G: The next bit of travel had us hopping down the coast, visiting quirky coastal towns, soaking up the sun on the beach, and escaping into the hills of the hinterland. The first obligatory stop was at Thursday Plantation, a tea tree oil factory, where we learned all about the history of and multiple uses for tea tree oil, a truly magic medicine that is indigenous to Australia! Then lunch in Yamba with a beautiful coastal walk. The next morning we passed through Coffs Harbour to glimpse the famous big banana and indulged in a banana split at 9am—healthy! Further south brought us to the tiny town of Bellingen, where after looking and learning about opals for months, I finally saw the most beautiful one ever and bought it!! Bellingen is nearby Dorrigo National Park, where we walked an amazing rainforest trail and got to see the Lyre bird doing his mating call – a rarity! Back towards the coast, we hit Nambucca Heads for the stunning Captain Cook Lookout and the V-wall walk along the harbor where large stones are covered in paintings and poems of wisdom and dedication. On our drive out, we saw a sign advertising $8 for a dozen fresh oysters that seemed too good to be true. The catch was they were unopened. Blake saw this as an opportunity to learn a new skill—oyster chucking!
B: Only cut my hand once, but totally worth it… 😉
G: The next highlight was the Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie where we learned more about these sweet bears (although they’re not actually bears) and the efforts of over 200 volunteers working to save these cute cuddly creatures. A couple of myths debunked: Koala’s do not get high off the Eucalyptus leaves, they just seem dazed and sleepy because there is little substance in the leaves other than water, which leaves them with little energy; Koala’s do have nerve endings in their bum, but there is also a large plate near the tailbone (like a sternum) which allows to sit in trees for hours on end without getting sore; Koalas are not bears, they’re marsupials. From there, we continued south for beach walks at Seal Rock, Tea Gardens, Hawk’s Nest, and finally welcomed the Christmas season on December 1 with a parade of Santa’s on paddleboards in Newcastle. What a sight!
B: Based on a recommendation from our travel buddies Valerie and Travis, we applied to stay the Satyananda Yoga Ashram near the Hawkesbury River (about 90 mins northwest of Sydney) as WWOOFers. After bouncing around so much from place to place, it was a relief to park the car, unpack our bag, and sleep indoors for a week! The ashram is in a gorgeous valley of gum trees with no phone reception and no worries. Orange robed Yogis and Gurus glide gently across the grounds giving a warm smile with each new eye contact.
The Satyananda way of life is based on karma yoga: selfless service as a means to purify the soul. We stayed free for a week in exchange for five and a half days of work. Our days began with a gentle yoga class at 5:30am, waking up mind, body and spirit, followed by a warm breakfast at 7am. At 8am everyone gathered for our first karma yoga tasks, typically cleaning bathrooms for us newbies—fun! At 9:30am we had scheduled tasks around the ashram (kitchen, grounds and maintenance, house-keeping, farm work, etc.) with a Yogi guiding us. Work didn’t last long though as morning tea/snack was 11-11:30am. Then back to our task until lunch at 1pm. The afternoon provided a different scheduled task from 2-5:30pm, but of course there was a break for Yoga Nidra (guided relaxing mediation) and afternoon tea/snack from 3-4pm. 😉 Dinner was at 6pm, we all helped to clean up after, and then an evening program at 7pm (yoga, meditation, or kirtan). By 8:30pm, we were ready to hit the sack!
G: It seems like a long and busy day on paper, but with all the breaks for meals and meditation it really wasn’t strenuous. The days were full of good talks, great food, and quiet contemplation under the gum trees. Since we were “een da boosh” now, the cicada’s had a strong presence and sang to us all day long. The evenings were fun with kirtan and chanted mantras where we grabbed instruments and had a jam session. My favorite was the Saturday night kirtan where individuals can write in to ask for a blessing for loved ones who have passed or for those in need of positive thoughts. This dedication is performed weekly at 5pm at Satyananda ashrams around the world as a time to offer blessings and healing to the world at large – a beautiful ritual.
B: Spending a week at the ashram taught us to maintain presence and awareness throughout our daily lives. Even though we were working or cleaning most of the day, there was no pressure to complete a task quickly or meet certain standards. As long as we followed instructions and performed the assignment in a timely manner, everyone was happy. The breaks throughout the day gave us time to reflect on where we are and how grateful we are to be happy, healthy, and surrounded by supportive people, something we hope to carry with us throughout everyday life. Karma yoga is intended to purify the soul for advanced reincarnation by contributing selfless work to the greater community. Whether or not one believes in such a thing is insignificant; it simply feels good to help others and provide a nourishing environment through meaningful work in a positive atmosphere.
G: At the ashram, we met a nice woman named Katy and told her our plans for exploring Sydney. She asked where we were staying, but we hadn’t worked that out yet. With a gracious, giving heart she offered us her apartment since she would still be at the ashram for another week. Wow, did we get lucky?! She has a beautiful place in Mosman that we called home while visiting the big and bustling city. Personally, I didn’t think I would like Sydney, because of how much I love Melbourne, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! First off, how is a city not gorgeous set against a harbor where ferry rides are a constant mode of transport? It’s just a lovely way to be outdoors and get to where you need to go!
We had a full itinerary ahead of us for the next four days. We started from Circular Quay and met up with another friend from the ashram, Blandine. She gave us an amazing view of Hyde Park from her Aunt’s high-rise apartment. Then we wandered around the botanical gardens and explored the CBD. We had a quick jaunt through the Art Gallery of New South Wales followed by coffee brewed to perfection at Toby’s Estate (a coffee-making school). We strolled around The Rocks, the original Sydney settlement, and finished with dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant.
B: The next day had us exploring outside of the city with a scenic ferry to Manly. We did a coastal walk to the various beaches and eventually relaxed at one. In the evening we met up with our friend KC, who we met in Sri Lanka. He gave us a great tour of the city, driving us through town and out to the Eastern Suburbs for a spectacular view of the city. Then he brought us to Mrs. Macquarie’s Seat with a perfect view of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House, and on this particular night, faint sounds of Jack Johnson’s first-night concert in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House from across the water. (My backup vocals made up for the poor sound quality ;))
Of course, we couldn’t be in the same city as Jack without going to see him live! We had tickets for the second night (of three). During the day we explored around Mosman and Balmoral. Then, since we originally thought the concert would be in the Opera House instead of outside, we took a tour of world-famous landmark. The architecture is stunning and the history is fascinating. The architect’s design was actually rescued from a pile of “rejects” during the final cut of an international design competition. The original plan in 1957 was estimated to cost $7 million and finish in 1963, but ended up taking 17 years and costing $102 million! Now it stands as one of the most famous buildings in the world and icon for the country. Oh, and not to worry, the city made its investment back in about three years… I really wish we could’ve seen a performance inside, especially with my Acoustics background, but a tour will have to do for now. The Jack Johnson concert in the evening was great though! He played in perfect weather as the sun set against a gorgeous backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. We even went back the next night to sit outside and listen to his set with our friend KC. I can’t get enough of that guy!!
On our last day, we ventured to the Eastern suburbs to soak up the sun and walk the coast. The trail from Coogee to Bondi is well-known for its beach-hopping beauty and boy did it deliver! One after another, the beaches just kept getting better. No wonder it’s so expensive to live here. If you’re ever in Sydney, this walk is a must-see!
After all the city and beach time, we did our usual thing and escaped into the mountains—the Blue Mountains, to be exact…