Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aussie 4: Sydney and the SKYDIVE

Posing with the Harbour Bridge 
Before reaching Sydney, we knew two things:
1. Its a beautiful city and we are going to really enjoy our time here.
2. Its one of the costliest cities in the world.
The 2nd point was put in our face even before we reached our hostel in Sydney. We took a taxi for the 8.7 km ride to the hostel in City Centre from the airport and ended up paying AUD 60 for that. This makes it almost INR300 per kilometer. Hence, we decided to avoid travelling in taxis in Sydney. 
Opera House looks best under the setting sun!!
I booked hotels almost 4 months in advance. Even then, I couldn't find a single reasonably priced hotel in Sydney CBD. So we decided to stay in a hostel this time around as this YHA hostel was located conveniently near the railway station allowing us to enjoy the city without paying a lot. 
Somewhere in The Rocks
As it was late afternoon by the time we checked in, we immediately went out to explore the city. As taxis were too costly, we took a bus pass from a 7-Eleven. The shopkeeper gave us a concession pass. Thankfully there were ticket checkers standing at the bus stand we wanted to board from who were apprehending passengers travelling without ticket. We went to one of them and asked how the pass works. The guy told us that as soon as you board the bus with this pass, I will give you a AUD400 fine as this is a concession pass and we were not eligible for it. Thankfully there were a couple of Indians among them who took time to explain us the travel scene there in detail. 
Beautiful Sydney Harbour
Once we had the proper bus pass, we boarded a bus and went to Circular Quay. Circular Quay was originally used for shipping but currently seems like the main recreational and leisure area of Sydney as its located between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera house. We had a nice long walk all the way to the Harbour Bridge clicking a lot of pictures everywhere. Finally we ended up at The Rocks, which is a historical area of Sydney CBD with a great touristic feel as the area has many restaurants, pubs and a street shopping market on weekends. We had a sumptuous Italian dinner here in a open air restaurant. Post dinner, we went into a dance club but surprisingly even during this festive period, there were hardly any crowds in there. 
The Skydive school

Before boarding the plane with Mark
Back at the harbour, we took a leisurely walk to the other end of Circular Quay, towards the Sydney Opera House. This whole area is flanked by numerous restaurants and bars with all of them looking nice and classy. But the best place seemed to be the Opera Bar, right under the Opera House. There was no other place as full as this with groovy party music right next to the waters facing the Harbour Bridge. As we already had our fill for the night, we decided to come here some other night. 
All of us sitting hooked to our instructors in the plane
The township of Wollongong
We spent some time enjoying the cool breeze in the Opera House forecourt and then walked back to our hostel. The hostel was almost 2.5/3 kms away and we were tired after a hectic day but we just didn't want to spend on a taxi. By the time we reached the hostel, all of us were dead tired and dozed off immediately. 

They seemed to be clicking when she disappeared
On the edge!!
We woke up early next morning as we were to prepare ourselves for a lifetime adventure. We were going to skydive today!! We had booked our dive last year in South Africa as well but it was cancelled because of bad weather. This time it was confirmed; the weather was perfect and the dive was on. We took a 1.5 hour train to Wollongong where Skydive the Beach staff picked us up and took us to the dive school. Following a short registration process, we were harnessed and given a short demo. As soon as the dive instructors were ready, we took a 50 minute drive to where the plane was parked. 
He is posing cool while I am screaming my lungs out!!
Even though I was very anxious until a day before the dive, but on this day, the excitement got better of the anxiety. I have done bungy from a height of about 600 feet, but this jump was going to be from a height of 14000 feet. All weird thoughts were going through my brain as to the speed I will gain during the dive (Yes, I am nerdy :-D), how long will it take before I reach the ground and what am I going to do while gravity pulls me towards mother earth!! 

Soon the small plane took off with all of us divers hooked to our respective instructors seated behind us. A few hundred feet above the ground, I couldn't help but notice what a beautiful place Wollongong was with nice green parks interspersed by neatly planned roads and numerous water bodies vying for space too. A few thousand feet above the ground, and the scenery changed completely as all I could notice was the beach line and the colors of the Pacific Ocean. Once we were around the 10000 feet range, there were only shades of blue that were visible: some belonged to the ocean and some to the sky. Once the altimeter showed 12500 feet, the plane door was opened for us to jump. First to jump was a girl who was sitting right at the door. While I thought she was being readied for the jump, she simply vanished from sight. All I could notice was a scream.
Acting all cool after the parachute opened
Paragliding myself
As soon as she jumped, the instructor pushed me towards the door. I sat myself on the edge with cold winds blowing into my face. I was hardly there for a few seconds when the instructor jumped off. Unlike the bungy jumping experience wherein I had the time to consider whether to jump or not, here I wasn't given the chance. I was in the air before I could prepare myself for that. Because of this reason, I rate Bungy jump as a tougher adventure sport than Skydiving. During the initial few seconds before our body became parallel to the ground, we were just rolling in mid air and it was quite like a blackout scenario. But as soon as the instructor controlled the fall, I enjoyed the view and the experience of falling down at the terminal velocity of about 200 kmph. I haven't dived at any other location, but this location seemed like perfect with beautiful white sand beaches, nice green lawns and small blue lakes. Even though I was wearing plastic glasses to protect my eyes from the strong winds blowing into my face, my eyes were still dripping profusely by the time parachute opened after a freefall of about 60 seconds. These were surely the longest 60 seconds I have ever lived. 
Thats the landing ground

Overall I was pretty satisfied with the professionalism of Skydive the beach-Wollongong but I thought they could have probably given us more time to para-glide before landing. It seemed as if they were in a hurry to reach down and take the next batch of jumpers. Also, while the skydive costed 200AUD, the video was charged another 200AUD. Considering the rate for the video, I expected another diver to dive along to make the video. But they had just a GoPro tied on the wrist of the instructor resulting in an average video. The dive school provided us a free drop to Sydney CBD after the jump which was spent sleeping by most of us. :-)
Darling Harbour in front of Maritime Museum
After a quick lunch, we took a bus to Darling Harbour, an area dedicated to tourism and entertainment. However, it got this transformation only in 1988 before which it was the industrial hub and major port of Sydney. Today, Darling Harbour is home to a number of attractions such as Maritime Musem, Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussuads Wax Museum, IMAX etc. Other than this, there are some nice restaurants by the water (a couple of Indian restaurants as well) and offers beautiful water views especially during the night with many lights reflected in the waters.
On the Pyrmont Bridge
Despite the historic past, the pedestrian-only Pyrmont Bridge is the only historic centerpiece remaining. The harbour and the neighbouring suburbs also have some great pubs and bars. Even though we didn't plan to stay here for a long time as it was already a long day for us, we still ended up leaving the place around 10 pm after a sumptuous meal.
Beautiful reflections in the water
Continue reading the next part @ Sydney Zoo, Bondi Beach and the New Year Fireworks