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.

Friday, November 23, 2012

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

Some days are challenging and today was one of them, or at least the greater part of it. We slept well, I attended to a small pile of laundry and soon had the lunch packed up, a new batch of milk made up; just a normal kind of day thus far.

We had two days of exploration in store and I had asked Chris which he wanted for today to best fit with the cricket test viewing. He elected for the “bigger” day and so we headed off for Shellharbour, a little to the north up the Princes Highway.

Shellharbour is technically a southern beach suburb of Woolongong, but actually a city in its own right with 65,000 inhabitants. Back in the 1830s, Shellharbour was a thriving little port on the coast, backed by Lake Illawara which is effectively a great tidal estuary covering over thirty six square kilometres. In 1859, Shellharbour was established as a municipality, a collection of the villages of Shellharbour, Lake South, Oak Flats, Albion Park and Albion Park Rail, and stayed pretty much the same, surrounded by farmland, for many years. Development started in the 1950s and ‘60s and since then it has grown like topsy, proclaimed a city in 1996.

We should have started with the original “village” of Shellharbour, and then might have felt differently, however hindsight is a wonderful thing. Instead we foolishly made our way to the first of the Information Centre’s shown on the very poor free map we had, substantiated by TomTom’s direction. Instead we became lost in a construction site, part of the huge mess of a shopping centre undergoing expansion. So we headed for the second one on the map, again confirmed by TomTom. Maybe it did exist in that location fifty years ago? Certainly not now. And to be fair, none of the signs from the highway had shown the “I” sign. It would appear there is no Information Centre in Shellharbour. So there we were, without the tearoff detailed town map we count on when we arrive in a place, without clear direction of what we should see while there and without a clear understanding of the place at all.

We headed for Barrack Point, a rocky point jutting out into the Tasman surf, covered in lovely houses. From here we could see for some distance up the coast toward the industrial chimneys of Port Kembla and back to the Illawara escarpment; all rather hazy. We found our way up to the entrance of the lake and headed around its southern shore. There is a pleasant strip of green reserve all along the lake, or at least that part we travelled. We stopped at one point and stood on a small jetty over the shallows, deciding there must be a small tidal range given the seaweed and seagrass growing so close to the shore. Several coast guard types were busy at a nearby shed; we thought we had better not distract them from their endeavours with our silly questions.  

Soon we found our way back to the same shopping centre we had lost ourselves in before and picked up the weekend newspaper and a decadent sweet to supplement our lunch. All about were new developments, new houses. In fact I reckon that 90% of the dwellings in Shellharbour must be less than twenty years old. We thought it a particularly odd sort of place, without heart. The shopping centre was a maze of tight little turns between the many shops, all jammed on the side of a slope. Quite frankly, Shellharbour left us cold.

We decided to head for the Bass Point Reserve on the southern edge of this strange place, and in doing so passed through Shellharbour Village. Here we sensed a better ambiance, perhaps we should not have been so dismissive.

Out on Bass Point, we ate our lunch in shade while appreciating the views north, then set off for a short two and a half kilometres walk along the coastal path through the ever present banksias and casuarinas. It was very pleasant and there were quite a few locals who had arrived to enjoy the recreational area and fishing from the rocks. The walk was not very challenging and did little to consume the extra thousand calories but then food is a great comforter and we needed some of that.

And so that was Shellharbour for us. We returned to Kiama, stocked up with provisions at the excellent Woolworths supermarket here and came home to bring in the washing and check out progress on the cricket. Still anyone’s game at this stage.

Since arriving home a great big motorhome has lodged itself between us and our nearest neighbour. It would seem that the owners are here to catch up with their adult children who are also camped in the park. We have lost our privacy. It has been one of those days.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

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

Last night the waves crashing onto the rocks below the park were the last thing I heard before falling into a very restful sleep, and this morning I woke to a more gentle sound; the wind had changed. The bleak overcast skies of yesterday had also been replaced by patches of blue and the promise of summer-like weather.

We headed off out of camp, topped up yet again with diesel and headed westward up Saddleback Mountain to the lookout. This is shown on the map we are using of the area but not listed on the must-dos. The road  which loops around through this lovely dairying area is steep enough, however that up to the lookout is not suitable for buses, caravans, trucks or much more than a car (or 4WD). We crept up at snail pace and were duly rewarded with lovely views back toward the densely forested coastal escarpment and out toward the coast from Wollongong down to Shoalhaven Heads. A couple in a rental campervan had heeded the warnings and were huffing and puffing up on foot as we drove back down; obviously foreign and taking care to avoid strife in a foreign land.

The road twists and turns and descends to Jambaroo, a charming settlement of 942 rural folk servicing the immediate area. As we approached the centre, I was reminded of Kangaroo Valley Village visited a couple of days ago, however it was there the resemblance ended. We drove through slowly and nothing in partiucular enticed us to stop. We  turned just north of the village and wound our way up the escarpment on the Jambaroo Mountain Road, again forbidden to vehicles over twelve metres or over twelve tonnes. According to my chauffeur, this sealed road is “ridiculously steep”; I could not agree more.

At the top we pulled into the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, a hanging swamp plateau covered mainly in heathlands. Most of this plateau is bounded by sheer cliffs of Hawkesbury sandstone up to seventy metres high that fall away to rainforest and lush farmland, whence we had just come.

We set off on an hour long walk to the Illawarra Lookout point, an easy stroll of two kilometres across a service track. Here we enjoyed views much like those from the Saddleback Mountain and, here too, the low cloud smudged the view. I considered it pointless to bother with the camera. We were however quite grateful for the cloud cover; it made walking under the open sky much more bearable.

The wild flowers were even more plentiful than those seen on walks taken over the past couple of weeks; dozens and dozens of colourful jewels shining from the woodland and scrub. Butterflies fluttered along beside us; white ones not too unlike the dreaded cabbage eaters, colourful traveller butterflies and chocolate brown ones with bright orange spots on their wings, such as we had seen the other day. A couple of potoroos sprang out from the bushes, startling us before bounding back into the undergrowth. Crimson rosellas, eastern whipbirds and a variety of birds whose call was not familiar, surrounded us.

We decided to press on for a couple more kilometres, up to the Saddleback Trig, at 665 metres ASL. The track was not as flat as that to the lookout, and even less flat on the return, as so often the case. Further away from the carpark we passed through wet areas, expanses of bare rock and more of the beautiful heathlands.

Back at the beginning of the track, we sat in a shelter and ate our lunch, watched by a large currowong. He arrived suddenly, swooping down to the bench opposite, startling me greatly, however he was courteous enough to sit quietly until Chris had dispensed with a couple of crumbs from his breadroll. Then he simply sat on a post nearby and waited until we left. They are such proud strong looking birds and I would not like to be attacked by one. I suspect I would come off rather badly.

As we arrived back at the carpark, we encountered the same couple who had walked up to the Saddleback lookout, and at first I wondered where their vehicle was. Again adhering strictly to all signs, they had parked a kilometre or so down the access road where a sign said “carpark”. At this rate they should return to Europe fitter than expected.

Carrington Falls
We continued on toward Robertson, soon adjacent  to the Budderoo National Park, much of the forest charred from a fire not too long ago. We turned into a healthier part of the forest and drove through to the Carrington Falls, where the Kangaroo River drops fifty metres down into the valley. From the various lookouts it is hard to actually see the base of these spectacular falls. All about the cliffs are perpendicular and equally impressive. We wandered along the banks of the river at the top of the falls, quiet puddles over a series of rocky craters, a place surely appealing on a warmer summer day. I often marvel at the contrast of a slow quiet stream falling in such dramatic circumstances. Dozens of minute tadpoles swam in the pools, oblivious to the fact they were in danger of plunging to a very different world.  

Chris would have been happy to puddle around at the top of the falls for some time, however I was tired and ready to head home. Perhaps he was too and just pretending he wasn’t desperate to return to find out how the cricket test was proceeding? Either way, we came on the thirty kilometres home without further ado.

We have paid for the two extra days so are now bound to spending a further three nights here. It is good to have some certainty in life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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

Soon after dinner last night, the wind came up and we imagined that we would lie awake in bed later greatly bothered by the flapping of the awning. We do strap it down with a couple of flap restraints either side, however in a good wind there is nothing to keep a canvas awning still. We opened the blinds, turned on the low exterior lights and ventured out into the dark to lower our porch. While I was holding it steady as Chris released the catch, the fabric strap I was holding broke in my hand. No other damage was done, however we will now have fun and games to lower the awning next time. Hopefully I will be able to repair this with needle and thread, however this is not the kind of event you want at about 10 pm!

Although the wind had died down by the time we woke, the skies were dull and uninspiring. We quickly packed up camp and headed north yet again on the Princes Highway, this time a mere twenty five kilometres through to Kiama. It was a slow trip; construction on the bypass  has commenced and the existing road passes over several steep hills, some with no passing lanes, the bane of my husband’s life.

Arriving in Kiama by the sea, we made our way out to the headland beyond the town centre where both the famous blowhole, a lighthouse and the Visitors Centre are situated. We wrapped ourselves well for the blustery south easterly and walked the short distance to the viewing platforms. The sea was perfect for this particular blowhole (there is another a little south that apparently works better with the opposite wind conditions) and we were treated to the blast of the sea and great showers of sea foam.

After gathering a handfull of pamphlets at the centre, we made our way to this camping ground, selected after researching tariffs in the region on line and an exchange of emails. I was unable to find the street on our map so gave the problem over to TomTom who took us up and over a hill so steep that at one point we were stalled at an uphill intersection only able to pull away again by changing into low ratio. We were not amused, particularly when we found ourselves descending again and intersecting a road we could have accessed by an alternative route on a more gradual grade.

Belinda welcomed us in the office, and advised that the $30 tariff could be further reduced if we were Seniors or Pensioners. Chris’s Senior card brought the tarrif down to $25, and so for the time being, our delight erased our discontent with TomTom. We paid for two days and have pencilled a further two in, pending further planning.

Our happy state was, alas, only temporary, the site was difficult to manoevre into, particularly because of the short poles on which the water supply is attached. These are below sight level as one reverses and make for disgruntled landcruiser operators. Need I say more? However we were set up before lunch and Chris was soon enjoying the second cricket match between the Australians and South Africans; happiness restored.

After lunch we set off along the shore, above which we are camped, into town where Chris had a haircut and we purchased yet another frypan. I have yet to work out where this one will live. The path along the beach runs above the rocky shore, down to the surf beach and across behind the surf club then up through the two main streets which are lined with lovely old buildings and this afternoon, full of tourists and locals going about their business. The well manicured gardens are at their best with fragrant and healthy flowering plants.

Kiama is the first country town south of Sydney, although Berry makes the same claim, and is home to 12,000 folk. It is located on a very small harbour and in the 1880s, was the heart of the cedar, quarrying and shipping industry. The fine buildings remaining in the civic precinct include the Old Council Chambers, the pink Italianate Post Office and the oldest surviving building on the South Coast of New South Wales, the Kiama Court House, completed in 1861.

We were gone well over an hour, time for the team’s lunch to be over and the Australian’s batting score to be applaudable. I may suggest the earphones for Chris and start a new novel. There is still quite a bit of the afternoon left.

21 November 2012 - Berry Showgrounds, Shoalhaven, NSW

Nature's fusion

What a joy to wake to a fine day after all the poor weather we have had over the past week or so! I soon had the last of the laundry washed and on the line, blowing in the breeze and drying in the sunshine. Lunch packed, diesel topped up and we were off across the hills behind Berry toward Kangaroo Valley. This direct route across to Kangaroo Valley is steep, windy, sealed and beautiful and is forbidden to caravans and long vehicles. It is also the fastest route to the lookout on Mount Cambewarra, the summit at 678 metres ASL from where one has views stretching 145 kilometres according to the sign on the outside of the cafĂ©. I would doubt that figure however, even with the mist over the sea, we could see down over Nowra, east to Shoalhaven Heads and all the fascinating maze of waterways south. There was also a kookaburra sitting in a tree fern immediately below us, which struck me as rather amusing. The bird is to quintessentially Australian and tree ferns (or pungas) are so quintessentially New Zealand. Quite a trans-Tasman  scene.  

After gazing with appreciation at this extensive panorama, we drove on to Kangaroo Valley Village, a charming settlement in the valley of the same name. The village has a population of just over 300 but exudes a charm and welcome to all who passby and suggests a population far greater. 

Hampton Bridge
Europeans first came upon the valley way back in 1812 when a surveyor-explorer by the name of George Evans described the view that “no painter could beautify”. While that is a slight exageration, it is indeed a lovely basin of fertile land which has offered a great supply of kangaroos to aboriginees through the ages, hence its name.

Within five years cattlemen arrived, followed by the cedar-getters. Within thirty years of European discovery, the land was cleared for dairy farming, endless rolling green pastureland still here today.

Police station at Kangaroo Valley
Apart from the old buildings still in use today, the town is particularly proud of the bridge across the river, taking traffic through from Nowra to Moss Vale and on to the Hume Highway. The Hampton Bridge is Australia’s last surviving wooden suspension bridge of the 19th  century and one of the best known in New South Wales. The towers at each end of the bridge were hand carved from the local sandstone and resemble the turrets of a mediaeval castle. The bridge was completed in 1898.

We decided we would embark upon a decent walk in the Morton National Park, so headed westwards, more or less downriver to Lake Yarrunga. Here the Kangaroo River meets the Shoalhaven River, bith restrained by the forty three metre high Tallowa Dam.

The dam was finished in 1976 and is part of the Shoalhaven Water Supply Scheme. Some of the stored water is available to be transferred to Sydney and the Illawara. The lake is also popular with canoeists. While we sat in the picnic area eating our lunch, we watched a school group complete their canoe experience along with several individuals. The lake when full covers an area of 9.3 square kilometres and is surrounded by national park and high spectacular bluffs.

After lunch we drove back up above the lake and parked where the Three Views Trail begins. We chose the longest walk, 5.7 kilometres across the top of the escarpment to the edge of one of the cliffs from where we looked down to the lake, and the continuation of the Shoalhaven River, and vaste expanses of dense bush. The old fire trail passes through open woodland and sandstone heath vegetation and is graded as easy and virtually flat. And so it seemed until the return when the day had heated up considerably and it all seemed uphill albeit gradual. Only mad dogs and Englishmen walk in the noon day sun. I guess I must be the mad dog? 

We drove the twenty or so kilometres back to Kangaroo Valley Village, then headed north west, across the Hampden Bridge and on toward Moss Vale. After sixteen kilometres up Barrengarry Mountain, we arrived at the Fitzroy Falls. These were quite a surprise because they and all access and related tracks are via the National Park entrance where one must pay for the privelege of parking one’s car. I think I have already expressed our opinion about the avarice of the NSW National Parks Service? Enough said.  
The falls are very beautiful, falling eighty two metres to the floor of the ravine far below. The surrounding rock outcrops and cliffs are equally spectacular and worth the effort of subjecting yourself to the officialdom of NSW Parks. We could have walked to further points along the escarpment, up here at 640 metres ASL, more or less at the same elevation as the lookout on Mount Cambewarra, however I had had enough.

We explored the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir nearby which is also part of the water system referred to earlier. This reservoir covers an area of five square kilometres when full but unlike Lake Yarrunga, is available for recreational sailing and fishing only a few months of each year. Water from this lake enters a series of channels and passes through two small electricity generators. It is good to see water here in Australia being used for hydro-electricity. As a New Zealander, it seems such a normal way to meet the needs of consumers however the terrain here is, of course, so very different.

On our way back we called into the Manning Lookout from where we had fabulous views over the Kangaroo Valley. Here we fell into conversation with a couple from Ontario, Canada, who had driven up from Narooma to tour the area between here and there in the remaining part of the day. Narooma is south of Batemans Bay and I didn’t have the heart to tell them how many days we had spent exploring this coastal area. Like most tourists, compared to us, they are on a speed tour.

From here, we came on home. I was glad that there was no evidence of a Happy Hour tonight. I was tired and in need of a shower. It had been an excellent day and now we are ready to move on north in the morning. The weather report is looking good too.