Archive for March, 2008

Where to live: Blue Mountains?

Monday, March 24th, 2008

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains is a mountainous (Swiss people would call it “hilly”) area west of Sydney. It’s an area that has always appealed to us, ever since we moved to Australia. It has a winning combination of stunning scenery and lookouts, excellent bushwalking, relaxed atmosphere, and great shopping and dining. Another plus is that it’s big on natural therapies, which is great for my wife’s Bowen Technique and meditation business. Houses are very affordable too.

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About the area

The “Blueys” can be split into the Lower Mountains, and the Upper Mountains. We’re more keen on the Upper Mountains area; it’s further from Sydney, but it has wonderful scenery and it’s cooler in summer. The Lower Mountains area turns into an oven on some summer days.

The main towns in the Upper Mountains are Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls, and Blackheath. We’d consider moving to Leura or Blackheath, which are both small, lovely towns. (The biggest town, Katoomba, doesn’t seem as nice, though it has the biggest range of eateries.) When we visit we nearly always stay at Bethany Manor B&B in Leura – a place I can highly recommend for its quiet, laid-back atmosphere, luxurious (and huge!) spa baths, welcoming hosts, and superb breakfasts.

The Upper Mountains are generally a bit cooler than Sydney in the summer, and a lot cooler in winter; it can even snow sometimes. I find the cold winters slightly off-putting as I like warm weather. It does mean that the area has four distinct seasons though, with beautiful, European-style trees and gardens. All the main towns are well connected by train to Sydney, though the two hour journey from Sydney Central to Leura is a bit of a slog.

View from a lookout in the Blue Mountains

So what’s not to like?

As a place to live, the Blue Mountains have two main drawbacks for us. Firstly, they’re a long way from the sea; according to Google Maps, it takes 1 hour 55 minutes to drive from Leura to Bondi (its nearest beach!). Secondly, you get the impression that, as an economic area, it’s not going anywhere; property prices and population have remained practically static the last few years, and there’s not a great deal of new industry springing up. (This is partly due to all the towns being on a ridge, so there’s not a lot of land for agriculture or industry.) Unemployment is fairly high, and there’s not a lot of activities for kids, so it’s possibly not the best place to raise a family.

Still, drawbacks aside, the Blueys does look like a nice place to live if you’re after peace and quiet, beautiful scenery, a cooler climate, and a relaxed atmosphere.

The Aussie petrol price lottery

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Petrol droplet with dollar signNow that we have a car, we’re obviously buying a lot of petrol. I have to say, the way they price petrol in Australia is insane. It’s cheap enough – compared to the UK, that is – but you never know what the price is going to be one day to the next. They change the prices every day! At least in the UK if fuel was £1 a litre one day, there was a reasonable chance it’d be £1 a litre the next day. Here in Sydney, it might be $1.29 a litre on Wednesday, $1.40 a litre on Thursday, then back down to $1.35 a litre on Friday!

So what gives? According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), petrol prices are subject to all sorts of factors, including international wholesale prices and movements in the exchange rate. But do petrol stations really have to change their prices every single day? Just think of the wasted time and effort changing all those signs each morning! (Well it keeps the petrol station owners fit, I guess.) In fact, sometimes they change prices several times a day! Talk about a lottery.

Anyway, for the record it appears the best time to buy fuel in Sydney is on a Tuesday, and the worst day of the week is Thursday. So now you know.