Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cockatoo Run, Free City Circle Bus and Watson's Bay

Today we are finally off on the Cockatoo Run! I've been wanting to do this trip for absolutely ages. We drive into Central as we have dinner reservations in town after the trip and we both hate travelling by train late at night, its not the safety angle more the tedium of sitting on station platforms for ages if you miss the train.

We make perfect time for the trip, though with hubby in charge I think we actually walked around to Platform 1 in a big circle. Still, I'm not sorry as along the way we pass through a long corridor with old rolls of honour from the various wars. Generally the Great War and WWII, an occassional Korea honour. All in beautiful timber with that patina of age. I would like to stop and take some photos but hubby's concerned we'll be late and expects we'll be back this way later...

Arriving at platform 1 is a nostalgic adventure. I haven't been here for ages. It was this platform that we would come to pick up my maternal grandparents from their nifty sleeper cabin on the train from Townsville when they came south for a visit.

We board the train right on time, taking a moment to snap the loco. Someone at 3801 has a knack for marketing, this baby's been christened the Illawarra Treetop Flyer!


We settle into our carriage. Strangely, though the carriage has plenty of spare space (which we are encouraged to occupy) our allocated seats face backwards while the forward facing ones opposite are unallocated. We quickly swap.

These old carriages date from the times that the Unanderra to Robertson line was opened ie early 1930s. There is a lovely little wooden table for us to use and the seats are well padded and comfortable. Best of all, the windows open up to allow a good breeze through the carriage. Ah, those were the days. When they were still operational who would have thought we could miss the old red rattlers and their opening windows! I guess on a hot summer day the modern air conditioned carriages do have their advantages!

We depart Central right on time as we were warned in the information we were sent. The first part of the trip is the standard metropolitan journey down through Redfern, though it is entertaining having the window open and of course we are buoyed with excitement to be on the train at last. We had been disappointed we just couldn't make it on the trip while the steam loco was on loan from Lachlan Valley, but we are pleased to find that the heritage diesel makes an appropriately chuffy sort of sound as it runs and we don't miss the steam engine at all. Still vastly different from the modern electric, or the other up to date forms of motive power.

Our journey takes us down through Hurstville and Sutherland and we find it quite interesting to see this area from this perspective as we have not been through this train line before. The rail line is lined by cute cottages and more recent apartment blocks.
In due course we start getting to the bushland regions around Jannali to the south. The Sydney Red Gums are prominent in the bush with their bark peeling and showing their russet velvet textured and dimpled trunks. Everywhere there are beautiful orange and red gum tips making a lovely show. Angophera Floribunda is here and there heavily flowering. At one point alongside the railway line a long stand of christmas bush is turning red. We generally say christmas bush is flowering when it's red, but actually the flowers are earlier and after they fall the sepals gradually turn a good strong red right at christmas time.

I am surprised to see lots of Black Wattle in flower. Mine finished months ago.


Down past the Royal National Park our volunteer carriage attendants point out the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus. This I am interested to see as it is on my list of things to do (eventually).

The driver blows the whistle as we approach a couple of tunnels and again as we pass a RailCorp work gang working around the tracks. We pass over a tall viaduct and are able to admire it as we travel its curve.


The bushland is beautiful. Tree ferns in the moister shady places, cabbage palms and some scattered flowering persoonia with it's dainty inforescences of yellow tubular flowers and its fine pine like foliage in a rich green. We note the equestrian centre on the opposite side as we chuff along heading for Stanwell Tops.
On our arrival at Otford we see what Daughter was talking about when she said the worst part of the Otford to Bundeena walk is the walk from the station at Otford to the start of the walk. It's very steep around the station.
Past the station our whistle blows again and a sulfur crested cockatoo sits in a tree snowy feathered with it's crest raised it looks so lovely. Sulfur cresteds are lovely birds... until they open their mouths. They must have the least attractive voice of any Australian bird. No question.

We break through to glimpses and finally broad views of a glorious blue ocean and the yellow sandy beach of Stanwell Park. It is glorious weather today and the ocean is a spectacular colour after a long period of grey skies and grey harbour and ocean views. Lawrence Hargreaves lookout is up on the hill, the hang gliders are out in force today riding the thermals which reliably frequent this part of the coast.
We get the smallest glimpse of Seacliffe Bridge as we travel slowly but surely down from the escarpment.
We have been reading along the way about the history of the line, the challenging gradients involved and the detail about the technical aspects is both interesting and refective of the fact that to volunteer to run a railway you are rather likely to have a keen interest in all things railway!

We pass down through a coal mine site and our guide makes a point of explaining to us how the coal is processed before being transported down to the steel works at Port Kembla to the south.

Almost immediately we enter a long tunnel. Our guide shows us the light at the end of the tunnel as this tunnel is almost completely straight. Towards the end though, it takes a turn and the tunnel curves. This is to catch the southerly breeze and blow the smoke out of the tunnel. Impressive engineering all along the way.

We pass through Coledale and along the railway embankment a great expanse of honeysuckle is in flower and the beautiful fragrance fills the carriage as we pass.

Down on the flat we pick up speed. Blowing our whistle in long strong blasts as we approach a string of level crossings. Quite a novelty as level crossings have been pretty much eliminated in the Sydney Metropolitan area. Just a very few low volume crossings remain.

As we pass Unanderra a group of little kids motion like they are pulling the train whistle in a distinct pattern. It must be a game between the driver and these kids when they are in their backyard to see the train pass by. It's not the usual whistle, they couldn't have fluked it. As we emerge from the built up areas in the northern suburbs of Wollongong we admire expansive views of coastal lowlands.


Climbing again the sound of cicadas in the surrounding bush becomes prominent. It's drier and warmer here and the cicadas like the heat. The bush just here is a bit dry and scrubby, but we are soon heading into the catchment area and its pristine bushland. The bush gradually becomes thicker and moister with long lianas growing up trunks. Towering trees draped with their long strips of shed bark stand majestically. Mountain devil bushes are in flower, native hibiscus also.. gullies trickling water. Lovely.
The gradient eases and we pull in to Summit Tank platform. The local volunteer organisations have constructed this lookout which provides superb views across Lake Illawarra. Mount Kembla is to the north. Shellharbour to the south. It is a fabulous view here in the midst of the water catchment area. Our man in charge provides a little talk about all that we can see; the construction of the line; summit tank and so on. I find it interesting and rather annoying that many of the passengers are being very rude and talking among themselves rather than listen.
Of course I'm not going to post a photo of the view.. heritage operators need all the ticket sales support they can get, being not-for-profit and volunteer operated. Last thing I want to do is wreck the business.... we continue on through the bush. Banksia serrata everywhere with cones forming up for a beautiful display and the delight of the honeyeaters.



We emerge from the bush on the approaches to Robertson into green farm fields stocked with beautiful hereford cattle. On the western side horses are grazing and there are expansive views across the highlands. I'm on the lookout for the views to the east. The road at this point has spectacular views. We get some of these views, but the road actually has a less obstructed view. The train travels discretely behind a hedgerow for much of the trip in to Robertson township. At one point we smile as a young black angus calf capers as we pass in a field lush with grass.
We pass right past the old cheese factory (literally) the factory must have been built on the line to facilitate loading up the goods. The cheese factory is now a cluster of shops and of course is the location of the Pig and Whistle cafe which is a great place to stop for a leisurely meal.

We pull into Robertson train station and virtually everyone alights to spend a few hours exploring this charming little highlands town.
Opposite the station we admire a row of what I think must be a variety of telopea (waratah species) covered in bright red blooms.
The gardens at the station are well kept with dahlias and coloured calla lilies. We have a few minutes to have a quick look at the historical displays in the old station building. We don't have nearly enough time to take them in properly, but make a note to return some time and browse at our leisure. Across from the station is a lovely town common with picnic facilities.

We keep an eye out for the man in the black hat to give the signal that the train is about to head off to Moss Vale. We have opted to go all the way to Moss Vale as we are frequently in Robertson and on the other hand we don't have general access to the train line through this way.

Underway once more the train line travels across rural pastures and we have lovely views across the reservoir.. name escapes me.. it's the one that supplies Fitzroy Falls at any rate. It is an interesting scheme here. The water is all linked up with Tallowa Dam in Kangaroo Valley and the water circulates down over the falls giving them a reliable flow.


If you are coming on the Cockatoo Run you are definitely well advised to alight at Robertson rather than continue on, so there's no harm in posting a video of what you miss if you choose not to go on to Moss Vale.




video

The train comes to a stop in amongst a long row of pines bordering nearby pastures. We wait here and enjoy the peace of the place. We are the only passengers. We stand here for quite a lengthy period, maybe 20 mins or so. Have a little doze. We are chilling. The whole trip has been exceedingly relaxing.

Apparently we have been waiting in the crossing loop for a freight train, which we understand is hauling limestone from Marulan and which has priority, to pass us before we can move off. Finally the goes through and we move on to Moss Vale. We come to another stop. We wait. We wait some more. Apparently this time we have another freight train that has to come through and it's running late throwing us out of whack. We're on the main south line here. Not some quiet backwater. The freight train passes but we're still stuck. We're beginning to wonder if we would have been better advised to alight at Robertson with everyone else. We are kept informed about what is going on by our volunteer hosts at all times. Apparently this time it's the xpt coming through. It has priority also.


At last we get the go ahead to move on in to Moss Vale station. We have been sheltering in an inspection siding, or something like that. We move slowly back to the main line and there's a significant bump. Hmm. We're still chillin'. Some little while later and it is explained to us... no doubt we felt a bit of a bump a little while ago? ...yeesss... that was the train derailing. Seems the signaller at Junee moved the points under the moving train. Helpful. This is a BIG headache for 3801. A breakdown crew will be along, but not in time for passengers to meet their timetable. There is some discussion about how to get the passengers back where they need to go. For us another xpt passing through makes a special stop. We clamber down from the Illawarra Treetop Flyer, carefully attended by our friendly volunteers walk across the tracks and clamber up the ladder and into the XPT.

It might be a hassle of massive paperwork and investigations for the infrastructure manager and for 3801, but we're laughing. You couldn't pay for excitement like that!! The XPT takes us speedily back to central via Campbelltown and Strathfield. We are running hours ahead of schedule now and make it back to central at about 4:30 rather than 7 pm.

We have had a wonderful day on the Cockatoo Run. I read a testimonial on their website that said what a relaxing day it was and I absolutely agree. We enjoyed it, and our jaunt on the XPT, so much that we have decided it would be wonderful fun to do a bit more travel by rail. We both like the idea of the Indian Pacific with a weeks stopover in Broken Hill and another in Adelaide to see family for a few days before proceeding across to Perth. Now the Indian Pacific is an iconic Australian rail journey. ... ah.. one day...

Our dinner reservation is not till 8:15 so we have some time to kill. I've not brought my weekly train ticket with me, not expecting to have use for it. But it's all good. This forces us to try the new fee city circle bus. We rather would like to catch a movie. We wizz back and forth around the city on the new free service and find it extremely convenient. Not all that many passengers in these early days but a steady stream of patrons at any rate. An hour later we're back at Circular Quay. As we missed lunch in all the excitement of derailing, we grab a snack of a couple of potato scallops and prawn cutlets before we board the ferry for Watson's Bay. The snack is very tasty but quite oily and I wish I had something more absorbent than the butchers paper it came wrapped in.

The Sydney Ferries ticket attendant tells us we should be back at Circular Quay at about 7:30 which should give us time to get back and collect the car and head to dinner at the Red Lantern.

Among the other patrons we board our ferry. The Louise Sauvage. This is a high speed twin hulled affair. It has ample outside spaces and a large commodious interior. I have to say though that we both found it an utterly charmless way to explore the harbour and we vow to repeat the exercise on the Sydney Ferries heritage explorer service. Ms Sauvage (who is a great athlete - world champion wheelchair racer) deserves a more charming vessel, but then when I think about it Louise Sauvage is fast- so is this ferry!!



Our trip takes us to Double Bay, Rose Bay and finally Watson's Bay. We take up positions in the front of the vessel outside and get a wonderful view of Fort Denison (pinchgut) as we pass.
The views back to the bridge and opera house are rather bright at this late time of day with the sun approaching the horizon.





The harbour is looking a treat.
Our first stop is Double Bay. Nice enough, but nothing to write home about in Sydney Harbour terms in my opinion.
Our next port of call is Rose Bay. Not much of a beach here. There is a nice looking park back behind the wharf though.. and a nice little patisserie up at the shops in there somewhere by the way...

Our speedy craft jets away to Watson's Bay which faces due west. I had heard great things about the views here, and they are nice enough, but you don't see the opera house or bridge or anything particularly glamorous. It is a very nice ambience at Watson's Bay. Like Manly you feel like you are miles away from the city.


Doyles is situated right on the beach. Obviously this place was settled before such things were not permitted. It is indeed a killer location and they just about have the monopoly on food here. Not cheap for what you get by the look of it. I peer at the food of people dining at the wharf outlet. Looks OK but nothing out the box by appearance at any rate. None-the-less I can certainly see the point made by many that even it its not the BEST fish and chips, having it here in this delightful spot wouldn't be hard to take, and it is certainly a Sydney icon.





Up behind the beach is a large grassed park with a large and elaborate children's playground with a shade sail. There are people kicking a ball around. This place is the epitomy of an Aussie summer...
There is another cafe in an old but well maintained building called the Dunbar. This must be named for the ship of that name... if memory serves the Dunbar was wrecked off Sydney somewhere..... a quick google and I find that my memory is not failing me. The Dunbar is described in the NSW State archives as Australia's Titanic.
We wander to the south along the promenade. We only have about 15 minutes till the last ferry takes us back to our dinner booking. There is a tidal pool for swimming. It's in somewhat of a state is disrepair and there is a sign on the fence about a development proposal, but we don't examine this in detail.




We walk around the pool. There are oysters growing everywhere. I am amazed noone has collected them, but I guess people have better sense than to eat an oyster grown in Sydney Harbour. Oysters concentrate any toxins in the water, so here with all the city and old industrial pollution a local grown oyster is the last thing you'd want to consume.
Time is pressing and we decide we'd best make a speedy return to the ferry, which has just been sitting hanging around since we arrived.
There are a few magnificent fig trees along the promenade which provide a very pleasant canopy over the path.
We have enjoyed our brief sojourn at Watson's Bay very much, but it's time to go.
The ferry speeds along back past the harbour islands that can be visited on a tour from circular quay.
It's now about 7:30 pm. Back at the quay we hang about for 10 minutes not sure if the free city circle bus is still running. Not expecting to have this time I didn't check this out before we came out. No bus in the offing so we hop a train to central, pick up our car and drive around to Crown Street and prove that parking angels are not international travellers. Brother is in Japan again over christmas January and his parking angel is enjoying a work out helping us. We get a brilliant spot not far from the Red Lantern and in no time we're being welcomed to our table for two on the terrace.
The Red Lantern is high end Vietnamese. What can I say. Superb. It has been winning awards lately and it deserves them. The service was casual and friendly but wonderfully attentive without intrusion. The food was absolutely delicious. We will definitely be back. We ate far more than we needed to as it was just too delicious, including beverages (a couple of beers and water) we're set back about $185 (including a tip on this occassion).
It's pretty late of course by the time we're finished. Our parking spot has us set up perfectly for just going down the street on or two turns and we're back on the freeway. Couldn't be easier.
We have had a spectacular day.

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