October has been amazing in SO many ways
28.09.2010 - 28.10.2010 25 °C
At the end of September, I had a couple of days in and around Melbourne with friend Salli who had driven with me from Adelaide via the spectacular Great Ocean Road. There is a free City Circle Tram that runs around the whole of downtown Melbourne and is a great way to get introduced to the city. These trams have been in use since 1936 and are doing a great job of getting tourists around to the main attractions. Our tourist day started with coffee in an oak-panelled cafe by the Princes Theatre where we bumped into an Australia TV celebrity who I didn't know from Adam. We later had lunch at a true French creperie that reminded me slightly of Ste Foy. The city is very cosmopolitan and apparently THE place to live in Australia. I enjoyed the tram so much that I did the circle again and then met Salli again with friends for drinks and supper.
Next day, we took Salli's sister and her two small kids to a place I had heard about called William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Mount Dandenong Hills. This man had placed carvings of aboriginal people and animals in a secluded woodland - very magical and the boys had a great time running around looking for hidden carvings. We then spent the afternoon at the Puffing Billy Railway, an old mining line that wandered for more than 10Km through the majestic woodland in the hills above Melbourne.
Nearly missed my flight to Hobart next day but Qantas staff pulled me out of the line. We then had to wait for half an hour on the plane while they tried to shut the baggage hold - good job that was spotted BEFORE we took off! The approach into Hobart was spectacular - we flew alongside Mount Wellington which was still covered in snow. My first day in Tasmania was spent visiting Port Arthur, an old convict colony in a beautiful bay on the Tasman Sea. The scenery was also beautiful on the road out there via a narrow strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck where fierce guard dogs used to patrol to keep the convicts on the peninsula. Taking the harbour cruise around islands such as the Isle of the Dead (cemetery) and Boys Prison Island, it was so hard to imagine the conditions that were suffered less than 150 years ago. On the journey back to Hobart, we passed through a place called Doo Town where all the houses are named with 'Doo', such as This'll Doo and Nothing Dooing - Australian humour.
Clocks forward - the end of summer in Europe and the beginning of spring in Australia. I travelled by coach to the remote west coast of Tasmania via the most beautiful Lake St Clair, the clearest blue water and the deepest freshwater lake in Australia. There was equally beautiful scenery with snow still on the ground as we drove through the mountains. Conversely, we passed through some mining towns, such as Queenstown, that looked like deserted ghost towns. In the evening, I went to a small theatre on the Strahan quayside that performs the longest running play in Australia, called 'The Boat That Never Was', a very amusing tale with audience participation - not me I'm pleased to say.
Next day, I headed to Devonport, via more depressing mining towns and also stopping at Cradle Mountain. Unfortunately, the mist and rain stopped any chance of a view but we did encounter a wombat, wandering through the car park - very amusing. My HelpX host, Rachel, found me at Devonport and we headed back to her spread at a place called Penguin which actually has a giant Penguin sitting at the beach front. My accommodation for the coming week was going to be a caravan by the stables - great in good weather but there were nights when I was literally rocked to sleep by the van moving with the gales outside. I wondered if I would get blown away but, after having a few stubbies with Rachel's partner Dean, it didn't seem too important. I spent a really enjoyable week with Rachel, her daughter Chook and her partner Dean, feeding and mucking out horses which are being brought on to train as race horses - very lively and quite scary sometimes. Dean used to wrestle bulls in rodeo and Chook competes in barrel racing at rodeos all over Tasmania - horses are in their blood. We went to Horse Trials on the one day when the weather was OK and on another day, we visited Rachel's new foal which had been born only hours before. On Horse Trials Day, we also stopped at a Chocolate Factory AND a Cheese Factory - very hard work for me as you can understand.
On my way back to Hobart, I spent a night with the parents of John and Sue, who had the vineyard in McLaren Vale, near Adelaide. Mike and Sarah were fabulous hosts and showed me the suspension bridge over Cataract Gorge in Launceston and we also had a drive out to Beauty Point where Sarah and I stole rock daisies from the foreshore for her garden. Mike is tracing his family back in England and has past relatives who lived in Earl Soham. I promised to visit Ipswich Records Office on my return to help with his investigations - what a lovely couple.
One more night in Hobart (love it, especially the Salamanca Market and Quay) before flying to Sydney. As it was a clear day, I could see all of Tasmania as we flew up the eastern coast, past areas such as Wineglass Bay which I had not managed to get to. We then flew over the Bass Strait, over Canberra and then into Sydney. The airport is in Botany Bay, just where Captain Cook landed in a slightly different craft. The YHA is brand new and in The Rocks area of the city, right by Circular Quay. From the rooftop terrace, there is a fabulous view of Sydney Harbour Bridge in one direction and The Sydney Opera House in the other - people pay hundreds for this kind of view and, for the pleasure of sharing with five other females, I get it for $40 a night - how cool is that!! I spent a glorious sunny afternoon walking over the Bridge and back again, looking at the famous views and saying hi to loads of people. I then walked around Circular Quay to the Opera House to pick up my concert ticket for tomorrow night - very exciting.
Next day, I again walked to Circular Quay and got a ferry across the harbour and out to Manly, so called because the first Aboriginals encountered there by the settlers were considered to be very manly - true. I walked through the town and out to Manly Beach and Shelly Beach - yes you've guessed it. The weather was very stormy but didn't dampen the glorious outlooks across the sea towards New Zealand. Once back in the city, I visited a living museum called Susannah Place, very close to the YHA. The Rocks area was the first settled part of the bay and some houses have been preserved and are some of the oldest houses in Australia - nearly 200 years old! To complete the day, I made a luxury sandwich and took a small bottle of fizz to have my supper on the steps of Sydney Opera House before attending the concert - what an experience! The conductor was an entertainment in himself and the excitement of the evening was capped by the fabulous music of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. As I used to do in London, I had a glass of fizz at the interval and drank in the glorious surroundings.
I met friend Marion (from the Kimberley desert tour) and partner Andrew for breakfast in Surrey Hills and then Andrew dropped us at Bondi Beach so we could walk the 2 hours along the coast to Coogee Beach, seeing loads of surfers, not just at Bondi but at many of the coves which apparently have better surf. In the evening, we ate at Oxford Street which is the gay centre of Sydney - great fun. On my walk home, a drunk young guy called me Mum - oh horror!
Again, walked through the city's Hyde Park and out to Kings Cross to meet my cousin. We visited Paddington area for breakfast and then went to the beautiful Botanical Gardens and Mrs McQuarie's Chair for the afternoon. Mrs McQuarie used to sit at the end of the promontory, looking out towards the harbour entrance - not sure why but a beautiful spot on a lovely sunny day.
My last day in Sydney for this visit was dedicated to visiting the Blue Mountains to the west of the city. Passing through Leura, a picturesque little village, we finally arrived at Katoomba and Echo Point with fantastic views over the mountains and the Three Sisters Rocks. Rather than pay a fortune to travel on a cable car, I spent the time walking along the trails and enjoying the views. The return trip included a visit to Featherstone Animal Park where I saw my first Koala and of course had my picture taken. It's against the law in New South Wales to hold a Koala so you just have to get up close and personal. They really are as sweet as you imagine and sleep most of the time because the eucalyptus leaves they eat are so toxic - not too smart. We also saw Tasmanian Devils, huge crocodiles, dingos and snakes. I decided to take the jet boat from Parramatta Quay which was the site of the 2000 Olympics, back to Circular Quay for yet another spectacular view of the city.
I had decided to move north as far up the coast as I could afford to go and ended up in a place called Kempsey, an 8-hour train ride from Sydney. My HelpX host met me at the station and off we went, into the jungle bush 50Km from human habitation - nearly! What can I tell you about this man, Jeff. He is 72, asthmatic and vegetarian (in that order) and has built this house by himself, making the bricks from mud collected on the land. The toilet was outside in the garden (lovely views) and the shower was also outside, just by the kitchen door. The upstairs of the house was one open space with his bed at one end and mine at the other - God, how had I got myself into this? I helped him work on his catamaran which he believes he will sail up into the islands north of Australia (asked me if I wanted to go!) and we also spent a day dragging huge logs that he had cut out of his forest. The wildlife was also interesting - a huge monitor lizard walks across the roof each morning on his way to his favourite tree; a 3m python lives in the eaves of the house and the leaches jump onto your feet as soon as you set foot in the wet grass. This has to be done if you want to go to the toilet so then you spend a bit of time lifting the buggers off your feet and legs. One evening, Jeff insisted on giving me a foot and hand massage and said that he wanted to give me a full body massage - no way Jose!!! By the end of the week, I was pretty stressed out but the experience will certainly not be forgotten quickly.
Got back to civilization and the train to Sydney for a few days more sightseeing. Went on a walking tour of the city which was really unusual and informative. I also visited the Observatory which overlooks the Harbour, close to The Rocks, had supper again with Marion and Andrew and met an Austrian guy who had been part of the support team for disabled people who had taken just 6 days to cycle across Australia from Perth to Sydney - what amazing people.
I have now been travelling for five months and have had the time of my life! The people I have met, the places that I have seen and the different climates I have experienced have all been tremendous. North Queensland, Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane, New Zealand and North America - BRING IT ON.