20 Jan 2020

20/1/2020: Back on board, Pittwater

We arrived back a week ago after what felt like a neverending journey,  not helped by a 9 hour layover in Bangkok and the fact we had return flights to Brisbane but the boat was in Sydney. Forty four hours door to door! Thank God we were at least flying business class and got some sleep.

After a surprisingly good first night's sleep we unpacked, washed down the decks (so much ash and dust in the air because of the terrible fires) and then welcomed Peter and Nicky from Chanto (another WARC rally boat) who brought lunch and we provided the wine! Off to a great start!!

Sadly Tuesday didn't dawn too well as after a poor night we both woke to the onset of a flu bug, presumably caught on the plane. As the week progressed we deteriorated getting to the point where we were running temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees, feeling nauseous, aching all over and with blocked sinuses. Yuk. Throw in the jetlag, then we were really feeling sorry for ourselves and Tumi became a quarantine ship!

We were zero company for Chanto and Nikitoo, another rally boat who arrived on Wednesday. All this gathering was building towards a WARC mini-reunion on Saturday night, something we hoped we would be better for.

Saturday arrived and while Paul had turned the corner I was dragging my heels and by 4pm, still feeling pretty rough, I asked him to reiki my head. And it worked! By 5pm we were enjoying pre-reunion drinks and banter on Resolute 2 who had the owners of two other rally boats on board, and by 7pm the eight of us made our way over to Nikitoo.

What a fun night! Lots of laughter, hugs and anecdotes, all washed down with whatever we wanted! And our latest night yet, well morning really by the time we were back on board Tumi and going to bed for a few hours before we all met at a local waterside restaurant for a loud and lively breakfast. It was the first proper meal we'd eaten for a few days and so we tucked in with gusto!

There was other dimension to our first week back on board: the negotiation and sale (subject to survey) of Tumi. We'd taken the hard decision last September to list her for sale and she went on the market as we left to fly home in early November. Despite a very quiet market for yachts of our size, we were lucky enough to have an acceptable offer made. It was a bit touch and go for a few days whether the buyer would go ahead with Tumi or another Jeanneau 469, but it all worked out in the end, although it didn't help on the sleepless night side of things! So on Wednesday this week the survey will be conducted and assuming all is well, then by the end of the month Tumi will no longer be ours.

We don't want to tempt fate and arrange any land-based travel until the sale is all done and dusted (just call us superstitious sailors!) but we plan on flying to and touring both Tasmania and New Zealand before we head home, and more of Australia too. So while the mode of transport will change, the adventures continue!

7 Nov 2019

7/11/2019: 40,000ft above Russia!

We couldn't resist adding one more blog post from such an usual location! Yes we're flying through the night onboard a Thai Airways Airbus A380, upstairs in the peace and quiet, and it's fab .... lie-flat beds and champagne all the way! Not a direct flight (we had a 4 hour layover in Bangkok) but we're impressed by the attentive and gracious service from our Thai stewardesses and the good food. A fitting end to our best year ever.

We'll come down to earth with a bump when we arrive at Heathrow and hop on a National Express coach to Exeter but it's good to keep grounded!!

5 Nov 2019

5/11/2019: Brisbane Airport

Yes, we're flying home tomorrow after spending just over a year away. We took the inland route from Woolgoolga today (it was raining on the coast, and we didn't fancy walking in the driving rain) passing through Grafton (where there were so many Jacaranda trees, the whole town seemed to have a purple haze) and continuing on to Casino, the beef capital of Australia. Along the way we drove through an area that was recently burned by wild fires; the smell of smoke and soot was still thick on the air. It stretched along the Summerland Highway for well over ten kilometres and everything in that area was dead. Whether nature will reclaim the land remains to be seen but it was frightening to see the after-effects of a wild fire.

We took a detour from the main highway beyond Casino to take a single track road over the Macpherson Range into Queensland. The road, called Lions Road, was the initiative of a local man who lobbied counsellors and local businesses to raise the money to build the road through inhospitable terrain that was considered impossible to traverse. In the end, the final stretch was finally sealed with tarmac on his 80th birthday and he named the road for the Lions Club who contributed so much in fulfilling his ambition. As we crested Richmond Gap, the official border between NSW and Queensland, we donated to the Lions Road maintenance fund, as well as checking the car for rabbits!

The countryside either side of the border was breathtaking, and it had not changed for years with rickety old narrow  bridges that we rattled across and old farmsteads framed by the mountains in the Border Ranges National Park. The original railway that linked Brisbane and Sydney via Casino tracked alongside the road and at one point,  it loops around a hillock, crossing itself to gain height.

As soon as we crossed the border into Queensland we dropped down into the old crater of a volcano, it, and the caldera being called the Scenic Rim National Park. Another beautiful area with creeks and cascades again spanned by the single width old bridges. It truly was a delightful if challenging drive!

Rejoining the main highway at Innis Plains, it was full steam ahead for Brisbane. Having made better time than we hoped, we decided to call into the Brisbane Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of the city to stretch our legs, somewhere we hadn't had time to see during our September visit. The gardens were very impressive, as were the spiders!

So now it's back to the UK to reconnect with family and friends for 10 weeks before heading back out this way in January. We have truly had the most amazing year of our lives, visiting extraordinary places, meeting exceptional people and finally achieving our dream of sailing Tumi all the way from England to Australia. So we'll sign off now until early in 2020 thanking everyone for their support and interest in our adventure, and wishing you all a (somewhat early) merry Christmas and happy New Year.

4 Nov 2019

4/11/2019: Woolgoolga, NSW

Our accommodation in the Hunter Valley at Elfin Hill was charming and we awoke this morning to a lovely breakfast and wonderful view.

We had a lot of miles to cover during the day, having opted to take the scenic route, so by 9am we were on the road and waving Pokolbin goodbye as we followed the lesser used byways north passing through the most glorious countryside as we skirted the Barrington Tops National Park, crossing bridges, some with wooden planks making up the floor, dating from the late 19th century, on our way to Gloucester, via Stroud and Stratford, very reminiscent of home and presumably named by settlers from those towns in the 19th century. Names in Australia seem to fall into two camps: those based on aboriginal origins and others on the language of immigrant Europeans. So beside the Cotswold gems previously mentioned, we also passed through Weismantels and Keimbach along the way, ending our day in Woolgoolga.

Stopping in Gloucester to stretch our legs, and to have a bit of retail therapy as it turned out, we tracked northeast towards the Pacific Highway. As we motored along at around 80 km/h through woodland areas (there are quite literally millions of gumtrees in this country!) Paul suddenly shouted out 'Stop! I've just seen a koala!'  Slamming the brakes on we reversed back 100 meters or so and, true enough, there was a wild koala sitting in the fork of a small gumtree and watching us with interest. We couldn't believe it! It's very uncommon to spot one in the wild (Australians we speak to tell us things like they've seen 3 in their lifetime for example) so we were exceptionally lucky and it made our day!

Continuing on, our next stop was at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.  A charitable venture, receiving minimal government funding, they raise the funds they need to operate the facility via donations, retail sales (I helped out there again!) and adoptions. Volunteers help care for the injured koalas and go out to recover them after fires, road traffic accidents, dog attacks etc. They are particularly busy at the moment with the wild fires raging just south of town, the result of a lightning strike. So far they have recovered seven injured and dehydrated koalas from the areas they are permitted to access. They try to rehabilitate most of the koalas (around 60%) but some are either too sick and have to be euthanised and some become permanent residents.

Chlamydia is apparently a big problem for koalas and causes blindness. Several of the residents are blind yet manage to function very well in their known environment, scaling the gumtrees that are growing in their compounds. Koalas are very solitary creatures, and so sharing a territory in the hospital is not without its problems. But they all looked fit and well, despite their injuries, and are obviously very well cared for. They actually looked far better with lustrous coats than the one we saw in the wild.

Heading further north on the final section of today's road trip we passed through Coffs Harbour where we had spent a week on our sail south and then on to Woolgoolga.  As with (apparently) all the east coast of Australia,  this small coastal town is surrounded by first class beaches. A lovely spot to spend the night!

3 Nov 2019

3/11/2019: Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW

We were up and off the boat this morning by 8.30am to start our journey north to Brisbane in time for our flight home on Wednesday. We're taking three days over the trip with today's destination being the Hunter Valley wine region, probably Australia's oldest and most visited wine region.  Vineyards were founded in the valley in the mid-1800s and some of them are still going strong today.

The drive there on scenic route 33 through the Wollombi Valley was beautiful, gum forests interspersed with rolling meadows. The area is also a haven for wombats and we kept our eyes peeled but sadly only saw two that had been run over. It's the gateway to the southern Hunter Valley and was well worth the slight detour.

There are over 150 vineyards producing Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdehlo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines, many of which are small boutique establishments of around 25 acres.  Vines line the hillsides all around and the decision on which to visit takes some research!

We kicked off at Petersons, sampling some very nice whites served to us by 'Jon the Pom' and came away with a couple of bottles. He explained the derivative of Pommie ... Prisoner of Mother England, being the most common explanation, although there is also a theory that the English workers went the colour of pomegranates in the fierce sun!

Next up was Irongate Winery, where the Verdehlo Semillon blend was worthy of a purchase! The vineyard had a very Tuscan feel to it, set on a hill with undulating hills all around. A rose is planted at the end of every row of vines to act as an early warning for disease or blight.

Lunch was at a very stylish brasserie called Hunters Quarter at the Cockfighter's Ghost estate. The food was delicious,  beautifully presented and a nice treat.

Our final visit of the day was to the Audrey Wilkinson Winery, with beautiful views out over the vines. We didn't taste any, our month of sobriety (Sober October) is obviously paying dividends!!