We had a great time travelling around with Mum. It gave us a chance to be tourists doing fun things and finding comfortable places to stay rather than being travellers, always looking for the cheapest option. Before Mum came out to Australia she had grand plans to visit Uluru, Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and more but it is a big country and with less than four weeks to play with she decided to drop Uluru from her 'to do' list and see how we got on with the rest. We had a lot of fun and managed to visit a lot of places but I think the best times we had were when we stopped and took advantage of some time to relax, shop, eat, and just be with each other. At Manly Beach near Sydney and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast we had two lovely weeks in luxury apartments overlooking the sea that I'm sure we would have been happy to stay in for weeks. And for the rest of Mum's holiday we managed to see stunning Sydney, the Hunter Valley wine growing region and the Blue Mountains not to mention a last minute trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We didn't think we'd make it to the Great Barrier Reef as it was a few hundred kilometres north of Surfers Paradise but we were lucky and chanced upon a day trip to the reef which flew Mum and I for a day on the most southerly island of the reef. It was perhaps the most memorable day of the holiday but more about that later.
Time to introduce Mum to some of the friendly locals of the marsupial variety. So, on the day we left Brisbane we went to Lone Pine which has lots of Koalas aswell as about 130 kangaroos and wallabies. They also have a few wombats (a close relation to the koala except it doesn't climb trees), a tasmanian devil running around like a fierce mad dog and some beautiful rainbow lorikeets which we've seen a lot of in the wild here. I think these lorikeets were wild but hang around as the Sanctuary feeds them everyday.
Kangaroos and Wallabies
There were many different types of kangaroos and wallabies kept in a massive enclosure which we walked around, patting them and giving them special roo food. They were very tame and didn't even react when they were chased and had their ears pulled by kids! It was lovely to see a few of the kangaroos (or wallabies - we find it difficult to tell the difference) had joeys in their pouches. One of them was obviously ready for the big wide world as it keep jumping in and out of the pouch undecided about where it belonged.
Apparently kangaroos can have three joeys at the same time at different stages of development:
one embryo, one joey in the pouch and one hopping around which means that if one joey dies then the embryo will begin
developing which makes them very successful breeders and accounts for the fact that there are millions more kangaroos in this country
than people. There were big and small kangaroos but one thing they had in common was that if something attracted there attention they would
all stand, or sit, really still but alert facing in a certain direction and looking like a statue as you can see from this photo . The funny
thing was we could never hear or see what had startled them and also that they were never all looking the same way.
The roos were lovely but the most exciting thing we did at Lone Pine was to hold a koala. I don't know what it is about koalas, perhaps I identify with their laziness and dopey eyes or perhaps they remind me of Richard (same reasons) but they have to be one of my favourite animals. We all wanted to hold a koala and we all got to hold Maggie who was very cute and cuddly but much heavier than she looks. She had thick fur which felt like a soft thick carpet. The koalas that are handled here are only allowed to 'work' for very short time periods and not everyday and all the money goes back into their care and conservation. I tried to smuggle her out, as she told me that she would love to travel around Australia with us and catch up with some of her relatives, but unfortunately she didn't fit in my bag.
After a full day with cute animals we drove down to Tweed Heads, on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, where we met up with with another of our relatives. Great Auntie Margaret very kindly gave us tea and a bed for the night and we spent the evening catching up on some family history. Funnily enough we were looking through some family pictures and came across a picture of Margaret and a friend holding some koalas at Lone Pine fifty years ago. I would imagine that the sanctuary was in its early days then and I wonder if it was the first koala sanctuary in Australia. The next morning we headed off down the coast road stopping at the beautiful Byron Bay for lunch and spending the night in Coff's Harbour which is a seaside town but which we didn't really see much of because we got there after dark and left the next morning but we did spare time to take a picture of the Big Banana they have there.
The Hunter Valley is one of the many wine growing regions in Australia. It's a lovely area and full of exclusive hotels because it is very close to Sydney and so is a popular place for a luxury weekend break. In the summer the fields must be full of green vines but we were there in the middle of winter and the scenery was quite bleak but still beautiful as you can see in this picture of the view from our hotel room. If you look carefully you can see the rows and rows of dead vines.
Richard doesn't drink wine (only champagne is good enough for him!) so Mum and I
decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing day tour around some of the wineries and what could be more relaxing than sitting in the back of
a carriage being slowly driven around by two large Clydesdale horses (Matilda and Linden) and a very friendly guide called Clay -
[Jo seems to have forgotton again that Richard spent the day working! - ed]. No one
else was booked onto the trip, probably because it was winter, but when we saw people flying around in a minibus we knew that we'd made
the right decision. We visited four wine cellers during the day:
Hunter Cellars First drink 10.30am but we tried to break ourselves in gently by starting with a sparkling wine. This unexplicably led to three chardonnays and a veldelho, we were pacing ourselves for the long day of drinking ahead!
Allenmere At Allenmere we were taken on a very informative factory tour, got to wear some attractive hats and had a wine tasting lesson (yes the slurp, swirl and spit lesson - only we didn't spit - such a waste of good wine!). We learnt about the whole process, saw the bottling works and the traditional oak barrels which red wines (and some white wines) are matured in. The oak comes from 200-600 year old trees in France or America so is quite expensive (upto £3000), especially the french wood because they will only ship their oak as ready made up barrels which costs more to transport than planks of wood. Each barrel can last up to five years before the wine has leached all the yummy oaky flavour out of it. After tasting all of the wines on offer here we bought a lovely bottle of Semillon. I'm usually a Chardonnay fan but Semillon is very nice, fruity and crisp so I'd recommend it.
Tamburlaine We stopped in the gardens here for a luxury picnic lunch which included smoked salmon, cold meats, damper (traditional Australian bread), salads and champagne. Tambulaine don't sell to any shops, only cellar door sales so I bought an exclusive bottle of Veldelho for Granny.
McGuigans Our last stop was one of the bigger wine companies in the area and it was so busy that the servers didn't have time to discuss the wines which was a shame because that is half of the fun. But we found a nice bottle of Champagne which we hid until it was Richard's birthday a few days later.
The great thing about winery tours is that you can try wines that you have never tried before. We had never had Semillon or Veldelho before and would never have bought a bottle in a shop on a whim, always sticking to the safe Chardonnays we know but I would try other wines now knowing that I liked the grape variety. The other advantage is that you can try wines you would never be able to afford so a couple of times we tried wines we knew we would never have any intention of buying which was fun. Of course, on a blind tasting I don't think I would be able to spot the difference between an expensive and cheaper bottle of wine. The wines we tried during the day were all lovely - just some were lovelier than others - what fun! When we got back to the hotel and saw Richard we were in a surprisingly good state, just happy and giggly that's all! [I think the technical term is pissed - ed]
We went to Newcastle to meet Bronwyn and her three sons, Mark, Andrew and Tim who are all in their 20's. They very kindly dropped everything to spend a couple of hours with us and it was great to catch up with some family none of us had ever met before.
While we were in Newcastle we decided to take a tram (really a bus) tour of the town. The driver, Toby, was from England and told us that his Auntie is the Green Goddess! He was very funny (in an old fashioned un PC way) and raved about Newcastle. It was a big industrial town (steel and coal), like the English town it was named after, but which is undergoing major redevelopment and trying to build it's tourist appeal (again like Newcastle in England) without building the high rises which line the Gold Coast. The funniest story he told us was concerning a new pathway which we could see was on a very steep hill and had just been completed. He had asked some council workers why the path was so wide when it could have been half as wide and therefore cost a lot less to construct and they said that the regulations said that all walkways had to be a certain width for wheelchair access. Looking at the steep hill everyone on the bus was imaging an out of control wheelchair racing down the pathway and going over the cliff - the classic sitcom scene that has shades of Some Mothers Do Ave Em or something similar.
The other exciting thing that happened in Newcastle was that we saw a wild possum. The owner of the motel we were staying in knocked on the door in the evening and asked if we wanted to see one of the wild possums that come to visit him for a bit of brown bread for tea. Possums are nocturnal animals and quite shy so we were lucky to see this one, he was a bit nervous but if we stood still he didn't seem that bothered by us.
On another day, Mum and I took another ferry from one of Sydney's harbours to another going past some massive houses owned by the rich and famous which lined the banks of the river. Then we went on a bus tour around the city which took in all the old buildings with lovely architecture and went past a lovely park where we saw flocks of the lovely sulphur-crested cockatoos. Later we met Richard and went to the Aquarium which was quite a good one with lots of sharks and turtles which swam over our heads in the walk through section. There was a good reef section and some amazing jellyfish in tanks. I found myself bumping into them in the Whitsundays while I was trying to get away from them - which isn't easy so it was nice to be able to just observe these strange and fascinating creatures. We walked back to The Rocks, taking in the city at night and then dining at a wonderful restaurant called Wolfies which had a fantastic view overlooking the Opera House and the Bridge. Even though it was quite chilly we sat outside with everyone else to enjoy the ambience and luckily they had heaters dotted around outside so it was very pleasant.
Leaving Sydney we continued with our holiday travelling slowly back up to Brisbane.