The Illawara Fly, or Taking Advantage of Your Tourist Friends To Do All the Touristy Stuff You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Doing Otherwise

When C came to visit Montreal, it was timed perfectly so that I was in the midst of saying “bye!!” to Canada in the prepping for heading to Korea. Because C was a tourist, I very much took advantage of his presence to do heaps of touristy things I probably never would have got around to (or, as I say in this post’s title, be caught dead doing) otherwise.

The most touristy thing I used him for was going to Ottawa on Canada Day with Andrea – a huge regret on all our parts because that level of patriotism is just so much no. Other more pleasant tourism ranged from such things as heading up to Quebec City, down to New York, and frequenting various areas of Montreal like the Biodome (though who am I kidding I already confessed in an earlier post I went there as a kid all the time, no tourist friends required)…

C and I being dorky tourists at the Biodome photo booth.
C and I being dorky tourists at the Biodome photo booth.

…the Mont Royal lookout, and the Casino (though C actually was ultimately too sick to go and in the end it was just a group of us getting dressed up fancy to gamble away our money).

Using tourism as an excuse to go to the casino.
Using tourism as an excuse to go to the casino.

The point is, when you have a friend visiting as a tourist, it makes you finally get around to doing all the stuff you never would have before. Such was the case when I went to visit my dear friend FR in Australia. (Incidentally, she has a highly entertaining blog of her own that’s worth a read!)

Before arriving in Oz, we’d skyped and she’d suggested we go to the Illawara Fly, a famous local suspension walk through the trees of the Illawara mountains. Having lived in the area her whole life, she’d naturally never done it. I jumped at the opportunity like an Arctic Fox into a snowbank.

We got together at night for a girly sleepover and tried on some terrifying face masks I’d brought from Korea.

Photo credit FA
Photo credit FR.
Photo credit FA
Photo credit FR.
Photo credit FA
Photo credit FR.

And what goes better with terrifying face masks than a terrifying movie? (Where We Are Now – agonizingly stressful, complete with cousin sex, telepathic powers (?), and the fallout of World War III over London). Had a hard time sleeping afterward. We woke up feeling the grog and laze of a sweaty summer morning. So powerful was our desire to stay immobile that we nearly stuffed our hiking plans – but the get-up-and-go tourist mode in me inexplicably flipped on.

To the Illawara Fly we went.

We only got briefly lost, and after a quick stop at a tourist town for some maps, we careened around the hairpin curves, up to the top of the mountains, and arrived in place. It was $20 to get in – unfathomably expensive having come from Korea’s average of $2/entry – but we had accepted this financial investment as one of worthy cause. Noting, however, the flimsy turnstyle and lack of security cameras, we flirted with the idea of coming back at night sometime to sneak our way in and have our own adventure…

It became clear as soon as we began our hike that we’d made the right choice to come. Signboards directed where the tourist paths were, and we wasted no time whipping out our cameras for some timed selfies.

Photo credit FA
Check out how red my face is…should have bathed in the shade a bit more. Photo credit FR.
Photo credit FA.
Photo credit FR.
Embracing nature. Photo credit FA.
Embracing nature. Photo credit FR.
Here's me being touristy and snapping photos. Also my hair is really big in this photo, it's amusing. Photo credit FA.
Here’s me being touristy and snapping photos. The sign distinctly says, “THIS WAY: snakes leeches biting insects may be on this path”. Just taking that picture I got about five mozzie bites – so we decided to heed its warning and chose a different path. Also my hair is really big in this photo, it’s amusing. Photo credit FR.
And one more vanity shot for the road ;D I don't often have pictures of myself on here because I'm usually the one behind the lens, so imma post heaps of pictures now so you'll be sick of me and not want any later. Photo credit FA.
And one more vanity shot for the road ;D I don’t often have pictures of myself on here because I’m usually the one behind the lens, so imma post heaps of photos now so you’ll be sick of me and not want any later. Photo credit FR.

Not long after, we came across a wombat crossing on the dirt path – and to go along, a little house complete with mailbox. I made sure to take a lot of pictures for my mom, who’s in love with wombats.

Watch out for wombats!
Watch out for wombats!
Wombat house-burrow and accompanying mailbox.
Wombat house-burrow and accompanying mailbox.
The best part was that hikers had left mail in this mailbox. We didn't leave a letter, but we laughed a lot at the ones we read.
The best part was that hikers had left mail in this mailbox. We didn’t leave a letter, but we laughed a lot at the ones we read.

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And after that, there came the most quintessential tourist activity of all: a large wooden signboard of painted local wildlife with strategic holes cut out so that you can stick your head in and have a perfect photo op. Well, that was a photo op we couldn’t have lived with ourselves for missing.

The beautiful Koala-FA.
The beautiful Koala-FR.
Marta-Koala! Photo credit FR.
Marta-Koala! Photo credit FR.

Before long (I mean really not long; this trail ended up being a lot faster than it looked on the visitor’s map they gave us) we made it to the treetop walk itself. Matte gray metal led up in a smooth incline where it rested solely on suspension supports. Not for the vertigo-impaired.

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As we walked on, our footsteps made the whole structure bounce. I enjoyed this thoroughly since I’m happily not afflicted with the fear of heights. Being high up fills me with awe for the unique macrocosmic perspective of the world. Part of why I love flying so much (and take so many pictures of clouds when I’m up there).

The only other time I did a treetop type walk before was when I was with my biffle (cutesy slang for bff, as if bff wasn’t slang enough) SSG. For my last birthday, she took me to Mont Rigaud (I think?) for ziplining/aerial forest parkour – and though I nearly died of terror and physical unfitness, I loved being so high up in the trees. This time around was much less physically demanding, and the view was just as splendid.

Australia illawara fly view small

Australia illawara fly view 2 small

Australia illawara fly view 3 small

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The city of Wollongong lay scattered along the coast, windows and cars glittering in the morning light. Roads and houses dotted the surrounding hills until they were sparse among the mountains, disappearing in the humidity blowing in from the ocean. The ocean itself was a deep and dark blue, waves foaming on the shores in white, overlapping lines like frosting spread on the edges of a cake.

In the middle of the bridges was a Goliath of a tower, which we climbed up to after a (literally) breath-taking winding staircase.

Fran on lookout smiling small

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It was such an extraordinary height that even I felt my thighs turn to mush looking at that vertiginous drop.

"Go to the edge" it said.
“Go to the edge” it said.
And I obeyed.
And I obeyed.

Truly spectacular though. And what was better was one of those wonderful viewer things you normally stick coins in – except they’d disabled the coins, so you could look for free.

Australia fran at lookout viewer small

Then it was the long climb down again. For some reason, down is always more difficult and psychologically traumatizing than up, but we made it! We stopped halfway through to try and get a good shot of us with the majestic background…but it slowly devolved into selfies.

FR captures me against the scenery.
FR captures me against the scenery.
We try and get the two of us in there while maintaining a firm hold of the camera...it'd be a nasty drop, even with FR's heavy-duty shock protector. Photo credit FR.
We try and get the two of us in there while maintaining a firm hold of the camera…it’d be a nasty drop, even with FR’s heavy-duty shock protector. Photo credit FR.
It becomes a, "Hey, let's just make funny faces" moment. I like to say I was overwhelmed by the gargantuan prehistoric ferns below. Photo credit FR.
It becomes a, “Hey, let’s just make funny faces” moment. I like to say I was overwhelmed by the gargantuan prehistoric ferns below. Photo credit FR.

We were walking through the last stretch of the bridges when one of the couples who had been on the turret with us walked towards us, whispering.

“There are owls up there. Do you see?”

We looked up.

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“Really where?” Our necks took on owlish swivelling qualities as we searched for them.

“Up there, hidden against the tree bark.”

We saw! Flawlessly camouflaged, and very much asleep.

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The trail ended soon after – too soon – and we descended into the forest again where we picnicked on some wraps we’d wisely thought to bring with us. Afterward we meandered through the gift shop, since both of us have a weakness for souvenirs. I managed to pick up some tiny plastic figurines of Australian animals for my co-teachers, and then found the most amazing plastic koala for myself. Poorly proportioned and with a permanent expression of tripping balls, I bought him as my one souvenir of this trip (aside from the kilos of food I brought back).

Hieronymus Wallace, or Wally for short, wigging out on the roof of FR's car in front of the Illawara Fly.
Hieronymus Wallace, or Wally for short, wigging out on the roof of FR’s car in front of the Illawara Fly.

I named him Hieronymus Wallace, or Wally for short. (If interested, Hieronymus comes from Hieronymus Bosch, my favourite medieval painter who imagined freaky sci-fi/psychedelic visions of religious experiences. And doesn’t it look like poor Wally is trapped in a messed up Boschian nightmare?)

Hieronymus Wallace inside a Bosch painting

I decided that he shall be my item that I take pictures with in front of famous monuments and landscapes, just as Amelie Poulain sends her garden gnome.

It was around the time we started heading for the car that I started to notice my sun sickness setting in, as you probably remember from my sunburn post. And no wonder! The humourous photo that circulated on the interwebs not long ago about Australians’ heat rating was posted outside the treetop walk. It read as follows:

Australia danger rating chart small

At least we were on the safe side of catastrophic…

Despite a slight wooziness, however, I felt positively giddy by the time we left. Perhaps it was only the effects of the sun, but I like to think I was infused with the shameless joy of acting out the tourist. It’s a role most of us are too dignified to admit we love playing. But if there’s ever a time to enact it, it’s with a friend – ideally when that friend is a local. That way the both of you get the best of both worlds: you can say you were just doing what the locals do, and the local can just say they were showing you around and being charitable. Meanwhile you both relax your trigger fingers on your cameras and fill up those memory cards with reckless abandon, self-consciousness be damned.

Such was certainly the case for FR and I. Probably this was why, as we pulled out of the parking lot and back down the hairpin roads, we brought up the sneak-into-the-Illawara-Fly-premises-at-night plan again.

“I’m sure we could do it,” FR said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “We could sneak over the lawn army style, all elbows and crawling, and then once we’re past the gate we’re clear! Their security cameras were only around the house.”

“I checked too, they barely have any!”

“We’d have to park the car away from the parking lot though…”

“Mm, true. Well, this is happening next time you come down,” she plotted. “And when we do, we’ll leave an envelope at their doorstep with $40 in it and a note saying, ‘Thanks, we just couldn’t wait til morning.'”

“That is a marvellous plan,” I laughed, and we drove away with schemes bubbling in our brains of being cheeky tourists together in the future.


4 thoughts on “The Illawara Fly, or Taking Advantage of Your Tourist Friends To Do All the Touristy Stuff You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Doing Otherwise

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