Sunday, 7 September 2014

Holiday to Hobbit Land (a poetic retelling)

In August we had a fantastic trip to New Zealand.  In fact, it was so fantastic, I have broken out into spontaneous poetry to describe it...  So, erm, enjoy!

We departed Sydney in a sea of fog:


And after airborne views that left us agog:


We landed in Queenstown to find our car:


And on our drive we gazed afar:


An inn we found to get us fed:


Before we reached our home (with bed):


Thus ended day one, dear lads and lasses,
(Well, we also went and bought ski passes),
So for day two we were ready to go,
All we needed now was a little snow...

Sunday dawned fine and bright,
We were up with the early light,
With skis and poles and boots and boards
We joined the other skiing hordes.
And made our way up to the peak,
And the views at the top? C'est magnifique!




However, what skiers never want to have seen
Are rocks and ice and bits of green,
We saw plenty of all, and with a clear understanding
That they don't make for a happy landing,
We prayed to the snow gods with all our might,
"Please send to us a bit more white".

The next day's weather gave skiers pain,
Yes, that's right! There was lots of rain!
So with our Alpine plans unfurled,
We decided to go to Puzzle World!

Funny angles...



... and optical illusions...



... Caused our brains a lot of confusions!

But while it rained and rained in the town below,
Up on the mountain, it was snow, snow, snow!
So while some of us (Cate) were woken too early,
Others of us (Jan) were distinctly less surly,
And thought today was the best of times,
As we rushed up the hill to go and grab fresh lines.



After two snowy days, which were sure to tire,
We sat down with some port and a nice log fire:


On Thursday, the curse of the rain came once more,
So we set off on a lovely driving tour.
We drove through the valleys, which were most sublime,
Until we reached an old gold mine,
Where Chinese workers panned for treasure,
And lived in not-exactly-leisure:




(And it wouldn't be a trip of mine,
If we hadn't stopped for a glass of wine...)


Next day on the hill, we froze and shivered,
Even Jan's beard was a victim of the blizzard:



But where to get warm? That was the rub,
Until we found the guests' hot tub:


On the last skiing day, we couldn't feel glum,
Because finally we got some sun!



Then it was time, our tracks to make,
But not without a last view of the lake:


Spotting ducks diving for food:



Taking pictures with large chucks of wood*
*It's the old pronunciation. Ahem.



And taking some pictures of nature in splendour:




And eating a burger, from a famous burger vendor:



That is our tale, - we hope you liked our rhyme,
New Zealand, we love you! Until next time!



PS! If you prefer your poetry in motion,
Check out this awesome edit Jan put together:


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Jolly jaunts in July: Part 3, the fully faux festive edition

After warming up for the festive season with Kym and her family, we launched into full-on Chrimbo celebrations last weekend.

After a rather odd first Christmas in Australia, with only the rain to remind us what time of year it was, and no Christmas tree at all (OH, THE HORROR) I had booked us a trip to the Blue Mountains in July, where they have a Yulefest celebration in the cold months for those of us who associate Christmas with freezing your chestnuts off, instead of sweating them off on the beach.

And so Jan (much against his will, and insisting this would be the tackiest of all the tackies) and I set off for our winter weekend. 

On Saturday, we took a trip to the Jenolan Caves. They are a really spectacular system of caves in the mountains, with some great Aboriginal Dreamtime stories associated with them about how the rivers and caves were made. Before we left the hostel, Jan asked the owner about them and he advised us it was a pretty drive and we would find a lake on the way that had a platypus in it. I wasn't there for the conversation, though, so all I could get from Jan regarding the location of the lake, was it was "somewhere on the way" and"definitely on the left".  Hmmm.

The drive was really beautiful and they had even laid some snow on for us! Not quite enough for a snowman, but definitely enough for a cheesy picture!


Sunglasses and snow!
We reached the caves via a long, steep and windy road which Jan loved driving. At the bottom there was a huge tunnel into the cliff and, after going through it, this suddenly appeared:


Jenolan village
It's a really pretty village, mainly based around guest facilities for the tourists. We bought some tickets for the caves, then asked about the mysterious platypus lake. Excitingly we found out it was just on the left of the entrance to the caves, so we went down to have a look.



As we reached the lake, there he was, splashing about in the water just for us - Percy Platypus! Yeah, ok, I made the name up. But I was very excited! It can be quite hard to spot platypuses (platypii?!) in the wild, so to see one right away was awesome. In fact I was so in awe, I totally messed up my beautiful new blue Uggs, stepping in mud whilst trying to be the intrepid wildlife photographer*.  

* This story was met with bemusement in my office - who wears Uggs outside?! Let alone to the mountains! Silly English lady!

And here was the spectacular picture I got as a reward:


A rather blurry Platypus bum... 
Ahem. So yeah, turns out they are even more difficult to photograph than they are to spot.  But I pinkie swear, it WAS a platypus and not a floating log or something...

Anyway, after that thrilling but muddy encounter, it was time to go down under in Down Under.  We had a cave tour guide with us, who was clearly a retired man who loved to talk. ALL THE TIME. Mostly interesting, cave-related things, but boy that bloke was not averse to a completely irrelevant tangent.  

Normally, I am not claustrophobic in caves, but I have to admit I started getting nervous when he kept pressing his little light control and mumbling to himself "that's not supposed to happen" or "it worked last time I was here".  The culmination of this was when he turned ALL THE DAMN LIGHTS OFF in the cave to give us a talk about how the first explorers would have found the caves, with just a candle to see by. He flicked on a lighter at this point to show us how much they would have been able to see, which was all very atmospheric - until he couldn't turn the effing lights back on again! Gah! I was gripping on to Jan's arm, wondering if, a-la-Nirvana, we would be condemned to living off of moss and the drippings from the ceiling forever, in the PITCH BLACK, whilst this man kept pressing various buttons and telling us he'd been away on holidays for a few weeks and this was his first time back and he wasn't sure why the emergency lights had gone off as well...

After several nail-biting minutes** he managed to get some lights on and, after spitting out the moss I had been nibbling (you know, to get used to my new life), we carried on with the tour. 

** Well, you know, seconds. But in the blinding darkness it could have been a day or more...


Despite the trauma of the lights, it was a really good tour and there were some fantastic views:

Spooky weird formations - can you see the bat wing?

Stalactites and stalagmites - if they join together, they become a 'column'

Can you see the Angel Gabriel?
But enough of this cave talk, beautiful though it was. It's time for the main event - Christmas! Off we went to the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba for a festive evening. Jan was very excited about celebrating Christmas in July:


'The Grinch' - Jan war sehr Froh, Weihnachten im Juli zu feiern!
The place was all decorated for the occasion:




And a had an, erm, traditional bagpipe band to play us Christmas songs:

Hark, the herald bagpipes play...
Because there's nothing as festive as a few Christmas ditties being banged out at 180 decibels. There was also a choir and a visit from Santa! Now you know what he get up to in the summer months!

By the end (and after a bottle of wine and some 'festive spirit' on the Christmas pud) even the Grinch had to admit it was a fun time:



Merry Christmas everybody!!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Jolly Jaunts in July: Part 2

After putting up with us all of last weekend, it seemed we hadn't outstayed our welcome, as this weekend we went to spend "Christmas in July" with Kym's family in Bendemeer. This is a small town in the countryside of New South Wales, off the New England Highway - a name which might give you some clue as to what the surrounding countryside is like.  Rolling hills, lots of lush vegetation - it really is beautiful.



As it's about a six hour drive from Sydney, we set out on the Friday afternoon, and drove up to a small town called Murrurundi (try saying that when you're sober, never mind about drunk! Suffice to say, the locals pronounce it Mur-run-die and leave it at that).  We were stopping with a work colleague I had met the week before who, upon learning that we were passing through her town on the way north, very kindly offered us a room for the night. Obviously, had she know us much better, she wouldn't have made such a silly offer, but by the time she realised, it was already much too late, bwahahahahaha....

We had a lovely evening, as it happened, arriving just in time for dinner (my stomach always ensures we arrive at this time, regardless of the actual digits on the clock) and had lovely home made pizzas, along with copious helpings of wine and interesting chat.  So interesting, the next time we looked at the clock, it was 1am and time for bed!

Next morning, we had a yummy home cooked brekkie and then went for a walk around the town, which was beautiful if you enjoy sunshine, crisp, fresh air and the whiff of log fires burning on the breeze, which, I REALLY DO. We stopped off for a cup of coffee and a cookie (well, you can't go on the road hungry, can you? Even if you're only driving for an hour...) said our goodbyes and then it was onwards to our final destination.

We arrived in the afternoon, and were greeted by the world's worst guard dog, who ran over barking and then lay down for loves and cuddles and in no way tried to protect his territory from the incoming masses. We spent a great afternoon in the sunshine with snacks and beers, and Jan got taught the country way - ie he was shown skinned rabbits (with their little fur paws and heads still on), taught how to crack a whip and other mysterious practices. I wasn't present for that, but got told he had only lost one ear and a bit of his nose during the whip cracking, so I think it went successfully. 

When the sun went down and it started getting chilly, we went inside to the log fire and an amazing three course Christmas dinner. We had yummy pumpkin soup, then lamb and chicken and vegies, followed by Christmas pudding. Some of us (JAN!) had two helpings of EVERYTHING and got called a suck-up for asking for extra cake to take home with us. It was a great evening and there were lots of laughs, and Jan even learnt some brand new words - like what "getting dacked" means (although thankfully it wasn't practical lesson). He even went full-on Aussie when his little feet got too cold and borrowed Kym's sisters Uggs:


This is against everything he stands for, as he thinks Uggs are Ugg-ly, so naturally I took pictures and uploaded them to the internet immediately.

On Sunday morning, we woke up to another sunny day and spent all morning with the kids playing on their trampoline in the yard. Jan taught them some tricks and basically they were all in love with him by the end and arguing over who got to hold his hand:


It's a tough life, being popular. Although I didn't do too badly myself - I am now the "new best friend" of the little 2-year-old, after a rather extensive bonding session of playing with her toy dolly and puppy and helping her feed them and put them to bed.

It was a fantastic weekend, full of getting to know some really great people and sharing lots of laughs. And also getting to see a bit of life outside Sydney, which I have to say, is looking rather attractive!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Jolly jaunts in July: Part 1

Having spent most of our weekends in June at home, we decided to get out on the road again and do some more exploring. First up was a trip to Newcastle  No, we didn't sneak back for a cheeky weekend on the Tyne - there's a Newcastle two hours up the coast from Sydney and it's where our friend has just moved. So we took Matilda (the anthropomorphic automobile) off for her first long drive!

We drove to Newcastle on Friday evening and made it in time for a delicious dinner of tapas at a local restaurant. Unfortunately there are no pictures of this - well, look, it was a long drive and I was hungry, ok?! That's why my burgeoning career as a gourmet photographer has never taken off - the food is always gone by the time I remember my camera.

On Saturday we headed up to Nelson Bay, where they run whale watching tours. This is the height of the season for the humpback whales' migration to warmer waters to have their young. The captain of our boat was very confident we would see the whales, and we were all set with the binoculars our friend had lent us, so we were excited.

It was a nice trip out through small islands and into the main "corridor" the whales use to travel. 



The captain kept shouting "Thar she blows!" (I swear) as he was allegedly seeing lots of whales blowing water into the air as they reached the surface. Even with binoculars, the blighters were too quick for our unexperienced eyes and I started to worry we wouldn't see anything. 

Then finally, after it seemed like she had been blowing "thar" for ever, we finally got a glimpse:



We were excited to watch the whales surfacing and soon got the knack of spotting the little bursts of water that indicated a whale coming up.  

We heard there were reports of whales breaching and jumping out of the water further on, so we went in search. At last we were rewarded with what all people going on a whale watch really want to see - the beautiful sight of the humpbacks leaping out of the water and what looks like, to human eyes, playing around and having fun:



Waving us hello
The picture is a bit grainy, but thar she blows!
The second picture was taken as the whale leapt out right next to another whale watching boat, but we still got a great view.  After this picture, I decided to put my camera away and just enjoy the show. Which was a good job, because I then got completely soaked by a wave!

While we were heading back to shore, we also managed to say hello to some of these chaps, having a leisurely sleep in the sunshine:


It's a sunbathing sea lion. 
We also saw some dolphins, but they were far too quick for my photography skills to capture! 

Back on dry land again, we decided to get a fish 'n' chip lunch to celebrate and sit on the harbour side in the sunshine. Here, we rapidly discovered where Alfred Hitchcock had got the idea for "The Birds" from - and it wasn't from Daphne Du Maurier. Old Alfie, too, must have chosen to have a nice fish 'n' chip meal by the coast once upon a time and experienced the same terrors we were subject to:




They swooped in from everywhere and put me right off my battered sausage. Jan had to keep shooing them away, as I went jumping and running around, shouting "They'll snatch it from my hands, get them away, satanic b****rds" every time one got too near.

After we had made a hasty retreat from the seagull horde, we met up with our friends again and had a nice afternoon cruising along the coastline:





On Sunday, we had a nice lie in and a relaxed brunch, then headed for a walk around a local park, replete with duck pond:


These moorhens were slightly less ominous than the seagulls, although they still made a beeline (or is it a birdline?!) for us expecting food... They were, like their seagull counterparts, left wanting.
And of course, other than feeding the ducks, there's only really one other thing you go to the park for:



After all the fun, it was time to head home. We had a fantastic weekend - but this is only the start of some more fun weekends to come. Stay tuned for our "Christmas in July" celebrations!