19/20th September. The birthday weekend!

Jusine, Tony and Coco were up at 7.00 to go to a boxing session and Keith and I felt quite lazy when we emerged at 9.00 to join the party food foraging trip. While Justine and I shopped for food, Tony and Keith went off to the party shop as they are to be ‘game hosts’ for the gathering. The amount Keith knows about 9 year old children’s party games would probably sit very comfortably on a postage stamp, but I had to admire his commitment to the task!

Mission accomplished, party food obtained, we collected Coco from her gymnastics class and returned home for a brunch and birthday present opening.  I am pleased to report that our gift – opened first on the basis of that it was the heaviest – was well received and that the new reed made a very obvious improvement to the clarinet’s performance!  She had some lovely presents and her enthusiasm for everything is a great thing to behold.

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The Wightmans were going ‘en famille’ to a ballet performance in the afternoon, so Keith and I decided to walk down to the Collaroy beach below us.  As it was not a great afternoon and we had been left in charge of making pizza dough, as home made pizzas were the supper of choice for the birthday girl, we did not venture far but walked the length of the beach and then battled back up the hill. I was impressed that I only needed two stops for the view, which was pretty impressive (both the view and my puff!).

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On their return, Tony fired up the pizza oven on the balcony and Coco gave us a lesson in pizza making and we all tucked into our pizzas that were adorned with our own personal topping options.  Tony felt his Father’s Day Pizza paddle improved the flavour imageno end!image


It was then an early night after we had wrapped up the pass the parcel present, as there was a full on day ahead!

Sunday dawned bright and Justine was up early cooking buns to decorate as part of the party games.  Tony and Keith then started to do their games set up and Coco, Justine and I went off to purchase the rainbow birthday cake – truly an amazing concoction, teaming with E numbers, but Coco thought it was lovely.  She could not stop peeking into the top of the cake box in absolute wonder!

Back at the Castle things were hotting up. Coco put on her dress and a long black wig, having dismissed blond locks as not the image she wanted to portray.   Mickey’s friend arrived – the two older girls were going to take on supervision duties (from the superior position of 11 year olds!) – and Keith started baton chopping carrots and cucumber, the healthy party food option.    Gradually the table started coming together and at 11.30 the young guests started to arrive all in very colourful fancy dress.

Tony and Keith immediately went into action with ‘pin the moustache on the man’s face’ (apparently tails and donkeys are old hat!) and we were off!  I have to say that all went very smoothly.  Everyone was very well behaved, the carrot and cucumber batons were eaten in preference to pizza and a jolly good time was had by all.  The birthday girl blew out her candles, party bags were handed out, everyone said their ‘thank you’ nicely, Mums and Dads arrived to take their children home and it was over.  The birthday had been celebrated.   Another pile of presents were piled

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up to be opened and we all went off down to the beach for a stroll in the fresh air to blow away the cobwebs.

It was nice to be out.  We joined the other strollers walking around the headland.  We passed the golf course on one side, the sea on the other  – and a wonderful rainbow appeared in the sky for us…… A good day all round.  Tomorrow the zoo.

Friday 18th September

We did not hear everyone leave the house but when we got up we were alone except for the cats.  It was a bright day. Having got something of our bearings in the house and looked out over the beach below us that can be seen from the balcony, we set off to purchase Coco’s birthday present.  We had decided on a replacement reed for the clarinet – something of a self serving gift as I felt we were probably to be party to more ‘recitals’ before the weekend was out!  We thought we could also give her a music stand – another ‘must’ for the would be performer.  This was all well and good but we were perched on the Collaroy Plateau and the music shop Keith had found was some way away and we had no idea how to get there, except on foot.  So that’s the way we did it.  What we had not allowed for was that the route was somewhat circuitous, that we had no map and that the day would get hotter.   The combination of all these things meant that when we found that the place Keith had found was a wholesalers and did not sell to the public after 2.5 hours walking we were somewhat despondent.   Luckily not far from the wholesaler was a big music shop, which when we eventually found it fulfilled all our needs!

Reeds and music stand purchased – we had to get back.  We decided that given the distance, the size of the hill we had to climb and the fact that K had no hat, the investment in a cab was the only way and were pleased to arrive back relatively unscathed if a bit pooped!

After a rest and change we gathered ourselves and were ready for Tony’s birthday celebrations at the local family ‘club’ on the beach that evening.  Justine had collected the girls and after a flurrie of activity when they got in as they dressed for the occasion, we were ready for the off.  We all clambered aboard the car and in no time we had reached the bottom of the hill and were being signed into the club.

It was all going on there!  Raffle tickets were purchased for the meat draw and then we were in the bar meeting up with  friends Lesley and Dave. They came over from England slightly ahead of Tony and Justine and were great fun.  Keith and Dave were good partners in conversation as Dave had been in the victualling trade in the Sheffield area.  After a few drinks, we adjourned to the restaurant to eat and Tony was presented with his birthday cake avec sparkler.  We ate looking over the now dark ocean with the sound of the waves washing up on the sand just beneath the window of the restaurant. At every turn we see that it is an ideal location for the Wightmans. The sea just a step away. Everything feels young and fresh.

On our return it was time for Tony’s present opening and then a very excited Coco went off to bed with thoughts of an exciting weekend ahead with her birthday on Saturday and the party on Sunday. It is tough being 9 but good to be 9 on a weekend!

Thursday – 17th September

We all got up early to wave Helen off on the ferry, the first stage of her journey back to Alice Springs. She is an excellent travelling companion and I think we were all sorry to see her go, not least because it marked the fact that our travelling as a group for this current session was coming to a close. The ferry entrance was buzzing with commuters dashing into the City to start their daily toil and there was a danger of us trippers getting caught in the crush.  With cries of ‘until the next time’ and lots of waving, she was gone throught the gate. And then there were four.

We got back to Wendy and Sarah’s house for breakfast and then set out to complete our packing and the consolidation of our parcels ready for an early evening departure to Tony and Justine’s house not far away.

We had thought to travel into the City for our first excursion there ourselves – the possibility of a headland walk being ruled out by incoming inclement weather, but in the event we went off to walk along the small promoters at the end of the beach at Manly(?) with the girls.  What a wonderful place to have so close at hand!

There were a number of people strolling and a diving school gathered on a grassy bank,  rather surprisingly I thought. The pupils were all sitting on the grass in wet suits – perhaps basic training takes place on dry land…….I could manage that bit!

As we wandered the path we were treated to a sighting of a Komodo Dragon.  I nearly walked into it on the path ahead. and jumped rather dramatically – even for me! it posed very nicely for us…..

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What amazing creatures they are!

We wandered back – by this time it had become quite overcast and our decision to take a lunch break in an excellent salad bar proved timely as it poured with rain while we ate our lunch.  My sate chicken salad was really good!  It is obviously a favourite eating spot for the girls and we could see why!

We had some quiet time in the afternoon – quite a rare occurrence on this trip! – but at 6.30 it was time for us to go.  For the last time we piled into the people carrier, which had served us so well over the previous week, and we were off to the Collaroy Plateau where we are to stay until we leave Australia.

Our fond farewells to Wendy and Sarah was somewhat cut short by two little faces peering out of Justine and Tony’s house – sometimes known as The Castle it would appear.  Our journey there had seemed to take us up and up and there is a strong sense of the eyrie about it the area.  We were not to see the amazing view until daylight the  next day.  But that was to come – back to our arrival………

Our ring on the bell was answered by the lovely Loraine, the lady who gets the girls up and off to school in the mornings and also looks after them in the evening until Mum and Dad get home from the City   Immediately behind her stood the very much grown Mickey and Coco, both sporting lovely welcoming grins   Almost immediately – no initial shyness on display – Coco announced she had prepared a welcoming clarinet concert and dance display.   Within minutes,  it seemed, we were rather precipitously waving off Wendy and Sarah (who I am sure loved returning alone to their peaceful, beautiful home) and we were being introduced to cats, shown our room and ushered upstairs to the ‘stage’ (the living room).  With apologies for the ‘split reed’ in her instrument, Coco launched into the Ode to Joy – Beethoven eat your heart out!  This was closely followed by Mary had a Little Lamb and Jingle Bells

Poor Loraine had hardly time to bid us goodbye and escape before the next stage of the soirée began!  Shortly afterwards, Tony arrived with an old family friend, Trudy, who it transpired was in Sydney to umpire a judo match (?!?).  They were also told to sit down in readiness for the dance routine.   It felt a little as though we had left the world of grown up travel and, having gone through the front door of Wightman Towers (or Castle!), had passed into Wonderland without the Mad Hatter!  However, although it was something of a quantum leap,  it was great fun!   Mickey announced Coco’s intended programme and turned on the music and Coco was off – dancing, tumbling and pirouetting around the floor – totally unselfconscious.  Oh for that confidence at 9 (or almost).

Then Justine arrived.  It was lovely to see her again!  We all gathered together for supper in front of the big map of the world that covers the wall of the kitchen/diner and it felt that we had seen them only yesterday and that the journey half way across the world that had taken place to make it happen was as nothing.  How lucky we are to have the means to create this sort of magic!

Conscious that it was a ‘school night’ for some – the girls had adjourned earlier – I led the charge to bed.   Lorraine was to get the girls up in the morning for their last day at school before their spring holiday, so I went to bed with a bit of a plan for Coco’s birthday present, although unsure if it could be achieved……..

Wednesday 16th September

We had a fairly lazy start to the day, but are really into the habit of getting up early and I was not surprised to learn that the girls had been out for an early walk when they arrived back for breakfast.   It did not take us long to pack the car up and get off.  We are getting quite slick at this.  The car itself has been an absolute boon.  We bought wine for Wendy’s sister and brother in law to say thank you for lending it, but I am not sure we could ever let them know how much we appreciated it.  It has literary swallowed up six people and all their luggage, a mobile larder and drinks department.  Fantastic!

Anyway it was quite a long drive back to Sydney – probably about five hours.  We had a pit stop on the way but little more than that as we were to meet up with two of Wendy and Sarah’s friends for dinner.  We have a yen for visiting Iran and this couple have just been. We were keen to hear what they thought, so a gathering had been arranged for us to quiz them.

We were all a bit quiet in the car.  It had been an amazing week and quite a ‘full on’ one. However when we got back, Wendy suggested a short walk to blow the cobwebs away and we were off out to another of the coastal promontories of the area.  Once again the waves crashed at the bottom of the cliffs below us as we walked looking down on beaches and lagoons along the way.image image

There was another interesting development in that it would seem that nasturtiums grow wild here. All along the way, nasturtiums rambled over the headland – between the houses that banked up to the left of us as we walked with their amazing views over the ocean and the rocky cliff edge. It is apparently a regular dog walk for Sarah and Wendy and is close enough to their home in Curl Curl for them to walk to it. How good is that?

Walk over, we prepared to go out. We went back to Bangkok Betty’s that we had enjoyed so much before we left Sydney. Piling back into our conveyance we picked up the friends, Liz and Alan, and off we went.  The food was excellent once again but I was surprised at how divergent their views were on Iran. For Alan it sounded pretty underwhelming.  I think Liz enjoyed it more……. Interesting.

We dropped them off on the way home and it was back for our last night in Curl Curl.

On Thursday we move to the Colleroy Plateau – whatever that might mean…….! – and Helen returns to Alice Springs. The Silk Roadies as Keith has christened us are to scatter to the four winds again.

Tuesday 15th September Port Macquarie

we were up and about early again as we wanted to do a walk Sarah and Wendy had done parts of before from the lighthouse about 10 kilometres away back along to Port Macquarie and no one likes walking in the heat. 26 degrees was advertised.  We drove to our start point and parked the car just down from the lighthouse.  It was another beautiful day, although cool at 8.15 as we started to walk. The sun sparkled and flashed on the water. image image image

Beyond the lighthouse was another long and deserted beach, but we turned back to walk to back to the town on a route that would take us along beaches and rocks and back up into the rain forest that ran along the cliff top.

We set out, occasionally passing someone coming the other way, but mostly we had the place to ourselves in the early stages of the walk. As we descended into the first cove three cormorants were silhouette against the skyline on top of the rock.  image

As as we moved along and climbed up to the rainforest area, we could look back and see the lighthouse fast disappearing into the distance. All around us birds called. Some were beginning to nest and our movement provoked shrieks of alarm.  The path twisted and turned as it progressed along.  Gradually more people were about, mainly coming towards us.

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On one high point we came across several people with binoculars on tripods standing along the cliff edge looking out to sea.  With the usual inquisitive tendencies that materialise when you see somebody looking at something you can’t see, we sauntered up and peered out on the ocean, not at all sure what we were looking at.  There was a very small boat bobbing about on the bay and it transpired that our peerers were watching for whales and were linked to the boat by radio and directing it to where the whales were.  Hmmmmm.  We could see nothing, even Keith with his birthday binoculars was sceptical.  There was the usual story that a whale had been sighted just beneath us very close to shore just before we arrived………. Right!?! We hovered for a bit and then got bored and sloped off. There were notices all  along the route indicating that whales could be sighted between April and early September but it was not to be for us. We did see some marine life later – but I think it was only Dolphins.  I say ‘only Dolphins’ as though they are part of our everyday occurrence!  They just feel a bit down the pecking order here……

Our next excitement was to descend down to the beach level to the dog exercising bay.  A number of dogs were on paradeimage

and they came in all sorts of shapes and sizes – a bit like people really!

it was then time for a pit stop and coffee break for the coffee drinkers.  The next beach had sort of grey green rocks – not described as ‘remarkable’ although it seemed it to me – said to be 465 million years old.  I just cannot comprehend that distance of time.  Looking at it now I think that can’t be right, but I made a note at the information board so I guess it must be.image

We were gradually getting closer to Port Macquarie and found ourselves passing our accommodation   As we looked along the harbour wall, we could see man coloured boulders forming part of the sea defences   As we got closer it became clear that people, families, groups of friends – all sorts really – had taken over the large rocks and written on them.  Some denoted the passing of a friend or family member, some just an event or gathering   It was just fascinating.  Some were covered in pictures, others with words.  Along side them brass plaques in the ground recorded the many ships that had been wrecked in the bay.  All formed part of the great Australian history – past and more current.

We dropped by a local boat company and booked ourselves on to a river cruise to watch the sun go down later in the day.  It had become a bit blowy and looked a bit choppy by 4.00 pm when we set off for this jaunt, but in the event it proved to be a very pleasant cruise around the river inlets of the bay and it was very sheltered.   We took our own beer and some nibbles and spent a very pleasant  hour and a half looking at the houses along the waterfront and watching the sun sink down on to the horizon.  The boat owner was a very laconic character who occasionally pointed out things of interest and played a selection of easy listening music.  We had fun identifying the artists  they must have been old hits – even I was able to get some right.

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it felt very late when we got back to shore – it was 6.00 pm.  We returned home to gather ourselves a bit as we were off back to Sydney the next day before eating supper and adjourning early.

Monday 14th September

Again we woke up to sunshine. Wendy wanted to get on the road early, so by 6.30 we were all up and getting things in order. By 8.30 there was no sign of our ever having been in Peter’s house except for the leftover food in the ‘fridge. It was as though a plague of locusts had arrived, spent two days with their associated noise and then departed. I am sure that once we had gone the peaceful silence would have descended on the house once more and Peter’s shoulders will have equally descended to their natural position and away from his ears!

Our goodbyes were as emotional as our reunion. Big hugs and ‘we’ll be back’ and I am pretty sure we will. For Keith it has probably been the most special time. He just soaks up Peter’s knowledge of birds and wildlife like a sponge. It is great to see.

Goodbyes over we left Oakleigh (Peter’s house) and set off down the track accompanied by one or two wallabies still taking the morning air. We were all pretty quiet for a bit…… Spending time with Peter who had so generously shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of his surroundings with us had been an incredible experience. However, we had to move on and it was the waterfall route heading towards the coast.

Several waterfalls were visited – enormous gorges with water gushing down their deep cliff sides into unseen depths. The sun was not good for photographs of any of them…….First the Wollomombi Fakks

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Then the Ebor Falls

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I think both of these were in the Guy Fawkes National Park – I do not cease to be thrown by the Australians’ ability to name things after English places or figures, but  why Guy Fawkes!?!

Peter had told us to visit the Skywalk in the rainforest in the Dorrigo National Park.  They do National Parks very well here in Australia. There is always information, accommodation for picnics or longer camping stays, barbecue facilities and loos that China could certainly learn something from!

The Dorrigo version had the addition of a wooden planked walkway extending out over the canopy of the rainforest. The view from the lookout point at the end was tremendous. In the very far distance was the sea, a slightly different shade of blue to the blue grey of the distant hills. Between us and them were miles and miles of forest. It was great and even Keith, rather surprisingly enjoyed it.

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Moving on from the Skywalk, we arrived at the rather hippie town of Bellingen. Now that was another experience!  The young men had beards, pony tails or even buns and wore flip flops and baggy trousers or dungarees. Several of the women wore 60’s long skirts and were walking barefoot.   Another young woman in the cafe where we ate was breastfeeding a child of perhaps 4……. Interesting stuff. Nevertheless we had an excellent fish burger and lovely fresh juice of apple, lemon and ginger. It was yummy. We had a wander around the town and found a first class bakery making rye bread and an organic fruit shop housed in an old bank building. There were lots of bars with whole family’s enjoying the sunshine.  It was California reproduced in Australia.

Our accommodation for the next couple of days was to be Port Macquarie on the coast.  Sarah had done an amazing job of finding some wonderful accommodation overlooking the beach at a remarkably low price.  We went and augmented our travelling larder and beer supplies on the way there and within no time the car was stowed away In ts lock up garage beneath the building and we, together with our luggage and supplies, had all taken up residence in our 4th floor eyrie   it was all very efficient and satisfactory!

We all had sea views from our room and could hear the sea on the balcony.

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Perfect!

Sunday 13th September

We were all up early and out for a walk on Peter’s land – 2,400 acres of sensitively managed forest. Peter has a keen interest in wildlife and leaves areas very much to their natural state to encourage animals and insects to thrive – and they do! He owns a small heard of Boer goats which have now mixed in with the indigenous goats. He thinks there are about 250 of them about which we were to learn more later!

Even breakfast at the Hacienda del Peter is exciting as he has a bird bath just outside his dining area window where parrots, wrens and all sorts came to bathe as we watched. Breakfast over we set off from the back of the house. We passed a few chickens, a number of protected trees ((animal nibbling is a constant threat to would be garden plants here!) herbs and large sheds with tractors and one housing his meat processing area where he can butcher and store the meat from his land. Deer and occasionally rabbit are always available. Foraging takes on a whole new meaning!

There was also an area of ‘bit’s and pieces’ of what appeared to be rusting metal, wire, nuts and bolts, bits of wood, wheels, tyres – in fact all sorts of old cast off equipment that ‘might be useful’. The area was fondly referred to as ‘Bunnings’ the name of the Australian hardware store. Once again we saw that living so far out, you have to be able to fix everything yourself with whatever is to hand…….

As the house disappeared behind us, we went over a hill following a track that led down into woodland proper. To one side was a fallen tree pile, coloured silver grey by the unrelenting sun. We were to see them all over Peter’s land. Dead trees that had fallen victim to their shallow roots and had literally just fallen or blown over. Apparently, on other proprties, these would be cleared and burned, but Peter sees these areas as the ideal habitat for a host of creatures and so they stay – a slowly ageing natural housing estate for wildlife! The trees behind these border areas showed evidence of fire damage, although this part of Peter’s land had not seen fire for over twenty years.

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As we moved on the mimosa type yellow flower of the wattle trees became more evident. These are the national flower of New South Wales and are definitely the predominant tree of the area. We have seen them all along the way but they have become more evident as Spring has moved on and they have come into flower. They are joyful with the sun lighting up the strong yellow flowers.

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We wandered on, passing water holes –  both natural and man made. Once again the wattle trees reflected  in the water were lovely.  Bird stops were frequent. Peter would pause – binoculars at the ready – trying to get us amateurs to see what he had seen. Often tiny birds were way up in the tree tops. Much easier to hear than see, Kookaburras were very much in evidence chuckling around us. We were introduced to ‘snotty gobble’ the edible (I don’t think so with a name like that!) fruit of The mistletoe plants that live on like cal trees

We walked passed the electric fences designed to keep the goats, kangaroos and deer in order – but all made to the advantage of the animals that lived in the forest. No barbed wire, all with sufficient space for burrowing. All evidence of a landowner who knew his audience and wanted to encourage them to thrive. We heard any number of frogs ( including the pobblebonk – a name we had only seen on a wine label and had no idea of its meaning previously!) had a glimpse of deer through the mottled sunlight of the trees and looked at tracks in the mud and droppings and saw evidence of both wild boar and echidna rooting in the undergrowth.

The main predators on the land are wild boar and foxes. Humane traps had been set for them as they represent a danger to the goats, particularly the young kids. Peter showed us the skull of a boar – the fang like teeth sowed clearly the damage they could inflict.

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We saw trees that had had their bark cut to enable settlers on the land to kill the trees but had done it unsufficiently for the tree to die and had just left the tree ‘scarred for life’, large ant hills and more of the fascinating insect trapping plants all were commented on.

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Then we came upon the goats  there are two bands of them and they do not mix apparently.  The more friendly ones were quite inquisitive -nod came up to see what was going on…….

By then it was lunch time and we had a lovely meal of leftover venison and bits from our travelling larder. Everyone agreed when Peter suggested an afternoon cat nap and we all disappeared to various points in the house to have a relax. I adjourned to the front of the house to sit and watch the birds – they were delightful. Some little wrens came right up to my feet as they pecked around for insects in the grass. The view was just stunning.

The afternoon also gave me time to ponder on how I would have felt about a fire that came so close to my house such as Peter had experienced in 2003.  Looking at the trees in the area where the fire was and visualising flames towering over them – I would have been totally traumatised. Apparently Peter showed the fire fighters his previously thought out proposed plan of attack- they accepted it, took the action he had outlined and the house was saved. It is a different world. Only years of experience would make you so sanguine about such a terrifying situation……..

We were then treated to feeding time for the goats. It is early days for the grass to grow, so Peter supplements their diet for a bit at this time of year until they can get more from the ground. As he emerged from the shed with his large bucket, there was not a goat in sight. He called. Nothing. He called again and gradually there was a build up of sound as the goats gradually came out of the woodland and clattered towards the enclosure where he was scattering the feed tentatively at first, but then with more conviction into the yard. The sight of us as strangers was something of a deterrent to their progress, but the food overcame the bashfulness of the most bold and the others followed. They were quite well behaved and apart from a few horn clashings, it was all reasonably civikised.  In almost no time at all the food was gone and you could not help but feel sorry for the one or two latecomers who missed out. There was no more. It is certainly the survival of the fittest……  The other group do not attend this additional nutrient session  the little kids were lovely..the excitement over we withdrew to the house again and the goats departed and were swallowed up by the forest again.

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As the afternoon drew to a close, we all gathered for drinks on the lawn. Bright red parrots splashed around in the bird bath. We chatted and reminisced. It was great. As the day cooled we all returned inside to make supper. The fire roared in the wood burner and it was very cosy. The days are so warm but morning and evenings are quite cold.

A ‘last supper’ was shared and more travels discussed. It would be wonderful to see Peter in England……..

In the end it was time for bed as another wonderful excerpt of our trip drew to a close. The time with Peter was very special.

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