Dark and Cold

January 11th, 2020 , 20:03

We’re back and it’s dark and cold. Very dark. Very cold.

Last day in Sydney was mainly running around getting last minute things and sending post. We had planned to go to the Fish Market for lunch, but Joe’s ankle was bad (we did a lot of walking over the past few days) so he didn’t think he could get that far. So we ate at Mary’s – chicken and burgers.

Then back to the airport way too early. Gave us time to rearrange some packing and change clothes in an attempt to feel a bit more together. First leg of the flight was around 14 hours, then 3 hours in Doha (why we weren’t on the earlier London flight, I don’t know!), and then another nearly 7 hours to London. But I’d organised a taxi to meet us – it was really nice to come out and have someone there to take over the bags and get us home! And our bags came out quickly so we were on the way very soon after we’d landed. Hooray!

But yeah, Britain is cold and dark. And rainy. While we were circling it was lovely clear skies, so clear we could see Walthamstow Town Hall below us. By the time we’d landed and got out of the airport, it had clouded over and was grey and dreary. By the time we got near home, the skies had opened and it was pouring rain. Welcome home.

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End of the Road Trip

January 7th, 2020 , 20:33

We decided to drive to Sydney via the last bit of the Coast Road that we could safely do. So we checked out of the hotel in Wollongong and made our way to the Grand Pacific Drive. Leaving Wollongong behind we had to make to sharp right turns into various little lookouts to see the cliffs and the sea, but couldn’t see the Sea Cliff Bridge until we were on it! And even then it was only a few spots that you could see it was a bridge (K: I dunno, I was driving and pretty sure I was on a bridge.)

We stopped at the suggested parking after we’d been over the bridge and started down the path to have a view. But we came into a neat little gully where we saw a water dragon (K: no really, that’s what they’re called!) We also saw dragonflies and eels. (K: little tiny eels.) But we didn’t go any further because our legs complained. (K: and we wouldn’t get a view of the bridge, it was a path to lead us onto the bridge.)

We stopped at a few more spots until we eventually came to Bald Hill Lookout, where you can get a really nice view of the bridge. (K: we promise to upload and label photos soon. Probably this weekend at home. Probably.) We then used the toilets and both came out giggling because it was all automated, with a voice that explained how things worked, that you had 10 minutes (K; leading one to worry that maybe one takes longer than 10 minutes? Surely not?), and then calm lift music plays. Everything was operated by a push-button, even the toilet paper. The toilet also flushes when you wash your hands and when you open the door. It was all rather surreal. Joe said it was a cross between Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who.

We drove on into the Royal National Park which was very pretty to drive through (K: twisty little roads that climbed steeply up and then dropped down meant I was driving slowly and paying attention to the road. But Joe is right, it is pretty!) We stopped just before we left the park by a piece of water and watched a cockatoo. Then we drove through the Sydney Suburbs to Botany Bay to see where it all started.

We stopped at the Kamay Botany Bay National Park Visitors Centre and had a quick look at their eight days that changed Australia display before walking down to the shoreline and past various monuments to events that happened, including the landing place of Cook.

After this we put our exit plan into operation, which involved stashing bags at the airport and returning the hire car. We then retired to our very nice suite for our last night in Sydney (K: and Australia. Don’t wanna go.)

More Wollongong

January 6th, 2020 , 20:25

The weather was cloudy and meant to be raining so we decided to do indoor stuff. The idea was to do some final shopping and go to the Science Space. We walked to the town shopping centre and had a look around at a few things and then planned the walk out to the Science Space.

The weather was nicer than we expected (still very dull and cloudy, but today we could see the mountains!) so on the way out we came across a detour into a small annex of the Botanical Gardens so we decided to take it. It had a short boardwalk over a saltwater creek and mangroves before paralleling the beach for just over a kilometre. Managed to spot a few birds and quite a few lizards scurrying about. From there we popped onto the beach for a few metres before turning back inland and back to the Science Space which was located in Wollongong University’s Innovation Park.

We didn’t do much in the Science Space as it was targetted at the much younger age range (K: I think they have stuff on for the school holidays so it’s aimed for those during the summer.) We then took the free loop bus back into town and the harbour. (K: Yep they have free buses!) We stopped for a nice three course lunch overlooking the harbour (K: sat right at the window).

After lunch we carried on back to the hotel where we tried to get everything into our bags in preparation for heading back to Sydney tomorrow and our last days in Australia.

Final Road Trip

January 5th, 2020 , 21:12

Yesterday was driving, just driving pretty much! We woke up to a bit less smoke – not sure if it was the towel or the a/c but slept better. Up and over cups of tea we worked out a safe route – we wanted to spend a couple of days by the coast so last week we booked a hotel in Wollongong which was far enough from the fires, we hoped! So we worked out a safe route to Wollongong, checking to make sure roads were still open.

The drive started in smoke as we headed for the motorway. This time the GPS said 472 kilometres on one road! And it was motorway pretty much the entire way, with parts like motorway and others a bit more like dual carriageway. But not as interesting, not as much to turn off and see (what there was was closed due to fires), so just driving. We drove out of the smoke and it was clear for a while, though we kept an eye on the warning signs on the road (lots of side roads closed and warnings of smoke). We drove back into some smoke and saw a lot of fire engines driving past going the other way, but all in all it was a rather boring drive.

Until we got outside Wollongong. We’d been gradually working our way up but as we came to just outside the city we suddenly plunged down – you just drop from the mountains into the city and there are excellent views across the city to the sea. That part of the drive is lovely! We didn’t do much once we’d arrived – headed out and walked along the coast to find a place to eat!

Wollongong is still smokey – the wind is blowing the smoke this way and slightly in and the mountains seem to hold it over the city. Though the north seems a bit clearer.

We got up this morning a bit later and had breakfast in the room before heading out for a walk along the beach. It was a cloudy, windy day with lots of smoke adding to the general gloom. The morning was a bit brighter. We walked along Wollongong Beach to Flagstaff Point and the lighthouse, then out along the breakwater to the Breakwater Lighthouse, before heading along the coast up the North Beach past the swimming pools and the old gentlemen’s swimming baths. It was a nice walk and the north beach wasn’t as smokey (or we’re getting used to it!)

We had lunch at a little cafe then walked back along the Cliff Road looking down at our morning route. It got darker while we were having lunch and started to rain on our walk back, but mostly drizzle. It did a little bit of a heavier rain then almost immediately stopped. But once we were back in the room it came down quite heavily. It’s supposed to be a bit wet tomorrow so we’re planning indoor activities!

Beer and Bandit Country

January 3rd, 2020 , 20:17

We headed for Beechworth and the breweries. We had two on our list, Bridge Road Brewers and Billsons. The website was not completely clear about the tours, so we aimed to be at Bridge Road by 11am. We were in Beechworth early, through heavy smoke, and stopped at Tourist Information for a map and to find out where the best place to park was. We also asked about the fires and were assured they were still quite a way away, just it was very smoky! Turns out you can park along the side streets all day for free. So that was good. We also discovered this was Ned Kelly country.

We headed for Bridge Road Brewers and got there a bit past 11am and asked if we could have a tour. A very nice man came out and introduced himself as Donald and said if we’d wait a minute he’d give us a tour. So it was just the two being shown around by the CEO. It’s a lovely little brewery in an old coaching station. They do small batch beers that Joe says is very good (yes, Kathleen tried a couple and, if she had to, could drink a bit. But the scrumpy was very good). Definitely recommend going and the $15 tour gets you a flight of four beers. They use Ned Kelly in their branding as well!

Then we headed for the old part of town, which included the telegraph office, the Courthouse, the Town Hall, the Ned Kelly Vault Museum, the Burke Museum and a couple of other buildings, one included information on the forestry service and firefighting which was quite relevant! When we went to the Courthouse they were getting ready to do a talk about Ned Kelly (it’s usually a walk, but they cancel the walks when the temperature gets to 38C and do one as a talk in the Courthouse). So we got to hear about Kelly and a brief reenactment of his trial in Beechworth (the trial started there and was then moved to Melbourne). Everything gets linked to Ned Kelly!

After the museums and looking around the older part of town we headed for Billsons. We got there a bit later so they were getting ready to close. I knew they didn’t do tours but had hoped to get some tasting; however, they had a big group at the tasting bar and didn’t seem to see us. So we carried on and can’t tell you if Billsons is any good!

We got some tips of things to see around Beechworth from the woman at the Courthouse, so we went to see them as we were leaving. First we drove around Mayday Hill, where there is an old asylum (now closed but they do Asylum Ghost Tours) and Benevolent Asylum, where they took in homeless people and orphans. It was an odd drive, but interesting. Then we headed out to the cemetery and then over to Gorge Road.

Everything says Gorge Road is one way and a very beautiful drive, what they don’t say is there are sheer drops as you go up and down the gorge! You go on one side of the gorge, gradually working your way down to the bridge over the stream, then back up the other side. It’s very narrow, twisty, and rocky but paved. Most of the way paved, there is a section that is gravel which has a huge hump in the centre which our little car almost didn’t manage! But it is a very beautiful drive and worth doing.

The area was so smokey we woke up this morning to a smokey room and headaches, so tonight we’ve put a towel across the bottom of the door to our motel room and put on the a/c.

Road Trip continued

January 2nd, 2020 , 20:23

Set the alarm and packed up the evening before. The idea was to get out of Melbourne as early as we could, avoiding traffic. We managed fairly well even though Google threw a few curve balls again. We left Melbourne by a different bridge with some interesting architectural bits. We passed out of the city of Melbourne and started looking for somewhere to have breakfast, or at least a cup of coffee.

The first place we tried was small, historic, and shut. So we ended up at a very modern service station stop on the motorway where everyone was stopping. (K: and by everyone we mean everyone – the place was packed.) After that we carried on the M31, though this isn’t the motorway you are picturing if you’re British. The M31 is more of a dual carriageway. This took us pretty much all the way to our next stop at the Blazing Stump Motel and Suites. (K: Joe keeps calling it the Blazing Saddle Motel.)

As we got near the end, the smoke started to close in. By the time we checked into the hotel the area was definitely smokey. (K: we checked at the reception to make sure we weren’t in a danger area, the fires are about an hour and a half from here.) After putting our bags in the room we decided to have a look at Lake Hume which is a 10 minute drive away. So back in the car.

When we did find places to stop for the lake it painted an eerie picture as the lake level looks quite low, it really being a reservoir, you could see many of the trees which have been submerged, dead and poking up from the water, and the smoke haze surrounding them. Whether due to the smoke or something else, there was very little bird life around. So we decided to head back to the hotel room to have a light snack while we waited for the local recommended restaurant to open.

Just before 6pm we made our way to the Blazing Stump Hotel restaurant which turned out to be a new experience all in itself! The place is very large and was almost fully packed with groups, mainly families with lots and lots of children. They gave us a menu and a table number and a wave in the general direction of where the table was. Once we picked what we wanted to eat we had to go to the ‘Order Here’ bar and pay. The queue for this went past our table and was varying lengths, but never no one queuing, the entire time we were there. You then get a ticket and a buzzer for when you’re meal is ready to be collected. You have to go to the main bar (different area) to get drinks.

While all this was going on they were holding raffles for various things (K: It was member’s night and there was a ‘here’s how to join’ speech. At least I think that’s what he was saying, the place was very loud!) As we ate our meal minibusses were arriving dropping off more people – most of these were large groups! And everyone knew everyone else. Management was opening extra spaces (so the function rooms) and seating people there.

After dinner we fled to the quiet of our room. Tomorrow we’re probably having lunch/dinner at one of the local breweries in the area.

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2020 , 18:52

So out to Southbank last night to board our boat for our new year’s cruise. We were early, as always! But soon loaded on and we had what we thought was the best table on the boat – we were on the lower deck but right at the bow. We could just step out on the bow to see things. Got our pre-dinner drink and waited to leave the dock.

We got a safety briefing and the Captain also pointed out that as the tide was unusually high we probably couldn’t fit under one of the bridges, in which case we’d do doughnuts. We did end up going back and forth between, we think, the Evan Walker Bridge and Swan Street Bridge, very slowly back and forth. Dinner was leisurely with gaps between courses so we had plenty of time to get out and see the city drift past.

We didn’t see much of the family fireworks as they were behind trees, but what we did see was good. We also made it past the Swan Street Bridge late in the evening and got to see more of the river. The Captain had us positioned in the middle of the river with a view of the city and Joe heard the countdown start – so we had a view of all the fireworks in the city (well, there may have been some behind buildings).

Melbourne doesn’t have a central focal point, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the London Eye, so they do fireworks off the top of the buildings and in several parks all over the city. It is spectacular and we had one of the best views in the city. Definitely recommend the new year river cruises! Though when we got back to shore around 12:30 it was packed with people leaving. We were luckily needing to go perpendicular to where everyone else was trying to go, so we got through fairly quickly (and it was better than when we were in the centre of London a few years ago!) So we back in the hotel room by 12:45.

So a very late start today (made later by doing laundry). We went for a walk down the river the opposite way from our boat trip last night. Another lovely day. We had an early dinner and are planning the last week of holiday! Trying to avoid the fires.

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New Year’s Eve

December 31st, 2019 , 14:09

Slept in a bit this morning. We’d had a fantastic meal last night and a bit of a walk in the rain (yay rain) so slept in. We really haven’t done much today. We confirmed our reservation for tonight – we are doing the new year’s dinner cruise on the Yarra River tonight. We also walked around the shopping district of Melbourne. And we went into the Koorie Heritage Centre and looked at the art show. Now we’re resting for tonight.

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To Melbourne

December 30th, 2019 , 21:00

Lazy start to the day, up late sorted and out. Drove up to where we’d had dinner and found a 2 hour parking lot and went to have breakfast. Wandered back by the library which had some nice sculptures, though Joe wouldn’t let me go in. Decided to head into Geelong to see what the waterfront looked like, with the understanding that if we couldn’t find parking we’d head somewhere else.

Found parking easily (seems people would rather park down by the beach than up on the hill). Finally saw a cockatoo (but still only in the air, still haven’t seen one landed on something! Seen plenty flying though.) We walked along the waterfront, which has a nice swimming area. Had a lido for children which was shallow, then an enclosed area in the sea surrounded by decking with floats and diving platforms.

We then walked up to the pier, passing some nice old houses and looking at the bollards (Geelong is known for the bollard walk). We went in to see the 126 year old carousel, which is now enclosed to protect it (Joe thought the protection wasn’t done very sympathetically, but probably due to cost). We didn’t ride but had a look and at the older pieces. Then we walked down the pier. It’s mainly parking with a bar/restaurant at the end which was closed. There is some nice sculpture around the waterfront and children play areas.

From the pier we headed to the Wool Museum and the Tourist Information centre. We didn’t go into the Wool Museum (Joe was probably worried about allergic reactions!) but we had a look around. They also had the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition showing there. But we wanted to get on to Melbourne, so we headed back to the car, along part of the town then the waterfront.

The drive to Melbourne wasn’t too bad, a bit of traffic on the West Gate Bridge, but otherwise rather easy to get to the hotel. The car is now parked until 2 January! Hooray! We rested in the room – it was nice to just stop for a bit – and learned that Australian game shows are very snarky! Then out for dinner. We found a place that had Jambalaya for 2 on the menu so we went in and had that. It was really good.

Tomorrow we have a look around Melbourne!

Road Trip Part 2 (every kind of road)

December 29th, 2019 , 22:11

So we have travelled on motorways, A roads, B roads, and C roads in Australia. We’ve also done sealed and unsealed (ie paved and unpaved) roads, as well as named and unnamed roads. All the roads.

We left Victor Harbour after a walk about the area. We found a nice bakery with very yummy doughnuts – they also did a ‘whale doughnut’ which is a huge flavoured doughnut. We did not get that one. Just plain ones. With coffee. From Victor Harbour we headed out to go around the coast. This meant going inland (yes, I know, but it did). We hugged the coast as much as we could and were making good progress until we found ourselves at the end of a stopped queue of cars, vans, campervans, and caravans. A long queue. Leading to a ferry we hadn’t realised was on the route (going inland began to make sense). So we backtracked a bit and took another road up to the A road and over the river, and back down to the coast. We didn’t see any cars coming from the ferry road, so not sure if the ferry was even running!

As we got onto the A Road for the detour I saw a lookout sign and turned quickly up it. May have startled Joe because he may have been messing with his phone. Teach him to pay attention. It overlooked the Murray River, sort of. Between the trees. The Wellington Ferry probably would have been more interesting, but that was a very long queue.

We got off the A1 and onto the B1 rather quickly and went back to following the coast around. To be honest it wasn’t that interesting a drive. There were some interesting marshes and pink lakes, but for the most part it was farmland and no overlooks to the sea.

We’d struggled to find accommodation for this section of the trip, so we had to head inland for our hotel. It was in Coonawarra off the A66 in the middle of wine country. You want to see wineries and vineyards and cellar doors and tastings, drive up the A66 – I think they are all there. The hotel is lovely, Coonawarra Units, looks like an old stable with lovely rooms and a lovely garden in the centre. I think most of the people staying were doing wine tours. That may be a place to do a longer stay! (Joe may disagree.)

We were so tired we just headed out to the nearest supermarket (IGA). We’d planned to get a cold meal or something we could microwave in our room but they had roasted chicken (they called them BBQ Chooks), so we got that and some salads which we had in our room. Very relaxed! Then the next morning we had a relaxing breakfast in our room as the hotel puts the makings for a light breakfast in the rooms. They supply coffee (instant), tea, orange juice, apple juice, milk, cereal, and bread, butter and jams. It was really nice to sit and have a quiet breakfast.

Today’s drive was better. We started out heading for Mount Gambier. I wanted to see the Umpherston Sinkhole (Cenote) – a sinkhole in Mount Gambier which had been turned into a garden in the 19th century, then redone in the 20th. We got there early enough that it was quiet with just a few people around and we had a nice walk down into the hole. It’s a beautiful spot.

We then decided to head for Port Fairy and go to any of the lookouts. Joe had named a couple the night before. We tried one but it was down a dirt road was that was narrow and all the roads to the side were closed due to fire danger, so we decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to continue. But then I saw the turn off for The Crags which I remembered Joe mentioning (though he didn’t remember it!) So we went down to that which gave us a lovely overlook. There also weren’t many people there.

We went through Port Fairy. Had thought about stopping to eat, but didn’t see much we wanted so we carried on. At Warrnambool we decided to continue on the Great Ocean Road. We had thought we’d turn inland and take a quicker road to the hotel, then come back out to see the bits on the Ocean Road, but instead we did it today.

So off onto the B100 and along the coast. It took a while to actually see the coast but when we did it was spectacular. For most of the bit we drove, you can’t get down on the beaches. There were a lot of bird prints and it looks like there may be little penguin nesting sites down there. We stopped at The Bay of Islands, The Grotto, London Bridge, through Port Campbell. At each stop it got more crowded, with more people. So by the time we got to Loch and Gorge the car park was full and we only just managed to get back out, so we didn’t see that. The Twelve Apostles was a zoo – bit less than the Gorge though as the parking was better organised with a huge overflow. But there were so many people going to look at the stacks that it was ridiculous and you could barely see anything. So we quickly went back to the car.

With the crowds we decided to head inland and head for the hotel in Geelong. I had said I’d continue on the Ocean Road, but Joe said no point, especially with the crowds. We would discover that the decision to see the Ocean Highway and the decision to turn off when we did were very good decisions indeed!

We drove through more rolling farmland until we got to Geelong and the hotel. Another lovely little motel, Rose Garden Motel. When we checked in the woman on reception asked us if we’d come by the Ocean Highway and when we explained what we’d done she said that was a good thing. Apparently a large music festival in Lorne (Falls Festival) has been cancelled and the Ocean Highway and roads around are blocked!

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