Saturday, June 30, 2012

30 June 2012 - Belmont Bayview Park, Lake Macquarie, NSW

It was not the neighbourhood bird life that woke us this morning but the gaggle of girls up early and ready for their netball or whatever it is they have descended on Belmont for. The level of noise obviously was indicative of the speed and effort of their preparations because they were soon off and by the time we rose just after 8 am, the park was once more quiet.

Breakfast eaten, dishes done and the eski packed, we set off north to Newcastle, just twenty or so kilometres from here. We had passed through Newcastle early in March 2011 as we travelled down the Hunter River from a family history search at Maitland. Then we had found the city most unfriendly or rather very unaccommodating of caravanners, providing no obvious parking for anything bigger than the family car and no caravan parks close to the city. We had enjoyed the promenade along the riverside but had otherwise come away after the shortest of visits with a very negative attitude and so we were keen to change our outlook toward this city; the second most populous in New South Wales with a population of over 288,000 people. The sun was shining and it seemed we were set to enjoy better weather than we had for many weeks.

We headed directly to Camp Shortland on the southern bank of the Hunter River mouth. We found a park by the river at Horseshoe Bay and watched the many locals fishing, walking their dogs or do as we were; watch the large cargo vessels come and go through the seventeen metre deep shipping channel. We then set off on foot across the Macquarie Pier, a manmade causeway stretching from the mainland at Fort Sketchley across to Nobby Head, a rocky outcrop essentially and island.

The first European, a Captain Shortland (whose name graces several geographical features here) accidentally discovered the entrance to the Hunter River in 1797, when he was on the prowl for escaped convicts. He reported the deep water port and the abundant coal to his superiors and before you know it, Newcastle was a buzz of activity. In 1801 convicts were dispatched to dig the coal out and that same year saw the first shipment of coal from the port. They certainly didn’t muck around in those days.

Nobby Head
The entrance was however a problem. Ships either mistook or chose to take the shortcut between the southern point and Nobby’s to enter the river, instead of taking the longer route a little north and approaching the river in a more westerly direction; not a good idea. And so Governor Macquarie (who as I have said before managed to have hundreds of geographical features named after him) decided that the convicts could be put to work building the “pier”. Rocks were hewn from the point on which Fort Sketchley was established, and shifted across to block the sea. This took fifty five years to complete which just goes to show that digging out coal was much more fun that building walls.

Today the walkway which extends some distance beyond Nobby’s was busy with families shepherding toddlers on trikes, middle aged cyclists, lycra clad joggers with their personal trainers and normal people. Australians really are fantastic at getting out into the fresh air and making the most of what recreational facilities are made available, even to the detriment of their own garden maintenance. Surprisingly, for all that, Australians are right up there in the statistics of obesity, even worse than New Zealand. And what a perfect day it was to be out walking. Our progress was slow; neither of us are up to aerobic exercise. Hopefully this will change soon; the month of generous hospitality showered upon us in New Zealand has taken its toll on our weight.

Our next destination was Fort Sketchley standing high above Nobby’s Beach. We did not take advantage of the tunnel tours on offer from the volunteers on duty, but wandered around the grounds, reading the excellent interpretative panels and enjoying the views; out to sea to count the dozen or so large cargo vessels waiting their turn for pilotage into port, along the pier to marvel at how far we had walked and back across the city which from this vantage point and that where we had parked the car, really is quite lovely.

It was from this fort that defending forces fired on a Japanese submarine in the Second World War. The Japanese, contrary to popular view, were not intent on invading Australia (or New Zealand). They simply did not have the resources to do so. But they were keen to wipe out essential industry, Newcastle’s iron works one of them. The Australians missed and the sub snuck away before any damage done to either party. Despite the fact that this was all a bit of a non-event, it has gone down in history and given fame to Fort Sketchley.

When we came here last year, we travelled down river past the large steelworks, the starkness of the coal loading docks and all the other ugly paraphernalia that belongs to a city which is essentially an industrial hub. Today we saw a very different side to Newcastle and were glad we had taken the opportunity to revisit and review our previous opinion.

We returned to the vehicle and ate our lunch while watching more ships being guided into port, then headed into the centre of the city to the Newcastle Art Gallery. We enjoyed the annual Artexpress HSC Visual Exhibition which shows work by a selection of students in New South Wales; the standard of work was exceptional. Upstairs was an exhibition titled Material Beauty which is an eclectic collection of objects and materials in contemporary sculpture. We both agreed there was some excellent work, some absolute rubbish and some that raises the perennial question: But is it art?

We were also delighted to see work by Michael Shannon, part of a travelling exhibition on loan from the Ballarat Art Gallery. We had seen a large part of this artist’s work there months ago before we arrived in Melbourne and loved it, so revisiting these paintings was an absolute joy.

Next door at the Library was an exhibition of photographs; the 2011 Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism. These covered sporting moments, the Brisbane floods, the Arab Spring, the Christchurch earthquake and a host of other subjects. This proved to be well worth the effort of climbing the stairs to the top floor.

By then we felt we had reached our physical capabilities for the day so turned for home and stopped at the Charlestown shopping centre, one of the largest in the area. We squeezed into the car park with a height restriction of 2.2 metres and joined the masses who preferred malls to the outdoors. We wandered about avoiding the temptation of 50% price slashing, instead stocking up on fruit and vegetables at Coles then headed back to enjoy the last of the afternoon peace before the sporty girls returned from their days activity. Needless to say when they did finally return, the noise was short lived. The day has obviously been exhausting and there is more to follow tomorrow. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

29 June 2012 - Belmont Bayview Park, Lake Macquarie, NSW

The day started with showers just as yesterday and I had my doubts about succeeding in the laundry department.

The birds were at their urban best; the kookaburras, crows and magpies later giving way to noisey-miners and unidentified parrots. Back in New Zealand we had enjoyed the tuis and the pukekos in the Auckland Regional Parks for a few nights, however to compare the morning chorus in each country is to compare two tables in a restaurant; one with a long settled married couple and the other with a female book club on the loose. There is no comparison at all.

Outside the resident bunnies were mozzying about just as they did last year. Maybe they are neutered; their numbers do not appear to have exploded. Maybe that is a condition of keeping these otherwise vilified creatures in urban confines? I guess they are cheaper to employ than Jim’s Mowing or the like.

Actually this lovely spot by Lake Macquarie is remembered for its special wildlife firsts for us. It was here on the walk around Green Point that we first enjoyed the carillon-like chorus of bell miners, and on the same walk I spotted my first live fox. Most of the latter seen since have lain dead on the road side which gives lie to the saying “as cunning as a fox”.

Chris moved the landcruiser closer than comfortable to the caravan and climbed up on the cruiser’s roof to diagnose the leak problem in anticipation of this afternoon’s examination. Alas it seems the month of airconditioners or at least their casings. I have yet to mention that some days after we arrived in New Zealand and collected our motorhome out of storage, we found that the casing of the airconditioner had been smashed and “repaired” in the most amateurish manner you could possibly imagine. Worse still was the fact that the person in charge had failed to communicate this with us or with his superiors. It did not help us that he was subsequently fired for his action and inaction, but hopefully will have saved others from becoming victim to his careless attitude. Hopefully as I write this the big chief with whom we left our motorhome has the re-repair in hand and there will be no further problems. To their great credit, management insisted they meet the entire cost of this work despite our suggestion that we meet them halfway. Alas the motorhome is very high and the roller door of the storage shed is such a pain to open all the way!

We walked along the lake shore to Coles and purchased a few items I had missed in our big shop at Miranda, then sauntered back along the promenade admiring the many sailing boats anchored in the bay. Mist was still rising from the valleys far to the west and closer we made out the chimneys of the coal fired power station at Eraring passed yesterday and that at Munmorah to the south which we had passed when we came down this coast last year.

Back at camp we packed and hitched up ready to move out. We didn’t go very far; just up the street where we parked in a relatively flat spot and lunched while being entertained by a domestic row taking place in the adjacent street. Who would have thought such an attractive blonde bimbo could have such a filthy mouth? And not only was the vocabulary not for delicate ears, but it was spat out in the worst “Kath & Kim” accent; one that would embarrass most well-spoken Australians.

We were parked in Five Star Camper’s yard well before 1 pm, and soon unhitched, leaving the capable service man with a list to tick off. With two hours to fill, we decided to head the few kilometres south to Swansea which is situated across the opening bridge at the lake entrance, then east to Swansea Heads where we parked and watched the waves crashing into the breakwater and small fishing boats battle the strong currents. We then crossed back the isthmus to the lake where rows of small fishing boats bobbed up and down waiting for their crew and offering an interim resting place for a score of pelicans.

Further up the lake at Pelican Flat, we parked and watched even more pelicans lined up patiently waiting for a couple of successful fishermen to complete cleaning their catch. I was soon joined by Gwen who told me her life story, or at least the last five years which explained what she was doing there on the foreshore watching the pelicans. After some time, her husband, Stan, came looking for her and I excused myself to join Chris who was patiently waiting in the landcruiser immersed in the day’s newspaper.  

It was still only 2.30 pm when we arrived back to check progress on the caravan and were duly rewarded to find the work all completed. We paid up and headed back to camp. There we set up with greater ease than yesterday and found the washing done earlier in the day, almost dry. A quick burl in the dryer and then both tucked up for the rest of the afternoon having achieved all the practical tasks of the day although Chris is still battling a headache even if he does look better than he did last night.

This evening has seen the first of the school holiday families arrive with their caravans. A bus load of children for some sort of sport tournament here in Belmont are haring around like lunatics in the wood floored cabins close by. Hopefully they should settle down early with the start of their activities no doubt scheduled for the morning. Chris has just confirmed that the frog is again under the caravan croaking and creaking his night song. Indeed this is a surprisingly busy place with wildlife.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

28 June 2012 - Belmont Bayview Park, Lake Macquarie, NSW

Our departure from Sydney was a little reliant on how the driver felt on rising however he announced that he was no worse, was not willing to risk boredom hanging about convalescing and was willing to take on the Sydney traffic. And so we pulled out of the Sydney Tourist Park a little before 9.30 am, launching ourselves onto the narrow undulating roads north across the city, crossing the Parramatta River at Ryde and travelling north to Hornsby where one suddenly leaves the city roads for the freeway. The forty two kilometres across the city took us just over an hour and seemed much longer. Both Chris and I were surprised when we reviewed the statistics tonight to learn how short it really had been.

By this time the rain had set in diminishing the pleasure of travelling northwards along the wonderful highway carved through the rocks of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and up through the hills toward the coastal lakes.

We stopped for a break at the rest stop near Ourimbah where we had overnighted at the end of the summer last year. Today there were just as many vehicles taking advantage of the facilities but great puddles lay all about and the temperature had barely reached the forecasted 17 degrees. It was a joy to hear the bell-miners that we had encountered there last year, still in residence and still in full “throat”.

We had found a puddle of water in the caravan directly below the airconditioning unit when we moved it from storage to site the day before yesterday and put it down to freak weather conditions in our absence. Today when we stopped en route we found more water in the same spot and so when Chris phoned the caravan servicing people in Belmont to book the van in, he asked that they check this along with the bearings and brakes. Telephoning Five Star Caravans was quite a mission; our call was met with a five minute revolving promotional spiel to entertain until eventually a real person took the call. Chris threatened to hang up between uttering curmudgeonly (and worse) utterances into his cellphone, however I convinced him to hold because he would surely be subjected to the same all over again when he rang back. Last year we were so impressed with their service done under warranty, we felt obliged to revisit them for this needed service tomorrow. Perhaps we should tell them that such long and wordy telephone intros do not go down well with middle aged and older men calling on their cellphones!

Even with an appointment made for tomorrow afternoon, we were still undecided as to where we would stay. We left the freeway just south of Morisset and drove up the western shore of Lake Macquarie, pulling into Toronto to check out the motor camp advertised with a simple sign nailed to a gum tree beside the freeway. Toronto is an absolutely charming spot, the main street running directly down to the lakeside then turning along the foreshore. Unfortunately the camping ground is some distance away and since neither of us are currently up to much exertion, we decided we would carry on.

The caravan park at Teralba sounded promising however it was even further back from the lakeside and the immediate neighbourhood did not appeal, so yet again we drove on. Here the lakeside road turned south east and we followed the lovely eastern shoreline, travelled last year, down to Belmont to this caravan park; a tried and true destination.

We found that the price had gone up by 25% but managed to secure a 10% discount from the manager who is professional rather than warm and friendly. I remembered him from last year, Chris did not; perhaps that says it all?

I had hoped the weather would have cleared enough to encourage us to wander over to the lakeside, however it soon became too cold to drag by poor ailing husband out. Better to keep in and feed him cups of tea and more Vitamin C tablets. Note to self; buy more vitamins tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

27 June 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, Sydney, NSW

 We arrived back yesterday after a month in New Zealand, a month of mixed results; the joy of meeting up with our family and the dubious frustration of realising that no one deals with one’s possessions and business matters like we ourselves. I was absolutely delighted to see what fine young people our older grandchildren have grown into and delighted to find that our much younger grandchildren returned our embraces warmly and openly despite our absence during these very formative years. Just as we did during our last trip back, we caught winter chills and have come back in less healthy order than we left a month ago. We discovered that flying Air Argentina was not the horror that our children had suggested it might be, although the flights both ways were very delayed. In fact yesterday we had the good fortune to be upgraded to Business Class, a first for us who have always subjected ourselves to Cattle Class. On return to this, the Sydney Tourist Park, we found our land cruiser and caravan as we had left them and as Chris turned the ignition, the engine sprang to life, eager to be once more en route.

Today there have been showers of rain and apart from driving up to the shopping centre at Miranda to re-provision our food stores, we have done little but rest indoors and spend the afternoon in front of The Box observing the very interesting parliamentary debate regarding Border Security, being pressed into urgency as yet another boat load of refugees fight for their lives in the high seas somewhere to the north of this country, even now as I type this.

Today we have also, to our credit given that we had absolutely no plan as we touched down yesterday, set out a rough itinerary for the immediate weeks ahead and an even rougher plan of how we see our geographical ramblings during the months up to next Christmas when we will yet again head back to New Zealand for another visit. Tomorrow we will cross this vast city, heading north, back along highways earlier last year.

It is so exciting to be back here in Australia!