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!

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

 

Port Stephens

Port Stephens

Back in late February we made a last minute decision to get out of Sydney for the weekend (at 7pm on Friday). I was put on the spot a bit, and came up with the idea of Port Stephens, about 2.5 hours up the coast, which I’d heard good things about.

Luckily I managed to convince Matt we should get a cheap motel rather than camp, as it was meant to be a super wet weekend. We set off on Saturday morning and the weather was terrible! The wipers were working flat out, and I was cursing Matt for saying he missed overcast damp days!

Port Stephens is actually a habour rather than a place. It was named by Captain Cook when he passed by in 1770. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend:

Tomaree lookout: We walked a kilometre or so up a steep hill to the lookout over the bay and the view was excellent. There are lots of little islands, nice sandy beaches and hills that run down into the sea. One of the islands has penguins living on it, so I’ve pencilled that in for a bat trip or kayak adventure!

Tomaree Lookout

Tomaree Lookout

Tea Gardens: The place we stayed was a small town called Tea Gardens. We arrived too late for high tea, but got a famous fish cone dinner at the pub instead (a bargain for $10), followed by some ice cream sundaes and chocolate fudge cake.  

Wildlife potential: The area had good wildlife potential with a koala reserve down the road from our motel and lots of koalas in the general area and some dolphins who come up the river to feed in the mornings. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any exciting wildlife beyond a lot of giant pelicans, but it was nice knowing it might be around!

Myall Lakes NP: On Sunday we drove back via the Myall Lakes NP and went on a chain ferry across the lake. It was scenic with a giant lake on one side of the road and big dines and the sea on the other.

Giant sand dunes: We went to the edge of the giant sand dunes on the Worimi Conservation lands. According to the guide book they are the ‘longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere’ and stretch over 35km. I’m not sure how they define it, as really all sand dunes move, but anyway it looked cool. You can go on 4×4 rides, try sand boarding and ride a camel! It was a soggy day so we added that to the to do list for another time.  

Camels!

Camels!

There were lots of tourist activities in the area including Putt Putt (mini golf), a shark and stingray centre, a toboggan run, an aviation museum and plenty of things involving driving through or boarding down sand dunes. It would be a good fun place to spend another weekend when the weathers a bit better!

UnionFlag

 

So I pretty much spent April in the UK on holiday, visiting friends and family. So here’s a quick run down on that:

Liking: Top of the list of course is seeing all my family and friends in the UK who I have missed a lot. Also having access to all the things I’ve been missing, like Marmite, familiar clothes shops, fields and seeing generally old stuff. Also I found out a couple of weeks in to my trip that we had our new visa granted, so we can stay on working in Australia without getting deported and I can start my new job – this was a very big relief!

Disliking:  It was pretty damp the first few days of my visit and quite a few other days too. I’ve noticed a few differences like not having anywhere to fill up water bottles, kids smoking down lane ways and the high cost of trains (which only have the one level). Also the flight was very tedious and on the way back I ran out of films I actually wanted to watch.

Watching: I’ve watched some BBC news and Series 1 of Wire in the Blood which I got downloaded on my ipad. I’ve also started Dexter in the iPad and finished Season 1 just after I got back. On the plane out I watched American Hustle, the Book Thief, the Secret life of Walter Mitty (poor) and half of Series 4 of Downton Abbey plus some Big Bang Theory. On the way back they didn’t have the rest of Downton Abbey which was pretty dissapointing. Instead I watched 12 Years a Slave (the best of the bunch), Frozen, 47 Ronin, Savin Mr Banks and Last Vegas. 

Consuming: . So many things! Marmite, cream teas, welsh cakes, chips with vinegar on, fish and chips from the chippy, melting middle fish cakes, pub grub, dairy milk, mini eggs, dark chocolate hob nobs, full Englaish breakfast, roast dinner (both on the same day) the list goes on…

Buying: Clothes! One of the main issues I have in Sydney is a lack of affordable decent work clothes which suit me. I’ve been stocking up on my trip and got a couple of pairs of Clarks work shoes too.

Thinking about:  Where is home? (Deep stuff). I keep referring to going back to Sydney as flying home, but then also feel like the UK is my real home at the same time.

Visiting: I’ve been touring the south of the UK visiting a lot of people and places. In all I’ve stayed in 8 different places (one twice).

Missing: Matt – I didn’t see him for most of April!

Looking forward to: Staying in Australia longer and getting stuck into a new job (although my lazy side would quite like to carry on slacking!). In the UK I also did some planning with our friends coming to visit in November, and we’re taking a trip with them to the Great Barrier Reef which I’m excited about already!  

 

Our house in Feb 2013 just before we left

Our house in Feb 2013 just before we left

I’m coming to the UK soon for a holiday. In fact, I’m probably in the air now. Before leaving I thought about all the things I want to do while I’m over, and here’s the list. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Visiting:

1. See family
2. See friends
3. Hang out in a country pub, preferably with a fire
4. Visit a building over 200 years old
5. Walk in the countryside, potentially with a dog
6. Have some chips on Brighton beach
7. Go and see our house and nose about inside

Food and drink: (There seem to be a lot of things in this category)

8. Drink a lot of tea
9. Eat a proper cream tea
10. Eat a pub dinner including chips with vinegar on them
11. Eat a roast dinner
12. Eat a lot of marmite and buy lots of smuggle home
13. Eat melting middle fishcakes and Tesco veggeburgers (not together)
14. Have a BBQ using charcoal

Purchases: 

15. Go clothes shopping (including in H and M, Next, Debenhams and of course Marks and Spencers)
16. Get some work shoes from Clarkes
17. Buy the board game Cards Against Humanity

Other stuff 

18. Watch the BBC News
19. Play board games
20. Go on a single decker train
21. Complain about the weather
22. Sort out some stuff we left in people’s attics (not my idea of fun, but I feel a moral obligation)

I’m looking forward to you Poms stll at home helping me out with these!

22. March 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: Travel · Tags: ,
Camping by Wilsons Promontory

Camping by Wilsons Promontory

In December / January we went on a long camping trip, with lots of moving between places. Lots of Aussies seem to camp in the same spot for a week or two and bring the kitchen sink with them – I’m not joking – we did see a portable table with a built in sink, plumbed and everything! Anyway, I thought I’d write a bit about some (car based) camping tips which I find helpful. Of course if you’re in the UK you can ignore this for another few months!

1. Starting at the beginning, pack the right stuff. As well as the obvious stuff like a stove, lighter, gas, sleeping bag, tent, mat and a torch, there are some other bits and pieces I tend to take which just make camping life better:

  • Tongs for the inevitable BBQ and a spatula
  • Our mini frying pan
  • A scourer, washing up liquid and tea towel as you don’t always get these and I hate greasy stuff
  • I have both a summer and winter sleeping bag and often take both if the weather might vary as I hate being cold! I still use my down bag even in Oz as I like being toastie
  • Bug spray
  • A canvas bag to use for taking my clothes in to the shower. This also comes in really handy for transport things about like food for your lunch or dinner from the car to the picnic spot
  • A stuff bag thing – I forget its proper name, but like a semi- dry bag with a roll top. I stuff all my dirty clothes in this to keep them separate from my clean ones. I hate having to rummage for ages in my bag to find stuff. I know it’s too organised, but it makes me happier!
  • Some 2 litre water bottles to freeze and put in the esky to save buying ice

2. Bring some luxury items (if you have space). My number one luxury item for camping is a full size real pillow, followed by a chair. The pillow is so much better for sleeping, and considering you sleep for (hopefully) 8 hours a night it’s definitely worth it! This trip I’ve also thought it would be worth investing in a small folding table, just to save cooking on the floor when there’s nowhere else to sit and we can play board games on it too!

3. Pack the car efficiently! I put all the camping bits and pieces like the pans, stove and cutlery in a big box so they are all together. Admittedly it’s often hard to find things and all the things you want are always at the bottom, but it’s a step in the right direction. Work out the best way to pack the car, and try and replicate it when you move campsites. That way you’ll always know where stuff is. I put pillows on the back seat in case I want a cheeky nap during the drive!

4. Get a decent tent! If you’re going to be camping a lot it’s well worth investing in something which isn’t a dome or pop up tent! They might be cheap but I’m afraid they just won’t cut it in any dodgy weather. Even if they don’t actually fall down they’ll wobble about all over the place, noisily, possibly even bashing you on the head! I love our tent although sadly it now has a dead pole which I hope we can fix. It’s semi-geodesic which means it basically stands up on its own even without any pegs, apart from the porch (hence the semi part).

5. Get a tent erection routine. We are pros at putting our tent up now. We have done it so much we know our jobs and get on with it pretty quickly without even talking about it! If you’re new to your tent, just make sure you communicate about who should be doing which job and remember it’s meant to be fun!

6. Organise the inside of your tent too. I know I’m over organised, but I have a system going on for the inside of the tent too. I like to know where stuff is and have a few things I keep my my head in the night which I’m likely to need including my book, water bottle, torch and watch. (Not you’re phone – you’re meant to be camping and away from it all so turn it off!) I also generally keep my shoes inside now, at the foot end. Even places where there aren’t nasty spiders about possums tent to like running away with shoes apparently! Remember to camp with your head up hill!

7. Plan for bad weather or burning! Make sure you take some waterproofs, and sun cream if the weathers that way inclined.

8. Take games! No camping trip is complete without some games, even if it’s just a basic pack of cards. Either games or a good book are an excellent way to pass the evening once it gets dark.

I reckon most people are just put off by traumatic childhood experiences with leaky tents from Duke of Edinburgh and sleeping bags from Argos designed to be used inside in summer – it doesn’t have to be like that so get out and give camping a go!

Remember, with the right attitude and preparation, camping can definitely be fun. I almost always sleep really well in the tent and enjoy the whole outdoorsness of it – especially when you have kangaroos and wombats to entertain you too!

When’s your next trip?!

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.

08. March 2014 · 2 comments · Categories: Guest post · Tags: ,

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When our friends Phil and Rhiannon visited, we came up with a new idea – guest blog posts! Rather than us doing all the work, we figured we could get our guests to write a bit about their trips to Australia and stays with us. Not only does it save us a job, it adds some variety for you and promotes tourism!

So, here is our first guest blog post from Phil and Rhainnon

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Name(s): Phil and Rhiannon

Home: Godalming, England

How do you know Matt and Elly: Originally from the University of Surrey Canoe Club

When did you visit and how long for:  We visited Australia from the 16th Nov 2013 but we arrived at Matt and Ellys on the 26th. We stayed in Sydney for 3.5 days and then Matt and Elly joined us for a further 4.5 days exploring Melbourne, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road.

Have you been to Sydney before? No

Have you been to Australia before? No

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We were already planning to go to Australia when we found out that Matt and Elly were considering the move, so we may have been one of the few people looking forwards to them heading out there.  We quickly arranged our visit once their jobs and leaving date had been sorted.

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As this trip wasn’t solely to see Matt and Elly, we started off in Port Douglas where we visited the Great Barrier Reef (amazing) and Daintree, the world oldest Rainforest (also very very good, and we got to see a wild crocodile). We then got the train to Airlie Beach for the Whitsunday Islands and whilst no cheaper than flying and slower the break from the airport was nice and the opportunity to see the scenery meant we got to see, albeit briefly, a lot more of Oz. Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island were lovely. Firstly we went sea kayaking and came back engaged(!), then we had a failed sailing trip when the other clients found their sea legs were really rather nonexistent (but did briefly see ex canoe club member Tris) and then had a couple of lovely days at a resort, enjoying the facilities, exploring and going out to visit Whitehaven beach. 98% silica, very clean, white, uniform, 7km long and squeaky – definitely worth a visit!

 

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Next we arrived in Sydney. We found a very reasonable tour and host rate of two large jars of Marmite and lots of Dairy Milk. Unsurprisingly we did a number of the main attractions starting with the harbor bar, eating some kangaroo and emu pizza, getting a ferry to Watsons bay, walking over (although not up) the Harbour Bridge, visiting Hyde Park, eating some Nitrogen Gelato, visiting Bondi and going walking in the Blue Mountains.

Melbourne followed Sydney but we arrived there in a very roundabout way travelling first along the Great Ocean Road and through/around the Grampians. I don’t want to go into too greater detail to our Melbourne travels as I want to leave Elly and Matt something to blog about but I thought that Koalas were easier to spot than I imagined, ‘The Grotto’ on the GOR was unexpectedly good, the Grampians were very hot, Crazy Golf was not to be and that the King Kong puppet (in the theatre story of the same name) was outstanding but the story needed a happy ending!

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Verdict:  8/10   Definitely go and visit – there is something for everyone and of course, Matt and Elly to see, – but when people tell you that food is expensive, imagine it as expensive and multiply it by another 1.5! It would be almost perfect if it was British Countryside sort of green and also a little bit closer to get to…

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Day 18: Philip Island to Albury
4071 km, 67 hours 9 mins

When in Melbourne I had a bit of a change of plan for my trip and swapped a second night in Philip Island for a night near Lake Hume on the NSW VIC border. This meant I didn’t have an 8.5 hour drive one one day and I realised that apart from the penguins there wasn’t too much on Philip Island to warrant a second day there.

So I efficiently packed up the tent all by myself, and managed to get it back in its bag! The lady from the caravan park even complemented me on how quick and efficient I was which made me feel rather smug. The drive was super boring, back west, around Melbourne and then north for 5.5 hours in total. A lot was freeway so very dull, even with my awesome playlists! I even stopped for a power nap to relieve the boredom!

I camped by Lake Hume and although the water looked temping with the weather a balmy 26 and stark contracts to the mornings’ 16 degrees it was a bit muddy so I gave that a miss. After masterfully performing surgery on the broken tent pole with a mallet, concrete block and a lot of tape I went to see the dam. It’s right by the campsite and very big. It’s in a scenic area with lots of trees downstream and if you walk across you can cross the state border to Victoria the other side. The footpath was closed or I’d have been tempted. I cooked some pasta by the lake as the sun went down which was very scenic, although the wind meant the stove took forever!

Lake Hume Dam

Lake Hume Dam

Day 19: Lake Hume to Snowy Mountains
4415km, 72 hours 17 mins

The next day I drove the windy and scenic Alpine Way up into the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps area. They are part of the great dividing range. I stopped at a couple of lookouts on the way and in the village of Threadbo to pick up a pass for my car and some leaflets about the area. Threadbo is a very pretty village which is a major skiing centre in the winter as it’s right up in the mountains. There were chair lifts and chalets aplenty, along with lots of places to stop and out on your snow chains along the road. On the way I went past one of the big sites of the Snowy Mountains Power Scheme, a giant hydroelectric power system with multiple power stations.

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

Snowy Mountains Power Station 1

30km further I reached Jindabyne and had lunch by its giant lake while lots of people came and launched boats and jet skis for some hooning about. The final campsite was about 15 minutes north from there, 5 mins inside the park boundary. After chucking the tent
up again and a nice cup of tea I went for a drive the other way up the valley into the mountains and ski area. I went through Perisher with its giant, empty, potholed car park and static ski lifts and on to Charlottes Pass at the end of the road. You used to be able to drive on a lot further but the area was getting damaged so they shut the roads. At the lookouts to Mount Kosciusko I saw actual snow again! There were quite a few bits of it this time and it certainly felt a chilly 13 degrees at the pass (1900m elevation). The views of the mountains were good, although they were the quite vegetated rather than totally rocky variety. There were lots of white snow gum trees – lots of them had lost all their leaves, maybe fire damage, I’m not totally sure. Apparently the gum tree is the only tree which exists in deserts, alpine environments and the bit in between.

Charlottes Pass View - with snow

Charlottes Pass View – with snow

On the drives around there were a lot of birds including a massive flock of flying cockatoos (over 60 I reckon) and red and green lorikeets too. On way way back to the camp in the evening I saw a group of kangaroos, and some more at the campsite who had been hanging out earlier in the day at the adjoining fields. I had a BBQ for my dinner and headed to bed.

Day 20: Mount Kosciusko
4510km, 73 hours 42 mins

My main reason for coming to Kosciusko was to go up Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak at around 2230m. The walk started from Threado so I headed back there for about 10am. The walk is billed as 13km and 4-6 hours from the top of huge chair lift which takes you to about 1900m. This was half the amount of up from the Cradle Mountain walk and they classed it as moderate!not hard, so I figured I’d be fine. To do the walk from the village is another 4km and 2 hours as it’s very steep. I always planned on getting the chairlift down because of my dodgy knee which breaks going down hills. The return pass for the lift was only a fee more dollars than the single so I figured I’d get the lift up too. The lift ride itself was very scenic, although chair lifts do scare me slightly as you can just lift the bar up!

The walk itself was either metal boarded or had a well defined path, so wasn’t particularly hard. There were lookouts along the way including of Australia’s highest lake (Cootapatamba). Along the way there were lots of granite boulders, wild flowers, crows and several deposits of snow. One was just a short walk off the path to touch but I decided to resist the urge to feel snow again and stick to the path like the signs said! The views along the walk and at the top of the great dividing range were great and it was nice and clear too – they went on for a a long way! It was a good temperature for walking with a nice cooling breeze too. Along the way there were various signs including about the Aboriginal peoples use of the area as a sacred place where lots of different spirits live.

Lake

Lake Cootapatamba

In the end I got to the top in 90 minutes, spent half an hour there eating lunch and admiring the scenery and then got down in about 80 minutes. The walk wasn’t particularly strenuous and I did feel slightly cheated as I’d expected it to take a whole day. If I’d have known that I probably would have walked for the bottom! You can do it from Charlottes Pass too which is 18km and 4 hours each way (allegedly) so if we come back I think we should try that.

After the walk I had some tea at the highest cafe in Australia as I wanted a brew and the views were better than at the one down the bottom!

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

At the top of Mt Kosciousko

Day 21: Home time!

So after a 3 week holiday it was finally time to drive home. The trip back to Sydney was about 6 hours and pretty unremarkable!

So all in all in our trip we drove a whopping 5009km for 79 hours and 7 minutes (although some of this was looking at views and faffing rather than driving!) That’s an average of 238km a day and 3 hours 45 mins a day. It was an excellent holiday with a lot of variety, especially for me with the extra week. Three weeks is long enough to totally forget about work so going back is going to be really strange!

Day 12: Fortescue Bay to Freycinet NP
2759 km, 47 hours 17 min

We woke up too a wet morning on New Years Day, but also without a hangover having not had the chance to drink a lot because of the penguin spotting. We managed to pack the tent down in between the drizzle spells and headed to the shelter round the corner from the campsite, by the bay to cook some bacon and egg rolls for breakfast (woo!)

We drove up the east coast to Freycinet NP where we drove on our first Australian dirt roads. I liked these better than gravel as they were generally smoother and nicer to drive on, and probably better for your car too without tons of stones hitting it! We stopped for a picnic lunch at Honeymoon bay by which time the weather had cheered up quite a bit.

After lunch we did the hours walk to Wineglass Bay lookout. It was very scenic with a curve beach shaped like wineglass surrounded by big hills each side. Stories vary about whether the name comes from the shape of the bay or the water which is clear like a wineglass. On the way to the campsite we took a quick detour to the lookout and boardwalk at Cape Tourville lighthouse which again had good coastal views.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

We couldn’t get space to camp in the NP as it’s very popular and booked out months in advanced so we camped just up the road in Bincheno. After finishing the remaining Hunter Valley Cab Sav with dinner we went for a night time walk to see the town and coast. They have another penguin colony there and we were lucky enough to see them! A group of about 20 were on the rocks near the see waiting to waddle up to their nests. I managed to sit about 8m from them and watched them hop over a ledge, make their way up the rocks and then huddle about for a while. I thought they were going straight up the beach but then they started penguin faffing and not really going anywhere which our guide the day before said they don’t normally do. I thought my e I we in their way so I moved really slowly up the bank. They came forward some more but then seemed to change their mind and want to head at me again so I shuffled round some more. I think by this point, after about 15 mins of good penguin watching Matt got bored and came to see me! which scared all the little penguins into the pool near where they were waiting. We headed back to the campsite and heard lots of them chatting on the way back and even saw one waiting by the wide of the the road. We could even hear them at night from the campsite. Hopefully they all got back to their nests OK.

Day 13: Launceston and Port Sorrell
3031 km, 51 hours 50 min

I woke up and actually felt awake oddly early, about 7.30, when the sun warmed up the tent so decided to get up and get on with the day. We were back on the road before 9am, heading towards the second largest city in Tasmania, Launceston. Launceston is inland but does have a big river and gorge which is where we headed for. After a quick ice cream we went for a walk around the gorge and saw lots of climbing routes which Matt obviously got excited about. The gorge was wider thank I thought but still impressive and looked like a mode spot for a swim. We opted out of the sedate cable car ride but did go on the comical free ‘Inclinator’ which took you up and down some steps in a little pod, very slowly!

Launceston Gorge

Launceston Gorge

As the cafe was full we went for lunch in town (Mexican) and then took poor Jeffrey through the car wash to remove all the filth we covered him in from gravel and dirt roads. We headed on no the hour after that to Port Sorrell on the north coast just east of Devonport where the ferry goes from. We indulge in a B and B for the last night, so we didn’t need to pack away the tent before getting the ferry early in the morning. I was hopeful of free port like we had in the Gampians with Phil and Rhiannon (the only other B and B we’ve been to in Oz). Sadly no free port, but we got a wonderfully w arm reception from Rosemary, also an expat who moved from Selsey in the 60s via a 30 day boat trip! The. B and B was in lovely gardens and we spent the late afternoon drinking tea and playing a couple of very close tactical games of chess in the upstairs area overlooking the garden. To regain some cool father that we went to eat take away pizza on the beach!

Intense Chess

Intense Chess

Day 14: Devonport to Melbourne ferry ride
3031km, 51 hours, 50 mins

The ferry ride back was 9 hours and we boarded an hour before departure. The time actually went pretty quickly, something like this: play Ingenious, read book, drink tea and eat Tim Tams, read book, feel a bit sea sick, play Tantrix, go to cinema and watch Eden surrounded by kids, eat lunch, read book, play cards, look round shop, read book, provide tips on Tazzie to my boss, eat hummus, write blog posts on iPod, the end!

We stayed in St Kilda to the east of central Melbourne, on the cost with it hits own Luna Park and scary clown, but more about that in the next post!

Tasmania overall

Overall in Tasmania we had a great holiday. It’s mainly rural with lots of lovely countryside, cool geology and outdoors things which we always like. There is good food and wine to be had and some fun roads although not much opportunity to overtake if you’re stuck behind slow people! Most of all I liked the amount of proper wild wildlife we saw. Included in the count were loads of pademelons, wallabies and possums, about 40 penguins, about 20 wombats, 3 echidnas, a probably harmless snake and a platypus!

There would be plenty more to do and see on another trip including some longer walks, climbing for Matt and of course spotting a wild Tazzie Devil. But first, next year we’re thinking of a winter trip to the centre and the Barrier Reef in November time with our next lot of visitors.

But our holiday this time didn’t stop in Tasmania! We had most of a day in Melbourne and then I carried on the trip by myself with my extra weeks holiday so stay tuned to hear more about Philip Island and the Snowy Mountains!

 

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Day 10: Hobart to Fortescue Bay
2506km, 41 hours 49 min

On the drive to Fortescue bay we passed through Sorrel which is a big fruit producing region. Having missed out on this in the Huon valley we decided to swing by a fruit farm for some weird sounding berries. When we got there the business model didn’t really stack up for us. We only wanted a small amount as we had no real way to keep stuff properly cool no just wanted a taster really. It was $14 per person including a giant punnet of whatever you picked, and there was no negotiation on sharing. We decided to give the picking a miss and bought $6 worth of cherries and strawberries from fruit market down the road instead which was more than enough.

After that we headed for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre on the Tasman peninsula. Sadly a lot of the devils are affected by a facial tumour disease like cancer (TFTD) and population numbers have really fallen in the last. 20 years. It’s really contagious, fatal and they spread it easily when feeding, mating and generally interacting with each other. As the peninsula is only joined into mainland TasmanIa with a 100m wide stretch of land (Eaglehawk Neck), the centre are doing a lot of work to keep out infected devils and contain a healthy population on the peninsular which seems to be working. The centre is mainly conservation focused and also included some birds, kangaroos, an albino possum and an awesome talking parrot (helllloooow!).

I’d only seen a Tasmanian devil before at the Australian reptile park north of Sydney and although that one got fed, it was by itself. When there two together they are pretty different and more like the cartoon! The pair we saw first were chasing each other around their enclosure pretty much continuously like right little rascals with a fair amount of grumpiness and teeth baring to boot. They had a proper tug of war over their lunch! They were really nice to see and pretty cute when they were trotting around in the sun being friendly!

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Devil lunchtime

Devil lunchtime

 

We camped at Fortescue Bay, a bargainous $13 a night. The site was 12km down a gravel road right on the bay, just setback from the beach in the trees. The camp itself was fairly basic with two female loos, a shower which sort of got hot if you had a token and a BBQ in the day use area next door. Before our veggie burger BBQ dinner that night we went to see some local geology including the remarkable cave (not that exciting!), blowhole, Tasman arch and Devils kitchen, which were all cool coastal features.

Day 11: Port Arthur and Totem Pole
2723km, 46 hours 6 mins

I made the effort for an early start the next day so we could fit in both the Port Arthur historic site and the 4 hour walk to Cape Huay where the candlestick and totem pole climbing areas are.

From the mid 1800s some of the worst convicts from the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth were sent to Australia. Of those, the worst were sent to Tasmania (or as it was called then, Van Diemens Land). Of these bad guys, the seriously bad bad guys ended up at Port Arthur. It even included a boys prison for kids as young as 9. For $33 we got the basic bronze pass which included day entry to the site, a 20 min boat ride past the boys prison (on its own island) and the Isle of the Dead where the buried convoys are, and a 40 minute guided walking tour. This was pretty good value as the site is big and there’s a lot to see. You could easily spend a whole day looking around all the old buildings which included the penitentiary, governors house, church, asylum and separate prison which was added later. The site had a couple of big fires in its history and was neglected for a while, so only about 1/3 of the buildings remain. A lot of them had exhibits inside to look at which were interesting and it was nice to see some history as there’s not always a lot of old stuff here in Oz. The prison focused mainly on seriously hard graft, education and religion at first. Later on when the separate prison was added the focus moved to confinement. Men were kept in their cells 23 hours a day in silence, doing work like making shoes. They had one hour exercise each day, again in isolated separate yards. We saw the punishment cells where they could be kept for up to a month for talking or doing anything else wrong – these were about 2m by 3m, had 1m thick stone walls so they were totally sound proof and 4 doors to get in so they were also totally dark. Lots of men broke here and hence they ended up building the asylum next door! After just a short time with the door shut I can see how it would be deeply disturbing!

Port Arthur

Port Arthur

Eventually the prisonwas shut down, the site abandoned and Van Diemens land was renamed Tasmania to try and break free from its convict past. Of course when they realised the tourism potential it opened back up again!

After some lunch we headed back to the campsite for the walk to Cape Huay including the Totem Pole and Candlestick (sea stacks) which both have climbing on. Matt had been reading a book about these from the library and was very keen to see them first hand. The first half of the walk was mainly bush! with good coastal views for the second half. We saw some climbers on the candlestick and Matt scrambled down for a better look (which did have me pretty worried when he didn’t come back for over 40 minutes – grrrr!).

Climber leaving the Candle Stick (left), past the Totem Pole (centre)

Climber leaving the Candle Stick (left), past the Totem Pole (centre)

As it was New Years Eve we broke open our $50 super tasty 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon for the Hunter Valley with dinner. Then we couldn’t resist a free guided spotlight tour run by the national park staff which promised night sightings of animals including penguins! Our guide was very knowledgeable and we were lucky enough to see a group of about 20 little penguins (also called fairy penguins or blue penguins) head up the beach to the their burrows, as well as some smaller groups and one penguin in its Ernest right by the path. It was very strange to see them hopping over rocks and then nesting in grassy areas, I still can’t get over thinking penguins need to live in ice!

We spent longer than planned watching the penguins (which was totally worth it), so by the time we got back it was a bit dark and cold to be getting on with the wine and we didn’t make it awake until midnight!

Day 8: Southport to Hobart

2298km, 36h, 47min

In the morning we took the short drive to Hastings cave and went on the first tour of the day. The tour guide Laura was very knowledgable explaining about all the different formations and giving us some broken stalagmite out hold. The cave itself was very impressive with lots of different formations including stalagtites with horizontal bits coming out the sides called helictites. I’d not seen these before and scientists don’t agree how they form, maybe capillary action.

Inside Hastings Cave

Inside Hastings Cave

At the visitor centre are also Thermal springs which average 28 degrees, and entry is included in the ticket. We went for a look but rather than natural looking springs the water is pumped into a fairly small swimming pool which was brimming full of families with kids and inflatables, so no chance of any actual swimming. I dunked my toe in and the water didn’t feel especially warm so we decide to give them a miss and head straight into Hobart.

After a bit of parking faff we managed to make it to Hobart in time for the weekly Salamanca market with over 300 stalls. There was lots of jewellery, wooden products, local food and crafts. I managed to escape with just 1 pair of earrings. It had elevated up to a toasty 28 degrees so I was a bit warm for any proper browsing.

Over the Christmas period the Taste of Tasmania festival was also on right next to the market. It was held in one of the giant wharf sheds with stalls outside too and food vans near the entrance. There were loads of local foods and drinks on offer including wine, beer, juices, oysters, berry products, cheeses, ice creams and international foods too. It was incredibly busy being a warm Saturday afternoon so we opted for a bacon and gruyere potato rosti outside, followed by a nice cream sundae dusted with sherbert which Matt wasn’t quite expecting and made him cough!

After a quick trip to Treasure Island camp site to put the tent up and a mince pie, we went back into Hobart for the evening. Mainly by coincidence and a bit of internetting we were lucky to catch the end of the Sydney Hobart annual yacht race. We saw the winner Wild Oats XI come in through the harbour from a prime spot and they then sailed (motored) right past us to moor up for their prizes. Being by the harbour we were obliged to go for some fish and chips after that from one of the floating fish and chip stalls. We pieced the one shaped like a fish! Matts chip box had an unfortunately collapse due to too much vinegar which bought the circling Chip Vultures (seagulls) very close! Out of spite at their incessant annoyance he picked them up and put them in the bin in the end! For pudding we went back to the Taste festival and had ice cream sandwiches – locally produced ice cream sandwiched between two freshly baked warm cookies – yummy!

Wild Oats 2

Wild Oats 2

Day 9: Around Hobart.
2406km, 39 hours 15 mins

From early on on our trip we had two key activities for Hobart planned out – the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) and Putters mini golf! We picked up a leaflet about Putters on the ferry. Not only did it have an indoor and outdoor course, the leaflet also entitled us to a free fries and soft drink so we really were obliged to go. Of course we signed up for both courses ($22). The first one was outside with lots of water features which were both scenic and hazardous to my playing! Along with the sand traps they caused me a lot of penalty points and I lost by quite a lot. But having won the earlier pirate mini golf, that made it one all.

Inside we played the decider with a lot of friendly banter. This time the course featured a lot of wood and tubes and tunnels to transport the balls up down and around to different parts of the holes. My game was match improved, and I even did some decent putting from longish distances which normally I’m rubbish at. I totally psyched Matt out and won by a massive 12 points in the he mend, which took me to 2-1 up including the Pirate golf! We had our free fries which were massive and tasty with Cajun flavour salt. The frozen raspberry fanta was just weird though so we won’t be having that again!

Mini Golf Round 2

Mini Golf Round 2

As the sun was mainly out we decided to make another trip up Mount Wellington to try and see the views of Hobart. The top was cloud free with excellent views although totally freezing. It was only 4 degrees and with a lot of wind it definitely felt below freezing. There was even a small amount of snow left on some of the big rocks at the top.

Back on top Mount Wellington

Back on top Mount Wellington

After lunch half way down we headed to MONA. Unfortunately it wasn’t free like my book said but the lady took pity on us and let us in for the concession rate of $15 instead of $20. The book was also wrong about the opening times and it was shutting at 6 instead of 7 so we had just over 2 hours to look around. MONA is bit, over 4 levels set into the hillside by the river, so we were a bit rushed looking around. They had a thing called the O Device which you use – its an iPhone with info about all the exhibits loaded on including audio so there are no signs. Matt loved it, I personally found clicking through and all the searching ruined my experience of wandering about looking at art and made it too disjointed. Maybe i’m too old fashioned!

Matt and his O Device

Matt and his O Device

Some of my favorite bits were a gigantic metallic head with robotic birds and moving bits inside, sculptures by Hubert Duprat and a giant Buddha. It is made using a giant mold with incense from temples in Nepal so it smelt nice too. Unfortunately its head had fallen off (!!) but I thought this made it more interesting.

Incense Buddha

Incense Buddha

That evening we took the main opportunity of the holiday for a meal out and went to a curry house called Annapurna. It’s one of the highly rated places in Hobart and according to their sign also Tasmania’s best curry house 2013 (out of how many we don’t know!) After the tasty meal we went to see some more of the boats that had arrived from the yacht race and ate some more ice cream sandwiches from Taste of Tasmania for desert.

 

 

Russell Falls

Russell Falls

Day 6: Cradle Mountain to Mount Field National Park

1496 km, 22 hours 38min

We left Cradle Mountain in the rain for the bendy scenic drive to Mount Field NP past rainforest, rivers and mountains. We had a quick stop at Lake St Clair for lunch, which is Australia’s deepest lake at 167m. It’s also the end of the Overland Track walk, a 6 day epic across Tassie from Cradle Mountain.

En route in two different places we saw two wild echidnas crossing the road! They didn’t seem bothered by the car at all and luckily we did to hit them or we might have had a nasty puncture!

We camped by the river at a self registration campsite amongst the giant Pencil Pines. Before dinner we went for a short drive and walk through some epic rainforest scenery to Junee cave where a river comes out the cave mouth.

For dinner we invented a new tasty camping meal, kangaroo red pasta splat. This is pasta with tomato sauce, peppers, leftover kangaroo meat from the Summermas BBQ and of course cheese (because every camping meal is better with cheese, except possibly some breakfasts!)

Because we were quite far south it stayed light until gone 9pm. We took the opportunity to do the short walk from the campsite to nearby Russell Falls and on up to Horseshoe Falls for some long exposure photos. Russell Falls is a cool 2 tier waterfall with a giant tree in the middle between the two tiers.

On the walk back there was a glow worm trail but it wasn’t quite dark enough and we were being eaten by the local mozzies. We did see lots of other wildlife though including a lot of brush tailed possums and more pademelons including ones with babies.

Day 7: Mount Field to Southport
1956km, 30 hours 11 mins

British Style Bacon!

British Style Bacon!

We started the day with some exciting ‘British bacon’ sandwiches. Bacon here in Australia is weird and not translucent. It looks like a cooked ham but it isn’t cooked. There must be something different about the way the cure it. It’s still tasty (bacon always is after all), but just looks plain wrong! Over breakfast we were also lucky enough to see a platypus swimming in the river near the tent!

In the morning we drove up to Lake Dobson in Mount Field NP and did a walk around the lake amongst the rainforest and snow gums. We then made our way down the Huon Valley to Southport via the edge of Hobart.

We took a detour up the road to the top of Mount Wellington over Hobart. It was cloudy but the book suggested often there is an inversion you can see from the top so we drove up anyway. From about 1/3 up there was total cloud cover right to the top. In some places visibility was down to about 4m which made for an interesting drive! At the top it was so cloudy I struggled to find the toilet! We stopped on June way back down for a picnic in a shelter amongst the clouds.

We carried on our drive along the Huon trail, past lots of places selling apples and berries and camped at Southport behind Australia’s most southerly pub, where of course we had to go and have a drink. After putting the tent up we took the drive down the southernmost road in Australia (24km of gravel) to Cockle Creek (population: 3!) for a look at the beach.

View of Hobart from Mount Wellington!

View of Hobart from Mount Wellington!

Giant Penguin in Penguin

Giant Penguin in Penguin

Day 4: Devonport to Cradle Mountain
1,459km, 21 hours 4min

After getting woken up by the ferry staff at 5.10am for our 6am arrival, a quick quarantine check and recovering our camping gas from the firearms man, we headed for a swift bacon and egg roll (with cheese, it’s a thing here). Then, still a bit bleary eyed we headed for our first exciting stop – the town on Penguin on the north coast. Not only does it have a cool name, in Penguin is a giant 3m high penguin! And he was all dressed up for Christmas! There was also the Penguin Pharmacy and the slightly concerning Penguin butchers!

On the way to Cradle Mountain we stopped at the scenic Guide Falls for some long exposure photos. Being 8am there weren’t a lot of people about!

Guide Falls

Guide Falls

We got to the Cradle Mountain visitor centre, and after a quick cup of tea and map purchase went on some of the short walks we got the shuttle bus as entry to the park by car is restricted to avoid traffic jams on the narrow windy roads and small car parks. We did the Enchanted Walk, King Billy track (with tall King Billy pines), Rainforest walk and Pencil Pine falls. We managed to spot a pademelons which looks quite like a wallabee and is only found native in the wild in Tasmania.

Our first two nights in Tasmania (Summermas Eve and Summermas Day) we stayed in Cradle Mountain in the north west. In a rare moment, Matt agreed rather than camping we could get a cabin so we had an actual bed and roof for some comfort in case the weather as bad for the festive season. The cabin was wooden, cute and cozy. The campsite was really well equipped and having checked about the cooking facilities in advance we made ourselves some yummy festive pizzas in the pizza oven and enjoyed then with some nice Tassie Pinot Noir, topped off with a mince pie.

Day 5: Cradle Mountain – Summermas!
No driving.

Last year we had a 30 degree Christmas in Wanaka, New Zealand with the Millis’s with kayaking and a picnic by the lake and dinner in t-shirts in the garden in the evening. This year we were lucky enough to have sunny weather again and temperatures of about 22 degrees. Apparently it’s only sunny in Cradle Mountain about 1 in 5 days.

After some tea and presents we set off fairly early to walk up Cradle Mountain for Christmas Day. Entrance to the park by car is restricted so we made sure to get there early so we could drive to the top car park and not have to faff with the shuttle bus when we were knackered.

The car park is about 900m and Cradle Mountain is 1554m, so it’s over 650m ascent and takes 6 to 8 hours depending on your speed and some route options. It’s made of dolerite and sits in front of Dove Lake and some smaller lakes too. The route we took went around the lake to start, steeply up the side of a hill to Marion’s Lookout after about an hour, along a ridge to Kitchen Hut for another hour and then a final hour up the mountain itself. The views were awesome and we met lots of happy people who we exchanged Christmas wishes with.

Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake

Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake

The last 45 mins of the walk to the top is some full on hands required scrambling over giant boulders which was good fun although seemed to catch some people out. I much prefer this to just trudging up a hill. Near the top we even saw some unmelted remains of winter snow – only about 5 square meters so. Of a lot, but enough to get me and everyone else we mentioned it too excited. White Christmas in Australia!

We did the walk in 7 hours 10 mins with half an hours lunch at the top. When we got back we had some well deserved celebratory ice creams and a Summermas BBQ with wagyu beef burgers and kangaroo kebabs. It did feel mean eating the kanagroo after seeing so many wallabies but it was tasty!

After the BBQ we headed out for some night time wild life spotting. We saw a lotof pademelons and about 12 super cute wombats, some very close up! Here’s a joke (made up by me):

Q: Why did the wombat cross the road? (Answer at the bottom)

At the top of Cradle Mountain

At the top of Cradle Mountain

 

Wild Wombat

Wild Wombat

A: Because Elly was chasing it with a camera*!

*Proven on at least two wombats!

Spirit of Tasmania 1

Spirit of Tasmania 1

Day 3: Wilson’s Promontory and Bass Strait
1276km, 17h 33min (plus 444 km and 9 hours on the ferry)

After surviving the big storm, we woke to a wet and cloudy morning. On the third day of our trip we explored Wilson’s Promontory National Park which is on the coast about 200km east of Melbourne. It’s a popular spot where hills meet the sea with lots if wildlife and cool views. Allegedly there are emus, kangaroos and wombats, but they must have been hiding with the bad weather.

We went to the main centre, Tidal River for a look around. You can camp there in summer if you enter a lottery draw 6 months ahead of time but it was packed out so we decided we wouldn’t have enjoyed it. We took a drive to near the top of Mount Oberon and had a walk on Squeaky Beach with very white squeaky sand and some cool boulders. The area is very scenic with wooded mountains heading down to the sea and a whole lot of wilderness.

After a lot of queuing, we sailed at 9pm on the ferry for a 6am arrival at Devonport in Tasmania. The ferry leaves from central Melbourne. If you go overnight you have to have a cabin or a reclining seat which is super expensive over Christmas. The cheap days and rooms sold out quicker than we got around to booking, but in the end we ended up with a 4 berth cabin for the 2 of us which was good. Unfortunately due to the quarantine rules we had to hastily eat some apples and dispose of the peppers and cucumbers we bought about an hour before, so I’ll remember that if we come back! We adopted the newest addition to the Short family on the trip, Derek the Tasmanian Devil – awwww!

Derek the Tazzie Devil

Derek the Tazzie Devil

It was ages since I’d been on a ferry (to France mainly) and I’d never had a cabin before. It started well enough and we even had our own en suite but it was pretty bumpy during the night and really hard to sleep with all the rocking about. I’m scared by the sea and drowning anyway so irrational terror of sinking kept me awake too! If we sail at night again I think I’ll take drugs or some medicinal alcohol!

We did survive though, check out the next post for more details of our first stop – a town called Penguin!

Summermas

First up, as Christmas here is weird in the heat and I struggled to get in the festive mood, I renamed it Summer-mas! Summermas has decorations, presents and holidays in the heat.

This Christmas Matts’ work had a two week compulsory shut down, and mine had three! We figured it was a good excuse for a holiday and decided on driving down the coast to Melbourne and catching the ferry to Tasmania and then travelling round there before heading back again. The Barrier Reef and Kakadu in Darwin are also high on the list, but as I’m still getting used to the summer heat and they’re both up north it didn’t seem like a good plan to head there.

As we’re had a big trip I’ve broken it over a whopping 9 posts so get ready for a bumper special with posts every other day!

After looking at options for flying and hiring a car or driving we decide to drive, so we could take lots of camping gear and do the drive down the coast too. Price wise it was pretty similar and Jeffrey (the car) also wanted an adventure!

Day 1: Sydney to Eden
481km, 6 hours 26 mins 

After horror reports on the Sydney Christmas traffic I dragged myself out of bed and we left by 7.30am on Saturday morning. The drive done to Eden was one of the longest on the trip but we made it in good time and hardly saw any traffic issues. In fact one we got out of Sydney there weren’t a lot of cars about at all. The drive was scenic with lots if trees and we stopped off regularly to swap over and grabbed some lunch in Batemans Bay.

We also dropped into the cheese factory in Bega, where Bega cheese comes from. We had some samples, watched a film and I ate a toastie! They also make tinned cheese which looks pretty nasty, mainly for export apparently. Matt was brave enough to sample it and decided it was rubbery.

In Eden we camped right on the edge if Lake Curalo and a couple of minutes walk from the choppy sea. We went to a couple of lookouts and last the Whale Museum which has the skeleton of Old Tom the giant killer whale, but it was shut so we didn’t go in. The town has a long whaling history – the killer whales used to help drive the other whales into the bay for the fishermen to hunt them in return for a share of the meat. After a few games, including our latest game, Ingenious (travel version) we went to bed pretty early after the long drive.

Pirate golf - yaaaar!

Pirate golf – yaaaar!

Day 2: Eden to Yanakie
995 km, 13 hours 3 mins (cumulative total, not in one day!)

Day two was another long drive down the coast to Yanakie on the edge of Wilson’s Promontary National Park. After about half an hour we crossed the border into Victoria and drove through lots of trees and then lots of fields. Again we made good progress, overtaking various caravans and campers on the way.

We stopped for lunch in Lakes Entrance on the edge of the big Gippsland lakes. Lakes Entrance is also on the edge of 90 Mile Beach which we cheeked out quickly although because of the angle you couldn’t see very far. There were some rock and roll (or evil) black swans chilling out in the river. The guide book mentioned mini golf, a Short favourite so we set of in search of the courses. We found two next to each other, one pirate themed and the other unthemed, so it was a bit of a no brainier. The course had boats, a whirlpool, light house, beach hut, mermaid and of course pirates! Surprisingly I actually won, and by a whole 5 points, woo! I reckon I must be better with the upside down gravity down under!

At the camp site I practiced putting up the tent myself successfully and we had a BBQ dinner. We camped right on the edge of the bay, near the beach again. About 15 mins from the end of a walk along the bay thunder started. My tent construction was tested to the limit with a big thunder and lightning storm and some serious rain, and proved good – woo! No leaks or collapses and we both had a good nights sleep!

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.