Wednesday, 17 November 2010

T&B&P x 3

We both loved Byron Bay, and had a walk on the beach there and a wander round the shops, then the sky turned black, and yes, you've guessed it, another thunderstorm.  Fortunately we found a handy bar and sheltered in there with a couple of white wine spritzers.   The following day we continued south on the Pacific Highway passing another couple of oversized fruits - an avocado and later a banana (sorry, no photos, you'll just have to take my word for it.  
Far more exciting was the fact I saw my first real live kangaroos in the wild!  Okay, they didn't put themselves out in the way that the whales had - no back flips or somersaults, but I was still quite impressed.  Following directions to the next campsite at Coffs Harbour, we narrowly avoided taking the top off the van when we reached a very low bridge.  The clearance was 3.3m and our van was 3.5m.  I was all for taking a chance, and I even got Sarah to get out and check, but she was sure there wasn't enough leeway, so I had to make a 57 point turn in a VERY narrow road, but I have to say the drivers of the cars that were tailing back were much more understanding than they would have been over here.
The following day we were off again and stopped at Port Macquarie - and found a lovely campsite, right by the beach in the centre of town.  We wandered up to the local Koala Hospital for a guided tour
Aparently they sleep for about 18 hours a day, and I don't quite know how they manage it without falling out of the tree - it certainly doesn't look very comfortable

We left there - although not before Sarah decided to 'adopt a koala' called Oxley Holly - and made the most of the lovely day, by having a walk along a beautiful deserted beach (that's me paddling)
looking at the dozens of  'graffiti painted rocks'
and then sitting outside a bar, watching the sun go down.
Our next stop was Port Stephens where we had a long walk to Stockton Beach to see the shifting sand dunes.  As I looked along the beach, I could see something coming towards me that looked like a camel train, and sure enough, as it got nearer, I could see that it was.  I can't say that I'd associated Australia with camels.
And then it was on towards Sydney.  We visited my Dad's cousin Mike and his family in Pennant Hills, just north of Sydney and had a lovely day with them, then the next day we went on to see my cousin Laura and spent a couple of days with her family.  It was good to sleep in a real bed with a real bathroom just next door and not have to trail across a campsite in the rain.  Oh sorry, did I say rain?  
At our request, they took us to the Blue Mountains - but unfortunately the weather let us down again.  We went to see the Three Sisters - three massive sandstone rock formations.  Unfortunately, given the severely inclement weather (very heavy rain and thick mist) we were unable to see hide nor hair of them, but we bought a postcard to see what they looked like.  You'll have to take my word for it again I'm afraid,  but they ARE in the background of the photograph. 
We then went to Katoomba, which is a 1920's holiday resort for Sydney residents - lots of Art Deco buildings, and we had coffee/elevenses in a fantastically well-preserved 1920's restaurant called The Paragon - it even had 1920's music playing.  We visited the Scenic centre and went down in a very steep railway - at 52 degrees apparently the steepest funicular railway in the world, and then back up in a cable car.  Fortunately the mist cleared sufficiently for us to enjoy some of the views

And then it was time to hand the van in and head for our hotel in Sydney.  It was a really good way to travel, and it makes you appreciate how vast a country it is.  We drove 3250 km in 17 days.
And, only one minor mishap which perhaps I should mention.  I misjudged the length of the vehicle as I manoeuvred in a petrol station, resulting in scraping the side of the van along a bollard.  No real damage done to the van, although there were considerable signs of yellow and grey paint on the side.  However, I bought a tin of the Aussie equivalent of 'T Cut' (other abrasive polishes are available) and polished all evidence away.  The petrol station happened to be a BP one, so I think they are fully aware that accidents happen, and to be honest a few scratches on a bollard on a station forecourt  was probably the least of their worries at the time.
When we handed the motorhome in I just kept the bloke talking when he checked the van, so he wouldn't have noticed anything untoward anyway!


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Trains and Boats and Planes - Part 2

Where were we?  Oh yeah, in Cairns with a massive truck.  We'd booked a 3 berth, but somehow we ended up with a six berth - great for the space inside, but slightly daunting when I had to think about driving it.  A bit of a change from my usual little Peugeot.  We set off, stopping briefly at a supermarket to get some supplies.  By the time we came outside it was absolutely pouring down with rain, which I assumed would just be a short cloudburst before normal service was resumed.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Anyway, the driving forward was fine - and we got to our first campsite and I even managed to reverse successfully - albeit slowly - onto our pitch.  We unpacked and settled in for the night, Sarah in the bed above the cab ...
(I must admit I didn't fight her for it) and me at the rear of the van.  I fell asleep to the sound of rain pounding on the roof, and I dreamt of Yorkie bars and becoming Eddie Stobart's top driver.

I think the rain must have continued throughout the night, because the following day, every news bulletin kept talking about the phenomenal rainfall, and our plans to stay at Airlee Beach the following night were thwarted by the fact that it was completely cut off as all the roads were flooded.  Mmmm.  And this is Australia, right?
As a result, we had to spend the next night at Bowen - a fairly uninspiring town which is only known for two things - a giant 20 foot mango, and the fact that most of the film Australia, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman was filmed there a few years ago.  So, unfortunately, we'd missed Hugh but at least we got to see the mango
and the sun made an all-too-brief appearance, after we'd heard reports that Bowen had had the heaviest rainfall in 24 hours for over 50 years.  Just call me lucky. 
Right, I'm not going to keep on banging on about the weather, except to say that it rained virtually everyday for ten days or so, and apparently it was Queenslands wettest September on record.  (At one point I did say that next year I'm going to holiday in the Lake District or Wales for better weather).
Anyway, despite the rain we had a brilliant time - some of the highlights on our drive down were Hervey Bay - the only campsite we stayed at for two nights, so that we could visit Fraser Island - the worlds largest sand island, with miles of beaches, rain forest and freshwater lakes.  We walked through the forests, 
paddled in the lakes
and drove along the sand in a 4 wheel drive bus, and then back again.  
Or at least Sarah went back in the bus, but I took a slightly more adventurous route back 
Obviously, I'd like you to believe that I flew it all by myself, hence the 'Amelia Earhart' pose, but in fact we had a pilot and six other passengers. I couldn't convince Sarah to come with me, but she's not what you'd call a keen flier.  It was certainly a great experience, and I can't image that I'll have too many opportunities to take off and land on a beach.  Great views - rain forests look like giant broccoli from the air.
The following day, we had booked a trip to go Whale watching.  They guarantee that you'll see whales, or you get your money back.  I imagined that we might see a bit of a whale somewhere in the distance, but it absolutely surpassed all our expectations.  We went out in a fast catamaran, 
out past Fraser Island (you'll notice that the sun is shining!) 
then parked up and after a short wait the whales appeared.  
It was almost as if they were putting on a display for us, 
with mothers showing off their calves and playing about right up close to the boat.  
Absolutely brilliant and worth every penny of the trip.
Having left Hervey Bay, we stayed at Noosa for the night, then down to Brisbane, where  we met up with my cousin Barbara, who took us for a walk at the seafront at Wynnum, 
 then to the Botanical Gardens
and to a lookout with fantastic views across the city
I'm glad Barbara was driving that day and I didn't have to negotiate our bus through the middle of Brisbane.
The following day we headed south again and stopped for lunch at Surfers Paradise, where the weather was glorious.
I guess we should have stayed there, because by the time we reached our next campsite, at Byron Bay, we were in the midst of yet another thunderstorm.  We got soaked just connecting the van up to the electricity.  Or at least Sarah did.  Well, I was doing all the driving!

(Are you sure you're not bored yet?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Trains and Boats and Planes

Sorry, I've been away for rather longer than I intended.  I've had a bit of a road trip.  
Back in 2008, my lovely niece Sarah, asked me if I'd do her a favour.  I said of course I would, what was it?  And she said "Will you come travelling with me when I'm 21?"  Err, let me think about it for a nano-second.  Yes.  YES!!  To cut a long story short, we booked it about a year ago through a local travel company that specialises in trips to Australia.  They turned out to be fab, incidentally - so let me know if you're thinking of going - I'd highly recommend them.  Several times during the planning and subsequent booking, I asked Sarah if she was really sure she wanted to go with me, and not one of her mates, and in the end she said something that I'd like engraved on my gravestone when the time comes -"Let's face it, you're not the typical elderly aunt, are you?"  

So, the day after the Muse gig found me in a flurry of packing and last minute phone calls, before heading off to Heathrow at Sunday lunchtime.

 Our first stop was Singapore - it was the weekend before the Grand Prix so there was lots of activity and decorations.
We did actually drive round part of the track, on our way to the Night Zoo but sadly in a bus, and not in a racing car.  The Night Zoo (yes, it really is only open at night) takes you round in a little open-sided train,  apparently exposed to the dangerous animals either side of the tracks.  I'm assuming there was a deep pit to prevent them dragging us from the train and having us for supper, but  you couldn't see it.  I was concerned that I wasn't going to make it long enough to dice with death with the venomous snakes  and man eating sharks of Australia.  Anyway, we survived and the next day we went into the city for a bit of shopping.
We didn't actually go shopping in here - but I had to get a photo ....
And of course, we couldn't resist doing the tourist thing and  having a 'Singapore Sling' at Raffles

We were there for three nights, then it was off to Cairns (right hand side of Australia, near the top)  On our first full day there, we had glorious sunshine for a trip north to Kuranda, a village in the rainforest.   Fortunately, I don't have too much of a problem with heights as this entailed having to dangle thousands of feet off the ground, in what appeared to be an oversized glass bauble strung from a thin wire.  We had spectacular views on the way up....
When we arrived at Kuranda village, Sarah got to fulfill one of her ambitions, to cuddle a koala.  They have exceptional sharp claws - and she had the scars to prove it for a few days.
But I didn't get to fulfill my ambition to have a handbag made from one of these ...
I'm joking, I'm joking!!!  I love all animals, even scary looking ugly ones.   
After lunch and a wander round the market (I have to admit to buying an Aussie hat - no corks!) we travelled back down to Cairns on the Scenic Railway  - the rail road having been cut out of the side of the mountain for tin miners in the late 1880's to provide a route to the coast.  I think it was to get food and supplies in, rather than to provide them with transport to go surfing on their days off.  It was a lovely old train and I contravened all the Health and Safety advice to stick my head out of the window to get this shot.  (The girl knows no fear!)
The following day we had a trip across to Green Island, at the top of the Great Barrier Reef 
We went out in a glass bottomed boat, and saw all sorts of coral, fish (including the Nemo-type fish from the film), a couple of turtles, and even a small shark.  It was only a small one, about five foot long.  I'm not sure I'd have felt so complacent if I'd been swimming at the time, but it looked small from the boat.  
The following day, we went to pick up the vehicle we'd booked for the next part of the trip.  Now, unlike the shark, that really did exceed my expectations, size-wise.  
 But that's all for now, I'll bore you with the rest of my trip later.
Oh, and I haven't forgotten that I promised a giveaway - I just haven't made it yet.  And I think I'm going to make it a competition (nothing too tricky, honest)

Trains and Boats and Planes - Billy J Kramer and The Dakotas.  (Or Dionne Warwick)