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!

Giraffes pulling silly faces

Giraffes pulling silly faces

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

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

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

Big croc - Crikey!

Big croc – Crikey!

Big cat

Big cat

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

The Big Pineapple

The Big Pineapple

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

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

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

Wild koala at Noosa Heads

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

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

Ettamogah Pub

Ettamogah Pub

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

 

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountain

Glasshouse mountains

Glasshouse mountains

CitySeaPlane

Sydney from the sea plane

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

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

Matt in the Sea Plane

Matt in the Sea Plane

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

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

Barrenjoey from the sea plane

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

Our Sea Plane

Our Sea Plane

 

Our local lawn bowls green

Our local lawn bowls green

 

The BBC recently confirmed what we here in Australia already knew, lawn bowls (also known as barefoot bowls) is cool. They said so here.

We have a green very near to our house, with the Harbour Bridge in the background. Back on a wet and windy July afternoon we decided to be brave and head down for a game with our friends Ellie, Chris and Naomi visiting from the UK, and actual Australian Jen. We thought it was $12 each of 2 hours, which was already a bargain, but it was actually $12 for the whole lane, so $2 each. Absolute bargain!

I’ve done lawn bowls a couple of times with work. They were both in the summer, which is much better – especially with a nice cold refreshing drink. (Lawn bowls is actually all about the drinking!). It turned out my couple of games experience actually paid off, and if I do say so myself I actually did pretty well!

Here are the basic rules: Divide into even teams. I guess about 8-10 people can play in one lane. Someone bowls the jack down the green and you put the mat down so you all stand in the same place. Each person has two bowls each. Person 1 from team A bowls, then Person 1 from team B. Then they each have another go and it swaps to the next pair of people. The bowls are weighted and have a big dot and small dot on one side. They curve towards the small dot, so you have to keep this in mind when bowling. For scoring, the team with the bowl closest to the jack gets a point. Then they get another point for all the other bowls they have closest to the jack before the other team has a close one. So you might get one point, or if 6 of your bowls were closer than the oppositions then you’d get 6 points. You measure with footsteps if you’re not sure.

 

Good bowling technique

Good bowling technique

 

We split into two teams. With only one Aussie, England vs Australia wasn’t really fair, so we started with people wearing shows (me, Chris and Naomi) against people wearing flip flops (Ellie, Jen and Matt). Our team won a pretty convincing victory as first to 11 points – woo! Normally you play to 21, but we decided to swap teams after 11. After getting a bit stuck again on how to divide us up, we went for people whose name ends with “eee” (Elly, Ellie and Naomi) against the others. It was closer this time, but still my team won – woo! As well as just bowling close to the jack other tactics including hitting the jack nearer to your bowls, or trying to hit the other teams balls further away. This helps keep it interesting!

I reckon its a good fun way to spend an afternoon in the sun drinking with visitors. Has anyone played in the UK?

 

 

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

My Agricola farm

My Agricola farm

Liking: Living in the new flat. There are lots of birds, its very green around, and apart from the trains its pretty peaceful. I’m also enjoying being able to walk to work, which takes about 25 mins. I see a lot of birds, including parrots, kookaburras and even a couple of bush turkeys!

Disliking: I was ill with a horrible virus and off work for a few days. It really knocked me out and I slept for 16 hours one day!

Watching: While I was ill I watched a lot of Wire in the Blood on my iPad. I really like that show. now we have the internet back finally I’m back on the iPlayer, and we’ve started Coast Australia seeing all the places we need to go and visit!

Playing: We bought a new game called Agricola – all creatures big and small. We already have Agricola which is a farming game where you collect animals, grow crops, feed your family, improve your farmhouse all to get points. This version is for two players, and mainly all abut the animals. That was my favourite part of Agricola anyway, so I like the new simple version.

Consuming: I have found a new exciting kind of biscuit through work. Its called a Monte Carlo, and is like a jammy dodger only much better becasue instead of shortcake the biscuits are oaty like a hob nob. And inside as well as chewy jam they have a creamy filling. Tasty! The new oven is much more powerful than the last one. The last one needed you to cook things for at least double the recommended time for them to be anywhere near done. This one, even with it adjusted for the fan its about half. So since moving in we’ve had a few meals on the slightly well done side! We’ve tried out the café down the road which does a yummy brunch.

Buying: In the old place we had two outdoor chairs and a small table. Now we have a giant table on the big balcony, so we bought six more chairs and cushions to go with it. We also bought all the chemicals for the spa so have been learning some chemistry about that, and got an almost free rubber duck thermometer!

Thinking about:  Holidays. We’re doing some planning about holidays at the moment, to see about buying leave for next year. We only get 20 days basic, and have to use 6 at Christmas for the shut downs, which doesn’t leave a lot, especially if we come back to the UK for a visit.

Visiting: In early June we had a Bank Holiday for the Queens’ Birthday – huzzah! We got invited away with our friend Paul and a bunch of his friends, who hired a big house down the south coast near Nowra. In the area there is good sea cliff climbing and awesome beaches. We had a great weekend including cream tea, a visit to kangaroo valley, climbing (of course), BBQ, roast dinner, walk on the beach and a game of sardines in the big house.

Missing: My old job – sad I know. My new job is fine, but I really liked my old one. We also missed some good friends weddings this month which we would have loved to be at. All the bets Mr and Mrs Frame! 🙂

Looking forward to: At the end of June we’re going to the Dubbo Western Plains zoo, way out west. You hire bikes and cycle around as its a big safari park, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the animals. We also have Ellie from the UK visiting for ten days, so we’ve got some exciting plans lined up for that too.

 

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!

Sydney Olympic Pool (Milsons Point)

Sydney Olympic Pool (Milsons Point)

On the lower North Shore of the Harbour by Milsons Point (near the scary clown face theme park) is the Sydney Olympic swimming pool. Its almost right under the Harbour bridge, which makes for some great views. 86 world records have been set there since it opened in 1936 including at the 1938 Empire Games.

After going past it on the train most days I decided recently it was time to eventually try it out. Outdoor swimming pools are pretty common over here on account of the good weather. There’s one near our flat, which is $7 a swim. The one right by the Harbour Bridge is…..$7 a swim! In my mind its a total bargain. There are some extra costs though – I did pay an extra $2 to use the sauna and jacuzzi, and another $2 for a locker, and $1 for a shower token. I probably wouldn’t bother with those again, apart from the shower. The locker you can only access once, so no good if you want to go back for your sun cream or book. Most people seemed to just leave their bags around, which I reckon is fine if you make sure not to bring a load of money or cards with you.

There’s a 50m outdoor pool with salt water, a 25m indoor pool, kids area and a sun deck and cafe too.  From the stands and sun deck you can look over the harbour and opera house. I enjoyed my swim there, although would have preferred freshwater to salt water. It was pretty quiet with only 2-3 people to a lane most of the time, although that was a weekday afternoon. I imagine the weekends are packed out. I’ll probably make another trip back soon. 

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!  

 

Elvina Bay

Elvina Bay

We have a book called ‘Sydneys Best Harbour and Coastal Walks’. We ticked off walk number 3 recently, Elvina Bay.

Its a medium grade, 2.5 hour walk over 6km. It starts from Church Point, about 40 minutes drive north, on the edge of the Ku-ring-gai Chase NP. The walk is pretty exciting becasue to get to the start and once you’re finished you have to go on a ferry across Elvina Bay. It runs in a circle so on the way out it takes about 30 mins, around Scotland Island, and then 10 mins on the way back.

The ferry goes every hour, and we just missed it so we took the opportunity for some light refreshments at the cafe in Church Point in the form of a cream tea. Now I am a bit of a cream tea critic so need to get off topic for a moment to write about it. On the plus side the pot of tea was gigantic, and the scones were gigantic and warm fresh out the oven which was great. However, there were three issues with the cream tea:

1. No fruit in the scones. I like fruit in a scone, becasue it tastes nice and also it makes me feel that it is marginally healthier! I know scone purists might say this is wrong, and can forgive plain scones, but fruit is my preference.

2. Not enough jam. This is a common bugbear or mine with cream teas. I prefer jam over cream and we had one small pot for two massive scones. Nowhere near enough. As it was mainly a lunch place I decided not to ask for more, but this has been known in the past!

3. It was served with squirty cream! This is a total cream tea crime! Now I’ve not had any other cream teas here in Australia yet to know if this is common, but it did make me pretty sad!

Anyway, back to the walk! The ferry ride was very scenic, with lots of houses backing right onto the water and with superb views. We got slightly lost at the start, as the description in the book wasn’t quite as clear and reliable as usual!

Church Point Ferry

Church Point Ferry

Near the beginning was a climb up a hill to a look out with views over the beach, bay and boats. A bit further on there was a series of pools with a water view beyond, which was also nice. Matt had a little dip in the water and we had a bit of a picnic lunch (although admittedly really we were still pretty full from the epic scones). Getting to the end of the walk was a big area of tessellated pavement and some aboriginal carvings including shields, kangaroos and an emu which were cool.

The majority of the walk wasn’t that impressive compared to some in the Blue Mountains, but overall with the cream tea and ferry ride it was a good day out and I’m glad we went.

 

Aboriginal kangaroo engravings

Aboriginal kangaroo engravings

 

09. April 2014 · 3 comments · Categories: Reviews · Tags: ,
Outdoor cinema, with bats

Outdoor cinema, with bats

The summer here is typically predictably fine and warm, and a selection of outdoor cinemas pop up at a few places around Sydney.

I was keen to try one out, so we signed up for the Hobbit 2 (the Desolation of Smaug) at Centennial Park for a Friday night (see here).

You can either get standard tickets for $18, or ‘gold grass’. Gold grass gets you your own giant bean bag, a spot right in the middle, plus a hot food service until the film starts. We went with the normal seats and considered hiring a bean bag separately. They were $9 and could clearly fit two although in the end we didn’t need one. We got there nice and early so manged to grab a prime spot, right on the edge of the gold grass to pretty central, plenty close enough to the screen and in the amphitheater style wide steps so we got to use one of the steps as a handy backrest. We could lie down against it which was pretty comfy.

You aren’t allowed to take along seats with legs on as they block other people’s view. We borrowed a Thermarest chair from Penny at work (thank you) which was nice and comfy and took a picnic blanket to sit on, a mini camping pillow and of course a hoodie to wear. The screen was a giant inflatable one with supports each side. It did wobble about in the wind a little bit, which made for some interesting distortion effects! As the sun set there were lots of pretty large bats flying about which was cool.

The film started at sunset (8.15pm) and was three hours long so it was pretty late and chilly by the end. Next time i’d definitely take a second blanket to snuggle under. Also at the end Matt did say “You’ll have to fill me in on the last 20 minutes” as he’d gone to sleep!

We took along a lot of snacks to munch on and ended up buying a bottle of wine there too as I didn’t realise you could bring drink until the last minute and we didn’t find a bottle shop on the way (doh!). Overall it was a excellent evening lying under the stars eating yummy things watching a good film. The actual cinema is a similar price. I’m glad we went and would certainly go to another one.

 

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

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?!

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.

 

 

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!

 

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!