When all this was planned I had no idea that Bledisloe Cup would be settled in favour of the good guys forty eight hours prior to my arrival and that the Aussies were going to lose the Ashes as I drove to the airport (they were five wickets down as I drove out of the front gate and it was all over Rover by the time I got to the Departure Gate). What a bloody marvellous day to fly in to Australia.
Coming from New Zealand's 'largest city' it is all really put in perspective when you go to a real city. And Sydney is not even a very big model of the species. But four million is closer to the population of our country and not our largest conurbation. They have a proper transport system with real trains that are reasonably cheap (except for the 200% surcharge for having the temerity to get on or off at the Airport), are cleanish and, in my limited experience, run to time. I still can't get my head around their carriages though. Sliding doors admit you to sort of antechamber containing about a dozen seats and you have the choice of more seats upstairs or downstairs. Downstairs in a train? Sydney must be the only place around that runs trains with basements.
Took the chuffer to Circular Key to wander up George Street to have a poke around Gowings. I like Gowings and I always find something in there that I don't need but can't do without. My first proper gamefishing hat came from Gowings. It's the only place I know where you can be sure they will have a pressure paraffin camping stove in stock - none of this Johnny Come Lately canister gas. They have models of Swiss Army knife even the Swiss Army doesn't know about. Good cheap shorts, golf for the use of, all manner of outdoor kit and lot of very odd stuff. Bought a hemp shirt there once - don't tell Nandor. Turned past Martin Place and there was the 1950s sign on the side of the building. Definite spring in the step as my pace quickened and suddenly I was at the Hilton. Hang on I've gone past it. Look back and there is the sign on the side of the building behind me. What is going on? What is going on is that Gowings is bloody gone. The sign is still there but the emporium on the corner is now called Supré wot sells wummins undergarments. This is not good. No one told me let alone asked my permission to shut down the best oddball shop in Central Sydney and replace it with yet another frock shop - well the stuff under frocks if you are going to be picky.
Not happy and I cross the road to wander back down to the Rocks where lies the main object of exercise. And what is this? Sydney now has a proper Apple Store. Three glass fronted floors of all that is wondrous from Cupertino. I go in (naturellement) and pass a pleasant enough half an hour but once you've been to one Apple Store you've been to them all. I didn't need a Genius (yuk) as all my Apple kit is working fine and I don't need to buy anything Apploid. Good to have an Apple Store in town I suppose but it ain't Gowings.
The main reason I wanted the nice company to get me to Sydney a day early, however, resided in Cumberland Street. Well at least one end of it did. I have wanted to do the Bridge Climb for ages and I was not disappointed. Not cheap (AUS$198 plus $20 per the photo you feel obliged to buy once you've got to the top) but every bit as good as I had hoped it would be and very professionally done. The whole thing takes about three and a half hours of which about forty five minutes is spent kitting up. Boiler suits, no watches, no cameras (vide supra) everything tied to you with snap shackles and D rings. And this after you've been breathalysed and walked through a metal detector to ensure you are not a taking any undeclared and unsecured paper clips over the harbour. Usual drama. Clip on and off you go with a three Germans (I made sure they were in front of me so I could keep my eye on them), a handful of Septics and a couple of Aussies.
What's it like? Well the weather was foul with it pissing down with rain and blowing dogs off chains. Perfect. I reckon this is just the weather to do it in. Makes it all a bit more adventurous. If it were a nice balmy summer's afternoon it would just resemble a stroll up a grey hill to admire the view. Having conditions that made it absolutely essential that everything you had with you was actuality tied to you and you were in turn tied to the bridge is definitely the way to go. But I would say that wouldn't I? You all pose for a very naff posed shot as a group at the top which you get for 'free' (having shelled out 200 slides don't forget) and the guide takes assorted individual shots of you with the Opera House looking insignificantly small in the background. No, all in all the Bridge is a good thing. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb comes second behind the USS Midway as the best outright touristy thing I have done recently.
Nice Company put me up in the Novotel Olympic Park 'cos the spot of work I was required to do was out that way. I mention this not because it was a Novotel - I mean one chain hotel is the same as any other. If you stayed in one Novotel (or Holiday Inn, Four Seasons, Hilton etc. etc) you've stayed in them all. But Olympic Park. What do you have once the Olympics were nine years ago and Cathy Freeman has taken that ridiculous hood off? You have a zoo full of white elephants. Anyone want a once used archery centre? A hockey centre? How about three or four swimming pools all joined together with enough audience seating for all of Te Awamutu to go at once? There are acres of hardly used top of the line sports facilities up there just gathering proverbial and literal dust. There is also a dedicated extension of the rail system. When I arrived the train was full of Bulldogs supporters going to see the Doggies give the Roosters a right good seeing to. But when I returned in the morning rush hour thirty six hours later the train was full of me.
Glad to be back in the Land of the Long White We don't quite do things Properly. Australia is good to visit when their sporting luck has run out but I'm happy living where I am thank you very much.
Ten days and we're off on a proper trip - UK and Malaysia. Watch this space.