Thursday, December 6, 2012

7 December 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The intervening days seem so pale compared to my excitement about catching up with all our progeny; three children, their partners and the six grandchildren. Even the inconvenience and kerfuffle of getting there seems irrelevant, although I know that tomorrow morning we will be up soon after 5 am. Not only will we have to ready ourselves, but all our possessions kept in the landcruiser will have to be moved into the caravan and we will have to trudge up the hill to the Miranda Railway Station to catch the connections through to the airport, carrying our luggage. Once in New Zealand, we will have the initial delight of spending twenty four hours with the boys and their families, then we have much to sort out with our motorhome. The registration is out of date which can only be done after the Certificate of Fitness is in order. It is two years since the vehicle was serviced although it has done few kilometres since we have been travelling over here and there are whispers that the batteries are stuffed. And yet, despite all this, I am as excited as a small child heading for the circus.

We spent Wednesday morning driving from one garage to another. The chap at the auto electrician recommended by the NRMA saviour was most helpful, however was unable to diagnose the problem there and then.  He suggested we get back to him when we return in February and it looks like this might be the best solution. We did call into the Toyota franchise; they were busy until Thursday next week and not very helpful at all. The turn off was probably a good thing anyway; you can guarantee their charges would have been a whole lot more than Dino’s. In the meantime, the cruiser has started each time without incident which make us wonder if we imagined the whole affair!

We spent the latter part of the morning at the Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery enjoying an exhibition of works by local artists but most of all, the free exhibition of work by Brett Whiteley titled “Brett Whiteley on the Water”. It would appear the inspiration of his work was not some hideous inner turmoil but rather a penchant for hallucinagenic drugs. These finished him off rather prematurely at the youthful age of fifty three, which is a shame because we liked his work immensely. He is, of course, one of Australia’s favourite artistic sons.
The afternoon was spent fiddling about with matters relating to our impending trip when it really would have been better spent doing a good long walk. The weather was just beautiful even if rather blustery.

Yesterday was yet another superb day weather wise and we made the most of our last opportunity to go touring for the year. With lunch packed, yet again, we caught the train into the city, firstly to Central and then on to Circular Quay. Two cruise ships were in the harbour yesterday, the massive Carnival Spirit at Circular Quay and the Pacific Pearl around the corner at Barangaroo. On the quay, we filled time listening to a didgeridoo player and watched the cruise ship tourists posing with “Uncle Max”, an elderly aboriginal chap, wrinkled, painted and wearing nothing but a nappy arrangement, for photos. The didgeridoo player was similarly painted and clothed, however spoke well (in English) and was running quite a professional little tourist attraction; no pressure for tips and CD sales but encouraging none the less.

Soon it was time to catch the ferry to Cockatoo Island, a short trip of no more than ten minutes or so. There was a brisk breeze blowing, I was glad we had packed warmer clothing for ourselves.

Cockatoo Island covers eighteen hectares, and is just 500 metres long and 360 metres wide and makes for an excellent day trip or for those in a hurry, a few hours, so long as you check out the ferry timetable. The island has had a varied history and it is that history, and the fact that it is now open to the public that makes it such an excellent destination. That terminology suggests that one might go spend a day or weekend, even a week there, and so you can if it takes your fancy. There are heritage homes available for holiday rent and numerous safari tents for camping. For ourselves, a couple of hours did the trick.

European history has seen Cockatoo Island a prison, a reformatory, a naval dock-yard and a great ship building and industrial enterprise.

In 1839 the island was established as a prison, as an alternative to the overcrowding of those further up the coast. Convicts excavated the sandstone cliffs and from 1847 constructed Fitzroy Dock.

In 1871 an Industrial School for Girls was opened, and orphaned or homeless boys began receiving some naval training on the Vernon, anchored off-shore. To recognise the change in use, the island was renamed Biloela.

Shipbuilding began on the island in 1870. In 1913 Cockatoo Island became the Naval Dockyard of the Royal Australian Navy.  By World War I over 150 dredges, barges and tugs had been built and at the peak of World War I, some 4,000 men were employed on the island.

Naval architects, engine and electrical draughtsmen and tracers worked in the Estimating and Drawings Offices. Full scale moulds were created in the Mould Loft and then sent down to workers below for fabrication. In the Pattern Storage and Joiners Shop, practically  all wooden furniture, fittings and linings installed in ships were crafted and constructed by workers on Cockatoo Island.

As World War II approached, the tempo of activity increased and continued for the duration of the war. Merchant ships and luxury liners were converted to troop transports, stores and hospital ships. Cockatoo Island’s contribution to the war effort was enormous.

After World War II, a large labour force continued to build and refit ships and submarines until changing economic conditions led to the closure of the island in 1992.

In 1979, the contract was signed for the construction of the last ship to be built on Cockatoo Island, the HMAS Success, the largest naval vessel built in Australia.

Since 2001 Cockatoo Island has been managed on behalf of the Australian people by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.

Cockatoo Island
We wandered about the island through a couple of tunnels, through huge abandoned workshops, through shells of barracks and convict accommodation, ate our lunch on the steps of the lovely Biloela House with views to die for, watched an advertisement for Red Bull being made on one of the docks and part of television reality series, The Block, being filmed in some of the huge sheds. Finally we returned to the jetty to catch the next ferry back to the city. After a half hour wait, we found ourselves speeding across the harbour to Woolwich, then Balmain and then past the cruise ships back to busy Circular Quay.

We decided that we would run with an idea hatched earlier in the day, to call in to the Brett Whiteley Studio situated in Surrey Hills, a fifteen walk from Central railway station.  Central is quite a maze if you are trying to target a particular spot outside the station, however we managed to find ourselves outside the Devonshire Street exit without too much difficulty and started on our way. Chris stopped and asked to see the brochure again. Oh dear, we discovered that our cursory examination of the promotional literature had failed to note that the studio is open only from Friday to Sunday. Yesterday was Thursday.

We returned to the station and caught the train back to Miranda, to the camp where we dined on a motley lot of perishable foodstuffs still remaining, after receiving confirmation that our sons and their families were quite safe. They both live and work in West Auckland where a deadly tornado struck this afternoon.

And so here we are today, almost packed and almost ready to move the rig across the park on to storage. We will spend our last night without power and with just a minimum of matters to be attended to tomorrow morning.

 We will be gone for a couple of months and I shall add nothing more to this journal until then. And so I will wish you, the reader, a safe and happy holiday season and may the new year, 2013, be a fabulous one, a healthy and happy one, for all of us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4 December 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The last few days have past so quickly, even as we have been only marking time until we leave. Saturday which had been so very hot and sticky did not offer too much respite through the night. It was still about 30 degrees Celsius when I went to bed. Overnight the wind changed and while there was scattered rain about, the day that followed was altogether more pleasant. We did little on the Sunday other than grocery shopping and Chris washing the rig, all wrapped around the third day of the cricket test.

The following day was supposed to have been fine with the odd shower. We woke to rain which hung on for most of the day. Chris was keen to visit the exhibition at the Gallery of NSW, “Francis Bacon – Five Decades” so we set off, catching connecting trains to a station as close to the gallery as possible. We emerged from the underground to be met by more rain and walked the relatively short distance across the Botanic Gardens, now rather damp. While the gallery is free to all, special exhibitions such as this attract an entry fee, which we duly paid and were yet again pleased to be in possession of a Senior Card.

Francis Bacon, not to be confused with he of the same name who  made his mark in the very early 17th century as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England,  was an Irish born British figurative painter, self-taught, and productive through the years 1940s to the 1980s. His works are tortuous, pensive, shocking;  clearly products of his struggle with both asthma and homosexuality.  Can one saw you “enjoyed” such work? We certainly appreciated it and were glad we had made the effort.

After lunching under the shelter of the narrow porch, from where we watched the rain mist engulf the skyscrapers across the park, we returned to the interior and spent time viewing the entries to the 2012 Dobell Prize for Drawing. The winning entry was not at all to our taste or, in our opinion, worthy at all of any place near the top. We would have awarded first to any one of a dozen others, but then art academics are so much more discerning than us.

Our return to the rail station was as wet as the our arrival had been. We caught a series of trains in an attempt to find a McDonalds without venturing back out into the rain. We were unsuccessful however we did do plenty of walking. Eventually we caught the train back to Miranda and settled for soft serves at our local. The rain had stopped at last so we were able to enjoy our leisurely walk back to camp, before checking out the death throes of the Australian cricket team in Perth.  

Today we were greeted by the very best weather Sydney could possibly offer. We packed our lunch in the eski and headed out first to track down a plumbing supplies outlet. Last night the fancy stainless steel plug insert in our very fancy round bowl hand basin gave up the ghost, the tiny spring too exhausted from all the travel. The search turned out much easier than expected, the second supplier visited could provide the part however we did have to buy the complete fitting.

From Kirawee, it was only a short distance to the northern entrance to the Royal National Park, one of the places we had originally planned to visit from Wollongong, but gave up due to the inclement weather. Matters had worked out well in the end, as they so often do. I used to believe that was God’s reward for patience but now simply put it down to my ability to look on the bright side of life; the Eternal Optimist, that’s me.

The Royal National Park covers over 15,000 hectares and was the first National Park declared in the world. Yellowstone Park in the United States was established in 1872 but was not officially designated a “national park” until 1883. This was four years after the Royal National Park here in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney was legislated.

The northern section of the Grand Pacific Drive passes through this park and so we were keen to complete this which we had missed from Wollongong. After paying the daily vehicle fee of $11 at the entry gate, we made a point of stopping at the Visitor Centre at Audley to pick up a map and tips and information about walks and areas to explore. Alas this new revamped Centre which shares space with the cafĂ©, is in the fashion of the two Information Centres we had visited in and about Wollongong; minimilistic and how you imagine such centres will be in 2030, all interactive and no paper. I like to get my hands on great piles of paper, brochures, maps and anything else on offer. I do appreciate that this is not doing the planet much good however this is how our generation are, and we intend to be around for a little while yet. We did manage to leave with a printed off map which had one of those maze thingies in the corner which you are supposed to point your iPod or iPad at, if you have one, or more the point, if you have access to endless and omnipresent internet.

The Hocking River flows over a causeway at Audley which these days is simply the Visitors Centre, a historic boat shed and wonderful picnic areas. Perhaps it was once a more substantial settlement. There is a paucity of information about the park altogether. The boat shed has hundreds of small rowing bats and kayaks, presumably available for hire. I imagine that if these were all out on hire on the river up from the causeway as they would have to be, the pond-like section of the river here would be like a public swimming pool on a Saturday afternoon. Without this chaos, it really is a very attractive area.

We drove on south up out of the river valley and across the moor covered in the kind of heath vegetation we have wandered through over the last month every time we have ascended the escarpment. Further south we came on down toward the upper reaches of the Hocking River, through taller forest and narrow winding roads. Soon we arrived at Bald Hill where we had hoped to see wind surfers leaping from the cliffs several days ago. Today was no more exciting although there were plenty of travellers who had paused to catch possible action, and instead had settled for an icecream from the Mr Whippy van. For us it was too close to lunch for such an indulgence, so we turned north again and pulled up in a small park by the river,  dining al fresco with our picnic blanket spread across an ancient concrete pew.

From here we returned to the route and then pulled off again, this time heading east to the coast, to Wattamolla, one of the most delightful beaches I have ever ever seen. An amazing number of youths were leaping from the top of the almost dry waterfall into the lagoon below. Signs on the rock wall warned against climbing, jumping and diving. In fact several kilometres back on the road we had seen a sign that stated “No jumping or diving in this Park”; the strangest directive you ever saw.

Wattamolla Beach
We watched these young men for a while then left before any of them came to grief. We wandered about the lagoon, I paddling in my barefeet and contemplating  a swim. Alas, there is a huge amount of rubbish everywhere; used nappies, plastic bags, drink cans, juice cartons, bread bag clips, and on and on. It was so disappointing given the natural beauty of the place. Back at the car park, the landcruiser failed to start. It turned over but nothing more. We sat for a moment then tried again and it fired up. Whew!

Further on we looked for the start of a small walk to the Crystal Pools at Flat Rock Crossing. I was set on swimming in these pools if they turned out to be as clear and precious as their name suggested, however we had trouble finding a place to park and any signage, and so gave up in disgust and disappointment.

We detoured out to Bundeena, a charming little seaside settlement, directly opposite Cronulla, accessible by ferry and also this rather round about route we had taken today. We parked near the wharf and watched the day trippers swarm on to the ferry, most likely to catch the train once on the other side, dispersing to their homes all about the city.

Back on Bertram Steven Drive, we returned to Audley and just across the Hocking River, we parked and took an hour long walk down river. We both agreed that the Royal National Park was indeed very beautiful, even more than Lane Cove National Park in the centre of Sydney. We lamented the fact that we had not seen any wildlife, remembering particularly the many water dragons we had seen at Lane Cove. No sooner had we discussed this than we encountered one eyeing us up from the top of a rock right beside the track. He was still there when we walked back past him and only moved when Chris approached him too closely.

We returned to the cruiser and moved on; I did not give the starting problem another thought, then. At the top of the hill toward the exit, we pulled off the road yet again, to visit the Bungoona Lookout. A short easy path takes one to a platform high above the river and the Visitor Centre, with expansive views across the park.

Back at the car, ready to head home we were met by an unresponsive engine. After ten minutes of trying and study of the manual, we rang the RACQ for assistance. Someone would be with us in one hour, we were told. Fortunately we still had drinking water and the day’s unread newspaper. Within three quarters of an hour, the Man in the NRMA rescue van arrived. We explained the problem, he asked us to try the engine while he stood poised to diagnose the problem. And guess what? It started straight off. Oh, embarrassment! We should have tried again and cancelled the cry for help! He suggested we turn the engine off and try again. And as luck would have it, it would not start. This process went on for some time, the mechanic trying various tricks, sometimes with success and sometimes not. After about half an hour, while the engine was running but the problem still a mystery, we left under his watchful eye, and came on home without further ado. Tomorrow we will have to find out what really is wrong with the Landcruiser, this mean machine that is supposed to be invincible and forever reliable, just not today.

Dinner was rather late tonight.

Friday, November 30, 2012

1 December 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The storm did indeed arrive with heavy rain and thunder all about. I suspect this is a common occurrence here at this time of the year. It was still raining on and off this morning which led us to plan our day based on unreliable weather.

We woke at an even more unseemly hour than yesterday, hearing the first stirrings of our neighbours and their two little yappy Maltese terriers. They had been introduced to us by their owner yesterday afternoon; in retrospect, clearly to endear us to them in readiness for the early disturbance. They were cute, very cute, however if we wanted to be disturbed by dogs, we would have some of our own. Our neighbours were planning to head off promptly this morning, by 8 am if possible, and they were right on schedule. Given the severe disability of Mrs Neighbour, they did well to have their camp packed up and be away and off home to Canberra on time. They had spent three unscheduled months here in Sydney, having abandoned their nomadic winter in the north when summoned with great urgency to the bedside of one of their adult children. Ongoing care is to engage their attention and efforts for some years now, well into their dotage; they are already well into their seventies. Our hearts went with them this morning; alas that was as much as we could offer.

It was half way through the process of their leaving where we were involved in so far as moving our vehicle out of harm’s way, that the power suddenly went off. Chris spent some time fiddling around with alternate electric leads, twiddling with switches and finally inquiring after the telephone number of an electrician. I switched the fridge to gas and finished boiling the water on the gas stove. We wondered how much it would cost to have a Sydney electrician come out on a Saturday and decided that we would go without mains power until Monday. And then, we worked out that the mains switch in the caravan had thrown; up is On and down is Off, contrary to the normal state of affairs. I reverted to the electric kettle to find that it was that which had thrown the switch. The element had gone. Praise be!!! as they say.

In the meantime, when I had poured the boiling water from the new gas kettle into the thermos, the spout opening had broken. This was the second time we had used it! This was one of those mornings when disaster seesaws with joy.

So after breakfast we set off up to Kmart at the Sylvania shopping centre and sought a refund on the gas kettle and purchased a replacement electric one. (The old gas kettle which had been relegated to the cruiser for camping and picnics was retrieved and will go back into service when we are free camping. There is actually nothing wrong with it, we simply coveted the bright shiny new one!)

From there we headed east to Cronulla to the cinema where we bought tickets to “The Sessions”. We were very early so popped into McDonalds for coffee and muffins. What appalling service ! What a rubbish strewn restaurant!!! Ten minus points for the franchise! Lazy inefficient staff all round. The coffee however was excellent; we do enjoy their filter coffee.

We wandered up and down the mall busy with Saturday traffic. The weather had greatly improved, probably because we were carrying umbrellas. Hundreds of young people poured off the train each time it arrived, carrying surf boards and other beach paraphernalia  dressed in shorts and sundresses celebrating the sizzling start to summer. The cafes were all full and Cronulla was buzzing.

We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I found it very moving, funny, poignant  and many other things; it is based on a true story. Highly recommended, for sure!

Later we drove around and around, finally finding a car park near Guinnamatta Park where we sat eating our lunch in the sun watching the people on the beach in the hot blazing burning sun and exposed our own legs to sunburn. Eventually wisdom drove us into the shade, but it would take longer to convince those on the beach and in the water below us.

I suggested to Chris we could go find the Sutherland Art Gallery or come back to camp and watch the cricket. Is the Pope a Catholic? The answer was obvious of course, however it gave me opportunity to pull this aging laptop out of its bag and update this.

It was 40 degrees in the caravan when we arrived home. After a cold shower, and sitting here in the gentle breeze, I am now much more comfortable. Chris tells me I should be working on acclimatising to the tropical heat in readiness for our trip to the far north in the new year, however we have to subject ourselves to the New Zealand weather before then.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

30 November 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

Murphy’s Law decreed that it should dawn fine the day we elected to leave, however regret is a wasted emotion and so I shall simply add that we have had a good look around Wollongong, and would be happy to return and to the excellent camping ground we patronized.

We had woken earlier than usual, and while this was not intentional, it did allow us to watch most of Channel Ten’s very last Breakfast show hosted by New Zealand’s own Paul Henry and his offsider, the lovely Kathryn Robinson. Although we rarely caught more than ten minutes or so on any one weekday morning, particularly after the producers reduced it back to an 8.30 finish, we always enjoyed his quirky humour and provocative style. We read somewhere that New Zealand is welcoming him back into their fold, despite the faux pas of the past, so perhaps we shall catch him at some future time.

Despite the extended television viewing, we were away from the camp before 9 am, and driving south toward the centre of Wollongong in search of the Southern Freeway, preferring to ascend the steep escarpment on this more major road than the Bulli Pass of yesterday. This more southern incline is still long and slow, particularly when one is towing a two and a half tonne caravan with a standard non-turbo Landcruiser, and then stuck behind a couple of heavily laden trucks. However, my husband did not utter one negative word or any comment about the other vehicles that flew past us; my stern words of the last whinging session obviously have had effect, for now, until the next time.

We passed over the same plateau we had walked just yesterday to the falls, on through expanses of wooded plain, and up and down more hills than we have encountered all the way up the coast, and that is saying something!

It was just after 10 am when we pulled into the camp here at Miranda. The office is closed between 10 am and 4 pm, so the most obliging Brigitte was a little miffed to have us check in so early. And then to top it off, we didn’t like the site she allocated to us. We were unlikely to receive television reception stuck under the tree, the nectar from the flowers was bound to turn the caravan a spotty yellow and there was also an ant problem, according to the immediate neighbour. We were moved to another sit, a little begrudgingly. This is the first time we have had personal dealings with Brigitte; our previous dealings have all been by email and most efficient. I need to butter her up somehow because I need her to open some mail that will come here for us and email details from the documents. Will she oblige? Will I dare ask? Watch this space.

This morning the weather reports all over the state warned of extreme heat, equal to that experienced across South Australia over the past few days. It is indeed warm,  currently 30 degrees in the shade of our caravan, and quite muggy. We still managed to walk up to the centre of Miranda and pickup a rail timetable, check out the cinema schedule and buy a couple of grocery items and a refreshing McDonald’s soft serve ice-cream. The shopping centre is about a kilometre up the hill, a direct route with good road crossings, all familiar to us since it is only five months since we were here last time. It is a bit like coming home.

The final cricket test between the South Africans and the Australians is underway in Perth. My husband is happy to have good television reception and a touring schedule that works around that. The forecasted afternoon storm has yet to arrive; perhaps tonight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

29 November 2012 - Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort, Fairy Meadow, NSW

What a relief to discover a brighter day through the blinds this morning. The clouds were still low over Mount Keira but it seemed we would have visability along the coast even if not up toward the escarpment. The forecast suggested we were in for a humid day and so it was out with the jeans and on with a skirt, with no further forward thought.

We set off northward along what is loosely termed The Grand Pacific Drive, more accurately Pioneer Road, then on up to meet the southern end of the Lawrence Hargrave Drive, named after an engineer, astronomer, inventor and aeronautical pioneer born in England in 1850 who subsequently died in Australia 1915. His particular claim to fame in this region was when he successfully lifted himself off the ground under a train of box kites at Stanwell Park Beach on 12 November 1894. These days hang gliders and para gliders celebrate this action by leaping off Bald Hill above Stanmwell Park, but alas for us, not today.

The route from Wollingong to Stanwell Park is a mere twenty five kilometres, and here at Fairy Meadow, we were already partway done. From Thirroul, once and only briefly, home to the author, DH Lawrence, while he made progress on the manuscript of Kangaroo, the road hugs the coast with little option to do otherwise. The strip between the sheer cliffs and the coast is narrow, just wide enough to hold the small seaside villages of Austinmer, Coledale, Wombarra, Scarborough, Clifton, Coalcliff and Stanwell Park.
Remants of old jetties
It was the discovery of coal along this coastline that brought Europeans and kept them here.  In 1796, the ship “Sydney Cove” suffered storm damage while crossing the Bass Strait. Eleven of the crew were set off in a longboat to seek help, but were shipwrecked on the Ninety Mile Beach down on the Victorian coast. Bravely and tenaciously, they continued on foot, finally reaching the beach at Austinmer in May 1797. There they built a fire with coal found on the beach, and later saw a coal seam above the watermark. Several months later, Dr George Bass visited the area and confirmed that yes, there was indeed coal here, a seam six to seven feet thick along the sea cliff. The inaccessibility to the site delayed mine until January 1878.

A jetty 150 metres from the shoreline was constructed to access the mine and became known as the Jetty Mine. The coal was loaded in the mine and hauled to the surface by horse and later by a steam powered rope haulage system. The seas often proved too strong for the jetty; it had to be rebuilt after such destruction. The last shipment of coal from the jetty was in 1912. The Jetty Mine was renamed Coal Cliff Coliery in 1909, by which time it was accessible by rail. Over forty years, between 1878 and 1919, an estimated three million tonnes was extracted from the mine. It finally closed in 1992.

The Lawrence Hargreave Drive
The Lawrence Hargrave Drive was constructed way back in the 1870s, however the stretch between Clifton and Coalcliff, suffered damage time and time again from regular rock falls. In 2003 a major slip closed the road permanently, a most unpopular decision that gave rise to the construction the Sea Cliff Bridge, at a cost of $49 million.

When I read this, I was reminded of the Manawatu Gorge near Palmerston North in New Zealand, which suffers closure from flood and the resulting erosion all too frequently. Perhaps I should write to the New Zealand Prime Minister and suggest the same solution but then, I suspect there isn’t the money hanging about for such a project.

The bridge was opened in December 2005, not so long ago, and apart from relinking the villages along the coast, it has become a great tourist attraction as was evident today by our own interest and that of many small busloads of foreign tourists. It is one of only seven off-shore parallel to coast bridges in the world and the Drive is considered one of the most scenic roads in Australia.

We chose to walk it, parking at Coalcliff and walking back  a couple of kilometres to take in the 455 metre bridge section. It passes over a particularly rugged part of the coast, obviously a draw card for would-be suicide candidates, given the signage and high fences. It was from here we first noticed the swathes of red algae, something we had already been alerted to on the news yesterday. Some of the beaches north of here have already been closed although I suspect there is a disregard for such amongst the diehard surfers.

Returning to the cruiser, we continued on the road, soon climbing up out of Stanwell Park and up to the Lawence Hargrave Memorial and Otford Lookout on Bald Hill. It was here we might have seen the flyers had it not been Thursday, 29 November, if that had any significance at all. The views back down the coast were spectacular and the clouds had lifted. The built up area stretches on and on, past Wollongong, down past Shellharbour, Kiama and beyond.

A streak of red algae
At this point we decided that we would not simply retrace our route as had been Plan A, but to carry on westwards and then return to camp on the Old Princess Highway. Heading homeward, I suggested we pop into the Dharawal Nature Reserve, lunch and then do a walk if there was anything on offer. There are not a lot of walks on offer here or in the Dharwell State Conservation Area, but we did enjoy the short walk to the Madden Falls, where we sat and ate our lunch on the viewing platform above the falls. Maddens Creek is one of the tributaries that eventually feed into the George River, a significant river we have crossed in other places and one that feeds into Botony Bay.

Walking in National Parks and the like, calls for sensible solid footwear, and we do carry our walking shoes with us in the cruiser. However, while I am no fashion plate, clunky laceups and woollen sox just do not go with floral gauzy skirts! At least not when one is of a certain age. I was pleased that no one saw us before I could change back into my sandals. Such vanity on my part! And such comedy for my husband.

Madden Falls
Back on the road, fed and exercised, we stopped off at the Sublime Point Lookout, high above Austinmer and again offering spectacular views along the coast. From this vantage point, red ribbons of algae criss crossed the sea as far as we could see. We then travelled back down to the coast via the Bulli Pass, a steep descent over the edge of the escarpment, ever so slowly, following a heavily laden truck.

During the course of our return journey, we decided that we would not extend our time here, but move on to Sydney,  provided we can arrive a week earlier than our booking.

Waiting for 4 pm when we know the office will be open, we watched Parliament’s Question Time, the last for the year. It has been an interesting week or two here in Australia, and quite shocking if one is not familiar with the normal argy bargy of parliamentarians. The misogyny crying Prime Minister has been handing out more unappropriate sexist inelegant language than any thrown at her. She is no lady, that is for sure! But tough! Tough as nails. A consumate street fighter. Not a particularly attractive characteristic.

In contrast, we have enjoyed the songs of three magpies lined up under our awning. They really are quite delightful. Remind me I said that when I am next decrying their agressive attacks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

28 November 2012 - Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort, Fairy Meadow, NSW

The very heavy rain had reverted to drizzle by morning but we were unable to even detect the silhouette of the hills behind the city. Again it was not a day for outdoor touring and unlike the States’ capital cities which have so much to offer whatever the weather, Wollongong, for us, had promised wonderful touring along the coast and up onto the escarpment. Great shrouds of rain mist preclude such activities.

Emails arrived raising debate about the replacement of a kitchen appliance in our rented home, and so in the end we decided to go look in the appropriate shops and check out up-to-date models.  Such stores seem to exist here only down the coast at Warrawong, a suburb south of Port Kembla, so we decided to pop into Australia’s Industry World, the information centre for Bluescope Steel on the way. This small centre is really just the kick off spot for the bi-weekly tours around the steel works and does not display a wealth of information about the history and workings I had hoped for. The woman manning the centre was however very welcoming and offered to show us that part of the tour film explaining the points we were interested in. We left after the fifteen minute film a little wiser about Wollongong and steel.

One small point that did catch my attention was that the steelworks was started by the Hoskins brothers who had up to that time operated a successful iron foundry business. In 1907 they bought an ailing steelworks at Lithgow, complete with blast furnace and steelmaking facilities. In 1928 they established Australian Iron & Steel at Port Kembla, nearer the coal supply.

The name Hoskins rang a bell, and surely some relation to the Hoskins who gave the acreage to the city for the Botanic Gardens?

The network of highways and bi-ways about Wollongong is excellent, or at least between the hours of 9.30 am and 3 pm; commuters may say otherwise. We soon found our way to Warrawong and spent time at The Good Guys discussing the pros and cons of ceramic stove tops. Alas all brands have simplified their design and reduced the number of hot plates, much to my husband’s dismay. But our problem is more the size of the hole, the same problem we had when we replaced it ten years ago or so. If nothing else, Chris accepted that the plain stove tops suggested in the emails this morning are as worthy as any other we might consider.

Having satisfied ourselves of that fact, we made our way to the Westfield shopping centre and found that the very recently released Bond movie, Skyfall, was about to commence in ten minutes. And how we enjoyed it! For me it was the first Bond movie I had seen since the very late ‘60s and so very different from those. I had heard reviews suggesting there was less action that its predecessors.  All I can say to that is,”Really?!”

I was quite happy that the weather was unchanged when we emerged from the shopping centre. It would have been so frustrating if we had missed a window of good weather.

27 November 2012 - Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort, Fairy Meadow, NSW

In the end, I did go check out the beach yesterday while Chris was preparing dinner. I came upon a chap drying himself off after a swim, a swim at a spot clearly marked with a sign, “No Swimming”. A further sign spells out the fact that the beach drops away suddenly, there is a serious undertow and there is no lifeguard service within cooee. He, however, had survived his dip and looked happy enough to do it all again tomorrow. I walked across the golden sand and admired the many kilometres stretching both north and south, a long open bay. Out to sea, there were four freighters lying in wait, presumably for their turn at Port Kembla. Drizzle was falling leaving patterns on the sand and causing the sand to stick to my feet.

This morning when we rose, the day was overcast yet again however no significant rain had fallen overnight. It was still not a day to head up onto elevated vantage points on the escarpment, or at least for viewing purposes. Instead we set off toward Wollongong’s centre, following the shoreline’s great green recreational belt all the way down to Flagstaff Hill. This point curves around like a great fishing hook, creating the sheltered Wollongong Harbour on the northern shore. On the highest point of the hill, only 25 metres high, views can be had both north and south, the latter to the industrial area obvious by all the tall chimneys.

Here was once a fort, today just a few old cannons and a large disappearing gun emplacement left to remind us. The fort was constructed between 1890 and 1891and the two lighthouses, still standing and making the point quite an imposing landmark, were completed and commissioned in 1937.

Lighthouse at Flagstaff Hill
We found a park at the top of the cliff a little further south, immediately adjacent to the Wollongong Entertainment Centre. Crown Street, the main street, runs in a straight line from here for about four blocks; the last couple, a pedestrian mall. The lower part of the mall was made a pedestrian only area in the 1980s; the use of drab brown brick structures for seating and gardens suggests it might have been all done in the 1970s.

Interestingly Crown Street was created in the early 19th century from a cattle track which follows a ridge from Mount Keira to the first farm house in the area.

We were distracted from our exploration of the shopping prescinct by a concert performed by a school band from Unanderra High, Unanderra being a southern suburb of Wollongong. We enjoyed a medley of Michael Jackson compositions, another from West Side Story, an instrumental rendition of the Beatle’s “Hey Jude” and a couple of numbers with female vocalists, girls who will surely make their own stardom in the future. We wandered about the shops in the excellent centre further up the mall and Chris ended up with yet another pair of shoes.

Colour in the Botanic Gardens
I make an issue of this because over the many years Chris and I have shared our lives, he has declared me to have more shoes than Imelda Marcos. In fact he has frequently addressed me as “Imelda”. Since we have been in Australia, I have joked about the fact that he has overtaken me on the shoe acquisition stakes. The current tally is 7:5, mine the lesser.

We were anxious to make our way back to the cruiser within the two hour parking time, doing so before heading back up to Flagstaff Hill where we parked and ate our lunch while sitting in out of the threatening rain.

The rain did not eventuate however it is quite a lark to sit out of hearing and people-watch; I confess we are very rude sometimes but then probably no more so that others are about us. We can all be spectacles for frank criticism and ridicule.

After this, we found a petrol station and filled the near empty fuel tanks, then found a parking spot near the City Art Gallery. As we have found so often, a couple of the galleries were undergoing a change of exhibition, however we enjoyed wandering about the two which were open to the public. We found some to our taste and some not so, but in all, the gallery is worth a quick visit if galleries are your thing. We would not however put the Wollongong Art Gallery on the top ten we have visited here in Australia.

We did enjoy a visit to the city’s Botanic Gardens, situated in the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment. The Gardens were established as the result of a gift of just over ten hectares to the City from the Hoskins family in 1954. Work began in 1964 and the gardens were opened to the public in 1970. The weather had still held off and we enjoyed immensely our stroll up through the gardens. We would certainly encourage travellers to seek the gardens out and follow in our footsteps. The lily pond was particularly attractive; the flowers and more so, the waterbirds nesting on the lily pads.

It was not too far back to our camp here. We quickly checked out the beach and agreed the golden sands were quite appealing to those with a yen for sandy activities. Chris does not particularly like getting sand in his shoes or anywhere else for that matter.

Tonight as I finish this, the rain is falling heavily on the caravan roof and thunder is crashing all about. Hopefully the worst will have passed by morning. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

26 November 2012 - Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort, Fairy Meadow, NSW

Just as my first views through the windows yesterday had been of clear blue sky, today was of flat white skies. Venturing out did little to change the outlook, at least until 9.30 am when we pulled out of the caravan park at Kiama when we could see the cloud cover burning off. Some sort of surf meet was on, we had heard the loud speaker announcements from the surf beach over breakfast. Perhaps the weather would fit the occasion after all.

But further north, we drove into low cloud, obscuring the escarpment which has crept closer to the coast here at Woolongong than further south.

With a population of nearly 300,000, Wollongong is the third largest city in New South Wales, and ninth largest in Australia. Built on coal mining and industry, and its port, this city does not spring to mind as a tourist destination for most discerning travellers however we believe we will be able to fill at least the four days we are booked here. or should I say, thought we could.

As I write this, thunder is crashing all about us and rain threatens to restrict our activities. Only the dim silhouette of the escarpment is visible from the window. Perhaps the heavey rain has yet to reach us.

We are right on the beach, this I know from the park map and the birds who have already come over to introduce ourselves. A plover family spent some time engaging vocally with me while I finished my book lounging under the awning earlier. Two tiny chicks were testing out the patience of their liberal parents as they wandered about the caravans and vehicles parked nearby. Three magpies have just departed after an excellent concert performed on our welcome mat. Seagulls are whirling and wheeling about in anticipation of the coming storm. And the short forecast that popped up on Google showed a line of black clouds with zigzags of colour. The week is not looking so good after all.

Chris is watching the last throes of the cricket test and I have, as I said, finished my book, dealt with some business emails and now summing up a rather sedentiary day. We only travelled forty seven kilometres today.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

25 November 2012 - Surf Beach Holiday Park, Illawarra, NSW

What a difference a day makes! And such a day it has been, dawning cloudless and heralding holiday weather as was celebrated today by the dozens of families picnicking at the beach and on recreational areas, the young blondies  showing off their spray tans and short shorts and the old blondies daringly baring their own withered loins.

Little Blowhole
After a sleep of the just, we rose to the sound of pitter patter of little feet in the cabin next to us, but no cries or winges. This lot are well behaved, thank goodness. Soon there were joyous cries from the heated swimming pool and it was time for the replay of the rugby match between the Italians and the Wallabies that had taken place in Florence overnight. The Wallabies won, but after a valiant attempt from the passionate Latins who closed only three behind and at least half a dozen injuries, some carried off with the greatest of drama. Italians do that so well!

We had managed to slip out before the replay to check out the Little Blowhole, just a kilometre down the coast, if that. We wound our way through yet another maze of streets to be duly rewarded by this smaller hole which was blowing well today. It was worth the effort and the fact we missed the first ten minutes of the game.

After checking on the fourth day of cricket play, lunch and then more cricket until their own lunch time, we headed north up to Kiama Downs to see the Cathedral Rocks, volcanic rocks shaped by erosion over the millenium. Adjacent, playing in the swirling surf were half a dozen young people, taking their lives in their hands. Out of control, the ragged rocks would have been their only destination. We watched their antics for some time and I tried to remember how young people consider life and such recklessness. Had I ever lived life in such a foolhardy manner? Yes, probably, but not in the surf .

A little to the south was a more conventional surf beach, this named The Boneyard, or the cameron Boyd Reserve. Cameron Boyd was known as the King of the Boneyard, obviously one of the surfing madman I alluded to before. Apart from spending time surfing at this beach, he made a significant contribution to competitive surfing on the South Coast in the 1970s so it is quite appropriate that this spot bears his name.

We walked a little down the coast until we reached the Bombo Headland, a moonscape of basalt walls and columns, the remnants of blue metal quarrying. This surreal landscape is apparently used regularly as a backdrop for video clips and television advertisements. It is absolutely amazing and struck me in the same way the alien landscape east of Coober Pedy had done, although this today is greatly due to man’s intervention.

When whitemen arrived down this way, the headland was promptly stripped of its vegetation and became a loading dock for the blue metal industry. Long after the industry had ceased, a local activist group intervened to save it from further quarrying and campainged to have it set aside for nature and recreation. In 1974, the headland was declared a State Park.

Bombo Headland with interference from birds and man
We spent some time wandering about and also marvelled that one corner of this was now home to the area’s sewerage works, a great washing machine of stinking waste.

Back in Kiama, we parked at the lower end of town and noted all the tourists  and the fact that the cafes were all full, even mid afternoon. We wandered past the cottages, heritage listed homes to the quarrymen who were the life blood of Kiama before the quarries closed in 1961. Demand for blue metal for roads, railways and trams were really the genisis of Kiama.

These timber terrace houses date back to 1886 and were built for quarry workers and their families. By 1960 they were in such a state of disrepair, they were almost demolished. Since then they have been classified by the National Trust and placed under a permanent conservation order.

The blowhole today was very different to the first visit; just a rumble down the great hole while first time tourists waited, hopeful, on the viewing platforms. The scene up and down the coast today, despite the heat haze, was so much more attractive today. The absence of wind makes for happier touring. The harbour tucked above the northern side of Blowhole Point was picturesque with colour and busy-ness.

The harbour, Robertson Basin,  is actually manmade, blasted out of the rock. Between 1849 and 1855 numerous applications and petitions were made by the citizens of the Kiama district, duly rewarded with the harbour facility. The Basin was an important improvement in communication prior to the opening of the south coast railway.

The quarry houses at Kiama
Satisfied we had seen all the must-dos on my list for today, we headed back to camp where Chris settled in for the rest of the cricket day and I stretched out in the shade with the newspaper and a novel.

It is just less than two weeks before we fly to Auckland and meet up with our family, the days are counting down and we have more days than tasks; just the way it should be. Tomorrow we will head north again, inching ever closer to Sydney from where we must depart for our family reunion.