Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Down Under

Before I got married, Christmas was a good excuse to go for a (most probably diving) holiday. Last year’s Christmas was just a public holiday for me while Mr H worked through the day. This year is not much different except we are in Sydney, a country where Christmas is a bigger celebration compared to back home.

In Malaysia, I would normally head to different malls to view and appreciate their Christmas decorations. It is amazing how one can transform part of a mall into a mini Christmas village (or some other Christmas related theme). If I am lucky, I would get invited to a friend's home and would spend the time checking out their Christmas decor (Marv, I love going to your house.. hahaha).

In Sydney, my Christmas decor appreciation is not only limited to malls. There are ample of outdoor decorations too! While some decorations were out as early as end of November, most decorations were up only 2 weeks ago. So let's check out some of the sights that were covered in the lead up to Dec 25, 2014. 

LEGO Christmas Tree @ Pitt St Mall

Built entirely with LEGO bricks, this 10 metre high tree is the biggest LEGO Christmas Tree in the Southern Hemisphere. It took 1200 hours and 5 people to complete this structure. Click here to watch the time lapse of the tree’s construction.

Every 15 minutes from 8pm-9pm each night, a light and music show is on to entertain visitors.

LEGO Christmas Tree setup during the day

Did you spot koala?

Lighted at night.

Christmas Decorations @ Darling Harbour

Top: Lighted Santas Standing in line.
Below: Electric Tree that changes colour the music.

Lights of Christmas @ St Mary’s Cathedral

The light show is divided into 3 parts – The Joy of Giving, 12 Days of Christmas and The Madonna & Child. Capturing every projection seemed like an impossible task for me, so I will only share a few. I did notice a few well prepared photographers who came complete with their tripod and “click button” that allows them to sit comfortably and still capture the moment when there’s a change of scene. This must not be their first time. Haha

Christmas Trees around Sydney
My view if I was a Christmas present - Queen Victoria Building

Tree at Potts Point
Tree at Hyde Park 
Tree at Martin Place. You could send in a text to a number and get your message displayed on the tree.

Christmas is in the air

Retailers got the mood going by offering Christmas sales for that perfect gift. Cafes not only were dressed up with Christmas decor, Christmas themed delights were added to their menu. People in general started wearing reindeer antler headbands, Santa's hats etc. Eateries were booked for Christmas parties (aka Silly Season here). Homes and balconies were beautifully decorated with fairy lights. Christmas trees sprouting about the city. We even spotted Santa cruising around town in a modern version of his sleigh.

Sustainable Christmas decor.
Christmas themed candy apples
Santa traded his sleigh for something more modern.

That sums up our days and nights leading up to Dec 25. Now that it's over, we shall look forward to Jan 1, 2015.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Whale Watching in November

Whale watching is a popular activity in New South Wales due to the annual migration that takes place from May to November. 

When my brother, Razlan and his family were in town, we signed up for this unique experience by booking ourselves on a Whale Watch Cruise with Dolphin Watch Cruises in Jervis Bay. Not only it would be fun for the little ones to watch the gentle giants up, close and personal but also for us adults too.

Cruise departure times vary each day - depending on type of cruise and boat used. Hence it is best you get in touch with Dolphin Watch Cruises prior to making plans. They will advice you on the departure times for your chosen date. Since we had chosen a cruise with the bigger boat (I thought we would fare better on a bigger boat when out at sea), our 3 hour whale watching cruise departed at 11:15am on Tuesday. 

Since we live approx 2.5 hours away from Jervis Bay, we decided to spend a couple of days in Huskisson to allow us to enjoy experience without exhausting the little ones. That was a good decision as while the adults were able to wing it, the kids (2 years and 4 years) took naps in between whenever they could.

Departing Sydney at 11am, we took a leisurely drive along Grand Pacific Drive in making our way to Huskisson. Stopping along the way (read about it by clicking on Part 1 and Part 2), we arrived at our rented property about 6pm. 

The next morning, we arrived 15 minutes earlier to collect our cruise tickets from the management office across the jetty. Complimentary tea/coffee and biscuits are provided on board for period of time. You can also bring your own snacks/drinks on board if you wish. Don't forget to bring your jacket along as it tends to get cold with the strong winds.
Lan, Reen, Pebbles & Dedek in front of Tekin III, our vessel of the day.

With everyone on board, the captain introduced us to his crew and briefed us on house keeping rules (which included shouting out and pointing towards the location of any whales we spot). Once the formalities were done, we were on our way. 

Earlier when the captain was heading back to shore, he spotted a mummy whale and her pup within the bay itself. This was excellent news because if the whales were not within the bay, we would have headed out to the rough open seas towards the "whales highway". More often than not, participants would end up experiencing sea sickness! Having said that, the captain quickly headed for the area they were last spotted to catch up with them.

It was our lucky day! Catch up with them we did. Not only we did not have to go far, we were entertained by them for the next 1 hour 45 minutes. Baby whale seem to be practising his jumps - straight up above the water and falling back in. He did this many many times, possibly showing off his skills to his mom. There were times mummy whale decided to show him her own skills as well by doing the same, often ending with a bigger splash. This of course thrilled us on board and we all had our cameras (phones, compacts and SLRs) snapping away. Some of us decided to switch to "video mode" when we found out it was not easy trying to capture the moment with a point and shoot.

One of the very few clear pictures of the whale in action. I gave up after a while and decided to focus on the live action instead.
Pictures by Razlan Dawood, who had greater determination than I did in capturing these moments. This was going on for at least 1 hour 45 minutes.
Lan, so focused in trying to record the whales while we gave up and took a wefie instead.
Mr H caught it on video.

After nearly 2 hours of action, baby whale and mummy whale got tired and decided to swim away. It was also time for us to make our way back to shore. Captain of Tekin III decided to take the route along the shores of Callala Bay due to kinder wind conditions. As we were approaching land, several dolphins decided to surprise us by appearing along side our cruise. They playfully tagged a long us for a few hundred meters before breaking away. Such a bonus for all of us on board.

Once docked, we said our thank yous and made our way across the street for some much needed lunch.
Don't forget a jacket as it could be chilly on board.
Pebbles found a whale on land too!

Our rented unit - The Anchorage
We could have stayed within Jervis Bay itself but wanted to be closer to the beach without having to pay an arm and a leg. After much searching online, I came across The Anchorage at Callala Bay. This attractive 3 bedroom 2 bathroom unit was not only reasonably priced it did not include add on charges for linen and BBQ cleaning (common charges for other property rentals). You only have to bring your own toiletries and beach towels. Everything else is provided.

We had a comfortable 2 night stay. The place is well equipped and child friendly. When not at the beach, there wasn't a dull moment either with the many board games, DVDs (even cartoons for the litte ones) and books to choose from. 
Top: Lounge area
Bottom (L-R): Master bedroom with ensuite, queen bed and two single beds
Location wise, it is
  • 36 minutes to Jervis Bay National Park
  • 30 minutes away from Jervis Bay
  • 5-10 minutes drive to nearest shopping centre
  • less than 3 minutes walk to beach (Callala Bay - home to 80% of bottle nose dolphins in Jervis Bay. We spotted a dolphin or two from the shore when we were there).
If you intend to have all your meals outside, the distance could prove to be a disadvantage. However with a well equipped kitchen, it is worth to consider doing your own cooking. We did just that and brought along enough food to last us for 2 breakfasts and 2 BBQ dinners.

For more information on this awesome rental unit, click on The Anchorage.

Monday, December 8, 2014

North Head Scenic Walk

In March 2014, Mr H and I completed Manly Scenic Walk (Spit Bridge to Manly Wharf). Yesterday, we decided to do another one of the free walks available in Manly, the North Head Scenic Walk.

What is North Head Scenic Walk?
It is a 9.5km walk that begin and end at Manly Wharf. Please allow 3-4 hours to complete this walk. 

How to get there?
From Circular Quay, take a ferry to Manly. 

What is interesting?
The main highlight would of course be beautiful and breathtaking scenery. We also came across several places of interest along the way as listed below. 

Little Manly Cove - nice cosy spot for a swim, sun bake or even a picnic. There's a pretty decent kiosk too.
Little Manly Point Plaque
Little Manly Cove - a nice spot to sit by the beach, swim and just hang out.
Spring Cove - another nice spot to swim, sun bake or just hang out. The beach is bigger and longer compared to Little Manly Cove.

Your first glimpse of Spring Cove from the top of the stairs.
Sydney Harbour National Park - a short bushwalk from Spring Cove before you get on Collins Beach Road. Nothing much to do here but enjoy nature.

North Head Sanctuary - we did not realise North Head Sanctuary is an attraction on its own. In fact, we thought it was something we walked through to get to Fairfax Lookout. If you intend to explore the sanctuary, do add in another 1-2 hours.
The Gatehouse, now a Visitor Centre
Parade Ground at the Barracks. Looks like a desert to me.
To get the best out of your visit, do drop by North Head Sanctuary Foundation's Volunteer "booth" at the start. Friendly volunteers will be able to advise you on where to go depending on your interests and time constraints.

We were recommended to take their newest trail which would lead us to North Fort. Then there is an option to continue to tour North Fort or to exit the sanctuary and head towards Fairfax Lookout.
Newly laid path among Precious Scrub - one of the few remaining patches of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub.
There used to be around 5,000 hectares of this type of scrub between North Head and Botany Bay. Today less than 3% of this remains.
View of Sydney city from City lookout (duh)
Third Quarantine Cemetery - a cemetery with a gorgeous view although you need to be there to believe it.
Fairfax Lookout Point - an easy walk suitable for all ages with superb views of the ocean, harbour and Sydney CBD.
Not Fairfax Lookout yet, getting there.
One of the several lookout points at Fairfax Lookout. Railings are there to prevent people from getting too near and falling off the edge of the cliff. However this did not prevent a group of tourists from climbing over and walking along the edge for a better view. In fact on the day of our visit, a tourist was not lucky and fell down onto the rocks and died.
It's a 90m drop to rocks below from here.
If you come June-July or August-October,  you might be lucky enough to see humpback whales or southern right whales from here.

From Fairfax Lookout, the remainder of the scenic walk would take you to Cabbage Tree Bay Coastal Walk before ending at Manly Wharf. Due to change of weather, we skipped this part of the walk and boarded the bus instead.

p.s. Bus 135 goes to North Head Sanctuary and Fairfax Lookout.

For more information visit the websites below:

1. North Head Scenic walk & map - Manly Council - Manly Scenic Walk
2. North Head Sanctuary - North Head Sanctuary, Manly

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grand Pacific Drive - Part 2

In Part 2 of this series, we shall explore two more attractions along Grand Pacific Drive. To read Part 1, click here

As we head off to Kiama Blowhole, we saw a sign that read Nan Tien Temple. Surprised to find a Buddhist temple as one of the many attractions, we made a slight detour to check it out. 

Nan Tien Temple 
Also known as Southern Paradise, it is the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. The drive here took us away from Grand Pacific Drive to another suburb. A traditionally Chinese designed arch marked the entrance to temple grounds. Driving up the long driveway to the car park to the main building gave us a glimpse on how large the area is. Driving pass well manicured grounds, the feeling of calmness slowly enveloped us. Exploring the area had to be done on foot from the car park onwards as cars were off limits at other areas of the temple.

Across the car park is a flight of stairs leading up to a pagoda. We were half way up the stairs when we heard prayers taking place at that moment. Not wanting to interrupt, we headed towards the main building instead.

Staircase up to the pagoda.
The main building consist of several floors. To move from one floor to the other, visitors are encouraged to use the stairs. Even though there is an elevator available, it is kind of reserved for wheelchair users and strollers as it is old and slow (the sign says so).

The temple's main building. Behind the staircase is entrance to tea house.
A tea house is located on the ground floor where vegetarian food and snacks are available for sale. I noticed some Nyonya kuih on sale which made me wonder if the tea house operator is from Malaysia. You could also opt for a buffet lunch/dinner on the top floor of the temple.

The temple is not only about prayers and food, it also provides a range of services like guided tours of the temple, meditation classes, Buddhist & meditation retreats, wedding and baby blessing ceremonies among others. For more information on this, visit their website at Nan Tien Temple.

A lake stood at the other side of the building and made my way towards it. Here, I noticed the different cute "little" figurines nicely placed in various parts of the garden. At the lake, carp fish could be seen swimming, occasionally near the edge hoping for food perhaps. It was a nice spot to sit and reflect on life. After 10 minutes of reflection, it was time to come back to reality and make our way to Kiama Blowhole. 
Figurines placed around the park.
Serenity by the lake

Kiama Blowhole
What is a blowhole? According to, blowhole is defined as a hole in a sea cliff or coastal terrace through which columns of spray are jetted upward.

Before our first visit in winter, I did not know what a blowhole was. I thought it was the part of a whale where water would spurt out. Apparently my thoughts were not far from the truth.

On arrival, a group of people were crowding on the platform looking at the rocks with their cameras in position. A minute or two later, you could hear the water gushing out from the blowhole before seeing it spurt out into the air. The height of the water spurt varies depending on the time of your visit. Different seasons would register different heights I believe.
First, nothing.
You actually hear water sounds first before seeing it.
The highest it got..
.. before the water falls back in.

Not many people at Kiama Blowhole when
we came for a second visit.
The kids would be excited to see this which was why we made a return visit in November. This time, there were just a handful of visitors on the platform. It could be due to several factors - it was a Monday, non school holiday season and it was late in the evening.

We saw a couple with raincoats waiting right in front of the blowhole with their camera in hand. They seemed a bit disappointed with the spurts that took place and walked away after taking a few pictures. My first thought was they were a bit overkill with the raincoats.

I walked with my brother, Razlan and his daughter, Pebbles to get a head start at the blowhole. Mr H waited for my sister-in-law, Reen as she got the little one ready. The platform was empty. We quickly took our positions and waited for the blowhole to do its thing. As the water came gushing, my brother shouted "Quick! I can hear it coming!". I saw the water gush out, so high that it looked like a giant wave. I started snapping away, trying to take as many pictures as I could with my phone camera. What happened next could have been a scene from a prank TV show.

The water level was much much higher than before and droplets of water started rain on us. When the droplets got bigger/heavier, we ran for cover. Unfortunately, we were no match for the blowhole. You could only hear screams/shouts/laughs as the water crashed unto us, leaving 2 drenched individuals and a partially drenched camera woman. THAT was what the raincoat couple were waiting for! Unfortunately I was too busy laughing (while my niece cried) to take any pictures after that. 

Everyone's in position, now to wait.
If you think that was high, the water got higher before crashing into these two. They looked like they took a shower while fully clothed when the water settled. Hahaha
Looking like we got out of a shower fully clothed, we made our way back to our laughing spouses who saw the whole thing from the parking lot. We did not bother to walk around the blowhole once we changed to dry clothes. You could actually walk along the path that enables you to view the blowhole from the side and from the back. Once you are behind the blowhole, you would get a beautiful picture of the lighthouse with the sky as a backdrop. However after our recent experience, no way we were going to risk getting wet again! 
Railings surrounding the blowhole. You can view the blowhole from different angles.
Blowhole is located in the middle (where the rocks are). Steps on the right lead up to the parking lot.
Since the location of the blowhole is next to the sea, it gets a bit cold due to the wind. I would suggest you bring a windbreaker to protect yourself from the wind. Also even if you are there for a day trip, do bring a change of clothes. You would never know if you are lucky enough to be "blessed" by the Kiama Blowhole like we were.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Grand Pacific Drive tour. To read Part 1, click here