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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Saturday 12th September

We were all up early. The location was an hour and a half away. We left Peter’s armed with food enough for a ‘truck lunch’. All aboard we set off. The cool morning was being warmed through by the brilliant sunshine pouring down.

We reached the edge of the Gibraltar Range National Park and Raspberry Lookout. Here we could look over the surrounding tree covered hills and valley below us . Peter pointed out the different colour of the green in the gullies where the water was running down the hillside. Our only company was a chap with a motorbike and trailer arrangement with a box for his dog on the back. His dog was noisy but friendly and having sniffed at us all, he wandered around the area, tail wagging and full of beans!

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Having completed our overview of the valley, we headed off to the Mulligan picnic area in the National Park. There were world heritage rain forests in the park and a World Heritage Scenic Walk and we did part of this under the supervision of Peter who is a retired **Ranger and therefore full of knowledge about everything to do with nature it would seem. Before we set off we had some of his wonderful heavily whisky soaked fruit cake. It was scrummy and, as it turned out, a fortuitous in take of energy!

We passed Mr Mulligan’s hut – built very much after the style of the early settlers huts that I have just read about in the book ‘The Secret River’  which is all about the life of the early prisoners transported to Sydney. Mr Mulligan – much more recently – was there measuring the depth of the water levels in the stream running through the area that he was trying to harness to make hydro power. He never achieved his ambition…… Leaving the hut behind and having fully utilised the earth loos that were 500% better than any experienced in China – we set off.

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We headed first to The Needles, a promontory overlooking but further down in the valley we had seen from Rasberry Point. All along the way Peter talked to us and pointed out the benefits and otherwise of bush fires (there had been one the previous year) and many of the trees were fire charred. There were frequent pauses for bird watching. We saw honey eaters, a pied currawong, tree creepers and a kookaburra laughed maniacally as we passed. We saw all sorts of plant life. Amongst them was a different variety of bottle brush, grass trees of differing black trunk lengths (some of them circa 200 years old), orchids and stag ferns growing high up in the trees. We crossed bridges and saw beautiful rock filled streams, magnificent fungi used in the past by the aborigines as fire carriers, the ‘running postman’- a beautiful red flower with droopy bits was stunning. When we eventually reached the Needles we could see where we had first driven to overlook the valley above us and an amazing vista of a cleared valley nestling in the distant tree covered hills. At every turn we were reminded of the energy and commitment of the past settlers in making the ground usable for farmland by pure physical hard work and I guess desperation. Without land to farm you starved.

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Turning away from the Needles we retraced our steps back along the path where we saw birds nests suspended from the trees. Every now and then we came across an area of rock – the formations looked man made. They were spectacular! We spent some time watching two Glossy Black Cockatoos. While we watched they fluttered from branch to branch exposing bright orange plumage beneath their wings. Eventually they settled on a branch together. They looked like an old married couple sitting on their branch together.

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Passing further streams and Paper Daisy Flowers, we continued our way to the Fern Tree Forest where amazing fern shapes lined our route and made perfectly formed umbrellas over our heads. Next came swamp land. Golden grass covered areas quite waterlogged. Along the path beside the swamp we came across the Sun Dew insect eating plants, flat to the ground but lethal to the unsuspecting insects that passed by. Enormous ant hills came into view. Still we walked on.

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At 3.00 pm we arrived back at Mulligan’s camp. We had walked for 5 hours. What a lot we had learnt! We were starving!

As we sat eating our ‘truck lunch’ a pademelon -a small kangaroo type creature came and sat next to us. First he ate a crumb of cake. Next a piece of banana and finally a piece of apple! He was quite tame and totally cute.

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Now is perhaps an appropriate time to talk of kangaroos. They are rather amazing creatures although I think they look as though they have been created by a committee! A female kangaroo can have three ages of baby on the go at any one time. It can have one in the womb which will not start to grow or be born until conditions are right for it to have a chance of survival ie if there is nothing to eat the baby will stay where it is until things are better. When it is born a kangaroo is about the same size as a jelly bean. It will emerge from the mothers vagina and the mother will lick its fur to provide a path for it to its pouch. The baby will then pull itself up by its front paws up to the pouch. A monumental feat for a jelly bean! Once ‘home’ it will latch on to a teat which will hold it safe as well as feed it until it is big enough not to fall out. There can be a second older baby at the same time fearding on another teat that will provide the right sort of milk for an older baby. Babies big enough are aloud out to allow Mum to clean the pouch and will then hop in again. When mum is travelling, a band of muscle will tighten to keep baby in. This relaxes when they are stationary to allow baby to peep out. Tell me kangaroos are not amazing! Just one more thing – kangaroo droppings are square just to differentiate them from other species! All you need to know about kangaroos!  Sadly we have seen many dead on the road.

Apple finished, we packed the remnants of our lunch away and made our way home. Tired, but almost overwhelmed with the walk and all that we had learnt and seen.  I felt that some time in the recovery position was required to digest it all.  A very special day with a very special man.

We reached home late afternoon. Keith set out to to cook the venison that Peter had retrieved from his freezer. It was deer that he had shot and butchered from his land. We made roasted vegetables and sat down to eat at about 8.00. We did not get off to bed until 10.00. A late night for us!

A great day!

**please note this change.   Peter has pointed out the he was not a Bush Ranger as originally stated – this was the name given to Australian Outlaws…….. I can only claim the ignorance of the English!  Peter has graciously accepted my apology and has had a good laugh at my expense!! Good on him!

Friday 11th September

We knew that the day was going to be a long driving day. Young Wendy likes to drive and seems very equable about these prolonged spells at the wheel. My offer of assistance was acknowledged graciously but not taken up. For me it is a real treat to be driven.

We packed up all our goods and chattels and by just after 9.00 were on our way. Our destination was Peter King’s house at Glenn Innes. A good 7 hours drive away.

After about an hour’s driving we stopped for coffee at Muswellbrook for those of that persuasion and then it was back in the car until our lunch stop, except for a quick pit stop in Tamworth. En route we saw a swarm of flying foxes. Helen had told us about these. They huge bats that eat fruit rather than insects and hang like large black pears from any trees they see as their hosts. They then proceed to denude the tree of all foliage. Like bats in the UK, no matter how much of a problem they are or damage they cause, they are a protected specie and anyone moving a hand against them is committing a crime. The town we came across had been overtaken on its village green……

We had lunch at a university and cathedral ‘city’ town called Armidale. It is the nearest town to Peter’s, Glen Innes being merely a cross roads with a few houses. It was just before 2.00 and we just happened across a coffee shop where we could purchase a bowl of salad very reasonably. A find. We also found a Woolworth’s supermarket and a Dan Murphy’s, the infamous cheap alcohol shop we had heard so much about. Although Peter does not drink, despite our day of wine tasting it was felt that an additional few bottles were required. Food enough for a small army was purchased and thus equipped we travelled on.

We drove off the road and up the dirt track to Peter’s place just after 5.00 pm. It was probably a couple of kilometres up the track before we came to the house and the sun was beginning to go down. Our entrance to his property was heralded by a number of kangaroos and wallabies leaping across our path and then we were through the two stones that marked the entrance to the front of the house, a single story brick building overlooking rolling hills showing blue grey on the horizon.

It was almost an emotional reunion. We all unravelled ourselves from the car and there he was on the front lawn to meet us – looking just as he did when we left him a few months short of a year ago. It was lovely to see him.

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We quickly stowed away our bags and all joined him on the veranda for a drink as we watched the light drain out of the day. The breeze rustled the trees and the chatter moved and danced around the assembled gathering. Peter talked about the fire that had come up to within fifty yards of the front of his house and how the fire fighters had fought it with him successfully. It must have been terrifying but he had a lot of experience of fires in his life as a ranger fighting fires all over the national parks where he worked. I cannot imagine flames higher than the trees towering over me. A fact of life for the Australian bushman.

Peter had cooked two massive lasagnes one for the meat eaters and one for the vegetarians and we had a great supper. At 9.00 we were all off to bed with the thought of a forest walk on the horizon for the morrow.

Thursday 10th September

Another lovely day. Are they all like this in Australia I asked myself? It was a lazy start as our tasting tour guide was not due to arrive until 10.00. Sure enough, just before 10.00, ‘Roy’ drove up the hill to pick us up. There were already two young people on the minibus, Jess and Matt who proved to be knowledgable young companions for the day. The seven of us made up the touring party.

Roy took the oportunity during the drive to our first sampling house to be provide some background to the wine  making in the Hunter Valley which filled some gaps in our knowledge. The main wines made in the Hunter Valley are Shiraz, Saint Emillion and Chardonnay.

Our first stop was Mount View, where a young lady called Sarah encouraged us to sample the vineyard’s wine. I have to say my favourite taste of that on offer was the wasabi cheese which was excellent. The wines did not do a great deal for me, although to be fair they were much better than those experienced in the area previously! Roy was obviously well known to the vineyard owners and took us on a brief tour of the ‘behind the scenes’ wine making process. We saw shiny vats and new French barrels. I always feel this aspect of the wine making process makes one much more respectful of what it takes to produce a good glass of wine…….the vineyard itself was quite small and sold nothing to stores or retail outlets, relying solely on customers visiting the vineyard for its sales.

Our next sampling was done at the Ernest Hill vineyard. Here an older gentleman called Neville charmingly took us through the wines on offer. I found one of these much more to my taste and we learnt more about the taxing of wines which explained some of the issues about the reason the wines we were being offered in the Hunter Valley were so young.  To our taste they had reached no where near the maturity of wines available in England, France or Italy that we are used to.

Our next stop was for lunch at Emersons. Several of us opted for the prawn option which was better in the description than the reality! The wine offered was equally nothing to write home about. However we visited the delicatessen attached to the restaurant. They sold a number of prizewinning olive oils and dips and Keith bought some verjuice to his liking. It was then all aboard the bus for our next venue which was the champagne (equivalent) house, Petersons. Here a very sharp salesman took us through their range including a sparkling Pinot Noir which I though might have promise – I quite like a sparkling red – but sadly it did not match up to expectations. I did however purchase a pink diamanté trimmed ‘stubby’ for my personal use!

Bubbles were purchased for later in our journey and we were off to the Tulloch vineyard. This was by far the largest and most commercial vineyard we were to experience and it felt like it to a great extent. There was a much more prestigious party due to arrive and they were certainly taking precedence.

Leaving Tullochs we left wine for a bit and moved on the The Two Fat Blokes, which I understand to be something of a misnomer given that one fat bloke has sold his share and the other is no longer fat, merely a bit chubby! Here we tasted a number of local cheeses. They were ok but not exceptional. However, they did own a delicatessen what provided access to a good jar of humous which we purchased having no ‘whizzer’ with us to make our own!

Food buying over we struck off to our final vineyard. Gun Dog Vineyard. Here some brightly coloured plastic dogs made a rather startling appearance – in bright red and blue. Quite bizarre! However the wine proved to be some of the best of the day, so our tour closed on a high and with us all feeling very jolly, if a little jaded…….

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It was then home with the various bottles (a surprising number!) that Roy handed over as the purchases we had accumulated, as we disembarked. Our post mortem revealed that we had all had a good day and that our view of the hunter wine region had exceeded expectations.

The brief evening was a little quiet and the house was in darkness by 9.00 pm.

Wednesday 9th September

We were off again! This time it was to start the trip that would incorporate a visit to Peter King, another of our Silk Road friends some way north west of Sydney.

It was yet another beautiful morning. Our sunny accommodation glowed gold with the sun pouring in. There was much gathering of equipment and Keith and I put the new bag together as our travelling luggage again. First stop was to be the Hunter Valley, the wine making region,  after we had stopped for supplies in the local shopping area. Supplies obtained we set off for the Hunter Valley.

It took quite a long time to get out of Sydney and its suburbs, which spread in an ever increasing span from the harbour. It is amazing to me how much the city has grown in less than two hundred years when you think how long London has been in existence! The other fascination is that every house is different. We saw no street of similar housing or the equivalent of the English ‘estate’ of housing by the same architect. The creativity in terms of design is remarkable. A number of the less exotic homes are in a sort of bungalow, single story style. However there is nothing of the home for the elderly about them which tends to be the English association with the bungalow.

Issues of architecture aside, we eventually left the housing and commercial buildings and we were out in the countryside again. We were back on the single laned highway, similar to that we had experience on our progress from Adelaide to Melbourne and Melbourne to Sydney.

a feature of the route to the Hinter Valley were the goods trains passing us carrying coal on the railway track running by the side of the road.  They seemed never ending   There are no nuclear power stations in Australia and surprisingly no solar panels  just coal powered electricity and miles and miles of coal trucks……..

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Our first stop was for lunch. We had already passed a number of vineyards and passed rows of immaculate vines – scenes last seen in the Adelaide hills. Enzo’s the place we had been recommended for lunch had a cellar adjacent to it. Handy that! We set off for a wine tasting prior to lunch. This was surprisingly disappointing. The wines were very young and quite lacklustre. We tried white, rose and red. Nothing proved striking. All were very young. Keith and I began to realise that our northern palates looked for something more robust in terms of taste.  The lunch stop had some lovely flowers though! imageimage

We tried a couple of further wine houses through the afternoon. I passed on one or two but nothing compared to the wines we had tasted further south or those at home.

Eventually wined out, we arrived at the Cypress Lakes Resort an accommodation and golf complex right in the middle of the Hunter vineyards. It was ideal. We had a three bed roomed house complete with pseudo fire place with gas fire. We piled out of the wonderful people carrier with all the kit that Wendy and Sarah had put together ( they are amazing people to travel with) in addition to our shopping. We had anticipated buying wine from one or two of our tasting houses but this had not materialised, so we were lucky to have the supplies that had been put in ‘just in case’!

We had a jolly evening. Sarah and Keith cooked and we had a delicious variety of dishes. It was then off to bed. We had a serious wine tasting day ahead. A full day tasting tour!!

Tuesday 8th September the Scenic Walk Manly

Our first day in Sydney dawned sunny and as I have already mentioned, Wendy and Sarah’s house is really sunny. We all had breakfast with almost haloes around our heads!

We then gathered for a walk around the Manly headland.  It was one of the most beautiful walks I have ever done – and I have walked one or two! We parked the car at the bridge and then set off. The harnbour area to our right was full of very expensive looking and exotically shaped boats.  They bobbed on the water with their metal bits sparkling in the sunshine.

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We then gained the walk proper.  The route took us variously along tree lined tunnels and over gnarled tree routes, over laval rock and passed interestingly carved out boulders and then out on to promontories giving us superb views over the rich blue water beneath us that marked the entrance to Sydney harbour. The harbour itself was out of view around the bay.  It was glorious!

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Now again very healthy looking, bronzed ‘Yummy Mummy’s’ jogged past or rather impatiently stood back to let us get by. All were pristine in their white shorts and multi coloured tops, hair tied back, sunglasses looking skyward and talking excitedly about the issues of the day. Australia seems to breed a master race of long limbed lovelies who ooze vitality and fresh air.

Our route took us up and down – some of the path had been given concrete steps in other areas it was back to the rock   The spring flowers were beginning to be on show – most were new to us.  Some had wonderful perfumes.

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Some of the trees looked very old and had bark that looked like elephants skin.

As we neared the town of Manly (named by a Governor who thought the aboriginal men looked manly can you believe) we could see the old ferry below us.  There is another one that looks like a dart and takes half the time but the older one got my vote,

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The final few kilometres took us down on the sandy coves of Manly.   Designer houses reared up behind the beaches which we were told were full of people on sunny weekends.   There was an interesting incident when Keith used a rather exotic loo which played music to him and apparently gave him a time limit before it hosed him down in the interests of cleaning the whole loo – but I will draw a delicate veil over it  all I could hear from the outside was Keith chuckling!!!

the next thing to make us chuckle was the stencilled sign along the pavement telling us to beware of penguins……

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There were of course no sightings!!

When we had completed the route we had walked about 10 kilometres and felt we had earned lunch on the waterside – we ate lobster and rolls with gusto!

lunch over we headed off to inspect the famous Manly beach which was quite beautiful with very few people on it and then headed off to the ferry.  Our journey took us across the bay we had walked around and then – incredibly – we were heading into Sydney harbour!  Ahead of us were the opera house and Sydney harbour bridge.  It was a bit difficult to take in.   It was awesome to be there – in the true sense of the word.

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We landed just down from the bridge. As we came out onto the jetty a young man was playing a didgeridoo- hard earned busking if you ask me!

We wandered up through Sydney to the bus stop to catch the bus to where we had left the car.  With perfect timing the bus was just leaving and before long we were back I. The car and heading back to Curl Curl and home.

The evening saw us heading out again this time to Bangkok Betty’s for supper. It was excellent!  Another wonderful day on this amazing journey.

Monday 7th September off to Sydney! To

As the  breakfast in our accommodation sounded expensive we decided to leave Woollongon behind us and find something to to eat as we made our way to Sydney.  We were very pleased that we made this decision.  It was a beautiful sunny day and after driving not more than twenty minutes we came to Bouli Beach where the Cafe literarily on the sand served really interesting breakfasts. We tucked in to baked berlotti beans with chorizo in a pot with poached eggs and fresh orange juice. It was very good.

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Thus revived, we set off to take the coast road to Sydney.  We had a lovely morning.  We stopped at several beaches.  Some were totally empty, others had a few people on them. At one we got out and wandered along the fine white sand and then sat on a rock and watched surfers – in one case a whole family – Mum, Dad and two small children with their own mini surf boards.  They looked totally fearless.  We saw a real collection of dogs of all shapes and sizes – all keen to please – just happy to be alive. There were children playing in the sand and retirees just strolling along the waters edge.  It was idyllic.   We then drove into the Royal National Park – the twisting road ran along the sea shore and then would turn away and become a tree lined road, gradually climbing up and then turning back to the sea.  It was beautiful.  At one point we came down towards a riverside.  We sat and watched the birds and the sun dancing on the water

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Then it was time to head to the city.

We were due to meet up with Wendy and Sarah at the airport and then we were going to wait for Helen to fly in from Alice Springs.  Luckily the airport is on the South east corner of Sydney so the drive in was not too onerous.  We just followed the airport signs. Thankfully the Hertz dropping off point was equally accommodating and before long we had abandoned the car and had all our worldly goods including a box of wine consolidated and with aid of a trolley headed towards the arrivals hall where, before very long, we met up with Wendy and Sarah again.  It was good to be together again.  We took our baggage back to the car – Wendy’s sister has donated her people carrier for our trip which is wonderfully large and comfortable – and set off back to the airport to await young Helen.  And then there she was!  It was great to see her again too.  The band was back together and ready for our next adventure!

The drive back to Wendy and Sarah’s house at Curl Curl took a bit of time, but also took us over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  There were people climbing up it!  Keith has said a firm ‘no’ to this opportunity so I guess we won’t be do it – not sure I would want to anyway!  Chattering all the way we eventually got to the girl’s house which is white weatherboarding and full of sunshine and light. From the top floor you can see the sea!  Fabulous!

A raucous evening ensued – aided by two bottles of champagne and several more bottles of wine………