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 dictionary.com, 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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Grand Pacific Drive - Part 1

Last winter, Mr H and I decided to explore the scenic Grand Pacific Drive. We were not disappointed and were rewarded with scenic views/beautiful coastlines which made it worthwhile for a repeat drive. Hence on our recent trip to Jervis Bay with the family recently, we made it a point to take the same route.

From Sydney, we headed south towards the second oldest national park in the world, Royal National Park. There is an $11 fee if you intend to stop and park, free if driving through. The drive was pleasant through winding roads and lush green trees. You could count the number of cars you come across too. It made me forget that we were only one hour away from the city. If you get queasy on snaking roads (like me), just wind down the windows and start breathing in the crisp fresh air outside. The cold air against your face is refreshing and if it gets a tad bit cold, just throw on your cardigan/jumper.

You can count the number of cars you see when on this road. Most of the time it's just you and nature.
Despite the many activities one can do at Royal National Park - hire boat, have a picnic or a BBQ and even surf, we drove on and made a mental note to come back here later in future if circumstances permit.

Congress of birds - spotted at one of the parking areas in the park.
Surfers welcomed - the waves are probably surfer's heaven. There's a patch of green nearby too if you are game for a picnic.
At the end of our drive through Royal National Park, we reached our first stop - Bald Hill Lookout Point, Stanwell Tops. After a 2 hour drive , this would be a good spot for you to stop and stretch your legs to magnificent views of sea, beach, town and everything else that you can see as far as the eyes could go. If you are cold-phobic like me, don a jacket to keep yourself warm. Make sure you hold on to your hat/scarves and anything else that has the potential to fly off as the winds are quite strong too.

Bald Hill Lookout in spring. My brother and SIL look like they are on their honeymoon.
If you are hungry or itching for a snack, head over to the food van for a cup of coffee and/or soft serve ice-cream. They also have pre-made sandwiches, fruit salads and even chips. There is also a pie shop across the road that promises excellent views too. Unfortunately, they were closed for business on the two occasions we were there.

For the adventurous, you can take your sight seeing further by signing up for a hang-gliding experience. I am not sure if the hang gliding company entertain walk-ins at the look out point itself but it would be a good idea to get more information from the internet to avoid disappointment.

Bald Hill Lookout in winter. Imagine jumping off the cliff to hang-glide from here.
After spending about 20 minutes here, we left Bald Hill Lookout for Wollongong. Our drive took us across Sea Cliff Bridge - a balanced cantilever bridge located in northern Illawara. This bridge has two lanes for traffic, a cycleway and a walkway. 

One way to appreciate the spectacular views from this bridge would be to walk across it. During whale migration season, there's a good chance you might spot the gentle giants making their way to their destination. Another unique way to experience this bridge is to sign up for a Harley Davidson or Ferrari ride across the bridge. On this day we did neither as we kept on driving to our next destination, Flagstaff Hill in Wollongong.

Flagstaff Hill, Wollongong

We arrived at Flagstaff Hill mid-afternoon, when the sun was still high in the sky. This did not bother us much as sea winds cooled the temperature somewhat. Walking up the side hill from the car park, we were greeted with a panoramic view of the sea, the light house, cannons, Wollongong town and to our surprise, another lighthouse! 

The first lighthouse was built on top of a hill while the newer lighthouse is farther down (within walking distance). I believe both lighthouses are no longer in use.

One of the two lighthouse at Flagstaff Hill. The newer one is within walking distance on the opposite side.
Behind the older lighthouse, iron railings were put up to prevent visitors from falling down the edge into rocks and rough sea water below. Some visitors even thought this is a good spot to commemorate important events in the lives by placing padlocks at these fences.

Padlocks left by visitors to commemorate an important event in their lives.
If you are up for a picnic, there are several picnic tables scattered around the area and ample of grass space to place your mat. Else just sit down on one of the benches available to soak in the atmosphere and the view. Although the area is not exactly flat (it has slight gradient), it's not that steep either providing good space for kids to run around. In fact my niece thought it was a fantastic idea to "play catch" during our time there.

Pebbles posing with one of three cannons.
Pebbles looking all grown up in this picture with the lighthouse and cannon as the backdrop.
She managed to stay still long enough to take this picture before she went on her run again.
This area is not only good for a picnic, it's a fantastic spot for photography. In fact a search on the internet reveals that you can hold your wedding here! I can imagine how popular this place must be during wedding season. Who would not want a beautiful setting to celebrate one of the most important days in one's life right?

Unfortunately, we could not stay here long enough. We had to carry on with the program and headed towards our next stop, Kiama Blowhole.

Read Part 2 of our Grand Pacific Drive tour here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

44,000 Steps for Charity

Most Sunday mornings, we choose to sleep in and start the day a bit later. Not on Oct 26 tho as we were participating in Cancer Council NSW's Seven Bridges Walk 2014. With our starting point being Milsons Point at 7:30am, we were out of the house by 6:45am. A bus ride and a train ride later, we arrived at Milsons Point. We were relieved to arrive 10 minutes before kick-off time until we saw the queue! Apparently, at least a few hundred people were earlier than us.
Gulp! We thought we were early. The queue starts on the left behind the trees.
Fortunately, it was not a long wait. When the registration counters opened at 7:30am, the queue was fast moving. By 8am, I received my event passbook, wristband and limited edition Cancer Council NSW bum bag (for those who fundraised >$250). With cap on, sunscreen applied, water bottle filled and bum bag in place, we were good to go. 
See how fresh I looked at the start?
The 27km circuit was divided into 14 legs. At the end of each leg, participants were required to get their event passbook stamped as proof that they were there. Although this is a walking event (not a race), participants are not forced to walk the whole way as the organisers made arrangements for bus rides connecting one village to other. 

As per the event name, we had 7 bridges to cover throughout the walk. They were:
  1. Sydney Harbour Bridge - the largest steel arch bridge in the world.
  2. Pyrmont Bridge - stands at the entrance of Darling Harbour. This bridge is open to pedestrians only.
  3. Anzac Bridge - longest cable-stayed span bridge in Australia
  4. Iron Cove Bridge - last steel truss bridge to be constructed in New South Wales where rivets were used for field connections (this was before the introduction of high strength bolts)
  5. Gladsville Bridge - longest single span concrete arch ever constructed. It celebrated its 50th birthday on 2 Oct 2014.
  6. Tarban Creek Bridge - opened in December 1965. This bridge connects Gladsville Bridge and Fig Tree Bridge.
  7. Fig Tree Bridge - built as part of north-western expressway linking the city with Sydney-Newcastle Freeway.
There were also 7 villages (list below) set up complete with water stations, entertainment and food stalls to help the participants carry on the next leg between the bridges. These villages were God sent for Mr H and I. We took advantage at every location - stopping for food, refill our water bottles and more importantly, to rest our feet! 
  1. Milsons Point
  2. Observatory Hill Village
  3. Pyrmont Village
  4. Rozelle Village
  5. Hunters Hill
  6. Lane Cove Village
  7. Wollstonecraft Village
It was during one of this stops it dawned on me the longest I have walked in any one day is probably 10km (my average is about 7km daily). Hence this 27km in one day is nearly three times more than what I normally do and did I feel it. The last 10km was most difficult for me. Not only it was one of the hottest and sunniest days I have ever experienced since stepping foot in Sydney, it was steep uphills most of the way! 
Walk, stamp, rest and more walking throughout the day.

Highlights at the different bridges.

At 22km, I can only feel my ankles throbbing and nothing else. We were approaching Wollstonecraft Village. I wondered if I should throw in the towel and take the bus ride back to Milsons Point which is 2.2km away. It was already 3:30pm and we had been walking for 7.5 hours. To get the final stamp, we needed to be at Milsons Point by 4:30pm. I ran the idea with Mr H about taking the bus. He did not seem keen (which surprised me) and kinda ignored me while he looked for a shaded spot to rest. A few minutes later, I asked him again about the taking the bus. He looked at the bus stop just as the bus was leaving. He looked back at me and said we missed the bus, so let's walk. With heavy feet, I walked back to Milsons Point. Hahaha. At 4:00pm, we got our final stamp. 

Clement was there to greet us after 8 hours of walking and helped with taking pictures of us at the "finishing line". I bought myself an ice-cream as a treat soon after.

It took us 8 hours and approximately 44,000 steps. What's important is we did it!

Overall it was a long, tiring but fulfilling day. In addition to that, I successfully raised $664.50 for Cancer Council NSW through this event. I would like to thank once again to my generous donors who helped me EXCEED my fundraising target:

  • Rebecca Zagoudis - my very first donor & supporter!
  • Assunta Spirit Alive!
  • Nadiah Kimie
  • Marissa Tan Ghazali
  • Reyvo
  • Charmaine
  • Gaik Swee Lim
  • Michaeline Lee - who helped me meet AND EXCEED my fundraising target
  • Eva & Ellie 
  • Hajar
  • David & Fahimah
  • Green Jig & Code Blue
  • Marianne Rozario

 Your support not only will be valuable to Cancer Council NSW but also to me as you guys kept me going throughout the whole time. There were moments I thought I would not make it yet I could not let you down.

The good news is, donations can still be made until November 26, 2014. If you were inspired by my story and the cause, please donate via this link  https://sevenbridgeswalk2014.everydayhero.com/au/razlin .  

All donations go directly to Cancer Council NSW. Any donated amount goes a long way but if you are stuck for an amount, $27 would be a good one. That comes out to $1 per km that I walked.

Seven Bridges Walk turns 10 next year and if time/financials permit, it would be nice to be a returning participant. I am sure the event will be bigger, better and more happening.