Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More from Australia

Well, we are still in sunny Australia and having a wonderful time. Katya finished the term at Maroubra Bay School and took part in the end of year school musical extravaganza. She settled in amazingly well and has made some great friends in such a short space of time.

Jude and I, with the kind help of Mike, went up to our house to tackle our somewhat overgrown garden. What a mess it was. 7 years of growth required some major work. We spent two days cutting and clearing and took all the mess to the local tip. Now a bit of gardening does not sound that bad to most of you, but here in Sydney it can be very unpleasant and even dangerous. Never mind the heat. We have all sorts of insects and animals waiting to pounce on you. A variety of poisonous spiders, venomous snakes and even venomous paralysis ticks are all residents of our garden. We were lucky and only got attacked by the paralysis ticks. Not very pleasant I can assure you.

Whilst at our house we were rummaging through the garage as we still have some of our belongings there. We came across my stash of wine bought over from the UK 10 years ago buried in the mess. The stash included a number of bottles of French wine, my ’63 port from my christening and a case of 2000 Margaux. All sounded great but had it stood the test of time and temperature in a Sydney garage? So without further ado we took the bottles back to Mike’s house for “tasting”.  We are still working our way through them. The case of Margaux has survived very well but a couple of the older French wines (86-93) have not fared so well. We have had a great time tasting them with Mike and his friend Serge, who bought a number good Australia wines to “Challenge” the old world wines. Oh what fun! We have now decided that we need to drink the remainder.     

I was lucky enough to be invited to crew aboard an ex America’s Cup boat for the day on Sydney harbor. I must admit I felt very humble by the experience of the rest of the crew. All of them were serious racing and Ocean racing sailors competing in numerous America’s cups, Volvo Ocean races, Sydney Hobart winning yachts. And here was me. A “cruiser” They must have thought what the heck, but they were very welcoming and I had a great time on the water. 

Christmas and new year came and went very quickly. Christmas day was spent at Mike and Irit’s house with lots of their family, and Jude’s, joining in the festivities. There was a true fusion of western European and Eastern European cuisine on the table which made for a very interesting meal. Still seems strange having Christmas in a hot climate.

Christmas lunch

Katya went down to Kangaroo Valley with Mike and Irit for New Years eve and Jude and I stayed here in Sydney to enjoy the celebrations. Dan and Carolin came over to the house and we watched the New Year being welcomed in from the roof top with the accompanying fireworks from all around the city.

On the 3rd Jan we packed up our Land Rover Discovery with all our camping gear, including a tent I swapped for a water-ski from one of Mike’s neighbours and set off up north to tropical Queensland. We stopped off on the way to stay with Paul and Victoria in Byron Bay. They have a lovely house just across the road from an amazing beach and a short distance from some interesting towns and villages. Much food and wine was consumed and we had a few games of RISK. It has been great to catch up with them after so long.

Jude, Victoria and Katya in Byron Bay

Byron Bay

Jude at the Crystal Castle

From Byron we travelled up to Hervey bay for our first night in the tent. We decided that one small tent was not quite enough space and bought a small, and cheap, tent that will hopefully last the distance. Being the school holidays the campground was packed so we went to see if we could get a ferry to Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand Island, being about 150kms long) which might give us the space and solitude we were looking for. The lady in the ferry booking office told us that they were all booked up and suggested we come back after a week or so when there would be nobody there. This sounded like an excellent idea to us. The following morning we drove a few hours up the coast to Bargara, just outside Bundaberg, a town famous for its production of Rum, found a lovely quiet campsite just across the road from the beach and settled in a for a couple of days exploring the area and swimming in the surf.

From Bargara we drove north to two small adjacent towns: Agnes Water and Town of 1770 (so named after Captain Cook’s second landfall in Australia in 1770). These two towns were idyllic backwater summer destinations. We booked into the campsite, set up the tents and went down to the waterfront to swim and cook our supper. Later in the evening we went down to another beach to see if we could find the nesting Loggerhead and Green turtles that had been spotted nesting on the beach. No luck.

Sunset in Town of 1770

Town of 1770

We decided take a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef and spend a day snorkeling on the reef, something that Jude and I have done before but it would be a new experience for Katya. It’s not quite the same turning up at an anchorage on a tourist boat laden with 100 souls clambering to get into the water and harass the resident population. Saying that we did manage to get away from the crowds and see shark, turtles, squid and a host of other incredible creatures.

We had been told that there was a great National Park campsite 20kms south of Agnes water that was worth a visit so we packed our stuff and headed off to see if we could get a spot there. We arrived just before dark and found a suitable spot only to be confronted by the acting ranger (Turtle watch team) that we did not have a permit to camp. We knew there were no camping spots back in town and that the journey back to town was 20kms down a dirt track. With some confrontation and pleading the ranger allowed us to stay the night. Although it was a great secluded spot it was infested by mosquitoes and other biting insects.

On our way to Deepwater National Park

Visitor to our camp

Our original intention was to travel up to Airlie beach, probably another 300 miles from where we were now. We decided that there was probably no need to go further north as we could not swim due to the Irukandji jelly fish, another deadly animal found in Aus. 7 people had been taken to hospital in the last week to be treated for stings. These stings can be fatal in as little as 20 mins. Although death is unusual it is apparently extremely painful and can leave one scared. So with that we decided to head back to Bargara and spend a few more days on the beach swimming. Katya met a Swedish friend, Cornelia, and they enjoyed some “kid time” and even had a sleep over together. We found a wonderful camp spot under a huge tree which gave us great shade from the heat of the summer sun.

Oh I forgot to say that whilst staying at Paul and Victoria’s I decided that it was time for a hair cut. The last time I had a cut was in early August in Denver, five months ago! I had one hell of a mop. Extreme measures were required and this took the form of Paul’s electric hair clippers. So down to the wood it went. This is the first time I have had such a short hair cut. Even at boarding school it was not this short. It felt rather strange and I think the girls though I looked a bit weird, even scary. 

Down to the wood

After our revisit to Bargara we headed off to Frazer island on the afternoon ferry. Who knows what was going to be in store for us. I was a little concerned that we might get stuck in the sand as the whole island could only be traversed by single lane tracks that were deep sand. There were a few moments where I thought we were doomed but a heavy right foot and the Land Rover diff-lock in place saw us through. The tracks are very bumpy and it takes a long time to go anywhere. We soon found out that the best was to move around the island is to get on the beach at high tide and zoom up and down the east coast of the island. The last time I drove on the beach was in my mother’s Renault 5 when I just passed my test (17). I got stuck and had to be helped out before the tide came in. Anyway all was good. The landrover dealt with it well and ploughed through where others got stuck. 

Lake McKenzie - Fraser Island

Dingo - Fraser Island

Our camp on the beach

Fraser Island has a few official campsites with basis showers and toilets with fences to keep the large resident population of Dingos out (indigenous wild dogs). We stayed our first night in one such camp and decided that it was not for us: too many mosquitoes and the bats crap on your tent at night. We drove up the beach and found great spot on the beach with a fresh water creek nearby, nobody else for miles around, and pitched our tents. We spent the afternoon building a dam across the creek to make a pond that we could swim in and cool off as it was not possible to swim in the sea (sharks and jellyfish). How wonderful to have such a wonderful beach all to ourselves.         

We departed Fraser Island after 5 days and headed south again to Bruswick Heads. Our intention was to stay at a rural campsite just outside Mullumbimby. We arrived to find the campsite was a bit too “alternative” and headed back to the coast. The following day we went back to Paul and Victoria’s to celebrate my birthday, last one in my 40s. Victoria cooked a wonderful meal and we had a great afternoon / evening. Unfortunately P&V had to leave for Sydney the next day but the very kindly asked us to stay in the house for a few extra days. Marvelous! A proper bed and shower.