Tuesday. 11th April

The last post!!

We both made a final hug with Tony before he left for work at 6.30. 

Mickey is doing a paper round to help fund a World Challenge trip to Myanmar.  This morning I made the paper run, assisted by it starting an hour later than usual at 7.00 am (!). There was a bit of time pressure this morning – I hope I assisted us meet the deadline!  They were too polite to say!

I certainly hadn’t dressed for photographs!

The taxi was arriving at 10.00, so an early start allowed for a gentle run into last packing. Those last clasps closing.  It always feels so final.  We were just decamping to the front drive with the luggage, when the Colleroy Airport bus arrived.  In no time the waving was over and we were gone.  I have to apologise here to the wavers, their best waves were missed due to a photo taking malfunction – I think in some part due to the emotion of the operator!

So goodbye to the Wightman’s for this trip.  We will see them again in the summer when they visit England…….

And goodbye Australia……

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains

Of ragged mountain ranges, 

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror,

The wide brown land for me.  

(Part of a much longer poem by Dorothea Mackellar)
That just about sums it up!

E and OE

Monday, 10th April

Our last day in Australia, but it was certainly last but not least! We were off to the Sydney Sealife Aquarium with Coco and Mickey.
It was quite chilly while we waited for the bus and we were all glad that we had brought the extra layer! We took the bus, then walked to Darling Harbour where the aquarium is located.  

We purchased our lunch and ate it before we started our watery excursion.  Keith had booked the tickets in advance which was good. It is the first day of the school Easter Holiday, so the queue for tickets was pretty horrendous. 

Entering, we moved into a marine world that was quite fantastic. First the jelly fish…..,

Then through every aspect of underwater life…….

Coral……. and endangered fish

Strange land creatures……..

We fed fish from a glass bottomed boat all geared up in life jackets

And after a thorough briefing, took to the water. We learnt lots about the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef (50% has already gone) and new facts for Keith and I about sharks. The girls are pretty well connoisseurs on the shark front – answering questions correctly and gaining themselves top marks! We peered through the bottom of the boat at the fish traffic below us

 Armed with fish food, the fish flakes were cast upon the water and with a flash of fins this was consumed almost as it hit the surface!

The boat experience completed, we wandered through the shark and ray section  …….

What a day!

Fished out, we took off for home.  Coco was going to make the pudding for the evening’s meal, so she and I stayed on the bus when the others got off to go and get her ingredients and then we walked back. There then followed a very industrious hour on her part to make the pudding. 

A little disloyally maybe, we had fish and chips for supper.  Tony was out on business.  The triumph of the meal was Coco’s production – not yet named but voted a great success!

Heston eat your heart out!

And so to bed in Australia for the last time this around – we leave for home tomorrow!

Sunday, 9th April

The Wightman’s were off to a work function, so we set off with them for the city for breakfast.  The harbour was already busy.  The advertised market at the Rocks was quite small, so we glanced at that and turned right at the quay.  We were immediately caught up in the stream of people leaving the latest ship disgorging its cargo of humanity onto the dockside.  There were literally hundreds of them, festooned with luggage and cruise momentoes, all eventually to be dispersed into the public transport system and I guess return to their homes in all corners of the earth!! Fascinating thought!  The liner of course waited patiently to fill up again and go on it’s way….,,,,

While dwarfing everything else in the harbour! Including the bridge!

We walked on to the Opera House cafe for breakfast.  It was a glorious morning.  Keith took photographs of me …….. and the new sunglasses which I think were a bigger attraction for his photographic skills!

And I took photographs of his coffee against the background of the bridge. – not very successfully!

We then set out to walk around the botanical gardens via Mrs Macquarie’s seat. Governor Macquarie apparently not only built her a seat, but had a whole road created to convey her down to her favourite viewpoint.  It is interesting to think how different her view would have been from this spot, to the well known landmarks now. 

The area around the seat itself was buzzing with a Chinese tour party. I don’t know how many there were, but there were about 20 buses with their Chinese drivers along the road behind.  They were having a great time.  We waited for a gap in their photography session to take ours of the famous seat – when they insisted not only that they take the photograph, but then take lots with their own cameras with them and us in it!  I always find this very amusing. We have found it when we were in India as well – they like to have other people in their photographs when I fight to keep people out of mine!

We rounded the headland and escaped the crowds and found ourselves in a much quieter part of the harbour with a very different form of shipping.  Big grey naval ships bobbed up and down along the jetty walls giving a much more serious air.   We then moved on again and  looked down on a hotel where sunbathers lay around an Olympic sized swimming pool and soaked up the sun.  Sydney is certainly a city of contrasts.  

We turned back into the trees.  It was great to wander under their shade.  The trees themselves were beautiful and often vast. 

We decided that as the day was getting hot we would return to the house and the shade of the veranda for the afternoon.  The Wightman’s returned – the girls looking very exotic with hair braided and, in Coco’s case, a dusty blue.  We looked at their photographs and heard about their day.  A family afternoon. 

The early evening saw us set out for our last supper together at the local Indian restaurant which we managed to reach before a storm descended and it poured with rain – but we had sunshine in our hearts! A great meal with lots of toasts and favourite moments remembered. 

Tomorrow we take the girls to the City aquarium or, more likely, they will take us!

Saturday, 8th April

Another lovely sunny day.  We cannot believe our good fortune!

We had a good solid brunch on the balcony to start the day.  The boys were going on a brewery tour so there was an element of stomach lining to be done………There was a bit of free time before Justine took the chaps to the brewery. Alistair who had been roped into this activity, was going to find his own way there. 

On her return, the girls and I piled into the car and we set off for our own afternoon’s entertainment.  

First stop, the ice cream bar at Avalon Ice creams all round!

Nest stop, Justine’s favourite beach – Clareville.  It was lovely.  J and I wandered along, assessing the houses that come right down to the beach.  They were stunning.  There were a few people around but plenty of. Room and a lot of boats moored off the beach. 

And there was sufficient room for beach cricket …..

I was very pleased with my 2 runs!

Play ended, we went off to a nearby ‘pub’, the Newport Arms.  An amazing place, with something for every age group.  Games for the young, food for everyone. Cocktails for the upwardly mobile.   Beer and sport on tap for the boys.  Everyone catered for in a lovely setting amongst trees and tables right down to the beach. 

The girls had a pizza, 
The older girls had a glass of rose
A great afternoon.  There was still no word from the boys when we headed home. 

We eventually heard from them at circa 6.30! With a request to descend the hill to collect the. And bring more beer!  I thought it might be a tad messy.  However,  they were in surprisingly good shape and had walked, via several pubs, home from the brewery tour.   They had dragged young Alistair (of Ed Sheehan fame)  along to the outing, as well as a chum of Tony’s.  Quite a merry band!  Alistair took off for home (it was good to get another sighting and I was comforted that he did not look damaged by his experience!) and we headed back up the hill to await the day’s next excitement. 

(Keith’s picture of the sunset on their walk back! Not a forest fire!)

Justine’s brother Hal was getting married in Goudhurst Church at 2.00 pm UK time (11.00 pm Aus time) and it was to be ‘streamed’ to us.  Whatever that means.  So, food and a Bond film later – through which Tony and Keith more or less slept solidly – we were ready for the wedding, in my case dressed ready for bed straight after the ceremony.  Justine with her usual flair appeared in her posh Shanghai Tang pyjamas……….

‘Streaming’ proved a little more challenging than originally thought but we saw young Hal get married.  Good luck to the bride and groom!

Friday, 7th April

What a day it turned out to be!

Some time back Keith had said he had booked for us to have lunch at Quay, a top restaurant in Sydney on our last Friday in Australia.  ‘That’s nice’ say I – and here we are.  The day dawned bright and we set off to give ourselves enough time to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art before lunch.  

Those regular readers will be aware that we had thoroughly enjoyed MONA in Hobart.  Against this background we entered the rather awesome portals of the building, impressive from the road behind (our access) but truly magnificent as it fronts onto the harbour.  We were a little disappointed to see yet another enormous liner parked along the harbour wall as our reconnaissance mission earlier in the week to find Quay had revealed that it had an amazing view of the Opera House – except when there was a liner in port, when there was a danger that all you would see was a cabin……. 

Anyway, the MCA.  We took the lift to the top floor where we found the cafe which was busy and had its own wonderful view of the harbour.  It also had a sculpture that was in effect a very large weather vane that turned lazily in the light breeze…….  we descended through the floors.  It was interesting but not a MONA for us.  We tried.  Keith wandered the vast rooms with his MCA App looking for inspiration………..

The only one we both agreed we liked was something I think was called the Seven Sisters or something similar, although looking at it, there would seem to only be 5……..
There had been an announcement inviting people to gather at 12 noon for a musical ensemble. We passed the area just after 12.   They may have ‘ensembled’ but there was certainly not much music about it.  At the discordant noise, Keith’s comment was they sounded like ‘seven characters in search of a tune’ which I though summed it up nicely, but I understand it is a misquote of someone quite profound.    
The very best item we saw was on the wall of the stairway.  

We then left the area to go to lunch, just along the way.  On arrival, although the boat (ship!?)) was right up against the windows on one side of the restaurant and was huge, we had the best table in the house…….. 

overlooking the harbour bridge.  The view was stunning and over the period of the meal we were able to watch the bridge climbers scaling the great ironwork and descending having achieved the peak – we’ll done them!

However, there was little distraction from our meal.  I am lucky enough to have eaten in some wonderful places.  This rated nearly at the top of my gastronomic experience.  An eating date with my husnband is  never to be taken lightly and this was no exception!  I list my four courses below: 

Salad of slow cooked carrots, sheep milk feta, smoked almonds, sherry caramel, pepitas, agretti

Smoked pigs jowl, fermented mushroom custard, milk skin threads, young walnuts

Arkady lamb, ice plant, seaweed, black garlic, mountain spinach, Barletta onions, nasturtium 

Snow Egg

I did warn you!  I have no idea what half of it was and have never heard of some of the ingredients, but it was delicious! The menu did not describe ‘amuse bouche’  – I have no idea what it was, but it looked like this.  I thought baby birds might have been involved……..

You can tell Keith was enjoying himself – he had that ‘haven’t I done well’ look.  Smug might be another way to describe it.  You can also see how close we were to the Friday liner!

I, on the other hand, looked suitably inscrutable!

As well as a very enjoyable meal, we (or probably more likely ‘I’) was fascinated by the arrival at the table next to us of Someone Quite Important.  Important to Quay anyway.  Within a few minutes of him sitting down, the Head Chef Peter Gilmore arrived to introduce himself to said mystery diner (who was obviously expected).   I loved it!  I was also very pleased that he was given several of the dishes we had chosen.  He did not order – just told them what time he had and to bring him what they wanted to showcase – not that I was listening you understand!

The meal at an end, we headed back to the bus – the day had even more to offer.  Back at Colleroy Plateau the girls were literally geared up ready for the football. Keith, Tony, Mickey and Coco were off for a night of Aussie Rules football.  I set off with them and then got off the bus to head to Manly with the girls.   We had a great evening.  First at Manly Wine an up market restaurant by the beach.  It was definitely a girls night out.  Justine’s friend Lesley came too – she is very nice.   I could not believe I would eat another thing after my splendid lunch. but managed some giant prawns. 

We then moved on to a very grown up bar for a ‘night cap’.  The Steyen . In my wisdom I decided to go for a cocktail (I don’t drink cocktails). It was called the Sambucus.   I had a view of Sanbucca an old favourite drink of mine……..  Forget that!   It was nothing like it.  I lost count of the ingredients.  Lesley really enjoyed watching the young barman performing the feat of  mixing the ingredients and then the dance around the shaking business.  A masterpiece of  understatement in a glass!

It just tasted of cucumber!  

We sat outside looking down on Manly…….. finally! after a quick tune on the piano by Justine it was time to go. 

Great fun!

We arrived home at about 9.45 and adjourned to bed.  The boys and girls arrived home circa midnight!  Apparently the Sydney Swans were robbed, but a good night had been had by all 

Wednesday, 6th April

It was a bright sunny day.  Justine reported that it had been a beautiful sunrise – but I have to report that I missed it!

We had arranged to take a trip up the Hawkesbury River.  It was something we had intended to do on our last trip, but for various reasons it had not happened, so today was the day.  

First step was to get to Palm Beach Wharf, a good half an hour further up the coast and the point from which we took our seaplane ride over Sydney Harbour on our last visit. Our conveyance was a small boat, The Merinda, that travels up the Hawkesbury River calling in to a number of small communities every day.  

We pulled away from the moorings, in time to see the sea plane just taking off.  

We then started our journey to leave the ocean and make our way up the River,  backdrop to the famous Secret River novel. The Hawkesbury is the longest river on the east coast of Australia. 

We sat in the prow of the boat, the sun shone.  Isolated beaches appeared and were passed.  Pelicans trailed fishing boats.  Large jelly fish appeared under the serface of the water.  Little nippy motor boats dotted the route.  There was the soft murmur of voices as people chatted while watching the scenery unfold.  Rocky outcrops appeared between the trees that came down to the waters edge. 

After about an hour we arrived at our first stop off point.  The boat slowed and pulled into the jetty at Pattonga.  There being no-one wanting to get on or off, the engine barely missed a beat before it backed away again and we continued our progress down the waterway. 

Our next stop was Cottage Point, an area of very expensive houses.  A wonderfully sited restaurant is located to the side of the small harbour area, right on the waterfront.  A number of our fellow travellers were obviously heading there for lunch.  
Other diners had obviously arrived there under their own steam, given the boats moored there. We were later to see the Seaplane bobbing on the water,  obviously delivering or collecting restaurant goers……..
Our final destination was Bobbin Head Bay.  This had quite a sizeable marina, with a number of boats of all sorts parked.  This stop had a much broader outlook, including a grassy area with eating pavilions where people could picnic.  We headed there with our packed lunch and another bottle of Devils Corner fizz.  We had an hour before our boat would leave for the return journey to Palm Beach. 

It was an absolute delight!  
At 1.45 we clamboured back on board.   Our return journey was a bit more breezy. We sat on the upper deck of the boat and whiled away the afternoon in quiet conversation.   A great way to spend an afternoon!

All too soon we were back at Palm Beach.  A great time had been had by all. 

Wendy and Sarah delivered us back to Wightman Towers. It was sad saying goodbye to them.  It is the last time we will see them on this visit.  We just love spending time with them.  A bientot!

Back at the Castle, Coco went off for her last dance session and we settled down to a quiet evening prior to an exciting last Friday.  

Wednesday, 5th April

It definitely felt that there was a change in the air.  Although it was still cloudy, there was never a question of the showers that had been a prominent feature of the previous few days.  

The main feature of the day was to be the dinner party for Alistair, a work colleague from CTN who had escaped to go travelling.   When he had indicated his intention of spending some time in Australia, I had put him in touch with Justine as a contact.  With Justine’s usual generosity they had met, were now in touch and a date had been set up for him to come to dinner when the Gregory’s were in town.  If you want anything done, give the job to a busy woman!

Alistair’s arrival had been much heralded because, since I had met him, he has grown a beard and become an Ed Sheeran look alike.  Those who know me well will of course know that I hadn’t got a clue who Ed Sheehan was – I know now and have to say Alistair has an uncanny resemblence to him!

Our contribution to the evening was to the food and ‘front of house’.  With that in mind we took off to find Dan Murphys, the bottle shop (off licence), to purchase some Devil’s Corner fizz that we enjoyed in Tasmania and get the ingredients for Keith’s Asian ‘slaw.  All kitted out we decided on ‘at home’ afternoon……. 

I had a very nice few minutes by the pool before it got too hot and then a bit of a read – unheard of in these travelling, blogging, experiencing times – and then the girls were home and other duties called. 

Justine and Tony collected our guest in the City and brought him out for one of his first experiences of the northern beaches – albeit a dark one!  We were all dressed and on parade for his arrival and settled down to a very jolly evening.  Alistair took ‘en famille’ in his stride and against the backdrop of the world wall, talk flowed effortlessly.  Alistair’s biscotti rounded off the meal in fine style and Tony’s Australian sensitivities were acknowledged by our dipping them into the Australian version of Lemoncello – ‘Mangocello’…… who’d have guessed?

A great evening, ending with the boys plotting to carry ‘Ed’ off to beer tasting on Saturday …..,,