Thursday, 7 December 2006

Old News - Newsletter December 2006

I’m back again after a fabulous month-long holiday, travelling around Oz with my mum (and Milord here and there).

I’ve attached a map of Oz, with numbering for your reference ;-).

Mom arrived at the crack of dawn on Dec first, and after a shower and champagne brunch we took her out for the famous Black@dder introductory tour of Sydney (1). This involves a stroll through Balmain to the ferry stop, a ferry ride under the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House to Circular Quay, then a walk along the water past the Opera House (with pub stop) and Botanical Gardens to Lady Macquarie’s Chair viewpoint and Woolloomooloo (another pub stop). Then a leisurely walk through the middle of town to the Darling Harbour waterfront and a late lunch overlooking the water, then a taxi ride home. Then more wine sitting in the garden…We managed to keep mum up til 9pm, which is pretty good going, and she says she slept quite well til 3am… We have a lot of big crow-like birds here called magpies (which tootle) and carawongs (which have a moaning caw) that like to congregate in the garden at daybreak… mum didn’t appreciate that one bit although she got used to it by the end!

The next couple of days encompassed the Aquarium, Fish Markets, Sydney Museum, various lunches and barbeques, and culminated in a belated birthday dinner for mum in the lovely Café Sydney which is on the fifth floor of the old Customs House overlooking the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, lit up at night.

On Sat the 4th mum and I flew to Tasmania and drove to the Cradle Mountain National Park (2), which is lovely and rugged. It reminded us a lot of Scotland in fact, and even snowed to reinforce the impression! We stayed in a lovely little cottage with a huge gas fire, so had a pleasant place to warm up and dry off in after going walking during the day ;-). We spotted wombats grazing, and also spent a bit of time at a Tasmanian Devil info center and got to stroke one… turns out the ravening beast image is not true at all, they’re really shy and only eat dead things. They’re about the size of a staffi, with heavy neck and shoulders, very interesting. We also saw a few wallabies, one of which kept turning up on our porch hoping to be fed!

After 4 nights on Tasmania we flew to Melbourne, and drove due west a couple of hours to the coast, then spent the next two days driving east along the Great Ocean Road (3), which is stunning. Cliffs, rock formations in the surf, winding roads through mountain passes, rainforest and rolling green hills dropping down to holiday villages on white sandy beaches. We also saw koalas perched in gum trees munching on leaves, completely unfazed by us underneath! We reached Melbourne (4) on Friday night, had a really blustery walk along the beachfront near kite-surfers while looking for a sheltered pub and ended up in a very funky backstreet bohemian area called St Kilda out of the wind watching the weird world go by ;-).

Back to Sydney on the Saturday, and Milord and I went to the U2 concert that night, which was as well done as ever, although they’re getting rather too political these days for my taste and kept losing the momentum. On the Sunday Milord took us flying in a little 4-seater plane over the Blue Mountains, then along the coast past Manly Beach and the Heads, and we were able to fly up the harbour and do a few circles near the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, which was fantastic! Our neighbours threw an impromptu barbeque that night and invited us, which was very pleasant. The neighbourhood possum also made an appearance, walking along the tops of the fences!

Milord decided he fancied coming with us to the Hunter Valley (5), so we did a bit of sightseeing on Monday waiting for him to finish work, then travelled there in the evening. We stayed in his (and his ex’s) golf apartment, which is pleasant and quite central. It needs a bit of TLC though, so on Tuesday mum and I had a bask by the pool while Milord shopped for paint etc, then we all mucked in and gave the place a slight makeover. Most of the effort happened on the balcony, with pressure hoses, paint and furniture oil in full flight. Inside we had a spring clean and touched up paintwork – it all looked far better in the end although we were all covered in paint! It’s been on the market for over a year so hopefully this will help. On Wednesday Milord volunteered to be chauffer and tour guide, and we had an excellent wine tour and lunch in the region. Everyone is so friendly, and being out of season we could have a good chat with the staff and try everything ;-). We also spotted a couple of galahs (big pink parrots) in a tree at the golf course.

On Thursday the 16th we all travelled to the Blue Mountains (6) via the scenic, windy back roads, and checked into a somewhat scruffy and grubby but very cheap cottage in Blackheath. Not Milord’s style at all, but he wasn’t supposed to be along on that leg of the trip so I hadn’t allowed for his sensibilities! Then a quick sightsee to the nearest gorge, before heading home to play with the log stove which made it all warm and homely.

Friday morning early Milord headed back to Sydney on the train to go to a birthday lunch/dinner/boozeup, and mum and I went for a glorious scenic walk along cliffs at Katoomba overlooking a vast gorge where we could see flocks of cockatoos flying through the trees below. We walked to where there used to be coal mines, and travelled to the valley floor on a thrilling almost vertical railway that used to carry ore to the top. We had very interesting roam around in the forest and saw a rare lyre-bird, then took a cable car back and walked back to the car. After a late lunch we went exploring in a vast rhododendron garden … being so high up it stays pretty cold in spring and they were just finishing, but we could still enjoy acres of colour.

On the Saturday morning Milord came back very hungover on the train, and after a fry up we headed off for the Gardens of Stone national park which I’d read about somewhere. We’d hoped to go walking but couldn’t find any trails so Milord ended up doing an extremely exciting impromptu 4x4 drive through some fantastic scenery. It’s the first time we’ve tested the car (big 4wd Lexus) off-road and we were pleasantly surprised! We were in the bush for hours, and it was fascinating to see the GPS showing us meandering around in uncharted territory… Then back to the cottage for a jug or two of g&t and a roast dinner.

Sunday was a slow start, with the smell of ash from the back-burning around a nearby bushfire that had been raging for nearly a week. The clouds of smoke over the ridge were truly ominous! We went out to do a walk along the nearby gorge, only to find it completely filled with smoke… we decided to head home to Sydney instead and had a quiet night in. I later heard that the fire jumped the back burning and entered the gorge, which is a shame.

On Monday 20th we did a bit of sightseeing and shopping for dive gear, then joined Milord for lunch before going home to pack.

On Tuesday we flew to Uluru (Ayers Rock) (7), got picked up by a “safari” outfit along with 12 others and headed off to the rock. It was very hot, about 45 deg, so we just did a gentle walk around the base before heading off to watch the sunset change the colours of Uluru. Turns out I’d found a rather, ahem, budget outfit, so we got to watch other tour groups sipping champagne from crystal while the 14 of us shared 2 bottles in scruffy plastic mugs! That kind of set the tone for the rest of the evening (rather blah dinner and no booze to be had), although we had the bonus of our own tent/hut with light and fan when most of the group bunked down in dark dorms. We were the only English speakers in our group, then rest being mostly young Germans and a couple of Japanese – pleasant enough but we didn’t exactly click!

The next day we woke before dawn and set off to watch the sun rise over Uluru and the Olgas (a nearby mountain outcrop sort of similar). We did a walk in the Olgas, through amazing deep red mountains and rock outcroppings. It was hot at 8am, and by late morning when we left the safari and checked into our room in the resort it was scorching! We gratefully collapsed in our en-suite air-conditioned room with a bottle of cold wine and two fresh fruit salads and had a much needed nap, before going to sit in the shade beside a very welcome swimming pool for the rest of the afternoon.

On Thursday we lazed around the resort until midday when we flew to Sydney airport, met Milord and flew immediately to Brisbane (8) to spend the night with his mum, Rita. She is in the middle of a chemo course so was very ill, but managed to stay up quite late chatting to us, and our mums were pleased to have met each other.

Friday we flew to Townsville (9), near Cairns, and spent the afternoon in a pub/restaurant on the beachfront. It was so pleasant there that we had lunch, stayed for more drinks, and when the kitchen reopened we had dinner there too! Then boarded our dive boat and headed off to sea… It’s a somewhat slow boat so took 8 hours to get to the first mooring, through some rather heavy chop and swell. Mum gets seasick, so had dosed herself up for days to deal with it, but lying down in the corkscrewing dark was all too much and she ended up bent over the rail in the darkness with waves breaking over the deck for all 8 hours! When I found her in the morning it was all she could do to sip a glass of water, and she skipped the first dive of the day and instead had a bit of a snorkel.

Luckily the weather and waves were kind from then on, and mum recovered enough to get her appetite back and join us on the rest of the dives. It is definitely the best diving I have done in Australia, reasonable visibility and lots to see. We also did a night dive, which was not as creepy as I expected, and also not as interesting as most of the fish are asleep! Our final two dives were on the wreck of the Yongala, which has been in 25m of water since 1911 and is so overgrown with coral that she looks like a wreck-shaped reef! It’s an excellent site and we’d like to go back, but maybe on a faster boat for a daytrip ;-). We had a nice crowd of 10 other divers with us, from Sweden, America, Oz and England, and the crew were excellent. A bit no-frills, but I can certainly recommend them!

We spent a glorious night back on dry land in big beds that don’t rock with en-suite and air-con in Townsville on Monday night, and flew back to Sydney on Tuesday 28th where we collapsed.

The last few days were very relaxed as we were all exhausted. Poor Milord had to go back to work, and mum and I did some gentle sightseeing for the last couple of days including climbing up one of the Harbour Bridge pylons for amazing views. We had a mob of people over on Thursday night for a barbie to meet the parent ;-), and mum flew home on Friday night.

We are all now back at work trying to get back into routine, and trying to shift the sneaky holiday kilos that crept on! Not easy in December!

Hmm what else? For Xmas we’re going to Brisbane to spend it with Milord’s mum and family as she’s not doing very well. We’ll be back for New Years though – my first hot one in about 8 years – can’t wait!

Work-wise I’m still at Readers Digest, and have been contracted to stay on til June. I am also in the process of applying for a full migration visa, as I now have enough points because they changed the classification of my skills! That will be great to get as then I’ll be free to work for whomever I like instead of just the agency who hold my current visa. All going well I should get it next May/June…

Apart from that I’m counting down to our trip to SA in March. We’re coming over to CT, Gauteng and the Kruger for 2 weeks – a bit fleeting but we can’t take much more time off and still holiday again in the year.

That’s it! Well done if you read this far ;-)

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!