A Night in the Rocks, Sydney

I’m sitting up in bed at the Holiday Inn in the Rocks. Our room is spacious, the bed comfortable, and the bed linen crisp and white. We’re almost across the road from where we’ll be boarding our ship in a few hours time.

All hotels in the Rocks are currently at a premium with cruise season reflected in their prices. Our room is $400 a night. We’re on the second floor with a view over a back lane. I’m sure on higher floors on the other side of the hotel you can most likely see our ship docked, nice I’m sure, but not for us this time.

As always, a night in The Rocks was fabulous. We arrived here around 2pm yesterday. A quick freshen up, then out and about walking around the Rocks and Circular Quay. Later in the afternoon Paul ticked The Lord Nelson off his bucket list. The Lord Nelson is a lovely old pub established in the backstreets in the Rocks in 1841. With some very nice craft beers on tap, it’s a must try must for beer connoisseurs, so worth leaving the main tourist drag to hunt out. The brews are good, and the decor authentically old. We had a drink for ourselves, and then another for Cousin in law, Geoff. It’s a pub we’re sure Geoff would enjoy. We didn’t take our camera with us, but Paul has taken some photos of the pub on his phone, which I’ll post later. (We have to work out first how to get them from his phone to my IPad – not easy for these two technically challenged oldies).

Last time we were here (almost two years ago) we tried a lovely little Italian restaurant, Zia Piña. It was so good we just had to go back again. Their quality home style pasta and pizza dishes are reflected in the queues that happily wait outside for a table to become available. They don’t take bookings. You don’t usually have to wait long, and truly – the food is worth the wait.

Another walk around the Quay after dinner soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney Harbour before retiring for some much needed sleep. And today – our cruise begins….. Exciting.

Whitehaven Xpress – trip to Whitehaven beach

You can’t come to the Whitsundays without going out on at least one Island cruise. It’s what the Whitsundays are all about. With an unlimited budget we would have taken unlimited cruises. Alas our budget isn’t unlimited so we had to settle for just one. Therefore it was important to be sure the ‘just one’ we chose wasn’t going to be a disappointment.

We looked for a boat that didn’t take too many passengers, and one that didn’t operate like a ‘milk run’ using our time to pick up passengers from other islands. Looking at Tripadvisor, Whitehaven Xpress seemed to tick all of our boxes. Today’s boat trip carried 33 passengers including Paul and I. We departed from the Port at Airlie at 9am, and returned around 5pm, with transport to and from the boat included. Three meaningful stops were included for the day, none of which involved picking up passengers from other islands.

The day was beautiful. The sea was calm. First stop was the look out at Whitehaven Beach. It took around an hour to get there, and one of the crew, Ed, made us coffee and served us biscuits as we cruised through the calm clear waters.

The look out was accessed by way of a gradually ascending shady bush track. It was an easy walk and no trouble to complete with just thongs on our feet.

A natural sculpture on the bush track  - with some imagination perhaps an emu tackling  a croc!
A natural sculpture on the bush track – with some imagination perhaps an emu tackling a croc!

The view from the top was stunning.

This hasn't been photo shopped.
This hasn’t been photo shopped.


On the way back down the track we came across a rather large golden orb spider. I put my hand behind the web as close as a dared for a comparison of size.

What a whoppa
What a whoppa

Next stop was Whitehaven beach itself. Whitehaven has the well deserved reputation of being the best beach in Australia. Theres no argument from us – if there’s a better one we’ve not come across it yet. The sand is white silica. It doesn’t get hot, and it squeaks when you walk on it. The water was warm, but at this time of year cool enough to have a very low stinger risk, so no stinger suits were needed when we swam there.

What a place for a dip
What a place for a dip

One of our other favourite beaches also has silica sand – Lucky Bay at Esperance. Lucky Bay though is on the Southern Ocean so although still stunningly beautiful like Whitehaven, any extended time in the water is likely to result in hypothermia. Today we happily floated around for ages without even getting a goose bump.

We had two hours there which included a pretty damned good barbecue cooked for us by the crew and served in a shady area just back from the beach.

There were plenty of goannas sharing our lunch area.
There were plenty of goannas sharing our lunch area.

Then onto Manderlay Beach at Hook Island for some snorkelling over part of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkels, flippers, floatation aids etc were all provided, and for those who preferred to stay dry, there was a glass bottomed boat.

Then cheese and biscuits for our return trip.

We had a marvellous day, and met some nice people. There were a couple of families with young children on board. The kids, ranging in age from around two to around 12, quickly formed friendships and were amongst the happiest kids I’ve ever seen. I’m sure they must have been exhausted by the days end, but I didn’t hear a grizzle from any of them. They, like me, I’m sure will sleep soundly tonight.

Did we choose right for our boat trip . Absolutely. The crew of three were all competent and friendly (especially Ed), we were fed and watered well including a supurbly cooked barbecue lunch. We had a terrific balance of time on the boat and time ashore or in the water. The day was full, but not overloaded.  No time was wasted with a dreaded ‘milk run’ itenarary. It was fantastic.

What a pleasure.

Fishing from Shute Harbour Jetty

Airlie Beach has returned to magnificent weather. The grounds dried out, the skies are blue, and its warm – a very pleasant 26 Degrees today. So, what does one do on a glorious sunny day at Airlie Beach when there’s nothing else on – fish of course.

I took some lambs liver out of the freezer (my preferred fishing bait), and packed up a few crackers and cheese, chopped up some water melon and put ice cubes into a bottle of water. In the meantime Paul sorted out the fishing gear. High tide was around 11.30am, so we timed our arrival at Shute Harbour jetty for around 11am, calling at a fishing tackle shop on the way to purchase some more hooks and Pauls preferred bait.

Paul trying his luck.
Paul trying his luck.

Within a very short time I’d caught a small shark (only about 1/2 metre in length), which didn’t live to see to see another day. A giant groper who lives under the jetty seized the opportunity of a captive lunch and lunged from the watery depths to claim my prize, hook, line, sinker – and shark, gone in a mouthful. This groper is famed for stealing catches from fisher people such as myself who are to slow in reeling in their catch. I kid you not – he is a massive fish. I wouldn’t like to fall in nearby, he’s certainly big enough to do me some serious damage should he mistake me for someones ‘slow catch’. Had he not taken my prize we would have released the shark back to continue on with his day. Just his rotten luck that I was to slow at reeling him in. It was awesome to see – so, so fast, for such a massive lump of a water creature. A spectacle we’d been warned about, and one we’re pleased to have witnessed.

A couple of hours later we’d had the joy of being surprised by a big ray completing a serious of high jumps only about 10 metres in front of the jetty. Obviously, something much bigger had decided he’d make a good lunch. We didn’t see if he’d been successful in evading the enemy. I hope so, we’re rather partial to rays. They’re such relaxing sea creatures to watch as they glide peacefully through clear waters. We witnessed a large turtle swimming along and poking his head up every so often for a look around. And we’d completely surrendered to the peaceful tranquility thet comes with a couple of hours gazing out over the calm, blue/green waters of Shute Harbour. So meditational!

The island fringed waters of Shute Harbour.
The island fringed waters of Shute Harbour.
Boats of all shapes and sizes coming and going.
Boats of all shapes and sizes coming and going.

Apart from the shark  nothing else was caught that was worthy of a mention. But our bait was constantly being nibbled so our hopes of ‘the big one’ was constantly being nurtured. With or without a catch, the jetty on a warm 26 degree day is one hell of place to wile away a couple of hours.

What a pleasure!

Big4 Adventure park, Whitsundays

We’re definitely in the tropics. It’s pleasantly warm, and this week it’s been wet. That’s the tropics. Sunshine and rain, rain and sunshine – the recipe for gorgeous gardens full of rich colours, green palms and ferns,  and lots of birds.

We’re so pleased we treated ourselves to this particular caravan park. It’s only slightly more expensive than all its nearby competition, but it has so much going for it.

The sites are big and individually bordered on both sides with tall lush ferns and spacious areas of green grass to the rear of each caravan. It’s pleasant not to be back to back and up close and personal with other vans to our rear.

Big private sites

There’s plenty of space everywhere with large shady grassed areas, very inviting for outdoor activities and games.

Playing bocce

The pool is big and heated to 28°.

Heated, landscaped pool
A cooler day so sun loungers are empty.

They have a mini golf course, a giant chess set,  a small menagerie of farm animals and heaps of other activities. The sow in the menagerie is due to give birth any day now, so with school holidays just over a week away, a litter of newborn piglets is sure to bring lots of joy to the visiting ankle biters.

Mini golf to be played under a tropical canopy of lush ferns

All of the staff seem very happy in their jobs, and all that I’ve spoken to can’t speak highly enough of their bosses and their work place. I’m sure that’s the reason for the fantastic atmosphere around the park. One particular staff member, Mel runs a lot of the free activities for guests. For the adults she puts on pancake breakfasts, coffee and cake quiz morning teas, and wine and cheese afternoons by the pool. She also runs activities for kids clubs. I bet she helps make some memorable and happy moments for the visiting families.

The park also puts on movie nights several times a week in an outside cinema.

We’ve just come back from a trivia morning tea. Mel thought it was a funny touch to include a face creaming machine for wrong answers. However it didn’t seem to be working, so I suggested she try it out.

Mel demonstrating the creaming machine.
Yep, it works.
A good sport.

I hope the park owners appreciate her and pay her well. She’s perfect in her job, they couldn’t get better. Paul says she’s like gold.

Infectious happiness – that’s Mel.

We were reluctant to come here, thinking it was going to be one of the overpriced parks where we would be paying premium rates for such things as jumping pillows, pool water slides, playground equipment and any number of other things we’d not be likely to use. Not this time though, the owners of this Big4 certainly haven’t forgotten the adults. We’re being well catered for. Congratulations, Big4 Adventure Park, Cannonvale (Airlie Beach).  You’ve made this a wonderful place for both children and adults alike to stay, and you’ve created a work place where your staff are happy to be working. Loving this place.

Whitsundays – Airlie Beach

First Impressions:

We arrived at the tourist mecca of Airlie Beach almost a week ago. First impressions are that the world wide attention this place gets is well deserved.

We’ve finally reached the right climate. Bathers (togs or swimmers), and thongs (Aussie summer footwear/flip flops) are the dress of the day. There’s no need for either heating or air conditioning – it’s perfect, day and night.
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Still chasing the sun

We’ve just spent three nights at another private campsite on a Billabong, Lakeview, near Beachmere. Not quite as nice as Corindi Park, but still a welcome oasis to break up the minefield of caravan parks. Corindi park is free of domestic pets so wildlife abounds, where as Lakeview allows domestic pets. Perfect for dog and cat owners, and if we were travelling with a pet it would be perfect for a lengthy stay. The only drawback is birds and Roos aren’t so prevalent with dogs and cats around. Whilst definitely second best to Corindi Park for people travelling without a pet, still wonderful. We so much appreciate these lovely people opening their private properties to us.

Camped at another Billabong.
Camped at another Billabong.
View from bedroom window.
View from bedroom window.

Lakeview is about mid way between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, so we used the opportunity for day visits to both. Sunday we took a day trip into Brisbane, our first to this capital city. Such a family friendly city. We did a circuit starting at the City Botanical Gardens, then over a bridge to the impressive tourist and family friendly Southbank. Hope the myriad of photos will do it justice.

1 km long bougainvillia covered walk winding through Brisbane's south bank.
1 km long bougainvillia covered walk winding through Brisbane’s south bank.

And all along the walk opens to all manner of free entertainments for children and adults alike.  Firstly, several pools of varying depths.

One of many free pools lining the Brisbane River on the Southbank.
One of many free pools lining the Brisbane River on the Southbank.
A deeper clear blue pool.
A deeper clear blue pool.
Even sandy shores for the littlies to build their sandcastles.
Even sandy shores for the littlies to build their sandcastles.

There were the usual buskers – this one entertained us for the better part of half an hour. Unlike many, who these days are asking for donations of up around the $20 when passing around their hat, this one quoted the price of both a small beer and a large beer, and suggested we consider his show worth the price of a beer and donate accordingly. We willingly dropped enough in his hat to buy him a large one. But he clearly indicated he would be happy with the lesser amount if that was all one could afford. Refreshing! Of course payment isn’t obligatory, so for many they get to enjoy a quality performance absolutely free.

Busker riding 9ft unicycle. He also juggled 5 flaming torches.
Busker riding 9ft unicycle. He also juggled 5 flaming torches.

Adults weren’t forgotten, further along the walkway there was a small peaceful rainforest for a little breath of nature, and a Napalese peace temple for quiet reflection (photo didn’t do that justice, so not included). There were family priced take away food outlets in abundance, but tucked away to the rear, a refreshing change for the parents who take the time to pack their own quality picnics or barbecue for their families. The takeaway places weren’t  in your face, screaming out – ‘buy me, buy me’. You actually had to look for them. There were heaps of clean picnic tables, and heaps of free barbecues for cooking on. Yes, with place like these I would love to have my time over with Kelvin and Alice and taken them there when they were of an age to appreciate it all.

Small rainforest for quiet contemplation.
Small rainforest for quiet contemplation.

With Brisbane being so tourist and family friendly, and with the Sunshine Coast one side and the Gold Coast the other, and with all the theme parks close by, it really is a Mecca for tourists. I’m sure if I were a visitor to Australia, of all the cities that I could visit, I think Brisbane with its multitude of attractions and almost perfect climate  beats all the other cities and states by an Australian country mile. And for families – wow!!! A real treat.

Free bikes for getting around the city.
Free bikes for getting around the city.

We didn’t take advantage of one of the free bikes to get ourselves around, preferring to do our city site seeing on Shanks Pony. After the Southbank we crossed another bridge bringing us back into the city centre. In the middle of the main mall there’s an area that looks to be set up for free concerts. We arrived only for the closing 15 minutes or so of Brisbane’s Wind and Brass Orchestra’s free two hour concert. The tunes we did get to enjoy  were, the theme song fromThe Sound of Music, plus Doh a Deer, My Favourite Things, and I think there was one other as well from that musical before they finished with a rousing rendition of 76 Trombones. They were pretty damned good, and I was sorry to have missed the earlier part of their performance.

Orchestra playing in city centre.
Orchestra playing in city centre.

Now I’m going to contradict myself – the climate although warmer than most other capital cities isn’t warm enough for us. We had some unseasonably warm weather while on the Gold Coast with peak daytime temperatures of around 27°. But as I said, that was unseasonal. It’s now back down to the low 20s, with very cool nights. We’ve had our diesel heater running all night several times, which isn’t in our plan.

We’re now in Hervey Bay for a quick three day look. Most likely after that we’ll head north quickly, up to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.

We’ve wanted to see Hervey Bay for ages now. So far, it’s been a little disappointing, but we haven’t seen the main part yet. Guess we’d better leave any final judgements out until we’ve had a good look. We had two caravan parks in mind near by before our arrival. We had a look at both, gave them a wide berth, and have opted for a Big 4 at Point Vernon. Reading reviews on Wiki, it appears theft is prevalent in the van parks at night, but we think this one looks less open to unwelcome visitors looking around for things to help themselves to. We’ve also been reading some generalised area views, and although this is an area were a lot of people retire to, it’s also apparently an area that is home to a few to many undesirables, bogans, to use the Australian term. Hence our three day stay rather than our originally planned week long stay. Perhaps I’ve jumped the gun though with my judgement. Watch this space…..

Tamborine Mountain

We’ve now been staying at Tallebudgera Creek on Queenslands Gold Coast for a week, and have booked a further two days. We’re awaiting mail from Perth, but now with so much email, paper mail seems to travel at less than snail speed. We’ve booked a further two days hoping the mail will arrive. If it doesn’t, we’ll try and arrange for the post office to forward on to a future destination.

We’ve caught up with my sister-in-law, Marie and her sister a couple of times. A couple of days ago went out for lunch with them to The Paddock, where we sat under the trees and enjoyed a lovely lunch.

Lunch with Marie.
Lunch with Marie.

Yesterday was a mixed day. It started off not so good with heavy news from England. Paul’s dad’s not doing so well again. He only seems to manage a couple of months on his own before he sinks into his illnesses. Medical tests again indicate his health, while not good, is not at a stage to be causing his current state. We can’t go over again to help pick him up at this stage, so we have to rely on the medical profession over there. Yesterday started with several emails to the health professionals. Today started the same way – whether or not we’re with dad, it’s still almost a full time job, or at least a part time job ensuring he’s getting appropriate care. I’m constantly reminded of the need that every old person needs an advocate. Without one for dad I would fear for him being left at the mercy of the UK medical system. Currently he has us looking out for him, and also Paul’s cousin, Margaret following up on several things in the UK. I don’t know what dad, or we would do without this additional help.

I know there’s always a tendency for people to judge complainants as at least being contributory when things go pear shaped. I have a tendency to judge similarly myself. Whilst I’m not pleased at the pear shape of the medical attention dad has been receiving, particularly in the case of the district nurses, it’s almost refreshing to hear our own complaints and findings being mirrored by Margaret. It’s refreshing because when so many things are going awry, not only do others tend to judge one as being contributory, but one starts to also think the same of oneself.

More worrying news yesterday in relation to the condition and consequently, possible sale of dad’s house.  Goodness knows what we’re to do if the sale falls over. I’m now wishing we’d listed it with an estate agent before leaving the UK. At least then it would already be in someones hands, and we could have kept liaising with the agent to adjust the price until it met the market price for a house in need of attention.

With a bad start to the day and despairing hearts, we headed off up to Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast Hinterlands.

Firstly to the Botanical gardens. What a pleasure. An amazing array of gardens and plants. Firstly a beautiful rain forest walk.

Carved owl centaurs to the rain forest walk.
Carved owl centaurs to the rain forest walk.

Then the Japanese garden with inviting paths and bridges winding between gardens and ponds.

Bridges built for walking over, and paths for walking down.
Bridges built for walking over, and paths for walking down.
Lake complete with huge artificial dragonfly.
Lake complete with huge artificial dragonfly.
A water bird also enjoying the tranquility of the gardens.
A water bird also enjoying the tranquility of the gardens.

And throughout the garden contemplative seats overlooking serene vistas with poetic verse to contemplate. My favourite, and appropriate for the day was a quote from John Muir,

‘Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their freshness into you…..
While cares will drop off like Autumn leaves.’

After our time at the botanical gardens we headed to a winery overlooking a lake where we enjoyed a shared trio of dips for lunch. Then a visit to a glow worm cave – very interesting, a walk down the main street of the town which houses some quirky little shops, and then home. We were going to add a couple of short bush walks to waterfalls, but as there were controlled burn offs happening on the mountains the tracks were closed. Next time round perhaps.

By the end of our day enjoying the fresh air and natures mountainous bounty, our cares had certainly dropped off, just like autumn leaves.

Blues at Broadbeach

My Sister-in-law, Marie, is over from NZ visiting her sister, who lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast. We hadn’t expected to be any where near close by before Marie returns to NZ on 26th May. When we realised how close we were, we decided to make an unplanned stop in at the Gold Coast to catch up.

Why unplanned? Because the Gold Coast has a reputation of being spoilt by overpopulation. After being here for 4 days staying at Tallebudgera Creek, near Burleigh Heads, we’ve formed our own opinion – Wow!!! A big, big reminder that spectacular is rarely kept a secret, and the more spectacular, the more the crowds will gather in appreciation. We’re so pleased we didn’t bi-pass the Gold Coast.

We’re very close to Broadbeach, where a four day Blues Festival is happening this week-end. Again, Wow! and it’s all free. There’s several stages in different areas with a variety of Blues artists playing. The main mall area has been closed to traffic, and a big stage erected at one end complete with a huge screen for those who aren’t close enough to get a full appreciation of the artists up close.

The biggest name there is perhaps Eric Burden and the Animals. For those of you not old enough to have instant recall of The animals biggest claims to fame, you may still have had the pleasure of have hearing their biggest song – The House of the Rising Sun. Eric Burden is playing there today, but we had other plans for today, so will miss out on seeing him.

We did however spend a very pleasurable day there yesterday. We purchased ourselves  a bus pass and headed down there early where we walked from stage area to stage area enjoying all the different artists. While meandering between stages we grazed all the way from the dozens, or more likely, hundreds of food outlets. Perhaps that doesn’t read quite right – there were lots of food stalls and restaurants, and we did graze all day, but we by no means sampled hundreds, nor dozens, but a good few all the same. There were many, so many, that despite the crowds none were crowded, and each had to compete for their share of the market. Specials abounded.

Our favourite act of yesterday was a couple of older guys singing what I’d call real Delta style Blues, Dom Turner and Phil Wiggens. They both sang, Phil played the guitar, and Dom played the mouth organ. When I say he played the mouth organ, I really mean he played the mouth organ. He almost made it talk. I could have listened to them all day.

Dom Turner and Phil Wiggens - really, really good.
Dom Turner and Phil Wiggens – really, really good.

We wandered down to the beach for some cooling breeze mid afternoon. There were craft stalls lining the grassed area to browse through, and then beach volley ball to while away fifteen minutes or so.

Volley Ball on the beach.
Volley Ball on the beach.

I saw my first ever, ‘one man band’ – Uptown Brown. I’ve heard of a one man band, but never actually seen one in the flesh. The photo we snapped doesn’t do him justice. He stamped his feet according to how he wanted the two drums on his back to beat. I couldn’t count the amount of instruments he played solo, and couldn’t work out whether his act was funny, or brilliant. It was clever, that’s for sure and really something to have seen. It looked exhausting.

Photo doesn't do justice to Uptown Brown's one man band.
Photo doesn’t do justice to Uptown Brown’s one man band.

The Gold Coasts beautiful beaches have attracted the crowds. The crowds have built their hi rise flats and the area has become densely populated. The big density population allows for such things as a four day FREE Blues festival. Ya gotta love that! I know we did.

Northern NSW Coast

We’re spending our third and final night in Ballina, near the top of the NSW coast. The weathers been almost perfect, 25° days, moderate humidity, soft breezes, and cool, but not cold nights. Perhaps we’ve now caught up with the best of weather. We hope so.

This morning we took a trip into Byron Bay. In a lot of ways it absolutely lived up to its reputation – that of being stuck in a 60s time warp. The shops are full of flared trousers and jeans, some with embroidered hems, some with lace trim, and some left plain. Cafes have signs outside advertising their free trade coffee with signs such as, ‘in the name of love’. And home ware shops have plenty of ‘peace’ and ‘love’ signs amongst their flowery merchandise, and patchwork upholstered furniture.

It let itself down somewhat though as far as being truly reminiscent of the sixties. It cost us $8.00 to park for two hours. And it’s very clock governed. It was around 11.30, and as our parking was due to expire at around 12.15, we decided to have an early lunch. Repeatedly, we were told only breakfast was available, lunch isn’t available until noon. As we’d had breakfast many hours before, we opted for an icecream instead to keep us going till we arrived home.

The beach at Byron Bay almost rivalled Cable Beach in Broome. We wished we’d packed our bathers, as i think we may have managed to get in for a bit of swim. Never mind, eating on our ice cream overlooking the beach was a pretty good second.

Ballina is a much bigger than I’d thought. It has most of the main stores, in fact Pauls in at Bunnings now for some male retail therapy. We’re on the north side of the town, only three miles from Lennox Head. Lennox Head is a much smaller, understated version of Byron. The beach doesn’t look as good for swimming, but it’s been a fabulous walking beach for us while we’ve been here.

Tomorrow we’re heading to the Gold Coast. My sister -in-law, Marie is over from NZ visiting her sister who lives in Burleigh Heads. We didn’t think we’d be any where near this far up, so didn’t think we were going to get a chance to catch up. But here we are – into Queensland tomorrow. We’ve booked a caravan site at Tallabudgera Creek near Marie’s sister’s place for a week. Apparently it’s within walking distance. Since booking I’ve read reviews on things to do in the Gold Coast, and Burleigh Heads beach is listed as the number one thing to do – bonus! And second bonus, the caravan park gets good reviews as well, and offers 7 nights for the price of 5. How good’s that!

We’re settling into our life on wheels again very, very nicely. However, we’re still waiting to hear if Paul’s dad’s house sale is going to go through. The last of the enginneers and surveyors tests have now been completed for the buyer. A number of problems have been found, and some are quite significant. The buyer is awaiting the outcome from his bank to see if they will still approve his mortgage. It’s a bit scary to be feeling so settled into this wonderful life again, knowing that if the bank comes back with an unfavourable response, it will be snatched from us, and postponed again. We can only but hope, and live each day in the glorious sunny moments currently available to us. We will know for sure any day now.