The Great Ocean Road

We enjoyed a big breakfast before the short drive back to the airport. As I was taking pictures of the car, I was asked to move it from the place it was parked. Unfortunately, by this time, I’d already returned its key.

I sat by the window on the flight to Melbourne. I missed the moment when the colour of the earth below changed from ‘red’ to ‘brown’ and from great expanses of desert to small, regular, rectangular fields.

First signs of non-deserty civilisation

We collected our next rental car and drove to Torquay, south of Melbourne but avoiding the city centre. It was a fast drive along the motorways and it felt strange to drive along a noise barrier for such a long distance.

Noise barrier next to the motorway

Donald Trump would be very happy that the Aussies are keeping those pesky Mexicans off their freeways, with a big wall. Big.

We decided to slum it for one night at a motel. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, a nice big room and a hot tub, although in the end, none of us used it.

Jyoti and I walked down the road to Fisherman’s Beach, some brightly coloured birds flying by.

Panoramic view of Fisherman’s Beach

I was impressed by the sundial where you stand in the correct place according to the date, and your own shadow points to the time. It was very decorative, too and I’ve decided that on our next trip, I’ll bring a drone so that I can take fantastic overhead shots of outsize sundials.

Colourful, functional sundial
The Laughing Gnomon

What a difference a couple of days makes. It’s more than twenty degrees cooler here in Victoria than in the Northern Territory. But we thought the worst of the scary animals was behind us. Oh no. The first thing Jyoti saw in the morning was a big hairy spider on the net curtain. I didn’t hear the screams, but maybe these old ears of mine can’t pick up such high, piercing frequencies any more.

G’day, Mr Huntsman, Sir

Not knowing whether it really was dangerous or not, none of us went near it. A huntsman rarely hurts people: apparently most injuries are caused by the surprise of seeing the spider and jumping back or falling off the chair or something.

We were at the start of The Great Ocean Road and our first stop was Bells Beach, famous for its surfers. You thought the spider was bad enough? Look how dangerous this place is!

Bells Beach warnings

The waves were stunning, huge, powerful, and of course there was no chance of us going for a dip in the sea here. But we did have a pleasant walk, watching the water and the surfers.

Wave, hello

There were too many surfers to count and from our perspective, in the distance, they could easily have been a group of seals. No wonder sharks get confused, sometimes.

Waiting for the right wave

We watched one man try to swim out, and every time he made some progress, a wave would bring him back in. He persevered and eventually disappeared into the crowd. And there were some fantastically long rides on the waves, too.

Making it look easy

You not only have to admire their skills, but their courage in going out into such strong waters in the first place.

Then, when you’re all done, you just nonchalantly ride a wave back in, all the way to the beach.

Finished for the day

Competition time! If anyone can explain or interpret this piece of modern art on the back of a street sign, please let us know!

Modern art? Or vandalism?

Tree sap escapes, runs down the trunk and solidifies into a lump of amber. If it’s trapped a fly that has just bitten a kangaroo, then, in millions of years time, they’ll be able to extract the DNA and grow a whole new kangaroo from scratch! There’s a book and a film franchise here, somewhere.

Amber

Point Addis was the venue for a nice stroll too. We could look back at Bells Beach from here and watch the surfers from ‘behind’ as we were high up on a bluff. We saw plenty of seabirds, and we think these are shags over on that rock.

Scraggy rock and sea birds, possibly shags or cormorants

Hooded plovers are an endangered species and we weren’t lucky enough to see any here. Sadly, we did see evidence of how inconsiderate dog owners can be. We’d commented earlier on the amount of dogshit left on paths and tracks, and this sign was written by a very angry person.

Very restrained, under the circumstances

It was a bit of a messy beach, lots of seaweed and shells, all natural stuff, but still messy.

Where’s Liesel?

After all this natural beauty and fresh air, it was only right that we indulge in something tacky. So it was with great joy that we found the Chocolaterie and Icecreamerie.

Caution in the Chocolaterie car park

And our first sighting of kangaroos today.

Kangaroo ice cream

We decided to have lunch and it was delicious. The main ingredients were sugar, fat, sugar, cream, sugar, sugar and a little bit of fruit. But we also were given shortbreads with our coffee and little cups of thick, hot, milk chocolate.

Eclair, mousse, jelly, cream, pastry: your 5-a-day

I tried to help out, but I couldn’t manage to consume all three cups of chocolate. I felt that there just wasn’t enough blood in my sugar stream to cope with even more chocolate.

Liquid milk chocolate

And it may surprise you, dear reader, but we did not have ice cream for dessert, tempting though it was, especially the (genuine Australian) hemp flavour.

Niblick Street. Golf Links Road. Bogie Court. Fairway Drive. Yes, we visited a golf course in Anglesea. They let us in, after we paid, but we weren’t here for a round of golf, oh no. We were here because kangaroos live on and around the course, and we were driven round to see them up close and personal. Very personal, as this little joey will testify.

Breakfast time for Joey

There were lots of them, too, some with collars as they’re part of a research programme being conducted by one of the universities. Some of the golfers don’t like the animals on the course, and some really don’t like the idea of these tours, it’s just not cricket.

Golfers and kangaroos

We walked by Anglesea Beach too, and at the end of the fishing jetty, I was pleased to see a ruler, so you can measure the fish you caught and not measure the ones that got away.

Swingers
Measure your catch here
Shark in the playground
Selfie of the day

The sand on the beach was lovely, too, very soft. And look at the tanlines on this hoof.

Look at the tan on this foot!

We walked up to Split Point Lighthouse, although it wasn’t open to visitors. The views were good from this height, and I was especially pleased to see a sea stack, even with a couple of photobombers.

Sea stack plus
Sunlight through the lighthouse window

There is a great memorial to the men who built The Great Ocean Road, probably the best ocean road in the world, so of course, we had to go and spoil it by standing in front of it.

Liesel and Mick and a memorial arch
Mickey Mouse spoiling the sculpture

Although we’d planned to go to Lorne (where I remember a great coffee shop from 2002!), instead, we went straight to our new b&b in Pennyroyal. It’s on an unsealed road, one of several cabins in the woods, and it’s terrific.

More or less as soon as we arrived, we made friends with the local king parrots. To this end, Phil, our host, had left us with a jar of bird seed.

King parrot on Mick’s arm

At one point, we were watching over half a dozen kings eating either out of the bowl or from the rail of the balcony. There’s definitely a hierarchy: one, presumably the senior, wasn’t going to share the bowl with his underlings.

Kings asking for more food

Just like Samantha from ISIHAC, I do like to see a cockatoo first thing in the morning. Right outside the bedroom window, he was, on the balcony.

Good morning, Cocky

Liesel put some food out and after a short while, he returned with some mates.

Some other little chaps came by to say hello and enjoy our hospitality, too. Red brown firetail finches, apparently, very pretty.

Red brown firetail finches

A hundred photos later, I managed to capture the sulphur crest that gives the cockatoo its name.

Cockatoo displaying his sulphur crest

Jyoti and I went for a bush walk, and in a most unusual turn of events, we visited our second golf course in two days. This one only has three holes but we walked the length of the course without the burden of clubs nor balls. I did replace a flag even though we hadn’t removed it. I assume that’s the correct etiquette.

Tee-off number 2
Green and hole number 2

We heard plenty of birds, but were disappointed not to see any other wildlife. On the other hand, quite glad not to come across any of the snakes that Phil warned us about. But then, he hasn’t seen one for a few years, either. As advised, we stomped around so any snakes would take the hint and vamoose.

In the middle of the woods, we found a child’s slide. I wondered whether I would want my children or grandchildren playing here, knowing about the snakes? Some of the flowers were very pretty and we also found small red berries and blackberries. No, we didn’t try either, just in case.

Airbnb cabin in Pennyroyal

We had another small but very timid visitor to our balcony, so, until we see another one, this picture taken through the screen mesh will have to do. It’s a superb fairy wren, very pretty.

Superb fairy wren

We drove to Deans Marsh, aiming for coffee at the Martian Café. When it finally clicked, I thought the name was very clever. Deans Marsh. Marsh. Martian. Anyway, it’s closed down and the premises up for lease, so no Martian coffee for us. The Store over the road, however, has everything. Coffee, cakes, pies, a shop, a bakehouse, a post office, alcohol, it really is a one-stop shop for the town. I assume the blackboard is in what was once the schoolroom.

The Store at Deans Marsh
Time for some SRN

We found Tiger Rail Trail after Lake Elizabeth proved elusive. We’d ended up in the middle of nowhere, along a dusty, unsealed road, no sign of a lake. But the trail was a lovely, flat walk, along the the track of a long lost railway line.

There are some strange plants in Australia. This weed, we don’t know its real identity, is nearly six feet tall, lots of small twiddly leaves, capped off with a very dainty, yellow flower.

Big, tall weed

Whe ferns were as bright as any we saw in New Zealand, although mostly not as big.

Small, bright green fern

But the best thing of all was our first sighting, in the wild, of a koala. Liesel spotted it first having just pleaded to the gods, show me a koala!

It was a hundred feet up in the tree, unmistakable when you you see it, and very exciting. This was one of those occasions when we would have benefitted from binoculars and a proper camera with a decent zoom lens.

A koala, way, way up in the gum tree
The best close-up we could manage without actually climbing the tree

Forrest is home to Platypi Chocolate. I thought the plural of platypus was platypusses or even platypodes but if chocolate and coffee are involved, I don’t really mind what the place is called! And, to be honest, it’s probably as close as we’ll get to seeing a real platypus out in the wild. It’s a new building, looking out over the woods, a perfect spot for bird-watching, although we weren’t very lucky on this occasion. Except, we had great coffee of course!

Colac Batonic Gardens should be the name. We thought we’d enjoy a nice wander amongst the flowers and trees, all beautifully labelled. But what caught our attention instead was a bat flying overhead.

Fruit bat coming in

Then another. Followed by more and more. We realised, there were dozens in one tree, far more than we’d seen at Manly last week. And all the other trees, too, hundreds of fruit bats hanging there like old black socks drying in the wind.

Lots of bats in the trees

We did look at some of the trees too, of course, as we ambled round.

Peppercorn tree

The bats aren’t universally welcome because there are so many and they’re destroying the fruit trees. On the other hand, they’re a protected species. This is according to the elderly, local couple, both on mobility scooters. They also told us why Lake Colac itself is ten feet lower than it used to be. A few years of drought saw to that, killing off all the fish in the process. One flood started to refill the lake, but they need at least a couple more floods to fill the lake to its original level. At attempt to restock with fish was foiled when a flock of 1500 pelicans ate them all!

There are many species of bird on the waterfront so we continued walking along the shoreline. Spoonbills, coots, moorhens, gulls of course and many more.

Birds by Lake Colac

We returned to our cabin where, after supper, J&L went for a short walk. They saw a couple of kangaroos who soon hopped off. No photo evidence, unfortunately: I’d decided to go to bed early instead, and neither of the ladies had a camera.

Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa

We boarded the plane expecting to fly out of Sydney at about 10.00am. Soon afterwards, a group of 20 was asked to disembark as one of the party had a medical issue. We were soon assaulted by the stench of industrial strength sterilising alcohol. Has the pilot been drinking? No. The medical issue turned out to be, someone chundered up in the toilet. Attempts to decontaminate must have been fruitless because after a while, the rest of us passengers were asked to leave the plane. The crew were all very apologetic: this sort of thing probably messes up their shift patterns too. In the end, we waited 3½ hours for a replacement flight. They gave us an $8 food voucher each as compensation, but only after we’d already bought some snacks. So here we were, waiting at the same gate as before, salivating over the snacks. Jyoti had a small packet of tomato ketchup. She remembered that Helen had recently shown us how to use these new-fangled packets, but couldn’t quite remember the mechanism. “How does this w…?” she asked as she squeezed and squirted ketchup all down my leg. Yes, Aussie ketchup packets can be squeezed, ideally onto your food: you don’t have to try to peel the foil lid off. Oh, how we laughed.

The flight itself was non-eventful, and possibly more comfortble for us as we were upgraded to ‘economy plus’ or whatever they call it, seats with slightly more leg room. Also, we had three empty seats opposite, so both Jyoti and Liesel had window seats.

Jyoti and the Desert (not the ’80s group of the same name)

I don’t think either of them fully appreciated the beauty of the endless, unchanging, red desert below.

On the other hand, Jyoti did get this first photo of Uluṟu from the plane.

First sighting from the plane

We were engulfed by a 42° blast when we walked down the stairs from the plane at Connelly Airport aka Ayers Rock. We drove our white rental car to Yulara, where we were to spend two nights. By coincidence, we stayed at the Outback Pioneer Hotel, where Liesel and I had stayed last time we visited, in 2013.

After cooling off indoors for a while, we drove to watch the sunset near Uluṟu.

Sun setting above The Olgas, 22 km away

It is a magical time of day: Ayers Rock appears to change colour as the Sun descends: red, orange, purple, chocolate brown.

Uluru at the end of the day
Meanwhile, looking west

It was good to see sunset here again, but I was looking forward to spending more time with this old friend the following day.

In 1992, Brian Munro was visiting the red centre, the desert in central Australia of which Ayers Rock is just one focal point. His idea was finally realised in 2004: a display of lights on the desert floor: a sculpture of lights that slowly change colour.

The Field of Light has returned to Uluṟu in an expanded form and we were all excited to go and see this fantastic work of art. We joined a coach with about 40 other visitors, picked up from various sites, and we drove into the desert.

And it really is a stunning sight. Solar powered, the cables and fibre optics all form part of the light show. In the dark, you follow a path through the lights as they change colour. It is one of those displays that no photo nor video can do justice to. You have to be there, at night, in the dark, in the fresh air, to fully appreciate what’s going on. But of course, I did take some pictures.

Field of Light – fibre optics
One of the lights illuminating the path
Field of lights, count ’em
More lights

Back at our hotel, we found a gecko on the wall in our room. Jyoti’s not really a big fan of reptiles, so it was good when it disappeared. Or was it? Where was it? Above the false ceiling? In one of the beds? In one of our bags? I believe Jyoti did get to sleep eventually.

We knew it was going to be a hot day so after a short but decent sleep, we got up very early, had a large and decent breakfast, drove to Uluṟu and we started walking around by 7.00am.

It was great to be back after all this time. Last time in Aus, I’d not visited The Rock and I felt I’d missed out on visiting an old and much loved relation.

Rock climbers

It was disappointing to see so many people climbing. This, despite many requests to respect the sacred site. Yes, I attempted to climb in 1986 (with Sarah and Jenny) but the cold wind gave me ear-ache and forced me to give up early. Good. I was oblivious to any cultural insensitivity at the time, but nobody can claim ignorance now. Climbing Uluṟu will be banned totally in October this year, I believe. One of the reasons I had a go, though, was that many years earlier, the Blue Peter team visited and attempted to climb. Poor old Janet Ellis had to give up straightaway, due to an asthma attack. And in the end, of course, a medical situation beat me too.

We started the base walk in the shade but when we found the Sun, it stayed with us most of the way. Then, when we found shade again, our sighs of relief were short-lived. The Sun was higher in the sky and there wasn’t a lot of shade. We finished our walk before 10.30, by which time the temperature was 43°: later in the day, it maxed out at 45°. Indeed, part of the track was closed at 11.00 due to extreme temperatures. You feel the heat from the Sun but also reflected heat from The Rock, it’s just a gigantic storage heater really!

F-f-f-fashion – fly-nets

The fly-nets proved invaluable, keeping a buzzillion flies off their faces. I tried to ignore them (the flies, not J&L), but sometimes, they do try to invade personal orifices (the flies, not J&L). The swipe known as the ‘Aussie Wave’ is very satisfying when you feel the slight thud of contact.

No flies on me, well, just a few on the hat
Aboriginal art? Or education?

The old paintings in the caves all tell a story. Some look like they were recently touched up: I hope not, I hope they are the originals from however many thousands of years ago.

Vibrant colours

The colours here are vibrant. Red rock, green leaves, blue sky, as ever, brighter in real life than in photos.

Panoramic shot of Uluru at its beautiful best

Thanks to Liesel and Jyoti for indulging me. I feel I have scratched an itch, made another pilgrimage to a place that has had a magical attraction for me ever since I learnt about the big, red rock in the middle of the mythical land Australia, where an aunt (in fact, two aunts) lived.

We visited the shops and the café. In fact, we bought a picture depicting bush medicine, possibly painted by one of the native ladies working there.

We drove to Kata Tjuṯa, also known as The Olgas, a group of large, domed rocks to the west of Uluṟu. We didn’t plan to do a long walk there, but I was hoping to reach a certain point from where there is a terrific view over the desert.

We’re off to see The Olgas

We were surprised to see smoke in the distance. Surely nobody’s lighting fires here, when it’s this dry and hot? No: there had obviously been a bush fire recently and there were a few small patches of smoldering undergrowth. We drove past about 10 km of ashes by the side of the road. The trees all looked ok, if a little singed, but the leaves and bark on the ground were good kindling.

Fire damage
No smoke without fire

Although the overall shape of The Olgas is more interesting than Ayers Rock, these rocks don’t have the same attraction for me, I don’t know why, but I was excited to be here again after a gap of 17 years.

Kata Tjuta closer up

The Valley of the Winds is a relatively short walk, and as expected, the track was closed beyond a certain point. Jyoti and I walked for a while, but when it became obvious that my goal was too far to reach in a reasonable amount of time, in this heat, we turned back. As Liesel wasn’t with us, I used her fly-net.

F-f-f-flies on a net

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday Sun. And we go out in the Aussie desert, when it’s 45°C, that’s 113°F, probably the highest temperature any of us have ever experienced.

Hotter than 44°

We drove back to our air-conditoned room to cool off. We’d consumed plenty of water of course and were delighted that none of us suffered from sunburn, sunstroke, heat exhaustion or dehydration. But a siesta was very welcome.

Sadly, there was one casualty today.

White becomes red

These once white socks have served me well for several months but after today’s exertions, they deserve eternal rest. Consigned to the rubbish bin, with a quick word of gratitude, so as not to pollute other items of clothing during the next wash cycle.

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park is a protected area, they’re really looking after the flora and fauna. But the spelling? The ‘ṟ’ and the ‘ṯ’ seem to be peculiar to this part of Aus, and they’re very hard to find on the keyboard!

Two Walks, Two Dips in the Sea

I didn’t make it, but Jyoti was up early today to watch the sunrise. She joined in with all the activities on offer, as well as a few of her own invention. Balancing on one foot without falling over is a skill we should all adopt.

The main event today was the walk up to North Head. The three of us set off hoping to reach the end and to arrive at the Quarantine Station before it became too hot.

On the path down to Collins Beach, we saw warnings about 1080 poison and ‘soft jaw traps’ being present in an effort to eradicate foxes. Not very nice for the foxes, but who are the vermin who brought them to Australia in the first place?

There were just a couple of people on the beach as we walked by and up the hill again, past the Australian Institute of Police Management and on to the Barracks Project.

Possibly the only bandicoot we’ll see

We walked on through the moving War Memorial area to Fairfax Lookout which looks towards South Head over the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the Tasman Sea.

Jyoti and Liesel walking towards Sydney

In the distance, you can see Sydney’s skyline, including Sydney Tower where we were to venture later on. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

I’m glad I’m no longer a postman and really glad I’m not nine feet tall. As a postie, one of the hazards of the job was walking face-first into spiders’ webs, carefully wrought overnight, across paths to people’s front doors. Here, in the heathland, the spiders make their webs higher than our heads, but it’s still a bit worrying walking underneath, you never know whether one of those gigantic arachnids might drop down your neck.

Just one of many big spiders just hanging around

Jyoti was heard to say something along the lines of “I won’t be going for a walk in the woods”, because of the spiders.

We were on the lookout for lizards too, but no luck there.

North Head view
Sydney viewed from North Head

After lunch, accompanied by a turkey, we walked down to the Quarantine Station. Jyoti and I went for a walk along the beach and on hearing the siren call, I ripped off my clothes and plunged into the briney sea to cool off. We looked at the shells on the beach, the barnacles and the limpets on the tidal rocks. Realising the tide was coming in, I recovered my clothing from the secluded rock and we went back to rejoin Liesel.

Oh to be in quarantine

The Q Station itself is very interesting, and as the poem shows, humour didn’t totally desert people struck down by horrendous diseases.

While waiting for the ferry, we had a drink in the café where I was horrified to see that they serve alcohol to mynas.

Myna on the mooch

We enjoyed the Fast Ferry ride to Circular Quay but I was horrified to see the slow ferry fart a large cloud of black smoke.

The Famous Manly Ferry

SailGP launched over two days here in Sydney Harbour. Six international teams, including GB and Australia compete in identical supercharged F50 catamarans. They can exceed 50 knots. While the race is on, we mortals on workaday ferries have to slow down to 6 knots. Which is great when you’re not in a hurry and want to get some photos! Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on so photos of the racing boats will have to wait until later. (Oops, spoiler alert.)

Our new boat

We gawped at The Explorer of the Seas, docked in Circular Quay with its 3000+ passengers and scientists on board. Even though it was only one stop, we caught a train to be closer to Sydney Tower.

Model inside Sydney Tower

I last visited this building in 1986, with Sarah and 2-year old Jenny, when it was known as Centrepoint. Then, we were amazed that we could see the airport in the distance. From the viewing deck today, though, I couldn’t see the airport either because the Sun was too bright or because Sydney has literally grown, mainly upwards, in 33 years.

View from Sydney Tower
View of and from Sydney Tower

I won’t be trying Betty’s Burgers any time soon, I’d be worried about the ingredients, and not just the meat.

Betty’s Burgers and … what?

In the evening, we met up with Helen and Adam at Mex and Co, a restaurant that we’d been to before, overlooking Manly Beach.

The following day’s long walk was from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach, along the east coast, in the full glare of the Sun.

Coogee Beach
Bali Memorial at Coogee Beach

This fascinating, intricate sculpture is a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombing of 2002.

Clovelly Beach’s clear water

There are several beaches along this walk, all gorgeous, all tempting, the water was clear, but we held off until we reached Bronte Beach. Here, there’s a small ‘pool’ separated from the main thrust of the sea by well-placed rocks.

Bronte Beach

Jyoti and I jumped in for a quick, refreshing dip. What I hadn’t anticipated though was that the water was so shallow, my knees would graze the rocks below. We walked to the next refreshment opportunity where, to remove the taste of sea water, I indulged in a chocolate milkshake.

We walked through Waverley Cemetery and mourned the loss of so many people at such a young age. Most of the graves are over 100 years old but the most recent is from only a couple of years ago.

Occasionally, the path approaches a cliff edge and one of us was brave/daft enough to venture that little bit closer to the edge.

Jyoti living life on the edge

And finally, round the corner, we saw Bondi Beach in the distance.

Bondi Beach, a welcome sight

Adam had recommended a place to eat. I had no ID so I wasn’t allowed in. L&J had theirs, they got in and had a lovely salad. I’m not looking for sympathy, but in the first place I went to, the staff looked up and continued to chat with each other. The next one thought the idea of takeaway coffee was infra dig. But I did eventually find coffee and a biscuit.

We’d travelled by ferry and bus to Coogee and we returned by bus and ferry.

In the harbour, the SailGP races were taking place and again, the ferries had to slow right down.

China and GB catamarans
Australia and France cats

Helen is Manly’s top hairdresser and she offered to give me a much-needed trim. As usual, it was the perfect haircut and I am very happy with my hair. My offer to return the favour was declined.

The Australian mangoes were described by Jyoti as being aphrodisiac while Liesel suggested that they should ideally be eaten in the bath, naked. (It’s a long story.)

This was our final evening in Manly, for the time being, and as the weather was so good, we had a barbecue down by Manly Cove beach. Helen prepared all the food and Adam barbecued the meat, corn on the cob and veggie sausages, thereby gaining credit for all the work, as is the way with bbqs.

Adam looking for his head under the barbie
Helen, Jyoti, Adam, Mick, Liesel

We enjoyed watching the Sun set, the sky change colour and as it got darker, we visitors were surprised to see bats flying back to the tree we were under, that being their roost for the night.

Sunset, what a stunner
Looking up at the bat tree
Gotta be quick to catch a bat!

While sitting there, leaves and twigs fell from the tree and Liesel especially was pleased that (a) they all missed her and (b) it wasn’t bird deposit, something she has a magnetic attraction for.

Wide Sky for Anna

Back at the flat, we were treated to Amarula, a cream liqueur from South Africa made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. It was very tasty, very more-ish.

A perfect end to our week in Manly, thank you for your hospitality, Helen and Adam. And congrats again, Adam, on your exciting new job! Cheers!!

One night here, while unable to drift off to sleep, I calculated that on October 30 last year, I was exactly twice as old as Helen. I need to check my mental arithmetic of course, but while that’s an exciting revelation, I felt sad that I hadn’t realised at the time!

Koala Park

It rained overnight, dusty rain, the wind had brought dust in from the desert. There was a slight orange haze in the distance, but it didn’t cause us any problems.

L&J (Liesel and Jyoti) (I thought it was about time I used an abbreviation to avoid having to type both their names over and over, thus, saving time, effort and power, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of this blog, doing my bit) had pedicures and other beautifying treatments while I walked down to the library to write.

By the Manly Cove beach, there was a man feeding birds. He wanted to feed the cockatoos, but the pigeons outnumbered and out-bullied them. The man fought back with a stick. Waving it and throwing it at the pigeons. In the end, he threw his arms in the air. When they came down again he walked off.

Cockatoos v pigeons
Chicken (my birding correspondent will correct me, I’m sure)

Thank goodness the days of totally quiet libraries have gone, otherwise my keyboard would have been deemed the most offensive item. But there were children in one corner singing songs, and in another, someone was reading stories to a separate group of children.

A propos of nothing at all, some nominative determinism in Manly

Sitting next to me was a very smelly man. Not BO, but his coat had absorbed the smoke of a million cigarettes. He popped out a couple of times for a puff and during these intervals I tried to make head or tail of the notes he was reading. He’s a budding musician, and one day, all these (non-musical) notes will be turned into wonderful music. One day. I won’t hold my breath. And I won’t breach his copyright but his doodles, cartoons, random words, phone numbers, games of hangman and other miscellany might well become a beautiful symphony. Equally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to become a horrible, noisy cacophony.

I walked around Manly for a short time and sat down with a coffee and biscuit to listen to a real musician. This lady had a good voice, not very strong, perhaps, for busking, but I enjoyed her rendition of songs from many eras.

Pleasant busking at lunchtime

When I met up with L&J later back at the flat, I admired their new eyelashes and painted toenails, and I hope I didn’t miss anything.

Sunset over Manly Cove

I was up at 3am as is often the case (biological requirements) and I woke up again at 5.50. Perfect. I got up, got dressed, got myself out of the house and walked down to Manly Beach. I walked all the way along to Queenscliff hoping to see the glorious sunrise.

Well, there was 100% cloud cover at the time, but as the Sun rose, the clouds parted and small patches of blue appeared. I had fun with my camera, trying to capture the perfect shot of the Sun rising out of the Tasman Sea.

Sunrise over Manly Beach

What was impressive though was the large number of mostly fit and mostly fit, young people up and out so early, each participating in their activity of choice. I did feel sorry for those who had to go to work later on. Boozers, losers and jucuzzi users, the human race was well represented here.

Some were on the beach playing volleyball, though not fully undressed as is the customary outfit. There were yoga classes, tai chi, some folks exercising with “towels and sticks”, weighlifters and the ubiquitous muscle man doing his thing while looking around to see who was watching. A few, more mature, men were power-walking, just look at me baby, swinging these arms, swinging these arms.

Sticks and towels may break my…

There were surfers, cyclists, cyclists carrying their sufboards, dog-walkers, skate-boarders, skate-boarders being towed by their dogs.

Surfers

In the pool at the Queenscliff end of the beach, swimming lessons were taking place. One learner kept apologising for running out of breath. I feel your pain, brother.

The best job probably belongs to the tractor-driver, cleaning the beach.

Tractor cleaning the beach

There were other people taking photos of the sunrise too, some with phones (eg, me) but a couple had the whole kit, big camera, zoom lens, tripod. Amongst the more esoteric activities were pushing over a tree and sleeping in a children’s playground.

Tree pusher
Sleeping in a playground

Back at the flat, some cockatoos were making a noise on the neighbour’s balcony.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

It was still early in the day and the main activity after 9.00 was attempting to buy tickets for Elton John in concert, in Sydney, in a year’s time. His three-year Farewell Yellowbrick Road tour is very popular. We both sat there watching the wheels go round and round, but eventually, Helen was successful in her quest. I looked at the prices for shows in the UK. We’ll see…

Helen took the three of us to Koala Park where we had a great time making friends with the animals. The park suffered substantial damage recently in strong winds, but no animals nor humans were injured.

Koala

The koalas are very cute, very soft, very sleepy. I didn’t ask the guide whether it was true that all koalas suffer from chlamydia. I do know that we washed our hands quite frequently.

Cassowary

The kangaroos weren’t interested in the food we’d purchased especially for them. But the goats enjoyed it and one of the caged cockatoos was quite happy to receive some free feed too.

While it was interesting to see a wombat, he wasn’t very photogenic, lying on his back with his wedding tackle on full display.

I made friends with a kookaburra, his laugh was fantastic, we all laughed along. Guess what my new ringtone is?

Kookaburra sits in the old aviary

Here I am feeding an emu.

Mick and emu

I feel that I am now on good terms again with the emu race. When I first visited Australia in 1986, I was chased around by Gonzo the emu who thought I had food in my camera bag. (At least, I think that’s what he thought. In the photo, the overall shape of me with a camera bag on my back is very similar to that of a sexy female emu…)

There were some reptiles too, wallabies, a café and the whole place isn’t too big, we came away without feeling that we’d missed out on something.

In the evening, Adam joined us for a picnic down on the grass by the beach. It was very pleasant, bread, cheese, dips, chips and a wonderful sunset.

Helen, Jyoti, Liesel and Mick

To Manly

It was wonderful to finally meet Helen at Sydney Airport. Not only had there been a couple of minor hiccups, the day itself was a milestone. Helen’s Mum, Sarah, and I married exactly 40 years ago today. The maelstrom of memories and emotions never really threatened to overwhelm, but it was there, just below the surface.

State Highway 25 next to the sea

We left Brett and his challenging kettle at Te Rerenga, drove through Coromandel Town and stopped for a break in Thames.

Jesus would have a great time here

Challenging kettle? Yes, the safety mechanism was kaput so you had to hold down the switch to reach boiling temperature. For a couple of days, you also had to hold down the lid, and when the kettle realised we were leaving, it forced us to hold down the lid again. It’s always a wonderful feeling when you can beat inanimate objects at their own little games.

Rocky beach that we didn’t sunbathe on

We had to return the car with a full petrol tank. The range of prices in NZ is very wide. Today, we paid $1.85 per litre, but we have paid $2.09 elsewhere. Anything about NZ we won’t miss? Yestailgatingdrivers.

I’m sorry we never adopted the kiwi national costume: gum boots, though.

Golfer in gum boots (hope he didn’t get a hole in one)

But then, we never played golf either. The rest of the photos taken that day were of the rental car: we caused no significant damage, but the loose chippings and gravel on some of the roads were always a little bit worrying.

We had a good flight, landed a little late at Sydney but we had gained two hours by travelling west across the Tasman Sea. Welcome to West Island, as some kiwi maps label Australia!

The machine accepted my passport, but the photo taken could ‘not be identified’ so I had to join another queue.

Most people’s bags turned up quickly on the carousel, but not ours. We waited and waited, along with about thirty or forty other people. When challenged, I assured the security guy that I was waiting for my bags but found it easier to walk around than to stand around.

Helen drove us to her luxury apartment in Manly where again, we were stunned (in a good way) by the view from her balcony. Adam had prepared pizza for us which was very welcome.

Our first trip the following, beautiful, day was to Brookvale, to the shopping mall. I got a SIM card for my phone. Liesel didn’t: we thought we could manage with just one.(Spoiler alert: we can’t. Liesel will be SIMmed up very soon too.)

Fish bones at Westfield

Helen, Liesel and I went for a gentle walk at Curl Curl beach, where the sea was rough, the sand was warm and the sky was blue.

Curl Curl Beach

We saw our first interesting, exotic, Aussie birds, today.

Wagtail
Australian Magpie
Bush turkey aka brush turkey

Before we left home in England, I read a book written by an American couple. They’d travelled around Australia with a view to seeing, and listing, 400 species of birds and other animals. We’re up to 3 so far. No intention of reaching 400: we have no such target.

We met Jyoti who’d been staying with cousins elsewhere in Sydney for a week. We’ll be travelling with her for the next month or so to far-flung places. But tonight, we all went for a meal at Manly Skiff Club, or to give it its full name, Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club. We watched the Sun set on our first full Aussie day while I drank two, yes, two pints of beer and ate a huge chickpea burger and chips. Helen’s fish and chips was huge too. And Monday is $10 steak day which might help explain why the venue was so busy!

It’s a short walk up a short hill to the apartment, but after accompanying Helen to Coles to buy some ice cream, it was hard for this old duffer. I was just keeping up with Helen, she said she was walking at my pace but, phew, I got my breath back eventually.

One day, I will get up early to watch the Sun rise over the beach, but for now, getting up and meeting Jyoti at 7am was early enough. She’s staying an an Airbnb just over the road from Helen and Adam, very convenient.

We walked to Shelly Beach, admiring all the hundreds of people up for an early stroll, or swim.

Bright Sun over Shelly Beach
Early morning swim club

Some folks had their work suits hanging from the trees, waiting for them to emerge from the water.

Sea water pool with Manly in the background

The forecast was for today to be the hottest February day ever. And it was. 32° by the time we’d walked back to The Corso.

Liesel and Jyoti chatting on the beach

Plans to walk as far as Queenscliff were quickly shelved in favour of breakfast. And where better to go than Three Beans Café, my favourite coffee shop from previous visits.

Helen was working at home today, so Liesel and I returned for a quick shower and departed so that we’d be out of her hair (and out of her client’s hair).

Phew, what a scorcher. There are a million ways of saying it, and I think we covered them all during the course of the day.

Jyoti, Liesel and I caught the ferry and seeing the Harbour Bridge for the first time, for me at least, was a magical moment. Yes, Helen drove us over it yesterday, but somehow, that’s not the same.

Selfie of the day

Adam started a new job this week (rotten timing with us visitors) and I think he still appreciates the commute into Sydney: it’s still far better than the Waterloo and City Line in London.

After disembarkation at Circular Quay, we first walked around to the Opera House. There are a couple of interesting shows coming up, but we won’t be around for one about John Lennon.

Sydney Opera House
Ooh this looks good, especially the feathers

So on this, the hottest day ever, we walked through Sydney to Darling Harbour. This wasn’t a random wander, we were going to visit Sealife Aquarium.

Ibis looking good, especially the feathers

Inside, I recognised it as a place I’d visited previously, and I think it was with my sister a few years ago. But the name, Sealife Aquarium, doesn’t really register as being something really special or different, not in my mental filing system anyway!

Squeakiest shoes in the Aquarium

<ph squealky shoid squeakiest

Hagfish, the snottiest fish in the Aquarium
Fat-bellied seahorse
Eastern water dragon

Sometimes, you can see eastern water dragons along the walk to Shelly Beach. We weren’t so lucky today, so it was good to see one here, albeit in a tank. Jyoti’s not a big fan of reptiles, so probably didn’t appreciate this exhibit as much as I did.

Jyoti and Liesel outshone by a stingray

This one took some staging. Jyoti and Liesel can talk the hind legs off a donkey so it was easier for me to jump into the aquarium, and position the stingray right behind them so that I could take the picture.

Seaspray, so refreshing

The ferry back to Manly Wharf was cooler and the spray on the window led us to think that a nice drop of rain would be very welcome right now!

37° was the highest temperature recorded today, in the end. In the evening, I went for a quick swim in the sea, as did Adam. Liesel and Jyoti had left earlier, but I couldn’t find them anywhere along the beach on the Wharf side. I did enjoy the sunset again, and I was pleased to see that a lady was taking a photograph of a seagull perching on a pole with the Sun right behind: just the sort of silly picture I like taking!

Although I wasn’t particularly hungry after this morning’s huuuge veggie breakfast and last night’s huuuge burger, I did consume half of a Fish Bowl. Helen bought them on the way home from work (she had visited more clients later in the day) and each bowl contains salad, rice, noodles, tofu, fish, you decide what you want, and the ‘normal’ size bowl is plenty for me. In fact, too much: Liesel finished mine!

The strong wind that appeared as if from nowhere, late afternoon, stopped just as suddenly. But we heard it again during the night, but strangely, we didn’t hear the birds that had woken us up the first morning here.

Just a quick note about the musical soundtrack in our car. We’re in the Ns now. The final song we heard when we dropped the car off was Nomad Blood by Martha Tilston. That’s us, that is, we have a bit of nomad blood right now, plus a spot of wanderlust together with the travel bug. Perfect!