Palm trees and beach huts (Goa, India).

A gum tree bisected (Murray River, Australia).

A gum tree bisected (Murray River, Australia).

The pool is bisected by a line of fountains (Taj Mahal, India).

The pool is bisected by a line of fountains
(Taj Mahal, India).

A path bisects a field (near Guildford, England).

A path bisects a field (near Guildford, England).

"Dark blue sea and light blue sky were split by a knife edge of horizon, with not a wisp of cloud to mar that straight  symmetry." (Ship to Shore)

“Dark blue sea and light blue sky were split by a knife edge of horizon, with not a wisp of cloud to mar that straight symmetry.” (Ship to Shore)

Me and Monet

Monet had his water lilies; I have my yellow Osteospermums. Like Claude Monet, I find myself coming back to the same subject in different lights. But that, I fear, is all I have in common with the great Impressionist painter!

osteopermums at sunrise

The plants are backlit by the rising sun, which gives the whole photo a warm orange-yellow glow.
The extreme zoom has blurred the gum tree in the background, adorned by ‘specular highlights’ that glitter like jewels on the leaves.

Another day, another photo of osteopermums at sunrise.

Another day, another photo of
osteospermums at sunrise.

Slightly later in the morning, and the golden glow is fading.

Slightly later in the morning,
and the golden glow is fading.

The flowers are their natural yellow in the clear sharp light of a winter afternoon.

The flowers are their natural yellow in the clear sharp light of a winter afternoon.

An extreme zoom in the afternoon, with just one or two flowers in focus against a cloudless sky.

An extreme zoom in the afternoon, with just one or two flowers in sharp focus against a cloudless sky.

Claude Monet deserves a look in, too: this is one of the Nymphae (water lily) panels at the Orangerie, Paris.

Claude Monet deserves a look in, too:
this is one of his Nymphaea (water lily) panels
at the Orangerie, Paris.

And just for a laugh, a photograph I took of water lilies in Goa, India -- also hanging in the Orangerie.

And just for a laugh, a photograph I took of water lilies in Goa, India
— also hanging in the Orangerie. 😉

From sunrise in the first photo, to sunset in this one.

From sunrise in the first photo, to sunset in this one.

Breakfast with a Kookaburra

Friday morning at 7am, I put my corn flakes on the table and pulled up the blind on my balcony door
to find a Kookaburra perched on the gum tree in front of my flat. (How Aussie is that?!
All that was missing was a kangaroo hopping past, though we don’t get a lot of them in Sydney.
Mind you, I did spot a possum on the tree late one night! It seemed as surprised as I was.)
The bird took no notice of me moving around, and very obligingly posed for a number of photos
— by which time my corn flakes were a soggy mess.

Kookaburra in a gum tree, Sydney, July 2013.

Kookaburra in a gum tree, shortly after sunrise,
Sydney, 26 July 2013.

The sun poked over the clouds blanketing the horizon, giving a lovely orange tinge to the bird's feathers.

The sun poked over the clouds hugging the horizon,
giving a lovely backlight to the bird’s feathers.

I wonder caught its attention?

I wonder what caught its attention?

I ventured onto the balcony (briefly! it was only 7 deg Celsius at 7am!)  but the best line of sight was from my lounge room window.

I ventured onto the balcony
(briefly! it was only 7 deg Celsius at 7am!)
but the best line of sight was from my lounge room window.

You’ve probably heard the term “Laughing Kookaburra”.
They really do sound like crazy human laughter —
there’s no mistaking when one is in the neighbourhood!
I always wonder what the white people of the First Fleet in 1788 made of
this sound echoing through their rough tent settlement.
Luckily for me, my breakfast companion was silent.  🙂
You can listen to one here.