Darling Harbour, Shopping and Pitts Street

The first thing we did this morning was try and sort our packs out a bit. Once again we seem to be travelling with a few extras including a fishing rod given to Ali by Liz and Adrian in Katoomba. We have a good look at their schoolbooks and they’re so pleased to see we can send some home and ditch some. Maisie spends an hour doing some sats papers and Ali makes a check list of science subjects he has to cover again in more detail. Not much, only a bit on light and sound and matter. Good job really as school work has all but been abandoned recently!

We set of for Darling Harbour and the shops and whilst Ali and Simon go and look for some replacement piece for his PSP Maisie and I look for souvenirs. I have a look at the Didgeridoos but they are expensive and I know Simon will accuse me of being a tacky tourist lugging that about! We settle for a couple of boomerangs (No less tacky!!) and a few other bits and pieces.

After dropping our stuff at the hotel we set out again for Pitt Street. I’ve lost my favourite lipstick and am pleased to find MAC has it in stock. Cheaper than Bangkok too! We also get Maisie a new fleece top to keep her warm in frosty New Zealand.

Just got in, we walked down to see the Opera House lit up at night but it was really too cold to appreciate the experience. We decide to get take out for dinner, the kids have been dying to try Hungry Jacks and I had some Japanese food. Take away Japanese, what a great invention- love it!! We are flying to New Zealand in the morning- the trip is starting to fly by now and we’re beginning to think about going home and making some plans for then. (Actually I have been spending quite a bit of time planning our next RTW trip -Canada, Japan, South America, Nepal, Tibet and Western Australia – so far!)

Australia is so vast that I think until you come here it’s really difficult to comprehend how much time you need to see stuff. 6 weeks is nowhere near enough time to even experience all the East Coast has to offer and we have raced through New South Wales. There are so many great things Aussie has to offer – our favourites being the drive through beer barns, free BBQ’s, wide streets and abundance of parking spaces, more than their fair share of blue skies and sunny days, fascinating wildlife, amazing beaches, stunning scenery and oh so friendly people. (Its easy to sound like a sales brochure when writing about Australia as it is as great as everyone says!)

What our time here has done is given us a small taster of life here and I would love to come back in the summer especially to spend time in the Outback. We have had a lot of fun here and met some of the kindest people- just hope it won’t be too long before we come back. As the Aussies say- No worries mate! I reckon that’s definitely true!

Bondi Beach and coastal walk to Coogee

We woke up to the sound of workmen chattering away outside our window. (We’re on the 12th floor, I was a bit tempted to open the window and ask them to keep it down a bit!) We decide to get up and after dressing make our way back across the road to the YWCA for our freebie breakfast. It’s lovely and sunny and we have planned to catch the bus to Bondi Beach for the day. Unfortunately by the time we’ve got our shit together it’s clouded over a lot and we stick in our jumpers as well.

We catch the bus all the way up Oxford Street and eventually arrive at Bondi. We sit watching the surfers but decide as there are only a few waves and a lot of surfers that we’re going to give the surfing a miss for today. The beach isn’t as beautiful as lots of beaches we’ve been to but still its cool here and we have a good time despite the gusty winds.

We decide we will walk from Bondi to Coogee all along the coast. It’s a lovely walk and takes us around 2 and a half hours. We stop off on the way for a smoothie and then have lunch at a cute little cafe. The scenery is fantastic, loads of people are running along with their MP3 players clutched in their hands but we get creeped out when we enter the “atmospheric Waverley Cemetery” and the sun disappears completely. Maisie isn’t too happy to see some of the graves have been dislodged and opened! Still I think it is one of best final resting places I’ve seen. Can’t really beat that view.

We get the bus back and spend an hour or so in the spa and sauna. Although the pool is supposedly heated I’m too scared to try it as it’s breezy on the hotel roof despite the warm sun which has once again made an appearance.

Tomorrow is our last day in Australia and we’re going shopping for some souvenirs. I want to get a Didgeridoo but may settle for a Boomerang or two.

Opera House and Harbour Bridge

We’ve had a fantastic, exhausting day today. Although we set our alarm for 8am we really had to rush to make it in time for the complimentary breakfast available until 1000. We have been given 8 breakfast vouchers and we’re so pleased when we check out that they don’t take tomorrow vouchers off us meaning we can get breakfast for nothing in the morning!

We walk across the road and into the lobby of the Hyde Park Plaza Hotel. It’s in a really good location opposite Hyde Park and on the corner of Oxford Street and after leaving our gear in the luggage room set off through the park towards the Opera House. It takes us around 20 minutes and we have to go back halfway to change. It very hot and we’re all wrapped up in winter gear. Shorts and sandals would have been more appropriate clothing but we settle for swapping our jumpers for t-shirts.

The park’s lovely with some really unusual trees called Bottle Trees, sculptures and signs asking you to smell the roses, walk on the grass and hug the trees! As we get nearer to the waters edge we see a long path that curves around the harbour and on the opposite side in front of the Harbour Bridge is the stunning and beautiful Opera House. Gleaming in the sunlight, the instantly recognisable building really is architecturally amazing. Very graceful looking, the curves are framed perfectly by the backdrop of the bridge and the impression with the sparkling water is really lovely.

As I stand there looking at it I wonder that we have even made it here. When we booked our trip I never gave Australia any thought, it seemed so far away in time and distance that seeing the Opera House felt like a dream that might never happen. When I think back over our adventure of the past months I think again how lucky we are to have the opportunity to do all this cool stuff.

We take loads of photos and then walk around the path towards the bridge. By now we’re very thirsty but when we stop to buy a bottle of water and a packet of strepsils and it comes to over 20 dollars we think again about stopping here and carry on round a bit. We pass a couple of street performers on the way and the kids have their photo taken with an Aborigine fella. We buy their CD of Didgeridoo music and then hurray, arrive at a food court. Maisie, Ali and I have sushi and Simon gets a sandwich, in total less than 20 dollars. (I think we were really skinned earlier. Actually can anyone reading this let me know the cost of strepsils in England as it’s really bugging me)

We decide to walk across the Harbour Bridge. It’s really a long way but worth it to get some more photos of the Opera House. You can climb it but it’s very expensive and although we’re not as high the view is the same from where we are. We walk back across and through the area called The Rocks. This is where the first European Settlers lived and the houses are small terraces like those found in England. When we were talking to Adrian and Liz the other night in the Blue Mountains they described Sydney as being like London should be!
We get a taxi back and as our room is now ready we check in. Wow! What a fab room. It’s actually a massive suite with a kitchen and proper bathroom. The kids get really excited when they find a playstation controller but we’re not having any of that!
Simon has really excelled here in managing to get the hotel to put 2 extra beds in the suite at no extra cost and as we can also use the spa, sauna and rooftop pool I’m in heaven!

We spend an hour doing just that before making our way back to our room. It’s 6.30 now and I’m sat typing this looking out of the window at the skyscrapers all around. Lit up they look beautiful and the glass of wine and Elvis on the laptop helps to make it feel so special. I never wanted to come to Australia and yet it’s such a wonderful place. I can’t imagine anyone coming here and not loving it. With such huge diversity across the country and the friendly locals it’s been a great experience and one that I would love to repeat soon.

Sydney

Today we are going to be making our way back to Sydney. Simon drops Adrian and Liz at one of the lookout points and I quickly repack. The journey takes a couple of hours and we stop on the way and have some lunch. Like a bunch of tramps we sit on the kerb in a McDonald’s car park eating left over roast beef sandwiches. Sydney is going to be really expensive and we’re trying to save some cash wherever we can. Even a few coffees can eat up the dollars quite quickly here.

We have booked somewhere to stay but I’m not too impressed when we arrive. It’s a YWCA hostel and we have a four bedded room. It’s really cold and as the heating is broken I’m dreading staying here for the next 4 nights. It turns out that they only have the room available for two nights anyway and we decide we will move tomorrow. Simon and Ali go out to return the hire car and when they come back have found somewhere else. Expensive at 170 dollars a night but its opposite here, we are in a good area and although we haven’t quite got an Opera House view it is very central.

Sydney looks to be a lovely city, Described as bewitching in our guide book with extensive parks and gardens, loads of shops, theatres, year round sunshine and amazing beaches we’re all excited about getting out and about and exploring tomorrow.

We go out for dinner and walk up Oxford Street to a Turkish/Greek/Italian restaurant me and the kids have pasta and Simon has a risotto. With a couple of beers the bill comes to a respectable 87 dollars. Not too bad. We get back and sit watching the concert for Princess Diana on the telly, we guessed it would be big news at home as well as the news we see about bomb threats at some of the airports. Scary. I read my book and get off to sleep early. Very excited about going to see the Opera House tomorrow.

Katoomba

We woke up lovely and warm this morning. This guesthouse/hostel really is so cool. It’s been a guesthouse since 1913 and has lots of 1950′s charm about it plus stripped wooden floors, cosy checked duvets and underfloor heating. What a luxury!

We get up and after breakfast head out in the car. There are lots of lookout points here and we start with Wentworth Falls. The scenery is spectacular; The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue mist that arises from the oil evaporating from of the thousands of eucalyptus trees covering the mountains. Looking around its impossible to take in the whole canyon and mountainous surround in one go as it’s so vast.

We decide we will take the “Scenic World” route around the area in order to get the best views of the landscape. First is a trip across the 300m wide canyon in the skyride. It’s a massive thing with a glass floor and surprisingly I quite enjoy it. We have a fantastic view of The Three Sisters. (Rock formation) The biting icy wind is my main concern and we skip around in an effort to keep warm when we reach the other side of the canyon. To get to the bottom we take the funicular railway, it’s claimed to be the steepest in the world and I can definitely believe that as it was almost vertical.

At the bottom of the canyon are coal mines which were in use until 1945 when the colliery was finally closed down and we have a good look around. Some of the mining equipment is still there and we look into a ventilation shaft whilst reading the history of the mines and about the lives of the young miners who carried out such a dangerous job on a daily basis. We take some good photos of the kids posing with the coal cart and on a replica of the original mountain train called The Mountain Devil.

There are lots of different types of plants and animals here and we read about the various species of eucalypts, Jurassic age tree ferns, rainforest mosses and fungi. Animals frequently sighted here include possums, bandicoots, kangaroos and wallabies, none of whom made an appearance today. Presumably too cold!

We get another cable car back and after having chicken wraps for lunch in the cafe get back in the car and head for the local supermarket. Maisie has asked if she can cook dinner tonight and we decide roast beef will be lovely. We get all the stuff and drive back to the hostel for a quiet afternoon in front of the fire. Bliss.

Simon and Maisie get the dinner on and we sit talking to a really nice couple called Adrian and Liz. They have been all through New Zealand and give us loads of tips and advice about places to go. As they are heading up the coast to Cairns we do the same for them. They have a bottle of red wine and offer us a glass of mulled wine. So good and the roast beef is perfect. We have a hot chocolate with marsh mallows and flake for pudding. Just a normal relaxing Sunday afternoon!

Later Simon, Adrian, Liz and Ali go to see The Three Sister in the dark; apparently it is lit up at night and looks stunning. The photographs don’t prove it as our camera isn’t that good but they said the moonlit effect was excellent.

When they get back we sit talking until late about the effect the trip has had on all our lives and future plans. They spent two months in South America and it sounds amazing. Very safe, interesting and beautiful, I would love to go there.

Tomorrow we are going back to Sydney really looking forward to seeing the sights such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge- how exciting!

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.