2 years....no way long enough!

Trip Start May 02, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

  As before, for those who want to map our progress we have been to.... Tallebudgera (Qld) and then in NSW; Brunswick Heads, Casino, Arrawarra, Kempsey, South West Rocks, Hat Head, Port Macquarie, Harrington, 12 Mile Creek, Forster, Soldiers Point (Port Stephens), Hunter Valley, the Entrance and....... Sydney, which is where this entry comes from.
We have spent the last 5 months mooching our way down the east coast; sometimes doing no more than 50kms between stops (we've nicknamed the van "The Tortoise").   There are so many beautiful little places to stop and although all the beaches are fabulous, there is always the feeling that the one you didn't stop at will be the best.  We've also decided our favourite sites are the ones in the middle of National Parks with the only noise coming from kookas and cockies and the rustling of grass as the odd tame goanna comes to the van looking for his lunch.
After leaving Brisbane we headed down to Palm Beach on the Gold Coast.  It's probably the most well known coastal strip -because of Surfers Paradise- and much busier than the Sunshine Coast.  
 Our caravan park was on Tallebudgera Creek, at the point where the river meets the sea so we had the choice of both and there was a cracking rainforest walk around the headland into Burleigh Heads which is a very popular spot for weddings, there were about 3 on the Saturday afternoon we first did the walk and whole area was scattered with Frangipani flowers - the scent was gorgeous.  One of the few advantages of it being so much busier were all the cafes and restaurants around and also a fabulous sports hall, with 8 sprung wooden floor badminton courts, right opposite the park.  We managed to play several times a week, including 7.30a.m on a Sunday morning - how's that for dedication! The early start was not a natural for me but it made sense as it was so hot - we were absolutely dripping by the end.
The weather was great for our first week but the second week it was appalling.
Brisbane was hit by the worst storms in 25yrs and was declared a natural disaster area.  There were hundreds of homes either demolished or badly damaged and loads were without power or water for days.   We were lucky and just had some huge electrical storms- which were a bit hairy but also exciting- and then rain, rain and more rain. We still managed some days out, to Surfers itself, which wasn't as tacky as I remembered and into Tambourine Mountain which is touristy but lovely.

  One of the quirky things about living here is that 15mins down the road you are in NSW and while Qld doesn't have daylight saving, NSW does, so it's an hour ahead during summer time.  We also had to say a temporary farewell to our good friends Elizabeth and Paul as they were racing down to Sydney but we did at least have a lovely day for a get together at the van with a bottle or three!  

We moved on after two weeks, leaving a green and verdant Tallebudgera, to our next stop Brunswick Heads, just north of Byron Bay.  Byron itself used to be a hippy haven and even now is still a bit like that, only also full of youth, backpackers and surfer dudes.  Definitely not our scene.  We went in a couple of times including once to go "snorkelling with turtles" off Julian Rocks marine reserve about 5minutes out by boat.  We probably were the oldest there by about 30yrs so either we are "young at heart" or just "sad".  The snorkelling was good and we saw some fabulous fish but only one turtle - apparently we should have seen Hawksbill, Green and Giant Loggerhead but the water was pretty rough - and no dolphins, though we have seen plenty of those anyway so weren't too bothered.  The water was surprisingly cold so we were glad of our wetsuits and I must say the "oldies" were just about the last ones back in the boat! 

In the afternoon we went fishing off the harbour wall just next to the caravan park and saw a couple of fabulous stingrays. They were just mooching around the rocks and coming right up to the surface, great to see but wouldn't like to hook one.  Needless to say we didn't catch any fish worth keeping and had to rely on the lamb chop backup.  The weather was very hot again and we were spending a lot of time on the beach sunbathing and having a great time in the surf which was quite strong so we decided to buy some boogie boards.  I'm sure it must have brought a tear to many a local's eye to see us mastering the art of body boarding....though they may well have been tears of laughter!

Brunswick Heads, like so many, is just a small seaside town but it has a lovely feel to it and because the caravan park was right next to the heart of the town we had easy access to all the local shops. We went to the Brunswick Hotel one Sunday afternoon as they had really good live bands playing and then in the evening, an even better guitarist. We ate and drank far too much and had a great time "people watching"...we couldn't believe the middle aged hippies/oddballs still floating around.  A lot of the men had straggly Shredded Wheat beards and sideburns like Weetabix and one guy even had a lighter lodged through a pierced ear!!
We worked our way down to Arrawarra, a tiny little place just north of Coffs Harbour.  We stayed at the Lorikeet Tourist Park which was very well run and had fabulous amenities including a pool, heated spas and a tennis court but because it was also right next to a good surf beach we tended to use that instead of the pool.  As the name suggests there were zillions of lorikeets around and there was a feeding session every afternoon.  The noise was unbelievable and at one point I think I had about a dozen birds on my head and down both arms, chattering away and munching the honey bread and seeds.

There were also lots of kangaroos roaming around the park, especially early in the morning and at dusk when they came out to feed.  On the way back into the park one evening we stopped by the area with all the roos and just watched them for a while. There was a youngster suckling from its mother and although it paused for a moment to look at us it obviously wasn't too bothered as it went right on back to the milk bar.  

We took a picnic and went to a great fishing spot called Red Rock and as per usual we caught lots of undersized bream, flathead, whiting and ludderick. The current of the outgoing tide from the creek was very strong and it was lovely to float in it and just let it take you down stream to the sea.  Not so easy getting out though as you had to swim really hard across the current to reach the bank and apparently a couple of people a year are drowned in the waters around there by being swept out to sea. The beaches at Arrawarra and Corindi are safer but we both liked the ruggedness of the headland there and the beach was fabulous though completely empty, the surf patrol was all set up with the flags etc and not a soul anywhere.  Even we weren't brave enough to take our boards into that surf.  

The nearest proper town to Arrawarra was Woolgoolga which had a huge Sikh temple and population, lured there originally by the banana growing industry.  It was a funny little place but we had a superb meal at The Bluebottle Bistro where you can often see Russell Crowe having a coffee and a natter with the locals.  He has a property along the coast and I can definitely understand why he would choose to live in that area.
It was about now that we realised we weren't going to get down to Sydney in time to use the flights we had bought to go back to Tasmania for Christmas.....so we bought some more from Port Macquarie and told ourselves that definitely, absolutely and no maybes about it, we would get there in time!
We made it to Port Macquarie for the 16th December and stored the van and ute at a caravan park within walking distance of the airport. We flew back to Tassie for 3 weeks and it felt like "home" as we flew into Hobart but we could definitely feel the temperature difference.  Christmas Day was very hot but that was one of the few as the weather was generally pretty dismal while we were there.  When we watched the yachts arrive in the Sydney to Hobart race it was really cold and it was blowing a gale and raining for our day at the Taste of Tasmania.  There was even snow on Mt. Wellington on New Years Day!  
Christmas Day itself was great, we had it at my brother's, about 12 of us in total and had a delicious cold buffet with oysters, huge crayfish that David (brother) had caught, the biggest tiger prawns I have ever seen, a couple of whole Tasmanian salmon, turkey, ham, salads etc. etc. all finished off with a hot xmas pudding that was 2 years old and full of booze.  David found it very strange to have a hot Christmas Day and a cold Christmas lunch!  It was also a FIRST EVER time where my I, my mother, brother, son, nephew and grand nephews were all together.....guess who forgot to take any photos?   Certainly good memories though.
We also made sure we made the most of Tassie's unsurpassed soft fruit season.  We went to a pick your own fruit farm one day and absolutely gorged ourselves on big black juicy cherries and all types of soft fruit.  I thought I would never look at another cherry again but it's amazing how good my powers of recuperation are!
We picked the rig up from Port Macquarie and drove to the inland town of Kempsey.  We had decided to stay away from the coast as it was still school holidays and everywhere was either full or very expensive.  The park was pretty basic but we were fine as we had a very nice secluded site with open spaces and woods on two sides and nobody near at all. Some of the permanent and tourist cabins though were the oldest and grottiest ever seen and we'd have been pretty annoyed if we had booked one of those for our hols.  

Kempsey itself seemed a bit run down although the Macleay River running through it was very impressive. We had a couple of runs to the hinterland visiting "The pub with no beer" made famous by a Slim Dusty song (who?!) and the countryside was very green with lovely rolling hills and lots of fat, contented looking healthy cattle. 
Thomas Keneally was also born and grew up here; in fact "The River Town" is based on Kempsey.  
After a couple of weeks, even though the holidays weren't over, we decided to bite the bullet and head over to South West Rocks on the coast.  SWR is a lovely little place with 4 superb beaches all completely uncrowded and with amazingly soft, clean sand - though it took a while for us to use them as there were bluebottles (marine stingers) everywhere for a couple of days and there had been a couple of shark attacks along the coast in the previous few weeks.  We decided not to use the boards for a while!
Our next door neighbours in the park were "poor" farmers from Tamworth and were in a custom made 5th wheeler that carried 4 horses as well as 2-6 people. They also had a superb ocean going boat plus a Harley Davidson - Dad was a real "boys toys" type but they were a really nice family and they were raising an orphaned joey. The mother had been shot and they think the joey was about 6mths old.  They had had her about 2mths and at 8mths she is still tiny.  She sleeps in a sheepskin pouch and is bottle fed about 3 times a day and is absolutely adorable. Just like a human baby, as she was drinking her bottle her eyes were closing as she got sleepy and then she just snuggled down in the pouch and went straight to sleep.  She hops around quite confidently, but will then sit up, lean back and almost topple over as she loses balance.  Really funny to watch.  

It was the end of January by now and we were, and had been for weeks, having very hot weather. Temperatures were breaking all records and one day Melbourne was the hottest place on the planet with a high of 47degrees.  N.S.W. and South Australia were also suffering extreme temps but Victoria was the worst hit. 
We left SWR and moved all of 35kms down to Hat Head and absolutely loved it.   Its even smaller than SWR and  right in the National Park so there is very little around, just a couple of general stores and the Bowling Club, but there is the most fantastic beach that must go on for 15kms all the way round to Smoky Cape Lighthouse and Trial Bay. You can drive all the way round the bay with a 4wd which was tempting but a bit of a hassle messing round with the air in the tyres.  There is also a lovely creek flowing into the sea where we snorkeled at high tide and there were loads of fish.  It was lovely heading upstream and then just floating back down with the current and unlike Red Rock you didn't have to battle too hard to get out.

There were some nice bush walks around, especially the Korogoro Trail which is a 5km walk around the headland, we did it one morning and the livestock count at the end of it was 2 snakes, a huge goanna, a couple of spiders in the middle of their webs right across the track, 6 kangaroos and wallabies and a legless lizard!  The snakes are the only things that really freak me out but there is still nothing that is as varied or "walker friendly" as the Lakes.

We played tennis at the local club several times, once in 42 degree heat. It was so hot it felt like our brains were frying so as soon as we stopped playing we went straight across the road and into the surf.  I'm sure we sizzled when we hit the water but it was absolute heaven
It was hard to leave Hat Head but by now we had booked a 4wheel drive tour through the Kimberleys to start in May so we knew we had to keep heading south.
Port Macquarie was our next stop and while Victoria was having its horrendous bushfires we arrived just in time to catch the tail end of some monsoon like weather. It rained solidly for 6 days, with Feb being the wettest for over 90 years.  We managed to play badminton with a local club at a sports hall but when we turned up the second time to play we found the whole hall was flooded. Vans had to be moved around on the park as water was coming over the break wall and roads and towns just up the coast were cut off as rivers and creeks burst their banks. The whole area was declared a natural disaster area and thousands of sheep and cattle were lost.  We even had a dead cow float past the caravan park out to sea.

We decided all this rain must have something to do with us as it seemed to have followed us around so we started thinking of going west and hiring ourselves out as "rainmakers", we could make our fortune and solve any droughts in one fell swoop!  We went to the Koala Hospital before we left where they were treating some of the injured koalas from the bushfires; the loss of life, both human and animal was such a tragedy.
When the roads were finally open we moved down to Harrington, part of the Crowdy Head National Park and again this turned out to be one of our favourite spots (how many favourites can you have?)

We had a great weeks fishing and one of our neighbours in the caravan park had a boat and kept giving us freshly caught red snapper and one night gave us a load of freshly caught and cooked Balmain Bugs which are gorgeous (just like eating lobster tails).  It was here we adopted a friendly goanna who came around the van every day.  It was always around lunchtime so he was either after handouts or had a secret stash of insects somewhere.

The little village of Crowdy Bay 5k away was right on the headland and absolutely lovely with a harbour, fisherman's co-op, beaches miles long and an old lighthouse still being used. We also went to see Ellenborough Falls which is the longest drop waterfall in the southern hemisphere walking to the bottom down 641 steps.  There were a group of teenagers at the bottom who stripped off and made their way through the mist and spray to some rock pools right at the base of the falls.  They said it was absolutely freezing but good fun - we got wet enough just by standing on the path and to make it worse found leeches over my feet .....EEK!!
We went to the local Harrington Hotel for a meal one night and I had the garlic prawns.  I think there must have been about 25 huge king prawns and I only got about half way through them before I was full so David had to help me out. This of course pleased him, but not as much as the price as they cost about 9!  We love these little out of the way places where you can still find reasonable prices as mostly things are about the same price as the UK.

We worked our way down the coast to Soldiers Point at Port Stephens and had another great week of fishing and playing tennis at the club opposite the park.  The weather was still hot but the beaches in the area were covered in seaweed and not as nice as we'd come to expect. We also just found out it is a favourite area for juvenile great white sharks!!!  There had been three shark attacks around Sydney in the past couple of weeks and everyone was quite jittery about surfing and even swimming in the sea.  The fishing however was good and I caught my first big flathead here and David caught some good size whiting
We then moved inland to the Hunter Valley where we just missed Eric Clapton playing at one of the wineries, but we did get a rodeo on right next to the park.  The Hunter Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in Aus and a lot of the well known brands are here. Needless to say, we did a lot of cellar door tasting. One day we hired a tandem - being very mindful of drink/driving! - and spent the whole day going from cellar door to cellar door.  We would have been very drunk but the hills were so steep I think we sweated all the alcohol out.  At lunchtime we bought some local cheese and fresh bread and shared it with some ducks beside a lake before we headed over to the next winery. We tasted a lot but did end up buying a couple of "special" bottles of champers and wine to have on birthdays and anniversaries.
We spent a day in the Hunter Valley Gardens which cover about 60 hectares and are fabulous and we found a local pub doing lobster thermidors for 12.

The Entrance, about an hour north of Sydney was our next stop.

I had arranged to have lunch with Virginia, a cousin I haven't seen since we were both children and we had a lovely couple of hours together. I was also on the hunt for my other three cousins -Chris, Peter and Jeff - and the last address I had for my aunt was a nursing home in the Gosford area.  Unfortunately the nursing home wasn't allowed to give out any information but did say they would try and get in touch with next of kin.  About 5 minutes later the phone rang and a voice said "hello Linda, it's Chris" My uncle owned about 85acres of bushland at Somersby and all three brothers have built houses on the property.  I had happy childhood memories of spending time in the "shack" there, especially listening to the sound of the rain on the tin roof.  Because we were leaving the next morning Chris arranged for us to go over for a BBQ that evening.  I felt quite nervous as we pulled up but they were all very much as I remembered and made us feel very welcome.  We all went for a tour of the property which was amazing but the most amazing thing of all was that the tin shack is still there, full of memorabilia including furniture from my grandparent's house but still as I remembered it.
Chris and Karen had made a disc of old photos from my grandparents albums so it was quite moving to see all the relatives and friends plus photos of my brother and I as children and teenagers.  Was I ever that young??  

We moved down to Sydney and two weeks of pure nostalgia for me.

We went to my old school in Roseville where we had a guided tour around a now much larger and grander school (less than 200 pupils when I was there and 760 now) and were given "goody bags" which included coffee mugs to celebrate the schools 100yrs and a small version of the teddy bear "Rosie" the school mascot, dressed in full uniform including blazer with the school's moto on the pocket.

We went back to Hornsby Hospital where I did my general nursing training and I spent a happy few hours wandering around.  Some of it is the same but a lot has either changed or is gone altogether. We went to my old house in Pymble which looks very much the same and also to my grandparent's house in Chatswood which is still there but now looks very small and sad with a large shopping complex now right up to the street they lived in.   Chatswood has probably changed more than anywhere with a big new railway station, huge shopping complexes and high rise office buildings.  It has also become home to a lot of Asians, in fact so many that the locals now call it Chatswoo! 
More nostalgia came when we met up again with my ex-father in law Bill Burton.  Bill is an amazing trumpet player and band leader who has played at the Opera House and with people like Stevie Wonder so it was great to hear that, although in his mid 70's, he is playing again.
We went to see a show he was doing at the Lane Cove Country Club and it was fabulous to see him play and also to meet up with Billy and Julie (ex brother and sister in law).  I had seen Julie on previous visits but I hadn't seen Billy since he was a kid so it was great to see his cheeky grin again. 

We went to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, so called because the oil from eucalyptus trees gives off a hazy blue vapour and visited Echo point to see the Three Sisters which is of aboriginal importance.
It was very busy and about 80% of the tourists were Asian.  We climbed down the 900 Giants steps, walked through the valley and came back up by the rack and pinion train which is the steepest in the southern hemisphere.  We then caught the cable car across the valley back to the other side.  For the first time we noticed the autumn colours on the trees and can definitely feel the chill in the evening.
We left the van in Lane Cove and went back up to Somersby, staying the night at Jeff and Fi's .  We all went to the memorial garden to leave flowers for my grandparents and aunt and uncle and then in the evening we met up with the other cousins and wives/partners.  Jeff and Fi cooked a cow and a sheep (not literally but enough to feed a small army) and we had a great evening with lots of "do you remember" moments.  Hopefully and with many thanks to the email gods, we will all stay in touch now as it's so true that family become more important as you get older.
We have managed to play loads of badminton at various clubs, all of them with very good facilities and spent several days doing all the touristy things of Sydney including some I have never done before so it has been a good couple of weeks. We both love Sydney but know there is no way we want to live in a big city again.
After this we are heading south again for a couple of weeks before we turn right for the 3000kms trek towards Alice to start our 4wheel drive trip through the Kimberleys which will cover 5,500kms over 23 days.  

Next posting from Alice Springs.
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