Audi A3 Cabrio Driving Vacation in Australia

 

Mt. Wilson

Driving through the deserted lush Mt.Wilson rain forest, just 120 km northwest of Sydney of Route 40, I fall madly in love with this Cabrio. What a marvelous sound this Ibis white Audi A3 Cabrio 2.0T produces. When I upshift the S-tronic dual clutch gearbox, the RPM revs up briefly as the clutch disengages the second gear, and then the RPM goes down to synchronize with the third gear. During this lighting-speed sequence of precision events, the turbo has more pressure than the engine needs at lower RPM on the third gear.

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The pressurized air needs to go somewhere or it would produce a potentially damaging back pressure on the turbo blades. To avoid this back pressure and to make sure that the turbo doesn’t loose too much rotation to maintain some boost threshold for the next acceleration, the blow off valve releases the excess pressure during this syncopation. This blow off valve produces a unique pleasing bass drum sound.

With the top and windows down, the sporty and alluring sounds coming in rhythmic fashion from the blow off valve and exhaust massage my eardrums as I shift the S-tronic. This energizing soundtrack invokes an image in my mind; Audi designers and engineers in Ingolstadt were having a grandiose time tuning the notes of the Audi A3 Cabrio turbo and exhaust sounds in the space-age technology Bang & Olufson echo free acoustic foam chamber.

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Mt. Wilson is a mountain range that spans for five kilometers north of the World Heritage Blue Mountains National Park. The rich volcanic basalt soil makes this region a perfect location for many natural-appearing large scale English gardens. Many not only feature symmetrical shrubberies with graveled walks, tree-lined plantations, and vibrant and contrast perennial blooms but also grottoes, temples, tea-houses, belvederes, pavilions, sham ruins, bridges, and statues.

The Australia's unique tall eucalyptus trees create continuous canopy over the stringing zigzags, sweeping bends, and straights. It is summer time and the temperature is mild and perfect for Cabrio driving. There are not much of drastic elevation changes or hairpins. Instead, Mt. Wilson road steadily climbs and zigzags. This road has many tentacles reaching out to the most remote areas of this mountain range. Exploring this region my visual cortex is filled with the images from the Garden of Eden. The voices of Australian wildlife and birds provide the soundtrack of this beautiful scenery.

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Passing the Kangaroo and Koala crossing road sign and coming into a blind chicane, I downshift the S-tronic to third and second, and the Cabrio burbles exotically. On accelerations, the blow off valve sound reverberates through my spine and bounces of the trees. As the engine speed rises, the baritone exhaust note ascends confidently. This is the similar sound the Audi R10 Le Mans produced when Emanuele Pirro accelerated on the long stretch in front of the Laguna Seca podium.

To top this exhilarating acoustic experience, the 200 HP and 207 lbs-ft engine produces a face-bending acceleration that pushes my organs to the back seat. Loose leaves on the road are sucked spirally up by the vacuum trail this car generates.

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Heading back towards Sydney at night, I pass the jagged rocky Mt. Tomah on route 40, Bells Line of Road. With the top and windows down, the pristine mountain air brushes my hair. This serene ambiance must be soaked in. The sun has set many minutes ago. The southern sky stars are appearing quickly. Cocooned in a magma red leather sport seat, I recline and enjoy the open sky and the galactic light show that’s about to begin. The white and red glow of the dashboard instruments produces the sense of space flight. No planetarium in the world can match this celestial experience.

Katoomba Town

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Earlier this morning on the way to Mt. Wilson, I stopped by the Blue Mountain National Park visitor center in Katoomba town on route 32, Great Western Highway. The panoramic view of the famous Three Sister rock formation and the lush rolling mountains stretches far into the horizon. Blue Mountain is a favorite weekend gateway spot for Sydneysiders. There are hundreds of hiking trails descending down towards the deep lush valleys with electrifying views of the interior of the rain forests.

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Visiting Katoomba would not be complete without stopping by at The Carrington Hotel. Stepping into the lobby of this hotel was like riding on a time machine and arriving in the year 1882. The interior of this hotel featured the 19th century Victorian orderliness, ornamentation, wallpaper, and woodwork. Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, English Rococo, and Neoclassical furniture filled the corridors, the parlor, the dining room, and the saloon.

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Absorbing this time capsule, I daydreamed of being surrounded by gentlemen wearing black double breasted black frock coats with silk vests, top hats and contrasting pants. The women stood by their men equipped with pantalets, chemises with embroiled hems, shapely corsets, petticoats, and umbrella-shape hoop skirts.

Streets of Sydney

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I commute to work through George St. from my hotel in Darling Harbor neighborhood. It is one of my favorite streets in Sydney downtown. It has multiple personalities. On the south end, it starts in Chinatown where the Asian immigrant settled in the second half of 19th century. In the north end, it concludes at the historic Rock district where the first Australian settlers came and established residence.

Next to Chinatown, George St. crosses Liverpool St. where several ambrosial Tapas restaurants create a little Spain. In the middle, it crosses Druitt St. It is one of the liveliest pedestrian crossings in Sydney with the backdrop of the majestic 19th century Queen Victoria shopping center, St Andrews Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Sydney, and the equally historic sandstone Sydney Town Hall.

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It is fun to just stroll around this particular intersection at around 5 o’clock. A sea of people descending from skyscrapers fills the scene. They are all merrily walking to hip ethnic and fusion restaurants and lively eclectic bars to wash the day-stress away.

This Cabrio allows the stimuli to enter my eyes, my ears and my nose uncensored. It makes the George St. experience very vivid. Surrounding me, Romanesque historic and ornate buildings featuring stained glass windows, arched skylights, domes, intricate colonnades, balustrades, cupolas, cast-iron railings and gates are intermingled with the modern contemporary steel and glass office skyscrapers. Many reflections of the historic buildings on the glass towers create a unique blend of the past and the now.

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Arriving at the Rock neighborhood, I am greeted by sandstone houses with vibrant flowers adorning the windows and the ornate cast-iron gates. Many historic restaurants and English pubs have been serving the patrons since the earliest history of the settlement. Most of them are almost in their original themes. The Rock also features the panoramic view the Sydney harbor bridge, the north Sydney city skyline, and the postcard famous shell-shape Opera House.

When I use or hear a word often, the word starts to have less meaning to me. Then occasionally there comes a life experience that reminds me of the deep meaning of that particular word. Tucked across from the Rock over the harbor and under the Harbor Bridge is the quaint Milsons Point urban village. From Olympic Dr. vantage point, the other perspective of Sydney panoramic view is hypnotizing. I lose my thoughts looking at the view. This moment reminds me of the deep meaning of the simple word: Beauty.

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After crossing back the Harbor Bridge from the North Sydney, I drive through Prince Albert Road off the Circular Quay’s Macquarie St. This road takes me to the entrance of the Sydney Botanical garden. Many couples had their wedding vows performed here. It is one of the most pictorial and romantic gardens in the world featuring radiant flowers, lush vegetations, and the view of the Opera house and the Harbor Bridge.

Hosting over one million specimens, this garden sits on the side of an undulating piece of land giving superb downtown skyline and harbor views through the greeneries. Many locals have picnics under the large shady trees over weekends and holidays. Others use the energizing walkway to have lunchtime walks, or jogs. This garden is also a perfect refuge from the city buzz.

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A dark cloud formation comes rapidly disturbing the calm atmosphere. It brings an afternoon flash rain that drenches the road. Marble size raindrops splash and tiny drops bounce in the air. I quickly push a button on the center console. This single button automatically synchronizes the windows during the opening and closing of the top. The Z-shape origami engineering ingenuity makes the front hard section of the top acting as a cover that rests flush with the car body when the top is open. It creates a very clean design that dramatically differentiates this Cabrio from other convertibles in a very subtle way.

The exceptional craftsmanship of the origami top is quickly noticed when the car changes from its nature loving being-part-of-the-environment personality into a five star spa personality. The top blocks the outside noises and the weather wrath in the similar way the frequent-flyer-approved Bose noise canceling head phones provide the virtual acoustic oasis.

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Passing Bentley and Ferrari-Maserati dealers on William St just east of Hyde Park, I enter the King Cross neighborhood. This place is filled with bed and breakfast, hostels, restaurants, and bars catered to backpackers. Thousands of backpackers from around the world stay here during their journey down under.

Darlinghurst St. in King Cross is the place to be on Thursday night for anyone to experience a very lively night life. Dance music can be heard from different part of the street. Long lines of people dressed to impress are common scene just around midnight. Aromas of ethnic foods from hole-in-the-wall and street vendors bait the energetic but hungry party goers.

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Driving a Cabrio on this neighborhood on Thursday night is like walking on the Hollywood red carpet during the Oscar night next to Nicole Kidman. First, everyone is looking at the alluring LED eyebrows of this Cabrio. Then, guided by the single-frame grille, the bold hood and ascending shoulder line, the paparazzi cameras and the fans’ eyes move backward to admire the sporty and dynamic stance of the car. From behind, they continue to follow with their eyes fixed on the sweeping bands of light generated by the fiber optic rods lit by LEDs illuminating the outline of the taillights.

Another great nightlife spot in Sydney is Darling Harbor. This is a place full of Sydney socialites. Tumbalong is the original name for Darling Harbor, an Aboriginal word for 'meeting place'. The florescent view of the night city skyline is sure to get you in the mood for a roistering night out. Strolling by Latin and Jazz clubs, outdoor seafood restaurants, terrace cafes, cocktail lounges, bars, casinos, and entertainment complex is the best way to sample the innumerable avenues.

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Royal National Park

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Driving around Sydney could be very expensive had I not have a portable GPS with speed and traffic light radar data. This Cabrio is not equipped with the Sat Nav option. Police is barely seen on the highways or roads around or outside town. But my GPS warns me almost at every two blocks about the existence of such devices. They are everywhere like Starbucks in Seattle. No wonder, Australians are law abiding citizens when they are on the roads.

There are barely any SUV’s in Australia. Instead, UTE’s are everywhere. It is a sedan married to a pickup bed. Australians love their tricked out cars. Ford and Holden are in fierce rivalry in producing muscle UTE’s and sedans. Where can Australians enjoy their modified UTE’s and sedans given so many speed traps around?

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I may have found the answer. The 132 square kilometers Royal National Park is 30 kilometers south of Sydney, of the Princes Highway South toward Wollongong. It is a relatively unspoiled hilly bush land hosting rainforest, heath, waterfalls, and creeks. Australian Cedar and the larger Eucalypt species dominate this park. Tree height reaches up to 30 meters or more. And, rich ferns, wattles, and other medium-size plants cloak the grounds.

At one of the highest vista points, rolling bush land spans all the way to the horizon. Greenery is not the only thing that this park has. Many twisty roads can be found here. Cutting through the lush hilly bush land, these snaky roads connect the inlands with the secluded beaches that dot the eastern shoreline. The best of all about this park is the fact that there is not single speed radar!

I had a prejudice about any convertible because my experiences before this Cabrio were limited to the convertible from Hertz. It didn’t take long for me to start disliking convertibles. They twisted like pretzel on the highway cloverleaf interchanges. They horribly understeered over tight turns. Even worse on zigzags, they wobbled like a sail boat in a hurricane. Utterly numb and joyless!

So it is a stark revelation for me to experience this Cabrio. Because the experience this car gives is nothing like the other convertibles do. The inventor of Audi Space Frame has brought yet another innovative technique to ensure the most optimum car stiffness. Combining the uses of high-strength, ultra-high-strength, and hot-formed steels with the V-pattern steel profiles and the box-shape structure, Audi engineers brings the DTM-car-inspired torsional rigidity and crash protection into this Cabrio.

This car comes with the sport package featuring a renewed McPherson design with triangulated lower wishbones and four-link rear suspension. The electromechanical speed-dependent power assist steering system provides precise and confidence driving. 17-inch light weight aluminum wheels wrapped by 225/45 Michelin performance tires ensure that the kinetic energy is transferred in the most efficient way to the road.

The super-sized ventilated disc brakes along with the anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic differential lock (EDL), and Brake Assist can stop the car in the way that makes me more nervous about the cars behind than the objects I am avoiding in front.

A tricked-out Yamaha motorbike appears very fast on my rearview mirror. I figure the best way to enjoy these foreign roads is by following the rollercoaster pace of a local rider. So, we switch the pole position. With the top and windows down, the gear shift pattern of the rider can easily be heard as the bike’s exhaust produces the popping sound.

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We devour the zigzags and a few hairpins together at tingling speeds. A few sinuous rubber marks proof that we are not the first to discover this driving nirvana. On a short straight stretch, he looks back to gauge the distance and gives a friendly wave. Then, he accelerates fast again inviting me to follow. The exciting chase continues. The burble and the blow off valve sounds caress my ear drums every time I paddle shift the S-tronic down and up.

Coming out of the lush part of the bush land, we arrive at Bald Hill vista point. The glistening ocean beacons many riders and drivers to sit and relish the breathtaking sweeping view of the crescent shoreline and sharp cliffs. A mother and a father with their small daughter are sitting on the manicured lawn holding each other hands watching surfers in a distance riding forceful waves.

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Steve, the rider, is from a nearby town Engadine. His ride is a Yamaha WR450F with motord kit. Over some green tea and snacks we exchange our driving and riding stories. He recommends me to climb the nearby Mt. Kiera. Among travelers, we don’t say “good-bye”, we say, “see you when I see you.” We shake hands and part.

Australia and Cabrio

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When I visit a place, an impression is formed inside me. Often time, the impression can’t be explained logically. It can’t be broken into different categories nor be assigned weighted values. It is just is. In this regard, Sydney is very inviting and welcoming. 180 nationalities now call Sydney home. Undulating landscapes, artful gardens, history-telling structures, modern skyscrapers, charming urban villages, delicious ethnic foods, lively night life, and friendly people are framed in an endearing postcard setting. And together they provide kaleidoscopic life and culture that are unique to this place.

Driving through Blue Mountain World Heritage Park, Mt. Wilson, Sydney downtown streets, and the Royal National Park, I discover what’s in the mind of Audi designers and engineers when they created this diamond-like perfection. They built this car so that the driver can enjoy the machine and the nature as one holistic experience.

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Instead of being a viewer of beautiful surroundings that lay outside an enclosed space, I am part of the mesmerizing scenery. Instead of being an operator of a transportation device, I am the choreographer of my driving vacation. I become the creator and, at the same time, actor of my own journey. The pictures and moments do not pass by. This Audi A3 Cabrio allows me to flow through enchanting pictures and joyful moments. It allows me to create my kaleidoscopic driving vacation.