Monday 20th

A wet day was advertised, so we abandon what was to be a fairly lengthy walk and instead headed for the Bay of Fires, further up towards the north east of the island. Once more with Helen at the wheel we trundled along the coast road. We past various small settlements and eventually arrived at a town called St Helens. This was originally a place used by sealers and whalers and had an economy based on the tin found there, but now tourism is its main activity, particularly because of its close proximity to the Bay of Fires, a beautiful long bay of white sand which runs from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point.  The name was given to the bay by a Captain Tobias Furneaux who was travelling with Captain Cook. He saw the aboriginal fires from the sea and the Bay of Fires was born. There are no aborigines in Tasmania now. They were wiped out by the white people who invaded their land, although now their special places are respected and treated with care. Yet further evidence of the British history not being covered with glory!  

The Bay of Fires is a region of long white beaches, blue water and orange-hued granite rocks ( the colour of which is actually produced by a lichen).  

This is whale country but they have not yet started moving north so there was not a Wales tail in sight.  We wandered along the white beach which was scattered with the most amazing seaweed. At the end of the beach we turned back, retracing our steps to the car. We had had the odd spot of rain and the clouds were building up, but the all day deluge had not materialised and we were able to nearly get back to the house before he rain started.  

It had been another excellent day!!

Sunday 19th January

We got up early and were collected by the taxi service which very efficiently transported us to the airport. Here life was already ‘abustle’ but check in and security was achieved very smoothly and we breakfasted with the other early flyers. Qantas then whisked us off to Hobart and the Tasmanian extension of the trip begun.  

We picked up a very up market looking car and we were on our way up the eastern coast of the island. The sun shone but it was at least 10 degrees cooler than when we left Sydney. For the first time since reaching Australia a fleece was required when out of the car. Our first stop was to take on provisions for our first couple of days to be spent at a place called Bicheno (an interesting town name, and one not falling into our usual categories….) This done we continued up the east coast. Helen was at the wheel and we chatted and dozed our way up the highway. There were very few cars about, but then the whole population of Tasmania is only 550, 000 and the majority of the people cluster around the major conurbations of Hobart and Launceston (pronounced in a very odd way to our English ears!).  

Please note the interesting shape of Tasmania.  It fits very nicely on the end of Australia and obviously just fell off the bottom! Fascinating!

 After a couple of hours we reached Richmond where we were intrigued to find a number of men walking around smartly arrayed in kilts, white spats and jaunty black hats. Upon closer inspection we were somewhat taken aback to find that we had arrived at a celebration of the Scots connection with Tasmania – complete with piped marching bands! It was very odd to emerge from the car to hear the bagpipes! Not what we had expected! The little town was buzzing, the the tartan skirted bandsmen mixing with strolling locals and tourists. All there to see the spectacle of the various clans proudly marching up and down the grassy arena, kilts swaying, pipes sounding out the airs of Scotland and drumsticks swirling. Travel never ceases to amaze me!

Having gathered ourselves together after the initial shock at arriving at what seemed to be a smaller version of the Highland games  we had a welcome snack and continued our journey north. Initially we passed lakes and rivers but as we travelled north the sea became our more or less constant companion. We stopped off at the beautifully located Devils Corner vineyard and purchased a bottle of bubbles with which to celebrate our arrival on the island, (but discounted their other offerings as pretty grim) and moved on to the house.

Shortly after we arrived at Bicheno, a small seaside resort. Sarah, who had worked very hard on our account to find the accommodation, had been nervous about this first house – totally unnecessarily as it turned out – we had a perfect little white boarded house overlooking the Diamond Island out in the bay. What a spot!  

It was not long before we had wiped down the damp chairs out on the deck and the champagne was flowing while supper cooked. I had done some foraging for herbs in the somewhat overgrown garden and found to our delight – lemons!! There were a number of fruit trees in the garden and before the end of our stay apples, pears and peaches had been found to adorn our fruit bowl.  

After a great meal we decided to try to get down to the beach that we looked down on from the house and which was said to accommodate penguins (this place lurches from one surprise to the next!). Unfortunately all routes to the beach seemed to be private, so it was not a successful mission, but we did fine some very fine blackberry bushes on the way. Breakfast sorted.

We wandered back to the house in the twilight and adjourned to the sound of the waves on the beach below us. Perfect!

Saturday 18 th February

No kookaburras this morning – they obviously don’t work at the weekends!

We had a leisurely approach to the day and headed off to the station close by to catch the train to Sydney, our luggage having been transported back the day before. 

The station in a suburb of Newcastle  called Fassifern, named after a place with a similar name in Scotland described ‘one of the most spectacular places in the world’ – I don’t think perhaps they get out much……  apparently Fassifern was famous for its part in the Jacobite uprising in 1745.  Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the house of Fassifern during his March and it was here that he picked the white Rose that symbolises the Jacobites.  So now you know!  Just another little something – Mel Gibson stayed there during the filming of Braveheart – lucky chap!

 The sun shone brightly as we chatted to Peter before reluctantly leaving him.  There is a chance, if it ties in with his plans, that we will see him again for a couple of days when we return to Sydney in early April.  It would be lovely, but we shall see…….  as it was, there were big hugs and ‘a bientot s’ before we took to the upper tier of the train for the journey south.  For the most part the scenery was very green, but it was clear that at some stage all the little towns we passed through will link up and Lake Macquarie will become a suburb of Sydney.  

It took about 2 hours to get to Sydney. Our fellow passengers appeared in various guises – I was particularly taken with two beautiful young girls opposite. Both were very tall and dressed in very summery mini skirted dresses. Both wore heavy boots and one a large black felt hat.  Their makeup was somewhat startling but immaculate and they surprisingly left the train way before Sydney, which I was convinced was their destination.  Instead they got out at what looked like a country village where they must have cut quite a dash ……interesting!  I would love to know the rest of the story!!  It was not to be!

We arrived in Sydney and took the metro to the central quay to take the ferry to Manly where we were to meet up with the girls again.  The ferry across the harbour was busy and the sun continued to shine although there was quite a breeze which sent yachts scudding across the water around us.  We decided to lunch on Manly harbour side and consumed Moreton Bay bugs in a delicious sauce while overlooking the water. 

Lunch consumed, we were met by Wendy in the car and took off for an all too brief reunion with Justine, Tony and Michaela while we dumped a bag and picked up our Australian ‘phone. Time was pressing as we all had limited turnaround time before taking off for Tasmania on Sunday. 

After another celebratory bottle of champagne and fish and chips Australian style (no mushy peas!!) for supper, it was bed,  in preparation for an early collection for the airport.  

A second adventure in Australia

14th February Hong Kong Airport

Well here we are then, just leaving Hong Kong. The final stage of our second journey to Australia and time to do the IPad equivalent of sharpening my pencils, tidying my desk and drawing my margins…….. basically remembering how this blogging business works. 

Travel feels different this time. I have retired. Really, really. The training and reference books have gone to the charity shop, the testing materials have been shredded, my notes have gone on the fire. It is finished. The next phase begins and I feel unbelievably liberated. Why I do not know. I have been doing very little over the last few years, so why should this be different? Perhaps it is because my last role was not very satisfying for me. Perhaps it is just that it is the right time. In any event – thank you CTN. I am not sure I proved very effective for you – but you have funded this trip and allowed me to draw a close on my HR career with no regrets.   

Time to move on and look forward with excitement to our second Australian adventure. We will visit new places, spend time with much loved friends, remember shared experiences, ruminate over news and views and no doubt share the odd sherbet. Whatever the next couple of months brings, I am confident that it will be fun, memorable and life changing. Travel always is in my experience……..
So, after the shortest Valentines Day I am ever likely to experience, let’s go…….
15th February 

We arrived in Sydney at circa   It was a beautiful day. The temperature has dropped from the giddy heights of the recent past, but it was still 25 degrees. After a rather chaotic exit through passport control and customs, we met up with the girls – including Helen who had flown in from Alice on the 14th. It was great to see them all.  

Within no time we were in the car and heading off to Newcastle, to meet up with another chum, Peter who has moved from his goat ranch where we had visited him on our last visit. We drove from the airport over the famous Sydney harbour bridge, which seemed to formally acknowledge our return to the antipodes.  

Our drive north passed through suburban towns which seemed to be almost continuous for the couple of hours drive north. Just after midday we stopped to eat at a great little cafe at a place called Toronto where we ate a really scrumptious lunch on the side of Lake Macquerie, the largest permanent coastal saltwater lake in Australia. The sun shone and it was great to see the women in colourful summer attire (like butterflies or vibrant moths dazzling us after the greyness of the UK winter we had left behind).  

It was only a few minutes from there that we arrived at Peter’s house – how good it was to see him. It was almost emotional when he said to Keith – ‘like MacArthur, you said you would come back –  and you have!’ Great stuff and it felt like we spent time with him at his goat ranch only yesterday. What a difference 18 months can make. We looked around his new single story home, built to limit the impact of the sun and furnished quite minimally  but with the constant backdrop of the murmuring of three great fans constantly swishing the air to keep the main room cool. Already we were feeling that this was sanctuary from the glaring heat outside. At the back of the house there was a stand of huge eucalyptus trees, providing a constant theatre backdrop of bird life to keep Peter entertained and keep him on touch with the wild life that he loves. 

We spent a very happy first evening over an excellent meal remembering past shared time and travel and walking experiences that have taken place since our previous sighting of each other. It was great. Having met while travelling, it continues to be the common denominator that binds us. The conversation hopped from Patagonia to South Africa, from Spain to Croatia and beyond.  

We were amongst friends. 

16th February Newcastle

We woke to the sound of the kookaburras ‘laughing'(!?!) outside the window around 5.00 am. Not so much a laugh as a shreak and we were not invited to share the joke.

We were up early to get out before the heat of the day. Wendy and Sarah arrived from where they were staying with family locally (we were staying with Peter) and we set off to the sea. 

Newcastle was founded on coal. The story goes that a chap was sent up the coast from Sydney in the 1800’s to find some escaped convicts. The convicts were never found but a seam of coal was sighted and Newcastle was born. Initially the coal was shipped to Sydney. Now it is despatched world wide with much (as in all things Australian) heading to China. Looking out to the misty horizon of the sea, huge tankers could be seen in the shipping roads leading into the port waiting to be filled with coal or grain. 

The town was a real mix of industry and leisure. From the coastal path where we walked we could look inland to the docks edged with cranes and vast hoppers, busy with tugs and pilot helicopters criss crossing the harbour and outlet of the Hunter River – actively involved in getting the tankers into place through the harbour entrance.  

When we looked to the seaward side, we looked immediately down on the clear waters of the rocky coastline or along to golden sandy beaches dotted with scantily clad sunbathers and the bustling activity of surfing life. In addition to the helicopters taking pilots to the ships, there were others checking the water for sharks. Along the coast path the debris of old forts and sea defences stood stark memorials to past times. Large cement structures reared up from the turfed cliff top with mangled rusting metal prey to the elements and erosion. At other points designer houses skirted the coast road and dripping surfers hopped along the hot pavement with their boards under their arms as they returned to their vehicles.  Cafes spilled their coffee drinkers on. To the sidewalk.  The epitome of Australian life. 

Our route continued along the Anzac Memorial walkway which sported the rusting sculptured silhouettes of the men and women of NSW who had volunteered to go to the aid of Britain in the First World War. 

 On one poignant plaque the names of all the local people who had died were faithfully recorded. A somber note in the seaside scene in front of us.

 Below a school of dolphins broke the surface of the water. Overhead the sky was cloudless and the sun beat down on swimmers, sunbathers, those who walked the coastal path and the monument to the young dead whose lives ended so far from home.  

We continued to walk along to the end of the bay where we found a very welcome hostelry where cold beer was very well received.  At this point we parted company with Wendy and Sarah and took off to the harbour edge to have lunch.  

It was then home for us for a siesta and early evening drinks in the garden watching the antics of the rosellas and other birds in Peter’s tree theatre…….

A good day!

17th February  – out and about around Lake Macquarie 

Following the now familiar kookaburra alarm it was another early start to make the most of the day before the greatest heat descended (the temperature was to rise to 38 degrees by the end of the morning).   This time we headed to Lake Macquarie, starting at Wangi Wangi point – a conservation area jutting out into the lake.  

We wandered through the trees to the water’s edge.  As always there was evidence of many of the trees having survived burning.  We saw iron bark trees with their tough surface built to survive the ravages of fire and paper bark and stringy bark trees that the aborigines use to make rope. 
We wandered along the waters edge.  The water gently lapped along the shore line.  The sun sparkled on the water.  

Eventually we turned in land again and eventually returned to the car.  As the sky was looking overcast it was decided to take a coffee break until what turned out to be a storm had passed.  We had just settled down to our drinks when the heavens opened……. perfect timing!!

The rain soon stopped and we were on to our next port of call.  This was a place called Green Point Nature Reseve. where we set out from somewhere called Dilkera Avenue to walk to Black Jack Point.  I just love the names here – they are just the business.  We seem to either have the names of all the prominent British towns and cities or they are completely piratical or unpronounceable!  Great stuff!

This walk went deep into a rain forest area.  It was very steamy and very hot.  It was a lovely walk though.  Once again we followed the Lake side.  Along the way we passed a white faced heron. 

Emerging at Black Jack Point and it was time for lunch and home for another siesta…….

We spent our last evening in Toronto (!?!) with Wendy and Sarah’s family, eating Thai food against the backdrop of lorikeets cheeping in the trees just beyond the balcony tables. The noise reached fever pitch around  9.00 pm and then the sound dropped and we were left to enjoy the scenery of the lake.  We drank champagne and excellent Thai food.  A great evening.  

And so to bed……..