Sydney to Canberra

Before leaving the airport I picked up some red bull from W H Smith (a taste of home!) and a coke just in case. It was this part of the journey that was the most worrying to me after such a long period of travelling with another there hours (or so) drive to get to Canberra.

Firing up the GPS I pulled out of the car park and into the airport traffic where I promptly stopped and waited for a while before being able to leave the airport and head out. I had programmed the navigation unit in with the address of the hotel in Canberra (telling it to avoid toll roads) and dutifully did as I was told. I passed along some pretty big roads (on the left side - like the UK so I was not all that bothered) but eventually diverted away, presumably from a toll road, along some back streets of the Sydney suburbs. The roads here are wonderfully wide and the houses seem largely to be bungalows. The typical big name chains are all in evidence so I set about looking for breakfast though, at 7 am, it was still a bit early so I went for the old faithful - McDonald's. You can laugh now. But the deal is - At least I know they HAVE breakfast, roughly what it will cost and what is on the menu. Besides, I had a craving for a Sausage Egg McMuffin (with cheese) and their sinful hashbrowns. The orange juice was awful - Squash instead of fresh! It was quite quiet so I sat in the front window sunshine.

As I continued on my way I was directed back onto the motorway (expressway). Along the 110 km/hour road (yeah, kilometers here) a bicycle lane was on the outside and was quite well used though I would not want to bike there with no physical barrier from the fast moving traffic!

I was not in a hurry. I freaked out the navigation system by leaving the main road (which boringly just continued straight on to Canberra) to follow a sign that suggested something along the lines of “tourist route”. I was not in a hurry to get to the hotel and I had a lot of time to get there (the whole day).

On the Road

Very quickly the road turned from the large separated expressway to a small winding road that made it's way up, down and around a number of hills as it made it's way, to my satisfaction, to the coast. The weather was amazing - Sunny and very warming. As soon as the road hit the coast I stopped at a car park on top of a cliff looking southwards - Small mountains pushing up to the ocean with the road winding around them along with an occasional beach. The wonderful aquamarine ocean and gentle waves - Paradise. Surprising to think that only a few days ago I was in a rainy London.

Pacific Ocean - View of Stanwell Park and Lawrence Hargrave Drive

I was not the only one in the car park. As I stopped I saw what looked like a parrot on the ground just a few spots over. On my drive I had noticed some bright white cockatoos flying over the road on occasion – I could also hear them as they are VERY noisy! As I was taking pictures a number of motorcyclists arrived as well, obviously on a bit of a cruise along the ocean.

Stanwell Park - Walk to Beach

The steep road wound it's way through the trees down to a small town below where I pulled into a small road leading to the sandy beach. I parked the car on the grass along with a number of other cars. Stepping out into the warmth and sun and quiet (well, except for the waves on the beach and the birds squawking in the trees) I realized I really was in Australia.

A short walk along the single lane road with cars parked on either side I walked out onto the beach. I would learn that the beaches all along this road all the way down to Wollongong are basically all public and free to use. This one was being used by a number of kids looking to be participating in a swimming race but I did not let that put me off. The fresh air and beautiful water were amazing.

Beach at Stanwell Park

After my reverie I returned to the car and my trip along the coast. I stopped only a few minutes later to have a look at the amazing “Sea Cliff Bridge” which is where the road was built out from the edge of the mountains to avoid damage from avalanches and well above the water - Quite an interesting bit of engineering.

Sea Cliff Bridge

The drive was very nice as I followed along the edge of the ocean stopping occasionally to take some photos and drinking my coke (now no longer ice cold). I gave up on the air conditioning as it was not hot and I was travelling so slow. The small towns had some nice houses but were not always amazingly expensive. It must be a nice life to be here. The small towns really remind me of the way towns used to be in Canada and US - A main street with head-on street parking on either side and covered sidewalks with wooden pillars. It is like stepping back in time. All of the towns seem sleepy with the most activity being on the beach.

Wollongong Harbour

I arrived in Wollongong which I knew from the map was basically the point at which I had to actually start making my way, in ernest, to Canberra. It is a busy city but I was lucky enough to find a parking spot on the side of the road looking out over the harbour. The small harbour is crammed with boats and surrounded by a high breakwater. Along the rocky coast here there is a swimming pool as well as a rectangular section of rock chisled out to form a more natural swimming hole. All very well used as I looked down from the top of the cliff. In the distance to my left I could make out another swimming contest on a sandy beach. The palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze…(sigh)

Sea Pool Swimming at Wollongong

My Rental (parked on the cliff in Wollongong)

Firing up my navigation unit which I had by now relegated to the glove compartment I had it plot me the way to Canberra some 240 km distant. I was happy to see my route taking me in land through the coastal mountains along the Illawarra Highway. Very quickly the small two-lane road climbed up from the coast - Many tight switchbacks keeping me on my toes. Eventually I arrived at the top and pulled off to try to get a picture looking back towards to the ocean. I ended up on a small dirt track where I stopped and (despite the risk of snakes) stopped and walked through some trees to attempt to get a picture…but did not do to well with the number of trees everywhere. The GPS then proceeded to take me along a road that actually did not go anywhere (well, to a chain gate that was locked) so I caused it great distress by turning around and returning from where I had come.

The trees here are amazing. It all seems so dry but the “fire hazard” warnings are all set at “low” so I guess it must get very hot and dry here. The folliage is so exotic and different than what I am used to. The gum trees are everywhere - Their pale trunks and hanging vines amazing.

Along the road I had seen signs about the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk so when I eventually saw the turn off I once again denied my navigation system to go in search of it. Sounded really interesting. I had missed the distance marker so had no idea how long I needed to follow the road but continued anyway saying to myself that I would turn around after half an hour if I had not come across it by then. After a few minutes driving by a few farms and fields and a lot of trees I pulled into a massive car park with a surprising number of cars…I had not seen anyone on the road on the way in!

The warnings were that it was a fairly long walk at about 1.5 km so I made sure to pick up some water from the visitor centre canteen before picking up my ticket and walking in. The winding path quickly took me into the trees and towards the top of the cliff I had just climbed in the car. I made my way down to where the walkway started and stepped out.

Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk

We were quite a good distance up from the floor of the forest and the view of the surrounding landscape was amazing. I could easily spot Wollongong and other spots on the coast and everywhere around us being covered with forest.

View of the Coast from the Treetop Walk

Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk

I only saw a few birds (more cockatoos it seemed) so was a bit disappointed - No wombats despite the warning signs all along the roads here. The walkway was quite busy with my having to wait a few times for people to have their time at each of the small lookout points. As people walked along the whole walkway shook which did not bother me but seemed to cause a bit of distress for some of the other visitors…I was just enjoying the wonderful weather and amazingly clear views. I was all for climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the tower they had that was 45 m from the forest floor…

Another View of the Coast from the Treetop Walk

Time was getting late so I reluctantly returned to the car to continue to Canberra. Though…I had noticed a sign to some waterfalls on the way to the walkway so I did pull off to have a look…Carrington Falls (official web site

Carrington Falls

A tiny road led to a small car park where I pulled in to have a look at the falls. A short walk and I was overlooking the wonderful waterfalls cascading over the end of a cliff to the rocks below. We were still on the top of the plateau I had earlier climbed in the car. The ravine leading away from the falls opened up to the flatter area into which I was headed. Somewhere over there is Canberra…I walked along a small dirt path that led to the top of the falls where I had seen people in the water - At the top of the falls (and no safety nets here)! The small river is quite calm at the top here and a refreshing break from the warmth of the day.

Returning back to the highway I stopped briefly at a small town to take a picture…

Robertson - Home of the Giant Potato!

The rest of the trip to Canberra was relatively uneventful. I travelled alongside what evidently used to be a lake but is now all farm land. I passed by a number of kangeroos…unfortunately none of them were alive (!).

The highway travels right into Canberra and after a few problems with the directions I eventually found the car park at the back of the hotel. I checked in, dropped my bags then headed out to find something to eat - McDonald's again! After a full day of driving I was not really all that keen to go searching too much for anything else.

Room at Mercure Canberra

The room is quite large and nice. I am on the first floor (there are only the two floors) and have a good view of the hotel courtyard. There had been a bit of a mess-up with the hotel as I had incorrectly asked to have it booked from Saturday rather than Sunday but after making sure on Friday that they would keep the room I was able to check-in without any real issues.

Courtyard of the Mercure Canberra

It was a long day yet very satisfying. The last three hours on the road were a bit of a push but the rest of the day was so much fun. I really enjoyed just taking it easy and seeing things I had never seen before.

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