Monday, June 24, 2013

SS Ayrfield aka The Floating Forest

Denizens of the internet:  I finally have something real to contribute.  I will tell you how I got to the remains of the SS Ayrfield aka the floating forest, and you can too!

The last week I was in Sydney, the SS Ayrfield had an internet moment.  For whatever reason, it was suddenly everywhere: compiled onto lists of cool abandoned things, showing up in awesome pictures, and being touted as a something you must see before you die.  

It's rare that I'm somewhere when something is actually happening/capturing the collective conscience.  So, I decided to seek it out and see it for myself.  Which is where I ran into a bit of a problem.  While plenty of people seemed to have found it (with photos galore as proof), no one mentioned how to get there.  After some trial and error (and some pestering of the very patient staff at the hostel), I figured it out.  And I want to share the fruits of my knowledge with you!

For those that managed to avoid the hype, the SS Ayrfield was a steam collier built in the UK in 1911.  It was registered in Sydney in 1912 and during both world wars it transported supplies to American troops in the South Pacific.  In the early 70s, it was sent to Homebush Bay, a boat breaker yard in west Sydney on the Parramatta River.  At this point, the usable parts of the ship were taken, everything else was scraped, and the hull was left to rot in the bay.

The SS Ayrfield would have been just one more slowly disintegrating hunk of metal, except that nature had other plans.  The mangroves near the rusted out hull decided to expand.

Two views of the SS Ayrfield

And this rotting husk became a floating forest of mangroves, in spite of the polluted waters.

So how do you get there?

There are a lot of public transportation options to get to Homebush Bay; it's near Olympic Park, so there would have to be.  The buses and trains have stops there, but I took the ferry from Circular Quay (you can also get it from Darling Harbor).  Unfortunately, I don't know what a ticket would cost you to get there and back, because I had purchased a weekly pass for $61 - which got me all the way to the Blue Mountains and points beyond, and included unlimited train, subway, bus, and ferry rides.  Totally worth it if you're going to be using a lot of public transportation.  It will not get you to the airport, as there's an additional fee for that (I found out the hard way).

Beautiful Homebush Bay

From the ferry landing, walk along the sidewalk or bike trail into town, about a kilometer.  When you see a sign for restaurants along the waterfront, turn left and follow that street to the waterfront (maybe four blocks?  six?  I honestly can't remember - but there's really nothing else to be heading towards, trust me).  From there you'll be looking out over the bay.  The Ayrfield, and a few other wrecks, are to your right.  You can follow the path as it hugs the shore around and get quite close.

Is it worth it?

That's hard to say.  Truthfully, it's not that impressive in person.  Take away the dramatic lighting of sunrise and sunset and a zoom lens, and you've basically traveled an hour to see a dozen trees crammed into a rusting hulk.  

The whole neighborhood is vaguely creepy, in a post apocalyptic sort of way.  There are blocks and blocks of luxury apartments - and apparently no one around to inhabit them.  I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what direction the zombies were going to come from and what the best method of escape would be.  For the two hours I wandered around, I saw maybe half a dozen people.  Those restaurants you thought you were walking towards?  They don't actually exist.  I don't know if the neighborhood was part of the fallout of the 2008 financial crises or what, but there was (almost) no one about.  It was a warm and sunny Sunday evening, where was everyone?

Not here  

Here's what you should know: it's definitely further afield than almost any "touristy" thing in Sydney and it will take at least an hour to get there.  While public transportation will take you to the general area, none drops you off directly at the Ayrfield.  You're either walking from the ferry landing or the bus stop, probably a kilometer or more.  While the terrain is flat, the sidewalk wasn't always smooth, but the bike path appeared to be.  So people with mobility issues might have trouble.  

There also isn't much else to do in the area.  Like I said before, the restaurants on the waterfront just weren't .  I wandered around the streets and did find a coffee shop that was open (and had a bathroom!)  but that was it.  If you take the bus, I think it drops you off near Olympic Stadium and there should be restaurants and signs of life in that general vicinity.  Since I didn't go that route, I can't really speak to it.

I enjoyed my adventure and getting out of Sydney proper (and pretending to be the lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world), but it might not be for everyone.    

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sydney I'll Come Running

It's my last day in Australia.  I've just been bumming around Sydney trying to take it all in.  

In my one nod to my chosen profession, yesterday I took the ferry to Manly beach and stopped by Adriano Zumbo's patisserie.  It was the perfect day for lounging around drinking coffee and eating sweets.  And then hiking up to the top of the sea cliffs for views of Sydney.

Prior to that I spent the weekend in the Blue Mountains hiking around.  All this hiking!  Don't worry, there have been sandwiches and meat pies aplenty to keep me going.  It was freezing in the mountains, but the hostel I stayed in had a fireplace and a cat, who was reluctantly available for snuggles.  

Now I'm just doing all the things I love about Sydney one last time: my final visit to the botanic gardens (naptime!), a last trip to the library (no really, it's awesome), and a flat white or three.

I'm sad to be going - there's still so much I didn't get to see or do - but I'm excited to be heading to Seoul and to a friend.  There are only so many times you can have the what's your name/where are you from/how long are you traveling conversation before you just start to make shit up.  And then live in fear that you won't remember what you made up.

I am equally exited about going home (CATS!!!), freaked out (employment, wherefore art thou?), and plotting my next escapade.  In the meantime, it's naptime.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And then there was one (week left)

How did this happen?  Didn't I just get here?  Where did the time go?


But that's how it goes, my lovelies.  I am down to my last week in Oz.

I'm back in Sydney after braving the outback and seeing a very big red rock.  There are stories to tell and situations to be sorted.

I didn't climb to the top of Uluru.  I was contemplating it on the ride out there and the trail was open, a rarity.  But then I saw the path and after the Mt Wellington sufferfest, I thought my time would be better spent circumnavigating the rock instead of battling the enthusiastic flies and relentless sun while trying not to fall off. The path is practically vertical and Catherines are clumsy and lacking in adhesive material in the feet and hands.  So yeah.

The base walk was beautiful; being able to see the different perspectives was amazing.  No regrets.

So how to spend the last week?  I'm headed out to the Blue Mountains this weekend (train ride!) and then my last few days in Sydney.  Then I'm out.

It feels so unreal.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Some Cogitation

It's been a quiet few weeks for the mobile worldwide Noms HQ.  There's been a lot of reading and yoga.  And coffee - though that probably goes without saying.

So what have I been doing?  Walking around and exploring neighborhoods and public gardens, both in Hobart and Melbourne.  And hanging out at the library.  Honestly, the Victoria State Library has become my second home; I want to move in here.  Truthfully, I've been looking for the quiet; mostly I've just wanted to reflect: on travels and on news I've gotten from home.

When I was living in DC I worked at a nightclub where every band that mattered played.  You think I'm joking?  Sure, whatever flavor of the month graced the stage, but so did Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and James Brown.  It was an unparalleled musical education and everyone who worked there was both awesome and slightly unhinged.  I fit right in.

More than any other place I've worked, it felt like family.  Even now, three thousand miles away and a decade later, I still keep in touch with most of them.  Which is why it hurt so much to find out one of them had died.  Worse still, he was one of the most enthusiastic and happy people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing and he leaves behind his wife (also a friend) and their two kids.  It's sad when anyone leaves the party before you think they should, but this feels especially cruel: like he left right as it was getting good.

The same day I found out that I'm going to be an auntie once again, for the third time.  So this holiday season there will be not one, but two new McNultys in the world - you've been warned.

So it goes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


5 days
1899 kilometers
(That's 1180 miles, people!)
An absurd amount of savory pies and coffee consumed.
One road race, accidentally entered.
And a wombat named Puffin snuggled.

I survived my traipse around Tas road trip!

It was absolutely wonderful, exactly what I think traveling should be: the freedom to go where you want and do what you want, coupled with an easy to stray from plan and barely fixed agenda.  

If I had the capital, I would just buy a junker and continue my trip around the rest of Australia.  Unfortunately, the flesh is willing, but the bank account is weak.  Always, the details.

As it stands, I spending a relaxing week being in Hobart and then I'm back to Melbourne for a bit.  The rest is still being worked out.

Also, wombats are the best animals ever.  Wombat snuggles for everyone!

(world peace achieved)

Oh, and no wallabies, or any other nocturnal nibbler, was killed in the course of this road trip.

Driving on the left?


Nailed it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tassied Again

One thing Australia in general and Tasmania in particular does not lack is jails.  Or gaols, if you're into that sort of spelling.  It's not surprising, all the white people here were originally sent by the British as punishment and Tasmania was seen as the even worse punishment.  

The worst of the worst offenders were sent to Port Arthur, a jail situated on the Tasman peninsula.  Much like Alcatraz, nature offered a barrier between the poor souls who ended up there and the rest of the population, in this case rough, rocky terrain and freezing, shark filled waters.

This is where I was supposed to go yesterday, after seeing nature preserve full of Tasmanian Devils.

This is not where I ended up.  There were no devils.  There was, however, wombat poop where I ended up, but sadly, no actual wombat.

In true Tassie fashion, the tour van pulled up and the guide informed me that the Port Arthur tour had been cancelled but he was going to the Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay, would I like to come?  

I was eventually going to go to both of these places on my road trip, and it was too late to book another day tour to Port Arthur, so I went.

This seems to be happening a lot to me on this trip.  Granted, it's not the most planned or best thought out trip ever, but the plans I do make tend to fall through. The thing is, everyone involved is so nice and charming, that it's hard to remain too upset.  For example, at one point the guide, Jeremy, was quizzing about where we were going.  I was the only one answering because, yes I am an insufferable know-it-all ,and I hate unanswered questions.

Jeremy: You seem to know a lot about a place you weren't going.
Me: I was going to drive here on my mini road trip.
Jeremy:  And now I'm saving you the trouble by chauffeuring you myself.
Me: You're a gentleman and a scholar.
Jeremy:  You noticed!

See?  I adore banter and people who play along with it.  How could I stay mad?

Freycinet and Wineglass Bay were typical Tasmanian scenery, in that they were entirely untypical:  Granite Mountains surrounded by white sand beaches, hidden coves, and boulders covered in an only-in-Tas fiery orange lichen.  One of the reasons these natural wonders are as well preserved as they are is because they're not easy to get to.  It certainly wasn't a Mt Wellington level sufferfest, but there was some light hiking involved.  Obviously, I was dressed in my gaol going finest: jeans and a thermal hoodie.

Can we talk about hiking in jeans for a minute?  Because it fucking sucks.  Hey, maybe you have a magical pair of jeans that fits you and your three besties perfectly even though you're all different sizes (sooo crazy!) and they allow you to have magical experiences like screwing your super hot soccer coach, (but don't worry, it's not creepy! ) and an understanding step dad with a zillion frequent flyer miles so you and said besties can go to Greece at a moment's notice, but I do not.

No, for me hiking in jeans results in the following experience:  I get hot and sweaty and suddenly it feels like they're two sizes too small and trying to choke off my legs.  Then they stay moist for hours and perhaps it's just my body chemistry mingled with the cotton and dye, but there's always a faintly metallic odor that clings unpleasantly to them.

So that was the one damper on the day.

Everyone keeps pointing out that since I'm renting a car, I can drive to Port Arthur.  It's in the opposite direction of where I'm going, but I may figure out a way to get there yet.

Driving.  I'm pretty freaked out about it.  I'll be alone.  It's not like road tripping in the states.  And I hesitate to drive after dark, as that is when most of the wildlife is active and I don't particularly fancy trying to clean wallaby out of a rental car grill.  (I also got the extra coverage for this particular reason.  Do you even know the guilt I would feel if I killed anything?)

I wrote about all of my worries to my Dad and his response was:  "I have faith in your driving abilities; you drive in LA daily."  So true.  Thanks, Dad.

Monday, April 15, 2013

That Which Does Not Kill You (serves to remind you what a puny, insignificant worm you really are)

Currently in Hobart, having fled the vampire filled Launceston.  

So maybe it's a good thing that I didn't do the Overland Track, after all, I nearly killed myself yesterday hiking up Mt Wellington.  And that was just a day hike.

Let me explain: as with all things that almost kill you it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I mean, hell, a bus deposits you halfway up to the trail head, how hard could it be?

I fully confess that what follows is all entirely my own fault.  

So yeah, it seemed foolproof, take a city bus to the trail head ($5) and then spend the day hiking up to the summit, enjoy views, take pictures, hike down.  Cheapest, awesomest day ever!

There were dubious beginnings.  First, I had trouble even getting a bus pass - why does no one in Hobart want to take my money?  The rest of the country seems comfortable enough with that act.  Then I had to wait 35 minutes for the appropriate bus, which isn't a big deal, but as the bus ride was another 30 minutes, it put me at a later start then what I had originally planned.

I didn't have a good map, just the one in my travel guide that's only 2/3 of a page and cut off around the edges.  I didn't even have a realistic estimate how long it would take to get to the top: the lady at the bus station - 2 hours, the dudes at my hostel - 1 hour, the sign at the trail head - 3 hours.

All of this adds up to Catherine rethinking this undertaking and doing it at a later date, right? Wrong.  I was hell bent on scaling this mountain, on this particular day.

And then I did perhaps one of the stupidest things of my adult life.

I didn't fill up my canteen before I set out.

That's basic.  That's one of the first things you do before every hike, even the ones you've been on a million times.  I have no explanation.  Like I said, it was an act of stupidity beyond what I normally inflict upon myself.

From the bus stop, there were several dark, ominous trails that snaked through the woods.  None of them were marked as summit trails, so I picked the middle one and set off.  I don't consider myself an especially experienced hiker - I do my fair share of hiking in LA, but I'm not blazing new trails through the Southern California wilderness.  Mt Wellington, it should be noted, is 1270 meters tall.  That's roughly 4167 feet.  I have never particularly paid attention to the elevation gained and lost on my favorite trails, so I'm not sure how it stacks up.

Within the first 30 minutes it was obvious I had desperately underestimated the difficulty of the trail.  I guess because it's so accessible to the biggest city in Tas, I assumed it would be easy.  

What followed was three hours of ascent; steep, rocky trails that had me sweaty profusely and a constant wind chilling me to the bone.  Of course I ran out of water.  I kept pushing upward because I knew it was possible to drive to the top and I figured I could follow the road back down.  About halfway to the top, I started getting dizzy spells and was afraid to try to clamber down the loose boulders.

Sitting in a warm library, it's hard to stress how scary it really was.  I only saw maybe half a dozen people on the trail the entire time.  What would have happened if I had truly been in distress?

I made it to the top and snapped a few pictures (bragging rights and a humility reminder).  I happened to see an older couple taking each others pictures and I stopped and offered to take a picture of them together.  We started talking and I told them about my ordeal, they insisted on driving me down.

I have never been so grateful in my entire life.  I may have cried.  In the bathroom of course.  They saved me probably a cold and uncomfortable hour walking down to the bus stop and who knows how long waiting for the bus.

It took several hours and a hot shower to chase the chills away completely.  I treated myself to a dinner of fish and chips, because nothing says congratulations on living like fried carbohydrates.

As for my next adventure, I set on Friday to see more of the island.  In a car.  Driving in Australia.  Keep your fingers crossed.