Wentworth Falls. NSW, Australia

On the weekend, my wife and I went to visit some friends of ours in Wentworth Falls, which is about an hour’s drive west of Sydney in the blue Mountains. Our friends have a house which is only about five minutes easy walking to Wentworth Falls (a total drop of 187 m or 614 ft) in the photograph the below. 

wentworth Falls

With their local knowledge, our friends took us walking for several hours along the cliff line so we could get much better views than are usually available to people who just follow the groomed national park tracks.  The falls are on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park, which is joins up with two other national parks, the Kanangra, and the Wollemi (where the prehistoric Wollemi Pine was discovered), which when you join them all up together cover a larger area than the country of Belgium.  The whole area is listed as a World Heritage Wilderness area.  It is a truly vast and ancient place. In years past, I’ve climbed many of the cliffs and I’ve been on many overnight hiking trips in the valleys below. 

The Blue Mountains National Park is vast.

On the top of the ridges, strong winds blow constantly, and the soil is very poor making it very difficult for many plants to thrive.  The vegetation that can survive such torturous conditions, tend to be shrubs no higher than a metre or two, which have either very thin water conserving leaves or prickles. 

Casuarina

In the more protected and wetter valleys below, very tall eucalypts such as the blue gum thrive.

Casuarina

Hiking in the blue Mountains is a bit different to walking in many other parts of the world, because most people tend to start in the low lands and walk uphill into the mountains, but in the blue Mountains you start at the top and you walk down into the valleys.  The reason for this is because the road follows the ridges. It’s very rugged and steep terrain, therefore quite of few people have been lost, because they have underestimated how rough the country is and overestimated their fitness and abilities. 

Looking outwestward to Mt Solitary

In most parts of the world, the common wisdom is that if you get lost you follow the rivers out to the sea.  If you were to do that in the Blue Mountains National Park, you would probably starve as it would take a fit person about two weeks to follow the rivers through very dense bush out to the coast.  If you are ever lost in the blue Mountains, the best strategy to get yourself out of trouble is to head east and walk uphill to the ridges so you can meet up with the highway.

Urban decay on Parramatta Road. Camperdown, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Parramatta Road, which runs from Sydney to Parramatta (about 20km or 14 miles) has to be one of the ugliest roads in Australia.  Due to the constant increasing demands of automobile traffic, the road has been widened to such an extent that the old storefronts had to remove the supporting posts of their overhanging balconies because of the dangers to cars hitting them.  Most of the old balconies were converted to non-load bearing awnings instead.

Old shops left to decay on Parramatta Rd

What were once characterful, late 19th century buildings have been reduced to shattered ghosts of their original forms.  To compound such a sad state of affairs for the store owners, the widening of the road also has removed any kerbside parking, making it very difficult for shoppers as there is no nearby parking.  So many of the businesses along Parramatta Road have suffered to the point that they are no longer viable and many have been left to decay.

King Autos. King St, Newtown, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

I went into Newtown yesterday to buy a little bag from Crumplers for my camera . I thought I’d also try out my new 10-20mm zoom.

The mode of transport of the hip young things of Newtown

Back in the early 1970s, not long after I moved out of home and left school,  I lived in Newtown. Back then it was a very run down working class slum. It’s still a bit of a slum but over the last 20 years it’s been becoming more trendy and gentrified as people with money who want to live near the city have moved in and have started renovating the old terrace houses. All this influx of money into the area supports lots of little coffee shops and trendy boutiques where piercings and tattoos are so common as to almost be de rigeur.

I have dark feelings towards scraper sites, leeches and spammers.

I bought a 10mm-20mm lens (Sigma) yesterday and today as I was walking outside I looked up and thought, “I think I better get a shot of this”.  So I went back upstairs and took a couple of pictures to stitch together in Photoshop. Poor old Photoshop doesn’t like having to stitch such wide angle shots but at least it’s better than Photostich by Cannon that I was using before.

The darkness of the clouds mirrors my feelings towards scraper sites leeches spammers who are the scourges of the internet

I really resent having to put a watermark on such shots but past experience with those shit-bag scraper sites and leeches have forced my hand. As a matter of fact, I’d like to see all those creeps (including spammers) just crawl off to do the world a favour and top themselves.

Geeking out over the Sea Cliff Bridge. Between Coalcliff and Clifton, NSW, Australia.

Since my wife (Engogirl) is an engineer, specializing in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), we often visit bridges and dams just to geek over them. We go to so many dams and bridges that I even have categories for them in the menu on the left.   

Do not be fooled by the cute counternance because Engogirl has a brain the size of a planet

When my wife was at university I used to help her with her assignments (mainly taking photos of dams and drains) and over time I have learnt to enjoy and appreciate such seemingly unlovely concrete things.  As a matter of fact, even the drainage by the side of the road have become interesting because I know more about the reasoning behind their design and what goes into making them. I now notice things like the size of the slots in the drainage grates or the distance between the drains and the camber of the roads and how it affects the placement of the drains.

Last Sunday we decided to go and have a look at the new Sea Cliff Bridge between Coalcliff and Clifton just south of Stanwell Park where Lawrence Hargrave conducted his famous experiments in aeronautics with box kites.  Bald Hill in Stanwell Park, which overlooks the bridge is still a very popular place for people wanting to enjoy the reliable up-drafts.  On any weekend, there will be plenty of people who are either hang gliding, flying model gliders, or just plain gawking all along the sea cliffs in that area.

The Sea Cliff Bridge in the centre of the shot, just below the hang glider

For years there has not been a reliable way to follow the coast by road from Sydney to Wollongong, due to the steep terrain which caused frequent rock slides. After a very big rock fall in 2003, the original road was permanently closed and the Sea Cliff Bridge was commissioned.  Two years and $45 million later, the bridge was completed in December 2005.

The coastal road between Sydney and Wollongong has now become somewhat of a tourist attraction thanks to this beautiful bridge. It’s quite a nice walk across, as the bridge as it affords spectacular views of the pounding ocean below.

The Sea Cliff Bridge is such a sexy piece of engineering, that it has been featured in various ads and shows about engineering. Here’s two videos. The first video is a Shell and Ferrari commercial which shows an F1 driving over the Sea Cliff Bridge in the rain about halfway through the ad.

[youtube VXrD7jZMFFE]

The second video is a jingoistic and sexed up Australian engineering association promo about various engineering projects here in Australia it has some nice footage of the bridge, about halfway through.

[youtube 3lcorL9TCcU]

Plants have no shame. Royal National Park, Audley, NSW, Australia

A short drive south of Sydney will take you to the second oldest (1879) national park in the world, the Royal National Park.  The park basically consists of two types of scenery, coastal cliffs and heathland.  Most of the plant in the Park salt resistant hearty, prickly little things that somehow managed to eke a living out of probably some of the poorest soil in the world. Come to think of it, that’s probably why it was declared a national park, because it’s absolutely useless for farming.

Since the weather finally cleared up on Sunday, my wife and I went for a drive and a walk in the Royal National Park.

We’ve had a few rain falls over the last couple of weeks and although it’s still technically winter nobody seems to have told the plant world, because nearly everything with roots in the soil is blooming. 

A regular plant orgy

As you look across the heath it is though one is looking at a slow motion corybantic dithyramb of plants in heat presenting themselves to all comers. With no brains to experience any shame, the plants wantonly went about their reproductive business, oblivious to rest of the world. I’ve always thought it strangely ironic that we humans present the torn off sex organs of plants to the targets of our desires. Not very a subtle hint and a rather callously barbaric practice when you actually think about it.

Most of the heath plants have tiny little spiky leaves to preserve moisture and their flowers tend to be quite small.  Around about the size of a little fingernail.

Most of the flowers are very small

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule,

The Gymea Lily

and in the Royal National Park it is the Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) which send flower spikes up to 6 m high (about 18 ft).

Doryanthes excelsa

After witnessing all of the botanical fecundity last weekend, my wife and I intend to follow nature’s lead and begin planting out our vegetable garden, next weekend. This year we will be trying out some heritage tomatoes (old styles that are no longer commercially own) that have been bred for taste rather than toughness for transportation such as the ones available in supermarkets.

Gulls. Coalcliff, NSW, Australia.

 

 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

(An extract from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield)

Exteriors, interiors, the nature of beauty and the need to be safe. Marrakech, Morocco. 1982

Marrakech is known as the red city and is not hard to understand why, when you see the colour of the building exteriors as you walk through the old narrow streets.  Almost about every old building in Marrakech seems to be like a fortress with very few ground level windows (that always have metal grilles over them) and solid steel front doors.  The buildings appear to rise up like solid defensive pillar-boxes out of the ground. There aren’t very many clues of what the interiors are like other than a few colours around the doorway that act as a decorative prologue to the story inside.

The entranceway to the hotel where I stayed in Marrakech

When I was in Morocco, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the Moroccans must have felt under threat from marauders.  The streets are so narrow, and all the ground level entry points have been strengthened.  I can imagine how difficult it would have been for people trying to attack a Moroccan town when every house is a stronghold.  Any marauders packed together in narrow streets would’ve been pelted with rocks and arrows from the flat rooftops above.  Just like shooting fish in a barrel.

Not only are most of the houses built with defense in mind, but they are also act as peaceful sanctuaries from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.  Walking through the typical Moroccan town is similar to being a rat in a high walled maze.  Kilometre after kilometre of high walls and steel doors.  To me the whole country seemed to communicate through its architecture that strangers were not welcome. There is a definite sense of the difference between the life lived indoors to that experienced outside in Morocco.   

The courtyard of the hotel where I stayed in Marrakech

Either you are part of the close family that resides safely in cool courtyards behind thick fortified walls, or you’re the stranger that is kept at arm’s length, outside and vulnerable in the labyrinth.

Another thought that occurred to me when I was in Morocco was how people who live close to the land, will when they have enough money, change their environment so that it stands in contrast to what occurs naturally.

In Morocco only poor people’s houses are the colour of locally available materials.  Many of us who live in the cities of the developed world have romanticised ideas about people who live on the land and how they are in harmony with the environment.  Truth be known, the people who work on the land tend to be in opposition to the land. For example, many farmers see trees as things that need to be cleared so the land can be made more useful. 

I suspect that farmers are sick of earth tones

As soon as Moroccans get enough money, they will paint their houses in brighter colours such as blue or pink. Here in the more developed the parts of the world, I suppose because bright colours and shiny surfaces are the norm, we tend to value more natural textures and colours.

Several hundred years ago in Europe, thin tanned people were not considered to be beautiful and painters like Paul Rubens idealised pale, plump women. Nowadays, in the developed world thanks to our sedentary lifestyles, obesity is common and pallid skin is the norm, so the uncommonly thin and tanned are deemed to be beautiful.

We mostly see blue skies during the day and yet for about 15 minutes we have red and orange sunsets, which so many people seem to enjoy and would describe as being beautiful.  We humans hanker after the uncommon. We often ascribe great value to rarity, and we quite often feel that rare things are beautiful.

The concept of chiaroscuro enters my mind nearly every day as I think about the things we enjoy and value. I wonder why we like them.  I’d say that we tend to want things that are different to what occurs most of the time in our lives.  Perhaps there is an inherent desire for contrast in our avaricious little hearts.  When we live in the natural world we lust after the unnatural and the new. We are so like the Satin Bowerbirds, surrounded by nature in the forest but are besotted by a bright shiny bits of blue glass. 

Conversely, we who live in the developed world, that is full of bright shiny things, surround ourselves (if we can afford it) with natural textures such as distressed timbers, quarried stone and antiques.

Beirut – Scenic World and Postcards from Italy

Today I’ve been doing house maintaintence and I’ve been listening to the album Gulag Orkestar by the band Beirut. 

Here’s a couple of songs from the album

[youtube 3RzfM31Rdzs]

Scenic World

The lights go on
The lights go off
When things don’t feel right
I lie down like a tired dog
Licking his wounds in the shade

When I feel alive
I try to imagine a careless life
A scenic world where the sunsets are all
Breathtaking

 [youtube O31akOzQV_Q]

Postcards from Italy

The times we had
Oh, when the winds would blow with rain or snow
Were not all bad
We put our feet just where they had, had to go
Never to go

The shattered soul
Following close but nearly twice as slow
In my good times
There were always golden rocks to throw at those who admit defeat too late
Those were our times, those were our times
And I will love to see that day
That day was mine
When she will marry me outside with the willow trees
And play the songs that we made
They made me so
And I would love to see that day, and
Her day was mine

Zion National Monument. Utah, USA. 2005

Both my wife and I love the South Western States of American. The scenery is fantastic and the food is incredible. Back in the early autmun months of 2005 we went to the USA and drove from Las Vegas to Santa Fe.  On the way we stopped of at some of the most beautiful places on earth. My wife’s favourite place was Zion National Monument and the Grand Canyon was mine.

As you enter the Zion park you first see the Patriarchs.

The Patriarchs

The whole park is a rock climber’s wet dream with the most beautiful sheer walls of perfect Navajo sandstone.

In the middle of the park there is a really nice little restaurant that is staffed by people who are totally blissed out by what beautiful surroundings they work in. It was like the environment was giving a contact high to everybody who moved through the landscape. Both my wife and I were really impressed by how genuinely pleasant everyone we met at Zion was.  I guess it’s pretty hard to be unhappy in such a place at such a nice time of the year. It was a totally different vibe to the one given off by the staff at Yosemite.

On the road out of the park you pass a natural arch.

A natural arch

Along the way to Santa Fe we also visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Monument valley, Hovenweep and Bandelier National Monuments. All amazing places.