An excuse to use that spider photo again

Here's yet another Reddit-comment transplant, this time from this thread about scary animals in the USA, in the opinion of...

Huntsman spider


I opined:

1: The house centipede. Perfectly harmless, but practically a prototypical creepy-crawly, and very common.

2: The toe biter. Apart from the egg-carrying creepiness, toe-biters have that name for a reason, and their bite may be the most painful of any insect. Won't kill you. May make you kill yourself.

(Most insect-bite-pain-scales, like the not-entirely-serious but well-researched Schmidt one, don't cover large swathes of the arthropods. The Schmidt scale, for instance, only covers the stinging Hymenoptera - wasps, bees and ants.)

I regret I have been unable to locate a YouTube, or even LiveLeak, video of someone deliberately getting bitten by a toe biter. All those marvellous videos of people eating staggeringly hot peppers (or just straight capsaicin), or volunteering to be tased, or shooting each other with fireworks, or engaging in the various other things that only other drunk 20-year-olds used to get to watch... there are even voluntary Irukandji jellyfish stings! But no toe biters.

If you can't find me video of some idiot being turned into a flowing puddle of agony by a toe biter, I of course welcome your suggestions of even more terrifying American fauna and/or flora.

Dan's Travel Advice Service

(This post probably won't be of much interest to many of you, but my answer to this e-mail got long enough that I figured I should make a post out of it.)

A reader writes:

I realise that this doesn't fall into one of the usual categories of your on-line works, but surely it's not as strange as asking which shampoo you use?

I am fortunate enough to soon be travelling from the UK to Sydney. Whilst there my girlfriend and I thought that we would take a trip up into the Blue Mountains, most likely by taking the train to Katoomba [where I live -Dan]. Whilst there we plan to do the usual touristy things such as taking panoramic photos of the Three Sisters and admiring the waterfall.

Seeing as this is your neck of the woods, I was hoping that you might be kind enough to offer any other recommendations for a couple of car-less tourists who don't mind a bit of a walk? Any recommendations would be gratefully received, from a nice place to stop for lunch to a good public spot where we might be able to see some of the flocks of birds that terrorise you each day, or somewhere that has particularly nice views over the mountains.

Thank you,


I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff, but here are some semi-random thoughts:

On the way from Sydney to Katoomba or back, if you want to see numerous Australian animals up close (plus various random things like peacocks), go to Featherdale Wildlife Park, which is moderately close to the station.

Featherdale is pretty much a whole day out by itself, but you could go there in the morning and then on to Katoomba in the evening and stay overnight, or something.

Friendly cockatoos

There's a very friendly flock of cockatoos that hangs around the Royal Botanic Gardens in central Sydney, too; there's no guarantee they'll actually be there when you are, but take some bird seed and if they're there, you will be covered with them. Long sleeves recommended.

Triangular bat

Snoozing bat

The Gardens also have a zillion fruit bats and ibises.


The first will make a lot of noise but ignore you, the second will try to steal your lunch.

The ibises will eat from your hand, and their super-long beaks mean they are essentially unable to harm you even if they want to.

Back in Katoomba, there are numerous restaurants and cafes. "Fresh" is good, but only do breakfast and lunch. When I go there I only ever order the BLAT (BLT plus avocado), because it is a perfect BLAT.

Chork Dee is in my not very humble opinion the best Thai restaurant. The Chork Dee Chicken is great if you like coriander; the Chork Dee Chicken with no coriander is great if you do not like coriander.

Three Sisters BBQ is your standard cheap and decent Chinese place. Arjuna is unfortunately a bit of a walk from the centre of town, but is an excellent "authentic" Indian restaurant, which makes it bad for me because I only like Westernised fake Indian food.

The Common Ground Cafe has good, cheap food, but you should not go there unless you like supporting a religious group that forbids completion of high school, says men are better than women, and hits children. Every other restaurant in town hates the Common Ground, because they achieve such low prices by the simple expedient of not paying their workers.

Returning to the happier topic of colourful birds, you should probably go on the Scenic Skyway, run by Scenic World; they now have a Skyway car with a liquid-crystal floor that goes transparent to scare tourists even more. At the Scenic World end of the Skyway they do bird-feedings of some description; birds will come and sit on you and munch seed, and almost certainly not try to take your ear off. I'd get some seed at the supermarket in case the Scenic World people try to sell it at a markup.

The other end of the Skyway is easy to reach from town and as good a place as any to start a walk along the cliff path. The path from there to Echo Point is I think still officially closed after last year's bushfire (in which we came pretty bleeding close to losing our house), but it's perfectly passable. You just have to step over the supports for a couple of bits of boardwalk that burned up. There's no more opportunity to fall to your death than there was before the fire.

The cliff walk continues past the Three Sisters and on towards Leura, Home of Almost Nothing Affordable, or you can go down the Giant Stairway into the valley, from which sane people return to Scenic World on the very steep tourist railway thing that plays the Indiana Jones theme every time it operates and strangely does not seem to have turned any of its operators into serial killers as a result.

(Scenic World also has the world's lamest revolving restaurant - it's a normal restaurant with tables on a big turntable that slowly turns them past the windows. Probably a rip-off too, though I haven't seen the menu. Likewise, do not buy anything, at all, at Echo Point. Buy stuff in town.)

As far as views go... views are bloody everywhere around here. Can't avoid 'em.

Well, unless you come on a Fog Day. Those are rarer in summer, but sometimes it happens. You can still walk the paths and feel a sort of general sense of immensity even if all you can see is stuff inside your own eyeballs, but it's obviously a bit disappointing. You still see the tourist buses trundling around (a day pass could be a handy thing if the walking gets a bit too much...); I can only imagine the driver's saying, "and on your left, nothing; on your right, A TREE no sorry you missed it, more nothing on the left again..."

Sometimes you turn a corner on the path and just walk straight out of the cloud and suddenly have a view again, though.

One other place you might like to go to, especially if you decide to walk to Arjuna, is the old raceway at Catalina Park.

Catalina raceway
(Image source: Flickr user cskk)

Catalina raceway
(Image source: Flickr user cskk)

It was decommissioned in 1969, and is gently crumbling back into bush, making it now Australia's Best-Paved Bushwalk.

Dogs at Catalina raceway
(Image source: Flickr user cskk)

It's a strangely peaceful place where locals walk their dogs and no tourists ever go. Not far from town, but adjacent to nothing except the swimming pools and the aforementioned Arjuna restaurant.

This was all just off the top of my head; I may add another thing or two, and I'm sure there's some stuff I don't even know about. Commenters are welcome to recommend other interesting things to see and do. See how outlandish you can make an entirely fictional tourist attraction before I notice!