Royal National Park: Week 106

Polaroid of Royal National Park, Australia

Bundeena.  It was a tiny outpost on the edge of the Royal National Park with empty streets and flocks of squawking sulphur-crested cockatoos.

The town is accessible by road, but the ferry from Cronulla is the shortest and most direct route. From the dock it’s a twenty minute walk past red brick houses with sloping grass lawns to the entrance of the Royal National Park. Depending on who is doing the tallying, the park is either the second or the third oldest national park in the world; it was established in 1879.

It was only a short day trip, but Anthony, one of Barret’s coworkers, had packed everything but the kitchen sink. His black backpack was filled with cameras, lenses, tripods, stabilizers, two liters of water and lunch. A first aid kit dangled off the back of his backpack and two more lens cases were bolted to his belt. The further we walked the lighter and more inadequate my Polaroid-in-a-beach-bag felt.

Anthony was an experienced videographer with a treasure-trove of knowledge. He answered all my technical questions and gave me recommendations on everything from online forums to camera bodies with the best shutter speed.

Polaroid of the Royal National Park, Australia: Overlooking Marley Beach

Having hiked this trail before, Anthony also knew all the areas he wanted to capture. While I lounged on the cliffs eating chocolate covered berries, he revisited locations.  If I took one shot and hoped it didn’t suck, he took ten after he found the perfect angle. Then he’d shoot a high-def video.

When we reached Marley Beach I immediately jumped in the ocean. When I got out I laid on my towel and let the salt water evaporate off my skin. The sun was intoxicating and soporific; I didn’t want to move a muscle. When Anthony set his gear down for the first time I had already been lounging for an hour. He looked hot and sweaty and dedicated to his craft. God help me, I think I have a lot more to learn.

How to get to the Royal National Park: Take the ‘Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra‘ train line to Cronulla. Walk left out of the station to the Cronulla ferry wharf and catch the Bundeena ferry.

Sydney Olympic Park: Week 105

A Polaroid of a fountain inside the Sydney Olympic Park, Australia

“They got lolly showbags n’ chip showbags,” the security guard listed off. He had dark blond hair, bronze neck and forearms, and a thick accent like Crocodile Dundee. I was pretty sure he wasn’t from Sydney.

“Where’s the train station?” I began to ask, but he didn’t hear me. He was still on a roll.

“The Easter show is only once a year and it’s a good chance for the city folk to see horses, n’ chooks, n’ roller coaster rides. If you’re still around in two weeks… Well, I’d recommend it.”

We were standing just outside the stadium complex in the heart of the Sydney Olympic Park. In the middle of the street was a booth with temporary road blocks in front. From behind the barrier we could hear the squeal of animals and the beeping of reversing semi-trailers. The metal skeletons of carnival rides poked up in the horizon.

Because the park was created for Olympics, it felt utilitarian. There were no botanical gardens or reading sunbathers, instead there were bike trails and manicured archery lawns. It was also a lot quieter than I expected for a warm Sunday afternoon.

The security guard rattled off a few more types of showbags before pointing us in the direction of the Olympic memorial statues. The showbags seemed like they were an important part of the carnival, but I was a little baffled why he though they were such a selling point for two adults.

Unlike the swag bags I have picked up at shows and conventions, lolly showbags were marketed to a slightly younger crowd and they weren’t even free. They were completely covered with cartoon characters and bad fonts, and only partially filled with cheap candy.

“Thanks for the info,” we replied before heading for the ANZ Stadium. On the way we passed a fountain made from metal rods. The water arched over a pathway and splashed into a pool below. At the edge of the rectangular pool was a hill shaped like a spiral.

Barret arched an eyebrow at me.

“How could that guy talk about lolly showbags when this fountain was just down the road?”

How to get to the Sydney Olympic Park: CityRail train to Lidcombe Station, transfer to Olympic Park train line. Alternatively- take a train to Concord West and walk from the station to the park.

Manly Beach: Week 104

Polaroid of Manly Beach, Sydney Australia

A ferry ride to Manly Beach is as Australian as drive-thru pharmacies are American- and believe me, those are very American.

There were hundreds of people outside Circular Quay with sunglasses, hats, flip flops, and beach bags. When the ferry gate opened we all rushed forward to grab a window seat with a view of the azure harbor. To the left of the boat was the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and to the right the Opera House.

Although we launched from such an urban pier, the harbor was filled with white triangular sails. It was quickly apparent that midafternoon on a sunny day was a nautical rush hour.

From the ferry terminal it was a short walk to Manly Beach. The ocean was as refreshing as the sun was hot and the waves strong. While Barret body surfed I pined for waves as gentle as a rocking chair. I wanted to be lulled; I wanted to float without getting water up my nose.

Polaroid of Manly Beach, Sydney Australia

On my way out of the ocean a foamy white wave came crashing in. I ducked under it and felt it thunder above me. After it passed I raised my head and opened my eyes just in time for another wave to smack me right in the face.

The salt water stung my eyes but also my pride; I looked like a beached seal after getting knocked over in such shallow water.

Barret!” Obviously he was to blame for enjoying the rough surf so much. “I don’t like waves and I got a grain of sand in my eye.”

What can I say- it’s not easy being Aussie.

How to get to Manly Beach the Australian way: Wharf 3 Ferry, Circular Quay, Sydney

Cronulla: Week 102

Polaroid of Cronulla Beach, Australia

We really could have gone anywhere but we chose Cronulla because Barret had an unused train ticket.

We rode south, through suburbs and arid landscapes. The eucalyptus trees shed their bark like sunburnt skin. I read my book while the state of New South Wales slid by in a peripheral blur of blue, bricks, and green.

From the train station we walked down the main drag towards the beach. Cronulla was a sleepy beachside town, but eight years ago it grabbed headlines because of race riots. They began on the beach- an altercation between a group of surf lifesavers and Middle Eastern men. The ensuing anger had rolled down the streets on a wave of broken car windows and ended at the very train platform we had just alighted from.

Not that any of that drama was evident on our overcast Sunday. The only agitated local we encountered was in a dispute with her frozen dessert.

“I just can’t do it,” complained the middle-aged woman to our left. “I am going to the bathroom to wash my hands,” she said as she shook her left hand with disgust. “This is awful. It’s so sticky.

Her companion, an elderly man sitting on a bench, acknowledged her statement with a nod of his head.

Jesus Christ.” She took a few steps back. “This is melting too much.”

It was warm enough to provoke ice cream, but not enough to go swimming. The waves were too choppy and the wind was gusting so we walked along the coast. The pockmarked rocks resembled a porous sponge with green strands of bacteria, like beaded necklaces, growing from within the bowel-shaped holes.

We walked the length of the rocky coastline before heading back into town for a cup of tea. A light rain began to fall that cleverly dodged my umbrella.

Since arriving in Australia almost four months ago, I had been planning trips outside Sydney that just never seemed to materialize. Between all the weekend markets, festivals, restaurants, and outdoor events there was a strong gravitational pull towards the city center that was hard to escape.

Despite our best efforts we only made it as far as sleepy Cronulla. It’s probably only considered a satellite town of Sydney, but it felt far away enough to ease my restless legs.

At least that’s what I am telling myself for now.

How to get to Cronulla: From Sydney take the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line to Cronulla Station.

Paddington Markets: Week 100

Polaroid of Paddington Market: Sydney, Australia

The afternoon was measured in sips of iced coffee and conversation. In between forkfuls of strawberry crème sponge roll we chased the wandering shade with our picnic blanket.

We were at the Paddington Markets, the most popular and longest running markets in Sydney. The beautiful clear summer skies and close proximity to a stone-hewn church meant the setting was ripe for an Agatha Raisin mystery in the British Cotswolds. I’m pretty sure every good British fete is in the vicinity of an old stone church and every good amateur sleuth must attend said fete at some point.

The sun began to gently filter across my shoulders; time to shift our blanket again. Across the way a magician drew a small crowd around his booth.

While the bread and butter of craft stalls were represented (i.e. handmade soaps, candles and bad landscape paintings), there was also a significant presence of young and edgy designers showcasing jewelry, accessories, men’s and women’s clothing.

“This shirt has a different colored back because I didn’t have enough fabric.”

That’s not something I often hear when shopping. The clothing in question was made in Sydney by a young designer named Ly Yin. Her label evyie was fashion-forward in a minimalistic, feminine regard. While I never need an excuse to support local artisans, I really did need a new shirt for work. After trying a gamut of Australian sizes, I chose a sheer floral top- the same one Yin was wearing.

Polaroid of the Paddington Resevoir Gardens, Sydney Australia

Walking back from the markets we passed the Paddington Reservoir Gardens. Once a vital part of water supply in the 1800s, the original structure has been salvaged and thoughtfully incorporated into a modern, sustainable garden.

I know it’s not the Cotswold, but if M.C. Beaton ever wrote about Australia she could easily use Paddington as a background. Not only is there an old church, but the cool shallow waters of the Reservoir Gardens would be a good place to find a corpse. How twee.

How to get to the Paddington Markets: 395 Oxford St,  Paddington NSW 2021

How to get to the Paddington Reservoir Gardens: 251-255 Oxford Street, Paddington NSW 2021

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