Due East and South
Sydney Travel Blog› entry 5 of 9 › view all entries
Bondi Beach and Botany Bay
Ali's car is a dusty looking commodore, and was packed to the brim with our camping equipment. Mattresses, pillows and foldable chairs plugged up the back seat and because the air-conditioning wasn't working (which is a bother on these hot days), we rolled down the windows surfer style.
Packing up at my cousins studio apartment where we'd been staying for the past two nights, we hit the road again, this time due East and South for Bondi Beach and Botany Bay.
I don't know what we chatted about, but it all seemed to very well with Ali. Ali is short for Alistair, although nobody really calls him that. He gets his full licence in July when he turns twenty-one, which means that I, being on my L's even though I am already twenty-one, can't drive legally (I have to drive with someone with a full licence in the passenger seat).
I have travelled a great distance around Australia by car; Central Australia, Western Australia, various spots in Victoria, and now New South Wales. What is it, that a traveller is searching for? Each day we pick places to visit, for however fleeting a moment, and then move on. What do we get from being in these places? Even New South Wales, our state neighbour, seemed so foreign. Yet still we continue to search. For what? A defining moment? For proof that different worlds exist to our own? That even in each tiny suburb an entire new universe operates and that we, for a moment catch a glimpse of what life could have been like, had we been born there.
It wasn't very far to Bondi, and Bondi is everything I'd dreamed. Bondi Junction is a gleaming hub of shiny shopping malls which we only passed by road. Bondi Road follows the beach curve and is lined with surfer shops and cafe's. The sandy crescent was dotted with tanned bathing bodies and colourful towels. The red and yellow life-saving flags flew high in the summer sun, as the water is beautiful this time of year and the perfect temperature for bathing. The sand is so fine, I don't think my feet have felt any nicer kind. Bondi is a place of dreams, holidaying, surfing, and incidentally, of schooling. The surrounding suburbs were filled with a number of schools. Not a bad place to go to school really! My only complaint about Bondi is that the area has been planned (or not planned) such that it feels so congested.
We continued south and passed the beach suburb of Maroubra. Ali hadn't heard of this place but I'd read an article somewhere about this being home to a surfer gang called the Bra Boys. I seemed to get the idea from the article that these guys are notorious yet peaceful (if that is possible!) and are identifiable by their patriotic tattoos of the southern cross. There was some controversy about the murder of a guy that was supposedly committed by one of the lead gang members that was later thought to be man slaughter in self-defense.
With Maroubra behind us, the road stretched on towards Botany Bay. The bay was not as neither I nor Ali had expected! The road took us right along the foreshore but was lined with an abnormal number of truck trailers and the water was fringed with industrial machinery.
Bundeena, Royal National Park
There are rarely weirder towns than Bundeena. Sorry if any of you are reading this and from Bundeena, but it has to be said! Bundeena is a little town at the edge of the obscure Royal National Park.
The park is south of Botany Bay and extroardinarily quiet. There were no maps, information or signs saying anything (except 'no camping'), and Bundeena sits on the very edge of the park facing the water. It is a town completely secluded by the thick bush and rolling hills and the only way to get there is through a funny little road that runs right through the park.
As the evening grew darker, we started looking out more desperately for turn offs leading to a camping spot. Eventually we ended up in Bundeena, where apparently there was a camping ground, but it too was strangely quiet. Also, it was overlooked by a number of private properties, which is odd.
We drove into the carpark and aimed the cars headlights at the sign. On the sign board was a telephone number. We rang it. A recorded voice message instructed that only six parties were allowed on the campground at any one time, you needed to buy a visitor day pass for the car, book two weeks in advance and during certain hours, and at 8:30pm the gate was shut every night.
As it was 8:29pm and there seemed to be a lot of strict rules about this awkward campsite (that sat under the watchful gaze of Bundeena residents) we decided to get the hell out and try to get a visitor day pass and see where we could go from there. The servo station which sold these passes was shut, and so we sat in the car wondering what else there was to do.
By now it was ten o'clock at night. Nobody walked around town, and not all of the lights in the houses were on, but there were plenty enough cars moving around. Headlights kept appearing around dark corners. I started to wonder whether it was the same four or five cars just doing circuits! It was a very weird town. Weirdness that was probably enhanced in the darkness of night. Nonetheless.
Wanting help, or some options in the least, we half got out of our car when a car drove slowly past us, but nobody stopped. Eventually we decided the place was just too strange so we left. Once we hit the main road again, we noticed an astronomical amount of traffic zooming in, out and around the little town. At ten o'clock at night? I'm telling you, Bundeena is strange.
Once we passed the park entry on the southern end, I was able to shake the weirdness of Bundeena out of my shoulders. We followed the road, which became coastal, and passed some large bays and carparks for lookout points which were mostly empty save one or two parked cars. No doubt other people who had tried to camp in Royal National Park, but like us were unsuccessful. Eventually we hit the Princes Highway and were in danger of going too far south. But we had little choice, there weren't any major towns from now on until Wollongong, which itself was a fair distance. Eventually we found a deserted highway with a turn off to a lookout point. It had a little gravel bay on the side of the road so we decided this was as good as any a spot to throw up the tent.
I dreamt of cops arriving at the crack of dawn to tell us that we were going to be arrested for trying to camp in Bundeena, and for camping at the side of a highway. Ali slept better, he was even happy enough to still be cooking dinner at eleven o'clock that night! As soon as the morning rays crept under the fly, I sat up and told him it was time to go!
There is something romantic about going back in time. The Rocks, is the oldest part of Sydney and is home to the oldest building in Australia. Cadman's Cottage was built in 1916 and is still surrounded by sandstone buildings that have somehow remained intact over the decades.
I didn't feel like I was walking the streets of Sydney as we wandered through the meandering streets of the Rocks, but I suppose that's because walking in the streets of the Rocks is like walking in Sydney of the 19th century!
Sydney today is an eclectic mix of the old and the new. Older buildings are still glorious, even in the wake of newer, shinier facades and the monorail is a ribbon that holds it all together.
Apart from the monorail being expensive (at $4.50 a trip!) it is rather a good way of seeing Sydney. The rail snakes through Sydney at an ever-changing height, but always a storey or two above pedestrians below. It passes Darling Harbour, a sparkling place, home to some massive convention centres, shopping malls, and the Sydney Aquarium which I didn't visit this time round, but when I was here in 2001, it was, like the zoo, one of the best I'd seen. Not to be missed!
The monorail continues towards Haymarket, where there is a market Thursdays-Sundays. It also passes Chinatown, and ends up back where we hopped on in the city centre.
The city's shopping heart is along George and Pitt Streets and there is a good range of shops spread across a few blocks. In this way the shopping is arguably better than Melbourne's, which is mostly centralised on the one Bourke Street. Good and bad, I suppose!
The banks (Bank of Australia, ANZ, etc) seemed to claim the most quietly magnificent older buildings, and for some reason the bustle (everyone in Sydney, I've decided, is in a rush) reminded me more of New York City than Melbourne.
Sad to say, I think if for some reason Canberra were to vanish off the face of the Earth (oh wait, it already has!) and we had to choose between Sydney and Melbourne for our nations capital, I'm afraid to say Sydney should win hands down. In terms of being the more metropolitan, bustling, new yet historical city, Sydney seems to hold more national history than Melbourne. And of course it would, as Botany Bay - only around the corner - is after all where the First Fleet landed in 1788.
That said, a nations capital and an ideal place for living are two quite different things. Melbourne, is by far the more fashionable, yet subtle and more laid back city, fully equiped with it's own charms. I found myself missing the fact that it is possible to take a stroll down Melbourne's busiest street, Bourke Street (it is not possible to stroll down Pitt Street, you have to walk animatedly), though I have to say the excitement of Sydney was hard to let go of. Sydney has to be done in more than two days, which is all we had there really. Two days, and it was time to be off.
The Blue Mountains and the coast were still to come!