Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our travels for 2013 are basically complete

We have now arrived back in Melbourne.  We lived in Lower Templestowe and Box Hill from 2000 until mid 2011 and then over the last two years have travelled to many parts of Australia (which we have shared on this blog) and also spent a few months each year in New Zealand.  Being in New Zealand gives us time to spend with our close and extended family which is wonderful.

We are uncertain of our plans yet for 2014 - we have lots of ideas but nothing definite as yet.  It is time to put a finish to this blog and we will commence a new blog for our further travel. (we will link it to this one)

It is hard to sum up the last two years - we have loved travelling this amazing country.  It is so large it is difficult to estimate the distances and the variety.  It has taken months of travelling - from the white beaches, amazing reefs, waterfalls, gorges, red sandy desert to the tiny outback towns and the small and major cities.

We have driven some incredible dirt tracks and roads, through rivers and over rocks, deep sandy tracks and four wheel drive areas and even some bitumen roads!  We have stayed in our tent, in our caravan, in motels and resorts, and with the generosity of home owners completed some awesome house sitting assignments.  We have free camped and stayed in caravan parks.  Every experience has been different and we have enjoyed them all.

We have travelled throughout Australia for over two years now and seen far more of Australia than a lot of Australians.  Have we finished - no never.  There is always more to see and places to go and we still have a desire to do that.  This is such a great country with such great wildlife, natural settings and experiences to be had.  It doesn't need to cost the earth - we have proved you can experience it with a variety of cost effective accommodation and it is not always necessary to go on tours to see an area.

During the writing of this blog we have shared some of the costs - we have got a bit slack with recording fuel costs and accommodation costs of late.  We have tried to buy locally as we have travelled rather than carry huge stocks of food - this way we are supporting the local businesses and this is particularly in the areas where free camping is available.

Our advice to anyone who has the time and health, go and see the real Australia.  There is something that will interest everyone.  Along the way other travellers are keen to share their experiences.  Our advice, don't plan a definite itinerary but be prepared to make your travel plans as you go along as you will want to visit some places you won't even know existed prior to leaving home.  Go and enjoy!

We hope you have enjoyed checking out our blog and perhaps travelling with us.

Until next time.

Gill & Peter

Time to move on

As the word "travel" suggests, we are always on the move.  On Friday it was time to pack up our gear, ensure that the house we had been sitting at was being left perfectly clean, complete some shopping so that we left fresh food in the fridge for the home owners on their return from Hawaii and prepared for an early morning departure to Melbourne.

We left Sydney by 7.30 a.m. and joined the freeway that eventually becomes the Hume Highway which we would follow all the way to Melbourne.  It is a number of years since we have travelled the Sydney to Albury which is on the Murray River.  Last year we had travelled from Sydney to Melbourne via the coast road (to complete our coastal loop of Australia).

It was a long week-end in Sydney as it was Labour Day on the Monday.  The SES volunteers were out in force servicing the "driver reviver" stops.  We stopped at the Mundoonan Rest Area where the volunteers had tea and coffee available along with biscuits and sausages in bread.  This is a free hot drink service for drivers and a small donation is requested for passengers.  What a great service they are providing to the travelling public and the service is provided twenty four hours a day over all long week-ends and some others as well.  Well done!

We stopped to stretch our legs and support the volunteers.  The rest area also had tables, BBQ's, toilets and showers and plenty of room for children to have a play and run around.  All this adjacent to the Hume Highway but far enough off the road to be safe for everyone.

We continued south and we were making very good time as the road is four lane now from Sydney to Melbourne.  Next stop was at Albury in NSW for lunch at a park alongside the Murray River.  As we had plenty of time we took the opportunity for a half hour walk along the river track.  It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people around enjoying the facilities.

The river is beautiful as ever, however we didn't see any house boats this time.  We were surprised to see that the authorities have closed the boat ramp which seemed a shame for boating enthusiasts.

As we still had about four hours travel ahead of us, we continued on crossing the border from NSW into Victoria as we left Albury.  Wodonga is the first township over the border and is only four kilometres from Albury - literally over the river.  After five months away we were back in Victoria and it seemed very "normal" to be travelling roads we are very familiar with.

The paddocks close to the freeway as we drove south from Wodonga looked very bright with the yellow of the canola flower looking brilliant.  The canola is grown from seed and is crushed for the oil which is used in margarine and cooking oils.  Apparently in Victoria the main production of canola is in the south west, but is becoming more common in the north west .

Before long we were on the outskirts of Victoria and the welcome to Melbourne sign - it is always great to be back in Melbourne where we have many happy memories of our years living in Box Hill and have made a lot of friends.

Celebrationg our fortieth wedding anniversary

On the 6th October 1973 Peter and I were married in Upper Hutt in New Zealand.  What a lot of experiences we have shared together since that time.  Without taking into account the most important events in our lives, like the births of our children and the wonderful time we have had as a family, and the sad occasions along the way which have sometimes had a silver lining as well, we have loved to travel.  From the outset we planned on an overseas holiday at least every two years and at times this was quite difficult balancing one income, small children, work commitments and the like.  But I am pleased to say we have more than achieved our travel goal.

So these past two years have just added to our experiences and as we were in Sydney we decided that was a great place to celebrate although we were three days in advance of the actual date (we will have only just arrived in Melbourne and settling on after the drive from Sydney on the actual date).

Another love we share is musicals and live performances so a check of "what's on in Sydney" and we decided to book for the production of "South Pacific" starring Lisa McClune as Ensign Nellie Forbush and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile De Becque.  To our delight this performance was in the Joan Sutherland Theatre in the Sydney Opera House.  We have never been to an actual show in the Opera House previously, have often visited, but this was a first.

Of course, after two weeks of beautiful weather in Sydney it poured with rain all day.  We had thought we would go into the city early to see some of the ships in the harbour for the International Fleet Review.  The four day event had just commenced and over fifty tall ships and warships were due into Sydney.  However, with heavy rain and wind, and low temperatures, we decided sadly to give it a miss.

Fortunately late in the day the rain eased and we made our way into the city by train and then walked around the harbour at Circular Quay and chose a restaurant to eat dinner prior to the show.  There are many restaurants in the area and they were crowded.  We had a lovely pre-theatre dinner and then went to the show which was great.  It was really interesting to see Lisa McClune playing live theatre as we have only seen her performing previously in television shows.

It was a lovely evening out and a great way for us to celebrate our forty year wedding anniversary.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A visit to Darling Harbour

No visit to Sydney is really complete without seeing the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and a visit to Darling Harbour.  In fact Pete doesn't think that he is actually in Sydney until he goes into the city!

We caught the bus into the city.  The outer suburbs have transit ways - separate roadways that only the buses can travel.  These transit ways certainly make travelling on the bus quite fast as they are not slowed by the traffic and get priority at the lights.  The speed limit on the transit ways is 80 kilometres per hour so the buses get along them quite quickly.  Coming from the west the bus travels to north Sydney and then crosses the harbour bridge.  There were two cruise boats in the harbour and they looked quite spectacular.

We got off the bus in the centre of the city and walked the two blocks to Darling Harbour.

As we walked we were discussing the monorail as it has been on the news quite a bit lately.  The single loop monorail connecting Darling Harbour with the central shopping area was originally opened in July 1988 but was closed in June 2013.  The transport system had been purchased from the private owners by the State Government in 2012 to enable extension of the light rail system and the to use the land for an extension to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

So the monorail ceased operating in June 2013 and is in the process of being dismantled and this work is continuing.  However, two carriages and about ten metres of tracks is being preserved at the Powerhouse Museum.  Some of the stations are being demolished but those which are privately owned may be renovated for other use.  It certainly seemed strange to see some of the rails still in place but abruptly finishing.

We walked the full distance around the harbour, stopping for lunch at one of the many restaurants and eventually walking until we arrived at the ferry terminal.  There is extensive building construction proceeding, with a lot of apartments being built in the area.  There is also a navy base and there was a lot of activity as the international fleet review with the arrival of about 40 visiting warships and 16 tall ships to participate in the commemoration of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy's fleet into Sydney in October 1913  (we had initially planned to go into the city to see some of the ships but the weather turned foul so we gave it a miss).

We decided to take the ferry back to Circular Quay and as there is a very regular service we didn't have to wait long.  There are only about four stops between Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, the first being at the Maritime Museum within the harbour, then Balmain, and before too long we were stopping at Potts Point adjacent to Luna Park.
 Luna Park

There were two P & O cruise ships moored and the Pacific Pearl looked pretty impressive moored at the overseas terminal.  The other ship was moored much further around the harbour - perhaps it is a cheaper cruise and you don't get down town convenience.
Cruise Ships
After a full on day in the city it was time to head home, so we caught a train out to Blacktown and then the bus to our street.  We are pretty impressed that we have adapted to using public transport wherever possible, and for just $2.50 per person why wouldn't we?

Cumberland State Forest

In our efforts to go somewhere new we decided to take a picnic lunch and visit Cumberland State Forest which is in Pennant Hills which wasn't that far away.

This park is amongst the residential area and is forty hectares of walking trails, picnic areas and barbecue facilities, an information centre, nursery and cafe.

We initially visited the visitors centre which is unmanned but provides information about the types of tree in the park and the timber milling processes used over the last century.  The mainly outdoor cafe was a very popular venue, with live music as it was Sunday.
Visitors centre and cafe

It was very tempting to join but we had bought a lunch with us and Peter had decided he wanted to barbecue some lovely sausages for himself (I never eat sausages so he only needed to cook two) so instead we set up with lots of other family groups and really enjoyed the facilities.
Peter at BBQ
The nursery is quite large and grows and sells native plants only.
After lunch we completed two of the signed walks - the trails wander up and down the gullies through the forest and the rainforest.  There were lots of birds about and we understand that the park management runs lots of activities including guided walks and talks, early morning bird breakfasts, and night time animal spotlight tours.


In addition consent has just been given by the Council to establish a tree top adventure high ropes course.  There has been a lot of public disagreement over the establishment is facility a many people think that Cumberland State Park should be retained in its natural setting without the increase in commercial activity with the accompanying increase in traffic etc.

It had been hoped that the venture would have been completed by mid 2013 but building has not been started as yet.  This adventure park, along with the Wet n Wild we saw being built in Blacktown will provide families and visitors with great entertainment opportunities, albeit at quite a cost.  We will have to pay another visit next year or soon after to see if the park has been established.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A day in the city

Of course, no visit to Sydney is complete without a day in the city.  We decided to catch the bus into the city rather than the train so that we could go a different route.
After a wander around the city for a while we took the train down to Circular Quay and decided to take the river boat up the Parramatta River.

This gave us great views again of the Sydney Opera House and also the Harbour Bridge - age old shots of Sydney.  It was a really windy day, although quite warm, and the water had lots of white caps and was very choppy.  I don't have great sea legs but I was surprised to find how stable the ride on the river cat was.  We initially stopped off at Lunar Park and then headed up the harbour to the Darling Harbour stop.  From here we headed up the river.

We took the RiverCat has lots of stops on the journey up the river and we took it until the last stop, where the boat turns around, at Rydalmere.  We had asked whether it was possible to walk to a train station from there to return to Blacktown, and had been told it is about a seven minute walk.  Sounded great, so that is what we did.  I don't know who timed the seven minute walk - the ferry wharf is situated in mainly an industrial area that was serviced by an hourly bus.  We saw that pass as we walked along the jetty.  So we followed the bus route from bus stop to bus stop and kept walking, and walking, and walking.  Remember it was warm and very windy and not very pleasant even though we asked one guy, he wasn't certain where to go.  Eventually we decided to head off the bus route to a main road in the distance, and surprise, surprise located a train station.  Fortunately the station was manned, and we were able to ask for assistance.  So we soon learned we had to catch one train, then change at another station and get on another to go to Blacktown.  Not quite what we expected, but we had enjoyed our day out exploring and who could complain - for $2.50 each we had again experienced public transport in Sydney and eventually got to where we wanted to go.  Not bad for us - bus, train, rivercat, train, train and then bus.  Don't anyone try to tell us that we don't take public transport.  The trip on the RiverCat was lovely and we can highly recommend - perhaps just take it up and down the river.

In Sydney again

We have visited Sydney many times over the years, and of course this means that we have visited the majority of the "usual" tourist spots.  As we were staying near Blacktown in a home we stayed in last October it was not that long ago that we had visited.  We decided this year to try and check out some areas we had not previously visited, or it was a long time since our last visit.

We arrived on a Thursday and had a quiet couple of days staying very local to the house and just reminding ourselves what was in the local area.  Stanhope Gardens is a large newish housing area, with many new homes built over the last five years or so.  It is well services by buses that connect with the local train station at Blacktown and there are also buses that go directly into the city via the harbour bridge.

A check of the local newspaper advertised a regular Sunday market at Blacktown.  As usual the commence early, and in this case 7 a.m. but we didn't leave home until around 10 a.m.!  The market is not in the built up area and until a short time ago would have been considered quite rural.  Now there is significant building underway as a new water slide adventure park is being constructed - we understand that this is a Wet n Wild complex similar to the one on the Gold Coast.  It is certainly going to be big when it is completed and will become a very popular outing for locals and visitors.

Adventure park construction
The market was on land adjoining an outdoor drive in movie complex - we are not sure if the drive in is still used very often but may even get a face lift with the opening of the water park.  Parking was at a premium and we parked on a side road and walked.  We were surprised to find that we had to pay to enter the market - not something that we have encountered previously.  We were disappointed with the market.  There were lots of people there, and many stalls but 90% of them would have been junk and we are not into buying junk sourced from garage sales, second hand shops, commercial sale ends etc. We had more expected a farmers market and were disappointed.  I could have left in five minutes, but Peter was happy to wander the rows of the stalls for a while.  What did we spend our money on, in addition to the entrance fee?  A large pumpkin from one of the two fruit and vegetable stalls we saw. I was cheeky enough to ask the stall operator to cut the pumpkin in half so I could confirm that it was mature before I handed over my $4.  It was, and I have to say we ate every last bit of that pumpkin as it was dry and had plenty of flavour so was a good buy.

We then spent the balance of the day pretty much relaxing - just like our two household companions.

Patra and Cleo
Monday we decided on a day out.  Back in the early 1980's my friend Pauline Cave and I had visited Sydney and Toowoomba together and stayed with friends of Pauline's.  While staying with Lorraine and Roy in Camden we had a day trip to Warragamba Dam.  We decided that as the dam was just fifty odd kilometres from Stanhope Gardens a return visit was due.  We packed a picnic and off we went initially following the freeway and then rural roads.

Warramgamba Dam is one of the most visited tourist destinations in western Sydney and attracts thousands of visitors every year.  It is the primary reservoir for water supply for Sydney.   In November 2009 the grounds and visitors centre were upgraded and now you can take a self guided tour.  When we visited it was school holidays so there were quite a few family groups and a couple of buses with school holiday program participants.  We were surprised that there were not more visitors as the grounds are huge and there seemed no one about.  We parked in the lower car park near the visitors centre so that we could park under the trees as it was very warm, and we were the only vehicle in that carpark and could count on one hand the number of cars in the other carpark.

We had our picnic first and then visited the visitors centre which overlooks the dam and spillway.  The dam was constructed between 1948 and 1960 and is one of the largest reservoirs for urban water supply in the world.  The visitors centre has been built with an environmental design and appears to blend in with the dam.  We initially saw the dam from one of the viewing decks below the visitors centre and then after seeing the displays inside the centre we climbed the stairs down to a lower viewing platform.

Dam and visitors centre

Dam from lower deck with visitors centre on top of wall
Inside the visitors centre there are a number of exhibitions with photos taken during the build and lots of technical information.  There is one room set up for lectures and as it was school holidays they had holiday activities available for the children.
Dam from lower deck with visitors centre on top of wall
After viewing the visitors centre we followed the road through the town to see the dam from further down the river where there is another viewing platform.  It was certainly interesting and the work undertaken to complete the build was enormous.

Dam from down the river further
The township of Warramgamba was built as housing for the dam workers and at the completion of the build a number of workers purchased their homes.  The majority of the homes are very basic and we were interested to note that a lot of thought went into naming the streets - 1st Street, 2nd Street etc.  I guess it made it easier when a workers was allocated a home - number ..... in 5th Street would have made it easy to find it.  There is a public school and a few shops and small industrial area.  Many of the homes are still occupied by workers from the dam and there was a population in 2006 of around 1200.

After visiting the dam we made our way back towards the freeway through the small rural villages. We saw one of the brown visitors information signs pointing to a river viewing platform so decided to take that but after driving for about half an hour with no further information, and by then on a gravel road, we came to a fence and advising walking tracks only.  We parked, and locked up the car but after commencing the walk there was a very small sign saying that there was still five kilometres to walk so decided that walk wasn't for us late in the day.  So a quick view of the area, with no river in sight, we headed back to the car and home.