Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Southern Highlands - Take a day trip or short break

The southern highlands is a great place to relax, escape and unwind with amazing gardens, magnificent lookouts and many natural wonders to explore. It is only a 90 minute drive from Sydney and makes a fantastic destination for a short break or even just a day trip.

decided to head to the Highlands to take a break from my daily routine and spend some time with my son. On a side note I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and have fun in my new toy Skoda Fabia VRS135A brilliant car or shall I say, a small rocket!


We travelled to Mittagong from Sydney and visited the Information Centre. As usual, the friendly staff helped us to map out our itinerary for the days adventure. We started with the lookouts at Mt Gibraltar.The view of Bowral and Mittagong was breath taking not to mention the beautiful drive as there.
Views from Mt Gibraltar.

Lookout at Mt Gibraltar

We then made our way to Bowral, a very unique and beautiful town. Bowral was the home town of Cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman so of course we started at 'International cricket hall of fame' . This is a must visit for anyone who has any interest in Cricket. We stopped off for lunch at Kookabar Cafe, a great friendly European style cafe with peaceful ambience and delicious food.

We were fortunate enough to be in Bowral during spring, also known as tulip time in the region. Corbett garden is the home of tulip time and it presents a beautiful landscape filled with many varieties of tulips.

Corbett Garden, Bowral

Corbett Garden, Bowral
Tulips @ Corbett Garden, Bowral

Corbett Garden, Bowral
Corbett Garden, Bowral

Tulips @ Corbett Garden, Bowral

Of course, as with any short trip, we ran out if time. We said goodbye to the sea of vibrant tulips and fresh country air and made our way home. If you happen to start your trip a bit earlier in the day or if you are travelling during Summer be sure not to miss Fitzroy falls, at Moreton national park.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tandem Sky Dive- The adrenaline rush

A few weeks back when my office colleague asked me if I would like to sky dive and I told him ‘why not?’, knowing  not in the least what I was up for. This ex army lad is quite capable of doing things out of this world and I am sure many of you have already experienced it. I believe Mark is quite effective in getting people to do things differently as soon my other colleagues and I discovered after realising we had signed up for an adventure of a lifetime. 

Jumping from plane

HA HA HA; for a minute remembering God

It was quite amazing to know that all of eight divers were diving for the first time. Each one of us had a different reason to dive today, it was an anniversary for a couple, 50th birthday for another person and we also had a banker with us who declared quite openly that he was there because his 16 year old son was diving and he didn’t want to appear chicken.

My first glimpse of the plane we were to be travelling in was rather unsettling. I had never flown in a one engine plane before.  My instructor told me that due to age and only one engine, they could not fly during strong winds, thunder or any of abnormal conditions. As well as this disturbing fact I also noticed that even the pilot was wearing a parachute! This was somewhat disconcerting but I felt it was too late to back out now! Albion airport has no traffic controller and all the planes (most of them are novice pilots following their hobby) communicate on the same radio frequency for use of runaway strip for landing and take-off. Therefore, after a few unsettling starts and stops eventually our plane was on the runaway, taking off successfully.

Once we were off the ground and relieved from this uncharacteristic take off I started to focus on the beauty outside. Wollongong and its sea line is truly blessed with natural beauty, it was so wonderful to see the view outside. Within the next ten minutes, we were at a height of 14000 ft and the pilot announced that we would be diving in the next five minutes. We all looked at each other pretending to be cool and reassuring each other that all was well. Meanwhile my insides were telling a different story and I realised that we had no control of the situation anymore.

Finally the pilot announced the jump. I was the fourth person to jump and I watched with horror as I witnessed the other three going down and the expressions on their faces. A true Kodak moment!
My turn finally came and Tom took me to the open gate where he took his jumping position while I was hanging halfway out the plane like a terrified little Joey!  After a few very long seconds on the gate we made the jump. Whooosh!!!! What an experience, falling down at a speed of approximately 220 Km/ hr. For a moment I was blank, but very quickly started to enjoy the fall. I do not have words to describe the experience. I can’t compare this with any of my previous experiences and maybe that is why you should try this. The free fall lasted 60 seconds but was long enough to really feel it and enjoy it. The best part of the dive was crossing the thin layer of clouds and witnessing the beautiful coastline below. Soon after, the parachute inflated and we started sailing downward at a leisurely pace.

Wind Pressure make you look funny

Beautiful view of Wollongong coastline

View of Wollongong coastline

My diving partner then allowed me to control the parachute for the next few minutes before he took back control in preparation for landing. It was a great feeling to swing the parachute in different directions and it gave me a feeling of controlling my own destiny. One thing I must say is that I could not take my eyes off the breathtaking view.

Landing was easy enough and fortunately, it was on my diving partners legs.I really admire the planning and preparation of Sydney Beach sky dive team, the whole event was executed extremely well.

Bilpin – Apple picking experience

It was a boring Sunday morning after a dull Saturday. I was itching for some activity and something different, however too lazy to plan anything.  It was than my son 'Aryan' who pursued me to move out of home. We both didn't knew the answer to next obvious question where? And again Aryan recalled a place, we drove through during our last visit to Dubbo.  'Bilpin', A pretty little hamlet located on the Bells Line of Road. As we vaguely remember the place was on hills and famous for Apple orchards and great apple pies. Sounded like music to my ears, an opportunity to drive for couple of hours and apple picking sounded like fun. 
Shields orchard
Royal Gala

After some web research (Goggling) we started for Bilpin, it was 90 minutes drive from our home at north shore and was just after Richmond. A beautiful drive once you cross the Richmond and drive through Kurrajong heights. Kurrajong is the aboriginal name for ‘shade tree’, which grew in abundance in the town. From Kurrajong Heights, you can see the orchards, the beautiful rolling green hills intermingled with the rugged bush covered rocks and views of the Grose Valley. It was sunny and even more beautiful as autumn season was setting in. 
Apple Farm

Shields orchard
Aryan having fun

Catch one

Our first stop was The Bilpin Fruit Bowl, one of the numerous charming coffee stops featuring homemade apple pies, jams, local honey, Bilpin Apple Juice and Apple Cider Vinegar. We had our breakfast and discovered that the apple-picking season is almost over and only one orchard is still open. We rushed to Shields orchard to try our luck. To our disappointment apple picking was only allowed through pre-booking , which we obviously did not have. It was just than our luck turned and a family called up for last minute cancellation, allowed us a slot.

Humming Bird

Humming Bird
Shields is a large orchard with mainly three types of apples Royal Gala, Pink Lady and Granny Smith. One of the orchard employee explained us the map of the orchard and gave us the directions to find different type of apples. This was end of the season, so we really don't have to worry a lot about picking the ripened fruit. Most of apples were ready to be picked. We spent couple of hours selecting and picking plenty of apples. The apples were good, definitely tested much more fresh and juicy than our local supermarket. My son tested an apple and said ‘it is really fresh as if I have just picked it from tree’ and we all laughed. He has actually just picked the apple. The orchard was also the home of lots of beautiful humming birds, lorikeets and singing bellbirds.

While coming back from shields orchard, we stopped at a place called Tutti Fruitti, famous for its real-fruit ice creams. If you happen to drive through this area, don't miss out the Tutti Fruitti ice cream of this place. The ice cream is freshly made with fresh fruits, picked the same morning and blended with berries of your choice.

Overall, it was a great day out and a good fun with kids. I will highly recommend visiting Kurrjong Heights and Bilpin.

Dubbo Visit

[Credit to my daughter Anchal for helping me write this log ]

We were speeding through the traffic now. For the last 20 minutes we could not have moved more than 10 cm. We still had 5 hours of driving ahead of us and sitting in traffic for 20 minutes had already tired me out. Despite the fact that we raced out of the house at 6am to avoid the traffic, our good intentions were outmoded when it seemed like everyone else had the same idea. Not the best start to a peaceful weekend away.
As we entered the city, I looked in the rear vision mirror to find our kids fast asleep in the back seat. The views were not that far away now. My hope for this trip was to get far away from the city, to have a nice peaceful time in a small town with a tranquil environment. We were headed to Dubbo, a beautiful town north of Sydney. It was the perfect place, boasting a large zoo, and observatory which was perfect for the kids as well.

Lithgow Station, 1987

The views outside the car were magnificent. Acres of lush farmland expanding over hundreds of kilometres while the sun peeked through the clouds like gold pouring out of the sky. That beautiful sight must have made my ride because I can’t recall the next 4 hours of driving. Chatting with my family and playing atlas was all I must have done until I realised that we had reached our destination.

We checked into our hotel and decided to take an afternoon walk to explore the town, which turned out to be extremely impressive.

The next morning my family and I went off to the morning zoo tour. A tour specially designed to see the main attractions of the zoo and experience the animals without the crowd around. There were only a few other families on the tour so It was essentially us and the animals and of course the guide. 
Our Guide

Not only neck my tongue is also long 

Watch out for tall shed

As we were led through the zoo, some of the animals really stood out. The first enclosure we encountered was the monkey enclosure. The loudest monkeys I have ever seen. They can be heard 5 kilometres away from anywhere, and standing meters away was not pleasing to the ear. We saw some gross stuff as well… like the hippopotamus rolling in its own poo to get warm. I was very grateful that day that I wasn’t born a hippo. 

Sleeping in Poo keeps us warm

We didn’t get to see the whole zoo as it is so large so we decided to return after a trip to the observatory. Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered that the observatory was closed due to bad weather conditions. Upon our return to the zoo we decided to hire bikes because it would be much quicker to get around. We jumped on our bikes and began our 8 kilometre ride around the zoo.
The zoo offered numerous entertaining and educational shows, which I made sure we did not miss. The kids were very engrossed as well. I appreciated that all the animals were kept in their natural habitats, which for a photographer is an excellent opportunity.

Riding around, I saw my favourite animal; the Indian elephant. It was feeding time and they ate their grass leisurely allowing me to get some amazing snap shots. I also got some remarkable photos of the cheetahs, giraffes and lions. These were very rare opportunities but thanks to the beautiful open grounds and amazing animals, I was lucky enough to capture them. Despite being an adult, I enjoyed my zoo trip, riding around and watching the animals really did entertain me.  
A very old tortoise

Indian Elephant

It was the Lions's 10th birthday

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Sydney. The two-day holiday had a magical effect on my family. They were happier and I personally felt very connected to them.

Heading back home, we came around the world’s second largest canyon. The views were stunning. Trees covered the mountains and while I was standing there, I saw a dazzling sight; a flock of birds soaring in the sky as one. They were too quick for me to take a photo but I was still able to enjoy their beauty.

Captree Canyon: World's second largest canyon

I would definitely recommend taking a visit to Capetree and Dubbo. This trip re-energized me  and it isn’t often that you stumble upon the kind of natural beauty that these two places have to offer.