Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Week in Sydney

Our extended sojourn in Byron Bay left us a little short of time when it came to driving down to Sydney and we decided we sadly didn't really have time to detour via the Blue Mountains. We decided instead to drive through Hunter Valley (wine country) as it was practically on the way.

Arriving in town around 11am we called into the tourist information office at Cessnock, in the heart of wine country, and twenty minutes later we had parked up the van in a campsite and departed on a wine tasting tour - so we certainly made the most of our last day before Sydney!

The tour called at five different vineyards (out of a total of 140 in the area) and we did wine tastings at all of them. That left us a little bit tipsy by the end of the day so we were glad not to have to do any of the driving.
We discovered the delights of a nice oaked, buttery Chardonnay and learned that the best Australian Shiraz (as we know and love it) is produced in southern Australia, where it's cooler, as opposed to the Hunter Valley.

We were met in Sydney by glorious sunshine, which would remain until we left Australia - some fine weather at last! Glad to be dropping off the camper van and checking into our swanky hotel, our arrival in Sydney was a happy one. The drive down through the city was tough though, somewhat similar to driving in London, with three lanes of traffic, one-way systems and a generally fast pace, making navigating and driving a bit of a challenge, but we got there in the end.

After checking in to the hotel we set out on a walk around Sydney taking in the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House as the sun set. It was every bit as stunning as I imagined and very exciting to be in Sydney at last! After a stroll up through the 'The Rocks' we stopped for a couple of pints of particularly fine pale ale in the Lord Nelson and had a spot of dinner.

On day two Kev was booked into a recording studio to record some strings parts for his latest project, so I took the opportunity to do some shopping for Christmas presents and a bit more of a wander around the city, visiting Paddy's Markets and Darling Harbour, plus a swim in the pool.

With the weather still stunning (despite the rain forecast) we made for the beach and did the pretty coastal walk between Bondi Beach and Bronte Beach, stopping for swims along the way. Then we took the ferry out to Manly the following day, affording us amazing views across Sydney Harbour. At Manly we spent some time at the beach before getting some delicious fish and chips whilst watching the sun go down.

On Christmas day we first celebrated our first summer Christmas with a dip in the pool on the roof of the hotel and a bottle of nice Chardonnay over lunch, that with picked up in the Hunter Valley. It was very odd not having a family do to go to, and odder still not celebrating with roast turkey and all the trimmings. Instead we enjoyed a cold buffet lunch, followed by a Chinese in China Town in the evening, as it was the only place open for dinner! It was lovely, however, to catch up with the family on the phone in the evening, making us feel a little bit closer than the other side of the world.

So tomorrow we're off to New Zealand - and once again I can't believe it's come around so soon! Still, we're looking forward to the change of scenery (and the delicious New Zealand wine, of course!)

Speak to you all soon, hopefully.

Love, Sarah & Kev xx

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Brisbane and Byron Bay

We arrived in Brisbane in the blistering sunshine, not a cloud to be seen in the blue sky and headed straight into the city centre on the scenic route by catching a ferry along the river. Alighting at the South Bank we stopped for a swim in the open air pool, followed by lunch and a cold glass of wine in a pub.
Still not fully convinced that we had outrun the weather, despite today's heatwave (and with storms forecast for the whole of Queensland for the following day) we strolled along the riverside through the market stalls and paid a brief visit to the Gallery of Modern Art, which was unfortunately between exhibitions.

We then met up with my former housemate, Stacey and spent a couple of days with her at her apartment in Brisbane, enjoying good company, nice food a few beers and (when the rain eventually came) an afternoon at the cinema.

The next stop on our itinerary was Byron Bay, which we instantly fell in love with. It's a pretty small town with some fantastic beaches and a thriving arts scene, populated mostly by hippies, artists and backpackers. Our first day was another of glorious sunshine, so we headed straight for the beach for a couple of hours. The sea had some lovely surf, though the temperature feels somewhat more refreshing after spending so much time in the tropics. Still, it was perfect for cooling off and a real relief from the hot sun.

I was very excited to learn that Byron Bay has its very own circus school, offering amongst other things flying trapeze lessons to the general public, so I immediately booked in for a couple of classes. I also did my first ever catch! - I'll try and upload the videos at some point. It's great to be back in the swing of things (pun intended) as my circus classes are one of the things I've missed most about London.

On our second night in Byron Bay I spilled beer all over Kev's laptop keyboard, accidentally of course, but it meant we had to stay on a couple of extra days to try and get it fixed - and lucky for us we couldn't really have picked a nicer area to be stuck in. Fortunately for us both it was just a case of replacing the keyboard and not writing off the cost of the whole computer and all of its expensive music software, or I might have been coming home sooner than intended!

After a relaxing five days and nights and much delicious homemade ice cream we hit the road again bound for Sydney. We'll make a few stops along the way at Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie as we travel down the coast.

Since entering New South Wales state there has been a definite improvement in the weather but there still seems to be a lot of rain about. There have been some predictions already of a wet Christmas so we're hoping to prove them wrong!

Speak to you all soon,
Sarah & Kev xx

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Great Keppel Island and Fraser Island

Well time really is flying - I can't believe it's December already. It's really odd being in a hot country at this time of year, seeing Christmas trees and hearing Christmas music in shopping malls doesn't feel remotely festive! I actually feel a bit jealous of all this snow that's been falling over in the UK, though I certainly don't miss feeling cold.
The weather here has been consistently hot, but also persistently rainy - and the weather I mentioned in the last blog post hasn't let up. It's such a shame as the rain really doesn't do justice to the beautiful beaches we have been passing on our way.

For Kev's birthday we caught the ferry out to the stunning Great Keppel Island and spent a night there, where we stayed in a safari style tent. The rain even held off until the evening, giving us a beautiful sunny day on the beach. Unfortunately we discovered a hole in the roof of our tent and we woke up with wet feet (though fortunately the rain wasn't dripping on our heads in the night!)

Whilst camping in the van and waking up early, we've got to know some of the local bird calls: the screaming curlews and the laughing kookaburras. We also saw a pelican on the beach in Yeppoon, which was absolutely enormous. There are funny big birds with curly beaks that look a bit like skeksis from the dark crystal! Once again our interest in ornithology has caught us by surprise! Ha ha.

In a bid to escape the rain we decided to head as far south as possible, as the rain will surely diminish once we leave the tropics. Our next stop was Hervey Bay - and yes, the sun came out! We hired bikes and enjoyed a leisurely 14km cycle ride along the bay, stopping along the way to swim, which we can now do safely and without the threat of the box jellyfish as the water is too cold for them.

From Hervey Bay we went on a two day tour to wild Fraser Island and had a fantastic time. We not only had no rain, but two days of sunshine (according to our guide: something Fraser Island hasn't seen in weeks!)
On arrival we boarded a four wheel drive bus and our guide took us out to see the famous sights that Fraser Island has to offer, including the swimming in the stunning clear turquoise waters of lake Mackenzie and the fizzing 'Champagne Pools', a natural jacuzzi created by the waves crashing over the rocks and bubbling into the rockpools on the shore. We also had great fun leaping off sand dunes and walking through the rainforest, taking in the Moheno shipwreck on 'Seventy Five Mile Beach' and watching the turtles and dolphins from the clifftop lookout at 'Indian Head'.

We enjoyed cocktails on the beach as the sun set and kept our eyes peeled for dingoes but we didn't see one, which was a bit disappointing, but I suppose they're only wild dogs so we didn't miss much really!

The beaches on Fraser Island are absolutely stunning - and the closest we've come to finding any that rival Cornwall's beaches. Look out for photos on the blog soon and see if you agree!

Well it's back on the road for us, next stop Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Sarah and Kev xx

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A funny song about Australia...

'Come to Austraia' by 'The Scared Weird Little Guys'

Our tour guide in Fraser Island played us this tune on the bus - have a listen, it really tickled us!