Southern Highlands

On Sunday we rented a car for a day trip outside of Sydney.  We considered going to the Blue Mountains (famed for their natural beauty) but ultimately settled on the Southern Highlands, since they offered both natural beauty (a waterfall!) and cute villages (shops!).

All of the in-town car rental agencies were sold out, so we schlepped out to the airport and picked up a little Hyundai.  When it comes to cars and driving, Australia is like the UK, which made it easy for me — I only tried to get in on the passenger side once . . . 

We left early, and the drive to the waterfall was only about 90 minutes, but by the time we got close, we were both starving for a second breakfast.  We found a little diner in a village in the middle of nowhere that was (a) open, and (b) offered a tasty plate of zucchini fritters with spinach, avocado, and the other breakfast fixings.

No longer starving, and after a steep ascent with many a hairpin turn, we arrived at the trailhead for Fitzroy Falls.  One of the first things we noticed was just how Australian the emblem for the National Parks and Wildlife Service looked.  No bears and pine trees here; instead, the lyre bird and boomerang!

Fiztroy Falls was a beautiful cascade 80 meters high, where a small creek streamed down the face of the rocky cliffs so characteristic of this region.

The shape of the valley into which the water plunged reminded me of the Southwest in the US, with the flat, table top mountains riven by deep river gorges.  But here the entire terrain was covered in surprisingly verdant “bush”, an apt term for scrubby plants that were more substantial than sagebrush but never quite so grand as a forest.

We followed the trails that extended off along either side of the ravine.  The first afforded few vistas but many opportunities to learn about the local flora and fauna.  Small signs dotted the trailside with information about the things we were seeing.  

The second trail had fewer informational signs but took us to a second waterfall, which by this point in the season was little more than a trickle.

After soaking in the natural beauty, we climbed back in the car and set out for the small town of Berry, where we hoped to get some lunch and perhaps do some shopping.  As we went, we noticed the strong winds and just how messy eucalyptus trees are — the road was strewn with leaves and pieces of shredded bark.  After a particularly noisy clump of bark bounced off our underside, Amanda declared that we could handle anything that Australia threw our way . . . and then two minutes later, we were stopped in our tracks by a downed tree!  

Had we been by ourselves, we would have needed to turn round and find an alternate route.  But we weren’t alone, and it turns out that rural Australians just happen to carry chainsaws in their trunks — so in a jiffy our fellow motorists were chopping the tree up in to manageable pieces.  Before long a jeep with a winch arrived to pull the last of the tree out of the way.  Thank heavens for prepared neighbors!

We got to Berry without further incident.  The town was cute enough, with a historic main street, but being late afternoon on a Sunday, most of the shops had already closed and the restaurants had stopped serving food.

Fortunately we found one cafe that was still serving food.  We found a corner table outside in the sweltering heat (less sweltering than inside!) and made the best of a mediocre salad and lukewarm water.

From Berry we worked our way back up the coast to Sydney.  We initially tried the scenic Grand Pacific Highway but discovered, to our disappointment, that despite the occasional splendid vista, we were spending most of our time inching through un-scenic traffic in the small side-streets of beach towns.  So we got back onto the main highway and before long found ourselves back in the metropolis and the air-conditioned comfort of our little flat.

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