Day 5 Australia, Thursday – Manly Beach and Karlangu Gallery

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On Thursday, our plan was to take the ferry 20 minutes to Manly Beach, finally getting to the other shore of our own Pacific Ocean so we could look across and wave hello to California. We hoped the weather would be warm enough to swim, but if not, we figured the kids could play in the sand. But first we had to get there, which proved slightly more challenging than we’d expected.

I had checked both public and private ferry schedules, and it looked like we could get a private ferry directly to Manly from the dock nearest us, a small one that wasn’t used by the public ferries called Jefferey Wharf. We walked down to Jefferey Wharf and on the way saw a group of what looked like high school boys, wearing smart school blazers and overnight bags as if gathering for a school trip. One of them was drinking champagne which made us giggle because not only were they clearly teens, but it was 8:30 in the morning. But no furtively drinking from a hairspray bottle for these upper crust kids — champers all the way.

A ferry pulled up to our little wharf, but it wasn’t the Manly Ferry. It dropped off a few school kids and told us the one we wanted would be next. When the next ferry came along, the staff told us they were going to Darling Harbour first but we should board. Once we boarded, they said we should just buy tickets for Darling Harbour then get off there, take another ferry to Circular Quay, and then a third ferry to Manly. We were super annoyed — why had they told us to board when it turned out they weren’t really going to Manly at all? We’d wasted both time and money going in the opposite direction from where we wanted to get. Disgusted, we disembarked and looked for somewhere to have breakfast until it was time to board a ferry going back. We sat in a restaurant and looked at menus, and waited, but it took so long for someone to come wait on us that we decided to leave. At this point we had realized that pretty much every meal we sat down to in Sydney in a restaurant would cost us at least $100, even breakfast. We decided to look for a bakery where we could grab some croissants or something less expensively.

We walked back toward the fun park we’d seen the day before, and Erik took the kids to play for a few minutes while my mom and I went to a patisserie and I ordered a bag of croissants and pain au chocolat. My mom ordered a hot breakfast which the staff took their time making, so that by the time it was ready, we had to sprint for the ferry. The staff — the same folks as before — were just getting ready to untie the boat, and they smiled and said, “You made it!” We ate our croissants on board, still unhappy about our whole morning adventure, but then the staff reduced our fare by the amount we’d already paid earlier, so we felt a little better. Everyone we met working on a ferry in Australia was just so damn nice that we couldn’t stay grumpy for long. Once at Circular Quay, we switched to another ferry to Manly and finally we were underway on our planned adventure.

The $7.70, six-mile trip from Circular Quay to the ocean takes 20 minutes. First, we enjoyed a different perspective on our apartment, the brown building. The low-slung mansion to the right in the picture is Kirribilli House, the Sydney residence of the prime minister! Pretty nice neighborhood eh?
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As we headed toward the mouth of the harbor, the wind picked up.

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We looked for whales and dolphins but didn’t see any

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We saw houses with decks and even swimming pools carved into the sandstone cliffs.

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This is one of The Heads, sandstone promontories that form an open  gate from  Sydney Harbour to the sea.

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When we disembarked at Manly, the beach we saw first was on Sydney Harbour, without big waves. We decided to check out the Manly Visitor Center and then walk to the ocean beach. Erik and I planned to take the Manly to Spit walk, a four-hour hike recommended by my cousin, who works for the National Parks, after our time at the beach, while Mom and the kids went back to Sydney, but I wanted to ask if it was feasible to take part of the hike then turn back, or ideally, take the bus back. The visitor center employee drew out the route on a map for me, pointed out an ideal turning back time, and for good measure let me know that if we wanted to go on a whale watching boat, we could call her and book it out of Circular Quay for half price. That was good to know, since it was something we wanted to do — although we weren’t sure if we’d have the time.

We walked down a long street of shops until we arrived at the ocean beach. We stopped to buy some souvenir beach towels too. Then we kicked off our shoes and walked out onto the finest, silkiest sand my feet have ever felt. The sun shone, the waves swished, and although the Pacific was just as cold on this side as it felt at home (it was around the first day of spring there), the kids splashed in.

But mostly they played in the sand. We all gathered small shells that they used to decorate their sand castles with.

Our plan had been to stay here awhile and then walk to Shelly Beach, which was supposed to also be nice. However, the kids were having too much fun and didn’t want to move. So after about an hour, Erik and I decided to walk over to the other beach on our own, then return and we’d all have lunch. Erik and I walked to the life saving club at the end of the beach and ordered a latte from the snack bar, and then, just as we walked toward the other beach with our coffee in hand, it began to rain. Hard. We returned to mom and the kids and told them we’d better just go eat lunch. The kids changed and we took an outdoor table, under cover, at Manly Grill, where we started with the most tender fried Calamari I’d ever put in my mouth. The kids ordered barbecue chicken wings off the children’s menu, and they looked so good on the plate that another diner stopped and asked us what they were so he could order them. Months later, the kids still talk about how good those wings are. I also had a crocodile burger, for the novelty of it, which was OK, and Erik had grilled barramundi. Like at every meal, Erik and I ordered Australian beers we hadn’t tried before. We watched the storm on the beach as we ate.

Because it was still raining after we ate, we scrapped our plan for the Manly-to-Spit Walk, and took the ferry back to Sydney and our apartment, where we dried off and set the kids to doing homework. We had arrived at the point in our stay in Sydney when we realized that the week that had stretched out ahead of us was really a quite finite amount of time. The next day, my mother was scheduled to meet with her brother, and the day after that was the wedding, and then we’d be leaving Sydney for our next destination. Knowing this, the rain made us feel sad.

After sitting around the apartment for awhile, we decided to venture back out into the rain. We hadn’t really explored the Sydney Opera House, and the rain was on and off, so we headed across the harbour.

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After that, we took a train to the Karlangu Aboriginal Art Center on York Street, in the Central Business District. I had found this place online while searching for an aboriginal gallery that I’d seen featured on a TV documentary, and in retrospect I don’t think this was the one we saw, but it turned out to be a very enriching experience for both us and the kids.

When we arrived, the gallery was empty, except for the man working there, who eyed the kids suspiciously as he sat on his desk, engrossed in a phone conversation with a web developer in — I think — India. The man spoke English with a foreign accent, and I imagine that the web developer was also speaking in his second language, so the conversation was a bit labored. We smiled at him and started to explore.

One room was full of large paintings made by aboriginal artists. Toth in particular immediately became engrossed in looking at them, and all the kids enjoyed looking for the symbols they’d learned about at the Australian Museum. Some paintings depicted kangaroo and emu, others celestial images and still others appeared to be abstract patterns. They also had digeridoo and boomerangs, not the souvenir type that you could buy at a tourist stand, but artistically decorated ones that probably cost thousands of dollars. In the other room were smaller paintings on squares of leather and some handmade jewelry, bags with art on them, and other items.

When the man working there finished his phone call, he came over and apologized for not greeting us, and showed us around a bit. He turned out to be quite friendly, and even gossiped with us about how one of the artists who sold work here had instructed Angelina Jolie’s kids in art when she was here a year earlier, and how another of their artists had had her designs stolen to decorate a hotel in Europe. A friend had seen the hotel on the Internet and she’d sued.

We ended up buying several small paintings, which were easy to transport because the man rolled them into a tube and wrapped them in paper. My mom bought a bag and some earrings for a gift. We were glad the rain had sent us on this outing, and we went home happy.