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

 

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!

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

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

 

Lorikeets at Port Stephens

Lorikeets at Port Stephens

Last year we went up to the Port Stephens area and stayed over one night in a place called Tea Gardens. I wrote about it here. It was quite wet last time, so we agreed to go back another time and go sand boarding down the biggest (moving?) dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.

We went back in July, with my friend Ellie who was visiting from the UK. Handily she’s been to Sydney a couple of times before, so we could do some slightly different things to the usual visitor stuff.

We headed up Friday night, and stayed two nights in the YHA Samurai Bungalows which came recommended. It was good value and in a nice setting surrounding by tropical looking bush. Allegedly there are koalas around the site and a diamond python, but we only managed to spot the dog and a few kookaburras. We had a cabin room and used the camp kitchen to cook up some bacon and eggs on the barbie for breakfast, Aussie style.

We spent a fair bit of time trying to spot koalas around the area, sadly unsuccessfully. We also did a lot of activities including visiting an avocado farm, a winery (with sampling and purchases), sand boarding, putt putt (mini golf), lunch at the lighthouse with lorikeets and a yummy dinner where Ellie and I shared a dessert tasking plate with 4 mini desserts each –  yummy! 🙂 Matt even got in a spot of climbing.

Putt putt with swinging obstacles

Putt putt with swinging obstacles

Sand boarding is a pretty mental activity, like sledging, but with sand dunes! In Port Stephens, near Anna Bay are some of the biggest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. We paid $20 each and went for a very bumpy fun ride in a bus across the dunes. We got dropped off at the big dunes where we could ride the sandboards down the dunes as much as we liked. There was a small slope to practice and a bigger one. Walking up the dines was quite a bit of effort, so we did about 7 or 8 rides each before our legs gave up. About 50% of the time we ended up with a not entirely smooth landing, getting covered in sand. It was good fun, but the sand got everywhere! I still have it in my bag and coat pockets 3 weeks later! You have to sit on the boards, no standing is allowed for safety reasons and I can see why – staying on it sitting down is hard enough! We escaped with only be getting one minor injury – a scrape and bruise on my leg where Ellie crashed and I hit her from behind.

Sandboard2PS

Ready to sand board

Sand boarding!

Sand boarding!

I’d recommend giving sand boarding a go if you get a chance – just know you’ll get sand everywhere!

Sand boarding bus

Sand boarding bus

Geocaching

Geocaching

 

Matt and I have always liked going for walks. To make them more interesting, a few years ago we took up the hobby of geocaching. This combines walking with some technology, and the excitement of a treasure hunt. There are over 2.4 million around the world! We have almost hit 500 now.

The simplest caches give you co-ordinates, where you go along and find the cache, which might be a tuppaware box, old school film canister, a tricky to find mini-container or something that cunningly looks like a rock or branch. We have found ones before that are an owl, a frog, a bat, a rat and a chameleon! Inside is a notebook where you write your name to prove that you found it. The caches also have toys and little things inside them. The etiquette is you can take something if you put something back. It’s mainly small plastic toys, rubbers, stickers and kids stuff, so it appeals to kids.

There are clues you can look at if you get stuck and can’t find it. Normally you can make a walk to combine several caches, and some are even designed as a series along a circular walk. Once you get into it you can make and place your own too, as long as you register them officially and follow a few simple rules – like not putting it too close to another one or on private property.

Some caches are harder, where you have to solve a puzzle or series of clues to work out where it is actually hidden. And some have a hard ‘terrain’ rating. They go from 1 to 5. We have done a few number 5s which were very cool, one where Matt had to abseil down a cliff and another one where we kayaked to the middle of Lake Wanaka in New Zealand.

Another dimension of geocaching is ‘Travel Bugs’.  These are objects which you put a special registered tag on, and put them in a geocache. Other people take them, log them and move them to another geocache. You can set them objectives like wanting to go to lakes, or get to the other side of the world or reach a specific destination. We registered one which is a blue plastic duck and can track him online (his number is 79Z2HD). He’s been a massive 31,382.4 km since November 2010, hitting 164 places and is currently in Holland. We’re going to make another one soon, and have a go at placing our first actual geocache too.

You can geocache with just a pen and a GPS enabled mobile phone, but a GPS is good if you want some more accuracy, especially if you’re going into woods where the phones don’t always have good signal.

You can read more about it on the official website, here, and register an account.

Why not give it a try?

Batty cache

Batty cache

Our kayak

Our kayak

In March we finally got around to hiring a kayak and going for a paddle on the Harbour.

We got a duo (for two people) and of course Matt got the back seat so he could control the steering with the rudder and encourage me periodically by saying “Keep paddling Elly”!

We rented it from Spit Bridge, which is in the Middle Harbour. Its quieter up there as the main Harbour gets really busy with lots of boats and can be quite choppy too. We went for the 5+ hours option, and started about 9.30am. The rental company had a pretty laid back Australian attitude. They gave us a map, but nobody asked us if we had paddled before or had any idea what we were doing. We paddled until about 3.30pm which turned out to be pretty hard work! We were both knackered by the end and very achey the next day.

Captian Matt

Captian Matt

There were a lot of pretty fancy yachts and sailing boats around, as well as some houses with seriously good views and water access. We saw a lot of fish and birds, and luckily no sharks! We did practice some ultra fast paddling a few times, in case we needed to escape in a hurry! We paddled around lots of little coves, some of them quite peaceful as they were too shallow for the big boats. We went up to some Mangroves and stopped a couple of times for a Tim Tam snack in a picnic area at a wharf, lunch on the beach and then  a final stop for an ice cream before dropping the boat back off. 

Me and my kayaking hat

Me and my kayaking hat

The boat people warned us about some winds expected in the afternoon, and sure enough they came. We got off the water about 9- minutes before a giant thunder storm which was good timing. The weather the next day was pretty wet, so we did well with our choice of day.

It was a good day out and I’d be keen to paddle some other bits of the Harbour or other places in future as its a good way to see things and get some exercise too. It felt cooler on the water compared to when we got off it. Next time though maybe we wont try and go quite so far!

 

Fancy houses

Fancy houses

Stalagtites

Stalagtites

In January we had a long weekend for the Australia Day Bank Holiday. We spent it up in the Blue Mountains and had an awesome sheep roast with some friends on the Saturday. On the Sunday we went to visit the Jeonlan Caves, which have been on to the To Do list for a while. Thy’re about an hour west of Blackheath up in the Blue Mountains and there are about 12-15 different caves which you can visit there (all for a few of course). You can read more about them here.

Cave curtain

Cave curtain

We picked out the River Cave as its one with smaller groups and I liked the sound of the underwater River Styx and reflective pools. We’ve been to a few caves before, including recently Hastings Cave in Tasmania (see here) but I’ve not seen one with a big river in so decided to go for something different. The tour was 2 hours for $42 and is labelled as the most strenuous with over 1200 steps!

Twisty cave feature

Twisty cave feature

Before we even got on the tour the drive into the caves was cool, with the entrance including driving through a massive cavern. We were a bit early so went for a walk along the outside lake first, which was very blue becasue of all the suspended limestone particles. We also saw my firsty wild deadly red-bellied back snake. It was on a path which you could easily avoid and marked with this helpful warning sign! (Alight, so I’ll admit I walked along it when there was no snake there, and then when we came back via the higher path about 20 minutes later, there was Mr Snakey. Had the sign said it was a deadly one I might not have gone there!)

Snaaaaaaaaake

Snaaaaaaaaake

Anyway, onto the tour. Our guide was called Sam, was very friendly and took a pretty relaxed approach to the tour which ended up taking about 2 hours 20 minutes so we got some extra value for money in! There were probably about 25 of us on it and the tour included part of the popular Lucas Cave too. Some of the formations in the caves were very cool, particularly the large curtains, stalagmites and stalactites with sparkly crystals in which were very pretty and of course the pool of reflections. The water was so clear and still you could see in the pool really well, it was super reflective and it was in a big cavern all of its own with a walkway along the side. Also we didn’t end up accidentally in Hades, which is always a bonus!

Pool of Reflections

Pool of Reflections

We will probably go back to see some of the other caves which only take groups of 8. The Orient Cave is the oldest in the world (I think) and the Temple of Baal is meant to be very good too. With our tickets we get half price on all other cave trips for a year too and we’re bound to be back int he area for some climbing sooner or later.  

Rock wallaby actually on a rock

Rock wallaby actually on a rock

Quote from our Youth Hostel in Melbourne

Quote from our Youth Hostel in Melbourne

On our mammoth Summermas holiday I spent some time reflecting why I like travelling and seeing new places. The hostel we were in in Melbourne had a lot of people in their 20s with maps and leaflets who generally seemed to be off on adventures as well.

I was tempted by a gap year before Uni but never had one, safe I knowledge I could go travelling later. But despite a lot of excellent holidays and short trips, I never really did the whole travelling adventure thing. Maybe that explains our emigration now.

I enjoy seeing new places and also meeting new people when I’m brave enough to talk to them and not all British and reserved! I’m not really sure why, I just find it a stimulating experience to see new places and do new things and I have just a general curiosity about other places in the world. Maybe that’s my inner geographer. I think you can learn a lot from seeing other places and different ways of doing things, thinking and living.

So I don’t really have a conclusion other than I like seeing new places and hope I can carry on doing it for a long time! The worlds a big place after all.

Sailing on the Harbour

Sailing on the Harbour

Our friend Andrew, (The Captain) from climbing is a bit of a sailor (as if you couldn’t guess from the nickname). It runs in his family and his dad built a 8 meter yacht which they keep moored up at  Henley Bay (not the Thames) on the Parammatta River (north west of the Harbour).

This December Captain Andrew was at a bit of a loose end so suggested a group of us take the boat out for a day on the water on the Harbour. The crew was Captain Andrew, me, Matt, First Mate Onni, Pirate Stuart, Heather, Dal and Ruby. 8 people was a bit of a squeeze for the boat apparently, but we did OK and nobody fell overboard.

We met about 10am, made sure we all had a wee (more about that later) and set off for the boat. Andrew has a bad shoulder after recent surgery, so Matt did a good job paddling to and fro with everyone in the rowing boat to the main boat. Before long we had hoisted the mainsail and we were off! We went a long way with the sail and then hoised the jib (a smaller sail) for a bit more power as it was a calm day with not a lot of wind. The temperature was probably in the high 20s, so very pleasant.

Captain Andrew knew what to do, gave good instructions and Onni had sailed before, so between them they had it all under control. We did lots of tacking of the jib and mainsail. Luckily nobody managed to get hit in the head with the boom! We had a quick snack of some very healthy fruit, carrots and hummus – between 8 people we had 5 pots of hummus, mainly all different! We sailed under the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House which was pretty cool!

After a while we broke out the engine for a bit more power and some control around the main Harbour area where it was a bit busier. It was a bit choppy too and we got some good angles on the boat and bouncing about in the wakes of the bigger vessels. Stuart kept us all entertained with some pirate chat up lines.

We went along the north shore of the Harbour and dropped anchor in Taylor Bay for lunch (including more hummus) which was nice and peaceful. Matt and Stuart quickly got in the water and went for a snorkel. After a while we all joined in with a swim too. The boat was quite small and had no loo, so the choice if you needed a wee was to go in a bucket down below with a ‘modesty towel’ over the hatch or get in the sea which is where it ends up anyway. This and the nice sunny weather tempted even me to have a swim!

After lunch we headed back in a leisurely fashion with a bit more jibbing and motoring. Captain Andrew provided an excellent service and let Matt and I off at Luna Park as we had to get home and back out for my Christmas party. The idea of sailing in the sun and swimming in the sea before a Christmas bash is still very strange, but very good!

It was an excellent day with great company and I’m keen to do it again.

 

 

Wombat2

We have been here in Oz one year today now. Here’s a look back at what we’ve been up to so far.

Way back in February we left the UK on the 12th, having not had snow long before, and arrived on the 14th at silly o clock. We got sorted in a temporary flat in Glebe for the first month and got in with acclimatising to the heat, checking out the different food in the ships,learning what stuff cost, setting up all our finances, started out new jobs and of course went flat hut gong for somewhere to live! We also saw our first semi-wild kangaroo in a nature reserve and a giant diamon python!

In early March we moved into our new flat and spent a weekend with a hire car buying bits and pieces so we could live in it – plates, pillows, food, towels, pots and pans, all that malarkey. After a couple of weeks we got our fridge delivered, followed closely by the wooden lounge furniture and new corner sofa – it was an expensive month! ~Matts sister Lizzie and her friend Steph stayed for a few days after that – good timing! We had our first trip to the Blue Mountains over Easter, camping in a  tent my boss lent us and I discovered the wonder of chocolate hot cross buns

In April we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean at the Opera House and had the excitement of Container Day when all our stuff from the UK turned up!

In May I made myself an epic 4 layer birthday cake and we tried out snorkelling. We checked out lots of exciting animals at Taronga Zoo for my birthday too.

June was the super cool Vivid light festival and my friend Ellie came to stay from the UK. The family expanded to include Jeffrey the car.

July was a fairly wet month with a lot of board games. We also had a pretty chilly ‘Christmas in July’ up in the Blue Mountains with the Rockies climbing club.

We took another step on the road to Australian integration in August by buying an Esky and spent a long weekend down the coast in Jervis Bay with a lot of wild kangaroos (very exciting) and the whitest sand in the world.

Our first trip to the Hunter Valley wine area was in September, followed closely by another one in October where we hired bikes and cycled around. We went to a lovely restaurant (Sails at Lavender Bay) for our second wedding anniversary with views of the bridge and opera house .Matt competed in a Dragon Boat race with Thales and we got some plants to brighten the patio up a bit.

After being given a Wombat Guarantee we headed for the Wolgan Valley in October for some climbing and a sheep road, and I was not disappointed. We also got our BBQ which we have been using a lot ever since.

November was pretty busy. Phil and Rhiannon visited us from the UK which was excellent, and we hijacked some of their holiday to visit Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and Grampians with them. We also had a visit from Kat Banyard and spent a weekend down in Canberra checking out museums.

Of course in December it was time for Summermas (hot Christmas) and a holiday around Tasmania with lots of wildlife, walks, countryside and food.

Summermas continued into January with a road trip back up the Sydney from Melbourne, we went back to work again and we went to see the Lion King show.

And here we are, one year on! We have decided to stay another year as there’s so much else to see and do, so were busy trying to see if we can find a place to rent in a different area with a view now. Rather than just summarising what we’ve done, stay tuned for another post on some thoughts about how it’s been going so far.

Exciting news – we have a new page on our website!

On our fridge, and in more detail in my head, we have a To Do List. It’s not one of those boring ones about hoovering and chores though, but about all the places to go and things to do while we’re over here in Australia. We’ve added the new page to share it with you and you’re more than welcome to give us ideas too! I’ve also summarised what we have done so far with handy links in case you want to know about something in particular.

You can get to it by clicking the button under the main picture called To Do List (to the right of Home) or by clicking HERE.

firework

Happy New Year blog fans!

Hope you’re all having a fab time. We are currently down in Tasmania away from lots of computers at the moment, so I wrote this in advance and scheduled it (like a lot of the posts).

I suppose as well as a big party its natural to reflect at New Year on how the year has gone, what you’ve been up to and what lies in the year ahead.

So last year started with an excellent M themed fancy dress party with our friends The Pauls from round the corner in Horsham. Not only did we have outfits, staying awake till gone midnight was a pretty good achievement as we landed back from New Zealand that day with some serious jetlag. It seems like ages ago now – this year has gone so fast!

Obviously a lot has changed with our move over to Sydney on 11th Feb, both starting new jobs and setting up in a new flat including buying a lot of new furniture and bits and pieces (and new Short family member Jeffrey the car). It’s all going well here which is great and I’m glad we were brave enough to come. Time will tell what happens next.

Instead of New Year Resolutions, here are some wise words to think about (I couldn’t choose one!)

‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it…unless is agrees with your own reason and common sense.’

‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.’ 

‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.’

Happy Christmas everyone!

We decided we should have a Christmas Special blog post, so have finally finished preparing the adventure video from our New Zealand honeymoon. There will be a more scenic video at some point too.

You can read more about our awesome honeymoon here. This time last year we celebrated our first hot Christmas with the Millis family in Wanaka, including a picnic and spot of kayaking in Lake Wanaka. Also featured in the video are sky-diving, bungee jumping, Queenstown luge, caving, sea kayaking, lake kayaking, canyoning, jet boating, cycling and of course some rock climbing!

Warning: This video contains footage of what may be considered ‘extreme’ activities. Sensitive parents may find some scenes distressing. No Shorts were harmed in the  making of this film. 

drag1

My inner motorsport enthusiast was super keen to go and see some Drag Racing recently at Sydney Dragway. It was the Sydney finals.

We went on a scorchingly hot Sunday when it hit 35 degrees with not too much shade. The day opened with a marching band playing the Rocky theme tune – awesome! 🙂

Basically two cars go head to head to see who can cover a 1/4 mile track the quickest. They record the top speeds as well. There were a whole host of different categories, and I didn’t really understand what the difference between them all . They had Nitro cars, alcohol powered cars, door slammers (?!), outlaw (?!) retro cars, drag bikes, full on dragster cars (Top Fuel) with parachutes and some others which I can’t remember.

The word of the day was definitely noisy. We took ear plugs and certainly needed them. Everything was really loud, especially the custom dragsters – they got to over 400kph and the ground literally shook when they raced.

It was a pretty entertaining day, and you could walk around the pits and see the repairs and work being done on all the cars. I have to say though 7 hours was a tad too long to watch two cars going in a straight line, so we might not go for the whole day next time!

It was also a total bargain. We paid $40 each online and when we got there, because was female, I got the laydee price of $20, so got $20 back. We also got free Top Gear magazine and another motoring magazine too. There weren’t any men in dresses and heels though which was a slight disappointment.

Brooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom!

drag2

The wine haul

The wine haul

In late October Matt and I went for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley. We had it booked before his work trip came up, and thought we might as well go again and see some different wineries. You can read about our first trip here.

We headed up Friday night and got dinner in Cessnock on the way. We stayed just north of there in the YHA for a bargainacious $85 a night. It was in a good rural location although the showers were cold!

Adventurously, we had hired bikes for the Saturday to ride around the wineries! Given the last time I rode a bike resulted in a broken helmet and a lot of scrapes, I was a bit nervous, but decided to face my fear! We did well, and I reckon we cycled about 25km! It was mid 20’s in termprature, so pretty warm but not too hot with a nice breeze. The day went a bit like this:

10am: Drive to Cessnock for breakfast – bacon and egg rolls to set us up for the ride

11am: Get the bikes and helmets all sorted and set off up the road

12am: First winery – Calais Estates! I was well ready for a nice chilled white after the longest cycle i’ve done in a long time.

12.30pm: On to Waverley Winery. The only winery doing aged wines, although the lady was vague about what counts as aged. We enjoyed the 2006 Cab Sav.

1pm: First Creek winery. I really enjoyed a lot of the wines here, and our pourer was very friendly and helpful.

2pm: Lunch at the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop. We had the large cheese pizza and chips to share. It was  totally epic amount of cheese. We didn’t even have space for a nice palette cleaning ice cream after.

Cheese overload

Cheese overload

2.30pm: Tamberlaine winery. These guys make organic wine and some ‘biodynamic’ wine too. I was keen to go as we had some of their wine at a restaurant and really enjoyed it, but none of the ones we tasted really hit the mark. Heading off from there we cycled past a dead kangaroo which was pretty upsetting.

3pm: Olive, jam, chutney, oil and balsamic tasting at the Hunter Olive Centre. We bought some caramelised balsamic – yummy!

4pm: Final winery – Hungerford Hill. The winery is shaped like a barrel. They had some good drops worth a trip back for too.

Proof of me with a bike

Proof of me with a bike

After a shower and rest back at the YHA we walked 450m for dinner at Potters Brewery just up the road. We were stuffed by then really so didn’t managed much more food and drink before tottering off to bed tired, full and happy!

We didn’t buy any wines on the Saturday, but made some notes (yes – In am that organised) and went back with the car and picked them up on the Sunday – after another nice breakfast of course (Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon for me and with Bacon for Matt.)

At Waverleyx we inquired about the free case. Turns out they had some 1999 Chardonnay and 2001 Shriaz that were getting near the end of their lives. They reckoned most were fine, there might just be the odd bad one as long as we drank them soon. So we took the plunge and spent $100 on fancy aged Cabernet Sauvignon for Christmas and took the 12 free bottles! We also went back to my favorite winery from the first trip – Pepper Tree – to buy their liqueur wine I didn’t buy last time. Turns out it sold out, but I got the summer substitute version which was also pretty yummy!

We went on a house long wine tour at Tyrells for $5 too. It was jam packed full of information and very interesting. The guide was good and the winery has loads of history, still being family owned in the 5th generation. At the wine makers reunion dinner of 17 guys they drank 84 bottles!

We ended up with 20 bottles, slightly more than planned but with the free case they came in at an average of just over $10, so can’t complain! For the wine buffs, we got:

  • 2 x 2010 Organic Pianco Puro from First Creek ( a mix of Verdelho, Chardonnay and Semillion)
  • 1 x 2011 Late Harvest Shiraz from First Creek
  • 2 x 2013 Hunter Valley Early BIrd Semillion from Hungerford Hill
  • NV Muscat from Pepper Tree in fancy bottle
  • 2 x 2005 Cab Sav from Waverley Wines
  • 6 x lottery 1999 Chardonnay from Waverley Wines and
  • 6 x lottery 2001 Shiraz from Waverley Wines

All in all a top weekend! 🙂

Vines

Vines

Wolgan valley

Wolgan valley

Back in October we went with the Sydney Rockies Climbing Club to the annual(ish) Sheep Roast and climbing trip in the Wolgan Valley.

On Friday night we  headed up from Sydney. The Wolgan is about 3.5-4 hours from Sydney to the north west. You go through the Blue Mountains, then on some more. Eventually you go 35km up a dead end, half gravel road which is pretty adventure like. It used to be all gravel , so we considered ourselves lucky. I was given a Wombat Guarantee for the weekend and I wasn’t disappointed. On the way up we saw 3 from the car, and then I saw another one on the first night during a trip to the loo in the dark. Sadly it was too dark for a photo.Also, they do look slightly less cute and a bit more evil in the dark! We also spotted a lot of wallabies.

The campsite was in a sort of bowl, surrounded by cliffs on most of its side, and a stream along one side which I took a couple of dips in to escape the heat. arriving in the dark and then waking up to the view on Saturday morning was cool.

Saturday we went for some climbing at the Coke Ovens. It used to be a Coke mining and production area, big around the 1950s, but its shut down since. On the walk in you go past the old coke ovens. One two pitch climb and a single pitch one. It was super hot, so we learnt a valuable lesson about making sure we take a lot of water.

Saturday morning the experts prepared the sheep on a full on spit over a fire. The spit also had a whole rump and chicken on it. Some diligent club members stayed behind all day to gradually turn and cook it. When we came back it smelt awesome! The lamb was great and the beef was even better – sooooo tender. On Sunday I stayed around the campsite relaxing and reading my book, while Matt went off on a harder climbing adventure with Paul G.

Overall an excellent weekend. We’ll be sheep roasting again next year!

Fire cooked meat

Fire cooked meat

 

ClimbFit

ClimbFit

We live about a 15 minute walk fro, the ClimbFit climbing wall in St Leonards, so go there fairly often.

Recently they did a ‘lights out’ night. They turned off all the lights and you were only allowed in if you had a head torch. They gave out free glow sticks and of course sold head torches to hapless customers who turned up without them for $50 each!

It was even more busy than usual at the wall, novelty factor I guess. It was a good experience, but for me the novelty was probably slightly outweighed by it being so hot from all the people and so busy there wasn’t much choice of route. By the end when it quietened down a bit it was better, and they cranked up the good tunes so it was like being in some sort of crazy climbing disco!

Maybe one day we’ll do some climbing in the dark outside and get some cool light trail photos.