Sydney – Always Amazing !

Sydney – Always Amazing !

For all the amazing cities we’ve travelled to during our lifetime, there would be few, if any, that have a more beautiful setting than Sydney – who doesn’t recognize the world famous Opera House, set against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge ? If there’s one city in Australia that feels closest to home for both Lois and I, it’s Sydney. I spent a month of every childhood summer here, then all my university years here after that. Lois and I spent a year here together in the early 80’s and of course it has been the first port of call every time we’ve returned home to Australia probably 15 or 20 times over the last 35 years. That said, we never tire of returning and there was great anticipation around this visit ( for a few special reasons ). We’ve experienced its attractions countless times over the years so this time around the plan was to revisit a few of the truly famous sights then spend most of our time here with several close, lifetime friends and to enjoy the simple pleasure of just catching up and spending time together.

View from Justin and Angie’s home in Collaroy, along the Northern Beaches- a beautiful part of the city.
Parked up in Collaroy, out front – the driveway was a bit steep to park on! Lois, Angie, and their good friend, Pete.
Palm Beach, one of Sydney’s spectacular northern beaches.
We did not swim on this particular day – lots of “Blue Bottles”, washed ashore. The sting is nasty……
Palm Beach from Barrenjoey Lighthouse. The hike to Barrenjoey was a good workout !
What could be more Australian ! Sulphur-crested cockatoo – one sees many of these !
Visit to my two surviving aunties. It had been way too long !
…..and managed to connect with 3 cousins while there !

 There are a couple of other favorites whenever we return – wandering Balmain’s trendy stores and backstreets, exploring the city itself ( the Opera House and “Rocks” area always have plenty going on ), but on this visit we also explored further afield in the Northern Beaches, a corner of the city we don’t often visit. On the south side, “The Shire” always offers up great shopping, awesome beaches, and the natural beauty of nearby Royal National Park. When visiting Sydney one really is spoilt for choice!

Lucky to score a parking spot right in front of Roxanne’s place in Balmain, very close to downtown Sydney. Parking is almost impossible at times in the desirable, but at times congested, inner city areas – a 7 metre long van brings an added dimension of complexity.
Roxanne knows of my sweet tooth and always has a selection of classic Aussie “lollies” ( candy ) on hand as we arrive !
A bit of the bridge, the city skyline, and the Opera House all in one, (as we arrived).
Enjoyed a great day touring some Sydney sights with Roxanne.
This building requires no description ! Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and as stunningly beautiful as ever.
Sydney Opera House from the harbour.
Close up look at the Sydney Opera House roof tiles. Always assumed they were white ( most aren’t ).
Sculpted image of soldier from Sydney’s early days as a penal colony ( The Rocks).
“The Rocks”, trendy area of Sydney at the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Not only can you walk across the Harbour Bridge, you can walk over the top ( as these folks were when our ferry crossed beneath it).
Beautiful jacaranda-lined street in North Sydney.
We celebrated Lois’s 60th with long time friend, Melissa and her family in Sydney
Bundeena Beach, Royal National Park, close to Melissa’s place in Sutherland Shire.
Managed to catch Australia’s most famous horse race, the Melbourne Cup, while exploring in Bundeena. The whole nation literally comes to a standstill for this race ..! Here, horses in the home stretch.
Cronulla beach, Sutherland shire, Sydney.

Our week in the Sydney area with my aunts, cousins and such long-time friends was a real highlight for us, we loved every minute of it. In the week ahead we’ll begin exploring the South Coast of NSW, a bit of a hidden gem of NSW.

Till next week…….

Central Coast: Wineries, Walks, & White Sandy Beaches

Central Coast: Wineries, Walks, & White Sandy Beaches

The northern section of the NSW coast had indeed been impressive – endless long stretches of white sand, wildlife sightings that we hadn’t expected, quaint towns – even our ventures inland had yielded unexpected treasures. Could the central part of NSW’s coastline possible compare ? In short – absolutely !

Our travels of late.

Nambucca Heads was our first stop. Widely considered one of the nicest spots on the coast, we’d wholeheartedly agree. The viewpoints and coastal hikes offered amazing perspectives – we had the added advantage of some local area insights from Adrian and Darrell, a couple of like-minded travellers we had met earlier during a stop over in Denham, Western Australia. Wonderful to reunite with them, and as is often the case in these kinds of connections, the more you sit and chat, the more you find you actually have in common. It was Adrian and Darrell who are purchasing a new Sprinter van with a professional conversion, so our visit was timely giving them an opportunity to look closely at our specifications and ask us questions as to design options.

Nambucca Heads
Relaxing on the deck with Adrian and Darrell, Nambucca Heads.

Just south was another interesting part of the coast we’d not previously explored- Trial Bay , South West Rocks, and Hat Head; great beaches, an historic gaol/jail and one of the prettiest lighthouse lookout/hikes we’ve enjoyed so far.
Port Macquarie gave us the opportunity to catch up with another old kindergarten “alum” – Julie, and husband Greg joined us for a drink at a nearby pub and gave us some great pointers on the area, both having lived here most of their lives. Wonderful to catch after such a long time !

South West Rocks.
South West Rocks.
South West Rocks, Trial Bay.
Hat Head National Park.
Us, Hat Head National Park.
Another reunion with a kindergarten alum – Julie ( and husband, Greg ) , caught up with them in Port Macquarie where they live. Wonderful to reconnect after so many years !
Town Beach, Port Macquarie.

From Port Macquarie the M1 took us south to Newcastle but we did manage pit stops in Nabiac and Beuladelah, the latter town where we managed to cross paths with my brother and his wife who were returning home to Temora from Queensland. Great to have an impromptu and somewhat unexpected catch up ! Our general preference is to take the side roads when there is a viable option to the motorway and  conveniently there was a coastal road south towards Newcastle – hugging the road around beautiful Lake Macquarie one passes Toronto ( yes, there’s one in Australia ! ), Foster/Tuncurry, The Entrance, and Nelson Bay all popular beachside communities and just starting to get busy with the impending arrival of summer holiday hordes.

We managed to cross paths with my brother ( Ian ) and his wife ( Anne ) once again on our Australian “lap”. They were returning from a short trip to Queensland and we connected in Beuladelah.
Bennett Head Lookout, Forster.
Seal Rocks, Myall Lakes National Park.
Seal Rocks.
Felt I had a good handle on NSW geography, but did not know we had a “Toronto” ! A nice little town on pretty Lake Macquarie.
Lakeside, in “Toronto”, Australia.

Newcastle, a city best known for its industry and port, and long in the shadow of more glamorous Sydney just to the south, surprised us both. Yes, coming in from the north you see its gritty port, train lines, massive bridge  and industrial area, but go further south and Newcastle reveals its picturesque beachside and lakeside communities, historic downtown and some dramatic beach and cliff side walks. My image of the city has been reformed!

Bar Beach, Newcastle.

What are the odds ? We camped beside this couple in far North Queensland and bumped into them again camping in Newcastle. He, an Aussie, she from Germany. Nice to reunite !
I had known that during WW2, Japanese midget submarines shelled Sydney harbour but was not aware they also attacked Newcastle. No real damage and no deaths during the attacks.
Bogey Hole is a pool, cut from rock, on the edge of a cliff. Seemed it would be pretty easy to get swept out to sea ! Look closely and you can see the chain link barrier around the pool. No one swimming that we could see !

Just west of Newcastle lies the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions, no visit to Newcastle being complete without a short detour west to enjoy its offerings. Unexpectedly quiet ( being just outside high season ), we generally had the wineries to ourselves providing ample time to sample the local fare. Cheese tastings, and even beer tastings, just added to the allure.

Thomas Wines was one that Lois really liked. The host was amazing and since it was a quiet day we had the place to ourselves.
Most serendipitously there was also some beer tasting in the Hunter Valley ( it’s not all wines ! ).
Cheese tasting, too !

View over the Hunter Valley from Thomas Winery.

A final bonus (for what was already a great travel week ) was the opportunity to catch up with the Bowyer family. Long time friends from Kelowna, they were in Australia doing a tour of the east coast and with some modest schedule juggling we were able to connect briefly just north of the Hawkesbury River. Wonderful to sit, relax, enjoy a beer and compare notes with us heading south and they heading north to many of the places we’d just been. 

It really was a great week for connecting with old friends. Here, near the Hawkesbury River, we met up with good Canadian friends (the Bowyers) who were travelling Australia in a motorhome . A short, but sweet, rendezvous !

Till next week ( and Sydney )…….

On To New South Wales

On To New South Wales

It felt almost like we were returning home, crossing into NSW from Coolangatta. I say “home” in the sense that NSW is my home state, where I was born and raised, though not of course our home now. While it’s probably the state that both Lois and I have travelled most extensively in already, there are definitely many parts we haven’t seen and a few places we simply love returning to.  

Our route of late.

With the weather already hot heading into the Aussie summer and us still being quite far north ( remember, north means hotter in the southern hemisphere! ) in the coming weeks we expect to be exploring and spending much time on this beautiful coastline with its world class beaches while poking inland here and there where local attractions provide interesting diversions.

Farewell Queensland, here comes New South Wales. First stop, Byron Bay.
Ominous smoke clouds as we approached Byron Bay.

First stop was trendy Byron Bay, where we had an old friend to visit and some area beaches to enjoy. Leanne and I started kindergarten together and, while we have kept in touch over the years, the tyranny of distance has generally kept us far apart. We’d promised to connect on this trip so it was wonderful to finally make it happen. She’s in a neighbourhood close to the beach just south of Byron – the long beach walks were amazing !

Byron ( as it’s widely known ) is famous for its beaches (among other things).
Byron’s famous lighthouse, sitting right at the easternmost point of Australia.
Stunning view of NSW coastline from the lighthouse.
Parked up ( we only just fit ! ) at good friend, Leanne’s house just south of Byron.
An ominous looking day as we walked the beach near Leanne’s.

Beyond Byron we meandered down the coast over the next few days via stunning Lennox Head, Ballina, Urunga and Coffs Harbour – all of which we knew of – as well as a couple of days between Iluka and Yamba, both places neither of us had visited  before. We can see why so many people end up retiring in these parts, they really have it all. The sea life, bird life, mammals and reptiles we saw around Iluka were especially impressive – far more than we expected in one place ! And the coastline – stunningly beautiful for as far as the eye could see.

Approaching Lennox Head. Coastal drive was spectacular.
Beautiful Lennox Head, just south of Byron. We sat and watched the surfers at this beach for ages.
Iluka World Heritage Rainforest Walk. We saw an amazing amount of wildlife here.
Yours truly, Iluka.
Coastline near Iluka. Saw tons of wildlife on the walk – whales, dolphins, kangaroos, lizards and sea birds.
A monitor, Iluka Rainforest.
Coastal bird, Iluka.
Dolphins at play. We saw many all along the coast.
Kangaroos at the end of the rainforest walk, Iluka.
Lizard, or goanna ? Yamba jetty.
Yamba beach.
Kayak surfers, Yamba, the object of some curiosity from a pod of dolphins.

As luck would have it, pretty Grafton – just inland – was in the middle of its annual Jacaranda festival and made for a very enjoyable detour. Row upon row of these beautiful trees all blossoming in lavender! Another (brief) inland diversion we’d much anticipated was the Dorrigo National Park and its rainforest waterfall walks. The walks did not disappoint but a reptile encounter did cause a moment of panic- a few minutes into the walk I almost stepped on a red-bellied black snake resting beside the track. Venomous, yes. Generally deadly, no. As they said to me, “If you are going to get bitten by a venomous snake this is almost certainly one you’ll survive ( there are others you won’t ! )”. En route to Dorrigo one passes historic Bellingen, a prettier town you’d struggle to find. A ton of history, beautifully restored buildings and a nascent cafe culture all wrapped in a very “granola” vibe ( British Colombian’s, think Nelson ! ).

Pretty downtown Grafton, famous for its Jacaranda trees.
Sunset, camping in Grafton.
Grafton, driving a Jacaranada-lined street. We were fortunate to arrive in the city just as their
Jacaranda festival was in progress..
Shocked to realize how close we were to the snake…!
Waterfalls, Dorrigo National Park.

Classic old department store in Bellingen, kept in immaculate condition.
Typical of many great spots we found to sit and enjoy lunch or a morning coffee. Woolgoolga Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour.
Woolgoolga, near Coffs Harbour. The coast goes on like this for miles.

Our travel week ended in Coffs Harbour, another ( and larger ) of the many coastal towns we got to enjoy.  Famed for its beaches, jetty, Big Banana, and generally gorgeous views, hilly Coffs ( we were reliably advised ) is the only place where the Great Dividing Range actually comes right to the sea ( it’s somewhat inland elsewhere on Australia’s east coast). A little bit of trivia you may not have known !

Coffs Coast Regional Park.
Pretty Coffs Harbour.

Till next week….