The next stop on our beach ‘hitlist' of Sydney was Mona Vale, roughly a 40-minute bus ride from where we were staying, in Gordon. We weren't too sure exactly what to expect of Mona Vale but I had in mind at least that it would be quite a large town, terminating literally onto a beachfront. Instead, the bus dropped us off just by a shopping centre and the walk, past an industrial estate and up past some houses, was surprisingly (in a good way) much less busy than I expected it might be. The beach, at the end of a long road past said houses, sort of just opened up from a narrow sand dune track, into a huge expanse of sand and rolling waves, perfect for surfing. Now, any beach I've been at that's had large waves, have never really had ‘surfers' as such – maybe a couple of 12-year olds trying out their beach boards, but that's been about it. What I had been told however, was that if you can see surfers surfing, then you don't really want to be swimming there. Nonsense of the highest order I told myself, as I ploughed straight into the crashing waves, nearly being swept clean off my feet in the first two feet of water. Honestly, these weren't waves and the water wasn't water anyone could ‘swim in'. What you could do though, was be very frequently subjected to ridiculous currents that hardly anyone could stay standing in, or try and swim and inevitably end up thrashing about, half-walking back to shore, half swimming. I personally elected to just walk in as far as I could, watch the surfers doing their thing, and try and remain upright as the waves came rolling in.
The next morning, our second last in Sydney, had us up with the lark (if there are larks in Sydney) and out to the train station for our long journey we'd been waiting for. Despite initially looking into a tour guide brochure and seeing exorbitant prices to see the famous Blue Mountains, we'd since been told we could get the train there for around $15 return. So, standing at the train station with our tickets in hand, it was only about 9am. The trip to the blue mountains was lengthy to say the very least – from where we were, we had to travel much of the line to town and beyond, before switching to the Blue Mountains train line, which itself still takes the guts of 2 hours to reach our desired stop of Katoomba, high up above sea level. The first thing that smacks you in the face as you step off the train is the temperature – expecting temperatures similar to Sydney, much further below us, I was attired in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops and that, it turned out, was a critical error, as I piled quickly into the nearest Subway restaurant and stood in the doorway for an exceptionally long time, trying to physically absorb as much of the heat as I possibly could. Although there's a whole raft of tours available from the train station, we picked up a map and made our way down to Echo Point, where we inevitably met up with the plethora of tour buses we'd seen on our way down there. What we also saw though, pictured, was an unparalleled view out over the Blue Mountains and to the famous ‘Three Sisters', a series of three rocks jutting out into the air.
Of course we didn't travel nearly 3 hours just to stand there in the freezing cold for a few minutes and then return back to the train station, so we took off on a hike (totally inappropriately dressed, as I say) towards the Katoomba Waterfalls, which took us on winding paths, some cemented, some just dirt and mud, up and down parts of the mountains for around an hour, giving us plenty of different views of the Blue Mountains and plenty of scenery to take in, as we wound our way further in and out of the trees. Needless to say, we eventually wound up at the Waterfalls, or at least I hope it was the waterfalls as we walked no further, my need to use a ‘convenience' truly becoming a major priority over any amount of sightseeing. In truth, and even though it wasn't intended, us leaving when we did was actually a really fantastic, if unintentional, idea. Because as we wound our way back through the trees and past some of our favourite viewing spots from earlier, something was noticably missing – the view. Literally, in the space of 10 minutes, thick fog rolled in, licking up the side of the mountain and leaving us with hardly anything to see, let alone the path in front of us, as we now quickened our pace to try and get back to Echo Point before we became like those idiots you always hear about having to be rescued off a mountain. Call it luck, but when we returned to Echo Point, the fog was still lying thick right from the viewing platform leaving freshly-arrived visitors with nothing to see but thick fog, even though we'd managed to get all the spectacular shots we could have wanted just two hours earlier. With the fog rolling in and the weather getting colder, we headed back to the comfort of the train, now hoping for heating where we'd been wishing for air conditioning on the earlier trip.
Even though we were in Sydney for (by my standards) a whopping 10 days, the time sort of flew in and after sitting around the house on the last day and exploring the local area, it was time to start packing again and head to the airport for our flight to Melbourne. Flying to Melbourne is a little like flying from Dublin to London – it's always quite cheap and rarely exceeds more than an hour and 10 minutes so no sooner had I completed a delicious beer than we were descending back towards Earth once again, passing through some clouds before landing at Tiger Airways' special parking garage that they call a terminal. Literally – there's actually parking space lines coming out from under the baggage claim where they obviously didn't have time or money to do anything even slighly more fancy. The other thing that, for me, marks Melbourne out as a little like Ireland is its temperature – it's always colder than the rest of Australia and you never know when exactly it's going to just suddenly start raining down. So, having arrived, suffered in the punishing cold outside the airport's parking garage and finding our way to our friends house, who so generously had agreed to put us up (and put up with us) for our stay, it was of course time for another beer…and then another after that…and so on!