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!!

1 Nov 2019

1/11/2019: Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney

In recent years Sydney has hosted the world's largest free to the public sculpture exhibition. The coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach is transformed into a 2km long sculpture park for three weeks as sculptures from over 100 Australian and international artists are exhibited in the coastal landscape. The walk alone had been recommended to us and so we decided to combine the two for a day out in Sydney's southern beaches.

With Pittwater being the northern beaches area we had an hour's drive across the city, using the river tunnel to get us onto the southern shore. Thank heavens for Google Maps, we would have been lost before we set off without it!

Parking at Clovelly we joined the coastal trail to walk via Bronte Beach to the start of the exhibition at Wamarama Beach. Already one of Sydney's most popular walks, the added attraction of the exhibition had brought Sydney residents and tourists out in their droves, enjoying the spectacular coastal scenery and sunshine. The exhibits ranged from understated, tasteful sculptural pieces to whacky exhibits demonstrating the artists' sense of humour and the ridiculous. A giant red pencil inset into the cliff represented the latter category, whereas an almost ethereal silver flame the former.

One of the funniest and interactive exhibits was entitled 'The Dunny', and featured an old Outback WC. Entering individually, the visitor was invited to sit down on the toilet seat and pull down a strange looking copper and brass headset. Once settled a video played depicting the White House bathroom complete with a rubber duck in the bath. Definitely one for the weird and whacky category!

We meandered our way through the exhibits to Bondi Beach itself where we enjoyed lunch overlooking the famous beach. Not too many surfers were out but plenty of people were enjoying the warm sunshine. Returning the same way we had come brought us back to the car and gave us a second look at the sculptures. An enjoyable if slightly bizarre day out and while we didn't really 'get' some of the sculptures (made from wheelie bins in one case, and old fans in another) variety is the spice of life!!