Here a Park, There a Park

Monday, September 08, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 6:  Sydney to Canberra

Fog shrouded the road and the temperature hovered at 50° as we left our hotel just before 6:30 this morning.  We had moved to a lodging in a northern Sydney suburb yesterday to facilitate our visit with the cousins, and we wanted to get around Sydney before Monday morning rush hour. Apparently rush hour begins very early in these parts, for the streets were already filled with vehicles.  However, traffic flowed smoothly, and by 7:30 we had arrived at Royal National Park 20 miles south of the city.

Designated in 1879, Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world, after Yellowstone in the U.S.—a bewilderingly anachronistic accomplishment when you consider that before 1901, what became Australia was just a loosely affiliated collection of British colonies.  The park encompasses a wide variety of terrain from coastal cliffs to deep river valleys and eucalyptus forests.  Several small settlements lie within the park and can be accessed by road.

Sandy beaches tucked between cliffs beckon surfers with their spirited waves.  Tempted as we were by the surf scene when we stopped at Garie Beach, we opted instead for a short bushwalk (hike) along the Coastal Walk (pictured above), an 18-mile trail that skirts the park's eastern edge and offered up some superb seaside scenery.

Continuing south, we were eager to catch sight of the renowned Sea Cliff Bridge, a A$52 million balanced cantilever bridge linking the coastal hamlets of Coalcliff and Clifton.  Prior to the construction of the bridge in 2004-05, a road along the cliff had carried traffic down this section of coast.  But erosion of the sandstone bluffs by ocean winds and spray produced frequent rock slides and a serious risk for motorists.  After a major embankment slip in 2003, the section of road was deemed too hazardous and was closed permanently.

When the public pleaded for reopening of the only road along this section of the coast, engineers designed a dramatic viaduct built out away from the cliff face and its dangers.  Only four-tenths of a mile long, Sea Cliff Bridge has boosted tourist traffic to the area and starred in numerous automobile commercials.  Along the sinuous coastal road, we struggled to find a spot to get a better look at this engineering wonder.  Tempted to follow others who had breached a fence to get down below it, we opted to remain legal and take a walk on the Sea Cliff's pedestrian lane instead.

By the time we moved on from our bridge ogling, it was past noon and we had another 200 miles to go before we reached Canberra.  With the sun setting around 5:30 and having seen a good bit of kangaroo road kill along the roadways, we wanted to reach our destination before darkness arrived to avoid the possibility of needing to take our rental car to a "smash repairer," as body shops are called here.  So we decided to skip a letterbox we had planned to seek south of Wollongong.  It would have added another 70 miles to our trip, and we had other stops we wanted to make on the way to the nation's capital city.
Sea Cliff Bridge was named by an 11-year-old girl in a contest.
Leaving the coast, we ventured inland toward our next anticipated stop at Macquarie (mi-quarry) Pass National Park.  Like so many other landmarks, businesses, institutions and other entities in Australia, the park and pass are named for Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, a Scottish army officer who served as colonial governor of New South Wales (NSW) in the early 1800s and who is credited with guiding the colony from a penal outpost to a free settlement.  Opened in 1898, Macquarie Pass is a five-mile section of highway that traverses the Illawarra Range with a steep, serpentine strip of asphalt, fraught with hairpin turns where drivers of buses and trucks often have to start into the turn, reverse, and go forward again to make the curve.  Occasionally the busy road narrows to a single lane, elevating one's interest in what vehicles may be rounding from the next bend. The pass is notorious for accidents, and motorcyclists, who find the road too enticing to resist, are often involved.

Hugging the left side of a single lane, wondering what's coming around that curve
Although loathe to take our eyes from this challenging road, occasional sidewise glances revealed spectacular scenery through the pass with colorful sandstone outcrops, towering trees of many varieties, and huge ferns.  We had expected to encounter a visitor center, where we would stop and take a walk to get a closer look at some of these wonders, but alas, there was none.  And before we knew it, we were exiting the pass and the park and on our way to Fitzroy Falls just 15 miles away.

Fitzroy Falls
Located in Morton National Park (there seem to be lots of these), Fitzroy Falls was named for another colonial governor whose name, though not as ubiquitous as Macquarie, is frequently seen in Australia as well.  This 265-foot cascade thunders over the edge of an escarpment where the mild-mannered Yarrunga Creek tumbles into the valley below and flows into the Kangaroo River.  The fall was more impressive than we anticipated given the A$3.00 cost of parking, which included admission for two. As an aside, Australia does seem to be very generous with the national park designation.  We had already driven through two in the space of 20 miles on our way to Royal this morning.

Pushing on we reconnected with the Hume Highway which traces through the NSW region known as the Southern Highlands and into the Australian Capital Territory.  Much like America's District of Columbia, though more than tenfold its size, the ACT was ceded by New South Wales when the new nation of Australia decided to forestall competition between Melbourne and Sydney by creating a new city to be its capital.  Unlike Washington, DC, the area leading up and adjacent to Australia's capital city is very pastoral with one after another large flocks of sheep grazing in roadside pastures.

Arriving just before sunset, we checked into the East Hotel.  Though the highest rated hotel in this city of 391,000, the hotel has a stark, dark decor that evinces the gloomy atmosphere of a dungeon.  With one recessed light in a 400-sq.ft. room, one wonders whether this is a "bring your own light" kind of establishment.

Tomorrow we'll see what we can of the capital city before flying off to Tasmania the following morning.

Road Noise:

Perhaps because they live in a country where so many things can go so terribly wrong, Australians post warning signs for all manner of risks.  In the places we've visited, we haven't encountered any signs about the risks of all the dangerous animals here, but most everything else seems to be covered, even the hazard of letting your small child fall into the toilet.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Sydney, ended in Canberra
  • Mileage - 223            (Trip total: 9,953)
  • Weather - Foggy, Sunny; 50° to 66°
  • Dead kangaroos by the roadside - 14
  • Grazing sheep - 4,168
  • Surfers at Garie Beach - 17
  • Dangers warned of - 24 (today)


Little Garie Beach
Remarkable rocks along coastal trail
The Big Merino, world's largest concrete sheep, in Goulburn