Thursday, 4th October

We woke up to more rain, but Keith did the morning dog walk with Peter. After breakfast we took off for a look around the area. It was Redhead Point near Swansea where we saw whales in the grey water. Keith had the binoculars and said he could see several. I could just make out the occasional spouting, but somehow a whale sighting is always exciting.

We had hoped to go for a walk but it was too inclement, so we took off for Newcastle where the ships we had seen waiting in the ‘roads’ off Swansea, were waiting to berth and be filled up with coal. Newcastle is the main coal port of Australia and is reckoned to be the largest port exporting coal in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of the coal goes to China.

We had lunch looking over the entrance to the port.

As it was still raining hard, we adjourned to the house and had the indulgence of an afternoon snooze – a real excitement on this action packed trip.

Much revived we decided to have a television supper and settled down to a Julia Roberts evening courtesy of Netflix. The Pelican Brief followed by the ever lovable Notting Hill.

Wednesday 3rd October

As the there was to be a bit of ‘hot bedding’ taking place at Wightman Towers while we are away – other friends were making a flying visit! – a bit of tidying and bed changing had to be done before we left. We definitely had to hide the red dust covered rucksacks from public view……..!

We set out at about 8.30 to get to the Central Station to go to Fennel Bay to meet up with Peter, our friend from the Silk Road. We are now getting very slick at getting around the City stations. It was a pretty dull day. The first day we have donned our wet weather gear in earnest.

The journey out to Fassifern, his nearest station, took about two and a half hours. It was slow going again, with lots of stops at leafy stations. We passed the Hawkesbury River – looking very different in the rain to when we cruised up it in the sunshine on our last visit.

Peter was there to meet us and we took off for the riverside cafe n Toronto ( the names of these places are hysterical!) where we had eaten before on the edge of Lake Macquarie. It was lovely to be there again with him.

As usual, once the chat started, it did not stop! After lunch, we took advantage of a break in the weather to take a walk in woodland on the lake edge.

You cannot do a walk with Peter without learning something! We saw all sorts of things including possum claw marks on a tree, stringy bark trees that Aboriginals used to make string (funnily enough)

The bulge of a white ant mound on a tree

Apparently small birds make nests in the ant mounds – and the ants do no more than block that bit off to ant life and ignore them! Fascinating.

It was then time to go home to meet Nelson………

The smiling Labrador.

A jolly evening was had by all!

Tuesday, 3rd October

We decided to pop into the city to check out Cirrus, the chosen venue for my Australian birthday gathering. It was another sunny day, although the weather looked set to change later in the week.

After a bit of shopping, we set out for the Barangeroo area of the city, a sort of side arm the harbour, but still on the water, where the Cirrus restaurant is situated. We had a look around and talked to one of the chaps there and then adjourned somewhere a little less ‘up market’ for a light lunch.

We then headed back to the Opera House to meet up with Yael for the last time before she heads off to Asia.

We then toddled off home to Collaroy Plateau. Tomorrow we head to Newcastle to spend a couple of days with our friend Peter.

Monday, 1st October

Monday dawned bright and sunny again and the boat trip looked on the cards. By the time we got up, Justine and Tony had run the Long Reef circuit and the prep had been done. Sometimes one can feel really lazy here in the face of the commitment to exercise! At 10.00 we were near to the off. Tony had some last minute boat prep to do as the boat had not been near the water for over year.

The plan was for Justine and me to take ‘Priscilla’, her pink jeep, and the boys would take the girls and the boat to the water for boat launching. We followed them to the boat ramp to ensure all well.

On the thumbs up, we departed to drive to the final cruise destination too set up camp for the barbecue at Clareville Beach Reserve. Sadly – despite the initial optimism – word came through that there was a problem and our excited sailors were not going to be able to take to the water. As tables are very sought after on sunny long weekends, I was sent on ahead to stand guard at a table. This was not such an arduous responsibility, especially when I was joined by a sulphur crested cockatoo, who decided to keep me company while I waited for the others to arrive.

There was a lot of barbecuing activity taking place a day very soon Keith and Tony had arrived to take up their station.

Initially there were two chaps using the second barbecue. Upon enquiry, we found they were from Faversham and one had only been living here for three months. It is a small world.

Despite the sunshine, there was a fairly brisk breeze, but when the sun came through the trees it was lovely. Yummy food over, we set off for a walk along the beach to view the amazing houses that skirted the sand and choose the one we would have if the opportunity arose. It was then time to set off to find ice-cream.

Unfortunately the requested ‘gelato’ was not available and we had to make do with a very lacklustre offering. However we found another beach to wander before returning home to family film time.

Sunday, 30th September

An energetic start to the day was planned with a walk around the Narrabeen Lake for Keith and me, a run around the lake for Tony and Justine and a run down the hill for the girls to meet us at the start/finish point. The girls were allowed a lie in as it would not take them long to jog down the hill.

We have done the Narrabeen Lake circuit a couple of times in the past and it was interesting to note familiar landmarks. We met Justine and Tony running the other way round at about half way and saw the familiar pelican on the lamppost as we came out into a more urban area.

We met a Mum out with her brood of chicks…….

It is just over 8 kms around the lake. We made it in just under 2 hours but this included stopping for a juice to be made about 2/3rds round. When we arrived back at the lakeside start the girls were in place and breakfast brunch cooking had been started. The tablecloth was in place.

Eating over we took off for a coffee stop and to inspect where they had breached the sandbank at the head of the lake, to enable the sea to top up the water.

It was a jolly family day.

Justine adjourned to work when we got home and we took over responsibility for the pork for supper. The boys caught the highlights of the golf before we adjourned for a very early night. It was a long weekend and a boat trip was planned for the holiday Monday

Saturday, 29th September

It was Saturday again and I went with boxing party down to the bottom of the hill for a walk round the headland. Keith decided to have a lie in. It was another beautiful morning in paradise. Tony, Justine and something of a reluctant Mickey, went off to box in the sunshine and I took off for the coastal walk Keith and I did last Saturday.

As before, cricket and golf was already taking place and the dog walking fraternity was well represented. Dog walkers, alone and in twos and threes, came chattering past me. The views to both north and south were tremendous, as I peered over grasses and clifftop to see the rocks below.

I eventually emerged at the point which I think probably gave its name to Long Reef a promontory with look out indicator maps at the top, where people sat to chat or ponder in singular isolation. A man arrived with probably his sons pointing out a whale which he had seen, and which the boys soon tired of trying to see. I think I saw what he saw – in which case I had another whale sighting, but who knows. I certainly could not give a guarantee that U had seen a whale, but it was nice to think that I had added to my whale sighting quota.

I wandered down to the spit of sand and then decided I had tallied too long and that my pugilist chums would be waiting for me. I continued along the path at a bit of a pace, keeping a wary eye on the golfers to my right, an appreciative eye on the coastal scene unfolding on my left and spotting a superior fairy wren on the path in front of me.

I got close to my drop off point when I sighted the car heading my way and then it was all aboard for first the butchers and then a sausage brunch on the balcony. It was then all go to get in a visit to the local second hand dress agency to see if there was anything suitable for party wear before dashing back to make the Wightman Towers contribution to a gathering of neighbours to watch the Aussie Rules football final. Of course we ran out of time and the boys were champing at the bit before we had ‘rested’ our first lot of pastry for our leek and goats cheese tarts….. Fearing that we would not reach my Glyndeborne Picnics recipe’s usual high standard somehow reduced Justine and me to a nearly disastrous attack of the giggles and caused the chaps to give up on us and go on ahead. In the event our tarts tarts, as they were fondly termed, were a great success.

Our ability to understand the game was marginally less successful, but a a close finish had us all on the edge of our seats and it was a really fun afternoon, washed down with a fair share of bubbly.

Back at the ranch it was a ‘GYO’ supper (get your own). The chaps were watching the golf and it was an early night. Long Reef seemed a long time ago!

Friday, 28th September

A travel day. We were leaving Aileen and Mick in Canberra (Aileen and I decided to defer sobbing at our separation as they will join us in Sydney in a couple of weeks for the birthday celebration). It has been such fun. However, I must make a comment on train travel here. The fact is – it is a nonsense! To take a train from Canberra to Sydney, you need to set aside a good five hours of your life!! The train would seem to stop at every station and lamp post!! We were amazed and, given that we had a lunch date in Sydney, were going to be hard pressed to have anything but a Bungle Bungle (ie 4.45am) start to get there. Until we heard about the bus. This takes just 3 hours……

How extraordinary. We could not believe that there was no fast train between the capital of Australia and – arguably its next most important city. Who would have thought it?

Anyway. There it was. We were up to go out to breakfast at 7.45. We ate at Silo’s, apparently a famous early morning eatery. We did well to get there before 8.00. At 8.00, almost on the dot, the world and his wife arrived. City suits rubbed up against yummy mummies, expensively casual tots and young chaps in school uniform in the queue for skinny lattes and expresso coffees. Breakfast meetings and girlie gossip took place all round us while we had a great breakfast served on excellent sourdough bread. A great start to our perambulations.

Breakfast over it was ‘hunt the parking spot’ near the bus station to enable us to be deposited on the bus bound for Sydney. It was all very civilised. It was also a very full bus – no surprise there. I think the train company could learn a thing or two from the bus company – first stop Sydney airport!

I dozed away the journey and we crossed Sydney to meet Tom (from our Overland trip) at the Lord Nelson, said to be the oldest pub in Sydney. In fact when we got there, there was no sign of Tom but the lovely Yael and her big smile was awaiting us. A great surprise. We had a merry old chat over a pint (or two) while waiting for Tom. It was good to meet up. Tom did eventually materialise – in fairness Keith had set a bit of a task to find the place – and we whiled away a happy hour getting up to date with news of other Overland chums. Tom leaves for England on Monday and Yael continues her world backpacking adventure by heading off to Asia midweek, so there may be the opportunity for another sighting before she goes……

For us it was time to head back to Wightman towers and the Collaroy Club for meat raffle night. Here we joined other to-be birthday party guests, David and Lesley for a couple of drinks prior to the ‘draw’. Having failed to win any meat, we trundled back up the eyrie for supper. Here Tony demonstrated the skills of a misspent youth by shredding a chicken in the fastest time possible……

Thursday, 27th September

There was no time for beach walking this morning. Given the usual Australian distance issue, although Narrawallee is considered relatively ‘close’ to Canberra, it is two and a half hours away!

We set off at around 8.00 am. It was a beautiful day. Our route initially took us along the coast and then at Batemans Bay we turned right to go inland. We were soon in the rain forest area. The road twisted and turned and there was dappled sunlight through the trees. When a long view appeared again, there were mountains in the distance. We travelled through the Misty Mountain National Park. We were on the Kings Highway. There were roadsigns reminding drivers to beware of wildlife. Our route took us upward and over the Clyde Mountain Range where things levelled off. Eventually the Bush ended and we were into pastureland again. There were large outcrops of stones.

The first real town we came across was called Braidwood. This was a pioneer town first settled by Europeans in the 1820. Gold was discovered in the area in the 1850’s, but its major claim to fame is that it was the location for the Ned Kelly film. It has its own racecourse which we passed by.

We stopped at Bungendore for a coffee. We were about 38 Km from Canberra. It had an excellent wood turning shop. A possibly little known fact about Bungendore is that un January 2017 at the annual show, the town took the record for the most number of Dachshunds outside of a Dog Show, with 154 of the dogs in attendance. Fancy!

We soon arrived in Canberra. First impressions were of a city of clean lines and modern buildings, with a lot of water and grass and no skyscrapers. It had the manicured look of being carefully devised and planned – a marked contrast to London as a capital, which just ‘evolved’. Everything was so spacious and pristine.

Our first stop was the National Portrait Gallery. This was excellent. We were treated to rich pickings of portraiture from the indigenous people, to the first and then second wave of settlers, the war years, the personalities of the later part of the 20th century and finally, contemporary portraits. Both the artists and the subjects were described in detail. It was really interesting. We thoroughly enjoyed it. After a good couple of hours it was time to move on and we went to find our accommodation for the night and have lunch, prior to launching ourselves on our ‘main event, the Floriade.

Floriade is described as Australia’s biggest celebration of Spring and runs for a month from the 14th September. We were to have two visits. One in the daylight, which was free and then in the evening when we had tickets to see the whole thing lit up for what was described as the Nightfest, when music, food and alcoholism was added to the mix.

There were tulips of all colours – Mick feared that Amsterdam might be totally denuded!

Just by contrast there were some crocheted poppies……..

………and then there was the Gnomes Knoll

And my particular favourites – the homeless gnomes

We had to adjourn to a hostelry between sessions and when we returned, it was dark and the whole thing was lit up!

We stayed to see two of the programme’s singers, but then decided we had probably had enough excitement for the day and adjourned to our room for a nightcap which turned into something of a riotous assembly.

It is back to Sydney tomorrow…..

Wednesday, 26th September

We all passed on the morning walk as it was raining. However, by the time we had eaten breakfast the day had brightened, so we set out for walk on the peninsula in Ulladulla. There are in fact two walks that are part of a project called ‘One Track for All’ which has been designed and created by the Budawang Landcare Group and tells the history of the Milton Ulladulla from an Aboriginal perspective. All along the route there are carved wooden story boards telling the tale of the land, its animals, its original inhabitants and the arrival of the white man.

The entrance had a large carving.

A sample of the boards – as always it did not go well for the Aboriginals.

The wooden panels were slightly faded but told a poignant story of indigenous people of the area completely overtaken by the incomers.

We lunched at the Mollymook Beach Cafe, determined to eat Mick’s curry for supper. Keith and I both had a fish burger – the fish in these parts is excellent!

We returned home after lunch, but late afternoon we were out again to see the view from the enormous Golf Club in the fading light. It was certainly a cracking view and looked over the point where we walking earlier in the day. I was a little concerned at the number of people there – why weren’t they at work?!? (Once an HR person, always an HR Person!}

It was then home to an excellent paella. Tomorrow we are all off to Canberra for a flying visit to see the famous Floriade, a famous celebration of Spring Flowers.

Tuesday, 25th September

Mick has a walk each morning along Narrawallee beach with his friend Graham. We were up and ready to join them – it was a beautiful morning! Unfortunately Graham did not materialise and we were pleased that, upon enquiry, it was established that we had not frightened him off.

The beach was beautiful. There were few people there, the majority (if you can have a majority of five people) dog walkers. From right to left the beach was just over a kilometre long.

We walked to the wonderfully coloured cliff at the end and back again.

There was some interesting seaweed on the beach. Little balloon shaped items. Fascinating.

When we got back to our start point there was a gentleman doing some amazing Tai Chi with remarkably balanced stances. It was literally poetry in motion! We were introduced to him and chatted for a bit and then he went back to his moves. What an amazing spot to do Tai Chi!

Aileen had booked us in to a local vineyard that happened to have a brewery attached and, as we found out, served amazing food. We had a great lunch with incredible views over the surrounding countryside.

Keith had his now familiar beer tasting paddle.

And a good time was had by all! Outside was all go – with a visiting bottling plant busy at work…..

And a chap pruning the vines……..

Back at Darragh towers, Keith made friends with a local Kookaburra.

Sadly we had all eaten too much at lunch time to eat Mick’s planned dinner, which was postponed for a day and a jolly evening was spent with music and chat.