Nirranda and Port Fairy

That’s two nights here, time to move on, to move on. First stop was Cape Otway Lightstation. We spent more time here than anticipated, it was so fascinating. Jyoti was delighted to find another warning sign depicting her favourite kind of animal. Not.

Beware of snakes
Rocks and rough seas at Cape Otway

The seas are quite rough here, it’s easy to see how so many ships came to grief along this coast. Cape Otway was often the first sight of land following the long voyage from Britain. It also marks the point where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean, although the ‘join’ isn’t as obvious as that seen at Cape Reinga in NZ.

Selfie of the day

The path to the lighthouse itself was not in use but the ‘Caution’ tape confused some people: they thought there was no access to the lighthouse at all. And with an air ambulance, some police cars and other medical staff, it was easy to suppose there had been some kind of accident.

Alas no, the lighthouse was open and as always, I began to count the steps as I climbed, but was distracted by someone running down very, very fast. So I’ll just say, there are about 967 steps to the top of Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Although this is the wrong time of year to see whales in the ocean, we did actually see one outside it.

Whale sculpture

And against all odds, we saw a kangaroo too.

Steampunk kangaroo

One thing we weren’t prepared for was how much this area was involved in the second World War. Trouble not just from the Japanese, but the Germans were here too, laying sea mines between Cape Otway and Wilsons Promontory, attempting to prevent access to Port Phillip Bay and Melbourne.

Jyoti, Liesel, half a German sea mine

A large area is devoted to understanding the local aboriginal culture. In the Talking Hut, Dale told us about the local history. He’s of aboriginal descent, his great (x3?) grandmother is Bessie Flower, the first ‘educated’ aboriginal woman. Dale is white, he also has Dutch origins.

Outside on our short Bush Tucker tour, he showed us which plants were safe to eat, and we sampled the salt bush (salty), the local rosemary (sweet, then very bitter), the ‘lemonade’ berries (fizzy). The attractive red berries are not edible, but when he squeezed one, the juice was pure magenta dye. Will we eat these leaves out in the wild? I suspect not, we’ll be far too cautious.

Inside The Talking Hut

He told the story of his 5-year old son going out into the bush, catching a small bee, tying a filament from a particular plant around it, so that when it flew back to its nest, he could follow it. He then pulled a lump of honeycomb from under the stones. One root which resembles a turnip can be cut up and is used for relief of toothache.

When I was at school, we were told that Aborigines had been in Australia for between 20,000 and 40,000 years. It is now thought that it’s more likely to be 100,000 years, although the evidence is flimsy right now.

Cape Otway has the second purest water in the world: the actual purest is on Tasmania. It also boasts the oldest known farm in the world, at 6000 years of age. It really is a place of superlatives.

Jyoti, Liesel and the Cape Otway wreck

As we drove away from Cape Otway, we continued to look in the gum trees for a you-know-what. I was driving and when I saw something cross the road in front of me, I braked and we came to a halt. It took a moment to register, it was so unexpected, but there it was: a koala. We didn’t want to frighten him, but equally, we wanted photos, so we all leapt out of the car.

Grandad koala saying goodbye

The old-looking koala walked off into the woods surprisingly fast. On seeing the picture, one of my daughters compared his hairy ears to those of a grandad’s. I have no idea to whom she is referring.

At Castle Cove, we enjoyed the sunshine and the views and this was the venue for our long beach walk of the day. Keep on the path. Snakes. We walked down the steps, noting that the sea was rough, the tide was high but even so, there were quite a few surfers.

Castle Cove beach
Strata well defined

The rock wall at the top of the beach was beautifully stratified, very soft sandstone and it had a greenish tinge due to iron. There were a couple of small caves, too small to explore and in the middle of all the sand and rocks, this pretty, solitary plant,

The only plant on this beach

Gibson Steps gave us our first sighting of the Twelve Apostles, the iconic limestone stacks formerly known as Toots and the Maytals, no, formerly known as the Sow and Pigs.

Not strictly speaking a Twelve Apostle

What we saw was in fact Gog and Magog, east of Castle Rock. We walked 1.1 km along a further section of the Great Ocean Walk, through the visitors centre, to see the actual Twelve Apostles. It was late in the day, the Sun was low, so we saw the stacks in silhouette. Even so, what a remarkable sight. We walked as far as we could along the path to the Castle Rock lookout. And as if things weren’t scary enough already, this is one of the signs.

Warning: Venomous snakes
There’s a hole my stack, dear Liza
The Twelve Apostles sea stacks

As it was Jyoti’s birthday, we thought we’d buy a cake at the café at the visitors centre. But it was Sunday, it was late, it was closed. We began the 1.1 km walk back to the car, away from the Sun now, so a little more comfortable, especially with a slight breeze. L&J were ahead, and some Japanese people pointed to the ‘porcupine’ crossing the path and by the time I caught up, the echidna, for that is what it was, was in the bush.

Echidna

What an exciting day: a koala and an echidna! And then, as we were driving awa from Gibson’s Steps, in the rearview mirror, I saw a kangaroo crossing the road.

There are many other places to visit on the Great Ocean Road, but as it was late, we headed straight for our new b&b in Nirranda. A shopping trip in Peterborough was disappointing, the single, solitary supermarket mostly specialised in fishing bait.

The b&b is built from old shipping containers. I thought surely a metal wall would make it really hot inside. And so it proved. Thank goodness for the ceiling fans.

Shipping containers now containing us

We didn’t realise at the time, but we shared our room with a grasshopper. We’d seen ants and flies and heard a mosquito or two, but we didn’t know about this chap until the morning.

Grasshopper

I let him out into the garden. One moment he was sitting there, the next, gone. Probably the strongest jumping leg muscles in the world. Well, it is a superlative area. Witness the petrol price at Lavers Hill: $1.70 per litre, compared with $1.20 to $1.30 elsewhere.

Liesel and Jyoti went shopping, all the way to Warrnambool, which takes its name from the whales that thrive in the ocean here. Just not at this time of the year: we’ll have to come back to go whale-watching.

Later, when J&L and I had eaten lunch, I tore down the large curtain from the living room window to take with us. We’d decided to walk to the nearby beach, about a mile away. Well, it was hot and there was no shade but it really did take much longer than the advertised 20 minutes.

Turd bush

This bush looks weird, we thought, and we certainly weren’t going to taste its leaves. It can only be described as a turd bush, since its fruits (?) look like animal droppings.

The dusty, stony, gravelly path continued on and on, up and down, disappointment every time the sea failed to come into view over the brow of a hill.

But then, the end came in sight.

Hang gliding and paragliding

Holding tight with both hands, I started my run-up towards the cliff edge. Suddenly, I heard someone yell “Nooooooo!!!”

Apparently, you can’t go hang-gliding just holding on to a curtain, you have to use specialist equipment such as a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness and a helmet. Oh well, I tried.

The walk down to the beach was difficult too. A very narrow, steep and sandy path. We were all wearing sandals, not the best footwear for such terrain.

A beach beyond

We gave up, discretion is the better half of Valerie, or something. It looked like a nice beach to walk on too, what a pity.

We drove to The Arch, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name.

The Arch

We drove to London Bridge, an unusual rock formation, but we couldn’t work out how it got its name. Especially since London Bridge has fallen down and it’s now just another stand-alone stack.

London Bridge

There’s a beach here too, another nice looking beach, ideal for a walk, but we’re asked to stay away because of the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins of course, but there were plenty of footprints in the sand. Penguins or other birds, we don’t know.

Footprints in the sand

On the path back to the car park, I spotted a small black lizard, probably a skink, but it might have been something more exotic: my hasty photo just shows a black blur in the grass.

We drove to The Grotto, another unusual formation. As we went down the steps to see what is really just a hole, a young girl ran up by us, and then she ran back down past us. She and her two friends were planning to swim in the still water but I did take this picture.

The Grotto

And finally today, we drove to the Bay of Martyrs, part of the Bay of Islands. I walked down to the beach, attempted a selfie with the Sun setting behind me, over the sea.

Won’t be trying an artistic shot like this again
Bay of Martyrs beach

For supper tonight, my contribution was to pick tomatoes from the plants in the garden. The courgettes weren’t quite ready yet and we didn’t fancy the rhubarb. We had cheese and crackers and chutneys with red, red wine, a belated birthday party for Jyoti. Almost. Still no cake.

Before going to bed, we all went outside to gaze at the stars and to listen to whatever animal was making a noise like fff-fff-fff-fff over and over. In fact, it was still doing this later on when I got up briefly. By this time, the Moon was up too, so only the brightest stars were visible.

Jyoti and I were sitting on the step outside the house, drinking our teas, shooting the breeze, watching the trees, when Liesel told us we had half an hour left. Uh? To pack and to move on. We were away with five minutes to spare. Bit of a shock to the system though: both Jyoti and I had totally forgotten that this was moving day.

Cactus, not a native Australian, we suspect

We had a pleasant drive to our next b&b, but I did have an agenda. We need a new electric plug adapter since the old one broke. I tried fixing it and it worked well for a while, but here’s a tip: sticking plaster, Band-Aid, Elastoplast, doesn’t reliably stick to plastic for very long. And another tip: if you need tin foil to help make an electrical connection, try to use pieces larger than the torn-off bits from the blister pack containing your drugs.

Lily the Pink aka naked ladies

As if lilies aren’t enough, we soon drove by a farm with a strange collection of animals: sheep, goats, llamas and camels.

Camels

Warrnambool didn’t provide us with an adapter. “Oh no”, said the man in the electrical shop, “we don’t sell that sort of thing. Try the Post Office.” I thanked him through gritted teeth for his help.

It’s hard to know exactly where the Great Ocean Road finishes. The GOR, B100, ends at Allansford, near Warrnambool. There, we joined the A1, Princes Highway. On the other hand, some of the literature for Port Fairy considers it part of the Great Ocean Road. Either way, when we arrived at Port Fairy, “The World’s Most Liveable Community”, we’d definitely reached the end of the world’s largest, and arguably the world’s most functional, war memorial, for this trip.

It’s a cute little town, enhanced by protective/advertising hoardings at the base of the lampposts.

Folk Festival coming up

After a coffee break, we went to sit by the beach for a while. Yes, sit by the beach. Not on the beach. In the car, in the car park, looking at the beach. Why? The wind was strong and cold.

Port Fairy beach towards the lighthouse

I still went for a walk, solo, and found two memorials, close to each other, both emotionally moving but for very different reasons.

In Memory of Thousands of Aboriginal People Massacred
In Memory of Service Personnel from Port Fairy lost in battle
Good idea

We checked in to our new, first floor, b&b and wow, we have a view over the beach. But the wind was still strong and we decided not to sit and be blown off the balcony.

I fancied another walk, and I thought the lighthouse at the far end of Griffiths Island would be an ideal goal to aim for.

Short-tail shearwaters or “Mutton birds” nest on the island, but again, we’re here at the wrong time of year.

Shearwater nesting holes

I did wonder whether these nesting holes might currently be occupied by snakes or other squatters. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A kangaroo was hopping across the field.

Kangaroo saying hello

This was the first one I’d seen in the wild, although J&L had been lucky a few nights ago.

I didn’t see the kangaroo that failed to clear this hurdle

I followed the track to the lighthouse, but the amorous couple sitting outside deterred me from walking right up to the door.

Griffiths Island lighthouse

The track followed the beach for part of the way, and I was surprised to see volcanic rocks sitting amongst the soft, white sand.

Volcanic basalt

It was warmer now, the wind had calmed down and I thought maybe J&L would go out for a walk later.

Pedestrians watch your… oops
Seagulls sculpture

While I was out, Liesel and Jyoti had been planning ahead, making plans for the next month or so. Bookings were made, despite issues with various websites and credit cards.

Unfortunately, up in our b&b, out on the balcony, the wind felt just as strong as ever, though not as cold.

We were talking about our various medical issues and the consensus is, we’ve been pretty lucky and injury-free. Liesel’s piriformis is still a PITA and it affects other muscles at different times. Other than that, a few insect bites, a couple of broken nails, cracked heels is as bad as it’s been.

Now is the time for those viewers not interested in the musical soundtrack to our travels to press the yellow button on your device and be transported to a totally different place.

We didn’t bother connecting my device to the car’s Bluetooth at Uluru because we were only there a couple of days. But with a new car in Melbourne, it felt right that we should play the whole Slim Dusty album for Jyoti’s enjoyment. We then returned to the alphabetical playlist. Picking up where we left off in New Zealand with Nomad Blood. At the time of writing, we are in the Rs. Q was interesting. The first one was a mistake: somebody at the CD factory had entered the song title as Que est le soleil? instead of Ou est le Soleil? And of the genuine Qs, 4 out of the 6 were 2 versions each of 2 David Bowie songs. What will we do when we’ve reached the end of the Zs? And will we even reach the end of the Zs by the time we return this car?

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!

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!

Mary, Mathilde and Matilda

When I was growing up, most maps of the world were Mercator Projection. It made the UK look really big and important. Greenland was the same size as Africa. Australia loomed large and pink, the home to an aunt (I later found out there were two aunts and their families) and a place of extreme mystery. In the bottom right hand corner of the map, there was a little pink semi-colon. Later on, we would come to think of New Zealand as Australia’s poor little next-door neighbour.

This, the Land of the Long White Cloud, has hosted entertained us for two months, and we love it. Everywhere we go, the views are stunning, the Sun is in the sky: why oh why would I wanna be anywhere else? Yes, we missed Lily Allen in concert in Auckland last weekend, but the song must have been in the air somehow.

View over Coromandel Harbour towards Auckland

Our final three days in New Zealand are coming to an end. As ever, we know we’re moving on very soon and we know we’ll be homesick for the old place for a short while. This, despite the rain. Yes, it actually rained over night and into the day. But people have been talking about a drought here and we even saw the unusual spectacle of a golf course where the greens had been allowed to turn brown.

We returned to Coromandel Town, partly because that’s where the nearest Post Office is located, inside a supermarket and sharing its counter with a bank. Also, it’s the only way to visit Thames: there aren’t many roads to choose from.

On the way, we saw a whole flock of oystercatchers on a beach. Beaches on this, west, side of the Peninsula are mainly rocks and stones, whereas those on the east side have all been sandy.

A large number of oystercatchers
Thames big chessboard

We had lunch in Thames at a place run by a couple from Melbourne.

Cafe Melbourne

We’ll get to the real Melbourne very soon.

Hairdresser and philosopher services

I had to see the River Thames, so named by James Cook because it reminded him of London’s River Thames. It was wide and had water in it, but there was nothing like a St Paul’s Cathedral next to it, nor a QE2 Bridge over it.

Probably the worst picture of a river ever taken, from a moving car on a bridge

We decided to drive back home continuing in an anti-clockwise direction around the Peninsula. One of the main attractions here is the high point, The Pinnacles. We saw these high, almost vertical rocks from a distance but because of the road conditions, we weren’t able to get too close. There are plenty of walking and hiking trails, some of which take several hours, or even days. The old kauri forest would have been a fantastic sight, can’t wait to see the newly planted trees in a couple of thousand years time.

Pinnacles
Pinnacles

On the other hand, the view from one pull-out (layby) was obscured by trees which I thought was slightly ironic.

Can’t see the Pinnacles for the trees

Sometimes, I’m quick enough to take a photo of an exotic bird, and even though she was driving, Liesel spotted this heron before I did. It watched me watching it but cooperated by not flying away.

Heron looking into a well

We ended up back at our local beach, Whangapoua. As we did the following day. The weather conditions could not have been more different for our two visits.

What a difference a day makes (1)
What a difference a day makes (2)

We walked along the beach and made friends with a dotterel and her two chicks. They’re very wary of people (quite right) but they have no speed between standing still and running at 90mph: even the baby!

Mummy dotterel

This Island still looks more like a whale to me than a lump of pumice, but as they didn’t invite me to join the naming committee, I guess we’re stuck with Pungapunga.

Pungapunga Island should be Whale Island

I was hoping to make some new friends at New Chum Beach. I waded through the Pungapunga River as it flowed across the beach, that was OK. Not so good were the rocks that formed the route to Wainuiototo, especially as I was wearing flip-flops. I tried going barefoot, but the rocks were round and a bit slippery. New Chum Beach will have to wait until next time.

Rocky path to New Chum Beach, Wainuiototo

On the way back, I was pleased to bump into my old friend, the dotterel chick from yesterday.

Babby dotterel

There were a few people swimming in the sea… well, being bumped about by the waves. But one guy was having a great time kite-surfing.

Kite-surfing

And we found out what happened to the ozone layer above New Zealand. The kite-surfer was using it.

That’s enough of that

After walking the length of the beach and back, I found this lady sitting on the beach.

Liesel waiting for her ice-cream

On request, I went to the local shop to buy us ice lollies. It’s got to the time now where we’re trying to spend all our New Zealand coins.

We drove back to the b&b for the final time, unloaded everything from the car, wondered how we’re going to fit it all into our bags and moved on to something else.

One thing we miss in the car is Billy Connelly’s voice coming from the GPS (satnav). The Google lady gets it wrong sometimes, getting her left and right mixed up sometimes. One place she took us to was totally wrong too. When required, Billy tells us to do a U-turn when we can. Google just recalculates a whole new route, which might entail a U-turn eventually, but it might be a long way off.

Music news coming up… not for everyone.

One more thing we won’t do before we leave NZ is to reach the end of the music on my device, which we’re still playing in alphabetical order by song title. No Zs before the end of NZ.

We’re in the Ms right now but should make significant progress tomorrow on our nearly 3-hour drive to drop the car off at Auckland Airport.

The first few Ks were all Hawaiian, Ka something. Ms include Mary, Mathilde and Matilda. We’ve had some surprise Christmas songs too, which I’d forgotten were there: Let it Snow, Let it Snow and Mele Kalikimaka for example. Four, yes, four different versions of Life on Mars? were followed by Life on the Moon!

We need a wider selection: we have no Crowded House, to name but one kiwi band. And we’re about to split NZ too.

A Handful of Wonder

More beaches, not to be sniffed at. Well, mostly.

The first was half and half black and white sand. And the black sand was unbearably hot underfoot, even with flip-flops on. The thought of lying down on a blanket here was not appealing. And, as I have no photos, I guess it didn’t strike us as being particularly photogenic either. So after a quick walk, we made our way to Kuaotunu.

Kuaotunu Beach

This was much more pleasant and far more intersting. Northern New Zealand dotterels are an endangered species with just about 250 pairs on the Coromandel Peninsula. We were really lucky to see a pair, and what we believe to be the last chick, almost ready to fledge. It really was wonderful to see such a rare bird, and to be absolutely certain.

Two rare dotterels

One chick to fledge
More info

Finally, we found the Hot Water Beach. Naturally heated water occurs just below the surface on the beach, and two hours either side of low tide, you can dig a hole and climb into your own naturally hot spa. No, we didn’t. No shovel. We could have rented one, but we didn’t. Instead, we tried a couple of deserted holes only to find the water was no longer hot.

Liesel v lagoon to reach Hot Water Beach

People digging holes and maybe getting into hot water

This was a nice beach for a longer walk though, as we watched people swimming, falling off surf boards and especially enjoying the young men watching their girlfriends dig the holes.

There was one variable oystercatcher who bravely walked up to the water’s edge, but then ran back up the beach as the waves came in, his little legs going round and round like a cartoon bird’s.

Oystercatcher doesn’t like getting his feet wet

On the way back home, we stopped near Coroglen, formerly Gumtown for a picnic lunch by the banks of the Waiwawa. We said g’day to a couple who walked by but I was taken by surprise a few minutes later when I walked over to take pictures of the river, only to find the lady bathing in it.

Waiwawa River

Later on, I went down to Whangapoua for some groceries. Well, one item, one grocery.

Let’s confuse a Victorian time-traveller

If Charles Dickens or any other Victorian were to visit the shop, they would look up at the list of wares in total wonder. What the Dickens is all that stuff?

While in the vicinity, I further investigated the Pungapunga River as it flows into the sea, opposite Pungapunga Island. This beautiful Maori word means ‘pumice’ but, because of all the seaweed on the nearby beach, I bet most people say it should be Pongaponga. It was a bit strong and definitely not to be sniffed.

Pungapunga Island

Most people? No, probably just me.

Nighttime brought its own wonders. The sky was stunning, spelt g, o, r, g, e, o, u, s. It was so dark here, I couldn’t even see where to walk outside. And, there were no nightlights to worry about, just the odd car going by. Yes, I took some photos but mostly, I just looked up in wonder, agape and a-gawp, pondering life, the universes and everything. Not even the mosquitoes spoiled the moment. I suspect the rustling in the nearby bush was nothing more harmful than a hedgehog: it may have been a kiwi, they do live around here, but I didn’t want to frighten anything by using a light.

Orion and Sirius (top right)

Captured an aeroplane

If there had been a kiwi in the bushes, and if had I captured, murdered and stuffed it, then displayed it in a lovely case, this is what it would look like.

Kiwi and egg

This is one of the less attractive exhibits at Coromandel Mining and Historic Museum. The mining paraphernalia was very interesting, as were the displays about the Silver Band, the Freemasons, the Hospital and, right at the back, the old jailhouse, physically moved from its original location.

Having a break from walking round the museum

The Silver Band (not to be confused with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band)

There were many gold nuggets on display, all genuine, real gold, somehow supported by the feeblest of wood and glass cases.

Viscount Canterbury 890 oz

Outside the museum, there is a young kauri, planted in 1997.

Kauri just celebrated its 21st birthday

It has a long way to go to catch up with the one mentioned inside which was chopped down a long time ago. Chopped? It took several hours to saw, chop and cut it down.

4000 years old when they turned this kauri into ships

45,000 new kauris have been planted on the Peninsula since 2000 under a project called Kauri 2000.

We wandered around Coromandel Town for a short while, it was only 26° here compared with 30° back at home, and with a slight breeze too. Cloud was moving in and even though it doesn’t feel like it now, rain is forecast for early tomorrow morning. And they do need it. There have been bushfires in NZ and even when we were in Coromandel, the sirens went off and we saw three fire appliances race down the road.

We had a look in a couple of the gift shops and this doll caught my eye.

Attic Doll

It reminded me that we have no Alice Cooper on the MP3 player music device phone thing that we’re using. Anyway, the link is in the lyrics: We go dancing nightly in the attic while the Moon is rising in the sky. If I’m too rough, tell me, I’m so scared you little head will come off in my hand. (Billion Dollar Babies.) As Liesel said, there’s long list of people not represented on my phone, so we’ll have to rectify that.

Today’s attempt at a selfie has Auckland way over there in the distance, behind Waiheke Island, where we recently spent a few quiet days.

Selfie of the day

The road to this lookout was long and winding and turny and twisty and steep and narrow. It is hard enough work, so we have decided to give the 309 Road a miss: it’s much shorter, just as twisty and steeper but it’s unsealed, so very dusty, and apparently there’s a farm from where pigs wander onto the road.

This grass is very attractive when it bends and flows in the wind
Quite a recent landslip

There are some beehives just down the road from where we’re staying. I had to go and check because they don’t really look like hives I’ve seen before: more like show boxes.

Beehives
Bees and hives

We’ve noticed a campaign to stop mining in the Peninsula. There is a small mine run by a local family but other people with dollar signs in their eyes want it to expand. Most (?) local people are against this expansion. I wonder why?

“Mining is the pits” says the sign outside somebody’s house.