Blue Mountains

We set our alarm for 7 and by 9am we’re on our way. What a long and tiring day, not boring, the scenery is far too beautiful. I love our drive through miles and miles of gum trees and decide I actually like it more than the Queensland coast. It has a wildness about it that I find really invigorating and it makes me want to get out and walk around. Unfortunately though there is no time for any of that. We drive solidly for hours only stopping really briefly to buy a drink. At 2pm we arrive in Sydney, this is where things go wrong and unwittingly Simon drives through an “e toll”. We have a big row about this; I won’t go into any details other than to say I was right.

We make our way to Apollo and I give the thing a quick clean, we get our 150 dollars of fuel money refunded. (In total we spent 70 dollars of our own money) not bad when we add it to the 80 or so it cost us so far. A grand total of around 70 quid for 3 nights accommodation and travel for all 4 of us. Bargain!

We get a taxi to the airport where we are collecting a hire car for the next few days from Hertz. The lady has kindly given us an upgrade on the car and it’s a good sized Toyota Camry. We pile all our stuff in and set off for the final 2 hours of today’s journey out to The Blue Mountains. We arrive in the darkness and I’m completely knackered. It’s freezing here and as we are at an elevation of around 1000m the icy wind is blasting us when we get out of the car. The guesthouse though is gorgeous, with a lovely fire warming the place through, cosy bedrooms and a pile of magazines I’m in heaven and off to bed right now.

Coffs Harbour and Port Mcquarie

I woke up really early and found Simon had gone, I guess out photographing the sunrise. When he comes back we have a coffee and I walk down to the waterfront. There is a group of around 15 pelicans sat preening themselves in the cold morning sunlight and we sit and watch them for a while.

After quickly eating breakfast we set off around 1000 am and whilst Simon drives, the kids and I learn a bit of Australian history. Although Australia is mostly thought to be a relatively young country we learn that the Aboriginal people lived here 50,000 years ago in extended family groups. Rituals, traditions and laws bound them to the land and they honoured their ancestors and the creators of the Dreaming. Australia was the last great land mass to be discovered by the Europeans and the British sailor Captain James Cook raised the Union Jack here in April 1770.

It is believed that when Sydney Cove was first settled by the British there were about 300, 000 Aboriginal People in Australia. Slowly and surely they were driven from the land by force and by the introduction of diseases such as smallpox and TB. We decide that we need to learn more about the Aborigines and when we see a sign for The Aboriginal Cultural Centre we stop off. It was a complete waste of time; despite our encouragement the fella seemed very reluctant to give us any information about Aboriginal culture, customs or present day life in Australia. So far it all remains a bit of a mystery. Despite Australia’s tourist board heavily promoting the Aboriginal culture our experience of this minority group hasn’t been the interesting cultural experience I expected.

We have spoken to a lot of Aussies on the way down from Cape Tribulation about the Aborigine,s trying to learn a bit more. We have seen many groups of people sitting in parks and drinking alcohol and when we asked about this it seems that alcohol misuse is a big problem for them. The opinion of many people is that the social problems faced by the Aborigines are self made. In the end we haven’t got much more time here and I don’t think we have really learnt anything about their culture at all. I’m disappointed at this and feel that what we have experienced and heard including a major news story about the forcible removal of children due to child abuse allegations has mainly been a negative impression. We will give the Aboriginal Centre in Sydney a try if we have the time.

We learn a bit about Australia’s famous convict settlements. Cooks botanist companion suggested New South Wales would be fine site for a colony of thieves and the first group arrived in 1778. It must have been a really grim experience for them. Although most only had sentences of around 7 years of hard labour there was little hope of returning home. By the time convict transportation was abolished in 1868 more than 168,000 people had been shipped to Australia.

We also learn about the gold rush and after an hour or so pack it in. We haven’t been doing as much schoolwork recently and told the kids they could have a holiday from it. There is so much to do here and as we have virtually covered the curriculum I’m not too worried.

We have our lunch parked by Parks Beach at Coffs Harbour. The New South Wales schoolies are on holiday from today and they are out in force on their surf and body boards. It’s cool watching them and I think our kids are quite envious of their lives here. Kids in Australia have it good with plenty of sunshine and outdoorsy stuff to do.

We stopped at a campsite at a place called Port Mcquarie for the evening, the sun is just setting and I take a good photograph of the red sky over the pool. We bought some food yesterday and Ali makes our dinner again. He’s getting pretty handy at cooking now and I tell him I will expect more from him when we get home! The weather is beautiful here, the blue, blue skies and crispy clear air makes you feel so good although it’s getting colder the further south we go, the bright sunshine everyday keeps us all cheerful. Had a quick shower off to bed now, we have to leave early tomorrow as we’ve got to drive over 350 k to Sydney before heading off to our next destination The Blue Mountains.

Byron Bay

Oh my god I don’t think the alarm went off and unfortunately we didn’t wake up until 7.45. Bill and Toni are up and rushing around as Toni has to leave soon for work. Bill makes us some breakfast and we sit eating eggs and toast before throwing our stuff in Bills car. As he isn’t going back to Glassford until tomorrow he has kindly offered to take us to the Motorhome place. It’s a long way and would have been a real pain on the bus so we’re chuffed about this.

We say our goodbyes to Toni for the second time. I’m very sorry to have to say goodbye and invite them to come and stay with us in England anytime. They have made our time in Australia with their overwhelming kindness towards four complete strangers and if anyone has a ton of good karma owed it must be them. A pair of real life Aussie angels. For anybody reading this site who is thinking of visiting Australia the Farmstay was our favourite experience here and we would recommend it to everyone. So go do it!

We get to the rental place and after sorting out all the paperwork, watching the complicated and comprehensive safety video, that worried me more than if I had been left in blissful ignorance and paying a total cost of 82 dollars (we took out 45 dollars of extra insurance cover to reduce the excess and paid for gas and linen) we’re finally off. We say goodbye to Bill, promise to keep in touch and hit the road. Pacific Highway here we come, only 983 km to go.

The van is massive, a six sleeper Winnebago, very posh with on board TV, DVD, shower, toilet and microwave etc. I feel a bit nervous as it’s so big but Simon’s cool and as we’re soon on the highway he has the opportunity to get used to driving it on a really good road. An hour or so down the road and we stop off at Byron Bay to get some supplies and check out the beaches, the surf and the lighthouse. It is beautiful, very green with loads of trees, little volcanic mountains and the most spectacular beaches. The views from the lighthouse are awesome and despite the freezing blowy wind Maisie and Simon walk right out along a path to the most Easterly point of mainland Australia. Finally we cross the state border and leave Queensland “Perfect one day, paradise the next!” behind.

We have a quick walk on the beach after lunch and stop to look at the waves. We’re thinking now of leaving our surfing lessons until we get to Fiji or Tahiti as we’re too chicken as it’s so cold! Back in the van and we motor along for another few 100 k. We have decided to stop at a place called Yamba for the night and find a gorgeous campsite with loads of facilities. Ali cooks our dinner for us and does a great job and after Maisie washed up we sat back to watch a DVD. Having a really great time and looking forward to seeing a bit more of New South Wales tomorrow.

Brisbane City

We wake up at a more reasonable time this morning and after breakfast get a taxi to Capalaba Central. From here we get the bus to the city centre and spend a few hours wandering around, admiring some of the older architecture including the beautiful Queenslander houses. These graceful wooden houses are stunning with the intricate lattice work and we decide we want one if ever we decide to move to Australia. There are also some colonial style buildings such as the treasury as well as huge skyscrapers fitted in between.

We have sushi for lunch to the kids delight and a hot chocolate overlooking the city river. It’s freezing and as the wind is howling through the buildings I’m glad we have bought ourselves a few warmer items of clothing. We get the back and meet up with Bill and his daughter Billie for a lift home. Bill is cooking tonight and creates a great dish of prawns and homemade chilli sauce with rice. We have a beer and sitting chatting to all the girls when Bill and Toni take Billie home.

We pack up our gear and get ready to leave in the tomorrow. I feel sad about this, usually I’m happy enough to move on but we’ve had such a great time here I don’t really want to go. On the other hand we have managed to score a 6 sleeper Winnebago Motorhome for a dollar day for the drive from here to Sydney. We have 3 days to get there and will pick it up in the morning around 9am. That sounds cool and I am excited about it, hopefully it will save us some money also.

Off to bed now plan to leave around 8am so early start.

Brisbane

Oh my god we didn’t wake up until 11am. How lazy is that we must have been knackered and needed it but I’m shocked when we see the time. Felicia and Gabby’s father turns up and gives us a ride to the shopping malls. This is cool as it’s really raining heavily and we would have got soaked. We asked Toni where we could buy some cheap clothing and she suggests the local Thrifty store.

When we think about it it’s a good idea, as we need a lot of warm clothes and can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars. In the end we buy 2 jumpers, a long sleeved t-shirt and a scarf for me, a coat for Ali, a fleece and a couple of long sleeved shirts for Simon and a hat and scarf for Maisie. The whole lot came to around 55 dollars and we left pleased with our cheapo spending session.

We set off to find some internet access and ask at the library. We have to join and the internet is really slow but still we get an hour each for free and at least catch up a bit on a few emails. We spend most of the afternoon there, the kids read a bit and we try and find a relocation deal on a motor home for the next few days. No luck with that yet I guess we will have to keep trying there.

Toni left the house early this morning and when we asked her for a key she told us just to walk right in. This makes us laugh, very strange in comparison to England but nice too that she feels secure enough in this area to be able to do that.

We give her a ring and ask what they would like for dinner. Bill is arriving from Glassford this afternoon and when we’re walking around Woolworths buying the food we spy him walking up the aisle towards us. He tells us he came to find us and has left Ali sat outside watching a trolley of food. We have bought enough to feed everyone and although I’m slightly alarmed at the thought of cooking for 9 people it goes ok. I chose to cook Mexican food and it turns out well. We get Toni some flowers and chocolates to say thanks for putting us up. We share bottle of wine and have a toast to our new friendship!

It’s really cold now. I’m sat fully dressed in Felicia’s bed typing this. Tomorrow we have to try and get some stuff organised and make some plans to move on. As much as we love it here I feel guilty as we are kicking Gabby and Felicia out of their beds and I’m sure they will be glad to get them back.

Noosa

Simon went off early this morning to collect the hire car. We have managed to get a Toyota Corolla on a relocation deal for 50 dollars for the day which is considerably less than the 170 dollars our bus fare would have cost us.

We set off around 11am and after an hour or so stop at Noosa for lunch. We read that Noosa is the start of the surf and it looks to be an expensive place. In the end we got our lunch from a newsagent! Not quite what we had imagined but fairly cheap so all good.

We arrive at Brisbane airport where we have to drop off the car and give Toni a ring. She said she will come and pick us up and we’re really grateful for this as it’s a long way to her house and would cost over 60 dollars in a taxi. When we arrive her daughter Gabby is busy cooking dinner for us all. As she also has her 2 friends staying over it’s no mean feat for a 13 year old and we’re very impressed. I tell her I will take her back to England to teach Ali and Maisie some domestic skills.

Toni’s house is gorgeous a large sprawling bungalow with a massive back garden, a lovely pool and 5 cats. Maisie is in 7th heaven! It’s really great to be able to sit and chat to Toni and we show her some photo’s of our trip and talk some more about the Farmstay. It’s so kind of her to put us up and be so welcoming and it’s easy to quickly feel part of her family. At last we are all tired Toni and Gabby left Glassford for here at 4am this morning and as Toni has been at work all day she must have been exhausted. As we’re getting ready for bed Toni’s other daughter Felicia comes home. She’s 16 and has been working the evening shift at Hungry Jacks. I feel a bit awkward as I’m sat on her bed when I meet her for the first time but she’s really friendly like her mom and just grabs some clothes for the morning before saying goodnight.

Off to sleep now, it’s so good to be sleeping in a decent bed with fresh smelling sheets. ZZzzzzz!

Maisie’s Birthday

Today is Maisie’s birthday and our little girl is turning 11. Happy Birthday! I wake up around 7 dying of thirst and feeling decidedly hungover. I pray that Maisie won’t wake up for a while so I can go back to sleep but its no good she’s up and about by 7.30.

We sit in bed and she opens her presents, we bought her a Tamagotchi, the new Avril Lavigne CD, 2 tops, a pair of jeans and some jewellery. We have our breakfast and after a shower I tell her she’s in for a pampering. She loves all that and sits there like a princess flicking through magazines and reading the latest Hollywood gossip whilst I give her a manicure, pedicure and leg and foot massage. I then blowdry her hair and make her up before she gets into her new gear and we set off to McDonalds for her birthday lunch. It’s exactly what I need to cure my hangover shakiness and after stuffing ourselves full of junk we make our way to the cinema.

Shrek 3 is the choice of film and I enjoy what I see of it before falling asleep and missing the last half. Still the kids thought it was good and I guess that’s all that matters. As we ate late we’re not ready for dinner and we go back to the hostel. It’s a really fantastic place, although not that central the facilities make up for that and we decide to go and see the Didgeridoo workshop taking place later.

The fella turns up with his Didge and spends 10 minutes explaining how they go out into the outback looking for the sticks. They have been hollowed out naturally by termites and after a few months of drying out can be carved and shaped into an instrument. He must be one of the weirdest people I have ever met and in the end I have to move as I can’t stop laughing. Despite his funny explanations and really strange manner he makes the session interesting and I think Simon and Ali enjoyed it a lot. They have a go playing the thing and at last the fella plays it for us. He accompanies himself on the guitar and it is a very beautiful and moving sound conjuring up images of the boiling, deserted and arid outback.

By 10pm we’re all tired and order take out pizza before heading off to bed. Tomorrow we’re leaving Hervey Bay for Brisbane. It has been an enjoyable few days here, almost everyone who comes here visits the stunning Fraser Island but we just hadn’t got the money for that. I’m not sorry, despite our friends telling us it was one of the highlights of their OZ adventure we had such a great time at Glassford Farmstay that I’m glad we stayed there longer. At this point in our trip now we are starting to have to make some choices about what we do and we can’t afford everything. I keep thinking to myself it will give us an excuse to come back anyway!

My Birthday in Hervey Bay

Well you know, today has been a slightly different birthday to usual. Normally I wake up at Glastonbury Festival very hung-over. Last year we didn’t get our tickets and had our own little festival in Cornwall with our friends Alli and Adrian, it’s a bit strange- as I normally spend my birthday with them but its cool waking up in at Glassford Farm and I couldn’t wish for a better start to the day.

Actually that’s a bit of a lie, in all honesty it was freezing cold and I did get a bit of a fright this morning. I went for a pee first thing and when I turned around to give it a flush realised a bright green big frog was down the toilet scrabbling around!

We make our way up to the barn and as promised Bill, Toni and Nerylyn are waiting with crispy bacon for our breakfast. Its raining heavily today and we wolf our sarnies down before setting off with Rosie for Miriam Vale. I’m so sad and I have to bite back the tears when we say goodbye to Bill and Toni. As we leave Toni invites us to stay with them Brisbane at her house, how cool is that and it will of course save us some money. The Aussies are so generous and I feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, we have had the best time here and I think we have all loved every minute of it.

The bus arrives, a bit late and we get on. It’s lovely and warm and I crash out listening to Powderfinger on my MP3. Around 3 hours later we arrive in Hervey Bay. We have booked to stay at the YHA Colonial Lodge at the recommendation of our friends Marie and Carl who stayed here a few years ago. It is a lovely hostel and as a surprise Simon has booked one of the “villas” for us. It’s really nice and we quickly chuck our gear in before catching the bus back into town.

We split up for a while and Ali and I go to get Maisie some birthday presents. By now it’s quite late and although we had planned to go out I decide I would rather get some wine and a Chinese takeaway and stay in. We watch a film called The First Daughter; I read some birthday emails, open my presents (J-Lo Glow Perfume, a silver necklace and a lottery ticket that won me 30 dollars!) and speak to my Dad and one of best mates Nicky.

Don’t remember going to bed but got there somehow.

Cattle Station

Today was a bit more of a struggle to wake up but I did eventually manage to scrape my sorry bum from the bed. I’m feeling a bit tired but not too stiff and once again looking forward to a day on the ranch.

After breakfast Bill takes the kids off to milk the cows and after helping Rosie clear up we go to meet the neighbour Jack. He has turned up in his ute with 5 dogs hanging out the back of it and tells us all about their job as working cattle dogs. It’s interesting and he’s a really great character. I love hearing him explaining to Ali and Maisie how the dogs are trained and he gives us a little demonstration of their obedience skills.

The weather today is lovely and we decide we will ride this morning. After saddling up the horses we set off and ride all through the eucalyptus trees and out to the hills. It’s just awesome, so beautiful and we have the best time. I’m feeling really confident and all my long lost childhood riding skills have come back. Cantering around the fields, I let Jasper go a bit and we sneakily jump a few logs for fun. The more laidback Western style is a bit different but easy enough. Maisie has decided riding horses isn’t for her but Ali and Simon love it and we all have fun. Three hours later and we get back for lunch. Fairly hungry by now and ready for a good feed.

Bill tells us he is going to be putting up some new fencing in the afternoon and asks us to help. We all set off and before long he has us like a well organised chain gang. Gabby marks the fence, me, Jill and Ali carry the fence poles, Simon and Terry knock them in and the little kids bend the wire into shape. In a couple of hours we have fenced nearly a km of paddock and we’re all completely knackered. Its hard work and we haven’t finished until we’ve loaded the ute up with firewood.

We all pile back in and Bill lets Ali drive back. It’s not a private road; no one wears seatbelts and Simon, Gabby and Maisie are stood up in the back. Hmm! Quite scary! Anyway they all get back in one piece and Ali’s year has been made. He’s beaming from ear to ear and tells us the past three days have been his favourite experience of the whole trip!

Simon books our bus tickets and accommodation for tomorrow. Sadly we have to leave in the morning and none of us want to go. We sit chatting around the fire and Bill tells me he is going to get up early in the morning and make me a birthday bacon sandwich. Off to bed now. Exhausted but very happy.