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  • Writer's pictureKeef Hellinger

Blog 168 HOLIDAY 2017 Cont. Diary Part 2 The "Big Trip" with pals, March

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

By keef and annie hellinger, Dec 3 2021 16.56 pm

alice springs outskirts, rocks
diary march 2017

Wednesday 1 March Adelaide to Alice Springs

Had the fresh figs for breakfast which were delicious. Another hot sunny day. The campsite staff drove the golf buggy with all our bags to reception and from there we got a taxi to Adelaide airport. Keef & I didn’t recognise it (we had flown from Alice to Adelaide 10 years ago) so it had obviously had a bit of an architectural make-over. Our flight to Alice Springs left at 10.40am & we had to change our watches as Northern territory daylight saving time was one hour behind Adelaide time. At Alice airport we got the Alice Wanderer shuttle taxi service to take us to our motel – Elkira Motel. We walked around the town & it was very hot at midday. Saw the Residency house & garden which was open to the public. The Queen & Price Phillip had stayed there in the 1960’s for 2 days & he had got food poisoning. Charles & Diana had also visited Alice & stayed there on a later date. Next to the Residency there was a new Northern Territory Supreme Court building almost finished. Walked through Todd Mall & went into tourist info. Keef & I enquired about about the shuttle bus taking tourists to all the best sites in & around Alice but unfortunately it had ceased running. Also the man who used to do the free didgereedo lessons had gone bust & was now a bus driver (we had bought our didgereedo from him 10 years ago). The tourist info staff recommended us to visit the Desert Park a few kms outside Alice so we decided to do this the next day.

We visited an art gallery which exhibited Aboriginal art works – dot paintings. An Aboriginal lady called Margaret was sat on a cushion on the floor concentrating on her dot painting. When we tried to talk to her she was not communicative. The gallery owners probably make a handsome profit from these paintings. We walked on to the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum at 4pm. We had missed the film presentation so instead looked at the museum which was very interesting. Went back to the motel & K & I swam in the pool & then had showers. We all went to the Red Ochre Grill restaurant in Todd Mall for our evening meal.

Thursday 2 March Alice Springs

Had motel buffet breakfast which was very good. Keef had the full English breakfast which was huge. Then we got a taxi to Desert Park ( a wildlife park in the desert outside Alice). I was not feeling well, weak & occasionally light-headed with a cough & swollen glands in my neck – a virus probably picked up on the plane. Hope none of the others catch the bug. C & A kindly gave me some tablets which I took.

When we arrived at the park we had to hurry at top speed to catch the wild birds in flight demonstration in the amphitheatre which was just about to start. The ranger gave an excellent talk about desert birds & the setting was spectacular with the MacDonnell Ranges as a backdrop. We saw owls & kites fly low over our heads & wedgetailed eagles flying at speed towards the amphitheatre. The temperature was 37c according to one of the park wardens & it got even hotter in the afternoon.

We saw animals such as roos & emus & watched an informative presentation about Aboriginal bush tucker by a female Aboriginal park warden who showed us food , wooden tools, weapons & bowls. It was very interesting to hear how the women gathered berries, bush fruits, plus seeds & grasses to make damper (a flat bread) whilst the men’s role was to hunt game. She said that witchety grubs tasted like runny egg yolk & were nutritious. They had to bite the heads off the grubs which were found in dead tree branches or tree trunks. The grubs were about 2½ - 3 inches long & ¾” wide. Luckily she only had a plastic one to show us which did look quite realistic.

We walked into two bird aviaries to see more desert birds, including a large black cockatoo. Then we went to the nocturnal house where an Aboriginal guide told us about the exhibits – small mammals such as the bilby, desert rat, numbat, plus snakes & lizards. He said that the small & thin Death Adder snake is so toxic if it bites you that you only have 40 mins before you die. Thinking back to us walking around Cook on the Nullarbor it was no wonder that the train staff did not want any snakebite victims. Most of the roos were asleep & lying down so we couldn’t see them properly. Did not have any lunch but drank a lot of water. At the end of the afternoon at 3pm we watched a 20 min film about the desert in the cinema. We all enjoyed the Desert Park. Got a taxi back to our motel. Had a shower then I went to bed & slept for 3 hours. In the evening we all walked into town to a pizza restaurant. I ate hardly anything as still unwell. I don’t know how I managed to walk around in the desert heat all day. Went to bed & slept for 10 hours!!!

Friday 3 March Alice Springs to Adelaide

We ate breakfast in the motel again then caught the shuttle transport back to the airport via various hotels & backpacker hostels to pick up other tourists. The Qantas flight went over the desert & some massive salt lakes – no habitation visible at all from the plane apart from dirt road tracks. When we got to Adelaide we collected our large bags from the left luggage lockers & got a taxi to our motel – The Atlantic Towers in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide by the coast with very fine white sandy beaches. This motel was a tall round tower & even our rooms had curved walls. The rooms were very modern & spacious with an excellent bathroom. We all went for an evening stroll & had some drinks at an oyster bar. As it was Friday evening the restaurants & bars in Glenelg were packed. Walked past the marina & more restaurants. There were some very large expensive boats in the marina & designer apartments with sea views. Saw the Glenelg pier, tram & clock tower & then walked back. We decided to have dinner at an Aussie Outback bar/restaurant where we managed to get a free table. I could barely manage my meal (chicken salad) and had to rush to the loo with severe diarrhoea. Walked back to the motel & I took some tummy tablets which sorted me out. Had no idea what caused the bug as no one else was ill.

Saturday 4 March Adelaide to Tanunda, Barossa Valley

Got taxi from our motel to Britz Motorhomes in Adelaide to pick up our two vans. We were there 1½ hours waiting for our van to be serviced as the previous hirer had brought the van back a day later than scheduled. Eventually we got it sorted & then we all went to Coles to do some food shopping. We then headed north towards the Barossa Valley (famous wine growing area). We went through some flat uninspiring marshes after the Adelaide suburbs & joined a highway north east of Adelaide. Eventually we came to rolling hills with vineyards, although no grapes were visible. The Aussies call the vineyards “wineries”.

After 73kms we reached Tanunda, a town in the heart of the Barossa. We went into the tourist info centre to pick up some wine maps & decided to visit a few tomorrow. At 4pm we went to a campsite on the edge of the town called Discovery Parks Tanunda. It was packed out with families staying for the weekend, but luckily we got two pitches next to each other. Allyson & I did some laundry. Keef was feeling unwell (probably the same virus that I had) & it took a while for the aircon in the van to work properly. It was 36c inside the van & we sweated trying to unpack our bags & get everything sorted. Chris & Allyson walked back into town (K & I had walked round Tanundra 10 yrs ago). Keef felt ill so we made up the bed at 4.30 & he went to sleep. He woke briefly & then he changed into his PJs & went back to bed at 7.45pm & slept through the night. .Keef had no lunch or dinner today.

Rather worrying - there were notices on the toilet blocks & laundry that snakes had been spotted in the campsite area – yet there were little children running around & on bikes. I ate with Chris & Allyson who did some salad with the roast chicken we’d bought at Coles. I went to bed at 9.30pm. Quite cold in the early hours, so was glad of the duvet provided with the van.

Sunday 5 March Tanunda & Barossa to Hahndorf

Sunny warm day. Brought in washing from lines whilst nervously scanning the ground for snakes. Keef is feeling much better today. After breakfast we did part of the Barossa wine trail and then visited the Wolf Blass winery in Stockwell, just north of Tanunda. Mr W Blass is aged 82 (originally from Germany) & is the most celebrated winemaker in Australia, winning hundreds of awards, both in Australia & internationally. His career started in 1966 when he first set up his own vineyard & prior to that he had assisted other wineries by passing on his wine knowledge.

We had several tastings including the gold & platinum labels. I liked the Gold Label wine the best. The lady who served us for the tastings was a Kiwi from Wellington & was very chatty & knowledgable about wines. She had worked there for a long time & said that Mr Blass lived in Adelaide but made about 4 trips a year to his winery for promotional purposes. All his awards, glass & silver platters, cups, trophies, medals & certificates were displayed in glass cases – certainly a prestigious career & his wine is superb.

We then drove to Angaston, a small town in the Barossa with heritage buildings & lots of roses in bloom. Bought some bread & pies from the local bakery. Had the pies for lunch. We drove along the scenic route to Mengel Hill Lookout which gave a panoramic view of the Barossa Valley below us. There was a sculpture park there as well which Keef & Allyson went to see. I overheard a local man telling some Japanese tourists that a bushfire had raged through some of the wheat/corn fields but luckily the wind had changed & Angaston & the vineyards were saved. Growing vines is a high risk business & decades of work on the vines could wipe them out & bankrupt the owners.

Then we headed down Mengel Hill & through Bethany to Rowland Flat where Jacob’s Creek is situated. This is the oldest vineyard in the Barossa – established in 1847 & wine was produced commercially. The visitor centre at Jacob’s Creek told the story of the German family who had emigrated to start a new life & information about the early days of its history. The creek was dried up. Keef & I had visited Wolf Blass & Jacob’s Creek 10 years ago & the creek was dried up then. Chris, Allyson & Keef had small tastings of the wines & Keef was obviously feeling much better after yesterday. I didn’t want to try any – felt too sleepy in the hot afternoon.

We drove to Hahndorf through the countryside – very rural farming community. Before we reached the town we were held up by a road accident. A ute had crashed into some trees & was being put on a tow-truck. We arrived in the Big 4 campsite at the edge of town at 5.45pm. This campsite was brand new & was built on the side of a steep hill, with staggered levels & roads. Allyson & Chris used the camp kitchen to cook fish, rice & veggies for dinner. Chatted to some friendly German tourists. A nice campsite.

Monday 6 March Hahndorf to Milang (on Fleurieu Peninsula)

Very overcast today & some drizzle overnight. The hills look covered in mist. Chilly so I wore a cardigan for the first time on this trip. After breakfast we drove into Hahndorf, a German village established c 1843. Some of the buildings were original & very small. Now all the houses have shops inside selling touristy rubbish. However, you could look beyond this to see what the place looked like in the past with German immigrants trying to make a life for themselves. Some of the buildings had original photos displayed outside including the people who ran businesses such as blacksmith, pub, grocery store etc. People love to flock here at weekends to sample the wineries, shop in the village & eat in the numerous cafes & restaurants down the main street.

Leaving Hahndorf, we headed to McLaren Vale to visit Hardy winery. It had a very interesting visitor centre telling the story of Thomad hardy, a grocer aged 20 from Devon, who emigrated & paid his own fare to South Australia. He made his way to the goldfields in Victoria & instead of prospecting he shrewdly decided to make his money by butchering meat & selling it to the miners. With the proceeds, he then bought some land in McLaren Vale & decided to plant grapevines. Now Hardys has a 6th generation running the business.

Continued our journey to a place called Meadows where we had lunch (sandwiches). Then on to Strathalbyn, a heritage town with some quaint old buildings. We stopped at Langhorne Creek so the Langthornes could take some photos. A short drive south took us to Milang & a campsite that Keef & I knew. When we arrived there were hundreds of white cockatoos circling above & settling in trees on the campsite making quite a racket. They were Corellas, a small cockatoo with pale lemon feathers under their wings.

Keef cooked chicken pieces, onions & peppers on the camp BBQ & I did the jacket spuds in the microwave + broccoli & carrots on the hob in the van. I prepared a big bowl of fresh fruit salad. The grass pitches we were parked on had lovely vies of Lake Alexandrina, a large salty lake where the River Murray flows into it. There is a peninsula which is the Coorong National Park but this does not block out the sea water. I tried to offer the Corellas a piece of apple but they were not used to humans. Had some NZ wine called Clean Skin from Marlborough – a white Savignon Blanc – very light & refreshing. C & A washed up & then we all had a game of cards. Went to bed at 10.30 pm – too tired to read my Kindle. My virus has now turned into a runny nose!

Tuesday 7 March Milang to Robe

Left campsite & I bought bread & milk in a local store. Milang was the most important inland port in South Australia in the old days & had a railway line – now all gone. Drove along flat salt marshes & salt lakes to Wellington & got the free car ferry across the Murray River. Went down the Princes Highway 1 to Meningie, a non-descript tiny town. Along the shore at Lake Albert there were information boards with photos & info on the town & its past history. Had lunch in a lay-by – chicken pieces & salad leftovers from last night = cup of tea. Further along the road there were kangaroo signs, but they would be resting during the day.

We stopped at Kingston SE an area of Rosetown, on the Southern Ocean, the town with a massive lobster made out of plastic or fibreglass. Photo opportunity taken by the lobster. Along the seafront was the old Cape Jaffa lighthouse & a long green space with tall Norfolk pines – lovely views of the ocean & we could see the curvature of the Earth.

Drove on to Robe Big 4 campsite. Arrived at 6pm & it shut at 5.30. Managed to contact them by phone & got 2 pitches for a night. Keef & I did tuna mayo wraps for dinner + melon & grapes.

Wednesday 8 March Robe to Mount Gambier

After breakfast we visited the beach by the campsite. The beach was 9 miles long with beautiful fine sand & blue sea. Temperature today 35c. Chatted to an Aussie lady on the beach. We drove into town & went for a walk (4 miles) in 35c heat. Sun was very intense. I was the only one to take a bottle of water – mad dogs & Englishmen etc!! Saw a statue of Matthew Flinders who named some small islands off the coast Baudin Rocks. Back in the 1850s lots of Chinese arrived at Robe & then travelled 200 kms by road to the goldfields. We saw a stingray in the marina & Keef took a photo. The marina looked brand new & a lot of the large homes were empty (obviously holiday homes as all the blinds were down at the windows).

After Robe we drove through vast wheatfields to Millicent where we had a short break from driving. Keef & I saw a small tornado about 1 foot across churn up some dust & move across the road near us. Moved on to Mount Gambier, a large town (Aussies call it a city) built around an extinct volcano. The crater has several vivid blue lakes which is a major tourist attraction. We shopped at Coles & stayed at the Big 4 campsite. Chris & Allyson did burgers & salad & I cut up some rock melon. We were trying to use up all our fruit & vegetables before we cross the border into Victoria due to the quarantine regulations (mainly to prevent fruit fly & other pests damaging crops).

My cough & cold are easing now – had this virus since we were in Alice Springs. Have not been 100% at all since then & my coughing at night kept waking me up.

Thursday 9 March Mount Gambier to Portland, Victoria

Very hot today again. We drove to the viewpoint over the Blue Lake which is at the bottom of the volcanic crater. The water looked like blue glass with a thin edging of turquoise – very calming & spectacular views. C & A did a walk for an hour along a trail which followed the rim of the Valley Lake. The middle lake called Leg of Mutton Lake does not have any water in it. We stopped at Valley Lake – swimming is forbidden due to bacteria & algae in the water. Lots of moorhen type birds with red heads, blue feathers on chests, black backs & VERY big feet! Chris & Allyson met up with us in the car park & Allyson briefly went into the nature park by the lake whilst the rest of us waited outside the fence.

We all drove into Mount Gambier, parked up & walked to a large sink hole & cave just behind the Town Hall, which we’d read about in the tourist info. There were a few shrubs, plants & a red flowering tree along the path & steps down the MASSIVE 50 METRE deep hole in the ground. We could see the dark mouth of a cave further down – took lots of photos. This sink hole was situated right next to a busy street, a bank & the town hall – never seen anything like this before.

We went into the tourist info centre & in the small theatre we saw a free one hour film about the volcano erupting thousands of years ago & subsidiary explosions with the force of an atom bomb caused by the build up of water pressure underground. The film was very detailed with excellent photography & it showed the fault line where the two tectonic plates had rubbed together. There had been two earthquakes in Mount Gambier & the last one was in the 1940s.

After Mount Gambier we drove to Northumberland Point further along the highway. This was on the coast with a lovely sandy beach & azure sea. Had lunch in the bright sunshine on a picnic bench – egg mayo cobs & mug of tea. However, this was spoilt by the overpowering smell of sewage as we drove further along the road past houses. It must have been discharged down an outlet on the beach – not nice & good job we didn’t go for a paddle after lunch. Most of the houses were shut up – holiday homes- so like a ghost town.

After we had crossed the state border into Victoria & on the outskirts of Portland, the next town, we were surprised to see a lone adult koala crossing the road directly in front of us!! We had to brake in order to not run him over. I took a photo of him – gorgeous cuddly!! We stopped for fuel ($1.24 litre for diesel) & drove into the town. It’s a port with container ships but did not look that busy. We spied out a fish & chip shop on the seafront for later & then found a campsite. When we returned later at 8pm the fish shop had closed so instead we went to a restaurant further along the seafront & had barramundi, chips & salad. Back at the campsite we had a game of cards.

Friday 10 March Portland- Warrnambool

Sunny & hot again. After breakfast we drove to Cape Bridgwater to see the blowhole, petrified forest & seal colony. The blowhole was not very spectacular – more like a wave crashing against the rocks. We had to take a wooden boardwalk down to the viewing area & were attacked by annoying biting flies, especially as we were wearing shorts. The petrified forest was a misnomer – it was limestone rock eroded by sea water & then eroded by wind to form weird vertical tube-like shapes which were several metres tall. We saw no seals or other marine life. On the return journey we found the seal colony car park and found that to walk to it along the headland took 3 hours. We didn’t have time was we had food to buy & we were aiming to get to start the Great Ocean Road scenic route along the coast the next day.

We returned to Portland & did a big food shop at Aldi (did not know that Aldi supermarkets were in Australia). When we left Portland, unbeknownst to us all at the time we got speeding fines from a camera which clocked us doing 6mph over the limit & this fine ($197 = £106) was posted to our home address in England as Britz had given the police our address. As our post was being re-directed to Craig & Leanne’s house they got the fine a couple of weeks later & e-mailed us about it. Obviously we had to pay the fine to the Victorian police.

Drove to Port Fairy – a lovely little town on a river with a heritage wharf with small yachts & motor launches moored. Some of the old wooden houses looked fab with beautiful cottage gardens, white picket fences & wooden verandahs with wrought-iron work. Thought it looked a bit like New England – very pretty. Stopped at a bakery for a late lunch with seating outside & bought pies & cake. The chicken & leek pie was the worst pie I had ever had – it was mainly a glutinous white sauce. The town was busy as a 3 day folk festival was about to start with thousands of people expected. The tickets were more expensive than the Glastonbury festival. There was an afternoon concert for children with musicians singing silly songs. We couldn’t stay in the Big 4 campsite here as it was fully booked, so we decided to drive on to Warrnambool & look for a campsite near there, although we knew there wasn’t a Big 4 there.

At Warrnambool we called in at the tourist info & the helpful lady there found us the last 2 available pitches at a Top Tourist campsite in town. We stayed one night & they both had en-suite loos/showers etc on the pitches. We got 10% off & the site was packed. Keef cooked pork & vegetables in a Japanese sauce with rice & I did some papaya & passionfruit for dessert. There were still people arriving with trailer tents in the dark – lots of families with kids as it was a Bank Holiday weekend in Victoria – Labor Day.

Saturday 11 March Warrnambool &, Great Ocean Road to Princeton

Cool but & sunny today. Set off along the Great Ocean Road, one of the top scenic coastal drives in the world and visited all the places of interest & viewpoints. This was the 3rd time Keef & I have visited. The Bay of Islands & Bay of Martyrs were spectacular rock formations along the coast. At The Grotto further along the route we saw an echidna waddling along a grassy bank next to the steps leading to the grotto. Took lots of photos. Saw a thin (pencil) black snake on the same bank.

By midday the weather had warmed up & it became hot & sunny. At one of the viewpoints & spotted a creature in the grass next to the path & took a photo – it looked a bit like a rodent. It got very busy at Loch Ard Gorge as there were lots of coaches. Also very busy at the 12 Apostles – now there are only 6 rock stacks left as the rest have fallen into the sea with erosion. The visitors centre no longer has info on the rock stacks & erosion (2 cms of coast eroded a year) as it’s now a kiosk selling snacks & drinks. There were lots of signs warning about venomous snakes around the car park. It started to drizzle with rain as we left the 12 Apostles.

At the end of the day we stopped at a campground in Princeton which was reached down a very short dirt road & a bridge over the Giltbrook River. The campsite was a council owned recreational ground & was only $20 a night but had no electric hook-up. We parked next to some tents. It was raining by now, but overnight it became torrential. Keef & I slept well with the rain drumming on the roof.

Sunday 12 March Great Ocean Road to Geelong

Awoke to see ponds had formed near our van. Some of the tents had leaked & the occupoants had spent the night in their cars. Left Princeton & drove down a secondary road to Cape Otway, through the Great Otway National Park – 11 kms. We looked out for koalas but did not see any. Near the Cape there were a lot of dead trees with no leaves. There was a charge of $19.50 (£11.70) each to visit the lighthouse which was set back from the entrance so you could not even see it from a distance. Being a Bank Holiday weekend the car park was jammed & Keef & I did not think it was worth the money to see the 1856 lighthouse. We’d been inside the similar aged lighthouse on Rottnest Island which was free to visitors. Chris & Allyson decided to do it so we agreed to meet up later in Apollo Bay further along the GOR. Keef & I returned along the road & kewpt stopping in lay-bys to look for koalas but saw none.

Apollo Bay had changed considerably since we were last there in 2008 & not for the better in our opinion. Now so touristy & full of coaches, fast food joints & not attractive. Keef & I went into the tourist info centre & asked the lady if the Kennett River campsite was still operational & she confirmed it was. We then went to a supermarket to buy milk & bread & had lunch in our van. C & A used their walkie –talkie to say they were in Apollo Bay & we met up. They stayed in Apollo Bay to get some lunch & we went on to Kennett River & unfortunately found the campsite was full. While we were waiting for them to arrive by the campsite Keef & I saw some koalas in the gum trees & took some photos. One was asleep & the other was higher up eating leaves.

Chris & Allyson arrived & were excited to see some koalas. A man alerted us to some other trees where a koala was eating leaves & moving around lower down the branches. At one point I thought he was going to fall but their claws are very sharp to help them cling on. Took lots of photos & video. Love those koalas – they are so adorable. Lucky to see 3 koalas at Kennett River. We carried on along the Great Ocean Road to look for another campsite & it was so busy everywhere. Gorgeous views of the blue-turquoise Southern Ocean with cliffs & waves crashing on beaches.

After the town of Lorne (like Oxford Street at sale time) we decided to turn inland as it was so busy & we knew we’d never get a pitch at any campsite along the rest of the route judging by the packed sites around the Lorne area. We drove over the Otway Ranges & I saw another koala asleep in a tree branch above the road. Eventually the National Park ran out & we came to hills with fields & farms. We tried at Winchelsea to find a campsite but no luck – we were advised to go along the Princes Highway 1 towards Geelong & stay at a service station area for the night. It was free & had some toilets. Keef & I did tuna & salad wraps & papaya for dinner. Tomorrow we head into Melbourne.

Monday 13 March (Bank Holiday Monday) Mount Macedon & Hanging Rock to Melbourne

Another hot & sunny day. Set off north of Geelong to Mount Macedon on the Great Dividing Range. Lots of open bush as it was a national park & therefore very susceptible to bushfires. Drove through the town & on to Hanging Rock. Now you have to pay for car parking so we had to get a day ticket $10 as there was a barrier across the entrance. Keef & I went to the visitor centre again (we last climbed the Rock in 2008) & read about the book & film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. It was the remains of a volcanic caldera that once erupted a long time ago. Chris & Allyson followed the path to the top & they said it was busy as it was the Bank Holiday. We said we would do the picnic when they returned.

Keef & I read our Kindles in the field where our vans & other cars were parked. We got quite a surprise when a large grey kangaroo suddenly bounced between the two motorhomes. It saw us sitting in our picnic chairs, skidded on the gravel edge of the car park road right next to us & then did a U-turn & hurriedly jumped back past our van when I exclaimed Oh! The roo had obviously panicked when he saw us. We knew there were kangaroos in the park as there were notices but we certainly didn’t expect to see one so close in a field with lots of vehicles parked round the edge. It’s strange how you come across wildlife when you least expect it, like the koala walking across the road.

After Hanging Rock we headed south to the Big 4 campsite at Coburg, North Melbourne. We booked two nights at this campsite so we could visit Melbourne tomorrow. We could not get two pitches next to one another though. I did two loads of washing & hung it between the van & a tree & some of it was dry by the evening.

Tuesday 14 March Melbourne

Walked through Coburg residential area to get the tram into the city centre. A very hot day 32-33c especially as we were doing a lot of walking. Did not like the graffiti on walls, houses, shops, flats & anything that was stationary – looked tacky & unkempt. We saw Federation Square, then walked along the River Yarra to the 1950s Olympic Park, entertainment stadiums, tennis centre where the Australian Open is held, & the cricket ground. Next week-end is the Oz Grand Prix motor racing round Melbourne. Had a rest & drink to cool off in the café at the cricket ground. Allyson & Keef, who were ardent cricket fans, took lots of photos of statues of famous cricketers including one of Shane Warne complete with mullet hairstyle. A security lady was doing bag searches on everyone who went inside the building.

We caught the tram from the cricket ground back to the city centre & then took the old style tram which is free around the central route. We got off at the Greek Quarter expecting to have a late lunch there. Unfortunately it had virtually disappeared as there were only two restaurants left and they were closed. The tram commentary said that Melbourne had the highest concentration of Greeks in the world after Athens.

Instead we went into a Greek cake shop & had drinks, savoury filo pastries & baklava, which were tasty. Then we decided that as it was after 4pm it was not worth tramping the streets in the heat until the restaurants opened in the evening, so walked back towards Collins Street & the tram back to Coburg. On route we stopped at a pub for some cold drinks. I had pear cider and the others had beer. The pub was called James Squire who was a convict sent to Sydney with the first fleet for robbery. He set up a brewery with some hops & became a successful brewer in Parramatta. We returned on the tram in rush hour but Keef was offered a seat because he had a walking stick with him. Then a long walk back to the campsite – in all we walked 6½ miles today in the heat !! We were very tired. Did a snack supper of tea & cheese & biscuits & apple in our van as it was too dark to sit outside. Had a lovely cool shower- bliss!

Wednesday 15 March Melbourne to Gippsland & Traralgon

Left Big 4 campsite & got fuel then the sat nav took us through the outskirts of Melbourne which took about an hour- a big city. Headed down the Mornington Peninsula from St Kilda (lots of tall palm tree, a funfair, beach & beautiful homes) which had a bit of a Miami vibe. We did some food shopping at Woolies in Frankston & Chris bought some more toilet blue liquid stuff at Bunnings $17.50 as our supply had run out.

We ate lunch at Mornington on a picnic table & the seagulls were pestering us as we ate our roast chicken rolls. Looked at the map & decided that if we wanted to spend 2 days at Lakes Entrance then we needed to get a move on as it was 3 o’clock & we were still on the Mornington Peninsula. Decided to cut across country inland to a Big 4 campsite just off the Princes Highway at Traralgon. This was a brand new campsite $32.40 with a swim pool & excellent camp kitchen. Had burgers, potato salad, Greek salad & strawberries & nectarines.

By now it was dark. I chatted to a woman from Scotland who had lived 37 years in perth & never been to Rottnest Island or Monkey Mia! Played cards.

Thursday 16 March Traralgon to Lakes Entrance

Keef did a bacon & egg cob for breakfast in the new camp kitchen. Drove along the Princes Highway to Sale, which used to be a busy Victorian inland port. Cargo & people used to arrive by boat through Lakes Entrance & there was also a railway line which went all the way to Melbourne. My ancestor Edwin Masters was a ship’s captain on the Emeo which carried wood & coal from Lakes Entrance to Sale in Victorian times. He lived at Lakes Entrance & died in1921. I only discovered this in my family tree research after Keef & I had already visited Sale & L/E in 2008.

Saw some sulphur crested cockatoos in a tree at Sale harbour. Drove to Lakes Entrance & went to the lookout to see the sea lakes & isthmus & further down the hill we saw the entrance channel to the three lakes. We were hoping to stay at the 4* Big 4 in Lakes Entrance for two nights. It had 3 swimming pools but unfortunately it was full. We ended up in a Tops Park in the town which was small & cramped but at least they had two pitches next to each other. We decided to stay 1 night rather than 2. We walked along the foreshore & across a pedestrian bridge & saw some black swans.

We crossed over the narrow sandy isthmus to the beach which was called 90 Mile Beach. Another ancestor of mine, Capt Alfred Masters who was a brother of Edwin, & had been a master mariner in the Merchant Navy in England, drowned off this beach in 1892 when his schooner carrying cargo sprang a leak & he couldn’t swim to shore. Captain Masters was only 33 & engaged to be married. The bush along the coast was not a good place to walk through due to venomous snakes & paralysis ticks.

The weather was turning very windy & cool so Keef & I walked back to the motorhome whilst Chris & Allyson walked 6kms along the isthmus track. They said that there were signs warning people about snakes so good job I didn’t go. Keef & I used the camp kitchen (which was very good) & did chicken, jacket potatoes, carrots, beans & onions.

Friday 17 March Lakes Entrance to Mallacoota

Another day of warm weather but not as hot as previous days. We stopped four times on the journey mainly travelling along the Princes Highway. We stopped briefly in Orbost to see the tiny pioneer wood house which was original. The house once had a family with 10 children. It’s now the tourist info & the lady there recommended we go on a loop road to Marlo and Cape Conran which we decided to do. We followed the road by the bank of the mighty Snowy River (made famous by the Oz poet Banjo Patterson in ‘The Man From Snowy River’ which I read at school in Sydney). The river starts in the Snowy Mountains in NSW & empties into the Bass Strait, Victoria. Marlo was a tiny place with a little pier and we were surprised to hear a huffing noise from under the jetty. It was a large seal who was looking for fish. We saw him at very close range & he was looking at us. Liked his big eyes & long whiskers & we took some photos. The sun came out & the sea looked blue with the breakers crashing on the shore. Right near the mouth of the Snowy River we saw an old man panning for gold by using a suction tube to get the sediment from the river bed and putting it through a sieve.

We went to Cape Conran but did not see any koalas. Did a short walk onto a beach which stretched for miles along the coastline. This area of coastline in Victoria is called the Wilderness Coast & mainly national park. Saw a dead seal on the beach. We rejoined the Princes Highway & stopped after Bell Bird Creek to do a rainforest walk. This was in an area called the Benum River Rainforest which was a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest with tree ferns, creepers and trees with a small stream. The walk was about a mile and some of it was boardwalk & the rest was forest track & dirt road. Luckily didn’t see any snakes. We were looking out for a duck billed platypus in the small stream and though we saw some holes in the bank we did not see any. I saw a small lizard on top of a mossy fallen tree trunk and Allyson took a photo of it.

We continued along the Princes Highway & drove through virgin bush where the eucalyptus trees stretched for miles. This was called Alfred National Park & Croajingolong National Park. We drove down a side road to Gipsy Point which K & I had visited before – a quiet little sea inlet with a few homes, holiday cottages & boat jetty. The tourist brochure said that lyre birds & sea eagles could be seen here. We did see 3 large kangaroos lazing on a lawn in front of someone’s house.

We carried on the route to Mallacoota & on the outskirts of the small town I saw a whole group of kangaroos in a field. We just got booked in at the Foreshore Camping Ground ($32 a night per pitch site) before they closed at 5pm. Nice views across the inlet to virgin bush, some tiny islands and the Howe Range hills in the distance. Had sausages for dinner. We are staying two nights here.

Saturday 18 March At Mallacoota, Victoria all day

After breakfast Chris & Allyson walked to the shops in Mallacoota and Keef & I went for a long walk (about 2 hours) around the campsite. This was a big site with 769 pitches but the facilities were very old fashioned but adequate. It was popular with fishing people who even brought their boats with their caravans. At one of the many boat jetties we saw a very large stingray come up to the surface looking for fish & crustaceans. It had orange spots/splodges on its brown back, orange under its wings & was about 3 feet across. Unfortunately Keef was not quick enough to get a photo before it swam down from the surface & away. We then walked out of one end of the campsite towards Shady Gully looking for koalas in the trees. We returned to the jetty on the way back but the ray had moved on. Then we called in at the camp reception office to ask about koalas & other wildlife.

The man there was very chatty (he was a retired volunteer) but he did not know the type of stingray that we’d seen. Then he said that a koala had been spotted high up in a tree on the other side of the campsite so we walked along looking at the trees in the area specified. We saw it asleep & Keef took some pictures. We could hear the surf loudly crashing on the beach part-way across the inlet. By 1pm it started drizzling so we returned to the motorhome.

Chris & Allyson returned and said they had found a good café to have breakfast tomorrow morning & they had seen a nice eco driftwood sculpture that they wanted to buy in a local art gallery. For lunch we had tuna wraps & salad. It was drizzly all afternoon so I did some cross-stitch embroidery (a Christmas sampler). Wi-fi was difficult to get into & was very erratic. We’ve had this problem in nearly all campsites where the free wi-fi is very restricted or it does not work unless you’re seated on the top of the nearest telecoms mast!

Just as dusk I went back to look for the koala but he had moved away from the tree. On the way back to the motorhome I saw 11 kangaroos (including a rare albino one) feeding on a grassy plot across the road from the campsite & I took some photos. Chris & Allyson cooked fish on their campervan pull-out BBQ, with veggies & wine. Shame that the weather had turned overcast & showery later in the afternoon. We had some heavy rain during the night.

Sunday 19 March Mallacoota to Pambula Beach, NSW

Weather brighter & some hot sunshine later in the morning. We drove into the town & went to the café called Lucy’s for cooked breakfast which was tasty & coffee. We then drove through the residential area of Mallacoota where there was a sign by some woods which showed lyre birds were around, but we didn’t see any. Keef thought he saw a snake by someone’s front garden so we turned round the block to have another look but it had gone.

Stopped at a car park at Double Creek where there were some very noisy bellbirds but no koalas. At Eden in New South Wales we stopped to visit the Killer Whale museum which Brian & Gina had recommended to us before the trip. It was $10 each & well worth it as we were there for a couple of hours. It showed the history of whaling in the Eden coastal region from the 1840s onwards. A pod of killer whales had helped humans to catch whales by driving the large whales into the bay towards the men in boats. The killer whales were then rewarded by the men allowing them to eat the tongue & lips of the whale (gory). Often the pod of killer whales splashed to alert the men to a nearby whale. It was the only example known in the world where the interaction of man & killer whales was for mutual benefit.

The whale blubber was boiled down to create whale oil which had various uses back then, such as lamp oil (before electricity was invented) & the baleen from whales’ mouths was used for whalebone corsets of Victorian women. The locals who had rheumatism used to sit for hours in a large hole cut in the top of a dead whale where the rotting flesh meant that the temperature rose to 40c - yuk. The local people swore that this treatment did them good although a hot steam bath/sauna may have been more environmentally friendly. No doubt the horrible smell from the rotting whale meant they forgot about their rheumatism.

In the bay at Eden the whalers caught a massive Blue Whale that was 93 feet long in Victorian time. The killer whales continued to help three generations of one whaling family at Eden & the whales were all given names based on the characteristics of the dorsal fin. Killer whales live to be about 37 years old on average. A skeleton of a killer whale called ‘Old Tom’ was displayed in the museum.

The whole whaling industry & the rheumatism cure was pretty disgusting and repugnant to us all now. We want to preserve whales & love watching them rather than killing them. The museum also covered the local timber & tuna fishing industries. The tuna was caught off the Eden coast and then taken to Narooma further along the coast for canning then exported to the USA. There was a section on local people who had fought in France, Belgium & Gallipoli in WWI & WWII. The museum was fascinating.

We drove to the harbour to take some photos & the lookout point on the steep hill but it started to drizzle & the sea mist was coming inland so the views were poor. We finished the afternoon at Pambula Beach where we stopped for one night at the Big 4 campsite $35. The site was flat, grassy and right by the sandy beach. There were several kangaroos who wandered around eating grass & were obviously used to people & vehicles. Took some photos & a video. We saw some rosellas in the tree (red, yellow & green). I nearly got knocked over when a very big grey kangaroo bounded right past me from the corner of a chalet which took me by surprise. The other grey kangaroos were quite little. Allyson saw some black cockatoos in a tree but didn’t manage to get a photo.

Keef, Chris & I went swimming in the indoor heated pool – the weather had turned cool & misty/drizzly. Keef even went in the unheated outside pool. This campsite is very good for amenities (camp kitchen, BBQ, showers, pools with changing room/shower, TV room) & the fact that it’s so close to the beach. There were a couple of people surfing on the big waves but hardly anyone on the beach apart from a lone sea fisherman. In fact the campsite was less than half-full – so it felt more spacious with so few vehicles.

Keef & I cooked pasta & sausages/ stewed apple & nectarines with yoghurt. There was no wi-fi as a lightning strike on the Bank Holiday Monday had damaged the power lines so Keef & I read our Kindles.

Monday 20 March Pambula Beach to Dalmeny

We set off along the tourist coastal route from Pambula to Tura Beach. We parked & walked to the long stretch of lovely sandy beach with hardly anyone on it. We continued on the tourist drive to Tathra, NSW and we stopped at the historic wharf/ warehouse where lots of kids & adults were fishing. There were some large rocks next to the wharf called Point Danger. The sea looked very blue & a lovely sunny day. Saw no dolphins. People were catching fish called ‘flatheads’ from the wharf & we could see lots of salmon in the clear water by the jetty. The warehouse was now a restaurant. Steamships used to call in at the wharf to deliver goods, post & passengers.

We drove round the hill top down to the beach at Tathra & walked on the beach to admire the view & saw the wharf across the bay. We had our lunch at the car park by the beach & Allyson did some rolls with chicken salad & mayo- yum! Very hot at lunchtime & I could feel the intensity of the high UV rays.

Then Chris & Allyson set off to meet Laura & Steve who were driving down from Sydney & the plan was for us all to meet up at a campsite in Dalmeny, which was further along the coast in NSW. Chris & Allyson hadn’t seen Laura & Steve since last summer when they came over to the UK & France. We planned on staying for two nights at Dalmeny. Keef & I did a slight detour before joining them all at the campsite at 4pm.

Keef & I drove to Tilba & Central Tilba – two villages about 2km from the Princes Highway. Central Tilba is a National Truct village with Victorian buildings & pretty little front gardens with roses & lovely shrubs. We realised when we got there that we had visited the village 10 years ago! The single storey houses looked like small shops from the pavement but due to the steep hillside they were jutting out on 2 or 3 levels at the rear. We had an icecream from the village Emporium which was for sale – the owner had run the shop for over 30 years & was retiring. We noticed that a lot of the buildings in the village were for sale. We were the only tourists in the village.

We continued our journey north along the Princes Highway to Narooma. Very sunny. Like a lot of coastal towns most of the houses were shuttered & closed up as they were holiday homes. Also not much work in these places either & lots of businesses & homes were for sale. Narooma has a sea inlet with a small harbour. There were no fish shops, oyster shops or restaurants. We arrived at Dalmeny Campground about 4pm & saw Laura & Steve who had just arrived & checked in to reception. Nice to see them again after 4 years. We checked in & were given a space next to C & A. Laura & Steve put their tiny tent up & then we all gathered for drinks (Laura opened some champagne), appetisers, cheeses & lots of chatting with a great view of the coast & beach below us.

Just before 7pm we decided to go & get some fish & chips across the road from the campsite. We ate them overlooking the coast. They were the most expensive fish & chips takeaway that we had ever had ($21 including chips, which alone were $12 – worked out at £12.60 each). We carried on chatting until it was dark. Laura & Steve had spent 6 hours driving down from Sydney today so we were not surprised that they were tired after this long journey. Later that evening we had some heavy rain. Our pitch was already muddy from previous rainy days but it got worse overnight.

Tuesday 21 March Dalmeny, NSW

We stayed all morning in the campsite. Steve had organised a boat trip for us all at Wagonga Inlet , Narooma as he knew the owner of the electric boat there who did boat trips. Keef & I went in Steve & Laura’s car & Chris & Allyson drove their van. The boat was built in 1905 & had been diesel/ petrol but had been converted to electric some years ago. Electric boats are very quiet & there is no smell of diesel either. We left the jetty at 12 noon & had a very informative & humorous commentary from the 66 year old captain. He had lived all his life in the area & since a boy had fished & rowed to school in a small boat. He told us lots of yarns including his dad catching a Mako shark & a Great White Shark which had swum into the inlet after fish. There were lots of oyster beds & we found out a lot about the industry. We also saw sea eagles & their nest high up in the tree tops.

He pointed out a ‘stinging tree’ which is toxic if the leaves touch your skin. The pain can be very intense & last for weeks or even months. Apparently there are 3 types of stinging tree – all in Queensland & NSW. Keef & I had heard about these trees when we went on a river trip up the Daintree in Queensland. Also Great White Sharks are now protected in Australian waters & you are not allowed to kill them. The captain also told us he had worked in a tuna canning factory in Narooma in his youth. The boat trip cost $30 per adult – well worth it & very enjoyable.

As we neared the jetty it started raining & then it stopped briefly. We had tuna mayo wraps for lunch which I had prepared for everyone & sat at a picnic bench with a view of the inlet. It started raining again & got heavier. We did a short walk past the marina & jetties, which looked rather decrepit & unused apart from a couple of boats moored.

We drove to an oyster shop on the other side of the bridge across the inlet & some of us bought oysters & ate them. We then parked nearby & did a boardwalk along a bay of the Wagona Inlet. By now it was pouring with rain & only Laura & Steve had sensibly brought rain jackets with them. It had been sunny when we set off from the campsite & we thought we were just going on a boat trip which had undercover seating. From the boardwalk we saw two large stingrays and a small brown one.

We were quite soaked so went back to the campsite, got into dry clothes & had a cup of tea & then all chatted in Chris & Allyson’s motorhome as it was still raining. The ground by the door of our van was extremely muddy & boggy & we sunk in by about ½ inch. Gradually the weather improved & we could all sit outside again. Later on Chris & Keef cooked a lovely BBQ of beef burgers, sausages, fish, salad & cobs. Lots of stars out in the sky.

Wednesday, 22 March Dalmeny to Mittagong

Chris, Allyson, Laura & Steve had planned on staying on at the campsite for a bit & then travel north to Jervis Bay National Park & camp there for two days. Keef & I thought we would head inland as we’d been all along the coast in the past & wanted to take another route to Sydney. We said our farewells after breakfast & left at 9.30 to drive to Bateman’s Bay along the Princes Highway. Then we turned left to take the Kings Highway across the Great Dividing Range. We hadn’t done this route before & we drove through National Parks on both sides with eucalyptus bush stretching for miles. It was sunny, the scenery was great & it was quite a steep climb over the mountain range with steep drops at the side of the road. Some of the eucalyptus trees were very tall & there were deep valleys with a few sharp hairpin bends going up. We met a few road trains going the other way but the highway was not very busy.

We reached Braidwood where we stopped for a break. Had a walk around the town looking at the heritage houses. Braidwood is a historical town with extremely wide streets, old shops, a supermarket (IGA) & a pub of course. Bought some pasta sauce from the IGA store & then drove on to Bungendore & on to historic Bywong goldmining town. When we eventually found it we were disappointed as there was not much left of the town – a couple of wooden mine shafts.

We joined the Federal Highway to Goulburn. This was the first inland city in NSW & was quite big – 24,000 population. The city streets were built on a grid system and it had a big shopping centre with old Victorian & 1930s buildings & numerous churches (we counted 6 just on one street).

Then we took the Hume Highway towards Sydney. We turned off the main road to a small sleepy village called Marulan where we bought some pies & a cake for lunch. A Chinese family ran the bakery & cooked everything on their premises. Another Chinese family ran the new general store (or they were all part of the same family). The buildings were very old & interesting, including the Royal Hotel & general store. It suddenly started raining very heavily with lightning.

We rejoined the Hume Highway again & the rain became torrential, so much so that our windscreen wipers could hardly cope. We pulled over onto the hard shoulder as the road was awash with water & visibility was very poor. Despite this we were amazed to see lorries & cars rushing past at high speed. On downhill slopes the rain was collecting in the dips which was worrying if it became too deep to drive through.

We got to Mittagong where we decided to stop for the night. The rain had stopped & we found an excellent campsite with no mud & hardstanding for the motorhome @ $35 a night. For dinner we had pasta, sausages & sauce. There were some large noisy cockatoos that made quite a racket at dusk. We saw some more lightning but no more rain & it turned into a nice evening.

Thursday 23 March Mittagong to Narrabeen Lakes, Sydney.

Dry weather today. We took the country route through NSW via Balmoral & Thirlmere. We saw some old train engines & carriages behind a fence in a museum in Thirlmere. Keef took some photos. Saw some kangaroos in fields & a flock of white cockatoos. Quite a lot of farms, homesteads & horses in paddocks – very rural. We went to Warragamba Dam which I had last visited as a teenager with my family in the late 60s-70s. I remembered that there used to be a lion safari near the dam which my family had visited but this no longer existed.

The dam had an excellent visitors centre & a viewing area overlooking the dam. Warragamba is one of the biggest dams in the world supplying domestic drinking water. In fact it supplies 80% of Sydney’s water. The dam’s volume of water is four times that of Sydney Harbour. It was built between 1948-1960 & 15 men lost their lives during the construction. There was a wall of plaques commemorating them. A lot of young immigrant workers were recruited to work on the dam & a whole town was built to house them. Warragamba Dam was considered to be a major engineering feat in its day. I didn’t know that Sydney also has a desalination plant to convert sea water to drinking water & is powered by the wind. We found the visitors centre was very interesting.

We then headed to Narrabeen Lakes, a Big 4 campsite in Sydney which we had pre-booked for 1 night whilst in England. This was the 3rd time we had stayed at this site. We went to the local Woolies supermarket to do some shopping & it started raining. Had cheese & biscuits back at the campsite for our evening meal.

Friday 24 March Narrabeen to Britz (to drop off motorhome) & then to Beacon Hill

After breakfast we packed our bags & drove to our apartment in Beacon Hill (78a Beacon Hill Road) to drop off our luggage & food supplies. We were met by the owner Katrina Dell as her husband Roy was on their boat. She showed us around & explained how all the equipment worked, such as washing machine, dishwasher, coffee machine etc. She was very chatty and pleasant & said that they also owned the house adjoining the 1 bedroom apartment. They rented out the house to an English family. The landlords owned a boat & they had moved there whilst we were staying in their flat. They had previously lived on their boat for 4 years.

The apartment in Beacon Hill had magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and beach suburbs. It had a swimming pool, sundeck, BBQ & thatched dining area that Katrina called a Bali hut. The fully equipped kitchen was open plan with lounge/dining area, TV, downstairs loo and bedroom with balcony, TV & en suite bathroom. We weren’t used to this luxury after being in the motorhome & on campsites. They left milk, wine, coffee, butter & chocolates for us which was very kind. Keef was pleased we could use the De Longhi coffee machine.

After Katrina had gone we put the food away & then drove the motorhome across Sydney to Botany Bay, Meadowbank. We left Beacon Hill at 12.45 & it took us almost 2 hours to get across Sydney because of the heavy traffic – such a busy city. We dropped off the motorhome at Britz reception & then saw Chris & Allyson who arrived there after us. They had travelled up from Jervis Bay which took them 3 hours along the Princes Highway.

Keef negotiated a refund of $80 for a half day’s motorhome because we had been kept waiting for hours at the pick-up in Adelaide as the previous hirer had returned the van a day late. Also we said that the toaster had blown a fuse & there was a small fault with the pull-out BBQ on the outside of the van which meant that the knob on one of the gas rings didn’t work. Chris & Allyson had a nice time at Jervis Bay with Laura & Steve & they were waiting for them to come & pick them up from Britz in their car.

Keef & I caught a bus outside Britz which took us to Redfern station & from there we got the train to Chatswood on Sydney’s North Shore. At Chatswood bus station there were no timetables for buses but having asked several people & bus drivers we found a bus that would take us to Beacon Hill. However, we were misinformed and when we went past my old house in Frenchs Forest & turned somewhere I didn’t recognise I realised that we were not going the right way. Noticed also that a massive new hospital is being built on the outskirts of Frenchs Forest called the North Shore Hospital. We had to change buses & luckily caught another one that was going the other way. This bus dropped us off at the top of the road where we were staying. It started to rain at 4pm as we walked down the hill to our apartment. Too tired to unpack our bags & Keef said he had found it stressful driving across such a busy city.

I did some washing in the machine & hung it indoors on a clothes airer while keef cooked us steak, vegetables & jacket potatoes. We watched a film on TV – The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman which we had seen before. Quite a busy & tiring day.

Saturday 25 March Beacon Hill, Sydney

We had a relaxing morning- had showers, did some more laundry, Keef cooked us bacon, scrambled egg & baked beans, which we ate outside on the deck. The sun came out for about an hour & I put the clothes airer outside our bedroom on the balcony. Keef was sorting out finances & checking transport routes in Sydney on the laptop. The wi-fi here is quite slow. The family who live in the adjoining house have a boy (junior school age) & a teenage girl aged about 13 & they went in the pool for a bit.

We had lunch (egg mayo roll & cheese & biscuits) & then watched a film ‘Eddie the Eagle’ about the ski- jumper from GB who was in the Calgary winter Olympics – a good film & true story. Then we watched an Aussie film called Red Billabong which started OK but then got ridiculously stupid with a monster terrorising people on a country homestead – a dire plot! Saw a cruise ship go along the coast at Dee Why.

We did a Skype video call with Doug, Phoenix & Charlie who was bouncing around & happily showing us her new 20 piece jigsaws which she had completed- clever girl. It was so lovely to see them again & chat. Charlie had a virus with a temperature yesterday but she is OK now. She kept waving to us & telling us the animals on the jigsaws. Doug & Phoenix told us that they were going on a cruise with P’s parents at the end of June. It’s for 5 nights from Hong Kong to Japan on an American cruise ship. Charlie is only two & already she’s been to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Bali & England – very well travelled!! P’s parents have organised the cruise for them all – sounds good. Doug said he’d been to an interview with another bank this week with Standard Chartered Bank (English) & may get a second interview. It was 7pm in Singapore & 10pm here in Sydney – they signed off as their dinner was ready. Went to bed at 11.45pm.

Sunday 26 March Beacon Hill & Sydney

In the afternoon we caught a bus to Manly from the top of Beacon Hill Road as we were meeting Laura, Steve, Chris & Allyson in Sydney for a picnic & the opera (Carmen). The bus went to Dee Why & Warringah Mall & then to Manly Wharf. We asked at the tourist info in Manly about return buses on Sunday evening after the opera but all buses stopped by 6.20pm!!! For a big city this was ridiculously early.

We took the very crowded Manly ferry across the harbour to Circular Quay. On Sundays there is a cap of $2.50 per adult to travel anywhere on the NSW transport system (bus, Manly ferry, train) which is very good value. We had bought our Opal travel cards whilst in England & they allow you to put money on the electronic travel card & then use the card to register trips on the transport system (similar to the MRT/bus cards in Singapore). The maximum daily amount you can be charged is $15. We started with $40 on each card. This is such a good idea for Sydney & NSW as you don’t need cash for travelling.

From Circular Quay we walked to the Botanical Gardens where we were to meet up with our friends. Very hot today in Sydney & the gardens were tropical. When we found the Victoria Lodge Gate (which wasn’t signposted anywhere) we waited a while before Laura came to collect us. They had trouble parking the car. The venue for the opera was in the gardens opposite the Opera House & Harbour Bridge.

Laura & Steve had prepared a picnic for us all & we took along a bottle of wine. The sunset was around 7pm but it was overcast & cloudy – very humid & sticky. After the food & drink we took our seats at the opera (the tickets were a Xmas gift to us from Chris & Allyson) & we were really looking forward to the performance & music. We had a good view of the stage which was like a floating pontoon with 2 access ramps on either side of the stage for the opera cast to use. There were 2 cranes either side of the stage & when the show started they swung round to deliver a tank & truck to the stage. The whole performance was spectacular & the setting of the night- time Sydney skyline, illuminated Opera House & Harbour Bridge enhanced the event. Very enjoyable show by Opera Australia. There was a 25 minute intermission.

At 10 pm Keef & I had to leave 15 mins before the end as we had to walk a long way back to Circular Quay to get the last ferry at 11pm. All the gates round the Botanical Gardens were closed at dusk so we had to exit at the Victoria Gate Lodge entrance. We could not walk round the edge of Farm Cove to the Opera House which would have been a much quicker route. Instead we had to walk into the central business area past the Art Gallery & museum & past the Cahill Expressway (underground tunnel across the harbour) to Macquarie Street. On route we saw a large possum on a grassy area & took some photos. He was oblivious to us & was intent on searching for tree seeds. We made it to Circular Quay with about 10 mins to spare! Good job we left when we did. The Manly ferry left at 11pm on time & when we got to Manly we got a taxi back to Beacon Hill ($20.80. Had showers when we got back as such a humid day (80% humidity).

Monday 27 March Beacon Hill

Had a relaxing day in & around the swimming pool. I did some laundry & ironing. Watched some films on the TV. Keef cooked burgers on the BBQ for lunch by the Bali hut. Winds were strong in the afternoon – palm trees were swaying & weather turned cloudy – storm coming.

Tuesday 28 March Beacon Hill

Strong winds & heavy rain drumming on the roof woke us up during the night. Cyclone Debbie was hitting the Queensland coast around Townsville, Mackay & Airlie Beach (we had been to these coastal towns in 2008). It was a category 4 cyclone with winds recorded at 270kms/hour which is 167.7 miles per hour. The townspeople had plenty of warning about the cyclone & were told to stay indoors. There was lots of damage to houses, boats in harbours & businesses & schools were closed. The news said that this was the second worse cyclone to ever hit Queensland.

We decided to go to Warringah Mall in the morning and then watch a film called ‘Lion’ at the cinema complex there. The film was a true story about an Indian boy aged 5 who was adopted by an Aussie couple in Hobart & he wanted to find his roots & family back in India. A very good film starred Dev Patel & Nicole Kidman. I got a new watch battery at the Mall & we did some food shopping at Coles before getting the bus back to Beacon Hill.

Wednesday 29 March Beacon Hill

Hannah & Connor came round at 3pm which we had arranged & Connor had a little dip in the pool with his swim nappy on. We had bought him a cardboard book of Australian animals which we bought yesterday at the Mall. He is 20 months old & knew shark, koala & crocodile & the colours apart from orange. We then went in Hannah’s car with them back to their apartment in North Balgowlah as Hannah had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. She is expecting a second child in July & knows it will be another boy.

We looked after Connor whilst Hannah had her appointment. Hannah & family had just returned from a weeks holiday in Thailand. They were off on Friday for a few days to Orange, NSW for the food & drink festival which they had been to last year & really enjoyed. They’re staying in the same rented accommodation nearby as last year. David came home from work (he cycles into the city centre which takes him 40-50 mins).

We hadn’t seen the family for 4 years which was the last time we’d visited them in Sydney when they lived in Vaucluse. Riley, their dog, was still as cute as ever. We took along a bottle of sparkling wine & Hannah cooked us a lovely dinner. Hannah gave us a lift back to Beacon Hill at 10.45. It was lovely seeing Hannah, David, Connor & Riley again & just before dinner we did a Skype with Brian & Gina, as it was Gina’s birthday. B & G were going to some national trust gardens for the day.

Thursday 30 March Beacon Hill

Rained all day non-stop & it was quite torrential at times so we decided to stay in the apartment all day. Watched some films & read our Kindles. The cleaners came 9am to do the apartment – took them 1½ hours.

Friday 31 March Trip into Sydney & Darling Harbour

Got bus 169 through Dee Why & past Warringah Mall to Manly Wharf & took the ferry to Circular Quay. We walked round the Quay & saw a huge cruise ship called ‘Emerald Princess’ moored at the overseas passenger terminal. We walked through the business/office district to Darling Harbour. There were lots of restaurants around the harbour & it was 12.30 so lots of business people were having lunch. As we walked along the quayside there were information boards & pictures showing what Darling Harbour used to look like.

We walked all the way round to the Hard Rock café where Keef bought yet another T-shirt costing $40 to add to his collection. Then we had lunch there – we shared some chips& chicken goujons. After a rest we walked through the shopping centre called Harbourside which wasn’t very good (a few tourist tat shops etc). We crossed back to the other side of Darling Harbour on Pyrmont Bridge, built in 1905. We caught the ferry from Darling Harbour wharf back to Circular Quay, then the Manly ferry & bus. We got wet as it was raining when we walked back down Beacon Hill Road. Turned very overcast & then the rain was torrential in the evening. Watched TV & had dinner.

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