Well what a jolly upbeat place to start, no doubt setting the scene for the boundless enthusiasm that lies ahead. So, in order to put an immediate dampener on things, let me tell you some problems with this word and its application in the world of travel.  For far too long, far too many people, myself included, have liberally used a simple ‘awesome’ to reflect or describe an experience which, while probably very good, perhaps exhilarating, maybe fun depending on company, was technically not inspiring of our awe. Akin to Australian misogynists trolling their way through the hate media in 2012, overuse has diluted its impact. Awesome is no longer quite as awesome.

And who should we blame for such degradation of our language? Well, as every reasoned, fact-based opinion piece would purport, young people and social media of course! I suppose while we are thinking along such lines then we might also point the finger at any combination of immigrants, foreigners, boatpeople, sandpeople, wookies, orcs and trolls. Bloggers, who may fit in any or all of the above categories, are no doubt entirely culpable.

Of course, this is all assuming that we have to blame someone or something, which tends to be the way these days, rather than accept that things change for better or worse and that language is merely an extension of our natural evolution. Besides, I also think we could rule out young people in the blame game, simply because “awesome” sounds so 1990s. A bit like “cool’. Which naturally brings me on to New Zealand.

Nowhere, simply nowhere, have I heard the word “awesome” used to describe so many mundane things…

How were your fish and chips? Awesome, thanks. Cool [1]

How did you sleep last night? Not bad thanks. Awesome

What do you think of the Hobbit movie? Yeah absolutely awesome Peter Jacksons a legend bro

It may be because New Zealanders – who I truly believe are one of the nicest, warmest peoples on this planet – are naturally happy and optimistic souls (the counterargument, typically from boorish Aussies, would be that they are easily pleased). The irony of this is that New Zealand probably contains the most genuinely awesome sights and experiences per capita of anywhere in the world. Yes, experiencing a silent, dawn reflection on the glass water of Milford Sound probably is awesome; the extent to which your lamb chop is seasoned really shouldn’t be.

I am willing to cede that awesomeness is entirely subjective. Perhaps, indeed, a well seasoned lamb chop (which is important) could be awesome when one finds oneself ravenously craving salty meatiness. Thus in travel we will all come across different things that we find awesome. Not just incredible sights but experiences and emotions that pop up in the right place at the right time. The combination of physical place and emotional connection is often the most magical. One can trigger the other. For me, a physicality that is almost impossible to fathom and epic in scale is usually awesome [2]. It is something that is rightly awe-inspiring and as such generates an emotional reaction. Emotions ranging from bewilderment to wonderment. A sense of one’s own time and place in a grander narrative.

Awesome travel experiences should be impossible to fully convey through words and pictures. Which, with a sense of inevitability, I shall now attempt to do, reflecting on two very different environments. One is man-made, the other crafted by the hand of nature.

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A_New York

When it comes to epic environments of a man-made scale I’d argue it would be hard to look beyond New York City and the landscape of Manhattan Island in particular. Everyone should visit and everyone should easily find an awesome moment. There is incredulity attached to the place, simply in how a muddy island has evolved over little more than two centuries to become, and I plagiarise, one hell of a town. A testament to human survival, endeavour, ingenuity and skill. A reflection too on human frailty, failings and fears. This may be how far we, as humanity, have come, both in good and bad ways.

Even from atop the very highest buildings the city is impossible to fathom (remember this being a key requisite of my definition of awesomeness). At my time of visit (2011), the Empire State Building represented the highest point in the city and the experience from the 86th floor around dusk was incredible. Each city block a melding of concrete, steel and glass, bubbling upwards like the most majestic capitalist stalagmites. Each block ringed by a dotted artwork of moving yellow taxis, police cars, black and white suits, turning to streams of candescent red and yellow as darkness falls. This scene replicated and nuanced many times over, forming a feast for the eyes of gargantuan proportions.

There is more to this experience than the visual epic. The sound is at one singular and plural; a constant background hum punctuated by sirens wailing, drills whirring, concrete blocks piling, delivery vans unloading. For all I can make out, the mutterings of individual conversations and transactions rise up – “Get me a bagel schmuck”, “Siphon residual profits into offshore hedge fund now”, “Aw gee, that’s so awesome” – and meld together to form an indistinct, indecipherable story. Yet it is also a soundtrack that is – comparative to the streets below – soft and mellow, calming and reassuring, like a doctor with a good bedside manner, telling you it’s only a cold and will go away in a couple of days.

Without wishing to sound entirely blasphemous or indeed egotistical, it is possibly the closest you can physically feel to playing God. Here I am, overlooking the chaotic order the ant like humans have made. They seem to have done pretty well, but I’m not quite so sure where they are heading with all of this. Still, if it mostly keeps them out of trouble then I’ll let them get on with it, for now. I do wonder if their structures and movements and lights flickering on as darkness approaches are a brazen act of defiance to the nature I have created. But I’ll just make sure the sun goes down and comes up again, throw in some random weather and inevitable seasons. And let them see what they can do about that – ha!

I think it’s this realisation that you are both atop a pinnacle of human endeavour yet still at the mercy of the world around you that makes the top of the Empire State Building genuinely awesome. Coming at dusk accentuates this feeling, the changing colours reminding you that not even humankind can change the revolution of our planet and relationship to other bodies within the solar system (yet!). Despite what we have achieved, parading in such an obvious fashion below you, we cannot completely change the world. And that is a merciful thought. It adds to the relief at being so high, up away from the city, taking a breather from the millions below, yet remaining connected to them. And, gee, it’s a tonic for a great view.

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A_bluemtns

Great views abound in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in Australia. Before I go any further here I should reiterate the guide book lines: they are not actually mountains and they are not really blue, unless Bernard Manning has been resurrected in the wattle to yell out random profanities. Don’t expect high alpine drama of ragged granite shards and snow-capped peaks here. And, despite its very real wilderness, don’t be thinking you’ll be entirely escaping the clutches of mankind, given the most common way to see the place is along the not-so-Great Western Highway, with typically nondescript towns and Sydney style traffic. However, what is really awesome is the fact that you can walk down the streets of several of these towns and come to a rather abrupt halt. Or you could, should you really want to, carry on and topple many hundreds of metres down to join millions of Eucalyptus trees sweeping their way through valleys, tucking up like broccoli textured blankets against sheer sandstone cliffs, sheltering crazy birds and possums and snakes and spiders. A world before we were here.

Even though it may seem about as far away from New York City as the former planet Pluto, there are parallels between the two, conveniently suggesting common threads exist in my take on awesomeness. Sandstone pinnacles thrust upwards like the Empire State Building. Down below, a tree-filled pattern of regular irregularity. Sounds drift up, only, this time, the sirens are the echoes of bellbirds and the cackles of kookaburras and cockatoos. You are once more God-like, and with a sense of befuddlement at the sheer comprehension of what is set out below.

Out there remains wilderness, all still remarkably close to a sprawling city of over four million people. The ‘mountains’ remain an effective barrier to the seemingly endless sprawl, with shoots of Sydney forced south and north to new suburbs promising ample land and countryside but without really being in Sydney at all. The suburbs are unwittingly following the route of a few cows that escaped around 200 years earlier in search of pasture; cows that eventually found their way around the mountains, unlike the intrepid explorers who thought they could just head west in a straight line, endlessly naming everything that got in their way after themselves. Can we deduce that cows are smarter than many 18th century British colonial dandies? Surely not.

From the small towns that emerged once the explorers had stumbled across the mountains (only with the essential assistance of the local Aborigines) there are many vantage points to peer out into the void of the Grose Valley (to the north) and Jamison Valley (to the south) [3]. Some of these lookouts are grand, glamorous affairs, with safety rails and public toilets, information placards and tame rosellas. Echo Point in Katoomba is the most obvious yet still it offers a dramatically photogenic vista. You may find it awesome.

For the record, I find Sublime Point, further along to the east offers greater potential for an awesome experience. It’s harder to reach and thus you are more likely to experience it on your own, just you and the world for company. You are especially likely to have it to yourself at 6am in June, the wind piercing the bones and shaping bleary-eyed hallucinations of the valley mist into a soft, warming duvet. It is elemental, timeless and boundless. And as the first laser beams of sun hit the sandstone and the birdsong strikes upwards from within the mist, it is sublime, it is awesome.


[1] Everything that is awesome is also cool. Some things that are cool may not be awesome.

[2] Perhaps “epic” is in fact the modern day “awesome”, particularly since it requires fewer characters in a tweet.

[3] Further west there is the Megalong Valley, since tamed and given over to farming shortly after someone came up with its inspired choice of name.

Links

Speak like a New Zealander: http://www.statravel.com.au/new-zealand-language.htm

The Empire State Building: http://www.esbnyc.com/

Me and NYC: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/spreading-news.html

Bernard John Manning: http://www.bernardmanning.com/

Destination NSW – Blue Mountains: http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains?gclid=CMzA4_uUmbQCFcohpQodCiYA-g

Crossing the Mountains: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/exploration/blue_mountains/index.html

Sublime times: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/sublime-points.html

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