Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sydney- The Wedding and Other Adventures


Always love a good wedding! 

Our first afternoon in Sydney started in the pub around the corner from Lucy’s flat in the area of Balmain (North West of the Harbour Bridge). Lucy is a Royals girl and has been living and working over in Sydney for 2 years and kindly was putting us up for 2 nights, so we were in the pub waiting for her to get back from work. 2 glasses of wine later and she was home and after a merry catch up over another couple of bottles of wine we all stumbled into our respective beds wondering where the evening had gone!

Oh my goodness did we feel delicate the next morning. I saw Lucy off at 7am as she had a rowing race to get to (needless to say she wasn’t feeling quite up for it!) and I eventually managed to coax Hedd out of bed to start getting ready for Ian and Teresa’s Wedding. Ian and Teresa are Royal Chester Rowing friends again. Ian was the Boat Club Captain when I first joined RCRC and Teresa his long-term Aussie partner. They both did the Caledonian Crossing Challenge last year, which saw us all row across Scotland through the canals and lochs, and thats where they met Hedd and we discovered that perhaps our paths could cross in Sydney over their special day. And so it came about- an invite to a wedding in Sydney for 2 backpackers! At 10am we began our mission to Narrabean (North of Sydney, up the coast) which saw us catch a bus to Circular Quay, then a ferry across to Manley and then another bus to Rowland Reserve, Narrabean. In all it took us 3 hours! We were one of the first to the large catamaran where the floating ceremony was to take place and, as it began to shower, was ushered onto the boat by the celebrant called Mary to get out of the rain. At 13.30 the coach with the guests staying in Narrabean arrived along with the Grooms Party. So a bit about the Grooms Party outfits- they were in beige deck shoes, blue Chino’s, beige/off white linen shirts and then a beige and thin blue stripped linen blazer. Very nice and wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the Stewards enclosure at Henley Regatta! I soon spotted Laura, Andy and Steve- the other RCRC guests and rushed out to greet them. It was so lovely but equally so bizarre to see them , at a wedding, on the other side of the world, after 5 months of not seeing them every week! We managed to catch up on news before heading onto the boat for the arrival of the bridal party. The bridal party arrived in a blue and cream stretched VW camper van. Oh my goodness it was too cool for school! And Teresa looked absolutely stunning in an off white satin halterneck dress with fitted body and full chiffon skirt, with a delicate lace bolero. Her hair was big and pinned back with dramatic eye makeup and daring red lipstick. The flowers were devine- pastel blue pansies and cream roses. I would say the theme was 1950’s chic vintage drama, and the whole thing was gorgeous! With everyone on board we set sail to a pretty cove to moor up and start the wedding ceremony. There was a string quartet and they played as Teresa and her 2 grown up daughters, the bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. They both looked so happy and in love. They said beautiful vows- not the traditional religious one. There was a line about “my arms being your home”  and such like- lovely! Then Emma, Ian’s daughter, read a poem and then Ian read a tear jerking reading about Teresa being the best of him. Then it was the giving of rings, the kiss and the couple signed the register to the band playing ‘All you Need is Love’. All in all a great, down to earth, personal ceremony. There were nibbles and drinks at the free bar as the photographer organised us all into the various groups for the photos. We braved the top deck for those as the showers had died down. And then we set sail for the marina and during the journey we had the speeches- Erin, chief bridesmaid and Teresa’s oldest daughter; Steve, best man and my ‘Chester Dad’ from RCRC; and Ian, groom saying his thanks. We got back to the marina around 4pm and all had a group shot outside the boat before the whole wedding party got whisked off in the stretched VW camper for more official photos. All us guests got back on the bus and got dropped off at the bar just down the road from the evening reception which was to start at 6pm. After being so careful with my dress the whole day, the destruction of the dress began as the velcro from my rain jacket pulled and puckered the chiffon over-layer of my skirt on the bus- oh dear, at least it survived the ceremony! At 6pm we managed to blag ourselves a ride in the VW camper limo to the evening reception as it had started to pour down with rain. Plus it was too good an opportunity to miss- very very cool wedding transportation! Then we were at Narrabean Surf Club enjoying yet another free bar! Steve, bless him, had brought the Royals flag with him from Chester and had put it up in the venue, so when Lucy had arrived all us Royals had a picture underneath it with the bride and groom. And the night continued with many more glasses of champagne, more yummy finger food and dancing to the live band. Hedd made the mistake of switching to the red wine and soon got the nickname ‘Disaster Boy’ as he fell asleep in a chair as the night came to an end! Lucy very kindly saw that we all arrived back to her flat safe and sound at the end of a great day.

04.03.12 will only be known to us, Hedd especially, as the day after the night before! I joined Lucy on the sofa with copious cups of tea and movies from 10am. Hedd didn’t rise from the horizontal position until 3pm! We said our goodbyes to Lucy and ventured out once more to navigate ourselves to Narrabean where we were staying with the rest of the royals gang for the rest of our time in Australia. This time though we didn’t bother with the ferry and just 2 uncomfortable bus journeys later (in our hung over state) we arrived at Ian and Teresa’s apartment right on Narrabean Beach. It was an absolutely stunning spot and we couldn’t quite believe our luck as we dumped our rucksacks in our room stepping out on our personal balcony overlooking the ocean! BBQ for dinner and plenty of reminiscing over the events of yesterday and Royals banter about Hedd and his antics with the red wine! Being apart of the Royals extended family for nearly 2 years, he was used to such ribbing! We slumped into bed at 11.30pm still feeling delicate but looking forward to our day of sailing the next morning.

We woke up to the sound of the ocean, a mere 50 meters from us. Such a gorgeous way to wake up. After showering, breakfast and putting our sea legs on, we all drove to Church Point Marina for our day of sailing on Ian and Teresa’s yacht. Debbie- another Royals lady had just flown into Sydney that morning and met us straight from the airport at the marina too for the day sailing! Very impressive stamina! So our boat was called Wind Maiden- 40 ft, 3 cabin boat, worth $225,000, and Ian and Teresa were trusting us lot to sail it! We got loaded up with drinks, food and bodies and then pushed off from the marina. My first job was to collect in the buoys and then I was on the head sail port side windlass with Debbie, pulling in or letting out as we tacked and jibed our way out and around the estuary. The weather was stunning; clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Almost a shame that the weather didn’t come a day earlier for Ian and Teresa’s wedding but Teresa didn’t mind as she said she would have been too hot in her dress else. Where we were sailing was also beautiful- pretty little bays, high top hills and we even passed the beach and little town that is used to film Home & Away! Hedd got a go at steering and, after almost tipping us all in by over-steering on the jibs, got the hand of it and quite fancied himself as a skipper! By the time we had reached Refuge Bay- our lunch stop- my arms felt like they had had a good workout. We enjoyed a lovely meat and salad lunch, washed down of course with a beer. After a while relaxing on the boat we all got our swimmers on, jumped off the boat and swam to the beach at Refuge Bay. There was a waterfall at the beach and we all enjoyed a neck and back massage as the water thundered on top of us as we stood underneath it. It was then time to swim back to the boat and set sail back towards the marina. None of us had any concept of time and we were surprised that it was as late as 4.30pm when we got back to Church Point. We dropped Hedd and Debbie off at this point as Hedd’s back was feeling tender and Debbie was just exhausted from her flight, and took on board 3 other crew members who actually knew how to sail. Which was a really good thing as now we were going to take part in a race, Ian as skipper and Andy, Teresa and I crewing along with the 3 experts. I was on the port side head sail windlass again with Andy this time and Teresa was on the main sail. It was a handicapped race with different categories going off at different times with the intention that we would all finish together (mayhem!). There were 25 boats in our category but over 100 boats in total taking part, which made for a fab sight as we all set sail with the sun slowly setting. Our race began at 5.30pm and Ian did really well steering us into good wind giving us an ace start. At the start and around the 2 markers we had to go around were the most exciting parts as all the boats bunch together and jostle for the best position. It was funny how some sections of the race could be slow-paced and calm as the wind drops and then the very next minute be so rapid and frantic as we get a gust and try to go the most with it. Very exciting and definitely wet my appetite for getting into sailing much more when I get home. The whole event lasted about 2 hours which went by in a blink of an eye, and we got back to the flat after stowing the boat after 8pm. BBQ again for dinner and we all headed to bed happily tired after a full and jammed packed day of sailing.

I couldn’t quite believe it when my alarm went off at 5.15am the next day. But it was indeed time for me to get up and get ready for my early morning outing with Mosman Rowing Club. All rowing occurs super early in Sydney as that is when the weather is coolest and also so people can row before work. So that’s where I found myself, in a car with Ian, Debbie and Andy at 5.30am off to Spit Point for an outing on the flooded river bed there. We decided to go out in a quad and Ian put me at stroke with the responsibility of setting the rhythm and steering! Needless to say I had a furrowed brow come the end after all the concentration. We were on the water by 6.15am with lights on our boat to guide the way as it was still dark. We sculled to Sugarloaf Bay on the still lake like water watching the sun come up as we rowed, enjoyed the views of the limestone rock sides and mangrove forests, and then rowed back to the club. We were all finished, boated packed away and ready for a cuppa at the cafe across the road by 7.45am! By the time we were back at the flat at 8.15am, it felt like I’d already been up and active for half a day…a very efficient workout and a super experience! After a bit of Africa travel planning, Hedd and I ventured out into Sydney city on the bus to do some sightseeing. We wandered down to Circular Quay and along to the area called The Rocks where we were afforded with a great view of both the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. We sat on a bench admiring the view as we ate our homemade sandwiches. There was an absolutely ginormous cruise ship too in the harbour and we both reflected how terrifying it must have been on that Italian cruise liner that sunk last month. After lunch we strolled back around the harbour to the Opera House and booked ourselves onto the 1pm $35 Sydney Opera House Tour which was a 90 minute tour inside the building and around the theatres. Our guide was really knowledgable, explaining the architecture of the building and all about the acoustics. We saw inside the 2 drama theatres and also 1 of the 2 big Halls. Not the Opera Hall though, the Concert Hall; I think we would have had to have been on the $100 tour to see inside the Opera Theatre! As we were in the Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra were rehearsing so we got to stand and listen to them which was a big bonus. They sounded wonderful. We also got to go out onto one of the Opera House’s Balconies which had a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge. The tour ended with a film all about the Opera House’s history and construction which was super interesting…. The Opera House design was selected in a global competition. Many of the designs were boring boxes but this one guy- Jørn Utzon- from Denmark submitted an extremely rough pencil stretch of a building of waves. His design was dismissed originally. But one member of the judging panel was late in arriving and insisted on reviewing all the previously dismissed designs. On seeing Utzon’s sketch he proclaimed him the winner. However that original build time of 3 years and 9 million budget was a complete under-estimate and many more years and millions later and a change of Australian government resulted in Utzon being squeezed out of the project before its completion. Utzon never actually visited the Opera House, his life’s work and crowing accomplishment, after it was finished. Very sad story. The Sydney Opera House is the 2nd most globally recognised image after the MacDonald’s Golden Arches, so Utzon achieved his original design brief of creating an iconic building for Australia. After the tour we grabbed a cold drink and sat on the Opera House promenade enjoying the sunshine and the view. We met up with Lucy and Steve late afternoon to have a goodbye drink and thank Lucy again for putting us up, and then Steve, Hedd and I took the 50 minute bus back to Narrabean together. We got back at 7pm just in time to freshen up and go for a ‘last supper’ as a gang of royals before we all flew off to our various different locations the next day. We were sharing an airport taxi with Laura and Sophie, who were going off to NZ, early the next morning so we said goodbye and a massive thank you to Ian and Teresa that evening. By the time we had packed and tidied up it was midnight and we crashed into bed trying not to think about the fact that we had to be up just 5 hours later!

6am pick up, 1 1/2 hour journey and $74 dollars lighter we all arrived at Sydney airport international departures. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Sophie and gave them some last-minute tips on NZ, before checking in for our flight to Cape Town and the start of our final leg of the trip. I couldn’t believe we were at our last continent already but any sadness was soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of visiting my favourite place, Africa, once again.

 Sydney in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Rain on the big day, but sunshine on the whole
  • Food= Yummy food in miniature at the wedding and a lot of BBQs!
  • Drink= Champagne Bellini’s and too much red wine for Hedd!
  • Damage caused by the Royals reunion= Surprisingly none
  • Favourite Day= Hard to pick, the wedding and the day of sailing were equally superb

Hedd’s (not so wise) words of wisdom!:

At every wedding there has to be someone who get’s a bit over excited, drinks too much and makes a bit of a fool of themselves. It’s almost a certainty. Unfortunately, at Ian and Theresa’s wedding that was me. A combination of drinking all day, a free bar (having been on such a strict budget for over 4 months) and some not so wise words when referring to the Shiraz provided at the free bar. I shall certainly never profess that I can “drink this stuff all night” ever again. That being said, before I got too drunk and fell asleep I had a wonderful time at what was the most laid back and fun wedding I have ever attended. The ceremony, on a boat was a first for me and was such a beautiful setting and very fitting for the happy couple. I want to say congratulations to Ian and Theresa, to wish them all the best for the future, to thank them for their hospitality and to promise that next time we meet, I shall stay away from the red wine!!


Melbourne to Sydney on Highway 1 and The Blue Mountains


Rain rain go away, come again another day…

It was February 26th but in this camper the day was only referred to as the Carling Cup Final Day! The morning was spent with Hedd driving us to Sale along Highway 1, after leaving a very hot Melbourne, anxious to book us into any type of accommodation with Foxtel Sports so he could watch his team, Liverpool, play Cardiff in the Final. We ended up in the Best Western Motor Lodge, the one and only establishment with the aforementioned TV channel. After checking into our room and double checking once more that it indeed had Foxtel Sports, Hedd relaxed enough to enjoy a bit of exploring. We made our way to the coastal village of Seaspray and then drove the Ninety Mile Beach to Golden Beach. The ninety mile sweeping beach in the shape of a shallow smile was really cool to see and had sand dunes all along it with golden fine sand. And it was sunny so we could actually see, walk along and enjoy this Ninety Mile Beach not like when we were in North Island New Zealand battling against the rain and mist to see Northland’s own Ninety Mile Beach! After paddling in the sea and having a chill out on the beach we made our way back to Sale. Touch and go whether we would make it as the fuel gauge was on empty for a considerable length of time, we were relieved to reach the edge of the town and dive into the nearest petrol station. Take out pizza for tea whilst watching a movie and ticking down the time to the match. As the alarm sounded at 2.15am for Hedd to take his position in front of the telly to watch Liverpool v Cardiff football game. My original intentions of joining him on the sofa was soon forgotten and I stayed in bed and dozed in and out of sleep with Hedd’s cries of delight and sorrow as Liverpool struggled through full-time, extra time and penalties to eventually win at 6 o’clock in the morning! Oh dear, got to love time difference!

Waking up just a couple of hours later, we woke up to rain. We drove through showers, chasing the sun, up the coast to a place called Lakes Entrance where it was still dry. Reliably informed by the tourist information ladies that “the storm was a’ coming”  we whipped around all the lookout points around the town before the rain caught up with us. The best lookout was funnily enough down Lookout Road, where we were afforded a view over Rigby Island, the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes, Reeves Channel, part of the Gippsland Lake Coastal Park and the Bass Straight. It was pretty with turquoise seas, white sandy coves and foliage covered small islands. Like a miniature Fiji! But alas the rain had caught up with us and as we ate our lunch in the shelter of our camper our spirits got lower as the rain got heavier. We set off north up the coast once more, turning off at Orbost to take the scenic coastal drive to Cape Conran. I was driving and it was really nasty driving conditions, 90 km/hr max, with the wipers tirelessly sweeping streams of water off the windscreen. My anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that a massive lizard dashed

out into the road which I had no choice but to run over. I screamed a lot; this lizard was easily 1 meter long and felt like I was going over a speed bump! We arrived at Cape Conran in a break in the rain and I must say I was pleased to get out of the car. The camper wasn’t damaged but Hedd said he could see lizard guts as he looked under the vehicle; squeamish and irrationally thinking all lizards were now out to get me, I ran away from the camper and onto the sheltered, white sand beach of Cape Conran. It was very pretty and we paddled our feet until we began to feel the rain again. Back in the camper and driving north again to our overnight stop at a town called Eden. However it wasn’t the paradise the name suggests as we creeped into town in the torrential rain and mist which made the 5pm look more like night-time! We found a holiday park next to Eden Beach, parked up, cooked soup for dinner and rooted ourselves on a covered picnic bench with a pack of cards and a bottle of wine to see the rainy evening in the best we could. We fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the camper roof. Oh Australia, where did your infamous sunshine go?!

Tuesday 28th Feb and a bout of bad luck struck Hedd. He started the day gently rolling into the car behind him as we left Eden (the gentleman was not bothered at all and was more annoyed that Hedd made him wind his window down whilst it was tipping it down to see if he was okay!); next up was a big rock flying up and hitting the windscreen creating a big chip; and finally as we stopped for lunch at Batesmans Bay for lunch the crockery box fell out of the camper as he opened the side door smashing our 2 glass cups! Needless to say Hedd was not a happy chappy! Still raining we got back on the road and headed towards Jervis Bay and the Booderee National Park- our stop for the night. We stayed in the National Park campsite called Green Patch- pretty basic but fine for just 1 night. We reluctantly left the camper and legged it over to the covered BBQ’s to make dinner- Chorizo sausage salad. Then legged it back to the camper where we hid from the heavy rain until, again reluctantly, we had to get out to brush our teeth before bed.

Happy Leap Year Day! Guess what, it was still raining! We worked out it hadn’t stopped since lunchtime on the 27th and by now our rain coats were drenched and we were both fed up of being constantly damp and not being able to do or see anything. These feelings were heightened especially in Booderee National Park as in the sunshine we could see that the place would be stunning, fantastic white sandy beaches, fun forest walks and cool historic sites to visit. We were determined to see/do something here. So we drove down to Green Patch Beach, where indeed the sand was white and the waters clear. Then we drove to the Cape St George Lighthouse ruins. Putting our soggy coats on, we braved the weather and walked up to it reading the info boards and visiting all the different lookouts. The weather now was truly atrocious- cold as well as wet instead of just being wet. But the lighthouse ruins and its history were quite interesting. The lighthouse had never served its purpose well, being designed all wrong and being in the wrong location; it became a showpiece. However each of the families that lived in it had tragic accidents so it was thought to be a highly unlucky (some may say cursed) place. People drowning in fishing nets, falling off cliffs, catching diseases, getting shot…all sorts of horrendous endings! Reading all about that plus the inclement weather soon saw us leave the place sharpish and driving out of the National Park and up the coast to Wollongong- our last stop on Highway 1 before heading west into the Blue Mountains. Having lunch and stocking up on maps and information on the Blue Mountains from Wollongong information centre, we set off for Katoomba- Blue Mountains main town. Passing familiar place names on our way, we drove through Penrith and Liverpool, before arriving in Katoomba at 5pm in the thick mist and rain. My goodness, the place really did look miserable! As we drove into Katoomba Falls Caravan Park- the only one in town and within a 1 hour radius- we couldn’t believe our eyes when we read the sign saying ‘No Vacancies’! Hedd went into the office anyway and looking so depressed the lady took pity on us and moved a load of bookings around so she could give us a pitch for the 2 nights we needed. Phew, thank goodness for that! We had pitch 13- unlucky for some but at that point in time, for us, our saviour! Nothing else to do but to make dinner, we headed over to the camp kitchen only to be greeted by a big group of 50-year-old + couples who slightly drunk offered us cheese, biscuits and dip. They were all from Newcastle, north of Sydney, here for a golfing holiday. But on account of the rain had done little golfing and a lot of drinking instead! As we proceeded in making our beans on toast the group took great interest in us and were given the title “the young people”. “Give the young people more dip and biscuits”, “give the young people some chairs”. And after our beans on toast one of the wives came over with 2 Aussie Patties (burgers) full with salad, cheese and sauce for us saying “she couldn’t see us going to bed with only beans on toast in our bellies” . Although pleasantly full after our beans on toast we weren’t ones to pass up on free food and enjoyed our burgers tremendously whilst chatting away with the group. Before they could feed us with more food, we retired to the van. For a while I refused to get out of the van on account of the foul weather, cleaning my teeth my putting my head out of the window. But eventually nature called and I legged it to the loo and back. Even though the amenities block was less than 20 meters away, I still managing to get absolutely drenched. I went to sleep hoping, wishing and praying that tomorrow we wouldn’t wake up to rain drops.

Naturally waking up at 7am, the first thing I notice was the silence…halleluiah it wasn’t raining! We both looked at each other and without speaking raced to get dressed to head out and actually do some sightseeing. We were walking out of our campsite and towards Katoomba Falls by 7.30am, picking up the Prince Henry Cliff Trail which wraps itself along the mountain side with views of the Blue Mountains and the valley below culminating at the 3 Sisters rock formation at Echo Point. We were so excited to be outside doing something we almost skipped along the trail. But we soon came to an obstacle- “Path closed due to recent bush fire activity”. We weighed up our options- turn back and go along the boring road with no views or push back the very flimsy gate, think blow it and proceed. We went with the later option and continued to enjoyed the spectacular view as we made our way to Echo Point. We were going along quite happily when we turned a corner and faced our “ah, this is what they were talking about” moment. A whole staircase of wood obliterated into charcoal! We clambered along and quickened up the pace in the fear of getting caught! Eventually we came to Queen Elizabeth Lookout and bent around the sister “closed path sign” and we were back on the path of legitimate walking! As we approached Echo Point we got our first sight of the rock formation called the 3 Sisters. Hedd was so chuft if was seeing them as he had convinced himself he would be confined to the camper until we got to Sydney. I had again some deja vu moments as I stood taking very similar photographs to the ones I took back in 2004 but I still took them! So the legend of the 3 Sisters goes that 3 beautiful sisters from the Gundungurra people were in love with 3 brothers from the neighbouring nation of Dhuarruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force. Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed but he was unfortunately killed in the battle and to this day nobody has been able to break the spell and turn the 3 sisters back to their natural form. Hmmm not such a clever plan after all! We then walked further along the track and down part of the Giant Staircase until we hit another ‘danger do not pass’ sign. We decided not to push our luck and turned back towards our camp site really pleased we’d had the break in weather to see the key sights in the Blue Mountains. After a well deserved breakfast and showers we headed out again but this time in our camper to drive Cliff Drive, culminating at Sublime Point, and stopping off at all the various lookouts on the way. As we checked out Honeymoon lookout, Kiah lookout, Leura Falls, Gordon Falls lookout and eventually getting to Sublime Point lookout we had seen the Blue Mountains in the now clear, cloud free weather from many different perspectives and, as the sun started to shine, saw why they were called ‘Blue’ Mountains. A blue haze appeared before our eyes in the valley as the sun hit the oily atmosphere created by the eucalyptus trees, gets scattered with only the blue being absorbed by the canopy giving its blue appearance. An optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh Scattering’. As we made the walk back to our camper from Sublime Point Lookout the spits of rain began once again and we smiled at our timing. Arriving back at the campsite we resume our hermit lifestyle as the rain lashed down on us once more. We were just pleased we had got our morning of sightseeing and whiled away the afternoon playing cards and listening to music. As it was St Davids Day we celebrated with a dinner of Lamb Burgers!

So the 2nd March marked our last day with the camper and we reflected upon what a vastly different 2 weeks we had had in terms of weather since picking it up in Melbourne, as we made our way past Penrith and Liverpool again and onto Sydney. Navigating ourselves into the big city wasn’t as bad as we had originally feared and we arrived at the Hippie Camper drop off by the airport our stress levels surprisingly low. We now just had to see that we got our bond refunded and hope they didn’t charge us anything for the chip in the windscreen. Hoorah everything was fine! As we waited for our taxi to take us to our first cheeky freebie place to stay, we wondered what mayhem would proceed that weekend when Royal Chester Rowing Club members regrouped and descended on the unaware Sydney suburb of Narrabean…

Highway 1 to Sydney and The Blue Mountains in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold, wet and miserable!
  • Food= Anything quick to cook in the rain (soup, salad, beans on toast)
  • Drink= Wine and plenty of it!
  • The area flooded in New South Wales= The size of France
  • Items thrown out due to saturation= Both our trekking sandals
  • Shouldn’t have done it but pleased we did moment= Walking along the closed, due to forest fire, Prince Henry Cliff Walk in Katoomba!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Rain, rain, rain…the heaviest rain in that region in 12 years! Great, well we could at least be grateful for two things. Firstly we were mainly traveling via the coast and were not in the areas effected worst by the flooding. Secondly, we were traveling in a camper van, and camper vans are so much better than a tent in the rain! Despite the rain, we still managed to have a great time and saw some cool things. Sometime you just have to make the most of a bad situation, which we certainly did. We went to all the places we were going to and although I’m sure that Jervis Bay and the Blue Mountains would have been so much more spectacular in the sun, we got to see them. We were even lucky enough to get 4 hours of no rain and no fog in the Blue Mountains, so glad we got up straight away and just went out to see what we could do. So there’s the lesson, when the weather is good make the most of it, and when it’s not make the most of that too!!

The Great Ocean Road (GOR) and The Grampians


Camper van’ning- a whole heap of fun!

First things first, let me introduce you to our Camper. Decorated in butterflies and flowers, she’s on the Hippie side of the spectrum but deep down it’s a Mitsubishi Express 7300- white van man van- kitted out with a fridge and wash basin in the boot and a bed in the back seats. Basic, budget option but it had absolutely everything we needed and we were super excited when we finally got our keys (the staff at Melbourne Hippie Campers are not the quickest!) and drove off to start our Aussie road trip.

GOR Day 1- Melbourne to Airleys Inlet

After filling our fridge with food supplies (and of course cider!) from a nearby Woolies supermarket, we were off on the M1 motorway heading towards Torquay and the start of the Great Ocean Road. The people who had hired our van previously had left us a fantastic book, ‘Budget Camps and Stops Australia’ by Paul Smedley, in the glove box and we used it to find Torquay Park Area where we pulled up to cook our dinner that night. Cooked by Hedd on our gas stove we had Kangaroo steak salad and we ate it on a picnic bench in the open air and sunshine overlooking Torquay Beach and the kite surfers occupying the Bay. Not a bad first dinner! Now hiring a camper van is not the cheapest so we had the intention of freedom camping as much as we could to balance out our budget. However ‘Surf Coast Shire’ (the most ridiculous name for a Council) had other ideas for us with signs up everywhere saying ‘no camping or sleeping in vehicles’. So after checking out Bells Beach and Point Addis lookouts we reverted to Plan B and got our holiday parks in Victoria book out to find a cheap campsite. Airley’s Inlet Holiday Park was the new target and we set off in earnest as it was getting dark. On the way we saw our first Kangaroo. It was just by the side of the road and it was massive! No cute little Skippy; this one could have done you serious damage. Needless to say we didn’t get to close to it! We arrived at the campsite at 8.30pm to a very closed reception. However the owner Arys who was watching our disappointment on CCTV took pity on us and came down to reception and book us into a powered site for the night ($22.50). Relieved at our good fortune, we cracked open a cider and sat inside our camper toasting the first night in our new home.

GOR Day 2- Airleys Inlet to Apollo Bay

Making the most of the camp kitchen we had fried egg on toast for breakfast, made the compulsory cheese and relish sarnies for later and checked out before 10am. We drove to the Lands End Lookout a couple of minutes away and then walked along the coast to Split Point Lighthouse. Fondly known as the White Lady, the lighthouse was built in 1891 and is 34 meters tall. But most importantly it is the lighthouse in the TV show ‘Round the Twist’ and we sang the theme tune an embarrassing amount as we walked towards it! The lighthouse was pretty cool and as we wandered around it we really wished we had a laptop so we could watch an episode of ‘Round the Twist’ for old times sake. But alas no laptop and we walked back to the camper via Step Beach where our attempt at a jog for ‘exercise’ turned into a mess around dodging waves…running on sand is hard! We double backed on ourselves driving back to Anglesea to visit the golf course there which is also home to a big family of Kangaroo’s. However we saw none and we were soon heading back towards Airleys Inlet and onwards to pioneer more of the GOR. Heading towards a town called Lorne we passed under the Great Ocean Road Arch which is the largest enduring WWI memorial in the world. You see 3,000 Australian returned soldiers and sailors had built the road and the wooden arch crossing the road commemorates the construction of the road and the sacrifice made by so many in the First World War. It was a nice thing to stop at. We arrived in Lorne at lunch time and we grabbed a couple of cold drinks and took our camp chairs and sandwiches down to the beach to have lunch. We chilled there for an hour or 2 reading and watching the waves before continuing the journey turning 10km inland from the GOR to check out Erskine Falls. It was a pretty 30 meter drop waterfall but the steps going back up to the car park were a killer. The walk was shaded which was a bonus but it was still baking! On our way back to Lorne we stopped off to check out Teddy’s Lookout and the fab view it offers of the GOR as it winds and tracks itself mountain one side and the sea on the other. It’s why the GOR is one of the best drives you can do in the world! We then headed to Kennett River, parked up and then walked up Grey River Road which is a well-known hot spot for Koala spotting. The walk is through Manna Gum Forest- the Koala’s preferred diet- and as we searched the high trees for signs of movement our attention was diverted by amazing bird life. Kookaburra’s (which actually look really evil in real life) and these amazing little parrot like birds called Crimson Rosella’s. We saw a few Koala’s early on in the high trees but they were all curled up sleeping so we couldn’t get a good picture. But Hedd was on a mission and we walked over 30 minutes up hill before we decided to call it quits. But as we were walking down hill our eye level was more inline with the Koala hang outs and we saw loads more and these ones were much more active. Very cool! It was then back in our camper towards our stay for that night in a free (and legal!) campground past Apollo Bay down Horden Vale Road. But on the way on a branch overhanging the road we saw the most awesome Koala. We pulled up and spent some time with him. He was really big and so close up and was being really active. In fact as we turned to leave the little creature got even more active like he didn’t want us to go! I think he must just like the attention! After taking what seemed like hundreds of photo’s of the Koala we decided we probably captured him pretty well and headed off to our campground. So our freebie campground- a field next to a lake with long drop toilets. Nothing fancy but with plenty of trees for us to park our camper in a shady spot which was good. Only thing was that it was down a long unsealed road that seemed to go on forever but perserver…there is a campsite down there eventually! Tea that night was meat balls and salad which we ate on a slightly dubious camp table with a broken lid and leg! But we managed all the same, washed up with cold water from our sink and headed to bed hoping to wake up with kangaroo’s all around the camper the next morning.

GOR Day 3- Apollo Bay to Princetown

So no kangaroo’s this morning, but instead we woke up to rain! That was a bit of a shock and hadn’t stopped by the time we made it to Cape Otway. We had come with the intention of visiting the lighthouse but at $17.50 entry each just to get close to it we cut that plan short, had breakfast under our boot escaping from the rain and then resorted to plan b and drove to Blanket Bay instead to check out the beach and walk a section of the Great Ocean Walk. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we arrived and we enjoyed a stroll on the beach covered by a blanket of smooth flat rock (hence its name) and then a short hike through the bush along the Great Ocean Walk track to Point Lewis Lookout. We got yet again a great view over the rocky coastline and the blue haze of the sea below it. Then it was back on the GOR turning off at Moonlight Head Road (unsealed again- sorry camper van!) to The Gables car park. From here we took the 20 minute walk to the Gables Lookout through coastal health and woodland, arriving at the lookout which offered us spectacular views of some of Australia’s highest sea cliffs. If they had been a bit whiter and the weather not so hot I could have been looking at the great cliffs of Dover! We then hopped back into the van and drove to Wreck Beach car park where we walked down the 366 steps to the beach. It was super hot now and it felt like we were on a desert island searching for treasure as we went looking for the anchors of the 2 ships- the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji- who became shipwrecked here many moons ago. After our successful hunt we sat on the beach eating an apple and looking out to sea and the tricksy under the surface rocks that had caused disaster for those 2 ships long ago. Then it was the hot haul back up the beach and those 366 steps to our van. We were now reaching the GOR main attraction- the limestone rock formations of Gipson Steps and the 12 Apostles- just outside Princetown. And boy did we realise, as we fought our way

through bus loads of people to get down the steps to Gipson beach to check out what all the fuss was about. Just a big rock really a little way out to sea, but the late afternoon sun hitting it brought out its brilliant colours- orange, yellows and creams. Then, just a little way up coast, we arrived at the 12 Apostles. Again a collection of limestone rocks just out to sea. There were never ever 12 of them and there are even less now that many have fallen victim to wind and wave erosion. Much like Gipson Steps the place was packed with day trippers but the Apostles are still a cool sight to see, if perhaps a little ‘bigged up’ by the GOR tourism board. We found a lovely campsite back at Princetown to stay the night- Apostles Holiday Park- pitched up, showered and made tea before heading back to the 12 Apostles for sun set- the best time to view the Apostles. There were still plenty of people there but not the crowds from earlier and secured a spot overlooking the beach to watch the sun go down. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we didn’t see the traditional big orange ball pour itself into the sea on the horizon which was a shame, but instead as it did the sun tinged all the clouds in the sky red. So all around us the sky was touched with crimson, it was really rather beautiful. Then as it got darker 4 little penguins arrived back from their day at sea and wibble wobbled their way up the beach to their nest. You normally see a lot more but it was malting season so penguins stay up to 2 weeks out at sea without coming back. So after watching these 4 guys for a while and being sure that this was our lot for the night we  headed back to our campsite to sleep.

GOR Day 4- Princetown to Narrawong

Woke up today with my right ankle twice its normal size, 4 large bites circling my ankle bone- ouch! After some breakfast, some anti histamine pills and a struggle to get my sandles on, we were off and headed for Loch Ard Gorge. Loch  Ard Gorge is a series of limestone caves, bays and arches and also the site that the Loch Ard ship sank in 1878 hence its name. It was already getting warm as we walked to the various look out points and down the steps to the beach. With its easy access and limestone archways I found Loch Ard Gorge almost more impressive than the 12 Apostles. But maybe that was just me! Don’t shoot me GOR Tourist Board! We then drove to Muttonbird Island lookout and wandered through Loch Ard Cemetery which have memorials of those who lost their lives in the wreck. Thunder Cave was next where the sea crashes into and up the cave creating a lot of white water and thunderous noise. That was pretty cool. It was now super hot and you could really feel the lack of o-zone; we were relieved to get back in the van and have the breeze in our faces as we drove along our last stretch of GOR towards Warrnambool, stopping off at our last limestone formation called London Bridge. Now just a rock stump out to sea, the main arch connecting London Bridge to the mainland fell into the sea in 1990 marooning 2 tourists on the newly formed island! They were rescued soon after by helicopter but that would have been one hell of a holiday story to tell the folks at home! Just before hitting Warrnambool we stopped off to visit ‘Cheeseworld’ in Allansford where Hedd fed his mild addiction to cheese with a cheese taste and some lunch. And then we were in Warrnambool- a rather hefty town that marks the end of the GOR. Saying goodbye to the GOR we made our final drive of the day to a free (and legal!) campground, called Saw Pit, in Narrawong.

On our way to the Grampians…

1/2 a tablet of Hedd’s 9 x strength anti histamines later and an ankle still the size of an elephants, we  made our way further West to Cape Bridgewater in a hope to spot a blue whale. Today was a scorcher and as we parked up at Blowhole car park there was not a cloud in the sky. But alas no whales either, but we did walk to a petrified forest which was quite cool. Then it was time to leave the coast and head north on the A200 towards the Grampians- Victoria’s rather attractive mountain range. And my goodness did we notice the change in temperature- the heat got increasingly unbearable as we got further and further inland and the winds hurtling across the plains into the camper were boiling too; we could get no relief. Eventually we sacrificed the fuel and put the air con on. Phew, did we need it! We had lunch at a rest stop called The Griffin as an ode to the local pub in Ruthin where we had leaving drinks, and then made our way up Mt William- the highest peak in the Grampians. You can walk the 2k to the summit but we didn’t get that far it was just too hot! We arrived into Halls Gap, the Grampians main town, early afternoon and paid the information centre a visit to find out what we could do in the area in this heat. They confirmed that it was indeed in the upper 30 degrees and was gonna get into the 40’s over the next few days! Crazy hot! If we wanted to do any walks it would have to be in the early morning with plenty of water. Armed with that info we tried to be as active in the heat as possible, visiting the Brambuk Cultural Centre to learn more about the Aborigine heritage before succumbing to the inevitable and collapsing in the shade with a cold can of pop at our campsite- Takura Holiday Park. And there we stayed, having ice lollies, reading, playing cards seeing in the evening. I did have an exciting encounter with a Crimson Rosella though, courtesy of the gentleman from the caravan across from us depositing a load of bird seed in my hand and saying “meet the locals”! All was well until I got swooped by another Crimson Rosella with a gammy eye and then I freaked out and scattered the seed everywhere. I then felt like Mary Poppins until the all the birds, now a party of 4, ate all the seed and flew away! BBQ steak and salad for tea and then the terrible task of trying to get to sleep in a roasting camper van. Open the windows for a chance of a little breeze but the likelihood of being bitten alive by bugs? Or slowly sweat to death in the metal box that was our camper?….decisions, decisions. We opted for the breeze!

A day in the Grampians…

So it didn’t get cool enough to sleep until 1am even with the windows open, but I didn’t get bitten to badly so all in all an alright night! Ankle was still swollen by now just the size of a cow not an elephant so Hedd’s super pills seem to have been doing the trick. We had a jammed packed itinerary this morning so we started early to outrun the sun travelling up Mt Victory Road to Reed Lookout. So the short walk to Reed Lookout saw us looking out over Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range. In plain english…an expanse of green forest with a few lumps and bumps in it as the topography changes. It’s just massive which did go some way to remind us just how big Australia is as a whole. Its one biggg country! We then walked the 30 minute to The Balconies and as soon as I got there the memories came flooding back of when I was here last- 2004 with my 6 girlfriends from school the summer before uni. It was so bizarre replaying it in my head as I wandered around the place 8 years later but now with my boyfriend. So the Balconies are 2 bits of rock which protrude out like 2 balconies from the mountain side and overlook and overhang the expansive green blanket of forest canopy which is the Grampian National Park. We were very naughty and climbed down the lookout so we could actually stand on the balconies and look over the edge. Highly illegal but well worth it! Next stop was MacKenzie Falls and yet another deja vu moment for me as we made it to the Mackenzie Falls Lookout after the 30 minute walk. I’m not sure if Hedd and I were just waterfall’ed out but we didn’t find this one that special so we admired it for a while and then got back to the car to move onto our third and final port of call- the Boroka Lookout. It was an easy 5 minute walk to the 2 viewing platforms that look down on Halls Gap Valley and out onto the Eastern Plains, which was good as it was now baking hot. We took our last pics of the Grampians and stood admiring the view before hopping back into the camper to start our long drive to Melbourne signifying the end of our GOR and Grampian adventure. 3 1/2 hours and the loss of 50% of our body fluid later, we arrived in Dandenong just East of Melbourne at the Big4 Holiday Park. After several cold drink later and some time in the shade we felt vaguely human again. Beans on toast for tea and the hot weather gave us the opportunity to wash and dry our clothes in double-quick time. Another blindingly hot night, we resorted to playing cards in the side entrance of our camper in an attempt to grab some breeze which never came. In the end we just watched the nights goings on from our entrance, patiently waiting for the angry heat to dissipate. We saw an alarming number of posoms which made us agree that however hot it was we couldn’t leave the door open over night. Although we closed up at midnight, it wasn’t until 1am again that it got cool enough to sleep.  But as the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener. For whilst we were praying for cooler weather little did we know New South Wales was about to get the worst rainfall it had seen in years, and we were heading straight for it…

The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians in a snapshot:

  • Weather=Boiling, 30 degrees plus, though cool in the evenings on the coast
  • Food=Meat and salad
  • Drink= Castaway Pear Cider
  • Best Direction to drive the GOR= Melbourne to Portland like we did, you are on the sea-side of the road the whole way
  • Top Tip to avoid the crowds on the GOR= Go to all the amazing hideaway places, 10 -15 mins off the GOR and go see the Gipson Steps and 12 Apostles early morning or late evening

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

What a great week this was. Firstly our camper van was very cool, a bit scary to drive on the busy motorways getting out of Melbourne, but once we got onto the Great Ocean Road, it was a dream. The GOR is a great scenic drive, although the 12 apostles at the end are a bit overrated in my opinion. Most people rush there to see these rocks, but the real beauty is the drive itself. We got to see some beautiful beaches, stunning cliffs, nice towns and plenty of wildlife. The highlights were definitely the giant Kangaroo we saw on the first night while searching for somewhere to camp, and the chilled out Koala hanging out on his tree by the road side (after we had spent an hour walking to find them and he was just chilling by the road!). And to think I had been worried about Australia being full of snakes, spiders and crocodiles…


A Weekend in Melbourne, Australia


I still don’t get cricket!

After pondering how my rucksack had gained 2 kilo’s, enjoying a reasonable 3 1/2 hour flight to Sydney with Meryl Streep as the Iron Lady for company, and then a quick commuter flight to Melbourne we arrived at our first port of call in Australia. We were staying in West Melbourne in Miami Hotel and a bargain $17 SkyBus took us there where we crashed into bed after a long day travelling.

Saturday 18th Feb and our first day of exploring the city. We picked up some supplies and made, what has now become customary, cheese and relish sandwiches and then headed down Spencer Street to pick up the River Yarra for a leisurely stroll to Federation Square- the cities main plaza. Being a weekend there were plenty of rowers out on the water which I took great pleasure at watching (/scrutinising…they were novice crews!) Federation Square is known as ‘the place to meet’ but really its just a big square! They did have a Sustainable Living Exhibition on though so there was lots of stalls pushing all things ethical and green which was interesting to browse through. Plus there were nice deck chairs in the sun to eat our sandwiches for lunch. But my goodness was it hot!

We continued the fight against desiccation during a stride to the MCG- Melbourne Cricket Ground. And it is within this massive oval structure where we attempted to  educate ourselves in the sport of cricket, buying a bargain $10 Domestic One Day Cup Match ticket, Victoria vs South Australia. We didn’t get off to a great start, choosing to sit in level 1 (padded seats you see) and in the shade. The atmosphere up there was nill and it was cold and we found ourselves dozing off with just a big cold gust of wind waking us up each time! So we decided to head downstairs to ground level to sit in the sun with more people around us. Still not a huge amount of atmosphere, just not enough of a crowd, but the pints of cider and snacks helped us get into the game more. This sustained us for 12 overs, 1 1/2 hours of play. And then we just lost the enthusiasm to live again, but agreed to stick it out to 25 overs- 1/4 of the game. We were rewarded with 1 catch out! So 25 overs came and we made a quick exit, agreeing that we were more 20-20 people than the die-hard fans that are able to endure 100 overs. 100 overs! Goodness me, they are blessed with more patience than me!

We walked from the MCG over the river to the very lovely looking boathouse’s that line the Yarra River. This also gave me a chance to sneak a look into see what boats they had- all top of the range Filippi and Empachers, very nice. Before I got caught for snooping we continued our stroll along the river to Southbank- a fancy area full of bars and restaurants. As we mooched about with our ice creams we had just purchased, it struck us both that Melbourne would be an ace city to live in in your 20’s and 30’s if you earned enough to enjoy its cosmopolitan chilled hide aways. It had a very compelling chilled out yet lively vibe which we liked. Crossing the river again at Kings Street we hopped onto the City Circle Tram which is a vintage style tram which goes right around the city with a little commentary pointing out the key sites you are passing along the way…and its free-woop! We went along Harbour Esplanade, past the Etihad Stadium to New Quay and the Waterfront City Docklands and then back into the City to Spencer Street where we hopped off to walk back to our hotel. Sausage salad for tea which we cooked in the hotels little kitchen then bed; pleased with ourselves that we’d done a lot with our first day in the city.

It’s all kicking off this morning in Canberra with a potential leadership challenge, Julia Gillard vs Kevin Rudd. We watched the GMTV equivalent news program with interest with our wheetabix and both agreed that the whole thing was ridiculous. She’s no Maggie Thatcher but by the sounds she not doing a bad job. Today we headed to the beach- St Kilda to be precise which in South of the city along the coast. We caught the city circle tram again and completed the loop passing Flagstaff gardens, the State Library of Victoria and Parliament House; hopping off at Federation Square to catch the number 16 tram to St Kilda. (Top tip- buy a Sunday Saver travel card at Finders Station to get unlimited travel for $3.50…bargain!) After around a 20 minute tram ride we arrived in St Kilda- a very bohemian place full of artist and musicians. Every Sunday a market fills the Esplanade selling arts and craft items and I enjoyed browsing the stalls before we headed to St Kilda Pier- the site of many Royal visits apparently back in the day. At dawn and dusk you also may get a sight of the St Kilda Penguins; at 11am all we saw were their droppings!

As we strolled back along the pier we spied a load of coloured tents and flags further down the beach front so we skipped off to check it out. Turns out it was the National Beach Volleyball Series Melbourne Tournament and there was a grand stand and volleyball courts all laid out. The event

was sponsored by Garnier so as we walked through the event we got loads of free samples of shampoo, moisturiser, makeup and deodorant which I loved! Then we sat on a massive Garnier branded bean bag to watch the volleyball tournament in the glorious sunshine. And all for free, we couldn’t believe our luck! First up was the Men’s Semi Finals, then a celebrity match and then came the Women’s Final. It was great fun and the commentators were brilliant and we had a constant supply of ice-cold ice tea for free from the Lipton Stand. It must have shown that we were having an ace time as we got snapped by the Garnier photographer to be uploaded to their website! After whiling away the afternoon we walked back to the Esplanade and caught a crammed number 16 tram back to the city. Picked up a can of baked beans on the way home for a cheapo student dinner and enjoyed it watching Harry Potter on the telly. All in all an ace and inexpensive day in the city.

Monday 20th and time to say bye to Melbourne as we caught a taxi back towards the airport to pick up our Hippie camper van to start our Aussie road trip. The Great Ocean Road here we come…!

Melbourne in a snapshot:

  • Weather=Hot, hot, hot- 30 degrees plus + 20 minute burn time
  • Food=Cheese and relish sandwiches
  • Drink=Freebie Lipton Ice Tea
  • Free internet discovery= Peter Pans Adventure Travel Office on Elizabeth Street
  •  Team Gillard or Team Rudd= Team Gillard
  • Look out for…=…free festivals, sporting events, exhibitions- this cities full of them!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

I was really looking forward to Melbourne. I’d heard a lot of good things, great food, great nightlife…but unfortunately when you’re a traveller low on funds and eating beans on toast of dinner – Melbourne isn’t that great. On the Saturday we went to a cricket match. This is the first time I’ve ever been to a cricket match and it will probably be my last, it was so, so bloody boring. It was only really enjoyable when we shared our one cider – we left after 25 overs (about half way through the game – couldn’t stand any more!). Now, on the Sunday we went to St Kilda and enjoyed a lovely free day courtesy of the Garnier and Lipton Ice Tea sponsored volley ball tournament. Now this was fun, and before you say it not because it was girls in skimpy outfits (Volley Ball girls are too skinny and have no curves anyway!!). The men’s match that we watched was an enthralling match that went the whole distance to the 3rd set. I had no idea it was such a physically demanding game. Much more entertaining than the cricket and it was free, which as someone who’s been travelling for over 4 months now, you really appreciate the free things in life!