After our Sydney adventure, our time in Australia was rapidly coming to an end. To wind up our trip in grand style, Maile and I met up with Rachel Devine -- a truly talented photographer who flew in from Melbourne to spend our final few days in Australia with us. Within moments of meeting Rachel, I discovered she has an incredibly open heart and a wicked sense of humour, so I knew that we were in for a wonderful time -- especially since were all going to go hang out in "the bush," as Australians refer to their countryside.
Originally, we were scheduled to rent a car and drive ourselves into the Blue Mountains, but neither Maile nor I were particularly eager to drive on the opposite side of the road, especially given that we are wholly unfamiliar with Australian traffic laws (and Rachel, who is actually an American immigrant, was nervous as well). So Tourism Australia hooked us up with a car service, and one of their drivers, Graeme, showed up promptly at 8:30 a.m. to pick us up.
Here's where I go on record as saying that Graeme was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to us on this trip. After we loaded up the car with all of our luggage and buckled ourselves in, he turned around in his seat and faced the three of us.
"Okay, ladies," he said, "my instructions are to take you straight to your accommodations in the Blue Mountains; however, I don't have any other trips on my schedule. So if you'd like, rather than take you the most direct route, how about I take you the scenic way, perhaps with a few stops, so you can really see the beauty of the bush?"
We could hardly believe our luck. "Absolutely!" we responded. "We're all photographers," I explained, "so anything you can show us that's pretty, we'd be all about."
"It's settled, then," he said, putting the car into gear. "Let's head out." And with that, we headed over the Harbour Bridge ...
... and made our way into the Australian bush and the Blue Mountains.
Graeme was absolutely true to his word: for the entire 3-hour drive, he kept us entertained with a running commentary on what we were seeing outside the car windows: notes on the agriculture and various farming practices, the stories behind historical sites, amusing anecdotes about tiny towns and villages that we passed. He was kind, and funny, and warm, and he made the trip fly by.
And oh, by the way, the Australian bush is really, really beautiful:
I was starting to be convinced that the beauty of Australia truly has no limits.
As we neared our destination, however, the three of us suddenly noticed giant plumes of billowing smoke in the distance.
"Um, Graeme, what's going on over there?"
"That? That's a bush fire," he said calmly. "Sadly, they're not that uncommon in Australia. But that's probably just a control fire -- the firefighters sometimes just do a controlled burn to ensure there's no fuel left on the ground, in case a real fire comes. It's likely nothing to worry about."
Unfortunately, Graeme spoke too soon -- that fire became part of one of the worst bush fire outbreaks in that part of Australia in the last 10 years. Two days later, when Graeme came back to get us, he told us the route he'd taken to bring us out to the Blue Mountains was impassible, and much of what we'd seen on our way out was engulfed in flames. Although where we were staying was safe, our last morning in the Blue Mountains was smoky, and even taking the main highway back (the only thoroughfare that was open), we passed charred trees, including a few that were still burning. In fact, a week later (long after we'd left Australia), the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, a badass, all-volunteer corps of over 70,000 heroes, was still battling the flames. It is heartbreaking to think of the hundreds of people who have lost their homes, not to mention all the wildlife in the bush that have been affected.
On this day, however, we were completely oblivious of the impending danger, and carried on to our destination, relatively unconcerned. There were, after all, kangaroos to see.
But I'll tell you all about that in tomorrow's post.
Huge thanks to Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty for making this adventure possible. If a trip Down Under is a dream you've had, please be sure to check out the Tourism Australia site for all sorts of juicy information about Australia; in addition, throughout October Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Go Mighty are running two additional campaigns to help make your dream come true in 2014: the first, Fill-A-Plane, where you can sign up to be one of 322 people to get a special discount on air travel for folks who take the pledge to travel to Australia next year; the second, "Win a Wild Card ticket to Australia," for a chance to win a trip to Australia, by simply becoming a member of Go Mighty and adding your wildest Australia-based dreams. You can check out all the details here. And to see my iPad images and listen to more in-the-moment impressions I had while in Australia, be sure to check out my Go Mighty posts of this adventure.