NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Matt is lucky to work on Garden Island, which is just to the east of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, with some pretty cool views. The land is owned by the Navy, and for a long time they have sold cheap tickets to employees, their friends and family to go and watch the New Year fireworks from there. Last year we missed it becasue we were in Tasmania, so we were keen to go this year.

We got a bit nervous as they announced the tickets quite late this year, but it all worked out in the end and we got 5 – for me, Matt, his parents and his sister Hannah who were visiting over New Year. Gates opened from 3pm and we arrived about 4.30pm. Across Sydney for NYE there are a lot of free venues, but they close when they get to capacity, so you have to get there very early to get a good spot, and they don’t let you take alcohol. We read some stories about people who had camped out for days before to get the best views. There are also a lot of places which put on events and sell tickets, a lot of which are around the $400+ mark!

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Because the island is a Naval base there were some rules about going on (closed shoes, no gazebos or big umbrellas, no fireworks of your own and only a ‘moderate’ amount of alcohol!) A lot of these seemed to be ignored! We realised when we got there we were a bit unprepared compared to most other people. Lots of them were wheeling in trolleys crammed with chairs, radios and giant wheelie eskies and cool bags full of cold drinks. We did have some picnic blankets, a small cool bag, picnic (largely cheese based) and of course some card games to pass the time (Loot Letter, Monopoly Draw and Get Bit). If we get to go again i’ll definitely be packing some chairs and an umbrella for some shade when the suns up! I also left my tripod behind, which was clearly a mistake – most of my pictures were quite blurry!

Our NYE spot

Our NYE spot

We got a prime spot looking at the Opera House and the bridge, just one row back from the people who got there when the site opened. They only sell a set number of tickets and it was quieter than I expected, which was really good. It filled up more as the afternoon went on, so it was good to get there when we did. There were some food, so of course we had an ice cream.

Throughout the afternoon there were a few bits of entertainment including a couple of flying displays and a fire boat shooting out a giant water cannon. Once it got darker they had a light parade of boats, where they were all lit up with fairy lights and looked very cool sailing around.

Flying display

Flying display

Each year they have an early fireworks display at 9pm. The idea of this is its for families,so people with kids can watch it still and then take them home to bed. This display itself was 8 minutes and was really good, so after that I was looking forward to the midnight ones even more. They also had an ‘inspire moment’ at 10.30pm, which was a short firework display. After that there was quite a gap till the midnight fireworks, so we played some more games under the handy flood lights.

Illuminated boat

Illuminated boat

The midnight fireworks were amazing. I managed to get a spot at the front, which was great for the pictures. Annoyingly becasue I didn’t have my tripod a lot of them were blurry or quite grainy becasue of the high ISO, but I’ve learnt my lesson now! The volume of fireworks was massive, and watching the choreography (is that the right word for fireworks?) where they set them off from on top of the opera house and bridge, mirroring their shapes was really good. Seeing the reflections over the water was great too. Towards the end of the display they set a lot of fireworks down from the base of the bridge which made it looks like a waterfall – it looked very cool and very pretty.

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

Once the fireworks were over getting back wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. It was busy, but not stupidly so. We were held for a while inside the station because of overcrowding on the platform, but only a couple of minutes. We go on a train fine, and changed train fine. At some of the stations there were a very large amount of people trying to get on because of some earlier problems involving a fire alarm and station closure, but luckily we escaped those.

It was a great day and evening and we were really lucky to be able to get cheap tickets to see the fireworks from such a good spot 🙂

NYE fireworks

NYE fireworks

 

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation

After the Great Barrier Reef, we headed up to north to stay in Port Douglas for a few nights. We rented 2 apartments between us, right by the beach and with an outdoor pool which we got good use out of.

The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world (135 million years!), and we were keen to explore it. After enjoying the tour we did at Uluru earlier in the year, and having had some recommendation from others we booked onto a day tour with Billy Tea Safaris. See here. We got picked up from our apartment, and drove for about an hour, hearing stories about the local area, the sugar cane plantations and flooding from our knowledgeable guide, ‘Uncle’ Nev.

Our first stop was to have some local Daintree tea, and hop on a cruise along the Daintree River for an hour, trying to spot crocodiles. Unfortunately because of the hot weather they all seemed to be hiding, so the only one we saw was the one the guide was handling at the start. Still it was nice being on the river, having a close up look at the mangroves and learning about the area.

After that we stopped at a very scenic lookout with views down the valley, and went on for a short walk in the rainforest, looking at some cycads (tall ferms) which were hundreds of years old. From there we went on to an animal rescue centre where we got to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies. Nev cooked us up a very tasty BBQ with some locally reared, grass-fed steaks.

Me feeding the rescue kangaroo

Me feeding the rescue kangaroo

 

Next up we drove along the 4WD Bloomfield Track, which goes up north to Cape York. It takes days to drive up there and there are basically no shops or other towns on the way. It really have us a good feeling for how remote that bit of Australia is. After a while we stopped and took a refreshing swim in a pool with some fish. Just downstream was a warning sign about crocodiles, but apparently they don’t come up as far as where we were swimming. I kept my eyes peeled just in case!

CrocSign

Beware, Crocodiles!

After surviving the swim, we had some more tea, fruit damper bread with golden syrup from the local sugar cane and a selection of about 7 different local tropical fruits. I can’t remember the names of all of them, but it included jackfruit, soursop (like a lemon), black sapote and chocolate pudding fruit – which really did taste like chocolate pudding.

Bushfruit

Rainforest fruit

After heading back down the 4WD track we stopped for a walk at Cape Tribulation, the beach where ‘the rainforest meets the reef’. It was really very pretty, but you’re advised not to go in the sea because sometimes there are crocodiles. We took a walk along the beach, keeping a respectable distance from the water! On the beach there were loads of tiny balls of sand, made by little crabs. You couldn’t help treading on the balls, which made me feel bad. I have no idea why the crabs make them, but they were all over the beach in Port Douglas too. For the last stop we went to the Daintree Ice Cream Co, for ice creams made of local tropical fruits – yum!

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge

The next day we went for a hot and humid walk around Mossman Gorge and the surrounding rainforest. The gorge is pretty big, with lots of large boulders. The water was quite low as it was summer time, but in the wet season it must be pretty powerful. We spotted a water dragon hanging about on a tree, and lots of bright orange butterflies.

Water Dragon in Mossman Gorge

Water Dragon in Mossman Gorge

After the hot rainforest we went to chill out on the beach. While James, Laura and Tom dug a big deep hole (because that’s what you do on the beach), Matt, Monika and I went for a swim in the sea. We went for the part where the net was – to avoid the jellyfish and possible crocodiles! We checked the sign, and in the sea it was 29 degrees! Getting in, it was the only time very I haven’t even felt a tiny bit cold in the sea. It actually felt like it had been warmed up, which was very very strange – but nice!

PortDouglas

 

The next day we had to go back to Sydney and leave all our Horsham friends behind 🙁 It was an excellent trip, and lots of fun. Come back soon guys!

 

 

Turtle

Turtle

After Cairns, we went on a 3 day, 2 night live aboard cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef with a company called Reef Encounter. Considering the price of hotels, for about $600 each including all our meals and the boat trips it was a pretty good deal.

First up we hopped on the day boat at 7.30am for an 8am departure, and relaxed while they cooked us bacon and egg rolls on the BBQ on the top deck!

Blue Sea Star

Blue Sea Star

The day boat took us out to the bigger boat, plus a load of people just doing a day trip. While we made the trip we watched Cairns disappear into the distance, and went to a presentation by the on-board Marine Biologist about all the different fish in the reef. She explained that none of the reef sharks would eat us, or even try and nibble us! Apparently they’re less dangerous to people than the average dog.

Maori Wrasse

Maori Wrasse

About 10am we got transferred across to the main boat, had a safety talk, got shown to our rooms and went right out for our first snorkel at Saxon Reef. The other reefs we went to were Norman Reef, Norman Playground (near Norman Reef) and Hastings Reef.

Matt-fish

Matt-fish

When we first got in the water it was in a pretty deep area, obviously becasue they had to anchor the boat. But after just a short swim we were surrounded by masses of coral beds. They were really quite close to the surface, some of them in the shallow bits only about a 1-1.5 meters below so you had to be careful not to hit them.

Parrot Fish

Parrot Fish

The types of fish we saw included Parrot Fish, which were my favourite becasue they were really bright and great blue and purple colours.They eat the coral, so when you are near them you can hear them crunching off bits of rock.

Other fish we saw included: unicorn fish; seal faced puffer fish; angel fish; cardinal fish; clown (nemo) fish; groupers; surgeon fish (Dory); trigger fish; Mauri wrasse and sun fish. We also saw some long-thin fish which i’m not sure what they were!

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

Anemone Fish (Nemo!)

I’ve seen the reef on TV and in books, but I really was amazed by how many different fish there were in any one place, and the diversity of the different types of fish too. On TV I always cynically assume they show the best bits, but the amount of fish around was really amazing, and they were so many different colours. They were lots of different kinds of coral to and anemones, again with lots of different colours.

In some places there were lots of dead bits, which was sad. It was all grey and just looked like lots of stick shaped bits of stone. We asked on the boat about it and they explained most of this was cyclone damage from storms. Because the reef is so close to the surface it can get damaged easily when the big storms come through.

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

Seal-faced Puffer Fish

I was swimming in my long rash vest. Although getting it felt a bit cool, the water was pretty warm and unusually I wasn’t cold. Annoyingly, about half way in to our first swim our underwater camera died! Despite a lot of attempts to revive it it just got worse so we had to give up on it! They had some on the boat you could hire, so we did that and kept on snapping away.

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

On our second swim we saw a turtle and followed it for a long time which was brilliant. They’re so beautiful to look at and graceful with their swimming. I saw turtles two more times, and each time followed them around for ages. You have to be careful not to swim on top of them, becasue they need to come up for air every so often, and if you’re above them they get scared and won’t do it. I saw them do this twice and dive back down again which was really cool. Before we went, my aim was to see a turtle, and swimming with them was definitely my favourite bit of the reef trip. It was even better than I imagined.

White-tipped Reef Shark

White-tipped Reef Shark

On the morning sessions and the last ones of the day we also saw grey-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks. They were a close second to the turtles, and really cool to watch slinking around looking for food. Swimming with them messed with my brain as it has totally been programmed to think sharks are bad and will eat you. We swam with two at a time at one point. I enjoyed swimming with them a lot, but my brain kept telling me I shouldn’t be doing it as they’d spot me and have me for dinner! Luckily the Marine Biologist was right and none of us got even the slightest bit nibbled!

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

Surgeon Fish and Mystery Fish

At night we saw a LOT of sharks circling around the boat. Apparently the pipes leak a bit, so they are attracted to the boat becasue they smell the food. Watching them circling and seeing their fins above the water was pretty cool. I certainly didn’t fancy swimming with 7-8 of them at once!

Sharks!

Sharks!

Matt and James did a night dive with them! The boat we were on was one of only a few where you can do a night dive if you’re not a certified diver becasue they have a special licence. You have to do a day trial dive first, which Matt did. At night there are lots more predators about, including the sharks and trevalli, plus turtles sleeping in caves and hidey holes. The night divers had torches to see, which you could watch from the surface – it looked fairly surreal.

Orange Sea Star

Orange Sea Star

The days were jam packed full which was really good, with a nice balance of time to relax, play games, sun bathe, drink tea or recover. The schedule was roughly:

6.30 – Morning snorkel / dive

7.30 – Breakfast then boat moves

8.30 – Snorkel / dive

10.30 – Snorkel / dive including new people

12.00 – Lunch

13.30 – Snorkel / dive then move boat

15.30 – Snorkel / dive

18:00 – Dinner

19:00  – Night dive

20:00 – Dessert (yum!)

 

Giant clam

Giant clam

I got up for the early session on our first morning and we saw a turtle and shark so it was well worth it! There were less other people about which was nice, and it was a good way to start the day and wake up my stomach ready for a nice big breakfast. On the second day we were at a reef I had already swam at twice and where we were staying until after the 8.30am session so I had a lie in instead!

On the first night we had a really good view of the stars and even saw a shooting star so close and bright it looked like a fire-work.

Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish

The rooms were reasonably spacious considering we were on a boat, and the dining room / lounge was nice and big for games. The meals were really good, including a breakfast fry up, fresh pastries and full cooked lunch which was very welcome after lots of swimming! The desserts were good, especially the ice cream bar one, and there was lots of tea, coffee and Milo to help yourself too whenever the boat wasn’t moving. We took along snacks in-case we were under-fed, but definitely didn’t need any of them! (Well, apart from some chocolate Freddo frogs!)

Turtle!

Turtle!

Christmas Koala

Christmas Koala

Liking: Getting festive. We didn’t have a Christmas tree last year which was a bit of a shame, so this year we invested in a fake one. It makes me a bit sad to not have a real one, but when we’re out our flat gets to 30 degrees inside in the day time, so it just wouldn’t survive if we went away and left it for a week! I’ve got some pretty cool decorations for it, including some Australian themed ones and the robin all the way from England that my friend Bex made.

Disliking: We’ve been having some pretty tropical weather recently. Hot and humid in the days and then big storms at night with a lot of thunder and lightining. They make you pretty wet which isn’t good. I’m not generally scared of thunder, but here is so loud I just keep thinking buildings are collapsing or the world is ending!

Christmas Wombat

Christmas Wombat

Watching: I went with friends to see the new Hunger Games film at the cinema which was good. At home I’ve been watching the Apprentice on iPlayer. I was so frustrated watching the episode about the paper skeleton – that should totally have been allowed.

Playing: We bought a lot of games back in November, so we’ve been playing them some more, particularly Contagion. We took some of the more portable ones on holiday with us to New Zealand too.

Reading (new!): I read some pretty average free books on my Kindle recently. I’ve started A Christmas Carol for the festive season. I’m pretty sure I’ve not read it before and am enjoying it, although it keeps making me think of the Blackadder version!

Every tree needs a penguin!

Every tree needs a penguin!

Consuming: I had my first mince pie of the festive season early on in December.

Buying: Our underwater camera died within 30 minutes of being at the Great Barrier Reef – boo! We invested in another waterpoof, tough camera to take on our adventures. After some research we went for the Olympus Tough, TG3. Its doing well so far!

Thinking about: My career. Stay tuned for more on that.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Visiting: We spent the week around Christmas over in New Zealand visiting various places in the North Island, including Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo and Hobbiton. I had to write this up before we went, so expect more posts about that soon!

Missing: Our friends who went home and Christmas with family.

Looking forward to: We have got flights booked now to visit the UK in June, including going to the wedding of our friends Phil and Rhiannon, so we’re very much looking forward to that trip.

Baby wombat in a stocking!

Baby wombat in a stocking!

In the cable car

In the cable car

For the start of our Tropical North adventure we flew up to Cairns, and spent a couple of nights in an apartment near the wharf. Flying in was surprised how hilly it was, with hills covered in trees going right down to the sea.

On our first full day we went on the cable car up into the Daintree rainforest to Kuranda, had lunch at the top in Kuranda and came back down through the gorge on the Kuranda scenic railway. It was a really good trip. On the way up you get great views back over Cairns and the surrounding area, and of course of the rainforest all around you. We paid a small bit extra for ‘diamond’ gondolas which had a clear floor, so you could see below well.

There are 2 stops on the way up. At the first one we did a short guided walk and learnt about the different plants, animals and fruits in the forest, including the musky rat-kangaroo. We saw some bush turkeys, but no rat-kangaroos.

The second stop was a lookout over the impressive Barron Falls. As it was getting into summer there wasn’t loads of water going over it, but the gorge itself was still very impressive.

We had a couple of hours in the rainforest village of Kuranda, so had a look around the shops and then got some lunch. We had lunch in a place overlooking the rainforest with lots of kookaburras about.

Kuranda Railway Station

Kuranda Railway Station

The train station was quite 1920’s retro and the train had booths of seats inside and open windows with bars across for some good air flow. Matt managed to pick up a frozen, chocolate coated banana for a quick snack, which was a healthier version of an ice cream. It tasted pretty odd, texture wise.

The train ride down was 37km and took about 90 minutes, and the views were really cool across the Barron Gorge National Park and down the valley out to Cairns. The whole line is a pretty impressive feat of engineering considering it was built in the 1880’s! You can read more about its history, here. We stopped at Barron Falls to check out the view from the other side, which was even more impressive.

Kuranda Train

Kuranda Train

Once we got back to Cairns, that afternoon Laura joined us from New Zealand, where she’s working at the moment. James made us all a yummy dinner, and we had a pretty close (and slightly too long) game of Munchkin before bed.

The next day we were up early for a 7.30am meet up with our reef boat. More about that in the next post!

View down the gorge

View down the gorge

In November, five of our awesome friends from at home in Horsham came over to visit us in Australia (Tom, Kate, James, Monika and Sammy). We were very excited to see them, and just like when Phil and Rhainnon came last year, we gate-crashed part of their holiday and went on with them up to Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas.

Here’s some highlights of what we got up to in and around Sydney for about 5 days. If you come and visit you can do some of this cool stuff too!

Welcome BBQ and hot-tub: For their first night in Sydney we hosted a welcome BBQ and hot-tub night. It featured Aussie classic foods like kangaroo burgers and FIVE kinds of Tim Tams, plus Batch 1 and 2 of the home brew which all went down very well. I reckon the hot tub is good for jet-lag.

Hot-Tub

Squishing in the hot tub

Bondi Coogee Coast Walk: We went along the coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi, about 5km, stopping for some lunch at Clovelley on the way. James had a go at snorkelling, and picked up some bonus sunburn at the same time. Annoyingly I got a bit burnt to when I missed some bits with the sun cream – amateur mistake!

O Bar for dinner: After the walk, complete with our sunburn, we went to the O-Bar for dinner. It revolves around Sydney, 47 floors up, so has some pretty awesome views and nice food and cocktails to boot. We went in at 6pm and got to stay till about 8.30pm so saw it getting dark and the city light up which was cool.

Dinner at the O Bar

Dinner at the O Bar

Drinks at the Opera Bar: After dinner we walked up to Circular Quay to check out the Opera House and Bridge closer up, and stopped for some drinks at the Opera Bar which also has some awesome views.

Mixed day: The next day we split up and did lots of different things, including: Taronga Zoo; the Botanic Gardens and Art Gallery NSW; the Guillian chocolate cafe and surfing at Bondi beach. In the evening James and Monika did the Bridge Climb at syunset which they said was really good. Matt and I will be giving that a go soon. Kate, Tom, Sammy and I went to the Escape Hunt to try the hard ‘Murder in the Pub’ room. You have 1 hour to solve puzzles and clues to work out who the murderer is and escape the room. Matt and I went and did an easier one a while back (see here), and just didn’t make it (we blame some teething problems with their puzzles). I was keen to see if we could do the harder one with more people. We did it, with over 3 whole minutes to spare – woo! It was a bit tricky, especially when the torch batteries we found didn’t really work!

Super-sleuths

Super-sleuths

Blue mountains tour: On the Saturday we hired a car and took a day trip out to the Blue Mountains. We went to a lot of lookouts, plenty of cafes and did a few different short walks in scenic places. We found a really nice cafe in Bilpin with a nice garden to sit in, home made apple pies and an overly friendly dog. After a late lunch we accidentally bought 3 new games for the holiday at the game shop in Katoomba, and headed home for take away pizza, board games and another dip in the hot tub!

Bridal Veil Falls, Blue Mountains

Bridal Veil Falls, Blue Mountains

Photos by the bridge: After the mountains we stopped for some long exposure group shots by the bridge, like we’d done with Phil and Rhiannon on their visit. Timing jumping off the wall right proved quite tricky, and there were quite a few other people waiting to get photos so we only had a couple of attempts. One more and we’d of had it I reckon!

Bridge Ghosts

Bridge Ghosts

 

After Sydney we flew away on holiday to Cairns, the  Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas. More about those in the next posts!

Hot-Tub

Our Horsham visitors

Liking: Its almost warm enough for the sea now in Sydney, and we had a good snorkelling trip to Gordons Bay recently to practice for the reef. From the middle of November we had 5 Horsham friends over to visit us, which was really excellent! 🙂 More posts about that coming soon.

Disliking: Work is slooow at the moment, which is making me bored. I’ve had some days off though, so that helped. Back in October I realised with 2 days to go it was the tax return deadline, so didn’t enjoy that very much either! They seem to owe me a fair refund though, so if the estimate is good that’ll be a nice Christmas bonus.

Watching: I had a sick day with a cold and watched Maleficent. After our reef trip we had to re-watch Finding Nemo.

Playing: Our latest game pre-holiday was called Rampage. Its simple, OK for kids to play and is basically dragons going around a city destroying it and eating Meeples (people). I’m not very good at it! Apparently its not officially called Rampage any more because of a law suit, and is actually called Meeple something instead now. When our UK visitors came we accidentally bought 3 new games and played a lot of them on holiday. Loot Letter is very portable, quick and simple – its a Munchkin version of Love Letter. We also got Contagion which is good – its like Pandemic but you play the disease and try and infect the world!

Reading (new!): The latest book I read was The First 15 Lives of Harry August. Its about a man who is reborn over and over again, in the same place and time and remembers everything. There’s a few people like it, including a baddie who tries to do bad things. It was an interesting idea, but a bit confusing and the ending was a bit of a let down.

Consuming: I had 10 days without consuming bread, cheese or biscuits. It was hard, and sort of pointless. We tried batch 1 and batch 2 of the home brew, and they both got pretty good ratings.

Buying: I got my new phone finally and am enjoying the Appleness of it.

Thinking about: Our Christmas trip to NZ and the Shorts coming to visit for New Year. December’s going to be pretty busy!

Turtle on the Great Barrier Reef

Turtle on the Great Barrier Reef

Visiting: Loads! We’ve done a lot in Sydney with visitors, including the Blue Mountains, O Bar, another Escape Room and hanging out in the hot tub! Not only that, we’ve also been on holiday up to Cairns, the Barrier Reef and Port Douglas too.

Missing: Our friends who went back home. Having visitors is excellent – until they go!

Looking forward to: November was a pretty awesome month.In December for the compulsory Christmas shut down we are off for a week in New Zealand (North Island) and then have the Shorts visiting for a week, so definitely a lot more to look forward to before 2014 is over.

Every year around Bondi Beach for about two weeks they have the FREE ‘Sculptures by the Sea’ festival, which does what you could expect. It’s been going 18 years now.

We went along last year and I thought it was really good. You can see my favourite pictures from that one, here.

This year we went down after work again, but by the time we had finished getting distracted in the new ‘traditional’ English fish and chip shop in Bondi (complete with a fryer from Yorkshire), it was getting a bit late. So instead we headed for some ice cream from Messina (awesome) and I went back the next day as I had the day off.

This was a pretty big mistake, as it was truly rammed, mainly with many many groups of kids on school trips. At times I was doing the penguin waddle along the path, and it was really hard to enjoy the sculptures with so  many other people around and getting in the way of my view and my photos! I know, I’m antisocial!

There was some cool stuff though. My favourite ones are below, this time with non-artistic commentary, because it turns out the brochure we got for free last year actually costs $10! I definitely recommend going in the evening.

There were lots of these newspaper ants hiding in the cliff nooks and crannies. They are called Look Who.

Scupture4

 

This sculpture was wood and wire, and looked like some sort of sea creature, maybe an anemone. Its called Currawong, which is a bird.

Sculpture3

This one I liked because it was like a cross between a pine cone and an anemone, made with wooden plans and wire on the top. It was called The Grove.

Sculpture1

This one reminded me of a Cairn, and is called The figure in the landscape.

Looks like a cairn

Looks like a cairn

This one was my definite favourite. Its a big wooden whale, called Breaching. I really liked its form, and how it suited the setting of the coast.

Sculpture2

 

Court

Katoomba Courthouse

Back at the end of September I got to spend a day in court. I know what you’re thinking, but I’m innocent. Really! I know they all say that, but I am. Yes. Innocent.

It was an interesting day, so I thought I’d share some thoughts about it. First, here’s some background.

We bought our car (Jeffrey) last June. After deciding to get something a few years old, and then understanding better how prices and depreciation are a bit different over here to in the UK, we ended up buying him brand new. I’ve not had a brand new car before, so we were obviously very careful driving him about, and like slightly over-protective parents. About 4-6 weeks later in July we drove him to the Blue Mountains for a Rockies club climbing trip. We parked him nice and safe in a space in a car park in Blackheath, and went off for a coffee and bacon and egg roll. When we came back, there was a note attached to the door handle, and a big dent in most of the front passenger door. To say we were not impressed is a large understatement!

The note was from a witness, not the pupretrator. We took lots of photos, and spoke to another guys in the car park who has also witnessed the incident. We reported it to the insurance company, who wanted us to pay the excess until they knew who had done it. We decided to wait for the police to sort that rather than pay up and have the unenviable job of getting money back from an insurer! On Monday after work we went and reported it to the Sydney police too, who took a statement from me. That was a pretty informal over the counter thing. Eventually this got passed up to the local police to investigate, and I spent a lot of time chasing them up about it.

Eventually, about 9 months later, the perpetrator was confirmed to the insurance company and they paid up to fix poor Jeffrey, who needed as whole new door. According to the police the guy was found guilty in court, and we thought it was all done and dusted.

But then……

Whilst I was in Brisbane working, Matt called to say I had a Court Subpoena with one week notice. And it wasn’t even a local court, but in Katoomba, 2 hours west of Sydney. I was due to be back in Brisbane that week, but the note on the bottom of the letter said if I didn’t go I could be arrested. So, after a lot of phone calls (mainly unanswered) I finally spoke to the police who said I had to go. I didn’t really think I was a very good witness as Matt parked the car and we didn’t actually see anything, but apparently it was important I went and said it was OK when we parked it and that it wasn’t when we got back.

While I was waiting around I got to meet the other two witnesses, both retired guys who live up in the mountains and has been off bushwalking when the car got hit. We weren’t allowed to talk about the case, but had a good chat about climbing and England!

In the end I had to wait about 2.5 hours before they called me in. You get a choice of oaths to God, or not God which was interesting. The magistrate told me everything was being recorded. She asked me a couple of times to slow down as apparently the recording was only for after the event, and she was taking notes. She as pretty grumpy in general, being quite abrupt with everyone there, seemed pretty unimpressed at the prosecutor and even shouted at the police officer at one point for shuffling his papers!  It was pretty stressful, even though I didn’t do anything wrong! My evidence probably only lasted 10 minutes.

I could have gone after giving my evidence, but having given up the day to go there I  thought I’d stay and see what happened, so listened to the other witnesses which was interesting. The defendant defended himself, which probably wasn’t a great choice as he didn’t seem to have much idea how the whole thing worked. He asked me a few questions, one of which wasn’t actually a question (which the magistrate pointed out) and the other was about why one of the witnesses did something, which obviously I didn’t know!

Apparently the defendant was found guilt the first time, but only had short notice about the hearing so hadn’t been able to attend. Because of that, and a few other things they went ahead with a re-determination and so needed all the witnesses. There were quite a few things in the defendants story which didn’t stack up, but I won’t write the details on here.

It was a really interesting experience, and despite all the evidence nobody will ever know with100% certainty if he was guilty or not, apart from him (and the person who did do it, if he was indeed innocent).

We adjourned for an hour over lunch, and then came back into the court room and waited for the verdict. All in the magistrate summed up what she heard and what she believed to be true (e.g. that we parked the car and it was fine and that it had a big dent when we came back). It took about 20 minutes to go through it all. In the end he was found guilty of tow offences – reversing carelessly and failing to report an accident.

The maximum fine was $2,200 per offence, but he got the same fine he originally had, which was about $400. I’m not sure why. He had to also pay costs, which were $80 – pretty reasonable I thought. I got refunded costs of driving there, lost work time and lunch, but apparently that comes from general taxation, not the guilty party.

All in it was an interesting experience, and Jeffrey is all fixed, so the story has a happy ending.

 

After 13 continuous days of rain, spring had finally arrived in Sydney with a fine sunny day and an opportunity to get out for an adventure. Following an early start from Sydney, Paul and I arrived in Blackheath for the traditional coffee and sandwich from Altitude Deli. This seemed to have also been the plan for many other Sydney climbers, as we kept bumping into people that we knew. We had planned our adventure earlier in the week with 2 others, Andrew and Heath and our goal for the day was Clockwork Orange (20) – a classic multipitch trad climb at Shipley Lower. Given the hoards of climbers in Blackheath, it seemed like a good idea to go a bit further out of the way. While Paul and I waited for food and coffee, Andrew and Heath headed down to set up the abseil.

Following a longer than usual wait, we headed down to the crag and after a bit of bush bashing we eventually found the abseil and the other guys bags. After finding only a carrot and quickdraw tied to the rope, we were a bit sceptical about their abseil set up abilities! However our fears were quickly put to rest when we stuck our heads over the edge to see that this was just a guide rope and the actual abseil set up was on a ledge a couple of metres below. The abseil got the adventure off to a good start. There’s nothing like abseiling down a waterfall to wake you up in the morning.

Clockwork Orange (20)

Clockwork Orange (22)

We arrived at the base of the climb just as the others were finishing the first pitch. Our plan was for Paul to lead the first pitch (18), I was then going to lead the money pitch (20) and look to decide whether to run the next pitch (15) as well. The first pitch was a nice looking orange corner, probably worth a few stars on its own. As the other team worked on pitch 2 Paul led solidly up the first pitch. As Paul was making good progress up the first pitch, I could see a small part of the second pitch and noticed that Heath who was leading the second pitch was hanging on gear. This wasn’t great for my head, as I knew that he was a stronger climber than me. Paul waited for a while on the ledge below the belay whilst the others finished up their pitch. After a while the belay was clear, and Paul headed up and set up his belay on bomber gear in a vertical crack. I followed up and was quickly up at the belay where I got my first proper look at the second pitch.

The line looked amazing. Brilliant orange rock led up a slab and short corner. From there you move out and round a roof, pulling through the roof leads to a crack that steepens as it rises, with the crux probably being the last few moves before the ledge. I started up the slab and was up at the roof before I knew it. Leading out around the roof leaves you feeling a bit exposed, but the pitch had bomber gear (mainly small cams and nuts) throughout, which helped clear my head. Pulling around the roof I was established in the crack, bridging the corner where I could to place gear and rest my arms. Eventually I got to the last few meters where I had seen Heath resting. By this point my arms were pretty pumped, so I placed a couple of final bits of gear and talked myself into just going for it. With a few strenuous, moves I finally found myself pulling onto the ledge that signified the end of the pitch. I was pretty wasted.

Clockwork Orange (22)

Clockwork Orange (22)

I had a quick look around to see what the belay was like – all I found was a small nut and what Heath aptly later described as placing a cam in butter. I quickly decided to run up the next pitch to finish the climb, as Andrew and Heath had done. The third pitch was a easy short groove up a corner, but a combination of pump, rope drag and bad gear made it feel much harder. By the time I had got to the top, I was really wasted. I had to sit down for a couple of moments to compose myself and remember how to set up a belay. Paul followed me up and by the time he got to the top he looked half dead and mentioned something about drinking too much the night before! We got up the climb with no falls, which to me equals success. This was probably the best 20 that I have climbed in the Blue Mountains.

We rounded off the day by heading to Porters Pass via Shipley Upper, where we met fellow Rockies members Shawn and Junko. Paul was too destroyed to climb by this point, however I dragged my way up a couple of sport climbs, Lego Land (23) and Spread’em Baby (22). After that we called it a day and headed back to Sydney. As we were leaving the others were working on Escape Velocity (24). Lets hope for more fine spring days and more adventures to come.

Clockwork Orange (22)

Clockwork Orange (22)

Sheep Roast Club (or Sydney Rock Climbing Club?)

Sheep Roast Club (or Sydney Rock Climbing Club?)

Last year we went to our first annual Sydney Rockies Sheep Roast in the Wolgan Valley, in the Wollemi National Park. You can ready all about it here.

Time has flown, and it got around to that time of year again. The Wolgan is about three hours west of Sydney, traffic permitting. The gravel road has been mainly tarmacked now, so the trip up was quicker this year. We spotted a wombat on the way which was very cute indeed, and a possum eating the leftover pasta Paul had kindly made us.

Possum ready for cooking...

Possum ready for cooking…

On Saturday Matt and Paul went and did a multi-pitch climb they had to retreat from the year before (Secret Swingers and Schmitar on Old Baldie). They felt pretty pleased with themselves having completed that. My friend Heather and I took a walk up Mystery Mountain for some pretty awesome views around the valley, and then had a very nice swim in the river by the campsite to cool off. The campsite had a lot of kangaroos and wallabies hopping around, but just the one wombat this year. We even went on a walk to hunt for some, but with no luck.

Old Baldie

Old Baldie

Saturday night was the sheep roast, which was yummy once again, having been cooking over the spit for about 10 hours.

On Sunday we went on a walk to the glow worm tunnel. At the start of the walk our friend Paul wasn’t too keen on the 8km, 4 hour circuit, so we decided to drive to the other end of the tunnel where we walk was just an hour. The drive of about 40 minutes turned out to be nearer an hour and a half with 35km of bumpy gravel road, but the scenery was pretty cool up on the Newnes Plateau. We even got to drive through a petty basic, mainly unmarked rock tunnel!

The car tunnel

The car tunnel

The glow worm walk was good, and once the other noisy walkers had gone we managed to see lots of glow worms on the tunnel walls. On the way home we stopped for some cool drinks overlooking the Blue Mountains, and took Jeffrey (the car) for a well needed car wash!

WolganCamp

Liking: Finishing by Brisbane bid so I can spend some time in Sydney for a while – woo! Also, it was the Wolgan Sheep Roast weekend which was excellent again and included a wombat 🙂

Disliking: Evenings alone in my Brisbane hotel room. I don’t mind some me time at all, but it got a bit dull by the end.

Watching: We went to see Bill Bailey Limboland tour live in Sydney, and even saw him out the front before hand. It was good, although I have to say not as funny as last time I saw time live. I also finished the British Bake Off on iPlayer and am now watching the Apprentice on that.

Playing:  Our latest game is a small card game called Citadels. We picked it for something small to take on trips with us. After beating Matt the first time, he got much more tactical and slightly evil and beat me by miles the second time. Its a medieval themed city building game, with a lot of tactics and seems pretty good so far. It comes automatically with a couple of expansion cards too to mix it up a bit.

Consuming: I’ve spent a lot of time in Brisbane, so mainly food from the hotel and restaurants near the hotel.

Buying: For our third anniversary present (leather themed) I got some nice chocolate brown Ugg boots. Not the right time of year here, but come winter they will keep my feet lovely and toastie warm.

Thinking about: Upcoming trips – we’re going to have a busy November.

Visiting: We went to the Wolgan valley again for the annual Sheep Roast with the Rockies climbing club which was good fun again. There were a lot of roos and wallabies this time, although only one alive wombat. It was a super cute one though.

Missing: Its got properly hot here now. I know I shouldn’t complain, but I am missing being a comfortable temperature rather than too hot, especially at night.

Looking forward to: In November we have 5 visitors coming over from Horsham in the UK. I’m very excited and looking forward to some time with them here in Sydney (including two days off work from having worked a Public Holiday, woo) and then a week up on the Reef. 😀

Escape Room!

Escape Room!

I heard about the idea of Escape Rooms from our friends Tom and Kate who did one in Prague. I had a quick google about it and it sounded like excellent fun – Crystal Maze meets murder mystery! After some further searching it turned out one was going to open up in Sydney in August, so I subscribed to their newsletter and got an email one day saying they were opening soon and the first 100 people got a big discount off the entry fee.

How it works

We booked online, and got a 30% discount for being one of the first 100 people to go in,. You go in and meet your ‘game master’, who is on hand outside to give you hints if you get stuck, at the expense of 1 extra minute of time. You get ‘locked’ in the room, and have an hour to solve the mystery, unlock the last padlock to press the buzzer. You can press to get the game master in if you want, and there’s a big countdown timer on the wall showing how long you have left, to crank up the pressure. You can play with between 2 and 5 people.

The venue 

While we were waiting the venue had some cool puzzles on the tables for us to play with, as well as Sherlock Holmes style detective outfits you could dress up in and have your picture taken. I did do this, but can’t find the evidence! There are 6 rooms (2 lots of three different puzzles), with computers so the staff an monitor how you’re doing. We were there on the opening day so it was a little bit chaotic, but nothing they won’t sort out with some practice. Two of the room themes are ‘extortion in the dock’ and ‘murder in the pub’, which is an advanced version.

The room 

We went for the ‘robbery in the cottage room’. It was styled like a cottage from the Rocks are of Sydney (the old bit), from the 1900’s. There were lots of period pops like pictures, trunks, dressers, old kettles, old books etc. In the room there were a lot of padlocked things, so you gradually had to solve puzzles and get clues to find keys and open them one at a time. There were a lot of cryptic clues, a whiteboard for working things out and cards with profiles of the different suspects. Along the way there were lots of little surprises, like when we unlocked something and found it actually led to a whole other room!

How did we do?

We got really stumped by one of the puzzles right at the end, which was actually written badly – booo. We were about 1 minute away from getting out and totally could have done it if they tweaked that puzzle.

It was really good fun though, with a nice balance of feeling the pressure of time ticking away and good senses of achievement when you solved a puzzle and got it right. It made our brains work which was good, we worked together well and was interesting becasue its quite a different thing to do.

There is more info about the Sydney one here. There are also ones called Hint Hunt in the UK. I’m keen to go back and try the harder room soon!

Uluru sunset

Uluru sunset

Last weeks post covered the start of our Red Centre adventure. Here’s what we got up to on the rest of the trip.

Day 3 – Kata Tjuta and Uluru sunset

Day 3 was unfortunately a 5am start! There were still a lot of stars about, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had any decent sleep! We were all up, had camp packed up, ate breakfast and were on the bus and off by 6am.

We headed off past Uluru, admiring it out the windows as we went, and on to Kata Tjuta – also known as the Olgas. Kata Tjuta is about 25km west of Uluru, and a collection of many dome shaped rock formations. We went on a walk around them for a few hours, admiring all the cool shapes and the bright blue sky against the red rock and green of the plans. The walk included a climb up between two big rocks with cool views back down the valley afterwards.

The area was very cool. We had researched it, so would have gone if we had done the trip ourselves. It was formed by similar geological processes and around the same time as Uluru, but is nowhere near as well known. Maybe it’s harder to market when it isn’t one big rock. If you’re going to the area I’d definitely recommend a trip.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

After lunch we headed to Uluru and spent some time at the cultural centre, learning about the Aboriginal Anangu people in the area, their culture and why they ask that you show them respect and don’t climb up Uluru, which is a sacred place for them. As well as the spiritual side there are environmental issues with climbing it too – as you’d expect for a natural chunk of rock, there’s no toilets or bins and many people seem to think its OK to leave all their rubbish at the top. We only had about an hour there, and I would have liked to of had more time. There is a board of 8 people who manage Uluru, 4 Anangu and 4 from Government, 1 of which is the tourism rep. They need to all agree to close the walk up, and every year the tourism people vote no. (In 2084 it will stop anyway, when the lease runs out). There are some condition now, where if less than 20% of people visiting walk up, or there are 40 total deaths on the rock they will close the walk (there have been 35 so far).

People walking up Uluru

People walking up Uluru

We did a short part of the walk around the base, saw a cave with Aboriginal art in and learnt about some of the different symbols used in the artwork. The views of the rock from around the bottom are really interesting, so we didn’t see the need to climb up.

That evening we watched sunset while Kellie cooked us dinner. We even had some sparkling wine. The viewing spot was fairly quiet when we got there, but rapidly filled up with A LOT of tour buses. We had a good spot and mainly ignored them, but it did slightly detract from the experience. I guess any other designated spot would be pretty similar though. I had my tripod so got some cool shots. The rock really did change colour as the sun went down and lit it up differently. Apparently geologists have worked out it extends a full 6km under ground which is pretty impressive.

That night we had another fire and ate smores – a toasted marshmallow and piece of chocolate sandwiched between biscuits! Whilst they were good I reckon the marshmallows by themselves are just as tasty. We caped in the swags again, and I slept really well having been so knackered from not much sleep the night before!

Day 4 – Uluru sunrise and base walk

On the final day of the tour we for a lie in and got up at 5.30am – woo! We packed up and headed back to Uluru to watch the sunrise with our breakfast. The sun actually rose slightly to the side of the rock, and it was a bit cloudy so not that impressive. Sunset was definitely better views, but there was nobody else there this time which was much better.

After sunrise we went on the rest of the 10km walk around the base of Uluru. It was really very cool, with loads of different shapes and features in the rock. There were smooth undulating bits, foldy bits, bits with holes and part that looked like a whale. I really enjoyed the walk around the bottom. The classic picture of Uluru is the whole rock with sunrise / sunset, but when you walk around it you realise how many interesting features it has. We saw a watering hole, and some more caves with paintings.

Whale shape in Uluru

Whale shape in Uluru

Some of the areas were specific sacred sites for the Anangu people, so you are not allowed to take epicures of them. They are used for sacred rituals, mainly related to gender, so people of the opposite sex aren’t allowed to see the place, and if you take photos of it they might come across them.  I took a lot of pictures of the other bits though, some of which are below. For me this was my favourite part of the trip, followed by Kata Tjuta.

After the walk we got dropped back at the resort. This is basically the only official place to stay in the National Park, and it has a range of options from camping which we did to hotels, apartments and posh camping in tents. We chilled out there with an ice cream until it was time to get the free shuttle bus back to Ayers Rock airport. This seemed more efficient that completing the full tour by spending 6+ hours in the bus going back to Alice, and about 3/4 of the group did the same thing!

Domey bit of Uluru

Domey bit of Uluru

Overall we really enjoyed the tour. The schedule with the long days and early starts was pretty gruelling, but we managed to fit a lot into a short time, and having all the food and arrangements sorted did make life fairly easy. The tour was pretty active which was good, and we certainly didn’t have any time to get bored. There was some faff, and I probably would have got frustrated about sticking to someone else’s itinerary for anything longer than the few days we did. It was definitely good value for money and we had an excellent time, even if I did feel like I needed a holiday after to recover! 🙂

Foldy holey bit of Uluru

Foldy holey bit of Uluru

Mount Connor

Mount Connor

One of the places on our Australian holiday list was Uluru, and we decided to this year. Being in the middle of the country it gets very hot, so we planned to go around September, once winter was ending so it wasn’t too hot in the day or too cold at night.

We only wanted to take a couple of days off work, so spent a while debating whether to do the trip ourselves, or join in with an organised tour. In the end the big distances involved in the drive, the fact hire car companies don’t insure you to drive at night in case you hit a camel and the cost actually being cheaper for the tour meant we decided to go with the tour. We booked through the YHA, although the company was actually Rock Tours.

The tour was pretty action packed, with a lot crammed in, so this will be a two parter.

Day 1 – Alice Springs

We flew out to Alice Springs on Saturday morning, which is about a three hour plane ride. Time passed quickly with X men on, and we enjoyed seeing a lot of not very much out the window.

Once we landed it was pretty much lunchtime, so we checked into the YHA and headed out for some lunch and an ice cream. We stocked up on some snacks for the trip which was definitely a good move. There was a 24 hour disco as part of a festival week which was pretty comical to look in on.

There is some stuff to do in Alice Springs (but not a weeks worth probably). We didn’t have a lot of time though, so just went on a short walk up Anzac Hill to watch sunset. Alice is bounded by the MacDonald range if mountains, but apart from that it’s not especially pretty, and the sun went down mainly over big industrial units and car parks! We had some nachos for dinner which ended up bring free because the messed up our order, and headed to bed nice and early ready for the tour the next day.

Anzac Hill Memorial

Anzac Hill Memorial, Alice Springs

Day 2 – Kings Canyon and bush camping

We joined the tour very early at 5.25am, and turned out to be the first people on the bus. We spent about an hour driving around Alice picking people up, including going to two places twice because the people failed to get up. Grumble.

After a quick coffee stop Kellie got some good 90s tunes going on the stereo and had us drawing our names and pictures on the bus windows (in special pens) so be could work out who everyone was a bit easier. There were 16 of us in all.

All in it took about 6 hours to get to Kings Canyon. We went on the 3 hour rim walk around the canyon, which was very cool with lots of big red layered rocks. It was about 34 degrees, but a fairly dry heat. We stopped a lot and drank a lot of water (having all taken the 3 litres each recommended by the safety signs). Kellie explained a lot of things to us about the area which was good, including about the rare Pygmy koalas only found in Central Australia. I was sceptical about this, but then we saw some real ones in a tree….Some of the people in the tour believed they were real ones a bit longer than they should have done!

Pygmy Koala

Pygmy Koala

After the canyon walk we drove a couple more hours, stopping to collect some fire wood for the evenings fire. We also caught sunset over Mount Conner, which at first we spot bought might have been Uluru. It looked pretty cool in its own right and would have been interesting to see closer up.

We got the camp pretty late, built a big fire and cooked chilli and damper bread on it which was tasty. Because there was literally nothing around the stars were amazing. I tried some star photos, but need more practice on those. That evening we did bush camping, sleeping out in swags around the big fire. The swag is basically a big thick army style bag with a foam mat inside it. You sleep inside your sleeping bag inside the swag. We got taught about making lines around them and putting salt down to stop snakes and spiders!

It was very cool opening your eyes and seeing so many stars out above you. That said, I didn’t sleep very well because 1) I was scared of snakes and spiders and 2) I was actually really really hot with the combined heat of my winter down sleeping bag, the swag and the fire. I tried to solve this by sticking my arms and legs out to cool off, but that just made problem 1 worse! Cool as it was, and although I did survive the night, I’m enough of a spiderphobe to want to sleep in a tent in future!

Stay tuned for more about Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the next post.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

 

Uluru

Here’s a run down on September.

Liking: After three weeks of pretty wet weather, it’s finally starting to warm up and spring is on the way. 🙂 We did a long coastal walk which was good, starting and ending with a scenic half hour ferry ride.

Disliking: Jellyfish on the beach – a lot of them. Not sure what they were exactly but we decided not to go for a dip!

Watching: I’ve been getting through more Greys Anatomy on the ipad when I’m away in Brissie and we caught the latest Xmen film on the plane to Alice Springs. We watched Transcendence with Johnny Depp on DVD which was pretty good too.

Playing:  Our latest game has been Netrunner. It’s pretty geeky and has a very big rule book. It takes a few goes to get the hang of it, but it’s actually pretty good once you get past the geeky computer references. It’s for two players, basically a defender and an attacker (a hacker). Once I got to be the attacker I enjoyed it much more! There are lots of different combinations with it, so we still have many more to try.

Consuming: I’ve done a couple of very yummy bakes recently including ginger and lime cheesecake bars and some lemon curd fairy cakes. Ummm,cake!

Also it was our third wedding anniversary this month (how time flies) so we went to another fancy restaurant, this time humorously called Oscillate Wildly. It has one chefs hat and looked pretty funny in the calendar. They only do an 8 course degustation menu and don’t tell you in advance what you’re getting so it’s a surprise. My two favourite things were 1) the 100% wagyu beef steak with shitake mushrooms, sesame dressing and a crispy leaf – soooo good and 2) gin and tonic compressed into a big slice of sugar cane, served in a glass of ice. You basically munched but didn’t actually eat the sugar cane and it tasted of very very yummy gin and tonic.

Buying: The rain guage Matt ordered came, about the time it stopped raining much. Apart from that I’m thinking about getting a new phone as mine is dying and with a new contract I can get some international minutes chucked in too.

Thinking about: Nothing in particular! Right now after a relaxing day of baking, eating cake, chatting and sitting in the hot tub I’m thinking about (but battling the urge for) a nap.

Visiting: We went on a three night break to the red centre including Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Uluru which was really good. More about those in upcoming posts.

Missing:  After three 5am starts for our tour I’m missing sleep! Looking forward to a big Sunday lie in this weekend.

Looking forward to: We have tickets to see Bill Bailey on on tour in Sydney in October, which I’m pretty excited about.

Fondant Aussie animals

Fondant Aussie animals

In August we got invited to a friendly Bake Off at a friends place in the Blue Mountains. This was their fourth one, but the first for us. They needed people to bake, and judge. Seeing as I love making and eating cake, I was totally in!

I’ve never done a bake off before, but having watched a lot of Great British Bake Off (which happened to have started again about the time of this bake off), I wanted to do something exciting. A few people I know have made some pretty impressive decorated cakes before. I’ve made a lot of cakes, but had never done sugar work before, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a try. Conveniently I also had a few days off from work, so had some time to research and practice my new skill.

I decided to go with a Great Aussie bake off theme. I particularly like animals, so decided to decorate the cake with fondant animals. I drew a very bad design on some paper, with a round cake, map of Australia and 5 Aussie animals I like around it. I planned to do them sort of to scale, with a big kangaroo as the centrepiece, along with a koala, wombat, snake (becasue its easy) and of course a penguin! I went to a local cake shop and bought some fondant, gel colouring (which doesn’t make the icing runny like liquid colour does) and tools.

I found some guidance about doing a kangaroo and a penguin on the internet which was helpful as I had no idea what to do! I started with the snake as it was basically a sausage! I made it a red bellied black snake, so two sausages stuck together. I bought black and white icing and coloured the white with the gels. Its better to buy black as its hard to get a true back colour with the gel apparently. After the snake I went for the penguin, and was really pleased with how well he came out.

Icing penguin

Icing penguin

The other animals were bigger, so I used something called tylose powder. This is basically plant cellulose, so totally edible. you mix a small bit into the fondant and it makes it harder and easier to work with. It holds it shape better, but also makes the fondant prone to cracking, so you have to be careful not to use too much. The wombat, kangaroo and koala were all made in a lot of stages, and left to harden up over night in various stages of creation. The koala and roo each had a cocktail stick in them to hold the heads on. I also used various things to keep them in shape overnight like little magnets, nail varnish pots and pots of herbs! I used edible glue for some of the limbs too on these ones too. You can use water or alcohol, but I was nervous about how well that would work. Seeing as I’d not done it before I decided to play it safe and use the glue.

Having opted for doing sugar work the outside of the cake was going to look pretty cool, but I knew it had to taste good too. I thought about doing chocolate, but decided this might be a bit obvious. I’ve only made one other cake in our new oven, and it is viscous so I decided to go for a recipe I’d made before. I went for a 4 layer cake, with vanilla, caramel, choc caramel and chocolate layers. I covered it in a chocolate butter cream which I left to harden a bit overnight before covering it with the fondant. The cake has ground almonds in which make it quite robust, so I thought it could cope well with the weight of the animals. You can read about when I made it before, and get the original recipie, here.

 

Sharks!

Sharks!

 

Originally I thought about making the top of the cake green for land, and the sides blue for sea, but I thought the join might be tricky. In the end I went for a blue marbled covering to represent the sea, and made the map of Australia light green. I don’t like really bright dyed cakes as they seem quite artificial, so I kept them pastel tones. I printed a map of Australia out and made a template for it with baking paper, complete with Tasmania.The cake itself was pretty tall, so I thought the sides needed some decoration. I through about ribbon, but then decided it would be better to make more animals! I didn’t want to go much more complicated with many different sea animals, so went for three big sharks circling the cake.

We transported the cake up to the mountains carefully wedged in the car foot well. I kept the animals separate, wrapped up in another tin and put them on when we got there. The bake off was really good. We started with roast lamb and pumpkin pie (also entered into the bake off), with lots of other yummy savoury things including a very nice pasta with yoghurt, pea and mint. The bake off then had EIGHT cakes. They were: my cake, chocolate brioche, lemon cupcakes, peanut butter brownies, sticky date pudding, pear and ginger cake, chocolate chip cookies and ginger cake. Matt made the penut butter brownies which came a respectable fifth out of ten. I had two lots of four cake, which was a lot even for me.

 

Winning cake

Winning cake

I loved the chocolate brioche which came second. My cake won by a pretty big margin – woo! There were actual prizes as well. I got a card with makes clapping noises, a lovely sparkly tiarra (which will be passed on next year) and a $50 Bunnings voucher! I was just happy to get to eat a lot of cake really.

I have a lot of blue icing left so need to think of something else to try next. I think I’ll try and make smaller decorations next time as they’re a bit big to be easily edible. Matt is gradually making his way through them now, part from the penguin which I’ve hidden!

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge

If you want to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge it will set you back at least $300. On the other hand, you can go up on of the pylons for $13!

We’ll do the Bridge Climb eventually, probably when we have some visitors who want to do it. But in the mean time, we thought we’d go up the pylon.

Inside there is a lot about the history and building of the bridge, including a lot of facts about it and cool pictures from when it was built. The views at the top are pretty good, and you dont have the fence in the way like you do when you walk over the bridge itself. You also get a good look at the bridge itself from another perspective, and a good view of the people actually climbing it.

Bridge view

Bridge view

Here’s some Sydney Harbour Bridge facts:

  • The bridge took 8 years to build, with 1,400 men. 16 sadly lost their lives. It cost $4.2m.
  • The bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, measuring 134m from top to the water. Is the second widest long-span bridge in the world. The Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver is wider.
  • The bridge has 52,800 tonnes of steel including the arch and approach. Only 21% of this was from Australia though. The rest was imported from England.
  • The bridge has about 6 million rivets. There were all made in Australia.
  • The bridge can expand and contract with heat by 420mm on the deck and 180mm on the arch.
  • The bridge was meant to be opened (on 19 March 1932) by the NSW Premier with some ornamental gold and opal scissors. But a Captain Francis de Groot from the New Guard parliamentary group beat him to it by riding up on his horse and cutting the ribbon with his sword! He got arrested, they tied it back together and then carried on with the official opening.
  • The bridge used to have a rooftop cattery in the 50’s and 60’s with lots of white cats.
  • You pay between $2.50 and $4 in tolls to drive south over the bridge. Its free to go north.

 

View of the Opera House

View of the Opera House

Giraffes pulling silly faces

Giraffes pulling silly faces

I’ve been working up in Brisbane a lot recently, and at the start of August got to spend a weekend there. Rather than hang around the city, I decided to go for a mini adventure up the Sunshine Coast.

I hired a car from the pace conveniently right next to my hotel and headed up the coast on Saturday morning. On my adventure I went to Australia Zoo, saw the Big Pineapple, stayed in Noosa Heads and headed back down the coast via the Ettamogah Pub and Glasshouse mountains.

Australia Zoo is the Steve Irwin zoo. There’s a lot of crocodiles, conservation messages and  ‘Crocoseum’ where that have a daily show with lots of birds (and crocs). ‘Crikey!’ Animal wise its pretty similar to Taronga, but with less variety and no harbour views. There weren’t any penguins.  My favourite animals of the visit were the tigers. They had two, and while I was there a man was feeding them (grass) and being filmed for a TV show. The tigers were eating out of his hand, getting patted on the head just like giant cats and they played together cheekily.

Big croc - Crikey!

Big croc – Crikey!

Big cat

Big cat

Australia has a lot of ‘big’ things. The Sunshine Coast grows a lot of tropical fruit, so it of course has a big pineapple. I went to see the pineapple. Sadly it was shut so you cant go inside any more and none of the shops there were open. There were people with vans selling fruit but I didn’t really want a whole pineapple to myself! It was worth a look as it was on my route, but I wouldn’t go out the way to see it.

The Big Pineapple

The Big Pineapple

On Saturday night I stayed in Noosa Heads. Its a pretty beach resort type place, which was surprisingly busy in winder, so probably rammed in the summer. I took a walk up to the lookout in the early evening. When I got to the viewpoint at the top, most people were actually looking the other way. It turned out there was a koala in the tree watching the sun go down too whilst having his eucalyptus dinner. Awww! 🙂

I made it back down the hill to the beach for the last of the sunset, and saw a dolphin swimming in the sea quite close to the beach. The up and down movement of its fin convinced me and the other spectators it was a dolphin rather than a s-h-a-r-k.

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

That evening I had some dinner at one of the well known Hogs Breath Cafe chains. My steak was OK, but I am a fan of rare which they don’t do because they slow cook them for 24 hours so they come out medium rare. It was a good texture, but my meal was fairly cold, with undercooked curly fries. I’ll probably need to give another branch a try.

The next day I headed back down the coast and went for some lunch at the Ettamogah Pub. Its a pub on the main Bruce Highway, which was built based on a pub from a cartoon strip dating back to 1959. It looks like a caricature and is very high, with massive beams inside from the trees they felled to make space for it. Ettamogah is Aboriginal for ‘ a good place to drink’. I had some nice squid and admired the cartoons on the walls. You can read more about the pub here. 

Ettamogah Pub

Ettamogah Pub

Between there and Brisbane I went to some lookouts and short walks to check out the Glasshouse Mountains. These are really very cool! Rather than being a mountain range they are 11 of spread out peaks which are plugs from extinct volcanoes. They were named by Captain Cook in 1770 becasue they reminded him of glass furnaces in Yorkshire. I really liked how they stood out from the flat and low coastal plain around them. I didn’t get to walk up any as the two I visited had tracks closed due to rockfalls, but seeing them was very cool.

 

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountains

Glasshouse mountains

CitySeaPlane

Sydney from the sea plane

In July we went on an ariel adventure over Sydney in a sea plane with my friend from the UK Ellie and her friend Jen. We spent a while trying to decide between going in a sea plane or helicopter and in the end decided given the amount of water around the harbour, it was most appropriate to go in the sea plane. We flew out of Rose Bay, in the south west of the harbour. The ride was $255 (about £125) for 30 mins of flying time. We actually got more than this which was good value. From when we taxied along the water to landing again was actually 45 mins. To get to the plane we got a ride in a little boat too.

There were two rows of seats behind the pilot, so 4 people was the ideal number. With 6 someone people would have been sat in the middle so the view wouldn’t have been so good. We got headsets to wear and the pilot gave us commentary about all the places we were flying over as we went.

Matt in the Sea Plane

Matt in the Sea Plane

Once we were all settled in with our life jackets, headphones and seatbelts we taxied along the water and took off. You could see the exact moment when we left the water from the spray stopping which was cool. We cruised up the coast at between 1000 and 1500 feet, pretty close to all the scenery and buildings so the views were very cool. We flew up the coast past Manly, Palm Beach, Barrenjoey and around the Ku-Ring-Gai NP.

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

On the way back we did a figure of eight loop around the city so got some very cool views of the city. It was a great experience, and would have been even better in sunny weather. It was a bit grey the day we went, but still awesome. It was a bit bumpy and my stomach did end up feeling a bit ropey, I think partly from the whiff of fumes before we took off and landed. It was fine within 10 minutes though, and all fine after a bacon and egg roll at the nearby cafe!

Our Sea Plane

Our Sea Plane