Sorry for the delay folks, here’s an update on November.

At the start of November I got to tick off the final State / Territory and made it down to Adelaide for a couple of nights for a conference on driver-less cars. It was pretty interesting and I got a ride in a self-parking Volvo and drooled at the Tesla. I didn’t have much time to see Adelaide itself, but I did notice a lot of churches in a small space. Whilst I was there I got elected to the Sydney Rockies (climbing club) as Treasurer, and Matt is the new President, so that will be keeping us busy.

Having finally got our balcony back from the scaffolders we had a BBQ night, luckily avoiding the rain.

Dance for Kindness 2015

Dance for Kindness 2015

On the 8th I took part with my friend Kirsty in the Dance for Kindness 2015 flashmob down by the Opera House to kick off World Kindness Week. The dance was done by lots of groups all around the world and the whole experience actually turned out to be pretty fun rather than scary like I thought it was going to be!

On the Sunday we went to the annual Sculptures by the Sea festival down by Bondi beach. We went quite late in the day and it was a little bit cloudy, so it wasn’t as busy as it has been which is good. Here’s a selection of photos of my favorite ones.

Pretty seaweed sculpture

Pretty seaweed sculpture

Cork seaweed sculpture

Cork seaweed sculpture

Metal rock sculpture

Metal rock sculpture

Disturbing 'Barbie Wave'

Disturbing ‘Barbie Wave’

Big brother!

Big brother!

For a while we’ve been thinking about (= Matt has been hassling me about) getting a new car. We do a fair number of camping and climbing trips where we take a lot of stuff and it gets a bit tight in the car if we take any passengers. We also do a fair bit of driving on dirt roads, so it made sense to get something with a bigger boot, more ground clearance and a 4WD/AWD. We’re getting a Subaru Outback in Platinum Grey (a bit blue). It is quite a bit bigger than Jeffrey the car, so we’ll see how I get on driving it! It has some exciting features like adaptive cruise control which i’m interested in using. We’re going to name the new car Bruce and we’ll put up some pictures once he arrives.

We also got some culture in in the month, with Matilda the musical, and Spectre the James Bond film. Matilda was really good – I was surprised I liked it so much as i’m not normally too keen on things with kids in. They could sing and dance pretty well. The songs by Tim Minchin were good and the Miss Trunchball character was particularly entertaining.

We went for a geocaching adventure in Coopers Park in the eastern suburbs with Brandon and his little daughter Alex, and found a few caches. We found a possum living in a shelter which was pretty friendly. I fed him some cheese and then he ate some break right out of my hand!

Possum!

Possum!

Towards the end of the month we carried on the canyoning season with a very fun adventure down Lower Bowens Creek (N) Canyon. This is one we had done before, but we were going with some people new to canyoning, so thought we’d minimize the risk of getting lost! The canyon was really really good. I love how scenic they are – all the greenery and cool shapes where the water has carved out the rock.

Lower Bowens N Canyon

Lower Bowens N Canyon

We had originally through about doing some canyons with long swims where you need lilos. We didn’t need these in the end, but our friend were inspired enough to bring a giant inflatable dolphin to help with flotation. We named him Flipper and he also provided good value entertainment. Flipper even survived the long walk out of the canyon too and is now living happily ever after (I hope) back in Sydney!

Riding Flipper!

Riding Flipper!

There were three abseils, all of which were really fun. The first one was down into the cold water, and you could swim and hide in a cave behind a waterfall which was exciting. The second abseil had an optional ledge to stop on, where you could do a 4m jump into the water. I hate jumping into water so I just abseiled all the way down, but it was fun for everyone else! This is where the camera had a mishap last time, but this time it was fine so we got a lot of pictures. The third abseil was right down a waterfall, and started through a hole which was very exciting – unfortunately it was also quite chilly and wet, but definitely entertaining!

Log-walk in the canyon

Log-walk in the canyon

Frolicking with Flipper

Frolicking with Flipper

 

The next day we had a chilled day out with some other friends up at Collaroy on the Northern beaches. We started with coffee, went for a walk along the coast and then headed to the bar looking out on the water. We saw two whales which was really cool – a big one and a smaller one, presumably a baby. They were jumping pretty high out of the water for quite a long time.

For the last weekend in November we had epic 1m long pizzas for the climbing bums dinner, and Matt dragged me along to ‘Piratefest’, a gig with 3 different pirate metal bands. It was also Matt’s birthday, and by coincidence that day we got to pick up our new car, Bruce, earlier than expected. Bruce is a Subaru Outback AWD. He has a nice big boot for all our camping adventures and extra ground clearance for the dirt roads. He is pretty big so I’m getting used to driving him at the moment, but so far no crashes!

Bruce and balloons!

Bruce and balloons!

 

 

 

Climbing at Point Perp

Climbing at Point Perp

October this year started with a long weekend. I sorted a big holiday house down the coast in Currarong, near Jervis Bay, and a bunch of 10 of us spent the weekend down there. Matt and I headed down on Friday night, and he made me stop on the way at McDonalds for a create your own burger. I hate fast food and can’t’remember the last time I went to McDonalds, but Matt was pretty enthusiastic about it so I gave in and said i’d give it a go. The touchscreen where you make your burger was quite good. The burger accompaniments were quite tasty, but unfortunately it was the same soggy greasy too salty chips and thin grey burger that tastes like cardboard.

Over the long weekend we went climbing twice and Point Perp which is seacliffs. The climbing was good, and I did a record 7 routes over the two days. We even spotted a whale out at sea, a some big schools of fish jumping out the water. On the second day we saw some people doing some high-lining over the water which was fun to watch as well. We went to the beach both days as well, and it was so hot I even went for a proper swim in the sea. We had two epic giant BBQs, plus some bacon and egg BBQ breakfasts. Of course lots of games were played as well, including Liar Dice, many rounds of Werewolf One Night and the Australian version of Cards Against Humanity. 

Sheep Cake

Sheep Cake

The following weekend was the Rockies annual Sheep Roast and climbing weekend in the Wolgan Valley. The Wolgan comes with a ‘wombat guarantee’, and sure enough we spotted quite a few on the drive up. Everyone brings some food to share, so I decided to make a sheep themed cake for the event. He had marshmallows for fur and was chocolate on the inside. Pretty tasty if I say so myself!  Matt went climbing on the Saturday while I helped roast the sheep, which takes all day. We had fun and games with little almost three year old Jack, playing in the river and with his diggers and a frisbee. There were lots of roos at the campsite too which kept me entertained. I tried my hand at unicycling too, which is pretty hard! Of course in the evening we had a giant fire.

Wet in Tigersnake canyon

Wet in Tigersnake canyon

On the Sunday we went off for the first canyon of the season, Tigersnake. It was very cool with lots of tight squeezes and some good abseils –  although was fairly short so the fun was over quickly. The walk in was through the Gardens of Stone NP which had some pretty interesting weird rock formations. We picked this canyon because it was allegedly mainly dry, although it wasn’t! Andrew our tall friend abseiled into one pool up to the middle of his thighs, so I was fairly sure I was going to get my pants wet – not what I wanted to happen! I was fairly pleased when I managed to ab in and avoid getting my pants wet, but then when I was talking back to get off the rope, I tripped, fell over and got soaked up to my chest – fail! It was good fun though, and happily we didn’t get trapped by any aggressive tiger snakes.

Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks

The following weekend we had some city adventures. On the Saturday we went for an explore around Hyde Park Barracks which was where a lot of convicts used to live, and was later used for different things. We had a pretty funny tour guide, and did the audio tour after. For $10 we spent about 3 hours there, so it was good value. After we went for some food at the night noodle markets in Hyde Park, include some mini burgers with noodles and rice on the outsides of them instead of buns.

Noddle burgers

Noddle burgers

On the Sunday we went on a tall ship cruise on the Harbor. We got a good deal via groupon, which included the cruise, plus a buffet lunch and an open bar. After a cloudy start it was a nice sunny afternoon and it was cool looking around the old ship.

The Tall Ship

The Tall Ship

in October I organised a Rockies social to the Reel Rock Film Festival. We had some nice Lebanese food first and then watched a series of climbing films, including about the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia. They also opened the outdoor swimming pool on the business park at work, so I’ve been going for some lunchtime swims and already have a pretty funny tan mark on my back.

Free hugs!

Free hugs!

My friend Kristy from Surrey ran a stall at Glebe Markets for promoting gratitude, so I went along and helped out giving out free hugs. I was fairly reluctant at first as I always run away from the free hig people, thinking they’re slightly scary. But, once i got into it it was really good. We gave out a lot of free hugs, and there were no weird creepy men – yay!

Cocktails at the Shangri-La

Cocktails at the Shangri-La

At the end of the month we had my friend from Southampton, Ellie, visit. We did our PhD’s together, and she was en route via Australia for a work trip to Fiji! Ellie has been to stay with us three times now, so she;s officially our most frequent visitor. We went for a cocktail in the Sangri-La hotel bar, 36 floors up, with some good views of the Harbour. After there we went on a ferry ride for some more cocktails and pizza on the Island Bar at Cocktaoo Island. The bar was nice right on the water, although also pretty windy.

Windy ferry ride to Cockatoo Island

Windy ferry ride to Cockatoo Island

The next day we went with Captain Andrew sailing around the Harbour. We went up river to the west, and then down towards the bridge and around Cockatoo Island. We moored up for a swim and picnic lunch by Berrys Bay, and made it all the way around without getting rained on (the forecast was a bit dodgy). I managed to slice open my foot swimming when I kicked some oysters, so had to do some first aid on myself. I’m hobbling around now but hopefully it’ll heal up soon.

Swimming in Berrys Bay

Swimming in Berrys Bay

Sailing on the Harbour - just after Ellie's hat blew away!

Sailing on the Harbour – just after Ellie’s hat blew away!

A bit late I know, but here’s some of the things we got up to in September:

It was our fourth wedding anniversary in September, and the traditional presents are flowers or fruit. We decided to buy each other some fruit trees, so now we have a dwarf orange tree and a dwarf lime tree on the balcony, complete with matching coloured pots.

Lime and Orange Tree

Lime and Orange Tree

 Some of our friends from Surrey Uni Climbing Club, Karen and Kirsty are currently both living in Sydney. We met up and tried out Govindas all you can eat vegetarian buffet which I’d heard a lot about, and had some gelato at Messina after. The dessert bar now only has pre-made options though, you can’t create your own any more which is a shame. At least it makes the choice about going there or going for traditional gelato easier though!

Silent Disco

Silent Disco

A couple of weeks later we met up again for the Chippendale light festival, and had much fun rocking out at my first ever Silent Disco. There were three different channels to choose from, so there was always something OK playing, and it was fun looking at all the people dancing differently to different tunes at the same time.

Echidna

Echidna

On our actual wedding anniversary we went with our friends Andrew and Susie on a long walk in the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains, to Acacia Flats. It was a two day walk. Day one was about 10km of mainly downhill into the valley and we saw an echidna on the path. That night we camped by the river, and drank whiskey too quickly around a nice fire. It was nice and fairly quiet in the valley.

Acacia Flats, just before the uphill

Acacia Flats, just before the uphill

The next day the walk was 10km of mainly up, and around the rims of the escarpments. The views were fantastic.

Top of the hill!

Top of the hill!

I managed to carry my bag without my back hurting tooo much, although my knees didn’t like all the down. I got a trusty wizard stick to help me out, which survived until it snapped about 1km from the end of the walk. Unfortunately my big toes got bruised and went purple from all the downhill, and they’re still like it now 6 weeks later! They don’t hurt though and don’t seem to look like they’re going to fall off.

One of the lookouts

One of the lookouts

Also for our anniversary we went for a slightly belated meal at Sixpenny restaurant in Stanmore. Here they have a chefs hat system of rating restaurants. Our first year here we went to a no hat but awesome view restaurant; last year we went to a one hat restaurant (Oscillate Wildly), so this year we went for two hats. I want to go to a three next year, but Matt says we need to try more two’s. Three is the most you can get, so there’s not many and they are not cheap! At Sixpeny we had the full on eight course detestation menu and a very tasty bottle of Bordeaux. The wine was in an amazing decanter which looked like a teapot, and the service was excellent. The food was super tasty, and I thought I was going to explode by the end.

I’m the Social Secretary in the climbing club, and organised a Flying Trapeze session for a small group of us. It was super fun. The session started with a quick warm up, and learning how to do a ‘knee hang’ on a static trapeze.  This basically involved hanging upside down from the trapeze bar by your knees, and letting go with your arms. After mastering the right technique on the ground, it was time to climb the giant wobbly ladder and have a go whilst flying through the air. It was a lot of fun, and luckily the Rockies avoided embarrassment by being better at it than the 12 year old girls who were also at the session!

Flying trapeze

Flying trapeze

After nailing the swinging knee hang, and dropping onto the giant net, the next ‘trick’ was to turn the knee hang into a back flip! Each person got a few goes at this, with varying levels of success. Then it was time for the grand finale. The final trick was to do a swinging knee hang, and then get caught in the air by one of the trapeze instructors, who was swinging from another trapeze.  Everyone managed the grab successfully, which was a great way to finish off the session.  The lesson was excellent fun, and nobody had to use the stretcher board and neck brace we spotted in the corner of the room!

After the trapeze catch

After the trapeze catch

In other news for September we have been:

Watching: Stargate Universe

Playing: Our new game is Kahuna, where you have to capture more islands than your opponent. Simple but fun.

Reading: I’ve been going back to the classics with One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, which I’ve never actually read before.

Consuming: Messina! We also had a trip to the Cow and Moon Gelato place in Enmore, which won the world gelato championships last year. It was pretty tasty, and they had some very yummy looking cakes on display too.

Buying: Fruit plants and pots for them which are surprisingly expensive!

Looking forward to: In October we have a long weekend and the annual Rockies sheep roast planned, as well as a visit from my Uni friend Ellie.

Me and my Wizard Stick

Me and my Wizard Stick

So now the blog is back, here’s a quick run down on the good stuff I got up to between the end of May and the end of August. That’s pretty much three months of things, so this is a bumper post!

Working in Winchester: At the end of May and start of June I went back to the UK for work for three weeks for a special project, based in Winchester. I was going back for a holiday anyway, so the trip timing right beforehand worked out quite well. I had weekends and evenings free, so managed to fit in some good socialising while I was over. Highlights included a whole lobster at Loch Fyne with Kim, Tom, Rhiannon and Phil from the canoe club on my birthday and dinner with Southampton Uni friends at Rick Steins fish restaurant. I also went for work at night time to some road works nio the A303 at Popham. I got to wear full high vis and a hard hat – glamorous!

Birthday lobster

Birthday lobster

Rhiannons Hen Party: As I was back in the UK early for work, I got to start my holiday early and made it along to Rhaiannon’s hen party. It was great seeing everyone, especially as I didn’t think I would make it.  We did an aerial yoga session which was really fun! We got to do lots of crazy poses, with lots of hanging upside down and a fair bit of screeching and giggling! (OK that was mainly me!)

Aerial Yoga!

Aerial Yoga!

London: Matt arrived at this point for our actual UK holiday, and we went for a day trip up to the big smoke. We went around the Tower of London like tourists which i’d not done before, went on a Beefeater tour and saw the Crown Jewels. Later on we met my dad and Flick for a trip to the art gallery and a yummy crispy duck in Chinatown, before walking back to the station past Buckingham Palace.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Stourhead: We went for a walk around Stourhead gardens, which were beautiful. I don’t think I’ve been there before, which is surprising becasue its so close to where I grew up The views and landscaping were really nice.

Stourhead Gardens

Stourhead Gardens

Brighton: We went with the Shorts down to Brighton seaside. We played on old school amusements, went on the pier, the big wheel, the Voilks electric railway, went around the lanes, had fish and chips and I even got a cream tea! Happy days.

Amusements in Brighton

Amusements in Brighton

 

Southampton: We met my Uni friends for an epic and very tasty picnic at the park down in Southampton and then went for dinner in the evening. It was lovely catching up with everyone, and pretty scary seeing how all the children had got so much bigger!

Southampton Picnic

Southampton Picnic

Gruffalo: After a night in Bath with my nan, we went around Westonbirt arboretum, and met a Gruffalo hiding in the woods!

Me, dad and the Gruffalo!

Me, dad and the Gruffalo!

Royal Ascot: A bunch of 8 lovely ladies went along to Royal Ascot for ladies day. The weather was glorious. We had another epic picnic, along with plenty of fizzy wine. This is the only kind of alcohol you’re allowed to take in yourself – tragic! It was great fun getting all dressed up and hanging out in the sunshine. I even had a couple of wins, including a fairly good one and ended the day about £65 up! Woo.

Lovely ladies at Ascot

Lovely ladies at Ascot

Leith Hill Geocaching: Around Horsham we went for a geocaching adventure up Leith HIll, and helped Kate find her first one (I think). We also found bacon and maple syrup flavoured popcorn – nice!

Leith Hill Tower

Leith Hill Tower

Porter wedding: The key event in the 2015 visit was of course Phil and Rhainnons wedding. It was a really lovely day, and we were their witnesses. It was great to see them so happy and catch up with a lot of our friends who we hadn’t seen for a long time.

Phil & Rhiannon's Wedding

Phil & Rhiannon’s Wedding

Germany: I spent 5 nights in Germany, visiting my brother and Lucia, and meeting my new niece, Ella for the first time. She is super cute and very well behaved. I didn’t drop her and she wasn’t sick on me, so overall very successful! I took her a play mat which my friend Bex made which we had fun playing on. I found a sausage vending machine (yes!) and mistakenly ordered the normal (not small) size schnitzel one evening, which turned out to be TWO schnitzels!

Owen and I at German Garden Show

Owen and I at German Garden Show

Peak District long weekend: We had an amazing weekend in a giant cottage up in the Peak District. We arranged to get a bunch of people together from Horsham friends, climbers and canoe club. A lot of them didn’t know each other before, but it was a great weekend. We have a common love of board games, so played a LOT of those, as well as doing some geocaching walks with great scenery and having a massive BBQ – the British way, with charcoal. I managed to squeeze in an extra cream tea too.

Peak District Shennanigans

Peak District Shennanigans

Bristol: After the Peak District it was the end of our holiday, so Matt flew back to Australia. I stayed on and spent some time in Bristol with my mum in hospital, and got to stay with the Cornishes. John introduced me to the Navy game Uckers, which I promptly lost my first game of in spectacular style after a rookie error! I did later go on to beat him. We also went on an adventure to fund some Shaun the Sheeps which was exciting, and I bought a Union Jack Gromit souvenir.

Me and Ice Cream Shaun the Sheep

Me and Ice Cream Shaun the Sheep

Blue Mountains Snow: I got back to Australia  in late July, and it was cold! We went up to the Blue Mountains with some new friends to stay in a cottage for the weekend and go climbing. On the Thursday before we left it snowed up there, and there was still snow left when we got there on Friday which was pretty exciting! Unfortunately on Saturday there were a lot of road closures, which meant we couldn’t go climbing, so we went for a nice walk instead. Although chilly it was nice and sunny. In the evening we drank mulled wine, had a nice meal and unexpectedly played a game of Munchkin!

Snowman in July!

Snowman in July!

Fort Dennison: Matt took me on a surprise trip to Fort Dennison, for a tour and then lunch in their fancy restaurant. Fort Dennison is a small island in the middle of the Harbour, which you get to on the ferry. It was used for defense and sending convicts into isolation. We went on a tour around and up the tower, and the views back to the city were amazing.

Fort Dennison View

Fort Dennison View

Top Gear Festival: We had tickets to the Top Gear festival earlier in the year, but it got posponed after the Jeremy Clarkson issues. They re-badged it as ‘Clarkson Hammond and May Live’ and we went along. They did the ‘Cr-Ashes’, a series of car based games with the Top Gear guys against an Australian Team. England ended up losing quite badly, but it was good fun. The three wheeler football at the end was especially entertaining, as they kept flipping over.

Cr-ashes at the 'Top Gear' show

Cr-ashes at the ‘Top Gear’ show

UK again: The next weekend was the one my mum died, so I went back tot he UK unexpectedly to sort things out. It was a very sad and stressful time, but it was also nice to see family again. I went on a nice scoping trip with my brother to Glastonbury, somewhere my mum really liked and where we used to go quite a lot when I was little. It has a good hippy atmosphere and lots of nice shops and cafes. We walked up Glastonbury Tor which i’d not done before, and went back there to scatter mum’s ashes after the funeral. We took my niece Ella to meet my nan, her great-grandmother in Bath which was nice.

Owen, Martin and I at Glastonbury Tor

Owen, Martin and I at Glastonbury Tor

Once I got back at the end of August we went for a climbing trip in the mountains one day, and I even did a climb as well as reading two books! We also  went for pie at the famous Harrys Cafe de Wheels, before seeing the show Les Mis. We watched the move on DVD the week before as I’d not actually seen it. It was a good musical, although didn’t quite make it into my Top 4 (Wicked on Broadway, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and Avenue Q).

Next time i’ll do a shorter post on September.

Pie Palace

Pie Palace

 

Glastonbury Tor - one of mums favorite places

Glastonbury Tor – one of my mum’s favorite places

I know, it’s been aaaaages since the last post. Well don’t worry, the blog is back.

Back when I was posting back in May, I was thinking about doing a few less posts. I like sharing with you what we’ve been up to here Down Under, and having something I can look back at myself, but it does take up a fair amount of time. So I’ve decided to try and roll everything into one update a month, starting again for September. Before that though here’s a news update.

There’s no easy way to say or write this, for those of you who don’t know, but on August 2nd my mum died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 65.

Since mum died I’ve found that a lot of people don’t know what to say. Either they feel awkward about talking about it, don’t want to make you upset or sometimes accidentally say things which aren’t helpful (which I forgive them for). Really it’s good for them to not really understand, as it means they haven’t lost someone really close to them themselves.

I’ve reflected on the fact that although death and dying are a massive part of culture in films, TV dramas, computer games, books and the like; as a society we don’t seem to know how to deal with it very well. In films etc people die so often that it’s taken for granted and even glamorised; but they don’t often look at how death impacts the people left behind. It happens to everyone, and yet talking or teaching people about it is seen as almost morbid. Sure we all know people die, but when it happens to someone really close to you, it really brings it home and makes you think about life and what it means.

Because of all that, I thought I’d try and break down some of the taboo, and write a bit about what happened and my thoughts here.

My mum was called Maggi. Family was important to her, and she devoted a lot of her life to being a good mum and housewife, bringing up my brother and I. Mum liked cooking, going for walks in the countryside, bird watching and the Grand Prix. She was passionate about what she believed in – probably being even more opinionated than me! Also, if you think I talk a lot, you should have met my mum! 😉 Even though our conversations were often quite one sided, I really miss talking to her and telling her what I’ve been up to – even if she often thought it was dangerous or silly!

Mum, Owen and I (1986)

In terms of what happened, I had been back in the UK for work for 3 weeks in May/June, another 3 weeks on holiday, then some more work and then spent some time with my mum in hospital in July. She had been ill with an aggressive type of cancer for a couple of years on and off, and had had another operation to try and help with her symptoms. She had complications and never made it back home. I had been back in Australia for about three weeks when she went downhill really quickly, and it was less than an hour between the hospital warning us she wasn’t in a good way and her dying. I know even if I had been in the UK I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time, but it doesn’t change the fact that I wish I was there, and that its hard knowing I was so far away.

So I went back over at the start of August, and spent about 2.5 weeks in the UK again with my brother and family, sorting out paperwork, funeral arrangements, probate stuff and sorting out her flat. Because we both live overseas, it was a really intense period of trying to get everything sorted whilst we were there. My work knew mum was ill, so they were really good about it which helped. Some companies we dealt with were really good and helpful, and others were useless!  I called a couple of airlines when I was pretty upset still to see if they did special open or discounted bereavement fares, explained my circumstances, and at the end of the call one of them actually told me to “have a nice day”!

It was a massive shock when mum died. Although she’d been ill I wasn’t prepared for it happening so suddenly. I’d spoken to the specialists in July to try and get a prognosis, and they’d told me they’d see her at a follow up appointment in 6 weeks and see from there. I don’t blame them for getting it wrong, and was probably over optimistic about her outlook, but it was still a huge shock. Of course its good that she isn’t in pain and suffering any more, but it’s still sad that she isn’t here.

Some of the euphemisms about death annoy me. I know saying ‘died’ is quite direct and people like to soften it, but its not always helpful, especially from medical professionals. I was quite surprised that the hospital never said to me that she had ‘died’. Passed away isn’t so bad, but ‘passed’ just makes it sound like she was doing a test. ‘Loss’ I understand, although whenever I get something saying ‘sorry for the loss of…’ it just makes me think that I didn’t literally loose her at the shopping center or something. And ‘late’ just sounds like she wasn’t on time.

Mum and I in Lyme Regis

Mum and I in Lyme Regis

I’m not a religious person at all. If I had to pick a belief system I’d go with Buddhism, but I don’t believe in reincarnation. I think being religious must help a lot when someone dies. For me, she is gone. She isn’t here any more. She hasn’t gone to heaven, or anywhere in particular, and that’s quite hard to get my head around. It’s made me think about about life, what it is, what it’s all for (42) and what I should be doing. I haven’t really got very far yet with any answers on that unfortunately. If I work it out i’ll be sure to let you all know!

It’s quite an adjustment when someone you were so close to has gone. I think people assume after a few weeks, or a couple of months you’ll be ‘OK’, but I think getting used to it actually takes quite a long time. As well as the day to say stuff with keeping in touch, I’ll miss her birthday. I won’t need to buy her Christmas presents, and she won’t be giving me any. If we eventually get around to having some kids, she’ll never meet them. You get the idea…I think about mum every day and I’m sure that I will for a long time. OK the pain and loss will get less, which is good, but she’ll still be gone.

For me, and I know for other people who’ve been through similar, I don’t generally get upset talking to people about it. For me, the harder thing is when I’m alone and thinking about stuff, or if I see or hear something that reminds me about my mum and that she isn’t here any more. I’m lucky to have lots of good, supportive friends both here and in the UK. It’s been really helpful having people to speak to, email or just hang out with. At the funeral we got to see a lot of people we’ve not seen for years too, which was nice – although a shame about the circumstances obviously. It was good hearing everyone’s different stories and memories of mum.

This post wasn’t meant to be particularly sad, or make you sad. I hope maybe it will help people. If you’ve been through something similar, maybe you’ll identify with some of the things (although it’s different for everyone). And if you’ve been lucky enough not to have someone close to you die, maybe you’ll know its OK to say something nice to someone else going through it next time, or you’ll be a bit more prepared for what it’s like when it does happen.

You’re more than welcome to send me an email if you like or leave a comment on the blog (that’d be better than a FB comment!) It won’t make me sad, and I won’t judge you!

Until next time…

Mum and I at my PhD graduation

Mum and I at my PhD graduation

LunaClown

In Sydney the closest thing we really have to a Theme Park is Luna Park. Its sort of like a permanent fun fair, with about 12 big rides, some kiddies rides and lots of stalls where you can pay money to try and win cuddly toys and other tatty prizes. The entrance is guarded by a big scary clown whose mouth you have to walk through to get in.

They have some 241 deals, so we went with a couple of friends recently on a Friday night to take advantage of the deal. We spent a good 3 hours of the evening there and Matt and I made it on all of the main rides. I felt a bit quessy by the end, after the upside down ride and all the spinning, so we decided not to sample the doughnuts and ice creams.

Sadly the old rickety looking roller coaster was shut, but here’s a summary on the other rides:

Tango Train: We went on this first. Two of you sit in a car and go around in a circle, up and down bumps. It starts backwards and then goes forwards which is faster. The ride lasted quite a while so did get a bit repetitive but was good fun. You get squished to the outside so I spend a while amusing myself trying to hold on against the gravity and seeing what it was like with my eyes shut.

Carousel: As you might expect. I called my horse Sunshine becasue he had a yellow mane and the ride made me think of secretive undercover spy meetings and Greys Anatomy. Yes, I’m strange.

Getting air in Coney island

Getting air in Coney island

Coney Island: Coney Island is a cool adventure space with lots of fun things including a mirror maze, wobbly walkways and some giant slides you go down on mats. Andrew got airbourne!

Ferris Wheel: Pretty standard Ferris Wheel, but with awesome views over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

View from the ferris wheel

View from the ferris wheel

Hair Raiser: This is probably the second most extreme ride in Luna Park. It cranks you up a pole higher and higher, to 50m, where again the views are really cool. Then, without any warning or even stopping from going up you drop really suddenly. I was definitely screaming / manically giggling!

xx

The Hair Raiser

Tumble Bug and Spider: These were both ones with two people cars, where ou get spun around a lot and spun in all sorts of directions. Quite good fun.

Dodgems: Another classic. I passengered with Matt and we managed to lap some of the others a couple of times. Apparently the lady was telling me to put the camera away but I didn’t hear her at all!

Moon Ranger: This was the most extreme ride in the park, like a pirate ship, but which went fully upside down. At first I really enjoyed this one, but then when it was fully upside down 3 or 4 times it would stop and leave you hanging there for what seemed like ages, which I didn’t really appreciative. The restraints were really tight pushing on your stomach too.

Ranger

Ranger

Rotor: This was the most unusual ride. Three of us (Andrew wasn’t feeling well and knew it would make him feel worse) went in without any idea what it was, and had the whole ride to ourselves. Its a black round room with a wheel in the middle. You hold the wheel and they start rotating the room and then you go and stand against the edge. As they speed it up you get stuck against the wall and cant move! Then the floor disappears and you stay floating stuck to the wall! That was quite a surprise. It spins for a long time and you can try moving your arms and legs out which is pretty strange, and then when it stops you fall back down to the floor which is now lower! I liked the simplicity of it, and the element of surprise about what happened!

For $25 each (241 price) it was worth it for a fun night out, but I certainly wouldn’t pay $50. It’s quite a small place so I don’t expect we would go back very soon, but if we have visitors who want to go I’d more than happily go again and pretend to be a child!

WnW2

Since last year we’ve been meaning to go to Sydney’s water park: Wet n Wild. It opened about 18 months ago, and we avoided it at first because of the massive queues. This year towards the end of summer they started doing a good discount to keep the customers coming in before they shut for winter, so we decided for $50 instead of $80 each it was worth a trip. You can check out the website, here.

We got there for 9.30 when the doors allegedly opened, before all the rides fired up at 10. They didn’t actually open the doors until about 9.50, but that gave us time to get our writs bands sorted and pay for the big locker ($12) and parking. It was an extra $8 for the car which is a bit cheeky seeing as there isn’t any other reason you’d go to that car park.

After a quick change we checked out the park map and decided fairly arbitrarily to go to the right, as there were more rides that way. For the first hour it stayed really quiet and we were able to get off a ride and go pretty much straight back on again, ticking off 8 or 9 rides in the first hour (with one twice).

The park is organised into four main towers. One has the three most gentle rides, which you go in on four person rings, although you can go just with two of you and two spare places. We ticked all these off first. Generally someone ended up going backwards on these rides, which added to the amusement!

After that, things get a bit more interesting with the two person rides. There were 5 of these on one tower. You have rings for two with one person in front and one behind, both facing forwards. To start with Matt was at the front. Then after a few goes I got told to sit in front because the lightest person always goes in front to avoid getting flipped! Shame I didn’t know that earlier! This tower had a ride in the dark, and more twists, turns and drops than the others. The one called Half Pipe shot you down a bit drop and then really high up an almost vertical wall on the other wide which was pretty fun. Also on the tower was a set of 4 tubes called The Breakers where you drop down first and then get shot up by some quite strong jets of water before doing a lot more drops. That was also pretty fun and we did it twice straight away when we realised one set was steeper than the other!

Half Pipe

Half Pipe

From there we headed over the other side to the third tower which had the most extreme rides on it. They’re faster with bigger drops. Unfortunately the one called Bombora, which looked like the most extreme one there and a bigger version of Half Pipe was shut – boo. This tower had the biggest queues, so if we go back we’ll know to go here first while its quietest! First we went on T5 which had the shorter queue (about 20 mins), and turned out to be my favourite ride in the park. As well as getting flung around a lot you spend quite a while in a giant funnel going up and down the walls on each side which had me giggling and screaming like a maniac! After that we spent about half an hour waiting to go on Tantrum, the most popular open ride. It was good, similar to T5, but I didn’t think it was worth the extra wait.

For $20 you can buy a queue jump pass which you can use once on each tower, so maximum 4 rides in total. We did see some people with these, but didn’t bother ourselves. Standing in the queues and wandering around people and tattoo watching was pretty entertaining in itself.

The final tower had the individual rides on it. The 360 Rush was shut, which I was secretly quite glad about! You stand up in it and get dropped down the chute and then go around a 360 degree bend. There was a warning sign about what to do if you didn’t make it all the way around which didn’t fill me with confidence! The H2Go Racers was open, where 8 people go at once racing down the tubes face first on mats – like sledging on water. Matt and I both allegedly fouled, but it was saying that all day for all of the 4 chutes on the left. Not surprisingly, he beat me!

The big rides!

The big rides!

After ticking off all the main rides we went and had our picnic lunch. The food in the park was mainly fast food, so I was glad we took our own. There was some nice fake grass to sit on and beach loungers too if you wanted to sunbathe. From there we went for a couple of laps around the lazy river while we  digested, and debated what rides to go on for a second time! We went in the big beach pool while the wave machine was on, and had another go on some of our favourites including T5 and Half Pipe.

When you go in you get a wristband with a smart tag in it, that you tap on the rides when its your turn. It collects up all the photos of you which you can buy at the end. They have photographers around the park too. We didn’t buy any pictured, but I thought the system was a good idea. There are also a couple of other attractions at the park that you have to pay for – a surf wave and a face down flying bungee. The bungee looked pretty fun, although we didn’t want to pay for it!

All in we were at the park for about 5.5 hours, and managed not to get at all sunburnt – woo! One surprising thing was that there weren’t any water fountains around the park. Normally Australia is pretty good for those, but here they just seemed to want to sell you frozen coke! Overall it was a good fun day and well worth it for the discounted price, but I don’t think I’d have paid the full price (as usual)!

Me surfing!!

So April is here. Matt’s out of hospital getting around on crutches. He’s had his cast off and has a fancy moon boot now which he can take on and off. We’re going back to the hospital at the end of he month to get an Xray of the screws and see how the healing is going.

Liking: We had Matt’s sister Lizzie and her boyfriend Ed come to stay which was good. Of course we got up to lots of fun things, including a trip up the coast to Port Stephens where we had a really fun surf lesson! I actually got to be able to stand up, although only in very small waves. I also had fun with a borrowed jet washer blasting the balcony clean!

Disliking: Matt can’t go very far on the crutches so I’m doing a lot of waiting on him and driving to the pub which is getting frustrating.

Watching: We powered through game Of Thrones Season 4 on DVD, which I LOVED. We’ve subscribed to Netflix free trail now so have been watching a new series called Daredevil and a few movies.

Playing: We had a bit of a games night with my friend Penny where we based through Munchkin Loot Letter, Contagion and Last Night on Earth. We celebrated International Table Top Day too up the coast, playing Citadels and Loot Letter with Ed and Lizzie.

Reading: I’m actually not reading a book at the moment and keep going to bed too tired to be bothered starting a new one!

Creme Egg Brownies

Creme Egg Brownies

Consuming: I made some creme egg brownies for Easter which were tastier than the looked! My friend Mel and I went on a day out around the posh suburb of Mosman and down to Balmoral beach where we had a yummy lunch and a pretty awesome mocha cake! We went with Lizzie and Ed to the Messina dessert bar and it turned out the Paddington Bear ice cream i ordered (with chocolate gelato, marmalade, French toast and buttery biscuit topping) came with a free Paddington Bear DVD! I created Matt a dessert with chocolate gelato, white chocolate sauce, popping candy, caramel popcorn and a hot pastry thing filled with more caramel.

My dessert bar creation for Matt

My dessert bar creation for Matt

Buying: I bought a Fitbit to track my steps. I’m only on day two but i’ll also be using it for the Global Corporate Challenge we have coming up at work where we’re all meant to get active and be more healthy. I need to make sure i’m active after all the yummy things I keep eating!

Thinking about: Its only about six weeks till our trip back to the UK! This year has flown by!

Visiting: We spent a weekend up the coast in Port Stephens which was really good. We had an awesome Saturday of: BBQ bacon and egg rolls for breakfast; mini-golf which Matt won despite his broken ankle; Tim Tams and tea; a surf lesson; burgers and beer; some rock climbing; pizzas, wine, Eton mess and board games! There is even photographic evidence of me stood up on a surf board!

Missing: Mini Eggs. They have them here but they taste wrong. And as an aside so do the creme eggs, although I find them too sweet these days.

Looking forward to: In May we’re going to see our first AFL game which should be fun, and going to do lawn bowls for a collegue who’s going back to the UK with work as a leaving do.

 

 

The high tea tower!

The high tea tower!

On the way out to the Blue Mountains, on a ridge overlooking a spectacular view down one of the valleys used to be an old, run down closed hotel. It has now been done up and reopened as the Hydro Majestic Hotel – see here.

At $400 a night for a cheap room (!!) there isn’t much chance of me persuading Matt to go and stay there, but I did get to go with my friends Mel and Karen for high tea.

The Wintergarden Room is a semi circle, with the outside of the circle all window looking out over the Mega Long Valley. I requested a table by the window and we got one which made me happy! 🙂 The window could have done with some better cleaning and surprisingly there were quite a few cobwebs on the outside, but the view was great.

In the room there was a three piece band playing relaxing background piano music which I really enjoyed, and the chairs were nice and velvety. They high tea was $55, but actually $65 becasue it was a weekend (cheeky!) For $69 you could upgrade to have a glass of sparkling wine too, and that was the same price on the weekday and weekends, so really only $4 extra. I was driving so stuck with the tea, but the others went for the wine of course!

There was a balcony outside which the waitress told us about, so we went and took some pictures out there while we waited for our drinks to come. They didn’t serve the wine until we were back at our table which was nice. There was a choice of tea (3 black ones and about 4 herbal ones), and coffee too. I went with Earl Grey.

On the balcony

On the balcony

After the wine I had my tea and the tea came out. It was in the traditional three tier wire stand. Because there were three of us we ended up with two of them – one for me and one with two of everything on for the others. They took up a fair bit of room on the table, so it was good when the waiter took them away and left us with just the cakes near the end!

On the bottom were two warm scones, one plain and one fruit with cream and ham. The waiter suggested eating these first becasue they were warm. It seemed a bit wrong to me to have cake right before sandwiches, but I went for the plain scone as requested becasue it was nice to have them warm. The jam was fancy and tasty, although unfortunately the cream wasn’t clotted. It was something similar, but not the real deal from Devon or Cornwall!

In the middle tier were 4 crustless finger sandwiches, plus a billini with a lot of smoked salmon and a creme cheese tartlet topped with some caviar. Three of the sandwiches were white and only one was wholemeal which was a shame, but the bread was very fresh and tasty. There was a cucumber sandwich (with the cucumber cut lenghways – is that right?!), a chicken and walnut, beef and mustard, and another meaty one I cant remember. They were all pretty tasty, and the salmon was good too, even though there was a lot of it. We did only get one knife and a spoon each so I did end up using my same knife for my salmon. I have it a good lick first to get all the cream and jam off of course, so it was OK!

And then the top layer was of course the cakes! I still had my fruit scone from the bottom, plus 4 cakes on the top which were:

  • An almond firand. This was perfectly edible but fairly unremarkable. They could have added some berries or something to jazz it up.
  • A lemon tartlet. This was hands down my favourite thing on the stand. It had crisp thin pastry and a very creamy filling with lots of lemony flavour and a raspberry on the top. Very tasty indeed.
  • A salted caramel macarron, half dipped in dark chocolate so it stood up on the plate. The other tray had a lime and apple version too. The macaroon was good. Pretty sweet with a good chewy texture and nice flavour.
  • Honey panacotta with mango. I saved this until last becasue I thought it would be the tastiest thing, but unfortunately none of us really liked it. We did’t know what flavour the pancaotta was (we assumed mango from the mango on top), but it tasted quite strange. I thought it was a bit like surgical spirit, and definitely artificial. We asked the waiter who said it was honey. In the end i left half of mine as I was pretty full by then anyway!
Lemon tartlet

Lemon tartlet

By the end we were all really stuffed! I got to eat an extra lemon tart too which Karen couldn’t eat – win! 🙂 We had a walk and nosey around the grounds after, and then did some sight seeing and short walks in the mountains.

Overall it was a really good experience. I particularly liked the piano music which I didn’t expect. There is some room for improvement with the food I think given the price, and they should really give you two knives and clean the windows!  I would definitely go back though if anyone twisted my arm!

View out the window

View out the window

 

War memorial

War memorial

Before I started my new job in January I had a few days off, so decided to head down to Canberra (about 3.5 hours south west of Sydney) to check out some more of the museums. Matt and I had been to Caneberra together once before, which you can read about here.

I had a list of 5 museums or galleries I wanted to check out in two days, and managed to get around them all. They were all free to visit, with just the price of parking in the Parliamentary area as the cost.

National Portrait Gallery 

I ended up parking by the Portrait Gallery as it was cheaper than the Art Gallery, so popped in there first for a quick visit. I’m not a big fan of portraits unless they are photos, so probably only spent about half an hour here. It was mainly paintings in different styles. They did have a special mixed-media exhibit on ‘Being Human’ which looked quite good for $10. I was going to come back to that but ran out of time.

National Art Galley

The National Art Gallery is just a few minutes walk from the Portrait Gallery. It was really good, with lots of different styles of art and art from different geographies all in one place, including a good Aboriginal Art section and a lot of Asian art. They had works by some famous artists like Monet and Jackson Pollock.

Ned Kelly by

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Some of my favourite bits were:

  • A series of cartoon-like paintings of Ned  Kelly and his adventured by an artist called Sidney Nolan
  • A life-sized print of Elvis by Andy Warhol
  • A sculpture of a group of monkeys suspended from the air by their tails and reaching forward like they wanted to touch you
  • Some paintings from the colonial times of Australian landscapes including Mt Kozsciousko and Mt Arapalies 
  • Some works on racism in Australia, particularly towards Aboriginal people
  • Outside the gallery was a cool sculpture garden which included a mini replica of the Angel of the North. 
Monkeys!

Monkeys!

National Library 

The library in Melbourne is very cool and old with some interesting displays in it. I spent some time checking out the one in Canberra. It looks quite impressive from the outside, but isn’t really too exciting inside. The exhibit they used to have on maps had finished, and instead there was one on War Mementos and one on ‘Treasures’ of the library. This had a really wide range of things in it, some of which were arranged from A to Z including a journal from Captain Cook and letters from Jane Austin. They had quite a lot of colonial things again including drawings of plants and animals by some of the early explorers which I always find interesting. Overall I thought the Melbourne Library was more interesting, but it was worth a visit. I still need to go and look around the one in Sydney.

Old Parliament House (Museum of Australian Democracy)

For my final stop on my first day I went to Old Parliament House, which has the Museum of Australian Democracy. Again, this was within walking distance of all the other places, to pretty handy. There was a small entry fee of just $2. The museum was quite big, housed in the building which used to be Parliament House until they moved to Capital Hill in 1988. There were lots of different rooms with different exhibits in, including about the Queens visit, the evolution of democracy and former Prime Ministers.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

I went on one of the free guided tours of the museum, which took about an hour. We looked around all the old rooms including the old Prime Ministers office, as well as the Senate and Parliament chambers. All the furniture and decor was very 1970’s and they had even left in a lot of the old chairs, phones and type-writers. It reminded me of some of the Council offices I’ve been to in the UK. They had a section where visitors should vote on whether gay marriage should be allowed, which is a controversial topic here in Australia. I was pleased to see that yes had about double the votes of no.

Downstairs at the museum was an exhibit of political cartoons. Some of it was a bit lost on me becasue I don’t know much about the politics from before we got here, but some of the more up to date ones were pretty funny.

Political cartoon

Political cartoon

That evening I camped slightly out of town and had some tasty  dinner at Jamies’ Italian in the city. The next morning, after some breakfast at a recommended but slightly disappointing bakery, I headed to my final stop.

War Memorial 

The Australian War Memorial is an impressive building and commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who have died in all different wars. It includes a museum with a big section on WW1 which has just been re-opened. I often find it hard to engage with war-related things, so again decided to go on one of the guided tours which started just after I arrived. Our guide told us the stories behind some of the large paintings and I learnt more about Gallipoli. It was interesting to hear about the war from another countries perspective. The section had some very impressive and large dioramas of war scenes which had been recently restored.

WW1 diaorama

WW1 diorama

As well as the WW1 exhibit, some of the other good exhibits were:

  • The Hall of Valour with details of different Veterans and the medals they were awarded
  • The aircraft hall with big aeroplanes in it
  • Anzac Hall which also had big planes and a war-time submarine
  • The replica bridge from HMAS Brisbane and
  • An exhibit on Afghanistan with lots of videos and photos
War memorial

War memorial

The building itself was impressive, and has a Roll of Honour surrounding a pool. The walls on each side had the names of over 102,000 Australians who had died in all different wars. You can buy poppies at reception and people had put them into the wall in honour of lost friends and relatives. At the end is the Hall of Memory with big stained glass windows and a memorial to the unknown soldiers.

After that it was time to head back home, via a pie from the bakery at the giant merino sheep in Goulburn.

War Memorial

War Memorial

Messina1

When Hannah came to visit I thought it was a pretty good excuse to get around to checking out the Messina dessert bar. Messina gelato has won a lot of awards, and until recently was regarded as the best gelato in Sydney, and even beat a lot of Italian ones at the annual championships (yes, they have gelato contests!) Recently the Cow and Moon at Enmore has also scooped some international prizes, so that’s next on the list to try!

The Dessert Bar is a new concept, next to the regualr gelato store in Darlinghurst. Messina have some pretty exciting flavours and about 5 or 6 new special ones on a regular basis. Apparently the idea behind the dessert bar was to get the customers more involved in creating different flavour combinations – sounds good to me!

I had a look online before we went, so got the general idea. Basically you can choose from some pre-designed combinations, or make your own from the menu board. The menu board was pretty overwhelming, with 10 different sections and a total of  31 different things! You have to stand and read it too, rather than sit and peruse at your leisure.  I didn’t understand why a plain cup with no ‘base’ costs the same as one with churros or pancakes etc. Maybe you get more gelato with that option.

The menu

The menu

I know I wanted Churros becaue I love them and hadn’t had them for ages. I also fancies the raspberry meringues, but it turned out they were rosewater ones. I hate rosewater, so quickly ditched that idea. I found the list too long in the end, so decided to go for the pre-designed Ay caramba! It is ‘a swirl of blood peach and toasted macadamia gelato, churros, creme anglaise, Peruvian chocolate and dulche de leche foam’. 

Pre-designed sundaes

Pre-designed sundaes

 

When it came out it looked pretty damn amazing! And quite like the picture too, which is always a good sign.

So, the verdict. The churros were warm, crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, covered in yummy sugar and absolutely amazing. It was great they made them fresh. The dulche de leche foam was very very light and amazingly tasty and the dark chocolate went with it all really well. I couldn’t really find or taste the creme anglaise. I’m not generally a fan of soft serve ice cream, normally I find it pretty bland. Unfortunately I wasn’t convinced by the soft serve from Messina either. The blood peach flavour was definitely zesty and you could taste it, but the toasted macadamia didn’t really taste of much to me and drowned out the peach. I know they can’t have all the flavours of gelatro from their  shop next door as that would definately be too many, but I think there is certainly room for improvement in the tastiness of their soft serve. A few more flavours of that would have been good to, as there were only two to choose between which didn’t seem like enough to me.

Ay caramba!

Ay caramba!

So overall i’d probably give it an 8.5/10. I would go there again and create something else, most likely still involving churros and dark chocolate, as long as they had some better soft serve flavours. Otherwise i’d probably stick with a couple of scoops of awesome gelato from next door – you can’t go wrong with that.

If you want to make your mouth water more, you can visit the website, here. 

 

Me, Paul, Snipps and Thallis

Me, Paul, Snipps and Thallis

Over a year ago, for 2013 Christmas, Matt got me a day’s horse riding as a present. I’ve gone on horse walks a few times in the UK and enjoy it. I’ve been quite slack and not got around to going this time, waiting until it was cooler than summer, and then not wanting to go in winter and being busy. In January I had some time between jobs, so it seemed like a good time to go. Matt didn’t want to come with me (he doesn’t trust horses), but luckily my friend Paul was free and keen to go riding.

The plan was always to go in the Blue Mountains, and we chose to go to Centennial Glen stables in the Megalong Valley. You can read about them here. 

We went for the all day ride option (about 6 hours on the horses) with a stope for lunch at the Megalong Valley tea shop in the middle.

The weather had been a bit wet a few days before we were due to go, and the forecast was for a chance of showers, but we decided to head on up anyway and keep our fingers crossed. On the way up I learnt Paul was actually a pretty good rider, having spent a year working on a farm riding horses for part of his job! After a quick stop for some coffee and second breakfast, we headed down into the Megalong valley. Neither of us had been down fully into the valley before, and it was very scenic with bid cliff faces on each side. We appreciated it even more on the way back once all the low cloud over had cleared up and we could see properly.

When we got there we met our horses. Mine was called Snipps (or Mr Snipps or Snippsy) and Paul’s was called Thallis. It was just us on the ride which was great, along with Jim our guide riding Sam the horse. Jim was really friendly and talkative. The horses knew all the different routes they normally go on, and started to try and go on the shorter ones, but after some encouragement and direction we were well on our way.

Before we got to the first gate I had to try some trotting to get the hang of it. I had trotted once or twice before on purpose, and once when my horses decided to do it of his own accord! I found it quite tricky at first becasue you have to move up and down with the horse, whilst also leaning forward with the tops of your legs balanced against the front of the saddle and your arms out forward holding the reins, not grabbing the saddle. Mainly it was pretty painful for my bum which kept hitting the saddle and after some time my knees too, which didn’t like being bent all the time. Over the course of the long ride we trotted wuite a lot so I gradually got better at it. A few of the first time I could feel myself slipping to one side which was pretty disconcerting. After the ride Paul said to me something like “You got much better at trotting Elly. The first few times I really thought you were going to fall off!”

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

I like horses and the ones we had were generally pretty well behaved. We learned from Jim all about how they train them, what they cost to buy and all sorts of other things. Mr Snipps did have some character traits which made the trip interesting:

  • He didn’t like being behind Paul’s horse, so each time he got close Snipps would strt cantering to make sure he satayed ahead and i kept having to pull him back. He seemed to slow down when he wanted though, not when I told him!
  • A small part of the ride was on roads, but mainly we were on tracks and going through fields and countryside. On the downhill rocky and steep parts Snipps seemed to go faster to get them over with rather than slow down so it was nice for me!
  • Snipps kept trying to bite the bum of Sam the horse in front of us, including when he was trotting along. In the end Jim got  a big stick to whack him with when he got too close!

Along the ride we saw a lot of wildlife, including a lot of kangaroos hopping around, really bright crimson rosella parrots and lots of other brightly colours birds. We had dry-as-a-bone jackets like proper bush-people rolled up on the horses. I put mine on at one point when it got wet on the way back and it really was super warm. Going back along the valley was really scenic.

By the end of the ride we were both pretty worn out, even with the refreshment tea and pie stop at the tea shop! After the ride we went and saw the little ponies at the stable. My knees hurt during the ride but were OK the next day. The day after my bum was pretty painful though, and my legs and back from using all the different muscles I’m not used to. It was a great day out though, and probably good it wasn’t too hot and sunny or we would have been burnt. I think it would be really good to learn to canter properly, although luckily for our bank balance there aren’t any places to do it near where we live.

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

Horseriding in the Megalong Valley

 

 

Matts backslap plaster

Matts backslap plaster

March was going pretty well, and then Matt had a fall one evening when he was bouldering and broke his ankle! I started this post before that, so here’s some information on the other things we were doing before we started hanging out in the hospital!

Liking: We recently went to the fun fair and the water park. It was good fun screaming and giggling like a child on all the rides!

Disliking: Obviously all the broken ankle hospital faff tops the list here. But also the two week scaffolding is still on our balcony after 5 weeks. Grrrr. We helped out this year with the Rockies Climbing Club for Clean Up Australia Day and picked up a LOT of rubbish from a climbing area in the south of Sydney. The fact people dump so much rubbish annoys me. Apparently you have to pay here to take anything to the tip, so probably that doesn’t help the problem, but the Council do pick up junk from collection points outside people’s houses so there is really no excuse.

Watching: We saw Jupiter Rising at the cinema, which was OK. We’re also nearly finished on the final series of Breaking Bad. I’ve also been loving both the Comic Relied Bake Off (some of the celebs baking are atrocious) and The Casual Vacancy. I read the book of the Casual Vacancy a fair while ago. The series is so West Country sounding it makes me nostalgic.

Playing: Out latest game is Forbidden Desert, where you play explorers lost in a sand storm in the desert and have to find all the broken bits of your ship to escape without dying of thirst or getting buried in the storm. Its quite simple but good, and conveniently fits on a hospital table.

Reading: I’m on a free kindle book at the moment – not particularly noteworthy.

Consuming: A very yummy High Tea and the HydroMajestic hotel in the Blue Mountains and a pretty good (if I say so myself) lemon yoghurt poppyseed cake made by me! Matt’s been eating hospital which he scored about 2.5/10. Maybe my food will get extra good scores when he gets home!

Cake!

Cake!

Buying: Not a lot really. I bought a big 20 litre jerry can water container for remote camping trips, but we wont be needing it this weekend now I don’t think!

Thinking about: How accidents can mess up your plans and your health. And changes to our plans for the weekends coming up, most of which need two functioning ankles!

Visiting: We’ve done some more canyons including Fortress Canyon which has a truly awesome view of a 70m waterfall at the end, and Bowens Creek Upper South, which had an exciting cave section. I’ll do a whole post on canyoning soon.

Canyon2

Missing: We’ve been watching Top Gear on iPlayer, and on one episode they were playing Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 in the background. I miss Jeremy so might have to catch up on his radio show online soon. I also randomly had a thought about Mr Kipling fondant fancies the other day which you can;t get here. In fact I haven’t seen any kind of fondant fancy and now I want one! I’ll put it on the list for our visit in June. More recently I’ve been missing having Matt at home!

Looking forward to: When Matt gets out of hospital and when his cast finally comes off!

 

On Christmas Day evening we arrived at the campsite in Waitomo and set about having a Christmas BBQ. Like a few other people seemed to have done we had some yummy steaks, as well as some sausages, peppers and mushrooms. We had far too many leftover sausages, but they made good breakfast for Matt! It wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner without leftovers anyway. Our Christmas cake was a pretty exciting versoin of a caramel slice. It was two big squares of chocolate chip shortbread with caramel in the middle – yummy!

Christmas BBQ

Christmas BBQ

Waitomo is famous for its glow worms, so that evening once it got dark we went on a short drive up the road to do the night time glow worm walk. It was a really excellent walk, and turned out to be one of the top 10 short walks in New Zealand. It went through a forested area with a river (which you could hear but not see becasue it was dark). The walk went though tunnels and into lots of caves with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as heaps of glow worms. They lined all the banks by the sides of the rivers too. The walk was a really good mini-adventure and we even saw a possom.

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

The next day (Boxing Day) we were signed up for 8 hours of caving adventures with the Legendary Black Water Caving Co. They had a deal on when we booked, so we did the 5 hour, dry Black Labyrinth in the morning, and the 3 hour, wet Black Odyssey in the afternoon. We seemed to have got a really really good deal as when we got there to pay they said we had the ‘old’ prices and should have been paying more, but they honoured the quote I had via email which was good.

There were three of us on the Labyrinth Tour, and three guides (one of whom was learning the tour). We were lucky as they normally take up to 6 people at a time.  Before we were allowed on the trip we had to crawl through a wooden tunnel in the reception, so show we were OK with tight, dark spaces! After getting kitted up in our boiler suits, wellies, harnesses and hats we set off on the caving via Ruakuri Cave.  Ruakuri means Den of Dogs, which is from when the cave was first discovered by Maori hunters 500 years ago. They do a walking tour in the cave too, so the start was the same with a very cool lit-up spiral ramp down into the cave.

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

The guides were really friendly and very talkative.We had a clipping system like for Via Ferrata, which worked with magnets and was set up so you always had one clipped at any time for safety. The caving started walking through tunnels and then gradually doing more squeezing and climbing as the spaces got smaller! Some of the climbing was a bit tricky, mainly becasue of wearing wellies rather than proper shoes. We exploired a lot of the caves and saw lots of cool formations and lots and lots of glow worms. The guide explained to us they are actually “shiny sh*t maggots”, but that that doesn’t sound so good to the tourists!

The caving included a few abseils including one fairly long one down a slot above the river inside the cave which was cool. A couple of times we were above the people doing the wet tour, so we had to stop and wait for them so we didn’t distract them or kick dust into their faces.  There was a ladder to walk up too, and a monkey bridge to go across. There were a couple of cool flying fox swings, which we did in the dark with our torches off for added excitement! the whole thing was really good fun. When we came out into the daylight we realised we were where we had walked on the glow worm walk the night before.

 

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

After the trip we got free soup and bagels for lunch, and had some kumara (NZ name for sweet potato) chips too to fuel us up for the next adventure!

The second trip we did was the Back Odyssey which is the most popular one. We had a group of 12 (I think the limit is 14). This time it was a wet caving adventure, so we got dressed in our swimmers, wetstuits, wetsuit jackets and smaller boots. We each got given a black rubber ring, in different sizes. The tour was basically all about floating along the river inside the caves in the tubes, including jumping off waterfalls, going down some moving water, floating through tunnels and looking at more glow worms.

When the trip started the guide asked if we all knew the trip involved jumping off some waterfalls – ummm, no! It turned out they weren’t too high, so I was OK. We did a practice jump off some steps outside into the river, and then nice and wet got the bus down to the start. The first waterfall jump was pretty soon, and I managed all of them without loosing any of my contact lenses which was handy! You have to jump off backwards so you land in your ring – scary! The water was very very cold. If I did something like that again I’d be tempted to take a thermal! Allegedly there was an eel in the cave which Matt saw. There are photos of it, but I’m still sceptical!

Black water rafting

Black water rafting in Waitomo

We rafted up into a chain to go through one of the tunnels and all turned out lights off so we could look at the glow worms while the guides towed us along, which was good of them! There were really masses of glow worms (maggots!) At another point we ditched our rings and crawled through a little wet tunnel called the laundry chute! Near the end we all turned our lights out and had to paddle to the end of the cave without turning them on which was quite a weird experience as there wasn’t a lot of current.

Black water rafting in Waitomo

Black water rafting in Waitomo

I definitely preferred the dry caving trip by quite a long way, mainly becasue it was more like a climbing adventure, involved more skill, wasn’t cold and didn’t involve chucking yourself off a waterfall backwards!

The next day we headed back to Auckland and flew back to Sydney ready to meet the Shorts for New Year.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After our trip to Hobbiton, in New Zealand, in the afternoon we went rafting on the Kaituna (Okere) river. It has the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on it, with a 7m drop. The rafting lastest about an hour, with several waterfalls and a lot of rapids.The raft was very bouncy and floaty. Our raft did some crazy flip spin thing going down the waterfall, so the guide and I both managed to fall out and have a swim in the water becasue we were on the same side! It made me feel better that he fell out too! We bought the photos of the trip which came on a raft shaped memory stick with Matt particularly appreciated.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After a busy day, we headed into Rotorua and found some dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. They were very friendly, the food was yummy and they had entertaining place mats – Matt’s had a flow chart on it for working out what type of pasta your pasta was!

The next day (Christmas Eve) we headed to Te Puia. This is a geothermal area with bubbling mud pools and geysers, as well as a lot of Maori culture including carved houses and giant canoes. We booked tickets to the cultural show in thee big carved meeting house. Before it started we gathered at the meeting point and were greeted by our Maori guide. She explained we weren’t allowed in until the Maori people had determined if we were friendly or not. We nominated a leader for our group, and the Maori warrior ran at him with a giant spear. He performed the Hakka and made him an offering. Our leader accepted it, they rubbed noses in the traditional way and we were allowed in. The performance was really good with a lot of traditional signing, dancing and ball spinning. The men performed the Hakka and explained about it and then had a lot of the men from the audience join them on stage to do it together.

 

The Hakka

The Hakka

After the show we joined a guided tour of the park to learn a bit more about it. We saw the Prince of Wales geyser erupting and lots of bubbling mud pools, steamy areas and craters from old geysers too. The whole place was pretty smelly of eggs which reminded me of parts of Iceland. We saw a kiwi bird in the kiwi house too and had the biggest cheese scone i’ve ever seen for elevenses!

Te Puia geysers

Te Puia geysers

 

We had a talk on weaving as part of the tour. At Te Puia they also have a state sponsored Maori weaving school and a carving school to make sure these traditions continue with the younger generations.

Modern Maori carving

Modern Maori carving

After Te Puia we drove down to Lake Taupo. We found out about an attraction called the Prawn Park – a prawn based theme park! You can go fishing for prawns, go on a prawn themed ride and play prawn golf. We really wanted to go, mainly becasue it sounded so cheese but unfortunately we got there late and it was closed the next day for Christmas. Instead in the evening we walked from near our campsite up to Huka falls. Huka means foam in Maori. Its a very impressive falls with 220,000 litres of water a second going over the falls. Most of the falls is quite a shallow gradient down a 15m wide slot in the rocks, with the actual main drop only about 12m.

Haka falls

Huka falls

The next day was Christmas Day. We started off with a walk around Aratiatia rapids. The rapiuds are next to a dam, and about 3 or 4 times a day they release the dam which makes the rapids fill up from hardly any water to massive rapids over anout 15 minutes. We watched the dam release, and the water level actuially went up a fait bit slower than I expected. It was cool to see. They filmed the barrell scenes from the Hobbit 2 here, where the dwarves and Bilbo escape from the Elves in barrels down the river. I guess they could contorl the dam release how they wanted for that which made it safer for filming.

Rapids

Aratiatia Rapids

From there we drove over to Wiatomo, via the Tongariro National Park. Its where Mt Ngauruhoe is, which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy day, so we couldn’t get a good view of the mountain. We did go on another short walk to a nice waterfall with a plunge pool though, and drove up into the ski fields where we found some actual Chrismtas snow!

NZ17

Christmas snow

 

Carrying on the drive we went past this T-Rex made of driftwood, and a giant sculpture of a man shearing a sheep in Hangatiki, the sheep shearing capital of the world!

Driftwood T-Rex

Driftwood T-Rex

Stay tunes for next week’s post on our Christmas evening in Waitomo and Boxing Day caving adventures!

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

For Christmas we went on camping holiday for a week to the North Island of New Zealand. We didn’t get there before when we went on our honeymoon to the South Island. We flew into Auckland and picked up our little car. Our first stop was up north, in the town of Russell in the very Scenic Bay of Islands. After about half an hour is started to rain – very hard. Even Matt said he wondered if the campsite we were going to had cabins! As we got the car ferry across the bay to Russell it was still drizzling, but luckily we hit a brief dry spell when it was time to put the tent up.

Pahia

Pahia

On our first full day we booked on a 5 hour boat tour around the Bay. We started off getting the passenger ferry back across the bay and exploring the town of Pahia, which was bigger than Russell and where most people visiting the area seem to stay – we preferred our quieter spot the other side. After some lunch, and then some tea, cake and beer on the wharf, our boat trip started. The bay had hundreds of islands in it and is surrounded by green rolling hills, wich was all very scenic. We managed to see dolphins three different times which was really good, and even got some pretty good pictures of them too.

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

Dolphins at the Bay of Islands

 

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

Dolphin at Bay of Islands

The trip went out all the way to the edge of the bay to the Hole in the Rock sea arch, and the boat even went through it because luckily the tide was right. Matt got dripped on, which according to Maori tradition is lucky. They used to paddle out to the rock and go through the hole before important events. Near the rock we spotted a seal hanging out on the rocks. On the way back we stopped at Otehei Bay on one of the islands, and went for a short walk up the hill to a lookout with excellent views all around the bay. We got to have a quick paddle in the sea too, before it was time to head on back on the boat.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

The next day was mainly spent driving back to Auckland, and through it onto our next campsite at Rotorua. Rotorua has a high level of geothermal activity, with a lot of sulphur in the air, so it smells quite eggy. We were staying out of town up in the hills by Blue Lake, which was much less smelly. After an ice cream and Matt having a dip in the lake, we stocked up on some supplies and had a tasty BBQ dinner with some local wine.

Gandalf at Hobbiton

Gandalf at Hobbiton

After all the driving, the next day was quite action packed. In the morning we drove north west to Mata Mata, to go on a tour of Hobbiton. It’s the movie set where they filmed the scenes for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit which were in Hobbiton, including the Green Dragon pub.  You arrive at  the visitor centre with a cafe and gift shop, and then get the bus down to the set. Tours leave very regualrly, about every 15 minutes in peak time, but the routes seem to be fairly well thought out so although you could see the other groups it didn’t seem too busy on the site.

Bilbo's Hobbit Hole

Bilbo’s Hobbit Hole

There were lots of Hobbit holes around, which were very cute. We saw Bilbo and Sam’s holes, and lots of other ones too. There were lots of props around like vegetables, pots of honey, washing, carts and little benches, as well as an allotment area. Our guide was full of lots of interesting facts about the films and the set, like how they made the fences look old with yoghurt! We got to go inside one of the holes. Sadly there is actually nothing inside – all of the inside scenes were filmed somewhere else! The farmer on the land managed to keep secret that the set was there until after the films came out which was quite impressive.

Sam's Hobbit Hole

Sam’s Hobbit Hole

We learned that the tree on top of Bilbo / Frodo’s hole is actually fake. It was moulded based ona  real old oak tree, so looks realistic, but it was thousands of artificial leaves, all made and added on with wire by hand! At the end of the trip you get to go into the Green Dragon pub for a complementary drink. It was cool inside with a fire and lots of props like cloaks hanging up, dragon carvings and old looking books.

The Green Dragon Pub

The Green Dragon Pub

After Hobbiton, we headed back towards Rotorua through the town of Tirau where we had some lunch. The town has lots of art including giant sculptures made of wrought iron. This sheep below is actually surrounding a shop, which you walk into through its mouth!

Sheep in Tarau

Sheep in Tarau

Stay tuned for the next post on the rest of our trip, featuring rafting, mud pools, geysers and caving!

Girls Night!

 

Liking: I had a girls night out with my friends Mel and Karen which was great fun. We ended up dancing till late and eating pizza at Frankie’s bar in the city which plays some cool tunes! We’ve also done a few canyons which I find amazing. I’ll write a separate post up on them.

Disliking: Builders have taken over our balcony! They are doing work on the face of the building, so have set up a swinging stage off scaffolding from our balcony. We’ve asked the landlord for a rent reduction becasue of the disruption, so fingers crossed for that!

Scaffolding on the balcony

Scaffolding on the balcony

Watching: We watched the first two Hobbit films on DVD again before seeing the third at the cinema. Now we’re working our way through the extended editions of LOTR as follow on. Each one is about 4 hours, so we’ve only got through the first one so far (in two sittings). I’ve also been getting into Silent Witness on the iPlayer.

Playing: Our latest new game is Smash Up! Its a card based deck building game where you can be Alien Dinosaurs, Zombie Pirates, Trickster Wizards or any other combination you fancy!

Reading: I’ve just read a book called The Letter by Kathryn Hughes. I paid £1 for it on a special Amazon deal. It was pretty well written compared to the free books I often read. Its about a woman in an abusive relationship who finds an old love letter in a coat at a charity shop, talking about a baby. She tracks down the people involved in the letter and the story of what happened to them all unravels in parallel with her own relationship issues.

Beetroot chocolate brownies

Beetroot chocolate brownie

Consuming: I’ve been having a healthy February, but wanted to make some cake for a girly get together, so I made ‘healthy’  (*relative to normal ones) beetroot brownies. It was quite red going in the oven, but came out nice and brown. You couldn’t taste the beetroot at all and the texture was really really moist – you need a fork to eat them! Although they were rick they were fairly light too. I shoved some Toffiee’s in the top – becasue why not?! I don’t know I’d make them again becasue its a bit of a weird thing to cook, but glad I gave it a try. The recipe is here, and I agree with the other reviewers they take longer to bake, even in our oven which zaps everything.

Seahorsey!

Seahorsey!

Buying: I bought myself a new handbag with some Christmas money. Look how seahorsey it is! 🙂

Thinking about: I’ve started my new job and its going well, so lots of new things to think about with that.

Visiting: Canyons! So far we have done Jugglers Canyon, Grand Canyon and Gobsmacker Canyon. We’ve had issues with the camera on each one (forgetting it and then breaking it), so not many pics I’m afraid.

Gobsmacker Canyon

Gobsmacker Canyon

Missing: Going out in Sydney made me miss the excellence of some of the good old Southampton night-spots, where the music is brilliant, the people are less overly self-obsessed and the vibe is totally cheesy!

Looking forward to: Coming up in March we’re going to the Melbourne Grand Prix. At the end of the month we’ve got a long weekend for Easter, so we’ll be making some plans for that too.

 

Kayaking Kangaroo Valley

Kayaking Kangaroo Valley

 

For a while we’ve been meaning to do a kayaking trip down in Kangaroo valley, and finally got around to it in November (I know, it’s taken me a fair while to get around to this post!) We went down with my old boss, his wife and kids and Penny who I know from my old work.

We headed down Friday night, and after some BBQ bacon and eggs for breakfast on Saturday headed off to get the boats. There are a lot of different trips you can do in the area, including some multi-day ones which we’re keen to try in future. Between us we had two kayaks (with two adults and a kid in each one) and Penny in the kayak.

 

The 'rapids'

The ‘rapids’

The trip we did was a short 5km one for 2-3 hours, from Hampen Bridge to Bendeela. Towards the end there was a fair bit of wind, which made it a bit tough going. It’s one of the most scenic parts, with lots of forested hills around, big water dragons hanging out on the rocks and a lot of birds of prey circling around too. There were some small rapids for a bit of adventure, and we stopped off for a swim to cool down.

Matt was mean and tried telling the kids there were crocodiles in the water, but there definitely aren’t! You can read more about the trips here. On Sunday we went to a nearby spot for some rock climbing and a picnic.

Big Water Dragon

Big Water Dragon

I like canoeing – its far more calm and relaxed than white water kayakiung! Back in June 2012 we did an overnight canoe trip on the River Wye in the UK on the Queens Golden Jubilee weekend. Here’s a flashback to that! (The weather was a bit different.)

Kayaking the Wye

Kayaking the Wye(

P.S. Today, 14th February 2015 (Valentines Day) we have been in Australia for two years. It’s flown by!

Pierces Pass

Pierces Pass

Just after Christmas we had Jane and John Short (Matts parents) to visit, which was excellent. A few days later Hannah Short arrived too, and stayed on a while after Jane and John went on to New Zealand.

We had a lot of mini-adventures together. Here’s some of the highlights. You too could do these fun things if you come and visit us! 🙂

When they arrived we had a second Christmas with a lot of exciting presents, including a number of jars of marmite, a Christmas wasjig and a flying drone with a camera on it. After an introduction to Tim Tams we went for a short walk from our place to Balls Head Reserve, with good views over the city and spotted some birds and lizards. On the way back we stopped for some lunch, and then Matt and I headed off to the supermarket for some supplies while our guests had a nap to get some decent sleep for the first time in 36 hours!  That evening we went to the revolving O Bar Restaurant for dinner with some excellent views over the city and nice food.

O Bar

O Bar

On Day 2 we took a day trip to the Hunter Valley wine region, about 90 minutes north of Sydney. We started the trip with a ‘Hunter 101’ tour at First Creek winery. It was really excellent value. For $15 each we got a personalised tour all around the winery for about an hour, learning about all the different equipment. We got to go and see the bottling area too, as there they bottle a lot of the wine for the other vineyards. Our tour also included a cheese platter with our tasting which was massive, and had some very tasty cheeses. I bought some wine, and with the tour we got $10 each off some wine, so the whole personal tour and the cheese cost just $5 each! Matt picked up some UK beers, we visited the Smelly Cheese Shop for lunch and went back there later for some delicious ice creams. We visited quite a few different wineries and took the scenic route home through some nice countryside (no kangaroos though).

First Creek Winery

First Creek Winery

The next day Hannah arrived in the morning. After picking her up we went on a ferry ride across the harbour to Watsons Bay, and had a nice lunch by the sea. My fish platter was massive and yummy. Because of the time of year it was the busiest we had ever seen it, so we got a fairly early ferry back (after standing in a very big queue!) Back in the city we walked around the Opera House and stopped for a nice refreshing cold drink in the Opera Bar, overlooking the bridge and Opera House.

Opera Bar

Opera Bar

We popped back home, collected some things and then went out for the evening to have a picnic and wine at the Outdoor Cinema, watching the preview of The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan During during WW2, trying to crack the Enigma machine. We went posh for the Gold Grass tickets in a prime spot and with bean bags. I totally thought this was worth it! There were lots of bats flying around like last year which was cool, and they even made it into the movie a few times!

Fruit bat

Fruit bat

The next day was New Years Eve. In the morning we headed up to Ku-Ring-Gai National Park and saw kangaroos and a lyre bird at the nature reserve area. We also walked around the mangroves and saw lots of small mud crabs, including orange ones, green ones and purple ones. We had a yummy lunch down by the marina, including a massive box of massive prawns, and made a few souvenir purchases in the gift shop.

It was New Years Eve that day, so we headed home and went out to Garden Island where Matt works for an excellent view of the fireworks over the harbour. There’s more about that in another post, here.

After a late night we had a bit of a lie in the next day, and a lazy morning with some bacon and egg sandwiches cooked on the barbie. We took a drive up to Palm Beach and Barrenjoey in the afternoon, but it was so busy we couldn’t park and annoyingly had to drive all the way back home again, via a quick supermarket pit-stop. Back at the flat we had a BBQ including some camel burgers (not that exciting), played board games and ate some awesome pavlova that Jane made.

Outdoor cinema

Outdoor cinema

The following day we went on another day trip, this time to the Blue Mountains. We have a bit of a tour route going on there now, which is getting gradually refined. On MKII of the trip we started with morning coffee at a lively cafe in Bilpin, and then headed to Pierces Pass for a walk of about an hour, with amazing views down the valley. We tried to take the loop track back, but it turns out it doesn’t go (or we didn’t find it), so that bit won’t make it into MKIII of the tour! Next up we drove via Harley Vale, which was very scenic, to Govetts Leap lookout over Bridal Veil Falls. From there we headed into Katoomba via Cliff Drive and a few more lookouts, including over a lot of areas damaged by recent bush-fires which was sad. We had some lunch in Katoomba (including kangaroo burgers), and visited the Hattery where John got a genuine kangaroo leather bush hat. After Katoomba we headed for the mandatory stop at Echo Point with all the coach trippers, looking out over the Three Sisters, and visited the gift shop where I found some more Aussie Christmas decorations for my collection. From there we went to the lookout at Sublime Point, which I’d not been too before, which was much quieter. Then for the final stop in an action packed tour we headed to Wentworth Falls for another short walk to the falls, and saw another lyre bid as well as a crimson rosella. 

The next day Jane and John had to leave for New Zealand in the morning. In the afternoon we went for a snorkel at La Perouse (Bare Island), where they filmed Mission Impossible. It was also very busy, and I discovered my snorkel mask strap had snapped – grr!  Its meant to be one of the best spots in Sydney but we didn’t managed to see very much and the water was surprisingly chilly – I think it was even colder than about 6 week previously.

On Sunday we finally finished the wasjig! Then Hannah and I went into the city and looked around the Rocks Market, the Rocks Discovery Museum and Darling Harbour, including the yummy Guilyian chocolate cafe. We passed the evening playing some more board games (Smallworld and Muchkin) and eating kangaroo meatballs.

 

Completed wasjig

Completed wasjig

On Monday evening we checked out the new burger place in the city, the Burger Project for dinner. Their burgers were pretty good, with a nice sauce on them. I was slightly disappointed becasue on some reviews it said the chips came with vinegar and they didn’t – boo! I think for me Grill’d is still better because it has more burger choice, but if you want shakes and ice cream after your burger than the Burger Projects the place to go. From there we headed over to Kings Cross to try the new Messina Dessert Bar. Its next to the ice cream shop and you can create your own sundaes and cones with lots of toppings and sauces. It was pretty exciting, so i’ll do a separate post on that.

Macaroons!

Macaroons!

On Tuesday Hannah made me a yummy risotto dinner and we had a move night with the film Divergent, which was really good.  The next day I wasn’t working so we headed up to Chatswood to do some shopping and run some errands, rewarding ourselves with some yummy dumplings and food from Din Thai Fung. When we got back we made some salted caramel macaroons from the Adriano Zumbo packet, which turned out pretty well for a first attempt. Once it got dark we went down the Blues Point to check out the cool view and play around with some photos using my tripiod and flash. After all the activity we were pretty tired so had to chill out in the hot tub before bed!

We have Lizzie Short visiting in April, so will get some fun stuff lined up ready for that!

 

Blues Point

Blues Point

Ay caramba! from Messina dessert bar

Ay caramba! from Messina dessert bar

Liking: We had Jane, John and Hannah short to visit which was great. We had lots of adventures, and played lots of board games 🙂 We also went on a sailing trip with Andrew on the Harbour. It was a really good day out, with a bit of added drama when the rudder broke right off the boat on the way back! We floated for a while, and had to be towed back to the mooring by the marine rescue people!

Disliking: It’s pretty hot now. I still hate the feel of sun cream. Our place gets way more sun than our last one, so it gets pretty warm inside. We’ll be investing soon in a good fan for the bedroom to help us sleep at night. I got a basic one for free from the basement, but it has no timer so we have to have it on all night.

Watching: We saw the Imitation Game at the Moonlight outdoor cinema which was really good. The film was very engaging and Benedict Cumberbatch played Turing really well. We went for the Gold Grass bean bag seats this time, which were super comfy and watched the bats flying around, including getting involved in the film! We’re also going to watch some 20:20 cricket, which apparently is more entertaining and faster than normal cricket.

Playing: We’ve played a lot of games with the Shorts. Ticket to Ride was a popular one, and we also went through Smallworld, Agricola, Loot Letter, Munchkin and Monopoly Draw.

Reading: On holiday in New Zealand I read Gone Girl. I’ve not seen the film yet but the book was very good. There were big plot developments in most of the chapters which kept you guessing and interested right the way through. I really enjoyed it although was a bit let down at the end.

Consuming: We’ve eaten a lot of yummy stuff recently, including: dinner at the O Bar with some great views, cheese in the Hunter Valley, cheese picnics at the outdoor cinema and new years, pavlova Jane made, macaroons Hannah made, burgers from the new place The Burger Project, dessert from the Messina Desert Bar (see above) and dumplings from Din Tai Fung.

Buying: After stealing the idea from some friends, we’ve invested in some very light, very compact camping chairs and tables. They’ll be really good for camping without taking up too much space and if we go to outdoor stuff over the summer.

Thinking about: My new job. I wasn’t really enjoying my last role, so I’ve got a new job starting late January. Fingers crossed it works out well! 🙂

Visiting: After New Zealand, over the Christmas break we took our visitors to Watsons Bay in Sydney, the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains. More about that soon.

Missing: The Shorts now they’ve gone! Marmite supplies are restricted now though, so we won’t be missing that too much for a while.

Looking forward to: We’ve just booked a trip down to Melbourne in March to watch the Grand Prix which should be fun.