Archive for June, 2015

Last Wish

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2015 by David Palmer

The day after returning from Australia the family met in the evening for a meal. I had bought Sue a copper bracelet in Byron Bay with inset magnets to help her wrist  and that evening I gave Charlotte and Sarah bracelets made of shells.

Sunday was spent in the garden and allotments; weeding, planting, watering, mowing and hoovering the debris off the bottom of the pool. It was a long day but needed to be done. The following day the family was journeying to North Wales to carry our Nan’s wish for her ashes to be scattered over her childhood playground, Caergwrle Castle. The previous day I had checked with Aunties Doreen and Josie that everything was in place for the memorial bench to be installed on Nan’s birthday (16th June) and was pleased to discover that the Council had strimmed and cleared all the paths up to the  castle and made everything  tidy.

The following morning we had a delayed start as Sarah was stuck in traffic on the motorway travelling down to Harborough. In the end we set off just an hour after the Rothwells and met them after an uneventful journey at the Alyn Waters Countryside Park around midday. It was a lovely warm as we sat on the picnic benches and had our packed lunches. The boys were quite excited so we decided on a walk along the river to burn off a few calories and de-energise.  The trouble with Palmers being in close proximity to water is that like good water diviners they usually end up finding each other, and all but the more sensible mature ones did so!

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Returning to dry-land we visited the park cafe for ice-creams and to visit the toilets, principally to use the hot-air driers. Suitably dried out we next drove a few miles down the road to Caergwrle. We inspected the site below the castle and next to the War Memorial where the bench was to be installed the following morning. It was nice to see a Council worker tidying up on the path up to the castle. Satisfied that everything seemed to be in place for the following day we all set off up the very steep incline to the ruins of the castle. As promised the site was as neat and tidy as promised and looked lovely below a bright blue, cloudless sky. Other than Sue, it was the first time that the family had been to the castle and they could see why it was so special to Nan and myself. I have many happy memories of playing among the stones and trees as a child on the frequent summer holidays visiting the grandparents, and I can’t imagine a better playground for ‘tomboy’ Nan.

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Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

As with water, rocks and walls are for climbing, so that’s what the more youthful and flexible of limb did. After a full exploration of the ruins and a reading of the information boards on the castle’s  history we returned to the cars and drove the short journey to Aunt Doreen’s. Unfortunately she was out so we  diverted up the mountain to see Aunty Josie who was at home and had cousin David for company. While we had coffee and chatted, David took the boys for a walk with the family dog, returning about an hour later with David’s partner who wanted to see us and say hello.

I had booked us all into the Premier Inn in Wrexham and that is where we went next. Check-in was fully automated at a console and caused problems. Firstly because I needed my glasses and secondly because I had to input all the details three times as I had booked three rooms. Why did I have to bring the email confirmation printout? On installing our selves into the rooms it transpired that the Rothwell’s family room turned out to be an ordinary double room. The Manager, bleating and showing on his computer system that the room booked was for two people didn’t square with my confirmation printout boldly showing two adults and two children in a four bedded family room, or the printout from his console that I had a receipt for a four bedded room and at a considerable increase in price over the other two receipts for the double rooms. Check-mate I think to good-old-fashioned hotel reception procedures, I pointed out that if they had a human (organisms with legs, arms and a brain)  at check-in, they would have noticed there was going to be a problem about to happen and could/would have prevented it, thus avoiding customer dissatisfaction. The hotel was fully booked, so the solution was to give us a Family Room allocated to a some unfortunate family that had yet to check-in. Hmmmmm, not our problem anymore.

Lee arrived after driving up from Leicestershire after work.

After a suitable respite to chill-out we all met again down in the bar before driving over to see Aunty Doreen. I only stopped briefly  to check that everything was ok with her for the following day as we had booked in to an Oriental restaurant in Caergwrle that Sue and I had been to previously, which served excellent Thai food. There was only one other couple dining when we arrived so I think they were grateful for our custom and it didn’t take long for the meal to arrive. Though it was late when we returned to the hotel we stopped a while in the bar and chatted before pressing the pillows.

We met again at breakfast. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, you could already feel the heat from the morning sun as soon as you stepped outside. Before we left for the installation of the bench Sue and I took a short walk into town and bought one of Nan’s favourite flowers, a small Honeysuckle to plant at the castle.

We arrived in Caergwrle at the same time as Aunty Josie and the bench had already been put in situ by Cousin Jeff’s sons. It was all taped off and looking splendid. Missing Doreen, I nipped down the road and found her walking, so gave her a lift.

Though naturally emotional, there was a happy atmosphere to our unveiling of the bench, contributed greatly by the weather and such a beautiful day.

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I thought it particularly poignant when we photographed the three sisters together, once more. And then again with her favourite grand daughters.

Doreen and Josie stayed behind  and sat on Nan’s bench while the Harborough contingent and David climbed the hill once more, this time with Nan.  In the centre of the ruins we divided her ashes equally into small containers between us (including Lucas and Ellis) , less a portion for the Honeysuckle and each in turn scattered the remains, We then chose a spot next to one of the castle walls and Charlotte and Sarah planted the Honeysuckle along with the rest of the ashes. I think she would love that.

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Finally, Charlotte climbed the highest wall and hid a little Welsh Red Dragon that she had found in a car park a few days previously and just knew who had left it there for her to find.

Returning to the bench we all drove over to the Holly Bush Inn, appropriately the last place I took Nan for lunch on her last visit to Wales, and had lunch. Afterwards Suraj took Doreen home while I did the same for Josie. Meeting back at the Holly Bush we then drove to Chirk to walk over the aqueduct. On route we managed to lose the Rothwells for a while, but eventually when we all met up we set off along the canal that led us to our goal.

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On the return to the cars we diverted through the tunnel, Ellis and Lucas thought that part was quite scary.

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The drive back to Harborough was during the start of the Birmingham rush hour, so we suffered the inevitable motorway crawl for large sections increasing our journey time by just an hour.

That Thursday I had agreed to wait on tables at a ladies charity function at Marston Trussell Hall and along with Sean and Jim dutifully spent a hot afternoon serving champagne and rather posh food to smartly dressed women. One of the guests was Branwyn, the school secretary at Farndon Fields when I first took up post there. After the meal we caught up on family news and as usual gossiped about past colleagues.

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Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

I returned to Marston Trussell the following Saturday afternoon, though this time with Peter where we enjoyed ourselves at the Marston Trussell Beer Festival sampling a few of the brews. It was miserable and cold and it seemed a most appropriate activity  for such a day. Afterwards we decamped to the Angel to watch a lack-lustre England Unders 21’s lose to New Zealand in the World Cup Final made bearable by the fact that just a couple of hours earlier England had stuffed the Kiwi’s at cricket.

The following Tuesday I took Sue to the Royal Hospital in Leicester for her final appointment with the specialist. She has been discharged but if she has any problem in the future with her wrist she can make an appointment. We spent the afternoon with Sarah and Mia at Bradgate Park. We walked along the main path by the side of the river and came across dozens of Fallow deer idling in the sun, as we neared the ruins of Lady Jane Grey’s House we came across several archaeological dig sites being conducted by Leicester University. This was right up Sue’s street, she obviously enjoyed talking to the ‘diggers’ who were very chatty and eager to explain all they were doing, in detail. We even witnessed the find of a coin as it was dug up.

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After climbing to the top of Old John we returned to the picnic benches near the Park cafe and had the packed lunch that we had brought with us.

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Dropping Sarah and Mia off at home we returned to Harborough.

The following day I had another walk, this time with John Lee. I had plotted an 8 mile walk from the Blue Dog in Sewstern. Another lovely day and apart from a couple of fields of mature Oil Seed Rape which had overgrown the path and made the going difficult it was a pleasant stroll through the Leicestershire countryside. Lunch at 1pm  of Haddock Goujons , chips and peas was very good and well worth a return trip. As usual we caught up on family news, discussed allotment weeds, cogitated on the coming world cup and put the world to rights.

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Taken with Lumia Selfie

Taken with Lumia Selfie

I spent the next few days in the allotments and garden. Everything appears to be growing well, particular the vines which have set fruit already. The strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries have started so Sue is often seen scooting off on her bike to return half an hour later  with a container full of fruit.

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Last night Sue and I went to Joules for a BBQ and to watch a Simon and Garfunkel tribute band. We were accompanied by seven other friends so there was plenty to talk about, and as usual the entertainment was good but as Sue complained bitterly that the plates were smaller than on previous occasions and there was no dessert! Jamie and Harley are cooking Sunday lunch for us this afternoon so hopefully she won’t be making the same criticism as I am getting a little peckish.

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Oz 8

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2015 by David Palmer

At 5.30am it was still dark enough to clearly see the Southern Cross directly overhead as I climbed out of the camper van. I noticed it first from its reflection through the gum trees in the little pool that we were parked next to. How apt I thought as this is the start of our return journey to more familiar star speckled skies.

After a ‘dunny’ visit and coffees made from now surplus milk, we finished quietly packing the camper van, so as not to disturb the other campers nearby. It is now a nearly deserted camp-site apart from the permanent static caravans that I figure are the permanent residences of the poorer Aussies in Byron Bay, the other morning I saw school children departing them in their smart ‘western’ uniforms.

We were driving out of through the security gates  for the last time at 6am, no need to remember ‘685501’ anymore!

We pounded the same tarmac and concrete on the Pacific Highway up to the point where last week we had joined it from the Blue Mountains, this time we stayed on it all the way into the centre of Sydney. The sights along the way seemed familiar, it was such a shame we hadn’t the time to explore them further, perhaps some other time. We stopped around every three hours or so to refuel both bodies and engine, sharing the driving duties equally. As before, we made sure that Jamie started and ended in the driving seat on our journey.

The final part of our driving adventure was not without incident. We had arrived in Sydney during rush hour, our route took us through the city centre to the other side where our intended camp site was. We travelled through three very long tunnels , under hills, Botany Bay and the city itself , and had a chance to marvel at the glimpses of skyline flashing by when we eventually emerged into daylight each time. Our first sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Leaving the last tunnel on a slip road off the Highway we annoyed an Aussie. I guess that as we merged onto the slipway we cut-up a pick-up truck that was reluctant to let us in. Jamie indicated our manoeuvre, yet the driver refused to allow us in  but had to give way as we were in front. He flashed his lights and hooted his annoyance as the traffic came to a standstill, queuing at the intersection ahead. Looking through the rear view mirrors we could see that he was very animated indeed. We were discussing his action and considering whether he had hit us at the back, but we hadn’t seen, heard or felt any contact, when the traffic ahead moved away. Before we could move the truck raced around the side, slewed to a stop in front and came reversing back at us fast. As it was rush hour, how he managed the manoeuvre was a blur, the other cars witnessing this hooted his action and thankfully he stopped cm’s away from hitting us, turned to face us and gesturing rudely, before shooting off down the road. I suspect if this was a quiet country road he would have rammed us then driven off, but there were too many witnesses around honking their horns. Very frightening, Aussie ‘road rage’ certainly does exist. When we arrived at the camp site we checked the van for any ‘contact’ marks, but found none.  We had so far driven over 2000km  and our opinion on Aussie drivers were that they are good, courteous and extremely law-abiding on the road, but we now know there are exceptions.

It was lashing it down when we checked into the site. We had tried to book ahead but the site hadn’t answered any of our emails so we were concerned that we would not get a plot. As it was, there were two left and we had the one next to the toilet and shower block, Spot on.

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After coffee the rain stopped so we set off to explore and find somewhere to eat. After a little detour to get lost we eventually found the main shopping area of Brighton-Le-Sand across Botany Bay opposite the airport runway. We walked down to the shore and watched the aircraft land and take-off with the Sydney skyscrapers twinkling in the distance. The bridge was lit up in ever-changing colours.  We found a Thai restaurant and as usual the meals we ordered came with ridiculous amounts of meat. Fully satisfied we retraced our steps back to the site and bed.

The following morning after showers we set about cleaning the van and packing our bags for the return flight. I gave our surplus food to a permanent resident at the  site, who had the caravan across the road from us. He was a diabetic recovering alcoholic, they are very friendly these Australians and very easy to talk to.

Just after 9am I drove us to the Camper Van Rental Company (Britz) which was just a few miles away. We got there without incident and parked in their lot. They didn’t open until 10am but they were there and processed our vehicle straight away. With all the paperwork completed and van checked we asked if we could leave our rucksacks there as we didn’t fly until the evening and wanted to see the sights. We promise to pick them up before 4pm, when they shut.

We caught the train from Mascot into Circular Quay. On arrival you cold gauge that this was THE tourist spot as there was a large numbers of school parties milling around outside the station located right next to the many ferry terminals. As we stood on the quay right there in front of us berthed to the side was the ‘Legend of the Seas’, the ship that Sue and I had been on in our  cruise to Japan,  Korea and China. She hadn’t changed.

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We first walked to the Opera House and took quite a few photos, just opposite was the Harbour Bridge and that got photographed too. The Opera house had very fast free WiFi so we took the opportunity to surf a little on our phones. It was then that I discovered that I had cracked the screen on my tablet and it wouldn’t work. I had been carrying it in my small rucksack and some how it had got crushed, I guess. I had carried it all the way around Vietnam and Cambodia the other week like this without harm. I shall see if Suraj can do anything with it when I get back.

We booked a water taxi to take us around the harbour. As we got on board it started to drizzle, but luckily it stopped while we had our little trip. We went around the Opera House, over to the Botanical gardens, around the old fort set on a small island (now a restaurant) in the bay, passed the Prime Minister’s summer-house under the Harbour bridge. While we were doing this, tourist helicopters were forever circling the bay (perhaps next time). We could see groups of little people, like ants in a line climbing the arch of the Bridge. We had planned to do this but time was not on our side as it would have taken 3 hours. Though on reflection the views would be tremendous and cheaper and as good as the helicopter (perhaps next time).

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Returning to the quay, we walked around the bay for a closer look at the cruise ship and a smaller sailing ship used in the 1700’s, that first one to circumnavigate the continent. We next walked under the bridge to the regular rumblings of the trains tracking across its length. Jamie was bemused by the size of the nuts and bolts used in its structure. The security around the bridge was phenomenal, every section had at least a couple of constables idly standing by waiting for? I guess it would take a 747 strike to bring that structure down.

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We next had a short wander into the city itself before boarding our return train to Mascot where we picked up our  rucksacks  and then caught another train into the International Airport Terminal.

We had a long wait before the check in desks opened so we had a bite to eat window shopped in the duty-free shops. Check-in , security and passport control went without a hitch, though I did ask at the check-in desk if they would not send our luggage for another holiday as on the outward journey, she promised it would go with us to Heathrow.

The flight took off on time and this time we were in economy class and had to mix with the hoi poloi. Just over eight hours  and two meals later we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. No rush this time, we had a five-hour transit window. When we were at the departure gate for our 9.40 am flight when it was announced that the flight wouldn’t depart until noon and from a different gate due to operational problems. We found out later that the next flight after ours from Sydney had caught fire and this contributed to our delay. We were given a voucher for a meal and we took ours at a restaurant called Nooodles, which you can guess served mainly noodles. It was a good choice as the other option was a KFC and the queue for meals here was 50m long. We didn’t queue.

Stomachs full we did indeed fly at noon. Just under 13 hours and three meals, two lots of snacks, two films, three TV mini-series of something called ‘Longmire’, and a long sleep, we landed at Heathrow in the rain. Quite apt really as during the whole time we were in Malaysia, there had been thunderstorms and torrential rain which prevented us from visiting the airport tropical rainforest (I kid you not).

With our e-passports we were soon waiting for our luggage. As you could predict, mine came out straight away, but we had to wait, the tension rising, to the very last batch for Jamie’s to arrive. Rucksacks and all we found our transfer to Purple Parking and returned to my little Fiesta. It is funny how when you hire a vehicle abroad you become locked into its way of operating. For the first few miles I had relearn where the indicators, lights and wipers were. One good thing about our delayed flight was that we had now missed the Friday night London rush hour.

Jamie slept on the way and I dropped him off at his apartment for 9.30pm. After a quick chat with Sue I made a drink and went to a bed that I didn’t have to construct of boards and mats. Heaven!

Oz 7

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2015 by David Palmer

Another good nights sleep. This morning Jamie made coffee and breakfast while I had a shower. The shower blocks in both camp sites we have stayed in have been very good with plenty of hot water, though unlike Katoombah where the block was directly behind our van, the one here is a couple of minutes walk away, which means that late at night, the little lake at the side of our plot increases marginally.
We had been hoping to go Kayaking on the local river today, but when I phoned them this morning, as it was out of season they couldn’t raise the staff to get it organised. Plan B came into operation, which was to explore the coast in ‘Shiela’.
We set off towards the next little settlement south, Broken Head. It didn’t take long to get there and after parking we hit the beach. The ocean was already dotted with surfers and a few families were settling themselves on to the sand. We walked to the rocks at the end of the beach and watched the surfers for a while, before finding a trail that led up the cliffs and over the headland. The path led to a few secluded beaches, again with surfers just off the shore, briefly practising their skills before being wiped out.  Returning to the car we headed further up the coast.

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We first visited Lake Ainsworth in the hope of hiring a kayak, but we couldn’t find any, so we moved on.
We drove through the very pretty town of Lennox Head, before continuing up to the Head itself to climb the path to see the views. Driving back to the town we parked and found a bar on the front and had refreshments and pizza. While there we discussed on where to go next and decided to head inland and find Minyon Falls.
It was nearly a drive to get there along roads that can be best described as poor condition narrow country lanes with potholes that you could possibly disappear into. Of course the route was ever upwards and eventually the tarmac ran out and we were driving on gravel and dirt tracks. One good thing about Aussie roads is that they are well sign poster and that with the SatNav on my phone meant we always knew where we were. Arriving at a small carpark in a forest glade, with marked out parking bays, rural toilets (Dunnies) and even the free gas BBQ’s we seem to see everywhere. I guess the Australians sensibly have decided that having the population carting charcoal and their own BBQ’s into the bush and forests is going to be the cause of many bush and forest fires. Give them a free option and most, if not all will use them, and they certainly do seem to. I wonder if the UK Government would think this way, I guess not.

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The falls were only 50m away from the car park and reached by one of the wooden walkways that you find everywhere.Oh yes, they were fearsomely high, as seen from the well guarded platform to one side. Despite a confessed fear of heights Jamie of course climbed the fence and sat on the very edge of the falls to take photos. I joined him. With Jamie’s aversion therapy over we chatted to a woman who was waiting for her friends to return from the base of the Falls, some 4.5 km away down a difficult path. Afterwards we crossed the river and then traversed the cliffs on the opposite side of the waterfall to take some more photos. We opted to not bother with the route down to the base when we met an exhausted woman returning after ger 9km round trip. She said the views up the Falls were good but she didn’t sound convincing enough. We returned to the car.

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The route back to Byron Bay saws us there around 3pm. We first did some shopping in the town before returning to the campsite to relax awhile. Around 7pm we drove into the town and found the Balcony Restaurant and Bar, as the name suggests we had a table on the balcony. We chose two fine fillet steaks with the trimmings and beverages. The meal was the best we have had in Australia so far, though considering we have been on a diet of fast, junk food it isn’t difficult to beat. Having paid the bill we walked through the town to the bar we first visited and drank further beverages and listened to the band that were playing. It was 9.30pm when we left as it is another early start tomorrow on our return to Sydney.
The town was very quiet as we made our way back to the van, very different to the ‘long weekend’ we have just experienced. It looks like the Aussies do take their work seriously. Returning to the campsite we listened to the radio awhile before making the beds and retiring.

Oz 6

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2015 by David Palmer

A much warmer night had by us both. We even had to open one of the windows to keep cool. Only one sleeping bag used this time and 8am seemed to jump out with a bright yellow sun, blue sky and a very large bird doing a tap-dance on the roof. While Jamie showered, I made put the beds away and made breakfast. Afterwards we got the code for the Camp WiFi and surfed a while.

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By 9.30am we had driven 2 minutes to the beach and were photographing the “Neighbours’ scenery. I returned to the parked van to secure our belongings while an eager Jamie walked along the beach into the town.
I met Jamie on the concrete path leading to the Lighthouse after I had splashed my way through the surf, cooling my toes in the Pacific Ocean. Together we slowly made our way up to the lighthouse on the end of a promontory. Lovely vistas all the way. In fact everywhere we have been has been truly picturesque. At the very top of the cliffs we watched several large schools of dolphins fishing or playing just off the rocks below. We searched the waves for whales as it was the start of the mating season, but we saw none. At a little cafe by the very white lighthouse we had ice-creams and then set off back into the town.

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We stopped awhile for Jamie to try on a few hats, but he couldn’t find one that he thought suited his character. I suggested a trilby, but he didn’t know what it was. We found a bar and had a much-needed, very cold beer and we followed this with yet another burger and chips. I shall have to overdose big time on salads to make up for all this tasty but junk food when I return.
Returning to ‘Shiela’ via the beach again, we spent the rest of the afternoon splashing in the surf. Some of the waves were very fierce and it was great fun being bowled over and over inside huge waves. We did have to be careful and keep an eye on the surfers and there boards incase we got run over, but as it was they stayed well away from the Brits.
After towelling down we gave ‘Shiela’ her ‘tea’ and then drove on to Woolworths and bought provisions for the next few days. Everywhere we go here there is a musician or a band playing music. Outside Woollies was a ZZtop lookalike playing some mean music.

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Returning to the camp site, Jamie sat in a chair outside the van inviting the local mosquitoes and I fed the local birds that flocked around as soon as I opened my little parcel of saved chips from earlier. I didn’t recognise any of the wildlife that arrived to eat, but they were all large, very colourful and made strange noises, well at least to my ears.

I had bought myself a proper British Chicken Rogan ready meal to pop into the micro-wave while Jamie had purchased some Australian rissoles to fry. I think I enjoyed my meal more than he. We were tired so we sipped ginger beer in the van, chatted and surfed the net on or phones. As the ‘long weekend’ (Queen Elizabeth’s birthday) was over, most of our fellow campers had packed up and left this morning, however late on in the evening the plot next to ours was occupied by a couple of tents, this added a bit of interest as we observed them setting up.
It had been a long day and we were both tired, so our plans to visit the cinema and Byron Bay Brewery were put on hold.

Oz 5

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2015 by David Palmer

Strangely, despite being up in the Gods I had a warm and peaceful night’s sleep and Jamie complained he had another freezing night down in the hellish depth of Shiela. Possibly the reason was that I had used two sleeping bags and he hadn’t. I think to-night will not be so cold.
Jamie’s alarm woke us at 5.45am, and after a quick warming coffee we were on the road for 6.15am. Just outside Katoomba we stopped and filled ‘Shiela’ up with her breakfast. The dawn was just breaking and I took several photos of a beautiful yellowing sky with a silhouette of eucalyptus trees as a mask to the rising sun.

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Today we drove to drive to Byron Bay, just south of Brisbane. With a stop for a breakfast that would have satisfied an Australian Great White, the journey eventually took us 11 hours. We took it in turns to drive and we followed the Pacific Highway, which for most of its route was fast and well maintained. What can I say about our journey?

1. We saw a lot of concrete and tarmac.

2. Quite large sections of it are being improved and so slowed our progress.

3. About every mile or so we would pass a police car, they must spend a lot on policing Australia’s roads.

4. There are a lot of squashed kangawallies and koalas on the highway.

5. The Aussie trucks are enormous.

6. The scenery along the route is varied and very beautiful (it was a shame that it just flashed by and was forgotten).

7. The further north we travelled the warmer it became.

8. Australia’s drivers are pretty good and courteous.

9. I have decided I like Australia.

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It was dark by the time we arrived at our Camp Site and after checking in we had some difficulty in locating our spot in what was obviously a very full site. In the end, after driving around and also on foot we found a nice Australian who told us the name of his plot and from that we worked out where ours was. Right next to the lake. Hmm, nice you might think, but there were mosquitoes about and this might prove to be a problem for Jamie. We shall see.

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After a refreshing coffee we drove to the beach, but not surprisingly found that in the dark there wasn’t much to see, only the lights of the town a little way down the coast, so that’s where we headed. Driving down the length of the main street and parking at the far end we set about exploring. Byron Bay is locked in a time warp and fortunately for me it is the seventies. Long hair, flowing flowery skirts, music and smiles abound everywhere. Flower power, peace and marijuana didn’t die it just moved to the antipodes. People were sat in groups on the pavement chatting or playing music, there was rock music coming in the park with little groups picnicking in the dark, all the bars and restaurants were playing music of one sort or another and everyone seemed to know everyone else.

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We chose to eat two very fine kangaroo burgers and chips with local beers in a bar that had a very accomplished blues band playing. Though Jamie mentioned this was not his scene, he had to admit that he was enjoying himself and bemused at the number of people who wanted to talk to him as we walked down the street. The locals were well wrapped up against what we considered to be the warmth. I remember many years ago going to Sausalito just outside San Francisco and being equally bemused discovering that the house boats in the bay were full of ageing Hippies, obviously having fled the establishment. Now there is a new Australian and much younger sect following the creed and living in Byron Bay! I really do like Australia.
Sadly as we left, a few drops of rain fell from the sky. Hopefully it won’t spoil our day as tomorrow I may rediscover my youth. Fingers crossed.

Oz 4

Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2015 by David Palmer

Well, I slept as snug as a bug in a rug until Jamie clambered down from his heavenly roost at 8am. We have decided to swap alternately the sleeping arrangements. I smugly noted Jamie’s complaints on how he had passed a freezing and cramped night. There was frost on the ground this morning, but yet again the sky was blue and the sun warming.
After coffee and muesli I had a shower while Jamie stowed everything away for our journey today. You can’t forget about electricity cables connected to outside mains, water buckets under the sink down pipe by the front wheel, all drawers secured as well as the fridge door plus a dozen other things that you will undoubtedly hear as you first move off, if you haven’t attended to.

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Pretty soon we had the SatNav programmed to the Jenola Cave System with Jamie in the driver’s seat. We hit the M4 again further into the Blue Mountains. We are already at a pretty high elevation, but we were to go higher. After around 20 miles or so we turned off the main road and took a very scenic minor road towards the caves. The first part reminded me of driving through Wyoming, or on a much smaller scale the Lincolnshire Wolds. Very undulating green and grassy, though here we have stands of Eucalyptus dotted across the panorama to give it that Aussie feel. Nearing our destination we began to rise even more steeply and the scene changed to forestry and dramatic cliffs with wooded valley way below. The road narrowed and in many parts was only just as wide as our vehicle. Luckily we met very few cars. We played a game of spot the kangaroo/wallaby. Annoyingly to Jamie, as passenger I saw the live ones in the forest and fields, he only saw the dead ones at the side of the road, and there was a lot of those!

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Arriving at the Caves through a spectacular entry via part of the cave system itself, we needed to put on the lights and wide enough for one vehicle only meant you watched carefully. It is a long weekend here so the place was already busy and though we were early there wasn’t a single parking space left, so we made one. We had six systems to choose from, so we picked what w thought would be the best and paid for our tickets at the office.
We had around 3/4 of an hour to waste before our conducted tour began, so we wlked down to the blue pool, apparently there are platypus there, but we only saw tourists and ducks. At the appropriate time we followed our guide into the system with quite a large following. The Aussies certainly do their ‘Health and Safety’ well, all steps, walkways. hand rails and lighting were in tiptop condition, despite  the very difficult route that we took. We saw the usual straws, stalactite, stalagmite and shawl features you would expect, plus quite a few I had never seen before and had them explained well. Well worth the visit.

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The tour lasted just over an hour and afterwards we took ourselves through a system that was free and unguided. It was still quite worth the visit. Next we followed a trail through a mountain valley high above the caves. We met very few people doing the same and after a mile or so we were on our own. The sound of the forest was a quite strange, the birds here do like to announce that they are around, particularly the kookaburra. We saw several bower birds rooting in the undergrowth and we surprised a couple of kangaroos/wallabies passing across our path. We have no idea how to tell them apart, we know one is bigger, but heh, we have seen brown, light brown, dark brown, and grey and the ones in the valley looked nearly black and different sizes! If I have to refer to them again I shall call them Kangawallies until I know better.

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We retraced our steps back to the caves and then back to ‘Shiela’.  We sat in the van for a while, Jamie had cold three day old bolognese out of the fridge and I had a packet of crisps before setting off on our return journey.
On the way back we stopped at the historic settlement of Hartington. There wasn’t much there; a court house a church, the Inn and a few houses, plus a blacksmith’s that sold ornaments on a Celtic theme. We had a drink of cider in an Aborigine art gallery before continuing on.

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We stopped again at the Edge Cinema to buy tickets for tonight’s film and to use their free WiFi. Back at the camp site , Jamie had a shower and started this blog. As it was the ‘log weekend’  the site was full and vehicles were still coming in as we hooked the van up to the utilities.
We dined out for our evening meal at a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the town. The restaurant was quite full, but they managed to find us a table. The food was good, but according to Jamie, “Too pretentious.” Though he had to agree it was tasty.
Afterwards we drove to the cinema to watch the film ‘San Andreas’. While we waited for the film to start we once again took advantage of the free WiFi. This is Saturday night on a holiday and apart from the staff we appear to be the only people here. I do hope everyone else is in their seats inside the Theatres or else they know something we don’t. The plan is for bed straight after as Jamie is hoping for a 6am start as we begin a 9.5 hour drive up to Byron Bay. We shall see.

Oz 3

Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2015 by David Palmer

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!! What a cold night. And …………. we had some rain and wind, that coupled with Jamie rattling and rocking the van when disembarking to visit the loo made for a disturbed night. However, I must have had a fair bit of sleep as I woke up at around 9am when Jamie returned to ‘Shiela’ after had a walk to Katoombah Falls and observed the mist over the depths below. Normally I would have been annoyed that he went without me, but today I was grateful that he left me sleeping.
Breakfast was just a bowl of Muesli, we had used all our coffee sachets from the Arts Hotel so a warming drink was not to be had and unfortunately our fridge is very efficient and the milk was chilling.
After Jamie had his shower (mad), we set off to the Scenic World Centre visited yesterday. We bought an all day roamer ticket ($35) and boarded the train down the precipice, apparently it is the world’s steepest train, I can believe it as the video I took will testify. The ride through a myriad of Tree Ferns, Gum Trees and Turpentine Trees all wreathed in Llianas was something I have not experienced before and gave an impression of travelling back in time the further we descended. The base station was still only halfway down the cliff face so we had to join the other tourists on the board walk along and down the cliff. We passed the base station of the Cableway (we would return on that later) on our circular route. We had passed an ‘off piste’ track early on which led to some interesting mining features (coal) and we returned to this meandering and at times difficult track along the side of the escarpment. We planned to follow it for about half and hour, but in the end this was extended to over and hour as the “what’s around the bend’ scenario was so intriguing we couldn’t resist the temptation. Many photos were taken of some outstanding views. We saw one other person on the track, an authentic Australian girl who was heading the way we had come. I stopped briefly to have a chat with her. Reaching a spot where the path appeared to descent down  further into the rainforest, we retraced our steps as it looked as if we were going to lose the views.

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We returned to the top via the Cableway, had two large hot coffees in the cafe and then caught the Skyway over the falls themselves, The floor of the vehicle was glass and afforded a terrific view of the base of the Falls and the tops of the trees in the forest way, way below. Arriving at the other side we set off on the path that led to the ‘Three Sister’s ‘ rock formation. Again, very spectacular and the depth to which their cliff faces plunged was awe-inspiring.
The top of the canyon was quite chilly despite it being mostly sunny, strangely down in the canyon it had been warmer, or was it the exertion of getting down there that produced the heat?

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We found another cafe and this time had hot chocolate. Mmmmmmmmmm………. warmth!
We returned to ‘Shiela’ via another path across the top. I then drove into Katoombah for provisions. Stocked up on fresh supplies we loaded them into our trusty steed, then walked into the town centre. Strangely, unlike Hanoi or Saigon, all you had to do was look at a zebra crossing and the cars stopped, weird feeling walking across without furtively glancing in all directions expecting ‘incoming’ at any moment. We passed a hairdressers and as Jamie was in desperate need of a haircut he sat in the hot seat while a sat and watched. Not surprising the lady was English, having moved their 30 years ago. We have on met 1 person that we thought was a true Australian and he was the guard on the Cableway, a very chatty guy, full of macho advice and had a strong desire to visit England. Definitely authentic! We had a nice chat with the hairdresser as she clipped Jamie’s locks and picked up some useful advice. We continued exploring the town, coming across a charity shop with bobble hats for sale for just $3, I bought a green Wallabies, and Jamie a yellow Australia one. We both donned them on leaving the shop as you could see your breath outside, we may never take them off!

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We returned to the camp site in ‘Shiela’ as the dark descended, what lovely stars, oooooooooh chiiiillllllllly! While I sat in the front driver cabin and started this blog, Jamie made two excellent kangaroo burgers each, with cheese and onions! (maybe not a good idea in a small van), Very delicious.
We returned to Katoombah and found the Edge Cinema. Our choice of films was ‘Spy’ (my choice) or ‘Mad Max’ (Jamie’s choice). Much to the amusement of the cashier a game of rock, scissors, paper settled the decision. ‘Spy’ is probably the funniest film I have seen for many years, a definite must see for anybody with a sense of humour, a good plot too. The free WiFi in the cinema came in very useful.
Afterwards under clear chilly skies we returned to the site, keeping the engine running for a while to fend off cold. A warning on the radio alerted drivers on the M4 to a possibility of ice, hmmmm.
Hot coffee, then bed making.